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Inspiration and speculation, featuring poems by Donna L. Emerson, Paul Fisher and Sarah Yerkes.
7 minutes


April’s a big month for famous artists’ birthdays: Joan Miro, Willem de Kooning, Cy Twombly, Yves Klein. Probably others. And Pablo Picasso died in April – April 8 to be exact. Seems like as good a reason as any to feature work about art on this week’s podcast.

Donna L. Emerson said she spent a while immersed in Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and work. She said she went to an O’Keefe exhibit in Philadelphia and encountered someone “certain of all things O’Keeffe.” And out of that came her poem “When Stieglitz Came Between Us.”

We didn’t know each other
but almost came to blows.

If there had been stones
she would have thrown them.

Georgia’s poppies captured us,
New York City landscapes,
her iris, primrose, rose. We sighed

at her clouds, next to Stieglitz’s
photographs of clouds, the ones

he shot when they were together,
that looked to us quite ordinary.

We both said at the same time,
“What a rat he was!” “Such a scoundrel.”

Spilled our versions, each completing
each other’s sentences, of their love story.
Then she said he used her in every way

and I said she went willingly,
as an artist wanting New York

and she said, “What choice did she really
have? She was only nineteen.” Her voice

rising now, her body tighter and I said,
“Look at his early photographs of her,
her face – ”

“But he seduced her!
He showed them without her permission.

While he took on other women! Photographed
their bodies in the same positions!”

Her voice rising, shrill, I withdrew, went home,
ordered two new biographies.
We could have been friends.

Donna L. Emerson’s poem “When Steiglitz Came Between Us” from the Winter 2015 issue of Passager.

From Passager’s 2015 Poetry Contest Issue, here’s Paul Fisher’s poem “Painting the House.”

It’s hard to match summer gloss,
much less blackberry sheen,
when shadows won’t allow
sun to brush the peeling porch
where young bones say it should.

It’s hard when, from her rocker,
your grandmother knits
one day into another
as you spill archipelagos,
atoll by atoll mapping the floor.

You imagine painting her
as a girl adrift in a crone’s chair,
the house a Sargasso Sea,
doilies on her dresser
crocheted from mermaid hair.

It’s hard to guess what colors
clouded eyes may choose
to quiet each raucous room.
But gold-leafed light’s done for today,
and you’ve grown tired as any boy
forced to own the mess he’s made.

“Painting the House.” Paul Fisher said that the poem began as “a vivid memory or dream of my grandmother, who helped my mother raise me after my father passed on when I was two years old.”

Sarah Yerkes said, “I have always liked to make things. Doll clothes, ash trays from clay found on the shores of Lake Erie, puppets, marionettes. I was intrigued by my mother’s needlepoint. Later I learned how to do it myself and created my own designs for projects – a hanging for our chapel and pillows for my entire family, including all thirteen great-grandchildren.” Sarah’s poetry teacher Bonnie Naradzay said Sarah’s keen artist’s eye as well as her educational and professional background in architecture inform her poetic insights.
Here’s Sarah Yerkes’ poem “Sculpture.”

From the first fine careless rapture
three dimensions, still, but pure,
without clients, no contractors
to interrupt creation’s lure.

I remember that first summer
being taught by darling Bill,
making molds and casting plaster,
muffin tins, divided boxes,
cast of plastic plate container,
lattice strips and strands of cotton.
Blown balloons make magic eggshells
(big red one a huge success).

Later on, I learned to weld –
hot needlepoint, I coyly called it,
mad for Mark de Suvero,
another hero, David Smith.

For many years it kept me going.
I was pretty good, I thought,
so why was I not successful
in the larger world of art?

Somewhat lazy, somewhat shy,
never really plowed the heartland,
never delved the inner core.
Lacked the drive to do all-nighters
sidetracked by my love for spouse,
did I really want to triumph –
find success outside the house?
Many an artist lacks recognition,
still their work seems to survive.
There must be a seed of genius
growing through the cracks in pavements
like the bright blue chicory – content to be alive.

“Sculpture,” Sarah Yerkes from her book Days of Blue and Flame. Sarah lives in Washington DC, and – speaking of artists’ birthdays – she turns 106 this month. Sarah was recently featured in an article in The Guardian about people who reinvented themselves in their 90s. To find a link to that article, to buy Sarah’s book, Days of Blue and Flame, and to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.