This blog consists of PhotoFeature Stories on artists of all genres, human interest stories, guest blog posts, book reviews, and book excerpts.
CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter.
She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and is close to completing her Master's in Creative Writing.
She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Chris Rice Cooper
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Poet Jessica Jacobs Practicing Secular Kenosis To Write "PELVIS WITH DISTANCE"
And it all
began on a cold rainy day in October of 2011 when Jacobs visited the Indianapolis
Museum of Art.She thought it would be
another typical day at the museum until she came across Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1944
painting, Pelvis With Distance.
“That painting knocked me
out.There was such power in that
compression of space and time, and it was compressed into something that could
be held in the hand as easily as she held the small pelvic bone she used as a
model. I stood in front of it and began to write in a voice from a place of
power and longing and loneliness. That day, I wrote a complete draft of what
would come to be the collection’s title poem. So I guess, in a way, the subject
of this book chose me.”
PELVIS WITH DISTANCE
O’Keeffe, to Stieglitz
(Abiquiu, NM, to Lake George, NY)
Bone grows from desert
in distance.Bone grows,
vast and trunkless, sockets
stocked with light.Pelvis
is loupe, is meant
for looking through.Pelvis,
by bone, ambit
I am, you are,
through the other.
Excerpt from Pelvis With Distance
134-page blockbuster book consists of poems in the poet’s voice titled “In
The Canyon Series”; persona poems in the voices of lovers Georgia
O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz; brief excerpts of letters between O’Keeffe and
Stieglitz; a bibliography; and notes.
these poems for her Masters of Fine Arts thesis, but after she wrote 13 poems
and outlined an additional 30 more, she knew it was also a poetry
In order to
With Distance into final fruition, Jacobs not only
voraciously and prolifically wrote the 62 poems in the collection, but she also
thoroughly researched the 1000-plus pages of correspondence between O’Keeffe
and Stieglitz, from 1915 until Stieglitz’s death in 1947.
“I saw O’Keeffe either
lionized or reductively labeled: first as an oversexed ingénue
Eliza-Doolittle-d by the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz; and, later, as a
de-sexualized desert “wise woman”—an image she painstakingly curated as a
corrective to the initial Freudian-fueled conceptions of her.”
It is strange to write you
just because I want to,
but I hate to be undone
by a little thing like distance.
Excerpt from “NUDE SERIES VIII” O’Keeffe
“The poems in Stieglitz’s voice were some of the most difficult to
write. To me, his letters to her were
often melodramatic, self-indulgent, and manipulative, but it was her love of
him, as well as his very clear support of her work, that salvaged him for me.”
I control the moment
of exposure.And in my jerry-rigged
across the hall – while you, in our studio,
remain naked & waiting – I decide
to overexpose the rift
between your thighs, leaving burnt
black absence where a presence
once had been.
Excerpt from “SELF-PORTRAIT IN ABSENTIA
Stieglitz to O’Keeffe
Her research did not stop at the 1000 plus
pages, but continued as early as December of 2011 when she began her numerous
travels to the places that O’Keeffe had resided in:New Mexico, New York, and Texas.
“From my research, I had a
detailed outline of the artistic and personal periods of O’Keeffe’s life I
wanted to explore, each paired with a painting or photograph. Though I often
combined these points, rearranged them, or wrote about something entirely unexpected,
this novelistic, narrative-driven approach to poetry was incredibly generative
for me. Fortunately, I’d lived in New
York for a number of years, so in a way, I had a sense of the place she was in
during the early part of her life. But I needed to remedy my spotty knowledge
of the Southwest.
I hiked and camped in the
Palo Duro Canyon, where O’Keeffe had frequented when she lived and worked as a
schoolteacher in Canyon, TX, and then I spent a chilly few weeks hiking to the
sites of her paintings in Central and Northern New Mexico.
I also visited her house in
Abiquiu and camped to the north in the eerie malpaís that gave rise to her
“Black Place” series.”
The next summer, I returned.
At the O’Keeffe Museum Research Center in Santa Fe, I spent time with her
letters and photographs, and I was privileged to open drawers and drawers full
of her collected materials—everything from a beat- up leather valise she used
to carry supplies to collections of found rocks and bones and shells.”
