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Transactions with Beauty.
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– Shawna



Artemisia Gentileschi and All the God-Sized Fruit

Artemisia Gentileschi and All the God-Sized Fruit

Time is not real, as my daughter is fond of saying. Indeed, it is not.

The artist, Artemisia Gentileschi has been in the news because of a a show announcement – there is to be an exhibition of her work in 2020 at London’s National Gallery of Art. As well, there has been a restoration of a previously unknown work, Self-portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

All of this is very interesting to me, because I wrote a cycle of poems in the voice of Gentileschi in my first book, All the God-Sized Fruit, which came out….wait for it…….twenty years ago this spring. It won both the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Stephan G. Stephannson Award and my writing career has been pretty much downhill since then, hahaha. Though, actually, true. In some ways. If you count awards as being the high point of a literary career, and of course you know that I don’t think that this is the case.

But twenty years! Now that’s something to wrap the mind around.

artemisia book

If you’re interested in learning more about the restoration, you can check out the hashtag #NGArtemisia on YouTube.

When I wrote my poem cycle about her, there was pretty much one book available, Artemisia Gentileschi by Mary Garrard. Man I loved that book, and spent so much time with it. There are others out now, and I imagine there are more in the works to coincide with the exhibition.

Her story, in a nutshell from the article in the Telegraph:

“Born in Rome in 1593, she was trained by her father Orazio Gentileschi, a distinguished follower of Caravaggio. At the age of 17 Gentileschi was raped by the painter Agostino Tassi and then faced a gruelling court case. She went on to paint numerous self-portraits in which she appears in various roles. In 1639 Artemisia joined Orazio in London where he was working at the court of Charles I. She died in 1654 or shortly afterwards, probably in Naples.”

There was also a play based on the trial transcripts (which I also read, and are in the Garrard book).

It’s strange thinking about how obsessed I was with her work, with her story, more than twenty years ago. And really, how relevant still (infuriatingly) it is today. In the transcripts to the rape trial, while her fingers were encased in a type of thumbscrew device called a sibille, cords twisted around and through her fingers, then tightened, she spoke, “it is true, it is true, it is true.” The burden of proof was hers.

My book is still in print, and the painting on its cover still hangs on our living room wall. I still love the painting, which Rob made for me, all those years ago. I don’t tend to look back at my work, or read from it. But I did read over my Artemisia poems while writing this post, and yes, I still like them, too.

It seems like it was a different world back then, when it was such a huge thing to have images in a book of poetry. I personally wrote, mostly by snail mail, to the museums whose paintings I wanted reproduced in the book. In some box somewhere I have copies of all the permissions, what was paid, or if they were given for free (since the book was a small press limited print run item). I can’t tell you what a radical thing it was at the time to have images in a book of poetry!

Meanwhile, our daughter had arrived over a week early, while I was in the editing stages of the book (the plan had been to have it done by her due date), and I remember in the months after, sitting at my desk (in a different house) with the pomegranate painting hung above it, and a baby in a cradle beside me, and me finishing up the edits. It all feels a bit surreal, by now….All quite wonderful, of course, too. It’s hard to even imagine what it was like to publicize a book without the internet, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or should do. I’m not sure I do now.

The book remains though, and it seems to yet hold some meaning. Which is encouraging and hopeful and quite odd feeling, too.

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