Charles Simic writes poems like a watchmaker constructs a timepiece, combining words like precision jewels to measure moments and record the passage of our lives. George Nama expresses inchoate feelings through abstract images in prints and etchings that seem bursting with barely restrained impulses. In an engaging, often lovely collaboration at the Boston Athenaeum, Simic and Nama merge their poetry and art, hoping to create something larger than each.
Charles Simic writes poems like a watchmaker constructs a timepiece, combining words like precision jewels to measure moments and record the passage of our lives.
George Nama expresses inchoate feelings through abstract images in prints and etchings that seem bursting with barely restrained impulses.
In an engaging, often lovely collaboration at the Boston Athenaeum, Simic and Nama merge their poetry and art, hoping to create something larger than each.
Furthering a creative partnership of several years, they are exhibiting a recent selection of Nama's etchings, gouches and sculptures that have "been inspired by and give visual illumination" to Simic's poetry.
Nama's abstract image of what might be a clot of roots suspended in a cup-shaped structure hangs beside Simic's quietly haunting poem "Eternities 8." In this case, Nama's unsettling image reflects the anxiety of Simic's verse, "Thoughts frightened of the light / Frightened of each other / They listen to a clock ticking / Like a flock of sleep led to slaughter."
Organized by David B. Dearinger, the show "Artist + Poet: George Nama & Charles Simic" will run in the first-floor Calderwood Gallery through April 10.
"Since the Athenaeum is primarily a library, it seemed an appropriate combination," said Dearinger, curator of paintings and sculpture. "It's really meant to be an illustration of the emotion the poems produced in an artist."
At its simplest level, "Artist + Poet" offers many of the meditative joys of the nation's largest subscription library.
Established in 1807 by the Anthology Club, the Athenaeum has grown into the nation's largest independent subscription library with 600,000 books and half of George Washington's private library from Mount Vernon.
Simic's poems are printed cleanly on lovely, cream-toned Arches Velin paper that reinforces their directness and sharpness of images.
They are paired with Nama's mostly abstract images which are subject to multiple interpretations.
Each artist brings unique talents to the exhibit.
Born in 1938 in Belgrade, Serbia, then part of Yugoslavia, Simic has written of being a displaced person after World War II. After immigrating to the U.S. with his family in 1954 when he was 16, Simic grew up in Chicago, was educated at New York University and began making a name for himself in the 1970s with terse, imagistic poems that have come to be seen as his signature style.
In 2007, he received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award and was selected the same year to be Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
Born in 1938 in Pittsburgh, Nama earned bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon University. Since 1963, he has exhibited his work in one-artist shows and earned a reputation as a "master printmaker specializing in expressive, abstracted, highly interpretive figures."
The display of poems and images melds perfectly with the atmosphere of the stately galleries. It is easy to imagine famous members like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville or Pulitzer prize-winning historian David McCullough enjoying the poems and their paired images.
In many cases, Simic's poems express clear, discernible sentiments, even if expressed ironically from verse to verse. Nama's images are more elusive. In "Wonders of the Invisible World," most readers can intuit the sense of imminent threat in lines like, "Wine that bloodies the lips and tongue / Then your half-whispered tale / Of how young witches / Used to ride married men / Through the sky on a night like this."
For Simic's "Eternities 6," Nama has created a strange shamanistic figure that seems to have antlers and might have been painted thousands of years ago on a cave wall.
Several images seem to have little in common with Simic's poems, leaving the viewer's cup of satisfaction half-empty.
Dearinger csaid, "I think Nama's reaction to Simic's verse is so personal, it takes an effort, as it should."
"The act of looking and reading comes into playing and requires the looking and reading together," he said. "I think it's a reminder that the Boston Athenaeum is very much alive and vibrant."
Half empty or half full, "Artist + Poet" presents Nama and Simic in an enjoyable setting that deserves a look.
The Boston Athenaeum is at 10-1/2 Beacon St., Boston.
The gallery is open Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Gallery visits are free.
For information, call 617-227-0270 or visit www.bostonathenaum.org.
MetroWest Daily News