Monday, April 10, 2017

ARTSPEAK! Portraits poem "Portrait of a Writer"

Hello and Happy National Poetry Month! Here it is, day 10 of ARTSPEAK!: Portraits, my National Poetry Month poem-a-day project, during which I am looking, listening with my spirit ear, and asking these subject to share with me their secrets.

But first: be sure to check out Penny's line of our 2017 Progressive Poem over at a penny and her jots. I love how our poem is progressing!

Here are the ARTSPEAK! Portraits poems so far:

9. "Speaking of the Weather" after Profile of a Woman by Fujishima Takeji
8. "Happiness" after Self-Portrait with Straw Hat by Elisabeth Vigee le Brun
7. "Virginia, Sitting for a Portrait" after Portrait of Virginia (Little Girl) by Frida Kahlo
6. "Paint-by-Number" after Portrait of a Woman by Alexei von Jawlensky
4. "I Am" after The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas by George Catlin
3. "What If?" after Portrait of Camille Roulin by Vincent van Gogh
2. "The Lady Confesses" after Portrait of a Lady with Mask and Cherries by Benjamin Wilson
1. "Mona Lisa in Love" after Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

After a weekend of women, I decided to write about a man. :) Here's what he told me:

Portrait of a Writer
after “Oskar Maria Graf” by Georg Schrimpf

Forget the suit; my pen is
moved by yeast and flour-dust,
by warm milk jetting into a pail.
Many lives have shuffled through my hands,
their names stamped and ink-stained.
Once we might have met in a lift –
what floor, please? –
my gloved fingers punching the buttons.
And now we meet here, at the intersection
of paint and friendship. Together
we scritch-scratch a phrase, a line.
We build skyscrapers with glass walls,
We say, Let there be light!

- Irene Latham
Readers, I didn't know the subject of this painting Oskar Maria Graf was a writer -- or that he and the painter George Schimpf were friends -- until I read this article. I've incorporated bits of Oskar's life into the poem, too -- he was born to a baker-father and farmgirl-mother, and before he was a writer worked as a postal worker and lift operator. I wanted to include these specific details, but I also wanted to write a poem about the universal aspects of being a writer... which is how I came up with the God-like last line. We are all creators, right? :) Thank you for reading! And for your encouragement. It helps! xo


  1. What a look on that face....we ARE all creators. I'm so enjoying your series of poems. This mysterious person (to me) had so much to say that I know...but didn't know of him.

  2. "Many lives have shuffled through my hands" - Youe line floors me with the intensity of that. And now his life is shuffling through yours with a convincing back story.

    I'm a believer, Irene.


  3. Love the backstory you shared about the friendship between the writer and the painter. Where do you find the time for your research? Love those life details you worked into the poem. And I think of all of us who meet at the intersection of words and friendship. And give thanks for the light that comes from shared words!

  4. "Many lives have shuffled through my hands..."
    How grateful I am to share this elevator of life with you, I. Enchanting! xx


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