In June of
2012 she lived in a primitive desert cabin in the Abiquiu Canyon in New Mexico,
thirty miles from the nearest town and five miles by foot from the nearest
human being.There was no cell service,
no Internet, no electricity; all that was hers was a propane stove, a crate of
books, her laptop, pen, two journals, her dog Rocco, and a vast expanse of land
Later they will ring from the old
adobe church; but, for now, Georgia
is at her window.The canvas
is so much larger now, and I am
no longer separated from it by brushes.
She paints herself a door and walks
Excerpt from “MAY 6, 1986”
that crate of books was God
Is A Verb by Rabbi David Cooper, a gift from her
father that she reads yearly, and, along with her isolation in the cabin,influenced her writing of the “In
The Canyon” series in Pelvis With Distance.
“Rabbi Cooper’s articulation
of the idea that creation is an ongoing act, that we are what we do in the
world, has been immensely helpful to me in every aspect of my life.
Additionally, when I was
alone in that cabin, his writing helped keep me company and calm me so that I
could be quiet and still enough to make a space in which I could truly listen
to O’Keeffe and find those poems.”
paint what I see . . .
I’ll paint it big
into so many
they will be surprised
Adams bent on ownership
taking time to look at it –
will make even busy New Yorkers
adults who keep
their heads down
time to see. . .
Excerpt from “AN AMERICAN PLACE EDHIBITON
CATALOGUE (THE FLOWER PAINTINGS)”
isolation in the canyon proved to be necessary for Jacobs in order to write the
“In the Canyon” series.She was free from being judged and felt totally liberated in
experiencing these poems even before they were on the page:she wandered through the canyon naked beneath
the desert sun, spent hours watching cicadas emerge from their burrows, observed
the day’s shifting light, and observed the desert’s beautiful sunsets and
observations allowed Jessica to ground her imaginations of O’Keeffe’s life with
concrete observations, and these concrete observations were so real that she
found herself writing letters to O’Keeffe, trying to understand the difficult
choices O’Keeffe made:changing the
boundaries of her subject matter while her art was still reaping financial
benefits, and marrying Stieglitz but choosing to live by herself in New Mexico
“I wanted to understand what
inspired her to live like this and what gave her the strength to see it
through.You see, the whole time I was
also asking myself if it was possible to be true to the O’Keeffe I had found in
her letters and paintings. How could I imagine and write beyond myself?”
And there I was
with these poems.Just that
morning, I’d had to explain, again,
to a friend, that your paintings were more
than postcards writ large; that you both were
and were greater than your
Excerpt from “TO FIND YOU (GEORGIA
In order to
accomplish this Jacobs had to exemplify the spiritual practice of secular
kenosis, the emptying of her own self, in order to refill it with everything
“Within the vessel of her
experiences, I stowed my own concerns, explicating them with a distance and
perspective I often find difficult when writing autobiographically. But these
personal concerns would not be ignored. They
fixated on a renewed sense of spirituality, arising from what amounted to a
month-long period of intense isolation.”
She took notes from their letters, and these
notes soon became the launching points for many of her poems, in which Jacobs’s
intention in writing was to encounter the real Georgia O’Keeffe.
“I tried to use her
voice as a guide to get beyond the mythical surface scrim that now obscures
her, to find the woman beneath.”
Each night she
wrote rough drafts of poems based on her notes from their letters; chose the
poem that felt the most imminent; studied the related paintings by O’Keeffe as
well as their relative notes; and went to sleep.The next morning she’d wake up before dawn,
long distance run, wander in the great outdoors, read, and then, at midday,
open her notebook to turn that rough draft into a polished poem.
“My rough drafts tend to be
baggy, prosaic monstrosities scrawled across several pages. Working between two
journals, I redraft the poem multiple times, refining as I go.As someone who can often take months to
finish a poem, this felt about as close to taking transcription from dreams as
in that cabin in isolation for one full month was the hardest thing Jacobs ever
done; but, at the same time, it was and still is an invaluable adventure, an
experience she wouldn’t trade for anything.
alone for such a long time was one of the most difficult things I’ve done, but
I left with the first draft of my manuscript.”