Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A short checklist of African American poets on artworks & artists

Images by Christian Schad, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Frida Kahlo have served as inspiration for black writers.

Poets are regularly responding to artwork and artists. Robert D. Denham's Poets on Paintings: A Bibliography (2010), for instance, catalogs approximately 2,500 poems focused on paintings, a practice known as ekphrasis. Some of my recent research led me to look over other instances of African American poets (and a poet-short story writer) producing work about artists and artworks.

What follows are some examples of poetry about artworks & artists. As always, the list is not exhaustive.   

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• Gwendolyn Brooks's "The Wall" pays tribute to the mural The Wall of Respect (1967).

• Mahogany L. Browne's "upon viewing the death of basquiat*" references signature strikethroughs of the famous painter. 

• Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's "Migration" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• celeste doaks’s “To the Sea, From Frida” responds to Frida Kahlo's painting Memory

• Rita Dove's "Agosta the Winged Man and Rasha the Black Dove" takes Christian Schad's Agosta the Winged-Man & Rasha the Black Dove as the point of reference.  

• Rita Dove's "Protocol" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Rita Dove's "Say Grace" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Cornelius Eady's “Jacob Lawrence: Summer Street Scene” refers to the painting by Lawrence.

• Nikky Finney's "Migration Portraiture" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Rachel Eliza Griffiths's “July 13, 1954” refers to the death date of Frida Kahlo.

• Reginald Harris's "Baltimore Uproar" finds inspiration in Romare Bearden's image of the same name.

• Terrance Hayes's "Boll Weevil" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Terrence Hayes's "Four Premonitions" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Tyehimba Jess's "Another Man Done" responds to panel 22 from Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series.

• Tyehimba Jess's "Negro Migration" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Patricia Spears Jones's "Lave" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.


• John Keene's short story "Acrobatique" focuses on the subject of Edgar Degas's Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando.

• Yusef Komunyakaa's "The Great Migration" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Rickey Laurentiis's "Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta" references the painting by Basquiat.

• Rickey Laurentiis's "Black Iris" responds to Georgia O'Keeffe's image of the same title.

• Rickey Laurentiis's "Vanitas with Negro Boy" responds to David Bailly's painting.

• Rickey Laurentiis's "Boy with Thorn" takes the Greco-Roman statue as a point of reference.

• Adrian Matejka's "& Later" takes inspiration from Basquiat's Trumpet.

• Robin Coste Lewis's volume Voyage of the Sable Venus takes its title from Thomas Stothard's "The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies." Lewis's title poem "is comprised solely and entirely of the titles, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present."

• Roger Reeves's "Boy Removing Fleas" references Basquiatt's  Ter Borch: Boy Removing Fleas from Dog.

• Natasha Trethewey's "As the Crow Flies" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Phillis Wheatley's "To S.M. a young African Painter, On Seeing His Works" gives tribute to the 18th century artist, Scipio Moorhead.

• Crystal Williams's "Double Helix" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Crystal Williams's "Year After Year" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Kevin Young produced an essay and series of 10 poems to respond to collages by Romare Bearden.

• Kevin Young's "Thataway" takes Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series as a point of reference.

• Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts focuses on the art and artwork of Basquiat. 

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