Starting With Art

By Joseph Stanton

Writer’s Note: Can a painting capture the life evident in a poem? Can a poem speak to what is shown in a painting? I have been endlessly fascinated by such questions in my several roles as a writer about the arts and as a poet. The poems below, both inspired by visual images, are about the seeking for answers and about the difficulty of arriving at them.

The Artist Enters the Scene and Keeps Right on Walking

It might have been his masterpiece,
but he could not leave it at that.
Striding into a foreground of scattered,
refrozen snow and a bitter cold
that made the background sky above
the horizon crackle blue-white
with grief, he wondered why he had
never realized how easy a journey
it could be,
but, after years of walking,
he could come no closer to the pale,
distant mountains, where God
and his office staff might be waiting.


Even if you have not set a course,
you have set a course, sighting down
the barrel of the rest of your life.

Ahead, the roseate horizon
becomes a last resort, redolent
of pink hotels, royal palms swaying

under the influence of every trade.
What moves you is the machinery
of your dreams or an accidental breeze.

Everyone you cannot forget rides with you.
from behind you are seen to form a group,
a band of children dressed for travel,

aiming out to where sea and sky
discover intricate oracles of cloud,
where questions could be asked or answered.

Joseph Stanton is a professor of art history and American studies at University of Hawaii at Manoa. Beginning on Jan. 29, Joseph will be teaching “Starting with Art: A Poetry Workshop” at Honolulu Museum of Art School. The first poem above can be found in his 2016 book, Things Seen. The second poem appeared in his 1999 book, Imaginary Museum: Poems on Art and in his 2006 collection, A Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban O’ahu.

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