In the late 1970s when I was deep into my discovery of poems and poets, I made twenty simple portraits of writers I admired. Growing up, I always dabbled with crayons, watercolors, and colored pencils, making pictures. I copied the Peanuts comic strip characters and Fred Flintstone from TV. At home, I watched my artist brother Richard closely when he worked in the cellar. I didn’t take art classes in high school, but signed up for watercolor painting as an elective course in college. The instructor was Carlton Plummer, a respected New England painter. He urged us to “think like a turtle and paint like a rabbit” to keep the watercolors fresh. Alongside the writing, my notebooks have drawings, painted scenes and people, collages, and scrapbook paste-ins. This set of portraits was more ambitious but still done quickly to keep the work loose and expressive. They can be taken as cartoons for the exaggeration.
The originals are small, approximately 8.5 x 11 with a few exceptions like the longer Yevtushenko piece on watercolor paper. The paper varies from standard white or a light gray stock I had on hand to colored sheets like the blue for Emily Dickinson. Frost and Kinnell are on thin white cardboard. I wrote the names with an unusual drawing pencil whose marking turned violet when I brushed water on the letters.The portraits have been filed since I made them. Once in a while I took them out to remember the time. So many years later, the colors are still vibrant. Following are seven from the series. I’ve got Yeats first, but that doesn’t suggest a priority in the sequence. Others in the group but not shown here include Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Charles Simic, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Allen Ginsberg, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, e e cummings, and a few more.