Poetry inspired by abstract art
On Sept. 25, a group of writers gathered to write and share poems sparked by the paintings of Waldemar Smolarek, now on display at Zack Gallery. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Poetry events at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery have become a regular feature in the last few years. Every couple of months, writers of Pandora’s Collective meet at the gallery to read their poems inspired by the art. They held their latest gathering on Sept. 25.
The abstract paintings currently on display at the Zack seem to have been created to inspire poetry. Waldemar Smolarek’s work is known to gallery patrons. Smolarek’s first show at the Zack, in 2012, was posthumous – he died in 2010 – but his art is alive, infused with vibrant colours and the artist’s unique frenetic energy.
Smolarek, a proponent of purely abstract compositions, filled his canvasses with dynamic currents. His lines, in every imaginable hue, fly like arrows. His multicoloured balls dance like polka dots. His vivid splashes of blue and peach flow into each other, seemingly at random, but there is logic in the twists and turns of the artist’s brush. His art invites people to delve into their own psyche, and the poets of the evening responded to the paintings’ visual challenge with a wide variety of works: long and short, light-hearted and lamenting. Some poems were inspired by one specific painting, while other rhyming flights of fancy encompassed the entire gallery.
As the event was a collaboration between the Zack Gallery and the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library, Helen Pinsky, the head librarian, gave a short introduction before passing the microphone to Leanne Boschman, the host of the evening.
Although it was her first time as host, Boschman has participated in the Zack Gallery poetry evenings twice before. “The first time, the exhibition included the artist’s journal and sketches, and I found it fascinating to see the artistic journey in progress,” she told the Independent. “The second time, it was a show of abstract photographs…. I like abstract art in connection to my poetry. I can play loosely with colours and shapes and words. It’s harder when the art shows specific people or places. With abstract art, the poet is free to follow her own associations. Sometimes, it’s a story; sometimes, a feeling or a question.”
Most of the participating poets agreed with her assessment, and Smolarek’s art was a rich source for many pieces. The audience, although not large, was extremely generous in support of anyone at the mic, both the listed readers and the brave volunteers who took part in the open mic portion of the event. The friendly atmosphere, combined with the bright paintings and Boschman’s humorous but factual introductions of every reader, made the evening a joyful celebration of colours and words.
The first poet who read, Suzy Malcolm, has been writing poetry since she was a teenager. “It’s my fifth time at the Zack,” she said. “I prefer abstract art for my poetry. It feels like a gift to write about colours and shapes.” She writes poetry for children as well as adults, and her poems at this event reflected both sides of her poetic endeavours.
Eva Waldauf, the next reader, started writing poetry when she was around 40. “I’m a visual artist,” she said. “Once, I had to write a poem for a class, and I liked it. I thought it was fun; thought, ‘I could do it,’ so I began writing poetry.” Her poems were not written on the spot. “I visited the gallery last week to see the paintings, so I would have time to write and edit my poems. I like to come prepared.” Although she admitted to always being nervous before reading her poems, one wouldn’t have guessed it from her performance. Her reading, relaxed and expressive, enhanced by expansive gestures, revealed a good actress as well as an original poet.
The next presenter, David Geary, staged his poems as letters to Smolarek. His presentation was comical. As if playing a game, he strode around the gallery and enrolled everyone in the audience and all the paintings as his willing and laughing playmates.
As a counterpoint to his irreverent show, Sita Carboni’s poetry resonated with mournful tunes. One of the co-founders of Pandora’s Collective, Carboni noted that, with art like Smolarek’s, a poet is free to explore in any direction. Her poetry, contemplative and deep, included a goodbye to someone she lost recently, and she couldn’t finish her reading because of the tears that choked her.
Warren Dean Fulton also prefers abstract art for his poetry. “Abstract art allows you to project your own feeling and emotions. It is speaking to your subconscious. The poet is much less free with portraits or landscape.”
Fulton has participated in the poetry readings at the Zack before. “It is interesting to hear how the same paintings could inspire such different interpretations,” he mused. As he likes to improvise with his poetry, he hadn’t seen Smolarek’s work before that evening.
The last poet of the night, Amanda Wardrop, is also an experienced writer and reader. A schoolteacher, Wardrop said she finds poetry everywhere: in her interactions with students, in figurative art and in abstract art. “Different poetry, that’s all,” she said. “Figurative art often results in a narrative, while abstract art pushes one to a more emotional response.” She did her research before coming to the reading that night, and her poetry touched on the artist’s technique: layers and textures, as they related to our lives.
The night concluded with a lively musical performance by Kempton Dexter, who played his guitar, sang and joked to the delight of the audience.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Balls collide and come apart,
Lines zigzag and soar,
Feeding moxie to my heart
Fields awash with colour.
Reds and blues and greens explode
Shards and doodles frolic,
Polka dots in quirky mode,
Joyful and symbolic.
– Olga Livshin, inspired by the artwork of Waldemar Smolarek