poetry from 2011

10

Nine years of painting in a sketchbook

As a freshman in art school I cringed when I was told that students were required to keep a sketchbook. I never draw preparatory sketches because I like to work a painting out as I go, not in advance. When shown a finished artwork and its original sketch, I usually find the first draft to be more spontaneous, energetic, fresh and beautiful. But I was an obedient student so I forced my hand and began drawing in a Moleskine journal.

Drawing in public places always led to striking up conversations with strangers and helped me to make friends outside of school. I began drawing and experimenting on a daily basis. I bought acrylic ink for a school assignment and poured some into my sketchbook using an eye dropper. I liked how the ink bled onto other pages, adding color and texture. I fell in love with the medium and started drawing with ink using a dip pen and brush.

It’s difficult to use dip pens, brushes and ink jars while sitting in a cafe, so I began painting in my room. The privacy loosened me up and my themes became more personal. For years I was in the habit of punctuating paintings with song lyrics, but I finally started using my own poetry. After a while, I grew so invested in the sketchbooks that I began referring to them as “books of paintings” to imply they were complete, indivisible artworks.

I used to surf the internet to find images to draw, but that became boring because I kept googling the same things: antelope, construction cranes and light houses were among my usual search terms. In 2011 I got into photography and started using my own photos for reference. Now I exclusively paint scenes from memory or personal photographs.

Change is so gradual it’s hard to tell if I’m improving at all, so occasionally I flip through my collection of Moleskines. I think the most important creative change was the decision to stop copying images from the internet and other people’s poetry. This really opened me up creatively and I’ve become more observant of my surroundings– time spent outside of studio feels creative and productive because I always have an eye out for material.

Easter

is my season
of defeat.

Though all
is green

and death
is done,  

I feel alone.
As if the stone

rolled off
from the head

of the tomb
is lodged

in the doorframe
of my room,

and everyone
I’ve ever loved

lives happily
just past

my able reach.
And each time

Jesus rises
I’m reminded

of this marble
fact:

they are not
coming back.

Jill Alexander Essbaum, “Easter,” from Poetry (January 2011)

I have a swarm of bees inside me
I can’t let them out
Let them be free
I can only keep them inside
And hope I don’t explode
Hope someone comes to help
Me open the doors
The windows, let it all out
Because the longer they stay
All buzzing and swarming
Getting angrier with each passing second
To the point of breaking
Then,
I will feel nothing
Nothing at all
A cold empty she’ll
Where I not longer live
A walking dead
An empty bee give
When all the bees have gone
Forever
A ghost, a whisper of what has been
What will never be again
But, if I am not here
Where am I?
Lost, small, scared
Dark, blackness
Surrounds my soul
And I fade away
The bees are leaving
Just an old, abandoned bee hive