Friday, May 28, 2021

Poetry Friday: Grief Cages Her

May's challenge was to respond to a work of art, using any poetic form---i.e. ekphrastic poetry.  Here is a lovely post about the many ways to do that.  

What the post doesn't mention is that choosing a piece of art can be complicated....and in this case, it also turned out to be a sleuthing adventure. Tanita tried to make it easy for me, and supplied some wonderful photos of paintings we could respond to, but since I'd helped set the challenge, I felt I also needed to provide at least one art source. So I dove into my photos from visits to DC museums, and shared this: 

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the photos of the accompanying information on the piece-- not the artist, not the name, not even the museum I was in.  I only had the date, gathered by my phone:  February 2017.  Oh, and these additional photos of the object being worn. Wowza.  

Too late. I'd already shared the thing with the other poets.  And I was obsessed. What WAS this thing I'd photographed?  All I had was another photograph taken at the same exhibit, of the artist playfully sliding down a rock face:

Too bad he doesn't have on a name tag. And too bad that repeated googling of "artist wire dress" and even "artist sliding down rock" and various combinations of those words only brought up a totally different female artist.  I was stuck.  So I decided to go with what I had: the date. Maybe if I could find out what shows had been on exhibit in DC in February 2017, I could find the information I needed.  After striking out at the archives of the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn (two places I visited regularly), I thought of the American Art Museum. I'd been there for a show in some special ground floor hall....hadn't I? 

Yes, yes I had!

 As soon as I saw the online archives of the exhibit "Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern," I knew it was the one.  Noguchi was a remarkable artist who was born in L.A., but educated in both Japan and the United States. He was known as a bicultural ambassador, as well as a multi-faceted artist and inventor. (That's me with another of the artist's amazing works, "Sculpture to be Seen From Mars.")

Noguchi made it in collaboration with the famed American dancer, Martha Graham.  Noguchi had designed about twenty sets for Graham, and this piece was for The Cave of the Heart, which tells the Greek mythical story of the sorceress, Medea, who left her home (and her father, the Sun) to be with the human man, Jason (he of the Golden Fleece), bearing him two sons.  But Jason, faithless soul, left her for a princess, and all hell ensued---multiple murders, including Medea slaying her own children.  

For most of the dance, the dress broods on stage, sitting stop the other Noguchi piece in my first photo-- "The Serpent." Then, at the climatic ending, the wire "dress of transformation" (another term the artist used) is donned by the dancer playing Medea. She whirls about the stage, encased in metal quivering spikes, as Medea burns in revengeful glory on her ascent back to the Sun. *

Whew.  Now that I knew all this, what possible poem could contain such a tale?  

Tricia to the rescue.  In our monthly ZOOM meeting, she suggested a restrictive form known as a 4 x 4. Created by Denise Krebs as a varation of the French quatern, it has four stanzas, of four lines, with four syllables each.  In addition, one line repeats four times, once in each stanza, but moves down a line each time.  Enough structure to support such a potent story, right??

Medea burns

Grief cages her;

It binds her to

him, to them, blood

years spent, now gone.

She cuts at her

grief, cages her

love, becomes all

spines, a weapon.   

She will ascend

having broken

grief’s cage. Then her

heart will be brass.

She dances, a 

wheel of blades, yet

again again

Grief cages her. 

    ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

My Poetry Sisters responses (to this and/or other art) are found here:







*Do you want to see that cage dress actually on a dancer? Actually being moved in?  Yes, yes, you do. I did some sleuthing on that, too, and here it is, in a clip from this lecture from the Library of Congress. It's at the 40 minute mark.  And if you want to know what the dancers thought of wearing Noguchi's often painful designs, here's a story from the Washington Post.  You're welcome. 

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Michelle Kogan


  1. The tightness and feeling of being bound in this is really something. Poor Medea.

  2. Sara, wow! This is quite fascinating. I've been reading other Poetry Sisters poems today. Several of them wrote about Medea's Spider Dress, and it is just delightful to see all the different ways people approach the same art to write their ekphrastic poem. Absolutely captivating. Your repeated line of "Grief cages her" sets the stage for a rich and painful poem.

    Yes, a big thank you for the additional links to go with your "You're Welcome." It was great to see the dancer wearing the spider dress, and it gives a whole different vibe from the still photos. The Washington Post article just adds more icing on the Poetry Friday cake today. Thanks!

  3. Oh, Medea - a woman scorned, and locked into horror. I love how you've taken her story and danced with it a different way. The word usage and constrained form of the 4x4 really, really, REALLY works for her here.

  4. Oh, I love a good research dive...even better when success is achieved. The form really works for the story you contain in the lines and syllables. A brutal story from start to finish.

  5. "Her heart will be brass." Wow!

    I loved reading about how you figured this out. Because of exactly this kind of thing, I always try to take a picture of the label whenever I take a picture of a piece of art in a museum. But often I don't have much to go on when it comes to remembering which museum it was! Especially if it's during a vacation when we've gone to several!

    The Jason/Medea story is so fraught with drama. I remember loving it as a child, when I had just read the part about Medea helping Jason get the golden fleece. It gets way darker!

  6. Your sleuthing paid off — thank you! Fascinating to learn the background of the piece and your resulting poem is powerful. The transformation of:

    cuts at her/grief, cages her/love

    to "grief cages her" is fabulous.

  7. I, too, enjoyed your poem, especially the line, "Grief cages her".


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