The poems in Jennifer Atkinson’s A Gray Realm the Ocean were all written under the influence of art—specifically twenty- and twenty-first century abstract visual art. All the art referenced in the poems was done by women. Although many of these painters, sculptors, performance artists, ceramicists, and fabric artists have earned international reputations, albeit late in their lives or even after their deaths, most have only recently been given the notice and gallery space they deserve.
Composed in response to the artists’ multiplicity of forms, styles, modes and moods, the poems are variously experimental. Drunk on color and language, line and lines, they don’t so much describe the art as revel in it. No patriarchal anxiety here—the poet actively seeks to join in conversation with the artists, listening closely and seeking their influence. She ponders, interrogates, and celebrates the work, taking each artist on her own terms—respecting the achieved calm of Agnes Martin’s “Night Sea” and the flare and smolder of Ana Mendieta’s “earth-body” work, the lyric voluptuousness of Joan Mitchell and the intellectual geometries of Carmen Herrera, the arrested explosions of Cornelia Parker and Ruth Asawa’s cool embodiments of shadow, the sun-drenched reveries of Emmi Whitehorse and Pat Steir’s un-skied star falls. Yet A Gray Realm the Ocean not only seeks to honor these artists—their work, their courage, and their curiosity. Taken together the collection is also a meditation on looking—conscious, attentive looking—and the mysterious nature of abstraction.