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Bridge Poetry Series | Spark and Flame

The Bridge Poetry Series highlights an esteemed literary tradition: poetry inspired by art. This series establishes a unique opportunity for Wisconsin poets to write and read ekphrastic poems. In the second century AD, ekphrasis (description) was a rhetorical exercise of creating mental images with words, and it frequently began with a description of artworks.

The program was launched in spring 2012 by Madison poets Katrin Talbot, Sara Parrell, Susan Elbe, and Jesse Lee Kercheval in collaboration with the Chazen Museum of Art. Twice yearly, in conjunction with a spring and fall exhibition, about a dozen poets visit the exhibition, write poems, and then take part in a group reading at the Chazen. The series intends to build bridges between art forms and among poets all over Wisconsin and celebrate diversity of style, affiliation, age, and ethnicity.

The first Bridge Poetry Series reading was May 17, 2012. Poets wrote in response to Spark and Flame: 50 Years of Art Glass and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Invited poets included Brenda Cárdenas (recent Milwaukee poet laureate) and Bruce Dethlefsen (current Wisconsin poet laureate). Their poems are published here. Enjoy.

Brenda Cárdenas

In Veiled Voices

(after Harvey K. Littleton’s Conical Intersection, 1985)

Topple a mountain’s cool crown
cool mount
into the tangerine sunset,
set into

twilight’s cobalt claw snagged
snagged light
in its honey slump crawl
awl slump

across dunes. Petrify a gush
gush across
of silt and shale. Fix mud
mud fix

with ash. Magenta mesas stretch
magenta ash
between stars, meet 300-foot
meet between

drops to the canyon floor. Cliff-
floor drops
dwellers, a red clay bowl nestles
bowl dwells

in the belly of its own ghost. Come,
Come in
the blistering stones speak.
speak the

Time to grind the yellow corn,
yellow time
prepare this tilted table, push
push tilted

our elliptical breath
breath our
through amber spheres of light.
light through

Lisa Cihlar

A Search for Form

I. Incantation

A man sits on the shore. A man sits on the shore, eyes closed. A man sits on the shore, eyes closed, listening. Listening to the ice. Listening to the ice that is glass that is ice. The crack and boom of it. The cold heat orange red molten of it at sunrise. The blue green of it at noon. Midnight, black and solid. A man sits on the shore, a rumble hum deep in his chest. The glass ice swells on the transverse waves. A man leaves. Tracks in the silica.

II. Meditation

A man sits on the shore. A man sits on the shore where maples embrace the beach. In the warm days, cold nights of spring, sap rises. A broken branch drips sap into the sand. In the dark an icicle forms. The tip bends where a minute brown ant is encased in almost glass. The sunrise, caught in the point, flashes a vermilion gem. A man on the shore waits and waits and waits until melt. The ice rod falls and shatters on a granite stone.

III. Intention

A man sits on the shore. A man, half light, half shadow. One tossed driftwood chunk raises earth stars. Smoke flattens over sand and over water. Wind carries the perfume of smoke, wild onions, and rotting fish. There is fire crackle and wave swish and one unsettled gull screech. The heat pulls sweat from skin. A man on the shore dreams into the white hot middle where solid becomes liquid becomes ash.

Bruce Dethlefsen

Do Over

(after Naomi Shioya’s Roof Garden)

I build five towers
one for love
one of fears
one for hope
and one of tears
I’m stuck again atop
the tower of years

I climb into my boat
once more
to escape redoing
all I’ve done before

CX Dillhunt

Glass, So to Speak

A search for form is the daily pursuit of the artist. The search until recently
somehow overlooked the blowing of molten glass directly from the furnace.

—Harvey K. Littleton, Glass Blowing: A Search for Form, 1971

as if
to say how
to find the form is
as easy as searching for form
an underlooking somewhere from the furnace through to
our daily pursuit of form finding a blowing into a taking out of any one

meeting here once as
for all exploiting media
emptying from this owned expression removed to
our daily furnace of words now returned to the rightful maker’s misunderstanding

explodes intensive
periods observing this blowing
of molten syllables from each furnace resisting
our daily form of the artist thoroughly glass gone now as expression so to speak

Zaccaria Fulton

The Surface, Revealing

We know it was father who started writing secrets
and putting them in the glass house, the time he came home
late or not at all and wouldn’t speak but poured

a glass of something dark and wrote on two thin strips
of paper and rolled them up and put them in the house
which thenceforth became the depository

of family secrets. We moved from town to town
but no one could remember to forget to bring it,
and every new home seemed the perfect setting for it,

with a backyard and fruit trees that seemed stylized
in the morning light we vowed over and over to be
awake for. That was when grandmother knew we weren’t trees

but didn’t know how to say that. Time moved
with the insufferable gait of a stroke victim.
All anyone talked about was going home.

