Lightning Strikes II: 22 poets. 22 artists.
December 7, 2019 — February 1, 2020

Opening Reception: Saturday, December 7, 1:00-5:00 PM

100% of the proceeds from ticket sales as well as 10% of any art sales from the exhibition to benefit the MFA in Literary Arts scholarship program at St. Mary’s college. Each ticket holder receives a copy of Lightning Strikes.

Poet and Artist pairings:

Kathleen Brennan + Lisa Russell
Eric Campbell + Eric Antoine
Billy Collins + Gary Ruddell
Peter Coyote + Kai Samuels Davis
Louise Gluck + Lisa McCutheon
Matt Gonzalez + Ian Kimmerly
Robert Hass + Edwige Fouvry
Brenda Hillman + Vanessa Marsh
Jane Hirschfield + Katherine Mann
Jack Hirschman + Matt Gonzalez
Ada Limon + David Kelso
Devorah Major + Mayme Kratz
Sara Mumolo + Travis Collinson
Naomi Shihab Nye + John Dipaolo
Carlie Penderghast + Alex Kanevsky
Renny Pritikin + Maria Porges
Dean Radar + Robert Kingston
Tamsin Smith + Danae Mattes
Tess Taylor + Ann Gale
Tom Waits + Lou Ros
David Whyte + Louise LeBourgeois
Mathew Zapruder + Elizabeth Fox

Poetry and painting have always been soul sisters. Over 2,500 years ago, Simonides stated that “poetry is a speaking picture, painting a silent poetry.” Written language itself has pictorial roots, and poets from William Blake to E.E. Cummings have also been visual artists, just as painters from Michelangelo to Picasso have been writing poetry. In the great forest that is the arts, the roots of poetry and painting are intricately interwoven.

The exhibition and publication Lightning Strikes derives its title from the poem “The Painter and the Fish” by Raymond Carver. A struggling painter walks out onto a jetty when—at the point of despair—suddenly “a fish came up out of the dark / water under the jetty and then fell back / and then rose again in a flash.” Struck by the splendid image, the painter rushes back home. So filled is he with inspiration that a single canvas can’t hold the immensity in him that is bursting to come out. “It was all or nothing.” 

It is this moment of transformation that is at the heart of Lightning Strikes. It comes out of nothing, like a silvery glistening out of dark waters, and it has the power to completely shift our perspective. A single moment of inspiration can change our world and make the difference between all or nothing.

The process is unusual. Lightning Strikes begins with a poem, which is given to a visual artist whose sensitivity appears commensurate to that of the poet. The artist then creates a work in response to that poem—not by rendering some sort of visual ‘translation’ of its ideas or images, but by taking inspiration from it. Jane Hirshfield writes that ”the desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary by changing not the world but the eyes that look…” In this sense, the poem is not meant to prescribe a framework for the painting (our painter on the jetty is not likely to start painting silver fish) but to provide an opening to see the extraordinary within the ordinary.

While it’s fascinating to witness birth and transformation of an inspiration, in a way it doesn’t matter. In fact, Lightning Strikes becomes only richer for us when we, at least for a moment, drop the idea of which comes first—poem or painting—and allow our imagination to free-play. The poem could be a response to the painting, or both could be a response to something altogether different, a distant memory, a political vision, a fly on the ceiling. Or maybe they are not responses at all but beginnings, openings and questions. Free-playing this way helps break the rigid dominion of thought.

Lightning Strikes is not about cause and effect. Ultimately, it is about the intimacy that arises when two forms of art begin to dance with each other. It is about the inspiration that happens when the linguistic and the visual become lovers, become indistinguishable; when the poem’s sounds and sense and the painting’s shapes and colors melt into each other. It’s about the experience we have when we start seeing the two not as separate works but as one undivided whole. 

The roots of poetry and painting have always been interwoven, both draw their nourishment from the same soil. Lightning Strikes provides the space for them to grow as one.