Art as Intercourse

Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 | 5 comments

“People limp to the shrine of St. Georgia and then fly away on the wings of the libido.” This is from The New Yorker, a review of one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s early exhibitions.

“Art is a means of intercourse. . . causing the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship with him who produced or is producing the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.” –Tolstoy.

My friend, the marvelous writer and actor Dinah Lenney, and I are giving a talk about writing and art at our MFA program (Rainier Writing Workshop, in Tacoma) this August. Since we’re preparing for that, I’m turning back to my series of poems on O’Keeffe from my first book, Fishing With Blood (Purdue University Press, 1988). In these poems, I’m not only responding to her paintings, but incorporating her biography, which adds a certain other dimension. With characteristic modesty, I quote from a cover blurb on the book, from Dave Smith: “No one to my knowledge has written better about Georgia O’Keeffe, and many have tried.”

I include here two poems from the series (the raciest one since I gave this blog a seductive title),  and the last one:


 A New Yorker Visits Her Exhibition

 A man in a brown vest
observes jack-in-the-pulpits, painted
over and over, closer and
closer to the swelled
spike, the slit
of light. The trumpet flower
pillowed white toward its yawning
shaft. The sunflower spread
like a whore for the bees.
Georgia sits bolt upright in
the corner, enduring his
plod and gawk. Her hands lock
their secrets around
each other. She turns
her flowers loose. If this
man had been the one who stuck their seeds
into the soil, they would go on
without him, or die
of weeds, no matter, growing
again in wilder transformations. He
stands before Georgia’s monstrous
calla lilies, hands
in his pockets. Perhaps he has almost
discovered his small
importance in this process, and has
begun to look into his heart for
another point of view. She watches
the symmetry
of his hands as they turn and
return almost against their will to
the same vaginal tease: a star, a bell-
shaped cry, “Come in, come in!”


 An Expert Explains Her Work

Anything pared to the bone
needs interpretation, so
no one will be bored. You can’t
say look there, and there. Only
here, like a devotional.
Once, Georgia O’Keeffe stole
an immaculate black river-stone
from a friend’s table with no
explanation, and she
is well known to have painted
that same shape in a number of
excuses: the single alligator pear,
the sunflower’s eye,                                                       
the obdurate moon,
the hole in the pelvis bone. How
far it is to eternity and how
little we have to go on! Stripped
of flesh, the pelvis bone
is capable of flying
open like camera lens.
Then she was forever
painting, like a curse, versions
of the door in the patio wall
at Abiquiu. It took her ten
years to buy that house, that
door which had once been
sold for two cows, a bushel of
corn, and a serape. Still, it made
no apologies, a rectangular
door in a patio wall,
sharpened and scrupulous,
a place on the wall to
let your eyes
stop and collect their forces.
If anything went in our out, you
could see, and put a stop
to it, or be the only one
waiting, thus, the most beautiful.


  1. There’s Georgia O’Keeffe with a flower or a stone—amazing, yes—and no less amazing, what Fleda Brown can do with a door, oh my.

    Thanks, Fleda.

    • Thanks, pal.

  2. First book, huh? As always, my readerly/writerly hat is doffed.

    • Well, yes, but you notice I didn’t win a Pulitzer.

      • Pulitzer, Schmulitzer. I’m still a fan.

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