Leah Brand, a senior at the University of Florida as well as our poetry editor, is a writer and self-taught artist who works with and through the forms of art that have graced our shared human history. As an Art History and English double major, she is constantly experimenting with different forms of art that have sprouted and blossomed over centuries. She has even written and designed chapbooks fully by herself.
To Leah, and I think to many of us, a symbiotic relationship between art and literature exists. We often see how they feed off one another. You cannot have art without literature and vice versa. When we were discussing this mutual relationship, she mentioned poet Danez Smith, who said: “One cannot expect to effectively communicate an image if one has not seen art.”
After discussing this, it made perfect sense why Leah favors reading and creating ekphrastic poems over any other form of writing. Ekphrastic poems, according to the Poetry Foundation, are a "vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art." They serve as a bridge between visual art and written word. After reading Leah’s poem, My Mother Sits Shiva for Her Youth, I soon understood the importance of her connection between writing and art:
My Mother Sits Shiva for Her Youth
I am lying in bed, with my mother
holding her ripe red heart in her hands—
signaling her season to repent.
The ash trays few, the ventilation meager,
she examines her hand, fingers spread wide.
Lately, I hear in everything she says
the sweet, sad years, the melancholy years.
Plum, almond, cherry, have come and gone
on a table in the corner of the room;
an un-chipped set with sugar bowl and jug.
The cherry blossoms fall. Frost, hunched upon
the memory of the death of (at least) one man.
"With young people, the heart keeps beating even.”
I hold my head close to see what she means.
Each line gives reference to another work, given here:
1 Henri Cole – Chiffon Morning
2 Beth Ann Fennelly – Poem Not to be Read at Your Wedding
3 Jacqueline Osherow – Yom Kippur Sonnet, With a Line from Lamentations
4 Phyllis McGinley – Evening Musicale
5 Floyd Skloot – My daughter considers her body
6 Mark Jarman – From Unholy Sonnets 14
7 Elizabeth Barrett Browning – from Sonnets from the Portuguese 1
8 Philip Levine – Llanto
9 April Bernard – Sonnet in E
10 Seamus Heaney – from Clearances II
11 Star Black – Rilke’s Letter From Rome
12 David Lehman – Sonnet
13 Sascha Feinstein – from Sonnets for Stan Gage
14 David Baker – Top of the Stove
Because of the nature of this form of writing, one cannot finish reading a work without having a image seared into their mind. Otherwise, did the poem really accomplish what it set out to do? After combing through some of her other works, I asked how she draws her inspiration. It comes from a variety of sources, as with all of us: she sits in spaces with window views to collect sensory information, or when she is feeling especially stuck, she looks at paintings to find an image for her poem. What I found the most striking was that her Jewish identity often plays an important role in her writing process. This is what she shared with me regarding her identity and the creation of her work:
“Being in the diaspora, there is a lot of uncertainty and trauma surrounding the past. I don’t know much of my family history either because it was lost to death, to separation, or to silence. People don’t want to talk about what is painful for them. To deal with this sort of identity crisis, I sometimes write poems which are about possible family members. When people in the Jewish community mourn the 11,000,000 killed in the Shoah, it is because we mourn for the community of course but also because there is always the possibility that someone in your family died unaccounted for. There really is just that little information sometimes. I’ve been working toward trying to put the little pieces I have together through my poetry, and trying to give voice to the names and people I do not know.”
Leah is currently applying to graduate school and working on her manuscript. Based off what I have read and heard, Leah is an incredible talent and keeping up to date with her and her work will be vital.
Leah Brand's writing twitter: @leahbwrites
Writer: Darby Webb
Photos: Jessie White
Editor: Mirjam Frosth