Thursday, April 05, 2018

Poem: Valerie Martínez

Valerie Martínez
In 2013, poet Carmen Giménez Smith posted a note on Harriet about a Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit entitled "Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art," which was linked to "PINTURA: PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis," which she noted was "a national, multi-year initiative...bringing Latino writers to the exhibition." The initiative included workshops, conversations, and a great deal of poetry, by all involved. The project was the brainchild of poet Francisco Aragón, who had previously organized a program entitled "Poetas y Pinturas: Artists Conversing in Verse," which essentially reversed the relationship by inviting Latino visual artists to create new works based on the work of Latino poets. Taken together, as Carmen points out, the larger goal was and remains to enrich the discourse and conversations between Latino artists and poets.

Carmen had previously written beautiful poems speaking to and about the work of the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), but expressed enthusiasm about a more focused exploration of ekphrasis, and the discussions that would arise among and between the participating poets and the works of art they would be viewing. (I hope to post one of Carmen's poems later this month.) In March 2016, Poetry eventually published a portfolio of some of the poetry that resulted from "PINTURA: PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis," and you can find some of the participating poets and their poems on Poetry's online site. Also considering ordering the print version and perusing it at the library. Since the poets' aesthetics differed, as did they artworks they were engaging with, you will encounter in the Poetry portfolio a rich and illuminating array of approaches to writing to and with art. One poem that struck me was Valerie Martínez's "Granite Weaving," which takes a sculpture by the late Jesús Moroles (1950-2015) as its subject, and manages both to give a sense of its solid and fixed materiality, and of the poem's and poetic speaker's dynamic dialogue with it.

Valerie Martínez is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the author of five books of poetry and two chapbooks, including the book-length poem Each and Her (Camino del Sol/University of Arizona Press, 2010), a powerful meditation on the more than 400 women and girls murdered in and around Ciudad Juárez in Mexico in the early 2000s. Each and Her received the Arizona Book Award and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award. She has edited three anthologies, including one focusing on Native American women writers, Reinventing the Enemy's Language--Contemporary Writing by Native Women of North America (1997). Martínez also is a translator; her translations of Uruguayan author Delmira Agustini (1886-1914) appeared as the collection A Flock of Scarlet Doves in 2005. She currently serves as Executive Director of Littleglobe, Inc., a nonprofit artists' collaborative that works in local communities, and was the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe from 2008 to 2010.


by Valerie Martínez

To climb, in this instance, upon a horizon

Shadow-shadow. Lip-to-lip rock.

Ziggurat. Ah, from the base to the top.

Sideways. Upwards. Again, in succession.

Sprung and sprung

Frozen idiom.

Barre. Pietrasanta. Mouth and mouth.

Sung. Granite. Stitching

The way fabric gathers — pinch, scrunch.

Not in dreams alone. Not the knot.

Step, step, step, step, step. 35 up.

As if into clouds

Ur, Aqar Quf, Chogha Zanbil, Tikal.


Plank upon plank upon plank upon

Little Blocks: ahem. don’t you forget us.

a, of, or, but, if, la, and

Close and closer to flattened.

Rock, Water, Bone: Noisy Pilgrim.

And Jesús Moroles' art work:

Granite Weaving, 1988, by Jesús Moroles,
gift of Frank K. Ribelin. Smithsonian
American Art Museum.

You can read the rest of the PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio in the March 2016 issue of Poetry. All images in this portfolio are courtesy of and with permission from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Granite Weaving by Jesús Moroles, gift of Frank K. Ribelin. Source: Poetry (March 2016)

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