March 18, 2014
The Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm presents Whidbey Island poet Lorraine Healy at the release party for her latest chapbook “Abraham’s Voices,” a series of 10 poems accompanied by an assemblage of black-and-white photographs, also created by Healy. The artist will read from the book at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27 at the gallery.
The poet, whose previous published collections include “The Habit of Buenos Aires,” “The Farthest South” and “The Archipelago” said that “Abraham’s Voices” is a complete departure from her normal experience of writing poems. The poems were spurred by a comment she heard on the radio; something along the lines of: “If 1.2 billion people on earth claim to be the descendants of Abraham, then why can’t we all get along?”
“It was like nothing that has ever happened to me before,” Healy said. “I immediately had the thought: What if Abraham was a schizophrenic and the voices he claimed to hear were just hallucinations? Had we built 4,000 years of civilization on the schizophrenic thoughts of one man?” Healy said when she sat down at her desk, the poem “Abraham” just flowed out of her in one sitting. She also realized that, although she was raised Catholic, she had none of the historical facts of the Bible, only what the priests of her childhood had interpreted for her. She sat down, read Genesis, and began researching its stories.
In the feminist “midrash” tradition espoused by poets such as Lucille Clifton and Alicia Ostriker, Healy reimagines the biblical story of Abraham told with the voices of those who are silent in the Bible, including Abraham’s wife Sarah, his sons Ishmael and Isaac, Hagar the slave, the nameless Lot’s wife, and even the ram, which gets sacrificed instead of Isaac.
“The poems came to me as if they were channeled,” she said.
“I don’t know where they came from; they are unlike my usual poetry and are more fragmentary, with a different style of syntax. It was just a wild ride. It freaked me out a little, to be quite honest.”
The books came as 10 poems, not quite large enough to complete a chapbook.
“I couldn’t control the process. When they stopped, they stopped,” she said.
Here’s one of the poems from the collection:
sarai, close to Egypt
he said—and there were stars
you are beyond lovely
and I fear for my
life—how can the powerful
abstain from you?
let us say this:
let us, he said,
and it was night
and the moon heard it
his god allowed this
© Lorraine Healy from “Abraham’s Voices,” published by World Enough Writers Cooperative Press, 2014
Knowing that Healy is also a photographer, the publisher at World Enough Writers Cooperative Press, asked the poet if she had some photographs that could accompany the poems in order to make the book complete. Healy coincidentally had a cadre of photographs from a recent trip to Paris, where she had photographed countless statuary in the cathedrals and at the Louvre Museum.
She began playing with the photos, superimposing the iconography of Europe with the walls of Fort Casey and other spontaneous and disjointed collages.
“I wanted the photos to be as wild as the poems. I allowed myself to play with them—superimposing negatives, playing around with them freely,” Healy said. The result is that the photographs riff on Abraham’s Sumerian origins and these characters’ presence in the visual iconography of Christian Europe.
Light refreshments will be served and the author will be signing books. Admittance is free and everyone is welcome. Any donations made will go to Ms. Healy. For more information about the poet and photographer, visit www.LorraineHealy.com.
Rob Schouten Gallery, a premier showcase for Whidbey Island and Northwest artists, is located at historic Greenbank Farm on scenic Whidbey Island. March Gallery Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends, open Tuesday and Wednesday by appointment only. For further information, call 360-222-3070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.