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Artist Poems

By Marc Straus

Marc Straus only began writing poetry seriously in 1991 when he joined a workshop at the 92nd Street Y. Within the next year, his poems were accepted to major literary journals including FieldPloughsharesKenyon Review and TriQuarterly. In 1993, he was the recipient of a poetry fellowship at Yaddo.  He  frequently writes about cancer medicine, about the dialogue between patients and health care providers, about ethics, and most importantly, about how information is conveyed and received.

To hear Marc Straus read his poems, please click on the player next to each title. (The players may take a little while to load--please be patient.)

Louise Bourgeois, The Runaway, 1998 Glass, steel, mirrors and pink marble 84 x 79 x 54in


            Louise Bourgeois

Pink feet  ─ what was I thinking  
you can’t run barefoot in Aruba: 
hot sand, the sun so strong, she’d
blister instantly, and those ankles,
stiff, a bit arthritic, and what 

was I thinking to place them on
a pedestal, a thin steel shelf, up
on tip-toe no less, just the slightest
nudge and she’d fall over, and who
exactly did I think could stand there

that way, all her weight on tiny
metatarsals, on tightly stretched hamstring
muscles, and then, unexpectedly placed 
in a cage, not even an ordinary cage, this
from discarded gating: steel, rusted 

remnants, perhaps part of some massive 
Cyclone fence  ─ who knows, maybe a mile 
around, maybe the innermost links around a vast 
prison complex, with doors on heavy hinges, with
some windows  ─ why? now nearly opaque, 

shards of glass, a corrugated view perhaps
to the damp cemetery beyond , and
 which is better it begs, being inside 
or out, and three large circular mirrors 
that swivel, that I now acknowledge 

I added at the end, one center top, 
two to the sides, so that the last light 
before nightfall will catch the pink feet, 
so that from outside everything inside 
is visible, fully exposed, not even 

a centimeter to hide, like our darkest 
memories, our hidden souls, my mother’s 
forefingers on the loom, my father’s fine-silk
red-striped tie, the 17th century French tapestry,
a hunting scene, the accordion- breath of 

each day, of vanity, stepping, stepping 
forward, rainclouds in the breach, all is
entropy that begins with vanity, and this 
Runaway I made at age eighty-seven, my
Youth, stepping, stepping, forward.

John Newsom, The Great Divide, 2005-6 Oil on canvas, 90 x 120

John  Newsom;  Oil on canvas; 90 x 120”; 2005-6

If there is sky or ground then it is all orange blaze
slashed with cords of white, a mid-afternoon July
gleaming and bright, great burning globes of red
etching our retina, spiders black and brown, lithe
and playful, caterpillars, larvae, cocoons, and flowers,

lots of flowers in full bloom, and finally in this miasma
of effortlessness, an absence of a wheat field, river sluice,
windmill ˗ nothing made or grown purposely, and,
perhaps that’s it, this is the great divide,
an unabashedly brilliant world unsullied by man.

John McCracken, Black Plank, 1967, polyester resin, fiberglass, and plywood


John McCracken 
April 2011

I bend my bone against the plane. It is as if
I am leaning and the plank is straight. The blue resin
is the color of my veins and the red 
is my hair. 

There is a hill I remember from childhood, brown
and spare with a single majestic pine that had
no business being there but then nothing could be
the same without it.

I think about that pine, I think about sitting beneath it
and feeling as though now it’s just the two of us
against the barrenness and sky. Love 
is like that.

How everything might be simplified and how
I am only a few molecules amongst so many
others. Some day scatter me and leave 
a couple of planks behind.

Wolfgang Laib, Rice House, 2007, granite and rice, 6.7 x 5.5 x 36.2 inches


Wolfgang Laib

Black stone I found in a little Madras quarry, which 
Mr. Ravikumar owns, such a bright laugh, only half
his upper teeth, through which he says that I always 
select a fragment  that is unsellable and therefore 

it is forbidden for him to charge me anything, with which 
I cautiously remind him, that I am an alchemist, I will take 
his forty-six inch long, nine inch wide, seven inch high 
uneven stone and blacken it even more with thick black 

cobbler’s oil, that I will set it down and layer it around
with coarse uncooked rice and then pack it in my studio 
in a fine crate and ship it to New York where a gallery 
on West 29th Street will sell it for more money than most people 

