Poem of the Week | January 11, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “What is Art” by Elizabeth Langemak!

Elizabeth Langemak’s poetry has appeared in AGNI Online, Shenandoah, Pleiades, The Colorado Review, Literary Imagination, Sugar House Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. Her work has twice appeared in Best New Poets: 50 Poems by Emerging Writers, and been featured on Verse Daily. The recipient of fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and Breadloaf, she lives in Philadelphia, where she is an Associate Professor of English, and Director of the Higher Education Initiative – a program offering free college courses to local high school students – at La Salle University. Her website is: https://elizabethlangemak.wordpress.com/.


What is Art

In Rome, Twombly cast             a silver box, a cap
riding it like a little                     headstone. This Edward Gorey box,
bleeding blue rust: bulky,         freight-weighted, corners
like unhewn shoulders:             he shipped it home anyway.
I can’t imagine the cost             but Twombly said Fuck it,
or maybe he said nothing        at all, and his aides packed it up,
an object so tolerable                they almost forgot                     it.

I would have left this box          in Rome, like half-used
shampoo. I would have             dropped it on a curb like people
leave cabinets                             with only one door: a thing too
busted for the painter               of Fifty Days at Iliam, but maybe not
for you. I would have                 backed my cursor over that box
and not saved the file               if no one had converted me
to its beauty                                by convincing me that beauty
was the only thing                     I could possibly make.


Author’s Note

I find comfort in thinking about how the production of competent, OK, or even totally unsuccessful art (however you want to define those things) plays out in an artist’s practice. Some things need to be made as a means to making other things. It’s useful for me to imagine all of an artist’s production as a series of doorways to new rooms. Plenty of those doorways lead to school cafeterias, or cinderblock dorms, or the waiting rooms of dentists, but if you keep showing up, you might eventually build a vaulted ceiling, or a room with a claw foot bathtub, or The House on the Rock. I like how often artists (and admirers of art!) are unable to tell which rooms are which.