Annie Palmer is an artist, massage therapist, world traveler, and wine enthusiast from Jackson, Wyoming. She recently relocated to Wichita, KS; a great boon for me, as she is also one of my oldest and closest friends.
A year ago, when I was first working seriously with the body of poems that would become Heartland, I told Annie about the project and that I was interested in pairing it with paintings… and how fortunate that I should have an artist friend! Her first reaction was, “Oh, really! Who?”
Thank goodness for friends who really see our talents! The idea of seeing, especially through different artistic mediums, became very important to me as we embarked on our collaboration. Seeing my work through Annie’s eyes, and watching her translate the text, as well as the landscape and insights behind it, into visual art has been a fruitful experience.
Of several sketches and ideas, Annie’s first complete Heartland-inspired painting was Wheat and Sunflower:
One of the things I love most about “Wheat and Sunflower” is the hardest, unfortunately, to see on the screen: the layering and depth of textures. There’s a fine level of detail in the heads of wheat, the sky, the sunflower center, that lends it an earthen verisimilitude. It’s an especially fresh touch since Annie’s style is not photo-realism. For this painting, I love that we’re clearly looking at a rendered image: an interpretation, a chosen collage, a textured, gently impressionistic, appreciative snippet of the Kansas landscape.
I love how the striking, warm yellow of the sunflower petals do double-duty as an impression of the sun in the sky, and the shades and variation in the blue and white sky. One of the wonderful things about the heartland is the sky is so often as dynamic and expressive as a loved one’s face; clouds, colors, and changing light are an important part of the character of a day beneath it.
As a stylized portrait of quintessential Kansas, the painting also literally foregrounds, in a personal, affectionate way, main staples of these plains: sky, wheat, sunflower, and even the ever-present wind. The movement of the field is alive in the turned and tousled grain heads.
As Heartland’s release approaches, I asked Annie to reflect on painting, the heartland, and poetry with me:
LeighAnna Schesser: When we first started sharing these poems, and talking back and forth about the Kansas landscape, you said that they moved you and affected your perception of Kansas. Can you elaborate on that?
Annie Palmer: The poems from Heartland gave me a better understanding than I had previously had of the beauty in the state of Kansas. I have always had a connection with Kansas because my mom’s family is from Wichita, but having grown up in Wyoming, the rugged beauty of the mountains will always be foremost in my heart. That said, your eloquent portrayal of the hills and fields of Kansas gave me a greater appreciation for the softer landscape of the great plains.
LS: I remember being very gratified that the poems reached you that way! It’s a very satisfying feeling as a writer to spark that kind of appreciation in a reader. Did you also find a more personal, emotional resonance with the poems as well?
AP: As someone who has always been interested in and dabbled with writing poetry, my main stipulation is that it must speak to me. It is easy to read a poem and move on, but the ones that make me sit back and ponder them, swept up in the imagery and emotion, are the ones that stick with me, that I read again and again. In the beginning of my process to paint for Heartland, I read the poems and jotted down the images that I thought I could work with. While many of them were single words or brief phrases from the poems themselves that I could turn into a painting, I also wrote notes on the ones that I felt the most strongly about, even if it was just that my feelings were indescribable. My favorites are “Rib and Marrow, Soil, Green” and “Love Poem” because they made my heart sing at their beauty.
LS: Just between you and me, those two are in my top favorites in the whole book! I know landscape isn’t your usual style, so was creating “Wheat and Sunflower” more of a challenge?
AP: My preferred art subjects have always been up close, specific, fairly simple; such as birds, or a flower, or black and white portraits. But the mid-distance landscape of the wheat field with a sunflower poking in has the best of both worlds. It shows a quintessential Kansas landscape with the intimacy of a close-up of the sunflower, which reflects the heartfelt tone of your poetry. In turns you write of sweeping fields and sunsets, but then you hones in on the individual moments or details such as leaf boats on a river, a porcelain crucifix, and blossoming love.
LS: That’s such a wonderful observation! It adds to my desire to know more about what it’s like to see poetry and landscape and painting through a visual artist’s eyes. What did you want to “tell” about the landscape, and your emotional response to it, through your art? How is how you “see” the place through your painting alike and different from how you “see” it through the poems?
AP: Poems are like stories, and they wind around a certain subject – how broadly or specifically depends on the poem and the poet – and when I read them, different imagery comes into my mind, and from those, I sometimes move on to other images that might not even be in the poem. For example, “Everything is Sky in Kansas”: from just the title I think of the endless skies over endless prairies, which makes me think of wheat and corn and sunflowers, and then hills just beyond what you can see, and it’s like a train of thought… just a train of imagery instead. With a painting, or any piece of visual art, you know that those hills are there, but what is in front of you, the wheat and the sunflower, are what you focus on. For me, one of the most beautiful things about any art, but especially about poetry, is the world beyond what is actually spoken. The inference of the additional imagery that the poet draws out in their readers is really moving.
LS: Another of your Kansas paintings, Windmill at Sunset, is one of my favorite paintings.
LS: The colors, the fluid movement of the sky, the silhouette – it speaks “Kansas” and “contentment” in a profound way. It’s the sort of thing I would hang on my wall, if I had any space between bookshelves! You have a real eye for color layering and blending, not to mention the sweeping development and movements of sky and light.
AP: I’m thrilled to hear that! I had a ton of fun with this one! One thing I can say about Kansas is there’s no shortage of brilliant sunsets, and I wanted to portray that. Plus, with all our wind here, what says Kansas more than a windmill (besides wheat and sunflowers, of course!)? Windmill at Sunset is only my second finished pastel painting so I’m pleased with how it turned out, especially since I’m still figuring out how the medium works. One of my favorite things is the blending – especially with such vibrant colors!
LS: Thank you so much, Annie, for doing this interview and for your beautiful paintings.
AP: It’s an honor to be part of this journey with you, LeighAnna! I can’t wait for your book!
(Heartland is now available for pre-order at Anchor & Plume Press, and will ship on June 6th!)
~ ~ ~
A few final thoughts on poetry, painting, and place:
It seems to me that a poet and a painter have in common a certain appreciation for detail. And not merely for detail, but for how the part integrates, appreciates, and enables the whole.
Ezra Pound, of course, famously chastised poets about being too “descriptive”; since, after all, “the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it,” as he wrote in “A Retrospect” (collected in Twentieth Century American Poetics, ed. Gioia, Mason, and Schoerke, p. 65).
I’ve taken issue with Pound’s theory of the image before, but here suffice it to say: in one sense, he’s clearly correct, since vision is the more immediate sense and a painter can do incredible things with color, perspective, and line that render seemingly without mediation or translation to the mind. But poetry is a “sixth sense” in some ways; it hits a complex swirl of vision, emotion, and thought, explicitly, sometimes all at once, or in quick succession. A painting can “suggest” or indicate beyond the bare fact of what is seen; poems have the challenge of verbally working through sight, concepts, and emotion. But in either case, what the audience walks away with will depend on which details were highlighted, and the means by which they were rendered. Understood that way, poems and painting are a natural combination. Certainly these poems and these paintings are an excellent combination.
Check back later this week for more posts about art, place, and poetry; and don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Heartland!