From Echolocations, Poets Map Madison (2013): Slow Art of Seven Madison Poets
by Russell Gardner
These seven pages of poems, selected by Madison Poets-Laureate, Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman, celebrate slow art in contrast to our current age that emphasizes the flexibility and convenience of electronic books. Weathered pickets from an old fence frame the poems augmented by a variety of other materials: fabric, pictures, and found objects. Each poem becomes the centerpiece of a new artistic work, each a single page with two sides for a person’s deliberate reading.
Before E-books, codex book-forms with bound-together paper pages and back-spines have been used for centuries. Improved over clay tablets and scrolls, they too had enormous advantage and dominated the reading experience with speed, convenience and efficiency.
Picket Fence Editions enhance contrasting experience. Individual pages concentrate the words and augment in multiple perceptions the reader’s apprehension of the author’s words read while handled—felt, turned, thought about—so poetic intent enters a fuller awareness.
Mary Demeter Thurrell, Madison visual artist, feels that each page should be experienced over several hours for the poem’s meaning to resonate best with visual, tactile, and literary/cultural/ historical allusions. This contrasts to the museum experience where one cannot touch, even if tempted. On the other hand, these pages will wear over time in contrast to museum preservation. So now, early in their career, Katrin Talbot’s photographic art preserves them for Verse Wisconsin.
Picket Fence Edition IV
Russell Gardner, Jr.
Madison, Wisconsin, March 5, 2014
Crossing Tracks, Fordham and Commercial
Contemplating my new used car, after reading Neruda’s ode to his socks.
There are all these discoveries
Captured in the newly-acquired
Absence of negatives.
Absence of auto fluid smell,
permeating the house
Absence of fumes in the garage,
eternally open window
Absence of constantly sagging visor,
premonition of impaled forehead
Absence of sudden parachuting of moon-roof control panel
dangling from the ceiling like a spook-house surprise
Provoked by every bump,
perpetually jumbled streets.
For weeks my arm still reaches reflexively:
hold visor with thumb
control panel with fingers.
Micro-habits of economy.
Their absence would not occur (to consciousness)
As perks of privilege.
Salsa and Dance at the Jazz Fest, Union Terrace
Two dancers, so close to my table I could touch
them, their hips swinging, the conga player’s
hands talking to each other in twos and threes,
her hips, his, they say, step into a June night.
The sax sings for clouds that stretch and split
spilling orange stripes like paint along the edge
of a world as immediate as the trumpet player
blowing on the sax’s spinning line. The dancers
shake and sweat, their laughter the breezes
that sway sail boats and rattle anchor chains, boats
drawing closer. The band loops into a chorus.
My dancers pass palms, turn under each other’s
arms, wrap around twice, embracing belly to back.
I want to taste their sweat. I want to hold them,
the night sky, embrace the band’s cross rhythms,
this momentary forever. They stumble as they
must, fade away quickly as boats tied up, the band
packed up, the lights turned out, leaving only
the moon and an old poet slipping his anchor.
Michael Penn II
i stare into your Black
the way They stare into mine.
We can relate
because neither are expected to be
but it works.
yet we’re still self-convincing.
the shunned side of the spectrum
illuminates the rest.
We have stars to realign and solar systems to caress.
Black holes spin through blind-eye worlds
i forget if mine is worth saving.
They fear the abyss implanted in our skin
self-defense is relative.
They want Black to be forgotten.
a lost piece of the archive.
disappearance is presence elsewhere.
They display your Black in convenience.
can everything be said in nothing?
a vast slate of nebulous.
silence is darkness, but it does not equal Black.
Chazen Museum of Art
Dinner at the Shish Cafe
My husband surprises me over dinner by asking Rabia, our Moroccan
If she’s heard of Rabia from Basra, Rabi’a Al-’Adawiyya,
The eighth century Iraqi poet, the holy woman born into poverty,
The visionary who when freed from slavery chose a lifetime of prayer.
My peace, O my brothers and sisters, is my solitude
And my Beloved is with me always.
Muslim mothers give daughters her name. Of course, Rabia knows.
She takes our order—Syrian salad with artichokes and feta cheese,
Pea soup with potatoes, lamb and string beans stewed in tomato sauce.
She sits with us while she writes the dishes down on her pad.
She speaks English, French and Arabic. She is studying to be an architect.
She holds our wine glasses at the stem, not the lip.
The lamb comes with rice mixed with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.
She kisses me goodnight on both cheeks.
My husband says listening to poetry is hard work. Poems are dense.
Sometimes, I let him read mine. He sits quietly. He studies them.
He edits in blue ink in the margins. He writes words like
Good, nice image, not quite right, and meaning unclear.
Mr. James Braxton: A Memory Poem
Eighty-seven years sparsely covered his jutting bones
with a veneer of amber skin.
His quixotic face held an absence of pain
even when he retold
the hurry from Mississippi to Madison.
Jumping the train
at nineteen to escape a lynching mob
cause he didn’t hold both his voice and his eyes down
when he “sir’d” a white man incorrectly.
Radiant kindness beamed on high
from his deep set eyes.
Bright lights that clicked on
to show folks the way into his smile
and to continue right on into his heart.
His curling southern talk wrapped folks
into a quilt of soft conversation.
James Braxton earned and lost much in Madison, Wisconsin.
His business, his money, one of his houses along with a wife.
But he never lost respect from good people
or his personal joy
as he walked up and down Williamson Street
With his stretched out hand, a wave of authority and welcome.
What I Meant to Say
I meant to say that sometimes my thoughts get ahead of me.
Like the time on my bike this spring on the way home from
work speeding down the hill where Lindfield crosses Muirfield.
I’m only a block from home and I put on my brakes just in time as
the cars speed by but my thoughts keep on going. Right through
the intersection. Go on without me. Thinking. Not about work or
home or even this poem. No I’m thinking or whatever it is of me is
thinking something I can’t remember now, but I do remember how
they kept on going, my thoughts, I mean. Got away from me.
Moved ahead of me. Went on as if they didn’t know of me as if
somehow the thoughts I’d grown to know and move with had
nothing to do with me as if their growing was done without me as
if they knew of me as I knew of them as if we had found each other
by chance, had happened not upon each other but more simply
happened to share the same existence for a while. I think even now,
that’s the way of haiku. I mean the way it holds you. Holds you
until you have it written. With or without a bike, speeds on
without you. Knows of intersections you’ve never heard of will
never see. How when it’s written it takes you back to when it
wasn’t. How haiku exist without you. How sometimes even a bike
can’t take you there.
This Was a Great Day
I planted Brandywine tomatoes, heritage
species from 1879, 90 days to fruit, in a corner
of Gretel’s garden plot, and visited old friends
full of insights on history—Judy,
my Irish friend, recounting the effects
of the 1588 Spanish Armada on Ireland’s later lot—
land seizures, church burnings,
bans on education for Catholics, famine,
as the English crops went to feed
the English, in retaliation for the help
they gave the Spanish fleet; and my English friend
George updating me on how King Phillip of Spain
mismanaged that same fleet, appointed as chief
his most pious advisor, who’d never been to sea.
I marveled at their converging, wide-ranging reading,
the cool spring day that kept lilac and tulip
and apple blossoms all blooming together,
and for our dinner Will steamed a mess of nettles
and grilled a grass-fed steak to celebrate
our tenth anniversary, and we contra danced
at Gates of Heaven Synagogue to live fiddle and banjo.
And though the world’s still a mess,
and still we’re working on separation
of church and state, world without war,
that tonic of lively minds mining history
and heritage seed stocks gave me hope,
and scope for local work, a vision of future feasts.