In Barbara's words, both poems are:"ekphrastic* in nature. Also both are based on gardens, both my own, and ones that I've visited, and travelling in France. It seems that writing poetry is the only way that an English major/Art History minor, enthusiastic but amateur gardener, and would-be world traveller can come together!
*(poetry that has a conversation with art)
Vincent Van Gogh
Out of the stony ground of his tortured life, these iris
rise, writhe, charmed like snakes by the song of the sun.
The wild blue heart of longing moves up, up,
from papery rhizomes, common dirt. Out of nothing,
armfuls of sky. They burn, flames in a hearth, as they dance
above the pale green swords of their leaves. It's all
or nothing, this loud shout, this wild abundance, a few short
weeks in May. On the canvas, they sing forever. The suffering
world recedes in the background. They lean to the left, pushed
by the wind, but not one stalk is bent or broken. Oh, the fierce
burning joys of this life; all the things of the world, about to vanish.
THE HOUR OF PEONIES
The Buddha says, "Breathing in, I know I am here in my body.
Breathing out, I smile to my body," and here I am, mid-span,
a full-figured woman who could have posed for Renoir.
When I die, I want you to plant peonies for me, so each May,
my body will resurrect itself in these opulent blooms, one of les Baigneuses,
sunlight stippling their luminous breasts, rosy nipples, full bellies,
an amplitude of flesh, luxe, calme et volupté. And so are these flowers,
an exuberance of cream, pink, raspberry, not a shrinking violet among them.
They splurge, they don't hold back, they spend it all.
At the end, confined to a wheelchair, paintbrushes strapped to his arthritic hands,
Renoir said, "the limpidity of the flesh, one wants to caress it.
"Even after the petals have fallen, the lawn is full of snow,
the last act in Swan Lake where the corps de ballet, in their feathered tutus,
kneel and kiss the ground, cover it in light.
Barbara Crooker’s work has appeared in magazines such as Yankee, The Christian Science Monitor, Highlights for Children, and The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA). She is the recipient of the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, and has been a twenty-four time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Radiance, her first full-length book, won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition, and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. Line Dance was published by Word Press in 2008. Recently, Garrison Keillor read eleven of her poems on The Writer's Almanac, National Public Radio.