Award Winners

Cecil Hemley Memorial Award - 2008

Brian Henry

Moth Ark

A painting is a statement of the artist's notions of reality in the terms of plastic speech. 
 —Mark Rothko

Mere minion of light,
lit, as in liturgy, as in
light, luster a lesser
source of light, a lack.
Locked onto light, moth
minion looks to matter,
the making of matter
by light its lot, light's
lot. Lacking light, moth
looks, lacks less when
it collides: moth & light,
ark of light, moth ark.


Light the binder, myth
now emotion. Mass moves
with light, mood moves,
is moved by light. What light
binds, mood lights. What
myth lights, doom binds.
Light binds mood to myth,
doom moves mood to light.


Color recedes, the eye
combines. Color combines
to recede. To cover color
with mood. Cover with mood.
Mood recedes to myth.


The senses removed,
unmoored & turned
to face those facing them.
The senses picked over,
perceived as senses, sans
organs, sans human thing.
The human thing
unbodied & thinged,
the senses received
without & not within
the shell. The human
plastic shell.


The plastic has weight
and is real. The plastic
has substance. The substance
has texture. The plastic exists
through texture. Forms arise
and recede, advance with color
and recede. Tactile plastic
pleasure, the eye traces,
moves with what moves.
Plastic motion, plastic journey.


Objects grey as they recede,
blend with the air and haze.
Cold recedes, the warm haze
advances. To push back
the colder, colorless air.


Beauty distorts, is
a distortion. Terror,
too, distorts.
The plastic message.


Note on poem: Every section is built on phrases from Mark Rothko's The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art.

Norma Cole on Brian Henry

Ezra Pound says, condensare! The ode says, "Sing!" Brian Henry's poem anagrammatically becomes "Moth Ark," passionately lyric, philosophically abstract, intense, even exalted. Things, subjects, "the human thing" need not be exposed, but these constructs drive dynamic stanzas, lines separated from other lines by rooms of space, of elegant, spare diction, Louis Zukofsky for the musicality, George Oppen for the "small nouns." The poet, the painter conjures "what is space? what is time?" Myth assumes moment, weight, rhythm.

As Hölderlin said,

"All is rhythm; the entire destiny of man is a single
celestial rhythm, just as the work of all
is a unique rhythm."

Vowels scale mountains in consonants' proportions by grounds of knowledge, the love of knowledge. Intellectual rigor enacts the sublime. Transcendental color and light of Mark Rothko's work frames flowing elements, flaming beauty. "Terror, / too, distorts." Interior wonder at the music's rapture, measures of silence, measures of stress build the shared light of The Artist's Reality. Brian Henry himself constructs this poem's luminosity, "The plastic message."