from “Agnes Varda: Here There & Then Now”

Cole Swensen

Landscape through which runs a river
                                                                        both sides lined with trees
slightly therefore flowing green,
                                                                        the bells strung between
follow in slight distance
                                                        reflected on the panes of an orangery.

Landscape of evening
                                                        shadowing the park
Landscape of ventriloquist
                                                        in nearby pavilion,
the land itself a voice

of silence coming through a white sheet thrown over a chair—

Landscape of a sheet of sun made of bees.


Varda often focused on people often unheard—vagabonds, gleaners, cleaners, shopkeepers, villagers, with landscape framing—even enabling—character. Her last full-length film, Visages Villages, with the face of the entire French countryside moving smoothly behind, the one thing that binds all these otherwise disparate faces and places.

 
                                                        Landscape opening
just like the faces
                                                        going pale in the pouring light
of ripe wheat
                                                        blanchisserie of all is summer
looking back in defiance
                                                        at the camera.
Landscape as history
                                                        looking back too quickly,
as history
                                                        working at right angles to memory
Landscape of history
                                                        as the shade of an oak over a stream
oddly resembling
                                                        a folded paper boat.

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Cole Swensen has published 17 volumes of poetry and a collection of critical essays, Noise That Stays Noise. A collection of hybrid poem-essays, Art in Time, from which this piece is taken, will be coming out from Nightboat Books in 2021. Most of her work is related to the visual arts and often addresses landscape and land-use concerns. A former Guggenheim fellow, she has been a finalist twice for the LA Times Book Award and once for the National Book Award and has been awarded the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, the Sun & Moon New American Writing Award, and the National Poetry Series. She also translates poetry, prose, and art criticism from French and won the 2004 PEN USA Award in Literary Translation. She divides her time between Paris and Providence RI, where she teaches at Brown University.

In these twenty lyric essays, Cole Swensen addresses a range of artists, from Agnes Varda to Robert Smithson to David Hockney, whose works recognize nature, not as the “other,” not as something out there, but as an intimate and active engagement. (Nightboat Books)

"Highly esteemed, always challenging, sometimes austere, Swensen has a career marked by projects, book-length poems spurred by clear formal goals."
Publishers Weekly

"Her poetry is like Dickinson without the syncopation...numinous, in fact."
—John Ashbery, The Times Literary Supplement

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