After Mark Rothko's Untitled (1960)
With my hand on your forehead,
I know the stillness of your
seven cervical vertebrae,
know that there is no space
left in your body for
lavender or apothecary—
You exist only in papers about
people who were once living,
claiming you had a good marriage &
three beautiful children,
the write-up featuring a fluoroscopy
of the bones surrounding frontal
and occipital lobes, heat of thalamus
coming through in
navy and red and synapse—
In life, it’s clear you only dreamt of
closed eyes and shut mouth
trees that are just trees
loosening threads &
the dryness and closure of winter—
3 Questions for Kristin
What was your process for creating these pieces?
As a writer and artist, I have always been interested in the ways we can intersect image and text to create meaning, especially through ekphrastic poetry. I love Surrealist artwork, so writing "Cell Division" and "Lowborn" allowed me to put into words what I was seeing and experiencing in/with Varo's paintings. "Pharmaceuticals" came about because of an ekphrastic poetry event I participated in while living in Toledo, OH. The Toledo Museum of Art encouraged participants to write about a work in their collection, so I interacted with Rothko's Untitled (1960) to create "Pharmaceuticals."
What is the significance of the forms/genres you chose for this work?
Ekphrastic poetry is such an interesting form/genre of writing, and I especially appreciate how it can help us think about Surrealist and/or abstract art. With these types of artwork, the meaning might not be immediately communicated, but ekphrastic poetry can help break the piece down into more digestible parts and allow the viewer to examine all aspects of the image through a critical lens. This process is helpful for me in constructing a narrative and telling a story through ekphrastic poetry; an ekphrastic poem isn't merely a description of the work of art, but rather works with and alongside the art to invite fresh perspectives and ways of thinking about and envisioning the work.
What is the significance of this work to you?
As I mentioned, I'm a writer and artist and I frequently intersect elements of writing and visual art in the work I do. Ekphrastic poetry is so intriguing and effective because it uses both image and text to communicate. The writing and the artwork interact in ways that invite reader-viewers to think about the subject matter differently than if only the writing or only the artwork was available.
Kristin LaFollette is a writer, artist, and photographer and serves as the Art Editor at Mud Season Review. She is the author of Hematology (winner of the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize) and Body Parts (winner of the 2017 GFT Press Chapbook Contest). She received her Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University and is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana. You can visit her on Twitter @k_lafollette03 or on her website at kristinlafollette.com.