By David Crews
A little over a year ago, I was living in a buddy’s house, squatting, looking over the place while he was taking care of his elderly mother down in Meridian, Mississippi. Of course, I didn’t mind because the rent was cheap and he had a nice place for me and Murphyman—a yard in a quiet neighborhood close to a lot of things going on. Though it was one of the strangest places I’ve lived.
His house looked like a museum—famous works of art frame to frame in every room. The living room filled with Leonardo portraits. Of course, the “Mona Lisa.” I remember some rich lady holding a rat. The dining room was Bruegel—”Hunters in the Snow,” the uneasy feeling of those slumped over slaves in “The Harvesters,” and “The Wedding Dance” and that guy with the boner. The den downstairs was Van Gogh’s room. And there, beyond “Starry Night” some of the one-eared self-portraits (which is kind of a deep cut when it comes to home décor).
But it all changed in that upstairs bathroom.
In the bathroom upstairs (the one I used on a daily basis) hung a reproduction of “The Siren”—painted in 1900 by John William Waterhouse—now part of a private collection. I had never seen this piece before, nor was I familiar with the paintings of Waterhouse (though he is somewhat well-known).
Thing is, I looked at this painting every day. Every day, her longing gaze down at the forlorn castaway. Every day, his arm reaching for the rocks looking up toward her and the sky with both wonder and fear (she was never a danger in my mind.) And the painting at some point began to sing to me. I longed to retell their story in my own way and started writing love poems about two unlikely lovers. Soon after a thought arrived: we hang art on our walls so that we can be present with it. Each and every day we can see it, experience it again and again. And that presence becomes a sincere intimacy, is full of possibility.
But we don’t just hang art on our walls. We stack and collate it for the record player, scratch them out while cooking. We place them on end tables and mantles so as to feel their third dimensions. We order them, alphabetically and by genre, on the bookshelves of our hearts.
Now, I don’t want to be labeled a hypocrite or out of touch so I will admit: these days, I submit my poetry more to online journals than to print ones. I recognize that people and thus audiences who are available to read my work exist in a far larger quantity on the world wide web. The future inevitably will come in connectivity.
But there is something to be said for the material world. The world untranslated by the filters of technology. The world of weight and texture. Closet smell, library smell, dust and musk and the wellsprings of sensibility. Art keeps us in these imaginary spaces.
At ARTS By the People, this spring, we launch again our Platform Review Chapbook Series. It will be a contest—one for poetry, one in prose—and the winning authors will have one hundred numbered and signed handmade chapbooks designed and constructed by artist, LK James. The entire process from start to finished will involve individual artists. And as per the mission of ARTS By the People this project will give care to promote art as well as community.
Though we must keep in mind—this art, this community, even the books that come from it—are all held captive to the material world. And the book, like anything else of that world, though it remains closest to us in that it’s time too is fleeting, it will one day like ourselves crumble and turn to dust.