Eccentric Heaven: Painting with Poetic License

Last weekend I had the best time creating a piece based on a friend’s new poem.  If you’ve never used a great piece of writing as a springboard for your art, you should try it.  It has you go beyond your usual subject matter, directions, even media, as you allow yourself to be led down a path you might not otherwise have found.  I haven’t painted in ages, but somehow the poem (which I share below with the poet’s permission) demanded I get elbow-deep in some rich, wet, swirly color.  Here’s the acrylic and collage piece that resulted:


As usual, serendipity played a starring role here.  The back story: You may have noticed an uptick in poetry praise and consumption of late, given that April is National Poetry Month. For the more hard core, however, April is National Poetry Writing Month (fondly known as NaPoWriMo).  Those who choose to join in on the NaPoWriMo fun take on writing a poem a day for the entire month. 

I myself have not participated in NaPoWriMo, but I was among the enthusiastic bystanders cheering on some prolific poet friends who suited up for the marathon and delighted the rest of us with one fine poem after the next all month long.  Among them was Jim Howard, a friend I met back when we both worked in the Collaboratory writing studio at Hallmark.  (Jim is a multi-talented guy with screenplays and all sorts of creative notches in his belt, not to mention a cool blog called Spulge Nine.) 

But I digress. 

Jim’s first poem out of the NaPoWriMo chute was a surreal, swoopy piece called “Eccentric Heaven.” As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to share it with my Zesty Artista  readers and friends, who are nothing if not appreciative of oddball impulses and idiosyncratic imaginations. My impulse to play with it myself came soon thereafter.  Here it is:  


Zappa said to Lennon,
“We got the noses, boy.
You wear four sets of glasses
And I smell like Illinois.” 

Lennon said to Trotsky,
“You fooled me way back when.
But Frida and Diego say
You’re not who you were then.” 

Trotsky said to Brodkey,
“All our souls are runaways.”
And Brodkey said to no one,
“I will miss me all my days.” 

And they gathered in the twilight
As the strangest voices called
Like livestock playing violins
Across a sky Chagalled 

And Dali’d, Dubuffeted,
Caravaggioed with crimson,
While fugues spun forward, Bachward,
Then Beethovened into hymns, and 

A spectral figure (whispers went,
“Nijinsky!” and “GodDAMN!”)
Leapt years of space and landed
In the lap of Martha Graham, 

While Kubrick in Wright-angled rooms
Met Monk, and Monk, Thoreau—
And Dickinson—who couldn’t stop—
And Yeats, Li Po, and Poe— 

And gathering meant scattering,
And heaven meant a home
For every oddball impulse,
Any stray, queer chromosome, 

All geekdom in its hermitage,
Each wild and wayward goof…
Death almost imitating life
And art, life’s living proof. 

–Jim Howard  



 As I went hunting for images in both my collection and on the internet, this photograph of Frida Kahlo holding a figurine was the immediate frontrunner as my central image.   Then I remembered a famous photograph of Martha Graham that seemed  right for perching on the palm of Frida’s outstretched hand. 


I needed a Caravaggio angel in the worst way for Frida’s shoulder, and this fellow fit the bill: 

Amor Victorious by Caravaggio

I then went after images of some of the individuals mentioned in Jim’s poem, favoring those pictures that had some inherent oddball quality beyond the artists themselves.  Thus these three made the cut:

Salvador Dali

Frank Zappa

John Lennon

Thanks to Jim’s effervescent imagination, the trio decided on their own—without any intervention from me, I swear—to create a strange totem-pole like homage to eccentric genius:

Detail of "Eccentric Heaven" 

Other things happened too, the most notable being that Emily Dickinson’s head wound up on an Henri Matisse cutout body. 

“But wait!” comes the refrain from alert readers.  “Matisse isn’t in the poem!” 

Well, my friends, that’s where we play the poetic license card.  All is fair in love, war and poem-inspired art. So if you feel like switching out Chagall for Matisse, well, that’s your prerogative. 

Here’s to wild and wayward souls everywhere—especially the unrecognized ones—and the delightful sparks that fly when we open ourselves up to the creations of others.   

Live lusciously, fellow oddballs. 

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4 Responses to “Eccentric Heaven: Painting with Poetic License”

  1. Jasph says:


    I don’t think a poet could ask for a greater honor than to have a talented friend take a poem and create this kind of beauty from it. I did a reading once where a dancer danced to the poems, and she was lovely and thoughtful about it, but it all felt a little arbitrary and distracting.

    And the crowning touch is Emily D, floating over as if she got loose from a Chagall and caught a ride home with Matisse instead. PERFECT.

    This is just fabulous. What a thrill. Thanks, Deb…


  2. Marty Beroset says:

    That is terrific! Wouldn’t it be fun to print Jim’s poem and frame it and hang it next to your painting? I really like the vibrant colors…good job!!

  3. Deb Beroset says:

    I’m so happy you like it, Jim. Including the Emily D improv.

    What you don’t know is that I was doing an interpretive dance WHILE I was creating this, and the video of the whole thing will soon be up on YouTube for the world to be amazed by. It’s really something.

    It was a pleasure to collaborate with you in this way. Thanks for being such an outrageously great writer and good soul.

  4. Nola Devitt says:

    Beautiful, and thanks so much for the play-by-play. And, I must admit, if it weren’t for the explanation, parts would have been lost on me. Fabulous, Deb!

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