make in a year, so as for this bitter rock that nobody else wants 
he is obliged to charge me to recirculate it’s worth, to feed 
his family and workers and perhaps something left over to thank 
his Gods for my Rice House, for finding this rough but

necessary stone, for reminding me of my roots, a medical
student from a quaint village in Germany, a surgeon, Herr Laib 
expected me to be, and my mother, always tired to the bone,
her youth extinguished in a terrible war, a war in which Germany’s 

soul was lost, after which she gave birth to me six years later
in a quiet vacant room, wanting no worldly clamor, only 
a place to soak up acrid memory, and then one morning 
back just after my medical studies, she served me breakfast :

an empty plate, an empty bowl, a white porcelain coffee cup 
set down perfectly and nothing inside and when I walked out 
that day the sun full and yellow on the fields, I went to
India ─ two years in silence and then I returned

and slowly gathered fresh beeswax ─ it was everywhere,
tiny droplets like earth’s breath, and I shaped them 
into small mounds, and then pollen, everyday out 
in the fields, a month’s journeying to fill a plateful, 

and then milk stone, and rock like this, and eventually
I placed them on floors, stone floors, oak floors, concrete 
floors, bowls of pollen,  staircases made of pure wax,
wax mounds up on trestles, rocks with hand-sprinkled rice

about the circumference, whispers, prayers, the rock 
and the pollen and the wax perfectly still, the puffing 
of millions of bees, the mating of sunflowers, the remnants 
of a volcano, atoms of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen

grafted from trees and living and porous things 
from millions and billions of years ago, new life and 
sustenance, and here we are in an angstrom of time 
and it is only we who have the capacity to reorganize 

what God set down, gently and quietly, a ceremony,
so that and in our brief journey we are timeless too,
an uneven rock left behind, perfect and magisterial, set down, 
oiled, surrounded by a few grains of rice by hand. 

Marin Majic, Bild, 2011 Oil on Canvas 73 x 88.5 inches


Marin Majic: Bild, Oil on canvas, 2012

The fabric maker slept here
while the bird perched on its pedestal 
and the black cat licked her paws 
listlessly near the yellow couch − 
yard goods, tickings, and flounces 
piled high, gone now, looted 
during Crystalnacht, youths
with no use for them except 
to tell their friends, 
and this photo by one of them 
who has returned at age ninety-one:
silence, rafters, coruscating light, 
the yellow couch still there, and the 
bird, perhaps even the same black
bird with a memory of that fabric maker
so many years ago.

