“They Will Take My Island”: Paul Vermeersch’s Gorky Project

"They Will Take My Island," Arshile Gorky (1944)

(Click on image to go to my poem.)

         Paul Vermeersch recently asked me to participate in his ongoing “They Will Take My Island” poetic project, in which he asks poets to respond to the eponymous 1944 painting by Arshile Gorky. I enthusiastically accepted the challenge, and immediately the question of the identity of “them” and “me” arose.
         In an age in which questions of political and economic power seem more urgent than ever, probably the meaning that will most readily surface in people’s minds is of a powerful “they” taking something away from “me,” perhaps the sovereign island of individuality, the ability to determine the course of one’s life, free of coercion from the nefarious powers-that-be. In any case, that was the meaning that first came to my mind. And several of the poems powerfully develop that political facet of the title.
         But what is fascinating about all of the poetic responses to Paul’s prompt is the sheer variety of approaches to those open-ended pronouns, as well as to the syntax of the sentence itself. As I sketched, drafted, and edited the poem, I developed the title to reflect my own philosophical, aesthetic, and cognitive concerns. And writing it was satisfying in unexpected ways.
         So thank you, Paul, for the invitation to participate in a project that has brought me much pleasure, in both the writing of my poem and the enjoyment of reading the other poets’ responses to the title.

Camille Martin

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