Poetry in Motion

a grouping of four mixed media art panels with imagery of ostriches, other birds, flowers and a man
The poet David Whyte once said: “you could do worse than to read a bit of poetry everyday.” Sound advice, though I fall short. 

In 2022, I began a series of mixed media works to better understand several poems on my radar. I started with T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets  – an epic poem that held a personal mystery for me. After my mother’s death, I found a heavily annotated copy of his verse on her bedside table. I read and reread it and couldn’t understand the source of my mother’s fixation.  So I approached  the poem via mixed media. Something about the process of cutting out, arranging and gluing down images while listening to the poem on a loop  yielded answers. Elliot challenges our attachment to linear timelines and finite conclusions. My mother did not relish her early exit and I think this poem offered her solace, as well as hope. Maybe  her time wasn’t really up, but her departure a detour. Or maybe her reality was one of many–this poem complimented her fascination with quantum physics and these parallel universes.

Here are the passages that inspired each panel:

mixed media artwork of a woman dressed as a cowgirl with gun and red white and blue floral background


Dry Salvages

It seems, as one becomes older,

That the past has another pattern,

and ceases to be a mere sequence—

Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy

Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,

Which becomes, in the popular mind,

a means of disowning the past.

 Mixed media artwork with a red background and images of a sheep with wings, birds and other figures

Little Gidding

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

 Mixed media of a young girl with white dress and butterfly in her hands, also images of larger insects and an ostrich

Dry Salvages

For most of us, there is only the unattended

Moment, the moment in and out of time,

The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts.

mixed media with a woman's head in the corner, a red yellow and white floral background and image of a prehistoric bird


Burnt Norton

Yet the enchainment of past and future

Woven in the weakness of the changing body,

Protects mankind from heaven and damnation

Which flesh cannot endure.

I then decided to reexamine some of my favorite poetry passages:

Mixed media with a dramatic red and brown background with a cutout of a bird shape and a circular motif


The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

mixed media with a woman in the background, a long strip of a of an old fashioned calendar down the middle and a pre-historic bird with red and white accents

Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant
Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

mixed media of the back of a man wearing a flannel shirt and a large bird with wings spread, background is blue and green


Voices over Water
W.S. Merwin

There are spirits that come back to us

when we have grown into another age

we recognize them just as they leave us

we remember them when we cannot hear them

some of them come from the bodies of birds

some arrive unnoticed like forgetting

they do not recall earlier lives

and there are distant voices still hoping to find us

mixed media with a man wearing a suit, a graphic coffee mug and bright pink flowers scattered across the panel


Rainier Maria Rilke

The man who cannot quietly close his eyes

certain that there is vision after vision inside,

simply waiting for nighttime

to rise all around him in darkness-

it's all over for him, he's like an old man.

mixed media with peacock standing on red object with hand, background is orange and brown



Mary Oliver

It is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

For me, a good poem illuminates new ways of thinking about the world and knocks aside stale perceptions. Great poetry is transcendent and never static, just like interesting works of visual art. Responding to verse through another medium was an invaluable way to dig deeper into overlooked passages or fainter innuendo.

I want to know what poems inspire you, stump you or delight you. So please share your favorites at hello@isacattostudio.com


I love this poem because at times it is elusive to me, at times its meaning is clear (albeit briefly, and usually lost, as with a dream . . . )


by William Stafford

One mine the Indians worked had
gold so good they left it there
for God to keep.
At night sometimes you think
your way that far, that deep,
or almost.
You hold all things or not, depending
not on greed but whether they suit what
life begins to mean.
Like those workers you study what moves,
what stays. You bow, and then, like them,
you know —
What’s God, what’s world, what’s gold.

Karin Teague

Beautiful, Isa! As you know, there are so many ways to wander into the terra incognita of a poem. Pictoral art, jazz, the scalpel of literary analysis, familiarity with the poet’s full menagerie of poems, lucid dreams (those take more practice), reciting the poem over and over like a mantra until you internalize it….

One my favorite extended mantras is Billy Collins’ “Nightclub”.


You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don’t hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else’s can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o’clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.

Kevin p Ward

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