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If it's the first Friday of the month, it must be time to post a poem from my ongoing project with my poetry sisters. Have I mentioned how very glad I am to have them all in my life, and how much I enjoy these monthly challenges? Because I do, even when the challenges are difficult. Maybe especially then.

This month, we are working with ekphrastic poems. I once wrote a poem describing exactly what ekphrasis is and how ekphrastic poems tend to fall into two categories. You can read that post here. I went in and updated to get rid of what had become dead links and find new ones to the poems I referenced.

In the case of this month's poem, we chose from among photos that Liz Garton Scanlon took of sculptures by Pablo Picasso. I confess that I find Picasso challenging on a good day, and his sculptures maybe moreso than some of his paintings. Reluctantly, I looked at the photos and tried to pick one. At first, I selected one that was a group of six sculptures, thinking I could probably find something in there to write about. But when it came time to write the poem, I was drawn to a different image completely. This one, to be exact, which is called "Woman Carrying a Child". The sculpture dates from 1953; the photograph was taken by Liz Garton Scanlon, who holds the copyright on the photo.

And suddenly, I found I had a lot to say about it. The poem is structured with six stanzas, each of which is related in some way to a Picasso epigram (in italics). The title comes from a quote often attributed to Newton, although its history is far older, and apparently dates back to Bernard of Chartres. (I confess that the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants is, for me, inextricably linked to the Cathedral at Chartres, where the windows include images of New Testament authors standing on the shoulders of Old Testament prophets, so I was delighted to find that the actual notion came from there!)

Here you go:

On the Shoulders of Giants
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman


I do not seek. I find.

I found some old boards behind
the shed, and remembering

popsicle sticks from years gone by,
decided to see what could be made—

a childish, childlike goal, so I
considered childhood dreams.

An acrobat tiptoeing on a wire,
another held aloft,

a balancing act giving more
pleasure to the bearer.


Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

He was 72 when he made it, not knowing
he would live another twenty years,

spanning centuries, continents,
continuously evolving, evoking

reactions from delight to dismay,
so many works destroyed

outside the Jeu de Paume by
Nazi bonfire. He’d stayed in Paris,

Nazis be damned, shrugged off
the Gestapo who hounded him.


Everything you can imagine is real.

She carried Paloma on her back,
at play in their garden as he worked.

Later, she would reveal his abuse,
his absences, his affairs, but this day

it was a happy day. Paloma wore
a plain blue dress, squealed

with laughter as her mother said
she would pull down the stars for her.


I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.

A short poem about a statue;
a small statue of woman and child.

Maybe just boards. She stands.
Not standing, but walking. Tiptoeing.

No, dancing. She wears ballet shoes.
Not small after all. Add some paint.

The dark secret colors of motherhood,
the sunshiny brightness of a child.


The hidden harmony is better than the obvious.

They both hold their arms out
for balance, perhaps.

A small symmetry, but it
staves off collapse. There

are two wearing polka-dot
dresses. Both smile

as the decades pass by,
and they dance all the while.


Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.

Picasso’s papa taught traditional art.
Copy the masters, use models, use plaster.

Picasso preferred elongated El Greco,
later Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch, Matisse

were mimicked, their ideas incorporated,
expanded, distorted in style and media.

Others’ ideas, assimilated and transformed.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

Here are the links to the pages of my poetry sisters:

Liz Garton Scanlon, writing about "Picasso's Woman".
Tanita Davis, with a pantoum entitled "a memento mori for Picasso's Woman"
Laura Purdie Salas, with a poem she initially called "UGH", which was also about Picasso's "Woman"
Sara Lewis Holmes, with "Response to Picasso's Sculpture of a Cat".
Tricia Stohr-Hunt, with a poem that was entitled "Whence Le Chat" (last I knew)

You can find other Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below, which will take you to today's host, and the last poet linked above, Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect:

