Poem: Boustrophedon

by Julia Spicher Kasdorf

This poem, from Julia Kasdorf's Eve's Striptease (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1998), was written for Warren Rohrer. In an ironic twist, the poet (Julia) learned this Greek literary term from the visual artist (Warren), who was obsessed with it.

Julia comments: I wrote the poem after learning the word from Warren’s mouth the day when Lois’s creativity group met at Locks Gallery. I wrote it FOR Warren and mailed it to him. He wrote me a letter in return in which he pointed out the sestina structure, literally mapped it out in lists of numbers. He didn’t realize I’d used a standard European form, but wanted me to see that he recognized what I’d done structurally. Now that I see his notebooks, which are in a case at the Penn State exhibition, I realize that he meticulously mapped out plans for his paintings. They might look spontaneous, but they’re highly engineered. Anyway, he also said that they didn’t really “move to the city” [for art] as the poem states because his career flourished on the Christiana farm. (Earlier, of course, he and Jane lived in the Philly suburbs.) That detail was as much about my life as his, and this biographical sketch helped me to make a map for myself, I now realize. When the Allentown Museum hosted an exhibition of Warren’s work in 2016, they asked me to offer a little talk about Jane’s poetry, and I suppose that’s what got me reading her work carefully. When I showed up at the exhibition, there was a chunk of “Boustrophedon" on the wall. It blew me away. That may be what gave me the idea to put Jane’s poems on the wall with Warren’s paintings.

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