I went to a little event at Phoenix’s Shemer Art Center last night. Five artists, working in a variety of media, discussed ideas of “revision” in their work—revised practices, revised forms, revised meanings, etc. I went because my friend and collaborator Kris Sanford was among the speakers. I’ve written about her work here before, so I want to focus on some of the envy I experienced while listening to the other artists talk.
First, Tawni Shuler and Brent Adrian, both painters, talked extensively about where their work comes from and how they complete it as a practice. Both of them mentioned that they work on a large piece (usually requiring a ladder or large studio space to complete) concurrently while completing several smaller pieces.
Here’s a photo of Brent’s work exhibited to give you an idea of scale.
I experienced an envy of scale! I thought, How amazing to be able to choose the size of your work that way, to work on physical planes instead of narrative/lyric/linguistic planes! (Because, yes, I’m a little nerdy.)
I wondered how I could incorporate ideas of scale into my work. Surely, poem length is one way, but I’ve worked in very large (30 page) and very short (six lines) formats already. I’ve also been really interested in working with things in miniature (Little Burning Edens and the work I did with Tracy Longley-Cook). I also thought about books like D. A. Powell’s Tea, where the lines are so expansive the book had to printed lengthwise—and, too, a book like Rebecca Loudon’s Radish King, which also involves notions of scale/white space in terms of layout.
So, now I’m thinking about scale.
Then, Becky Chader did a slide show on reliquaries, which are forms that contain sacred objects. Becky’s reliquaries exalt and preserve banal, everyday objects that are sacred to her, like dirt from her family’s vacation cabin. Three of her pieces were really striking to me for their ingenuity, their beauty, and their reverence for memory:
Lakefront Defense: a Reliquary for Mosquito Repellent
Moistutane: a Reliquary for Chap-Stik
Deadlines: a Reliquary for Vivarin
The mosquito repellent reliquary in particular is beautifully rendered. Around the base are carefully structred mosquito figures in the “bite position.” Above the red stained glass, Citronella candle bits are melted into the circular openings, and above them, a “blood chandelier” circles the base of the repellent (these are tiny hanging drops of red glass). And there, inside the reliquary, is a vintage bottle of Army surplus insect repellent—the kind Chader’s dad kept on hand for their summer vacations.
It made me want to write reliquaries over and over again. How can I keep sacred objects in a poem? I’m thinking about this.