National Poetry Month: Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)

In celebration of National Poetry Month we're highlighting some of the powerful poetry from Triptych (Eyes of One on Another).

Artists Essex Hemphill and Patti Smith poetry describes their strong connections to the life and work of Robert Mapplethorpe and provide insight into how Mapplethorpe's art can be interpreted through the lens of lived experiences.

Apr 24, 2019 | BY: Sarah Brown

Photo by Maria Baranova

Essex Hemphill 

​A poet and performer known for his political edge, Essex Hemphill openly addressed race, identity, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and the family in his work, voicing issues central to the African American gay community. His first collections of poems were the self-published chapbooks Earth Life (1985) and Conditions (1986). 1

Writing 20 years after Mapplethorpe's most prolific creative period, Hemphill was critical of Mapplethorpe's work, particularly of his objectification of black male bodies which he considered to be fetishist and bigoted.  

by Essex Hemphill

In america,
I place my ring on your cock
where it belongs.
No horsemen
bearing terror,
no soldiers of doom
will swoop in
and sweep us apart.
They’re too busy
looting the land to watch us.
They don’t know
we need each other
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night,
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

What the rose whispers
before blooming
I vow to you.
I give you my heart,
a safe house.
I give you promises other than
milk, honey, liberty.
I assume you will always
be a free man with a dream.
In america,
place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
Long may we live to free this dream.

Copyright © 1992 by Essex Hemphill


Patti Smith 

A musician, poet and artist who became influential in the American punk-rock movement in the 1970's, Smith was a lifelong friend of Robert Mapplethorpe, after meeting him in New York in 1967. Her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, won the National Book Award and recounts their turbulent relationship together growing up in New York. 
Smith continues to write poetry that often reflects on her friendship and creative relationship with Mapplethorpe. 

by Patti Smith 

It is the Artist’s desire to permeate existence
He does so by the power of his own presence
And by will alone he breathes a work into art.
As pumping air into a balloon, that when let go,
permeates the sky.

He sees perfection in a leaf or another man’s
psyche. He is a city of veins and lead;
building and rebuilding the same chapel,
the same marble stairway.

As one walks these stairs and looks around
one notes a gallery of light wars. That is all.
A ship dissolving into an atmosphere, into sea.
And when night falls — the light as well.
And all disappears into walls. No more
luminous than a moon. Composed of love
and will alone.

And the artist does indeed love.
In love with his own process.
It reaffirms his mastery, his mystery.
A testament of his own life force and also
his gift to humanity.

Certain gifts are chosen and arranged in retrospect.
The Artist machetes a clearance. Here one can be spared
the pain and the extravagance of the entire body and
be transported by snaking through a glittering fraction.

His gifts, his children, traveled beyond the eye
and hand that spun them into existence.
A lifetime of work letting go
of one who has weathered innocence.
Pressed laurels upon intelligence
All with the generosity
of a transforming

Copyright © 1988 by Patti Smith 

Experience Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) on June 22 at Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada during Luminato 2019. 



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