I had the honor of being paired with Columbia poet and writer Bridget Bufford in last fall’s Interpretations III show at the Columbia Art League.
Bridget was given my painting “No Country for Old Women,” without the title or my name, and was charged with writing something in response to it, interpreting it in her own words:
Here is her amazing poem:
(and the dish ran away with the spoon)
Her daughter went first. Julie, like a cat, came home less and less, until she didn’t. Then the couch took off with the love seat, followed by her bed. One morning the TV was gone. By the time the refrigerator left, she had misplaced her mouth. The dishwasher, bolted in, made a racket at night but remained, longing for the stove and microwave.
In the blank white days, the house itself grew restless — bored, perhaps, or lonely. She detained the last two chairs at gunpoint, but they sneaked into the yard, creeping a bit farther with each passing day.
— Bridget Bufford, 2015
In turn, I was given one of Bridget’s poems, “Rift,” and asked to create a visual response to it.
Here’s Bridget’s poem, which can be read two ways — across the full lines, or down the left side then down the right:
I struggled with how to portray the scenes coming to me as I read it over and over. How literal to be? What point of view to use? Who was speaking in the poem, a man or a woman? (I always saw it as a man, for some reason.)
The deadline was getting closer.
Then Betty died in late July 2015. Betty Hodgman, the brave, sweet, cantankerous heroine of my college friend George Hodgman’s best-selling book, “Bettyville: A Memoir.” I was heartbroken for him, and sad that I was hours away in the middle of a week-long work conference in Arizona when both his loss and the funeral happened.
But I had my inspiration. The scene was the living room in Betty’s home, where I had visited earlier in the year. The dog was Raj, George’s rescued black lab I knew would be mourning his mistress. Betty’s sofa, pillow, rug, breakfast table, window. George’s books, remote, cigarette. It was George, Raj, and all of us who loved her, missing her.
Bridget was puzzled by the slippers I included although they weren’t in the poem, but they were a recurring character in “Bettyville,” and I had photos of Betty wearing them. They are what George and others mention most when they see the painting, “Missing Betty.”
It hangs in George’s bedroom now, in his home town of Paris, Mo. If you haven’t read Bettyville, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s coming out in paperback this February (2016) and is up for two major national awards right now.
Places to read about George, Betty and Bettyville:
George is so good to correspond with his readers on Facebook and in person at his many readings. His upcoming tour is listed in a post on his Facebook author page, the second link below.
Buy the book at your favorite bookseller or find it at your local library. Have tissues handy, and be where you can laugh out loud.