Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Poet Jessica Jacobs Practicing Secular Kenosis To Write "PELVIS WITH DISTANCE"

Christal Cooper

Article w/excerpts 1,738 Words

Jessica Jacobs and Pelvis With Distance:
“Living In Georgia O’Keeffe’s Backyard”

Then sixteen miles of rutted dirt road, the flap top of Pedernal hovering above – the mountain of Georgia O’Keeffe painted
Obsessively, half-joking that God told her if she painted it often
Enough it would be hers.

                 To write these poems, I’ve come to live in her backyard.

Excerpt from “IN THE CANYON  (ARRIVAL)
Pelvis With Distance

In April of 2015, Jessica Jacobs’s first poetry collection, Pelvis With Distance A Biography-In-Poems/Self-Portrait By Proxy, was published by White Pine Press. 

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.”


         O’Keeffe, to Stieglitz
         (Abiquiu, NM, to Lake George, NY)      

Bone grows from desert
in distance.  Bone grows,

Girdling sky.  Grows
vast and trunkless, sockets

stocked with light.  Pelvis
is loupe, is meant

for looking through.  Pelvis,
that hollow

and arch.
Distance, basined

by bone, ambit
of absence.

I am, you are,

through the other.

Excerpt from Pelvis With Distance

The 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.

Jacobs used 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 collection. 
In order to bring Pelvis 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 to Stieglitz
Pelvis With Distance

“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 darkroom

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
Pelvis With Distance

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 and time. 

       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 through.

Excerpt from “MAY 6, 1986”
Pelvis With Distance

Included in 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.”

I’ll paint what I see . . .
                             to transform them
but I’ll paint it big
                           into so many
and they will be surprised
                            Adams bent on ownership
into taking time to look at it –
                           through identification,
I will make even busy New Yorkers
                              adults who keep their heads down
take time to see. . .      

Pelvis With Distance

The 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 sunrises.

These 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 biography.

Pelvis With Distance

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 O’Keeffe.
“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 I’ve experienced.”

Living 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.
“Being that 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.”

Photograph Description And Copyright Information

Photo 1
Jessica Jacobs in the canyon
Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs.

Photo 2
Pedernal 1945
Attributed to Georgia O’Keeffe
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 3
Jacket cover of Pelvis With Distance

Photo 4
White Pine Press web logo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 5
Pelvis with Distance painting 1944
Attributed to Georgia O’Keeffe
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 6
Jessica Jacobs in graduate school in Lafayette where she wrote some of the Pelvis with Distance poems.
Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

Photo 7a
Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe in a passionate kiss
July 10, 1929
Public Domain

Photo 7b
Love letter from Georgia to Alfred
Public Domain

Photo 7c
Love letter from Alfred to Georgia
Public Domain

Photo 8
Georgia O’Keeffe
Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

Photo 9
Georgia O’Keeffe
Photographed by Alfred Stieglitz

Photo 10
Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe in Lake George, New York
Time and photographer unknown.
Public Domain

Photo 10b
Georgia O’Keeffe in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Attributed to Ansel Adams in 1937
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 10c
Georgia O’Keeffe in Canyon, Texas where she was a teacher.
Public Domain

Photo 11
Georgia O’Keeffe at her home in Abiquiu Canyon in New Mexico
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 12
Black Place III, 1944
Attributed to Georgia O’Keeffe
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 13
The Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center located at 135 Grand Avenue in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 14
Jessica and Rocco hiking in the mountains of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

Photo 15
Georgia O’Keeffe at her ranch in New Mexico
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 16
Jacket cover of God Is A Verb

Photo 17
Web photo for Rabbi David Cooper
Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law

Photo 18
Jessica Jacobs sitting on the front porch of her cabin where she wrote the “In The Canyon Series” of Pelvis With Distance.
Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs.

Photo 19
The view from Jessica’s cabin
Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

Photo 20
Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz in 1944
Public Domain

Photo 21
Jessica Jacobs in Montevallo, Alabama
Summer of 2015
Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

Photo 22
Georgia O’Keeffe in her kitchen in 1961.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 23
Jessica on the front porch of the cabin
Copyright granted by Jessica Jacobs

Photo 24
Jacket Cover of Pelvis With Distance

No comments:

Post a Comment