Reading Girl is a chapbook of ekphrastic prose poems exploring 21 paintings and 2 cut-outs by Henri Matisse. You can order it from Finishing Line Press. Below is an index of the 23 Matisse images linked to websites where you can view and learn more about them. Below you will also find a sample poem and two lovely endorsements. To read about how I created the book’s cover and what I learned from the process of translating and emulating Matisse, see my blog entry Covering Reading Girl.
There was no method behind my choice of Matisse’s images. I was studying Matisse’s work to learn about how he depicted place, hoping to gain insights that could inform my writing and that I could share with others in what became a lecture called “Painting Lessons for Travel Writers.” I did a lot of secondary research, but I suspected that writing creatively in response to Matisse’s images would provide an alternative and powerful way of relating to his work. By the end of my research, I had written some two dozen prose poems–these became Reading Girl. Before they formed a collection, the poems were simply my forays into those images that drew me the most.
Pianist and Still-Life, 1924, Henri Matisse
It doesn’t take much—just an attention to what’s nearest—to notice how precious this place is, like a dollhouse anticipating our humanity. The black staves of sheet music, the grain of a piano’s wood, the brass studs along the base of an armchair. We are living in miniature. The whole inner world of the woman fits in a straight back chair and pours into the piano and out with the music, across the wall in triple octaves, arching like a celebrated entrance to the room in which she sits. There is nowhere else to go. Our biggest dreams can’t contain the sheen of pink satin or exceed the fullness of a single whole note.
Elizabeth Paul has given to these images of Matisse the texts they deserve: rapt responses in subtle striking language that dance with the artist’s vision. Wonderful work. –Lawrence Sutin author of A Postcard Memoir
In no slight miracle of poetical engagement, Elizabeth Paul’s ekphrastic poems in Reading Girl manage to get inside the heart and soul of Henri Matisse’s paintings and lay bare our common and always surprising and intimate humanity. She wisely tells us in one poem that “Sometimes you have to subdue the mind to free it for others things. So says the briefcase”—and in poem after mysterious poem the mind is indeed subdued for that greatest glory of all—that spacious and always beautiful drawing room called contemplation. This is such a rare and quiet book that its very pages hum with stillness. I will gaze into its various wonders for the rest of my life. –Robert Vivian author of Mystery My Country
Index of Paintings and Cut-Outs by Henri Matisse