Poetry recommendation: The Best Material for the Artist in the World

“Everything draws toward the white wick of dreams:

a wagon train pushing into the flare

of afternoon; the slow, salty river flanking

redrock cliffs that step down

and down into the distance; even a bit of path

opened by a fallen tree arrows into the light”

~ from the poem “Emmigrants Crossing the Plains,” from The Best Material for the Artist in the World by Kenneth Chamlee

Last night I had the joy of meeting up with several friends and former Brevard College colleagues (where I taught for 13 years) to hear Ken Chamlee discuss his new book, a biography in poems of the landscape painter Albert Bierstadt.

I’ve loved Ken’s poetry for years, but have a special awe of and affection for his Bierstadt poems. They tell, in part, the story of the painter’s experience in an American West now lost to us, during a gorgeous and complicated time of expansion and upheaval. Listening to Ken last night just made me want to view Bierstadt’s astonishing work in person, with this book in hand.

It’s available from Stephen J. Austin State University Press, and anywhere books are sold.

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