Carl Andre, Aluminum Square 8, 2008 64 copper plates each 0,5 x 40 x 40 cm

64 Aluminum Squares, 1969   


in Andre’s studio

July 11, 1970


When I first made my twelve inch copper plates 

last year, I admit now I was thinking of Rothko, those 

magisterial canvases of magenta and red, and

I wanted to genuflect in a Jew’s studio: the silence

of the paintings was almost unbearable, and I told

Mark that until these works only Titian and Botticelli 

had license to such red, and then on February

25th  – it is impossible to forget – he lay in a bathtub 

of blood, the porcelain saturated with crimson,

as though he was saying, that’s it, there is no more 

to do, and then last week Barney died, and I have 

this exhibit in two months at the Guggenheim 

and it is hopeless because Newman never compromised, 

not that son-of-a-bitch who painted those stations 

over ten years that will breathe for hundreds more,

and me, I have a stack of bricks, (’66), my copper 

squares, lead squares, aluminum, and just now I know

I am a charlatan, a sycophant, a fucking brakeman 

on the railroad for four years, an idiot from Quincy,

Mass. of all places, who is presumptuous enough

to have quoted Brancusi and even Henry Moore, but

you know what – and I may be drunk as hell and if

you ever repeat this I will say you kissed up to

Clement Greenberg, and that is about as evil

as anything I can think of – my favorite work 

is my aluminum plates, the 64  eight inch squares 

sitting over there, and they are nothing without Rothko 

and Newman, and what Waldmann will write 

for the Guggenheim catalog is that the work 

is part of a new American post-modernism- Judd 

and Flavin, not to slight you Donald, but she will say 

that Flavin was first, his ’64 fluorescents, the Tatlins, 

his homage to you, and I was second, and your stacks

were last, which are ironically, aluminum, at least most

of them, and though you deny it, have you ever thought

that they are really pictures as well, thick canvases 

on the wall, and as much as you may say that Beuys

is a fascist, let’s face it, he lined up objects like salami slices

before you or I even dreamed of aluminum objects,

which in my case is admittedly more about the material 

than the fabrication, more about a reflection of our 

humanness, our earth, our natural elements, the gravity

that keeps our feet to the ground, without embellishment,

without Plexiglas which you have added to those stacks,

which doesn’t mean that I don’t like them, which I do

very much, it’s your constant need for perfection, for every

angle and joint to be perfect, everything is perfect, and me,

I just wanted a bunch of aluminum plates, store bought,

store cut, maybe 3/8 inch thick, with any imperfection 

that may be intrinsic to the aluminum, and then we line

them up in any order as long as they form a square, and

then you know what, I don’t give a shit if they walk on it,

in fact I would prefer that they do because then my 64 squares

come between humans and the ground they walk on, to

step on my canvas if you will, and yes, there is some Beuys

here and some Duchamp, but look, Marcel didn’t mean for 

anyone to use his shovel, to use his bicycle wheel, and as

much as he deobjectified the object, the clever bastard always 

foresaw its museum context, its preciousness, and I think

that art really is more than thinking it is art, it is a connection

at its best between the molecules of being human and the molecules

of the earth that makes our living possible: sand, aluminum,

lead, copper – and if not for gravity then we wouldn’t have bones,

we would hover without form, and I am not certain then 

how humans make love, how they eat and regurgitate and begin

over, how they will understand art unless they understand

it is in their cells, in the frigging dirt under their feet, and when

they look down at the aluminum the sky and the lights

are reflective, exactly because this has nothing to do with 

mirrors, this is about collecting tickets on the train, this is 

about walking along Broadway, going in and out of each shop

on Canal, the linen stores on Grand, peering into the pastry shops

on Mott, and you know what – at the Guggenheim they will

cordon off my aluminum, a guard with epaulets won’t let

children near and they will grow up thinking that art

is the pastry paintings and doilies in the Met, that art is about 

people with talent who paint with brushes, landscapes

and still lifes and they will never know that the kickstand

on their Schwinn is elegant, their grandmother’s 

kneecap, the arc of Koufax’s throw to home plate, which is 

why I made these fucking things – 64 aluminum squares.


Just six weeks ago Eva Hesse died, May 29th 

to be precise, and it is she that I constantly bicker 

with, not Rothko or Newman; Eva, only thirty-four,

(brain tumor, for God sakes), and that twenty-eight

year-old, Bruce Nauman – both of them – latex, 

cement, rope, rubber, fiberglass – discord, finger-

prints, footprints – they are everywhere in their art,

and I am removing myself as far as possible – 

not a mark, not a finger scratch on my new progression,

and to be perfectly truthful I don’t think it’s Barney either,

or even Rothko that you struggle against, I think it’s Warhol –

your 64 aluminum squares in opposition to his 64

Jackies, the Marilyns, postage stamps, soup cans,

all so orderly and squared off, especially the grey ones,

the grey Elvises, and all you did was rant and rave

when we first saw them at Leo’s in ’62, and you and 

Flavin were stone drunk as usual threatening to draw mustaches

on the Marilyns like Duchamp did to a Mona Lisa drawing,

(I had to remind you), and thank goodness for Bob Rauschenberg, 

who slapped you hard on the back and said take it back 

to your studio kid, kick the shit out of these, make these Marilyns 

disappear, and that my friend is what this aluminum work is, 

the negation of the 64 Warhol images, the Marilyns and Jackies

flat on their backs, gone, exactly where they belong, 

and today I can tell you that it was a truly lucky turn of events,

and really lucky that we had forgotten at the time 

that Bob Rauschenberg had destroyed a Duchamp.


We are at war: 10 boxes, 64 squares, it doesn’t matter

really whose head we piss on, as long as they are crushed 

beneath our feet – Beuys, Newman, Warhol, Rothko, and

in my case, all carefully hidden under aluminum plates, 

stepped on, a memory trace at best, and let’s face it,

it’s always been this way, Picasso standing on Cezanne’s

head, Henry Moore on Arp, Rothko on the Fauves –

and if I am lucky a whole lot of shitheads not yet 

in those prissy art schools will try to piss on me.

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