#5WomenPoets on #5WomenArtists

Blog Category:  Advocacy
An enamel portrait painting of a woman made with encrusted black rhinestones glued to shiny pink acrylic background.

April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate, we’re highlighting five contemporary poets inspired by artists whose works are in our collection.

1. Morgan Parker on Mickalene Thomas

Morgan Parker (b. 1987) commissioned a work by Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) for the first-edition cover of her poetry collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (2017). Inside, her poem “We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe)” is a tribute to Thomas’s bright celebration of Black womanhood. “I wanted my poem to reflect her work and add to it, translate it in my own words,” Parker said in an interview with the Seattle Art Museum.

“We low hum of satisfaction. We is is is is is is is is
touch, touch, shine, a little taste. You’re gonna
give us the love we need.”

—Morgan Parker, from “We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe)”

An enamel portrait painting of a woman made with encrusted black rhinestones glued to shiny pink acrylic background.
Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Plastic rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 x 1 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Deborah Carstens; © Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin: Photo by Lee Stalsworth

2. Victoria Chang on Agnes Martin

Victoria Chang (b. 1970) began her journey into ekphrastic poetry with the works of Edward Hopper and Eva Hesse, but it’s Agnes Martin (1912–2004) who lit a spark in the writer. Chang recently completed a book inspired by Martin and her works, and five of her poems on the artist were published by the Oxonian Review. “I started studying her paintings and reading everything I could about her. I wrote another poem, then another and another, and one day I looked up and I had written about 50 pages,” Chang said.

“Agnes incised her grids onto the wet blue wound. Each
rectangle is marked twice with two carats, as if to say the
grids aren’t enough, that beauty must be scored.”

—Victoria Chang, from “Untitled, 1960”

A perfect square is marked by straight, segmented vertical lines, with one line running horizontal in the middle of the shape. They appear as if done by a pencil.
Agnes Martin, Untitled #4, 1998; Lithograph in color on vellum, 9 x 9 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

3. The Last Hoisan Poets on Hung Liu

In July 2022, poets Genny Lim, Flo Oy Wong, and Nellie Wong performed American Born / Resident Alien, a tribute to Hung Liu (1948–2021), at the de Young Museum, where the artist’s instillation Golden Gate (金門) was on view. They read works inspired by Liu’s paintings, such as Sisterhood (2018), and in honor of her life. “It is [the] quality of empathy…in each of her canvases, each stroke of her brush and each subject, whether animal, object, or human, which makes her work transcendent,” wrote Lim.

“Sisterhood is in the heart—Dei Moy
the pulse of morning, landscape of our dreams
We plow and we scrap, we seed and create”

—The Last Hoisan Poets, from “Dei Moy: Sisterhood is in the Heart”

Two smiling Chinese girls with light skin and black hair painted on a collage of Chinese writing, small red envelopes, a red bird and bug, and blue paint drippings. The older girl, seen waist up, wears her hair in two braids and carries the younger girl in crimson clothes on her back.
Hung Liu, Sisters, 2000; Lithograph with chine collé on paper, 22 x 29 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Harry and Lea Gudelsky Foundation, Inc.; © Hung Liu

4. Ada Limón on Leonora Carrington

For the Museum of Modern Art’s Poetry Project, Ada Limón (b. 1976) penned “Not at All What We Expected” after And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur (1953) by Leonora Carrington (1917–2011). “I thought there was something almost revolutionary about [the painting],” Limón explained. “Distinctly feminist and strong. [It] seemed to be changing the myth of the Minotaur entirely and showing us something we’d never seen before, a feminine side.” Read more from the Museum of Modern Art’s Poetry Project: Aracelis Girmay on Ana Mendieta, Brenda Shaughnessy on Meret Oppenheim, Crystal Williams on Faith Ringgold, and Robin Coste Lewis on Barbara Chase-Riboud.

“What did we learn
of fear but at the center of the story
there is something almost feminine
and untamed making even
an endless cage glow?”

—Ada Limón, from “Not at All What We Expected”

Eerie figures walk, float, swim and stand in a pastoral landscape. A grey house sits next to a small body of water, the lawn decorated with small shrubs and trees. A pair, one dressed and one nude, pet a stripped animal as ghostly figures move through the foreground.
Leonora Carrington, Crookhey Hall, 1986; Lithograph on paper, 15 1/8 x 30 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Leonora Carrington

5. Nikky Finney on Sonya Clark

In 2019, NMWA commissioned poet Nikky Finney (b. 1957) to respond to the work of Sonya Clark (b. 1967), on the occasion of Clark’s exhibition Tatter, Bristle, and Mend. The poem, “Muniment of Hair,” was published in the exhibition catalogue and is a lyrical celebration of Clark’s creative inspirations. The word “muniment”—whose sound evokes “monument” and refers to a deed of ownership—references Clark’s art as a monument to be embraced.

“She works for hair uncorrupted, unraveling
tall ladders of hieroglyphic locks. Tightropes and twists, Afro-

Scape of the strip-weave. The stilt walker of hair
is a contortionist.”

—Nikky Finney, from “Muniment of Hair”

A circular wreath made of dark, tightly coiled hair with strands escaping and resembling laurels.
Sonya Clark, Hair Wreath, 2012; Human hair and wire, 13 x 13 x 2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Tony Podesta Collection, Washington DC; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

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