Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas




December 2006

"What is original? Everything we are doing, everything that we think, exists already, and we are only intermediaries, that's all, who make use of what is in the air."
Henry Miller, Writers on Writing. Jon Winokur, editor.



Four Origins: Poem/Painting Pairs

Dear Reader,

For several years, I have been working on a manuscript called Reciprocity. In Judy's Journal (February 2005), I shared portions of the preface which explained the experience of making paintings that inspire poems or vice-versa. This month, I want to share the origins of four painting/poem pairs and show how Henry Miller's above quotation rings true. If you would like to view the painting and read the poem, go to Bibliography at the top of this page. There is a link in the second paragraph that will take you to each of these painting/poem pairs.

Painting: The Arrival, Poem: At Home - I made the painting "The Arrival" the day after my friend's death at home. The title refers to the mortician's arrival at dawn. He looms in the upper right hand corner. Here was one event full of emotions, details, and images. There was no rest until I started to draft a poem. Scenes played over and over in my mind - the sounds of "the stretcher wheels/thudding down the stairs" and "the rolling crunch of ice," the sight of its "tracks, engraved there for days." The poem gave meaning and substance to the painting; the painting gives substance and meaning to the poem. In their mutual relationship, they became a singular and reciprocal way of expressing my grief.

Painting: Energy, Poem: First Light - Inspired by Leonard Bernstein's and George Gershwin's music, this painting led me into its own world; there was no holding back in its colors and fantastic shapes. I began the poem during an extended New England heat wave. From out of nowhere came the connection to the memory of seeing Vincent Minnelli's An American in Paris. I remembered being eight years old, walking home from the neighborhood theater, and how stunned I was by the beauty of the film. All that chaotic color. The poem contains a reference to the Catherine wheel, named after St. Catherine, who lived in the 4th century. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable states that the Roman emperor, Maximinus, ordered her to defend the Christian faith in a public debate. She won, so he ordered that she be placed on a chaff-cutter-like wheel. Legend has it that as soon as it began to turn, her bonds broke. She was then beheaded. The Roman Catholic Church named her patron saint of wheelwrights. The poem remains a call to shrug off worry and take the high road to bliss through art.

Painting: Houses at Night, Poem: Veteran's Day Tableaux - 1953 - This painting of tipped and disoriented houses came after the poem, but look at those houses! At first, I did not realize that it was a reciprocal response to the poem. The event took place on a summer evening, when all was peaceful. But the energy in the air can change in an instant with the intrusion of a stranger. It also made me realize that sometimes adults who are caught in a moment of crisis can behave in heroic and sympathetic ways. Children become unwitting witnesses, and are left to process the event.

Painting: Town V, Poem: To Lightning - A friend told me a story about her mother, who while standing at her back door, was struck by lightning and survived. I made myself imagine how she could have felt by writing this poem. The painting came the next year. When pink became a dominant color, then fizzing white lines, I knew I was painting that poem.

In January, will launch a new feature. When you open the home page and click onto Judy's Journal, you be brought into a menu/index from which you can choose a journal to open up. Each month will have a brief description to help in your selection. Your first choice will be January's journal, which will be focused on art. Contact me, if you would like to talk about art or poetry.