After a while we wanted to talk about new beginnings.
“Beginnings?” scoffed grandmother.
“Give me trees any day,” she said, and died.

Six months later father drowned in his own lungs.
Mother compensated the way a waterfall compensates
for gravity, wanting to be everything. When there was no rain

she hurled herself at the roof to help us sleep,
and when there was no sun she became radiant
and difficult to look at. Summer rolled in, and the death

in the body suggested itself to the pear trees outside,
which rotted. It was in the summer of sweet sickly rotting
pears that mother began writing down her regrets

and put them into the house, the house of regrets,
some would say sins although she wouldn’t say that.
This was before Sara lost her smile and punished her dolls

for being ugly. She already had questions we couldn’t answer,
which was okay when they were answers we didn’t have.
Knowing the only way to be reckless was with abandon

we woke, spoke, and felt with abandon, abandoned
with abandon, made love with abandon and with strangers
in abandoned buildings. We wrote down prayers

and swallowed them. Mother cared for the house
and the house within the house, each day dusting
the surface, revealing someone else inside the glass.

There was a certain quality to the light in those days—
humble, like it had been on a journey for millions of miles
and was ready to become matter

Matthew Guenette

Poem from Marvin Lipofsky’s Suomi Finland Series #4

nautilus womb
or dear brother
you are a longing
cerulean shoulders & neck emerging
from their own polished muscle
their own muscled labor
a song of north, of drowning, of singers
singing the first bewilderness

from here you threaten to swan
here and a melancholy flowers
blue caesura
the smooth order of your knot
vesseled & restless

your turbulence bubbles
to a translucent
egg of sap
you begin with a spring of heat
like the rest of us you were born
to a god of doubt

Daniel Kunene

Genesis: The Artist’s Hand

Who sparked the flame that lights
The pleasant place in the Chazen?
Who else but the artist in a moment of insanity?

Ask Harvey Littleton why he blew glass so hard
A splinter flew and chipped the point of his nose?
A spark had lit a flame inside of him

Ask him why he was so persistent that
Glass could be transformed into art even if
Its splinters might leave you noseless

Van Gogh! A mad artist who, in a fit of passion,
Sent his self-severed ear to his lover
To prove his love, or maybe to eavesdrop on her?

The artist knows what the nose knows not
The artist hears what the ears hears not
So much for the artist’s madness

O, just one I nearly forgot: God! God of course!
God, they say was an artist—a creator (capital A capital C)
Like Littleton and Van Gogh

So here comes God one day and in a fit of temper takes
Several lumps of clay and throws them in any direction
And each one lands somewhere and explodes

And people and stuff come out, which was the sixth day
Of creation and he, God, is so tired, not to say fed-up,
The next day he takes a nap–a long one as you can see

Ignores all the nations so furiously raging together
Snores through all the wars and rumors of wars
We the People can’t stand it anymore—and God?

Still taking his nap

We pray, We sing, We weep,
He does not get up

Ah, I digress don’t I?

Having entered the Chazen, you take a few more steps and
Turn the first corner where a soothing silence
Soft lights and a myriad sparkles embrace you, calm you down

For now you have reached holy ground

You look in awe as you receive the gifts of
Harvey Littleton and his fellow glass artists
Devoted creators of new things out of old,

Of form out of formlessness
Of order out of chaos

You hear the silence and you know
The artist inside of you is at work
And the re-creation you feel is yours alone

Are those swans with necks in regal poise?
Or charmed snakes gyrating as in a ritual dance
To a trance, and the slickest one, the devil snake, swooning

While the pubescent maiden he aimed to seduce
Escapes to the breathless waiting village?
Their colors: red, amber, grey, orange, sky blue, in the tubular twirling

Of reptilian bodies lulling themselves to a coma

I never thought I would ever like a snake
Now I do, thanks to you Harvey Littleton
You’re a charmer. Now I can even try to dance

Ah! So many bridges to cross
So many treasures to discover in our
Rich racial, cultural diversity

