Author: Lawrence Giffin
Publisher: After Hours Editions (2020)
Lawrence Giffin's Untitled, 2004 is anchored in encounters with the works of the late artist, Agnes Martin. Meditations on her final painting provide the occasion for a poem—about death and birth, history and chance, love and exploitation—addressed to Giffin's newborn daughter, Agnes.
The poem meanders through the artist’s retrospective at the Guggenheim; to a lone work in a North Carolina museum; along a road trip to find her hand-built adobe houses in New Mexico and to visit Pueblo ruins; to a gallery in Santa Fe to see Apache woven bowls; and to Walter de Maria’s work of earth art, The Lightning Field. Each aesthetic experience is rendered with intimacy and immediacy.
Wherever Giffin's eye dilates, we are offered a window into how certain ways of looking at art can provide a counterweight to a culture that offers up "an endless series / of possessions as panaceas / to the disease of simply not possessing them." Brilliantly associative, Untitled, 2004 delineates a gorgeous aperture.
“I turned the pages of Lawrence Giffin’s magnificent long poem with a sense of increasing wonder—delight that such a book could exist, an epic meditation that is also an epistolary ode, a work of art criticism, and an autobiography. Giffin’s poetic voice is measured—rhythmic yet also loosened, comfortable, unassuming in its ‘casual Friday’ monumentality, as if to assert that the sublimity that the poem describes and enacts were a workaday fact. This book, with its echoes of late masters, is itself an essay on what a long poem can be, and how a long poem can function in our twilight era—whether as warning, as souvenir, as bequest, or as rune. Agnes Martin is here in this rumination, but she is not the only star. She is accompanied by all that a grid can contain—exaltation, severity, birth, death . . . Giffin’s generous, quixotic poem opens its rafters to aethereal rumors from everywhere.”
“Lawrence Giffin’s Untitled, 2004 reminds me that I am never too old to learn a new mode of attention. This is a poem that will teach you how to join its subtle formal ingenuity (the horizontal) as it restlessly plummets us into quandary (the vertical). It's a letter to his young daughter, an essay in verse on the painter Agnes Martin with boisterous appearances from other artists and thinkers, philosophical tract, Southwest travel journal, and a record of aesthetic experience. The experience of reading this book-length poem realigned me with/in negative capability, where the most sensical thing is to be a thinking person who gives herself over to ignorance. If ‘art is just a pretense for a conversation I'd like to have,’ these are the kinds of conversations I want to be having with my friends and colleagues.”