Sunday, July 8, 2018

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall; pictures by Barbara CooneyI (1979)

Poet Donald Hall died.  I knew his name, but I don’t think I knew any of his poetry until now (remember, I’m re-discovering the powers and pleasures of poetry).  I definitely like his work.

I read this article in Slate https://slate.com/culture/2018/07/how-donald-hall-changed-ox-cart-man-from-the-poem-to-the-childrens-book.html about the children’s book he wrote, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  I decided to hunt down the original poem, and read both the book and poem.  I can’t write about this book or poem any better than Johanna Winant did in Slate.  

Here is something she wrote about the book.   It is what made me what to go out and read it:  

“The addition of the family changes the poem from one man’s annual toil to a story about what we hope to do for the people we love, and how we hope to alter the future, just a little, for good. The book is endless because it imagines a future unrolling endlessly, each year just a small improvement upon the one before, built on the things we make with the people dear to us.”

I thought this idea was beautiful and moving.  

Barbara Cooney illustrations are old fashioned, but I love them.  Would they be called American primitive?  Folk art?  Grandma Moses painted like this.  Marijana Grisnik, the Kansas painter who my art teacher made me love,painted like this. Charles Wysocki was an artist like this. These artists are not modern.  But I love painting like this.  I was recently talking to an art teacher who told a story about seeing a recent exhibit that consisted of a fleck of human feces on a pedestal, replaced every day (she was NOT talking positively about this).  This art was selling for thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.  Give me Barbara Cooney any day.

Ox-Cart ManOx-Cart Man by Donald Hall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here is a piece from Slate - https://slate.com/culture/2018/07/how... - that reviews the text of this book far better than I ever could. Go check it out. Winant’s words made me want to read this book,and also seek out the poems of Donal Hall. As for Barbara Cooney, she’s a classic illustrator of children’s picture books. I don’t know the proper art appreciation terminology to describe her illustrations - American primitive? Folk art? But I always love them. That probably makes me sappy and very unhip, but oh well. You can fall into this poem, and these pictures, and imagine yourself back in time, in New England, crisp cold, back breaking work, certainly idealized and stylized. No more simple or better than how we live now, but beautiful none the less.


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