As art speaks to art
And heart to heart

Eve Robillard

Dress Impression with Wrinkled Cowl

This dress is just my size! Someone
must have slipped into my room one night

burning me into it, making it mine, making it
part of me. I could wear this dress anywhere! On

job-hunts, impressing my next employer with how solid,
how substantial, how charming I can be. Or to a Monday-

morning coffeehouse, a Friday-night saloon, inviting
everyone to break off bits of me and drop me into

their drink. Or, to a wedding—my best friend’s wedding,
or even my own. Perhaps I have worn this dress—let’s say

on the Titanac, a century ago, in a ballroom filled
with women waltzing away with their husbands beneath

chandeliers suddenly swaying—swaying and splintering,
soon to be one with the ice, with the sea.

Katrin Talbot

What Isn’t Here

There are no bones here.
What is not needed knows,
turns away, towards
another here

Hearts Broken have
no place in the house of
glass; they seek a heavier,
duller shard—
alone at home with
the opaque,
not clarity’s blinding

Gravity, the heaviest love
of our earth-bound lives,
needed once at the molten moment
of gathering, forming,
is, here in the gallery,
just an ordinary
out-of-tune force,
keeping our light
truths anchored

Bring your own oxygen
The breath is in the glass

Watch the People
Watch the Glass

It’s the Kingdom of How?
Our sentences are
laden with it
We know the What, the When
We gift the Why back to the artist.

We’re moving but
we’re nothing much—just
cloudy bags of enzymes,
stringy packages of muscle,
a mess of dark systems

The life is in the
glass; the light throws
us out, pulls us in,
slumps us, casts us,
etches, chases…
shadows us

We stand as murmuring black holes,
Opacity our middle name,
as the glass roars its
stunning chorus of light
into the echo of our questions
Ronald Wallace

Art Glass Haiku Sonnet #2

after Iio Sogi

We once were considered crafts, plain and homely. Yet
when Harvey Littleton put us on a pedestal, even
the lowliest of us—the bowls and vessels—took our place in
Art. Now we each have our own speech and name: The
Gift; Orchid Spring; Vibrant Red #10. See how the sun’s
caught in Bowl #1, its orange going to gold, how your own
reflection dances in Phantom Canyon. In this luminous land
light cohabits with glass, its offspring promising that anyone,
so lovingly touched, will shine. See how the people at
this exhibition, no matter their flaws, cracks, or tatters, all
glow with a molten happiness, yes, even those who
have met up with Tension or Laconic Gasp Johnson, their lives,
hot glass, now annealing. Lumina Green with Red Ring will
buffer them, no matter how slumped they be, how they suffer.

Timothy Yu



Glass, kiln-formed
Glass, blown
Glass, cut, bonded, polished
Glass, cast, cut
Optical glass, bonded, cut, polished
Glass, fused, folded
Glass, pâte de verge
Glass, mold-blown, cold-worked
Glass, cast, cold-worked
Glass, cold, cold-worked
Glass, mixed media
Glass, blown, cut, tack-fused
Glass, blown, laminated, heat-formed
Glass, blown, sandblasted, oil pigments
Glass, cast, ground
Glass, blown, overlaid color, inside cased, diamond wheel-cut
Glass, blown, reverse-painted enamels
Glass, cast, metal, paint
Plate glass, cut, bonded, polished
Glass, slumped, metal fry basket
Glass, granite, bonded, cut, polished
Glass, blown, cased, cane drawing
Glass beads, fused
Glass, mold-blown, gold leaf, platinum leaf, colored glass chips
Glass, blown, acid-etched, metal, wood
Glass, kiln-formed, diamond wheel-polished
Glass, slab technique, fused, wheel-carved
Glass, sheets, glass mosaic, frits, fused
Glass, hot-formed, engraved
Cast crystal, sandblasted


Chewed caramel
Burning tree
Cold pale mouth of sigh
Plant nude to the roots, encased
In a butterflied globe
Ring rising through pickled light
Bauble sphere
Ragged eye in space
Laconic bottles, reptilian
Jagged skyline, mirror canyon
Screws and wood screws in amber
Deep fried gelatinous grove
Giant pinball omelette
Corset hive
Unworn garment
Swing hung in the void
Ghost in the Coke machine
Dogs embrace
Silicon supplicant
We all live in a checkered submarine
Candied basket
English for happy
Acorns of emptiness
Amputated cornucopia
House of horn