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Guest Post at Lisa Romeo Writes: “Whatever Works: Looking at Visual Art to Write Inspired Prose”

7 Feb
Self_Portrait_with_Seven_Fingers (1)

Marc Chagall, Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers

Paintings helped me grope through the dark of my first draft of Daughters of the Air. I wrote a guest blog post about that process on Lisa Romeo’s blog. Here’s how the piece begins:

When I was just starting to write seriously, I fetishized notebooks—and, like an eight-year-old—stickers.  I preferred black, hard-backed notebooks with graph paper that forced my writing into small, neat boxes.  My favorite treat was popping into a stationary store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, to buy a cheap book of Dover Art Stickers depicting famous paintings by Michelangelo, Kahlo, Goya, and the like. I was trying to write the first draft of my first novel, Daughters of the Air, using Hemingway’s supposed model of 300 words a day, no more, no less, stopping mid-sentence and all that jazz.

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Years later, still enraptured with the process, I ended up teaching several classes on writing from art for Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery (you can see my students’ work alongside the art that inspired them in these e-booklets the Henry made here and here) as well as several blog posts for Ploughshares, including this one on writing from abstract art. And, my next novel features an artist. And, many of my essays engage with art in one way or another, like this one on Goya, in the Los Angeles Review of Books. All this writing about writing—it’s time for me to get back to a gallery and refill the well!

Blame Frida

28 Apr

Sometimes I look to visual art for writing inspiration. I have a stack of little Dover Fine Art Stickers for several painters (Kahlo, Klimt, etc.) that I’ll randomly select and stick in my notebook and then write whatever comes to mind. Here’s what spewed forth from Kahlo’s “The Little Hart”.

The little hart fled through the dark wood, hips hobbled by multiple arrows thrust in her body. Wind licked blood trickling down her fur, drying in spots, mingling with sweat in others. Brush crunched underfoot and she was conscious only of her labored snorts of breath and the thought that They were out there, waiting for her to collapse in exhaustion, ready to saw her limbs apart for their great spring feast.

Her antlers had only recently grown so long and majestic and she lowed at the thought of them being carved off and used as tools to separate her flesh from her skin. Or worse, as mere decoration, her head mounted on a wall as a show of might and extravagance.

A bird twittered in a tree and she realized she had stopped running, was actually stumbling. She looked up at a broken tree branch, jutting from the trunk she leaned against. Above, a blue patch of sky.

Then, a whistle, a swift thrust of sharp in the soft part of her arching throat. A buckling of the knees, the underbrush against her cheek, then nothingness.

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