Expansive Poetry Online

Michael Curtis
Sculptor, Poet

One of the more popular illusions of contemporary art is that artists working in different media can scarcely communicate with one another.  This would be news to Frederick Turner, the epic poet some of whose shorter poems are on this Web site, who not only has worked with a composer (Stefania DeKennessey set four of his poems into a Requiem for 9/11), but is a painter himself.   Claudia Gary Annis is both a poet (some of her poems are online here) and a composer (among others, she's set poems by Frederick Turner and Shakespeare to music).   And there's a precedent for Michael Curtis one can hardly ignore:  Michelangelo, one of the world's great sculptors, was an accomplished poet as well.  

Below are both images of several sculptures by Michael Curtis as well as some of his poems from his book Broken Rhyme.  

Shipbuilder, Michael Curtis (model)
The Shipbuilder
by Michael Curtis
for Alexandria, VA
(to be unveiled summer 2004)
Image by permission of Michael Curtis

Gen. Eisenhower
by Michael Curtis
Alexandria, VA
Image by permission of Michael Curtis

        by Michael Curtis
        excerpted from the book Fish Story

Naked, alone, confused she wanders
    Through the moon-less night;
Her flesh is torn by brambles
    While demons tear her mind;
There are eerie shadows in the sky,
And there is terror in her eyes.

There is a dream distorted by
    Death, and blood, and horror
Where she in passion trembles
    For the kisses of her lover,
For the drum beat of his rhythm,
For the song of life within him.

But now her bowels are empty, scraped
    Raw, and dry, and barren,
And the dream, the hope, the wishes
    Abruptly have an ending.
For a girl must make her choices
Before she hears the voices

Of little spirits crying in
    The nether realms of air,
Up there where eerie shadows linger
    And bat eyes blankly stare,
Where bat wings flitter after insects,
Like demons licking after sins.

After she has made her choices,
    Rid herself of flesh, that
Little spirit rises disem-
    Bodied through the blackness.
A shadow in the moonless night.
Lifeless, formless on wings it ri-

Ses crying voiceless in the sky
    Above the tiny fish
Like body, blind and breathless, cold,
    Dead, and dry.  With hope this
Flesh might yet have been a woman,
But murdered it sinks to earth again.

Exhausted, on the sharp-blade grasses
    An embryo she lies
Dripping blood from many wounds,
    As though her flesh would cry
Into the mother of her womb,
The body of her daughter’s tomb,
The cradle that so gently kept her,
    Held her, loved her, fed her.
Now she weeps into her Mother
    Earth the pain of murder;
The knowledge that she a child
Unmothered by the earth would die.

Earth, if she too were human,
    Should abort this daughter,
Tear her from the yawning womb
    As the daughter tore hers.
And in the dream she can suppose
That here a child enwombed grows

From spirit to a living flesh,
    Safe, secure, and warm,
As does the field golden grown to
    Richness in harvest corn;
Grown to feed the peopled earth
By the wonder of her birth.  Then

Dreamless she to the void descends…
    Not black, but emptiness,
Terrible nothing where nothing
    Beginning can end – less
Than nothing – oblivion.
Near her in the darkness, lost, husband

Of the nothingness, party to
    The sin; his child un-
Wanted, unasked, unsought; no cause
    Has he beneath the sun,
For none has he to give a name,
No purpose, no reason, no claim

Upon the barren earth – his seeds
    Never to come to birth,
His seeds aborted, scraped out
    To dry upon the dirt.
O nevermore a fruitful land
When earth aborts the seeds of men.

Waking from her fevered dream
    A vision wonderful
She sees; A million spirits ri-
    Sing, silver glowing all
Into the vastness of the night
Until but one is lost to sight

And lingers for a moment yet
    Above the person of
The womb, as though a spirit could
    Be held by the bonds of love.
But the spirit fleshless must dissolve
When woman bleeds.  And that is all.    

    by Michael Curtis
    excerpted from the book There Was a Man of Wit

One by one come beat the drum
Till millions, on millions, on millions come!
Boom! Boom! BOOM! We'll shake the room
And beat the drum till the walls fall in
And the ceiling comes down
And none of the pieces can be found!
So, Boom! Boom! BOOM! Come beat the drum!

We'll break the floors with angry feet,
Clap our hands, holler and scream,
Wiggle our tongues, let out a yell:
Ah-lay-lu, Ah-lay-lu, Ah-lay-lu-YA!
Across the mountains and over the plains,
From sea to sea on Cecilia's Day!

So Sing to Saint Cecilia Jones,
Shinny your muscles and rustle your bones,
Chirp with the crickets, peep with the birds,
Hop on one foot with the buffalo herds,
Bounce on your butt, roll with worms,
Kiss 'yer neighbor, exchange her germs!
Now everyone, both young and old,
Shake, rattle, and roll with Cecilia Jones!

        by Michael Curtis
        excerpted from the book Weaving Purple Flowers

To them I like a beggar came
    Dressed in my disguise
Of gaudy flesh, like human rags,
    And tawdry mortal life.

And yet they let me enter
    And lent me bed and board,
Fed me well and clothed me in
    This mail suit and sword.

And though I know ‘tis silly
    To be appareled so,
For Baucis and Philemon
    I make a pretty show.

Yes, the people cheered, like they cheered
    The week before.
They cheered ill-tuned, it hurt my ears,
    And I was bored.

Why no, I was not warmed by it,
    It had no grace.
Besides, I could have played them shit,
    They have no taste.

The cheers they cheered were not for me;
    'Twas the thing to do.
They cheered because it was a speech,
    And they are fools.

Michael Curtis received a classical training in painting, sculpture, and architecture.  This training was concentrated in buon and secco fresco, egg tempera, black oil, and copper engraving.  But following his studies at the Kunsthistories Library in Florence he became a statue maker and has worked in this field for over 20 years.  His most significant sculptural commissions include The History of Texas at Texas Rangers Ball-Park, Arlington, Texas, the largest US frieze of the 20th Century; numerous portrait busts for the Library of Congress, The Supreme Court Building, and other public buildings.  His recent statues include General Eisenhower and The Shipbuilder, both in Alexandria, Virginia; and current commissions include the Thurgood Marshall bust for the U.S. Courts Building, garden statues, portraits, et cetera.  His specialty is relief portraits and fine medals.  Also to his credit, Mr. Curtis has had over 30 one-man and group exhibitions; his painting, sculpture, and architectural drawings are represented in over 250 private and public collections.  Although not a registered architect, he has produced architectural designs which have been built.  

For over 20 years Mr. Curtis has taught art and art history at art schools, colleges, and universities; too, he is a frequent lecturer, recently at the National Gallery of Art.  His interest in art education has led him to chair the sculpture department at the Art League, and to sit on the Board of Governors of The University of Michigan School of Art.  He was also a guest curator for two years at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Department of African, Oceanic, and New World Cultures.

Mr. Curtis has held positions on other art and art related board’s of directors, including; the U.S. State Department Seminarians, the Business Consortium for the Arts, The Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters (Arts Chair), Artists Equity (Michigan President), and Citizens for Public Art.

Mr. Curtis maintains a studio/atelier, The Studio, and he owns a small manufacturing company, The Classical Gallery, Inc.  Other current projects include:  Founding Member of Ars Civica, The National Civic Arts Society; editing 15 books of verse written in the past ten years; an architectural treatise on the small American home.      

All material and images above copyright © 2004 by Michael Curtis,
and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission from the sculptor & author.