J’S Theater: Poems: Shira Dentz & Robert Hayden

by John Keene

I first saw some of Claude Monet‘s (1840-1926) “Waterlilies” paintings on a school trip to the Art Institute of Chicago when I was junior high school. The trip was memorable–and I have written about it, in condensed form, in Annotations–not just because of the visit to the art museum and my encounter with examples of some of the finest European art of the late 19th and early 20th century, but also because of an unexpected moment, when my classmates and I spied a sailor making love to his girlfriend in a nearby window. This was before cellphones or even inexpensive cameras (beyond Polaroids) and video cameras, so it was a scene that, like the water lilies, I and they committed to the sole repository available: memory.

I am not suggesting that I associate Monet’s “Waterlilies” paintings solely with this experience, but there is a sensuousness, a tinge of eros, in Monet’s great Impressionist series of flowers and water and light and space, the colors and brushstrokes vibrant and shifting, the Giverney landscapes so alive that the paintings themselves seem to come to life, casting a spell over the viewer.  Over the years I have been discussing and occasionally writing about visual art, I have encountered opposition about particular artists I love (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Lois Maillou Jones, Adrian M. S. Piper, etc.) and art works, like Marcel Duchamp‘s “Fountain” or Francis Bacon‘s portraits, but I have never heard a negative word about Monet’s water lilies. (I have read some critiques, of course.)

Today’s poems, then, summon Monet’s late masterpieces. The first poem is by Shira Dentz, a poet I have known since my 20s; my friend the fine poet Amy Lemmon introduced us. Shira is a gifted poet as well and the author of four books, including Door of Thin Skins (2012), my favorite and a formal hybrid that manages to surprise and delight from start to finish. Her “Monet” poem appears in her 2010 collection, Black Seeds on a White Dish, whose title, as the poem below make clear, is drawn from this poem.

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