Friday, April 14, 2017

ARTSPEAK! Portraits poem "Whistler's Mother"

Hello and Happy National Poetry Month! Here it is, day 14 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 in with Jan at Bookseedstudio to see how our Progressive Poem is progressing! AND it's Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Doraine at Dori Reads for Roundup.

Here are the ARTSPEAK! Portraits poems so far (almost halfway home! Wheeee!):

13. "In the Company of Kittens" after Contentment 1900 by Henriette Ronner-Knip
12. "Sixteen" after Jeanne Hubuturne-1919 by Amedeo Modigliani
11. "Promise" after Portrait of a Little Italian Girl by Maria Kroyer
10. "Portrait of a Writer" after Oskar Maria Graf by Georg Schrimpf
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

Today I've selected a classic! And it's really no wonder I selected it. I'll share below. Meanwhile, here is what Whistler's mother would like you to know:
Whistler's Mother
after “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1” by J.M. Whistler

It's true my life
has been
a symphony
of storms: grey,
black, charcoal.
But for now
I am not thinking
of my death,
or anyone else's.
I am buttersoft
in this chair,
my feet at ease,
my insides
I am thinking art.
I am thinking joy.
I am in a room
with my boy.

- Irene Latham
Readers, I already had motherhood on my mind after yesterday's poem about the Mama cat and her kittens. AND THEN our oldest son came over for supper last night. It is always a joy to share space with him! And that became the empathic bridge between me and Anne Whistler, who was sitting in a room with her artist-son Jemie (her nickname for James). You can read more about this portrait (and those real-life storms) at The Detroit Institute of Arts website. Thank you for visiting!


  1. That's just lovely, Irene! The buttersoft is startling, but you make it work, especially as it's followed by the wonderful "my insides/are candlelit." Wow!

    1. I so agree, Kate. I had the same reaction. I even looked again to see if I could sense her buttersoftness....often it shows how we don't know what is going on inside, probably more often than not. Janet F.

  2. Love this, Irene! I felt my heart lift with those last 4 lines. :) As Kate said, buttersoft startles and then, wow!

  3. No nicer thing than to spend time with the "kids", even when so grown up. I love the connection and your imagination, Irene.

  4. You've perfectly captured the essence of a remarkable woman, able to survive life's many terrible storms and still be able to embrace art, celebrate joy, and find happiness in time spent with her beloved boy. Beauty.

  5. In a room with my boy....yes, the joy of being with your child. That is the masterpiece and "ta da!" of this lovely poem.

  6. Amazing how you capture the art with your poem-story. Love it!

  7. Oh, just when you think your child has reached the perfect age, they move on to another perfect age. I love my grown children who have become my friends. This is a sweet poem and love the ending!

  8. I read it a couple times, and each time I felt the powerful, quick turn midway with "buttersoft." Well-done, Irene. And thanks for the personal back story.

  9. Love this and how an evening with your boy became the bridge to this poem.

  10. This is so lovely! Like many others commented, the word "buttersoft" was such a turning point and then into "candlelit insights" and that soft glow of maternal joy. Lovely!

  11. I know there were many times my mom was happy just to have me in the same room, even if I was talking to someone else, or working at the stove while she read the newspaper at the table. You captured that motherhood feeling perfectly!

  12. Irene, this hits so true to home. I love when I get some time with my son. Parents, it seems to me, never truly understand the words, "it goes by in a flash"....I adore "my insides candlelit" really captures that joy of just being in the room with your loved one, especially a child. Janet F.

  13. I like how joyful you made Whistler's mother. To me, she always seems to be looking back, at her youth, at her losses, at her memory-ghosts, but now I see it in a whole new candlelit way. Thanks.

  14. I love this poem. The shift from stormy clouds and colors to buttersoft and candlelit and art and joy is wonderful.

  15. And we know just how lovely it is to be in a room with my boy.

  16. Catching up on some I've missed! You draw out character so skillfully, Irene. I just love this poem— love hearing what Whistler's Mother has to say... thinking maybe one day I might say something similar.

    BTW, not that I'm putting on any pressure at all, it's totally your choice, but if you're interested in putting something up on the padlet this month, just about anything you've written this month would fall into Laura Shovan's Persona Poem challenge from May 2016.


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