APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: 'Correspondences': Poet, Artist Join Forces in Unique Book

APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: 'Correspondences': Poet, Artist Join Forces in Unique Book

The poet Anne Michaels and the artist Bernice Eisenstein have created a unique accordion book that is both a book-length poem and a haunting portrait gallery.

On one side of the accordion's pages, a historical and personal elegy by Michaels unfolds, while on the other, in unison with the poem and in deep conversation with it, are Eisenstein's portraits of the twentieth-century writers and thinkers the poem summons. One such is Etty Hillesum (1914-1943), a Dutch Jewish woman whose diaries and letters from the several years before her death in Auschwitz are a remarkable document of witnessing and personal growth. The excerpt from Michaels's poem speaks to how we are accompanied, always, whether by our own, or by people whose chairs have surrounded ours at the table set by history. (Though we can't possibly reproduce here the shape and experience of this unusual book, we offer today's material as the month's final printable broadside)

Come, it's time to set the table,
dusk is bruised with rain, the water is alive
under the wind, evening is
upon us. Outside, the animals make their
accommodation, the lake loses its reflection,
settles deeper. Set down the brush
on the saucer, leave off the book,
open, with its words against the pillow.
The washing of hands, the tea kettle,
the whisky, stocking feet
on the wooden floor. Help me carry
the chairs, never enough chairs, 
through the narrow doorway, chairs
borrowed from the sewing table,
from the desk, from the work table -
paint-spattered and mended with wire.
Bring the piano bench. Find the perfect
symphony for parsing vegetables into broth.
No need for candles, we'll see each other well enough
in the dark. Draw close
your father's chair next to my father's,
and I'll fetch a book for the orphan's chair,
so she can reach the table.
And last, a chair for the mourner
who accompanies the body, so the soul is never,
not for a single moment, alone.

More on this poem and author:

Excerpt from CORRESPONDENCES. Copyright (c)2013 by Anne Michaels; Artwork copyright (c) 2013 by Bernice Eisenstein. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House Canada Limited, Toronto. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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