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It’s a question a blogger friend asked one day in response to my comment that I would like to try to paint my poems.

Often my poems start with a strong visual image, and as I’m reading them I’m seeing these images flash through my mind.

When I wrote “Hot Hills in Summer Heat” I was travelling on Highway 101, looking up at the golden hills profiled against the blue sky as they cascaded down to the sea.

I watch them every summer, the hot hills

Crouched like a lion beside the road.

Something masculine and sensual about that image gripped me, and a poem was born.

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I’m not sure if my poem “A Pleasing Design” was inspired by, or inspired, an abstract drawing of the male and female forms that I created long ago.

Both appeared around the same time. I don’t remember which came first.

I like the intricate pattern we create,

Stripped bare and essential,

The piling planes and lacing lines,

The way we meet and mingle.

My poem “Walking Among Flowers” was inspired by the image at the top of this post, drawn by a Zen monk from the 17th century. Something about its blunt beauty, or stark un-beauty, struck me fiercely, as if tearing open something deep within.

Walking among flowers

Drowning in scent

Petals assault me

Cool and bent

But the poem itself was written as we lay anchored in a bay in Moorea, looking up at a house on the bluff with a garden spilling over the edge. I wanted to roam that garden, to let the deep, dark beauty I imagined there tear me apart so I could be reborn. I wanted to swoop down from the high garden wall and swallow it whole.

Even now, I want to paint that garden with the rough, blunt strokes of Pa-ta Shan-jen.

A poem, after all, is just a vehicle to express something deeply felt, some emotion or insight or new way of seeing. And a painting is another way to express the very same things. Each would be distinct, it’s own unique creation. And neither would ever quite capture what you wanted to share. Both mediums are limited.

Poems inspired by paintings are common. But the other way around less so.

Recently, though, another blogger friend led me to the website of Lena Levin, an artist who does just that. She’s  created a whole series of paintings inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Her blog on the Art of Seeing is well worth reading as well.

I don’t know if I will ever paint my poems, or how successful they might be if I try. Words and images tangle in my mind, and it’s hard to sort them out. In the past the only way I could capture what I was seeing/feeling was through poetry. Now I want to see if I can use color and contours, images empty space like words, shaping them into phrases to be felt and understood.

Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to the works of the French Symbolist,  Odilon Redon, and his “Mysterious and Poetic Paintings.” Viewing them is like reading between the lines of a poem. It says more than words can tell.

I don’t know if I have the expertise at this stage of my learning curve to be able to do such a thing. But I do know I want to try.

You can read the full text of the poems mentioned in this post at the links below:

Hot Hills in Summer Heat

“A Pleasing Design” from The Geometry and Geography of Love

Walking Among Flowers