The following poem by Sandy Solomon, "Tear Down," was written in response to "Remains of the Real," a collage by Nashville artist Jana Harper, as part of A Tennessee Ekphrasis Project, in which we connect writers and visual artists from across Tennessee to generate new literature inspired by contemporary art. Eight other literature-art pairings will be featured in the print issue of Grist's tenth anniversary issue, as well as at an art exhibition at the Central Collective in Knoxville during the month of February.
Why, I can’t say, but I especially
liked that old, one-story Ashland
Avenue clapboard: its dark gray front,
its notched white trim rounding the roof
line. And most of all, its deeply shadowed
corner porch flush with flat planted yard,
a porch that edged toward the street corner
and echoed its angle. At the four-way stop,
I’d study the house for signs of life. It seemed
so easy to walk right in, the boundary
between in and out fragile, faint.
I imagined the house, newly built
in 1895, sitting alone
up a track off the high road, in fields
or maybe set among a grove of trees,
in the new southern section of Nashville.
Driving by, I’d sometimes see in deep shade
on the corner porch, the owners lounging,
cups of coffee, newspapers in hand.
Often they were laughing. I so liked the look
of them behind the flower garden’s narrow,
tended margin, I wanted to cross the line.
I’d heard what was coming. The owners dug
all their perennials up and placed them in a row,
pots along both roads: For Sale and then
For Free, until only one sad,
wilted, poorly potted plant remained.
And then someone ran red tape
around the corner porch, Do Not Enter:
front door smashed in, the place empty.
And then, one day I topped the hill to find
two busy wreckers hard beside
a great pile of broken boards, the gray
clapboard cracked to naked pine, the beaded
trim like cowlicks, straight up, mixed
with varnished floor boards, a wreck of beams
angled high, piled like pick up sticks
I threw as a child, and as I passed, the pine
smell, fresh pockets of resin released
from trees cut more than a century past.
Their scent entered the car, filled it full.
Image of an image of an image of the other side:
unseen side of a bright book jacket,
red or blue or purple jacket covered
with words: now, inside out, color
without words, without purpose, ghost.
The artist cuts away, cuts out
the book shape, so only empty space
remains, only the white angled paper
surround, study in ninety degrees, corner
cuts, outline, hint of the vanished, haint.
Then she piles and places all those angled
straight edges: study in white: absence
upon absence: hardbacks, paperbacks,
we are turning our backs on those artifacts,
much-loved books, the feel of pulped wood:
cardboard covered with buckram or heavy paper
or leather, over a sewn spine that holds
the pages together on which words stood,
once by laid type, now by computer
light. Lost books: lost worlds.
All the artist leaves is shadow, the book
that overlooked the image of the image of the other
side: the white of an empty copied page
and the odd reversed book jacket color,
and angles, hard angles, hard news.
Sandy Solomon teaches at Vanderbilt University where she is Writer in Residence and Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program. Her book, Pears, Lake, Sun, which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, was also published in the U.K. by Peterloo Poets. Her poems have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, New Republic, Threepenny Review, Gettysburg Review, Poetry Review (UK), and the Times Literary Supplement.
Jana Harper is a visual artist who works both collaboratively and individually on themes related to quietude, connection, authenticity, and environment. She works in a variety of media including printmaking, drawing, installation, photography, and artists' books. Her work has been shown in both solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally and she has enjoyed artist residencies both in the United States and abroad. Jana teaches at Vanderbilt University.