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On the Shoulders of Giants by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman - a Poetry Friday post

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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Tags: ekphrasis, free verse, original poems, poetry, poetry friday, poetry seven

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