Dr. Nancy-Jean Pément on Collection of Rarities
Rich collaborations require a spirit of openness that is without pride and imbued with a deeply held trust, especially among relative strangers. For poets in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, writing in response to the art of Kevin Sloan and working with the California Museum of Art, Thousand Oaks Executive Director, Tish Greenwood, and her colleagues, has been an honour. I know this may sound trite but I do not mean it to be. Indeed, it has been a wonderful privilege for poets across these counties to join forces with an artist the caliber of Kevin Sloan.
Over the past several months, this collective effort has relied upon the generosity of the artistic spirit, and a recognition of the important themes explored in Kevin Sloan’s paintings to create what critic, Carmine Starnino calls the “perfected expression of a sensibility in language”. Ekphrastic poetry is a long-practiced literary form—art inspired by art—in which writers, undeterred and, sometimes, overwhelmed by the ineffable or, sometimes, searing emotions conjured by the visual arts, (re)turn to language to convey what had, until then, escaped expression on the page. Poets, just as painters, are generally known for their ability to pay attention to the smallest details while keeping in mind a larger message. Writers harness the power of descriptive language, or what the beloved poet, Mary Oliver, calls “the language of particulars” expressed in imagery and through the linguistic strategies of metaphor, simile, allusion and personification. And, though I am not a visual artist, it seems to me that painters rely on similar strategies to convey their messages, to evoke emotion and to inspire deep reflection.
Among the humblest of everyday occurrences, no matter our professions, in the arts or otherwise, anything we make whether it is dinner for loved ones, a master’s thesis to graduate, a painting, a photograph, a poem, the crown on our tooth, whatever it may be—before it was made, it did not exist. In that way, each of us brings to life our own chefs-d’oeuvre—works of art—inspired by and created in (extra)ordinary days. To be sure, it is a truism to say that what we make is informed by our humanity and our lived experiences. But, so it is. And, it is in this spirit that the poems that accompany these resplendent and dramatic paintings are offered in appreciation, and in recognition of the precarity of the natural world, and of humankind’s place within it at this moment in history. As Muriel Rukeyser has written, poetry requires our “full consciousness; it asks us to feel and it asks us to respond. Through poetry we are brought face to face with our world”.
In this exhibit, A Collection of Rarities, ekphrastic poetry has served to echo the recognition, and dismay emergent in our gamble with the fate of our planet so brilliantly portrayed in these paintings. Poetry, in this context, provides a voice for the creatures who cannot speak for themselves, who war with each other in a quest for survival, and for the landscapes that persist and adapt, oftentimes against all odds, or as afterthoughts in the face of human progress.
These poems, like so many, are prayers. They insist that we acknowledge the implications of our insatiable needs and remind us of our connection to the authenticity and guilelessness of the natural world. In these poems, we behold the keen capacity for observation inspired by the painter; we witness the sensibility and sensitivity of writers who pay attention to small things; to the ineffable, to what is delicate yet resilient. We hope that you enjoy the union of these deeply evocative paintings with the poems we have made. We hope they inspire you to reflect upon the intellectual, emotional and spiritual responses they may evoke as we consider our troubled yet tenacious world.
Dr. Nancy-Jean Pément
Member of the Ventura County Poet Laureate Committee