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( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 4th, 2016 06:01 pm (UTC)
Feb. 5th, 2016 01:49 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 5th, 2016 01:50 am (UTC)
I didn't notice some of them until I was midway through.
Liz Garton Scanlon
Feb. 5th, 2016 01:24 pm (UTC)
Here's what I love about this poem -- it is three dimensional, just like the sculpture. It is like you couldn't resist walking all the way around the piece, and walking back in time, and walking through all sorts of context. It is spare and yet also kind of magnificent, which sort of describes Picasso's piece. Really, Kelly, it's a perfect fit!
Feb. 5th, 2016 05:15 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks for your kind words, Liz!
TS Davis
Feb. 5th, 2016 04:15 pm (UTC)
"...later, she would reveal"
There is so much texture and depth here to like - and so much we learn - but my all-time favorite phrase is, "A small symmetry but it staves off collapse." Two people holding out their arms -- in entreaty, for hugs, in celebration -- these things, too, can stave off collapse. The hidden harmony is indeed better than the obvious.
Feb. 5th, 2016 05:16 pm (UTC)
Re: "...later, she would reveal"
"Later, she would reveal" would have been a pretty great poem title for this, actually. Talk about a missed opportunity! Thanks for your comments!
Tricia Stohr-Hunt
Feb. 5th, 2016 05:02 pm (UTC)
The first time I read this (in the Google doc), I had no idea you used Picasso's words. I really don't know how I missed that. I love how they scaffold the poem and give character to each section. Like writerjenn, there was so much I missed about this sculpture until it was in your poem. I had to go back and look each time something new struck me. I love the first stanza, and this couplet in particular

a childish, childlike goal, so I
considered childhood dreams.

This is a lovely, lovely poem.
Feb. 5th, 2016 05:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Tricia - I should've made the remark in the Google doc (before yesterday morning) to make that part clear. Oops. I tried to use each quote as a direction for the section that follows. And really, I'm exceedingly pleased with this poem and how it came out. It's some of my best work, and in some ways I'm sorry to have it published here, since many places won't now consider it because this counts as publication!
Sara Lewis Holmes
Feb. 5th, 2016 06:49 pm (UTC)
Yes, Kelly, I was about to say that---this is some of the best work of yours that I've been privileged to see. What Liz said about you walking all the way around this sculpture and making your poem three-dimensional, with quotes as scaffolding (as Tricia points out) is just...magnificent. I find myself re-reading all the quotes, and then your stanzas, to see again how they interlock. My favorite bit is still:

No, dancing. She wears ballet shoes.
Not small after all. Add some paint.

Because of the delicacy of it/the exploration as careful as her steps/and how it lets us view the Making of this stanza. *Sigh*
Feb. 5th, 2016 10:03 pm (UTC)
Andi Sibley
Feb. 5th, 2016 07:41 pm (UTC)
Stanza IV is just breath-taking. Kelly, really, this is an amazing work!! Bravo!!
Feb. 5th, 2016 10:03 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks so much, Andi!
Feb. 5th, 2016 08:10 pm (UTC)
Tried to comment earlier, but it disappeared. I wanted to pick a favorite section, Kelly, but I couldn't choose between 3, 4, and 5! Those dark secret colors of motherhood are what grip my heart and squeeze it, though...lovely! Laura PS

Edited at 2016-02-05 08:11 pm (UTC)
Feb. 5th, 2016 10:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, Laura!
Mary Lee Hahn
Feb. 6th, 2016 11:56 am (UTC)
Wow. I'm in love with this poem. I agree with what Liz said about the walking around. I don't know if there's such a thing as double ekphrasis, but you achieved it by using both his art and his words. Jealously, I'm GLAD you published it here so that we got to see it first...but hopefully there will be another venue where it can live on and wow even more readers!
Feb. 7th, 2016 10:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, Mary Lee. Your words made me so happy when I read them!
Feb. 9th, 2016 01:59 am (UTC)
I always find that the narrative behind the poem is often as fascinating as the poem itself. Thank you for sharing all these.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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