Pairings: Poets and Painters in Mutual Usefulness by Cassandra Cleghorn

Hank Hine“In each relationship, one must bring something of simple usefulness.

Wood or flint to the fire; salt or flour to the loaf.” — Hank Hine


Just over ten years ago I went to an exhibit at the New York Public Library called “In Company,” a documentation of Robert Creeley’s collaborations with visual artists: from his work with René Laubiès in 1953 to his work in 1999 with Archie Rand. The exhibit was a revelation. I had known of Creeley’s partnerships with Alex Katz and R. B. Kitaj and Jim Dine, but here were scores of other pieces with visual artists as well as musicians. Surrounded by the exuberant evidence of Creeley’s collaborations, I began to appreciate the social density of the artistic process to which he and his friends were devoted. Letters and scribbles and final proofs of broadsides and esoteric books reflected an extraordinary, shared devotion to the working out of beautiful ideas in word and image. As John Yau writes, Creeley “redefined the terms of collaboration” between poets and visual artists. For Creeley what mattered most was “the kind of integration that can be made to take place.” That integration was intimate, visceral, intellectual: the work emerging simultaneously from conversation, from the materials at hand, from the physical situation of the making, and from the drive toward that particular brand of strenuous abstraction that Creeley spent his life practicing.


Publisher Hank Hine who produced the books Creeley made with Georg Baselitz and Susan Rothenberg writes movingly about the exchanges between poet and artist as together they create a single expression. “Here one returns again to anecdote, to the lives of people who make art, to their meetings, mutual usefulness, and presence in one another’s minds: then onward to the worlds into which the finished work comes, reverberates, is felt.” And again: “image and text whisper their discourse across the fold.” (The catalogue of the NYPL exhibit, which includes the fine essays by John Yau and Hank Hine from which I quote, was published by a consortium of museums and is currently out of print, but it is available by the usual means.)


The Internet has made possible unprecedented access to one another’s work. The problem now is how to focus in, how to bound the field to make it workable. I’ve conceived of this “corner” of Tupelo Quarterly as a loosely bounded place for poets and painters, a place of mutual usefulness, of reverberations. In TQ2 I will invite poets to write poems in response to images by one or two of my favorite contemporary painters (teaser image: Karl Mullen, “Heliotropes,” walnut ink on 22″ x 30″ Arches paper, 2012). I will then select a number of pairings of image and poem for posting in the following edition of TQ, and the conversation will have begun! I expect the TQ collaborative exchanges to evolve over time, perhaps leading to the inclusion of arts other than poetry and painting. This is a place to start, at once freewheeling yet slightly constrained.


Onward! as Creeley loved to say.