Carol Dine and Samuel Bak at the Pucker Gallery (Photo credit Jeanette Eberhardy)

Carol Dine and Samuel Bak at the Pucker Gallery (Photo credit Jeanette Eberhardy)

Great art often moves us beyond words. But for Brookline-based poet, essayist, college teacher, and cancer survivor Carol Dine, art inspires her verse. In her new collection Orange Night Dine has written poems to accompany paintings by Lithuanian-born artist Samuel Bak. According to the jacket copy, the book is “a unique dialogue on the subject of the Holocaust.”

Carol Dine will be reading from Orange Night at the Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street, on Sunday, 9/21, at 6PM. I met with Carol to talk about how she became acquainted with Bak’s work and how writing about the Holocaust while also undergoing treatment for breast cancer actually helped her in her healing process.

Brookline Hub: What precipitated your writing Orange Night?

Carol Dine: I was writing a series of persona poems about women who resist war. At the same time I noticed inThe Boston Globe that Samuel Bak’s artwork was going to be exhibited at the Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. I went to see his work and was mesmerized. I took notes and then went home and researched Bak’s work. I went through his catalogs and wrote poems. The other project was put on hold [Dine told me she is back to work on those poems for her next collection.]

I sent a few of my poems to the Pucker Gallery and the lovely assistant there shared my poems with Samuel Bak, who lives in Weston, MA. He wrote back to say he loved them, that they were inspiring.

BH: Can you describe what moves you about Samuel Bak’s art? Did the darkness of the subject matter ever depress you?

CD: Sam’s work is so alive. The beauty of his work and the subject matter moved me. Some of his work is terrifying, but it’s not all darkness—the azure sky conveys, “hope.” His palette is extremely beautiful. Within the framework you can see eternity.

At the time I was working on this project I was going through treatment for breast cancer. Writing this helped give me a purpose and a creative energy. Bak’s work also connected me to Judaism. I connected with the deep spirituality of the paintings. Though I’m not a practicing Jew, I deeply value my heritage. It informs me.

I want to be clear—I don’t equate what happened to people during the Holocaust with my breast cancer. But the fact that Bak used art to help overcome horror helped me deal with my own personal suffering.

BH: Tell me a little bit about your writing process—in particular how you approached writing the poems in Orange Night. How did you determine which pieces you were going to write about?

CD: I saw a lot of Bak’s work and I found them all moving but right away there were some pieces that spoke to me, that spoke to my subconscious. I found that I could answer some of them with words. For example, when I saw Sam’s “Lighthouse” (pg. 38 in Orange Night) I thought of God marooned. It took weeks and many drafts to write the poem, although the first stanza came to me immediately:

On the seventh day,

He rested. On the eighth,

He fell apart.

I had to take to my bed after writing that first stanza!

BH: Is this the first project where you have put verse to visual art?

CD: I also wrote Van Gogh in Poems (Bitter Oleander Press, 2009.) I had published two books of personal poetry before the Van Gogh collection (Naming the Sky, 1988 and Trying to Understand the Lunar Eclipse, 1992) and I was exhausted from reaching into myself! I opened up Van Gogh’s catalog and saw a painting with blossoms and thorns…I was going through a romantic break-up at the time and used the thorns as a representation of what love is. Then I read Van Gogh’s letters. I got into his head and I started writing in his voice. I later got three grants to go to Amsterdam and visit the Van Gogh Museum. The curators helped me tremendously, letting me into the museum’s basement to see Van Gogh’s original sketchbook. I worked on Van Gogh in Poems for nine years. I was even given permission to include some of Van Gogh’s drawings in my book, free of charge.

BH: When did you first start writing poetry?

CD: I didn’t start writing until I was 30 years old. I took a workshop with the poet Anne Sexton in her home in Weston. A year later she had committed suicide and I stopped writing for a year.

BH: Who are some of the poets and visual artists (in addition to Samuel Bak and Vincent Van Gogh) whom you most admire?

CD: Poets Mark Doty, Genine Lentine, Jennifer Barber, and David Ferry. Artists Frieda Kahlo, Jim Dine, Mary Cassatt, and UK sculptor Michael Sandle (Dine’s boyfriend.)

BH: You live in Brookline. What do you like most about this town?

CD: Yes, I’ve lived here since 2000. I love the diverse population, the energy. I love the Brookline Public Library. I love the location, so close to museums and the Coolidge Corner Theatre, and to MassArt & Design, where I teach writing and poetry.

I own a little condo that overlooks a garden. It’s quiet and conducive to writing!

BH: What do you have planned for the Brookline Booksmith event?

CD: I’ll read from the book for ½ hour while a projector will show Samuel Bak’s images. Then there will be time for questions and answers.

—By Jennifer Campaniolo