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, December 7, 2008

Stuart Davis, Walt Whitman, and Jazz

Stuart Davis was born on this date (December 7) in 1894. Davis’s parents were both painters, and his father worked as an art editor for a newspaper. Therefore, one would not be surprised to find Davis follow their lead with his interest in art as well. However, Davis explored fresh and different paths of inspiration during his career. He discovered an influence from jazz when he visited nighttime locales in New York and New Jersey as an art student, particularly frequenting those growing hot spots in New York City, inexpensive clubs established in Harlem mainly to attract blacks with a fondness for the new music being performed. Davis also found a formative influence in the European Cubist artists whose paintings he first encountered at the Armory Show in 1913. Throughout his life Davis combined these two inspirations to create a novel mixture of the American spirit evident in jazz—as well as images of objects associated with contemporary society or popular culture—and what he perceived as the twentieth-century European tendency toward abstraction.

As Robert Hughes notes in his book on the history of American art, American Visions, Davis sometimes countered criticism that his work leaned too heavily on the foreign influence of Cubism, and he objected to claims that he was losing touch with his American roots, especially when Davis took a tour of France in the late 1920s. Indeed, Hughes observes that Davis believed his European excursion had “only convinced him of the essential vitality of American subject matter, whose character he would praise in a torrent of images reminiscent of his poetic hero, Walt Whitman, impacting the relatively old and the brashly new.” Hughes quotes Stuart Davis:

American wood and iron work of the past; civil war and skyscraper architecture; the brilliant colors on gasoline stations, chain-store fronts, and taxi-cabs; the music of Bach; synthetic chemistry; the poetry of Rimbaud; fast travel by train, auto, and aeroplane which brought new and multiple perspectives; electric signs; the landscape and boats of Gloucester, Mass.; 5 & 10 cent store kitchen utensils; movies and radio; Earl Hines hot piano and Negro jazz music in general . . .. The quality of these things plays a role in determining the character of my paintings. Not in the sense of describing them in graphic images, but by predetermining an analogous dynamics in the design, which becomes a new part of the American environment. Paris School, Abstraction, Escapism? Nope, just Color-Space compositions celebrating the resolution in art of stresses set up by some aspects of the American scene.

When Whitman had declared he heard America singing in the nineteenth century, he imitated in the language of his poetry the distinctive voices he perceived but had not yet adequately been represented in his nation’s literature. Similarly, Stuart Davis depicts the sounds of a new era, particularly the jazz music evolving in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, in the flow of color and position of shapes seen on his canvas.

By the late 1930s Stuart Davis became enthralled by the “swing” jazz then getting so popular across the country. He hoped to incorporate into his artwork the rhythms heard in musical arrangements by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and others. Consequently, when commissioned in 1938 by the works project administration for artists, initiated by the federal government during the depression years, to paint an urban mural for a housing complex in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Davis produced Swing Landscape. The mural exists as a work that he meant to be an example of how the artist bridges the domestic and foreign influences he’d felt over the decades.

As well, Stuart Davis used the painting in such a manner as to lessen any separations he’d detected between the urban cityscape of New York and nature’s landscape or seascape he’d frequently witnessed during summer holidays on the Massachusetts shore, perhaps even closing the gap between his affection for both the sophisticated European classics of Bach and the gritty American jazz of Count Basie, two very different musicians whose compositions Davis admired greatly. In the end, Davis devised in Swing Landscape a piece many now consider among his masterpieces. Oddly enough, Swing Landscape never was installed in Williamsburg and does not grace the East Coast urban region for which it was intended; instead, the work is now housed in the middle of the American heartland at the Indiana University Art Museum.

Another wonderful example of Stuart Davis’s art available in Indiana can be located in Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art. (I recommend to all the online video tour of the Brauer Museum of Art.) Study for a Drawing, a screenprint and a much later work, was selected by me as the cover for the Spring/Summer 2002 issue (Volume III, Number 2) of Valparaiso Poetry Review. In his excellent commentary concerning the cover art, Gregg Hertzlieb, Director of the Brauer Museum of Art, offered the following insight:

Davis’s 1955 screenprint Study for a Drawing is a small, delightful work that is alive with the fragmented, syncopated energy that characterizes his best pictures. Using the primary colors red and blue as well as black and white, Davis reduces visual experience down to its fundamentals. His flat, geometric forms can be thought of as the building blocks of representation. Resembling cutout shapes a child may create, the forms are meant to present a highly generalized version of the urban activity that Davis saw around him. In Study for a Drawing, Davis infuses often dark or cerebral cubism with a festive air. The picture at first glance reminds one of Mondrian; however, the active composition of the print demonstrates the power of diagonals and irregular contours to impart a feeling or tone very different from the austere mood of Mondrian’s canvases.

Like the image itself, the title of this work is something of a puzzle. Drawings tend to be spontaneous and are often done in preparation for a labor-intensive print. Here, those practices appear to be reversed. The print is the study and may have been an exercise for the artist in working out design elements that would figure into a major drawing or major series of drawings. The title conveys the idea of Davis involved in a process, where the image, seemingly produced in a sudden burst of creativity, is actually the product of a number of careful steps of abstraction. Davis’s jostling forms are extreme simplifications of real objects or environments that served as initial points of interest. His inventive gift lies in the remarkable way he is able to retain a general flavor or sense of an observed scene through an almost completely nonobjective vocabulary.

Readers are invited to revisit the contents of the Spring/Summer 2002 issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review containing Study for a Drawing and the rest of Gregg Hertzlieb’s commentary on Stuart Davis. Moreover, the issue includes poems and an essay by featured poet David Baker, as well as poetry by Barry Ballard, Jared Carter, Catherine Daly, John Gilgun, Marie C. Jones, Mary Linxweiler, Walt McDonald, Vivian Shipley, Floyd Skloot, Daniel Tobin, and James R. Whitley. Additionally, in this issue Daryll Tippens interviews Walt McDonald. Finally, books by David Baker, Jared Carter, Michael Palmer, and Vivian Shipley also are reviewed.

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