The following post is by Katherine Blood, curator of fine prints in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division.
It was a dream come true to have the chance to showcase marvelous examples of art engaged with poetry and literature for the Library’s National Book Festival, working alongside colleagues Mark Dimunation and Stephanie Stillo. Our festival program, “Art, Literature and Poetry: Creative Collaborations at the Library of Congress,” explored how art and poetry can share narrative space to amplify and deepen our appreciation of both creative languages.
Together, we highlighted artists’ books and prints featuring Julia de Burgos, Ken Campbell, Kate DeCiccio, Emily Dickinson, Lesley Dill, Amanda Gorman, Joy Harjo, Langston Hughes, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Bunky Echo-Hawk, Juan Felipe Herrera, Antonio Martorell, Joan Miró, Didier Mutel, Dennis O’Neill, Pablo Picasso, Artemio Rodríguez, Leonid Tishkov, Claire Van Vliet, and many others. Now, as an added bonus, I’d like to share some further artist prints that blend art and poetry in a variety of compelling ways.
Cy Twombly’s midcentury linocut was the result of an extraordinary creative collaboration at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The Library’s impression bears an inscription by publisher Nicola Cernovich on the enclosed letterpress poem that tells the story of the print’s creation: “My memory of the cover is that Jess [Collins] sent a line drawing & though I admired his work, I wanted something much bolder & calligraphic and I asked [Robert] Rauschenberg—he suggested Twombly, who brushed on two large lino blocks and told me to do the cutting, which I began & then began to wonder how to cut around loose brush stroke, so I went back & Bob Rauschenberg said to interpret freely and took the cutter and showed me how to gouge.”
Twombly’s vigorous strokes, printed in deep black on salmon pink paper, are punctuated by “chatter” marks caused by relief areas in the linoleum matrix that give the work a vibrating energy. The folded print contains Robert Duncan’s poem “Song of the Border-Guard.” Here is an excerpt:
The man with his lion under the shed of wars
sheds his belief as if he shed tears.
The sound of words waits—
a barbarian host at the borderline of sense.
Along about six o’clock I take out my guitar
and sing to a lion
who sleeps like a line of poetry
in the shed of wars.
In making his quietly powerful portrait of poet Amiri Baraka, artist Jesus Barraza remembered: “I worked on this poster for an event at EastSide Arts Alliance where he was a Board Member. This poster uses a classic poster style, emulating the high contrast posters of the 1970’s. In designing this piece, I wanted to make this look like a poster that would have been made back in the day, giving it a throwback feeling.” Barraza printed his poster at California’s Taller Tupac Ameru, which he co-founded with artist Favianna Rodriguez. Barraza is also co-founder of Dignidad Rebelde, along with partner and fellow artist Melanie Cervantes. Today, the print is part of the Library’s Mission Gráfica/La Raza Graphics Collection.
Gail Panske’s witty, oblique, yet unmistakable portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) was inspired by Lauren K. Alleyne’s poem, containing the line: “… some women ride dreams and bend the air.” It shows a lacy collar floating against a dark background. In turn, the title of Alleyne’s poem, “What Night Knows (After Gauguin’s Le Cheval Blanc),” references Paul Gaugin’s famous painting from the Musée d’Orsay collection. Though Panske created her woodcut while Ginsburg was still living, the image can now read as both homage and eulogy.
Keith Knight, a.k.a. Keef, is known for his comic strips, including The K Chronicles and The Knight Life, as well as his television series Woke. His poignant and affectionate portrait of poet Maya Angelou was published shortly after her death in 2014. He shows her laughing and surrounded by her own words, including lines from her empowering poem “Phenomenal Woman”. This inkjet print is one of a number of Knight’s works in the Library’s Small Press Expo collection.
The Library’s collections include myriad and growing examples that show how such hybrid expressions can mutually enhance and transform—providing gateways for fresh exploration.
- Watch the webcast “Art, Literature and Poetry: Creative Collaborations at the Library of Congress: National Book Festival 2021.”
- Hear Keith Knight in conversation with SPX executive director Warren Bernard, when they visited the Library in 2020.
- Listen to poets from the Library’s Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
- Explore further posts on From the Catbird Seat about Alice Leora Briggs and Mark Strand; Lesley Dill and Emily Dickinson; Artemio Rodríguez and 2015-2017 Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera; Grace Hartigan and Barbara Guest; artist Mario Torero; current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, and more.
I enjoyed and learned so much from this insightful, concise blogpost! Both the selection and discussion of these prints beautifully demonstrate the highly varied ways in which visual artists engage so fruitfully with writers’ words to bring forth such strong works of art.