Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mary Cassatt's MOTHER AND CHILD (and a Mother's Day poem)

Perhaps no other American artist has been more closely associated with emotional images of motherhood than Mary Cassatt. During her career as a painter, Cassatt produced a number of portraits depicting children in intimate instances with their mother. Due to her training as an Impressionist and her habit of presenting subjects from a perspective that appears personal yet unsentimental, Cassatt created compelling scenes that captivated viewers’ attention while maintaining an appropriate sense of separation between the artwork and its audience. In this manner, the artist allows all to share a mother’s tender moment with her child, though no accompanying discomfort at having intruded upon someone’s privacy exists. Indeed, the figures in the portrait often are so involved with one another that they do not even seem capable of being conscious of anyone else’s presence.

When observing Mary Cassatt’s portraits of women and children, usually engaged in typical incidents of domestic activity, one might be surprised to discover an important influence of Edgar Degas on her work. Certainly, the family settings in which we observe most of Cassatt’s female characters differ greatly from those portraits of women Degas depicted in his paintings—ballet dancers, bathers, prostitutes—that frequently seem voyeuristic and intrusive. Where one normally finds innocence and serenity in a Cassatt portrait, one sometimes uncovers in Degas offerings the hint of a degree of debauchery or decadence that appears almost cynical and sinister, if not deliciously sinful. Nevertheless, the influence and friendship of Degas—who first invited Mary Cassatt to display her paintings with the Impressionists (then considered a controversial group with whom he frankly did not feel the closeness he subsequently enjoyed with Cassatt)—helped direct Cassatt’s development as an artist.

Mary Cassatt defied expectations for her as the daughter in an affluent American family during the middle of the nineteenth century when she decided to attend art school, even if it was the elite Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Against the wishes of her businessman father, Cassatt departed further from her family’s plans for her when she chose to travel overseas to Italy and France for additional training and experience as a novice artist. She had previously visited Europe accompanied by her mother, acquiring a taste for the creative atmosphere and artistic community she witnessed there. By the time she found herself in Paris during the mid-1870s, Cassatt apparently had determined her future included existence as an exile practicing her craft among some of the most significant painters in Europe, including fellow expatriates like John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. However, after an initial period of rejection, her infatuation with the work of Edgar Degas, as well as his eventual return admiration for her painting, proved crucial in Cassatt’s establishment as an artist whose magnetic portraits drew viewers toward the fully formed physical presence of their figures, particularly the women and children.

In addition to being an American in Paris, Cassatt also stood apart from most of her contemporaries because of her gender. Among the Impressionists at that time Berthe Morisot was the only other female artist regarded to have standing alongside her male counterparts. At times rivals and at times good friends, Morisot and Cassatt confronted inevitable attitudes of resistance and resentment. A female among professional painters faced formidable obstacles and endured difficulties due to prejudice male members of the Impressionists never encountered. Yet, both Morisot and Cassatt earned respect from their peers and praise from some critics, especially for their contributions of feminine sensibility when depicting women working in the home and mothers interacting with their children.

Although a few at the time might have viewed such subject matter as limited and narrow, Cassatt and Morisot overcame that perception by achieving stature beside the other Impressionists when their paintings appeared on the walls in gallery exhibitions or in salon competitions. Surely, as women in that era Cassatt and Morisot were restricted by social mores and norms of gender roles so that they could not venture to Parisian scenes as widely or as easily as the male painters. Some locations were considered out of bounds for women. Even when she visited the theatre, unlike Degas’ portraits of the extroverted female performers in a revealing costume or nude in their dressing rooms, Cassatt’s paintings depicted demure women fashionably attired, seated and observing from the audience. Perhaps as a consequence of their social position, Cassatt and Morisot more often explored and exploited images of routine domestic events and family relationships to which they had access and for which they evidenced empathy.

After settling in Paris, Mary Cassatt resided in France the rest of her life, even though she became blind in her late 60s and could not produce new paintings during the final dozen years leading up to her death at age 82; yet, her work served as a bridge for European art to her native land when she exhibited in the first Impressionist shows on U.S. soil in the late 1800s. In addition, despite her later movement away from identification with the group when she grew a fondness for Japanese art whose influence seeped into her own work, Cassatt’s nationality assisted in Impressionism belatedly gaining greater popularity in America during the early twentieth century. Ironically, though she never had any children, Cassatt forever will be identified with some of the most expressive images of motherhood ever painted, and they are viewed repeatedly every Mother’s Day as emblematic of the occasion.

I admit my own admiration for Mary Cassatt’s portraits of mothers with children subconsciously might have influenced the following poem, a work inspired by my wife and son soon after his birth. On this Mother’s Day, I am pleased to present the poem once again, although this time in the company of Cassatt’s Mother and Child.


She is still there, sitting
in the irregular
shade of a willow tree,
holding a slumbering
child some have come to know
as her first-born, a son.

Strollers pass this woman
bent over her bundle
beneath low-sagging limbs;
the solitary tree
looming beyond vast fields
burned brown by summer sun.

Although the warm August
winds sifting through the leaves
above do not disturb
the two figures below,
a few cumulus clouds
have begun to drift by,

shifting in from the south.
Their dark, ragged edges
graze a distant skyline
of spruce and Douglas fir.
Underneath these massive
mounds, which appear to brush

lightly the far-off hills,
offering brief basins
of shade to the valleys
they cross, momentary
relief from the midday
heat seems to be noticed

no more than the noonday
light has been, as mother
and child both continue
in their consummate bliss
to ignore the brilliant
world that whirls around them.

—Edward Byrne

[“Summer Idyll” appeared in one of my collections of poems, Words Spoken, Words Unspoken, published by Chimney Hill Press in 1995.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love your poem and I do believe that poems are the best way to steal your mothers attention this coming mothers day. unlike other forms of writing like songs, poems are easy to write and read.Mothers day poems to her.