“Private Collection,” by Shelley Wong


[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published July 18, 2021.]


Personal Assortment

            On the San Francisco Museum of Fashionable Artwork 
the ocean drawn in pencil is not 
            on show. I as soon as thought I might wreck
…………………that water. My accomplice preferred a portray

            of a blonde girl studying a newspaper,
a sister to a Dutch portray I admired
            again in New York, the place a girl 
                         contemplates a water pitcher 

            in cathedral mild. We walked gallery to gallery 
& no ladies resembled us. I’m charmed
            by sure French phrases, however overlook what they imply
                         & by no means correctly pronounce them—

……….mélange, de rigueur, au courant. Generally
{couples} develop into echoes of each other.
            We wore quiet glasses, our hair in low ponytails
                         like George Washington. She would {photograph} me 

            after I appeared away from her, as I glanced
on the curves of the Grand Tetons, a curator’s observe
            on the lone Greek caryatid on the British Museum
                         or a winter forest ground 

            someplace in Oregon after we had been nineteen 
& I couldn’t meet the digital camera’s gaze,
            although I knew she was there & that she 
                    would maintain me, from a distance.


“Personal Assortment” might be printed in As She Seems from YesYes Books in 2022 and is used right here with permission of the creator. Preorder the gathering hereHearken to Shelley Wong learn the poem here


Shelley Wong is the creator of As She Seems(YesYes Books, 2022), winner of the 2019 Pamet River Prize, and the chapbook RARE BIRDS (Diode Editions, 2017). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry EvaluateGulf CoastKenyon Evaluate, and The New Republic and are forthcoming in Greatest American Poetry 2021 and New England Evaluate. She has obtained a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from MacDowell, Kundiman, and Vermont Studio Middle. She is an affiliate artist at Headlands Middle for the Arts and lives in San Francisco. 


Poet’s Word

On the finish of 2018, SFMOMA offered a Vija Celmins retrospective, her first in North America in additional than twenty-five years (she is 82 years previous). That abundance referred to as me again to my first viewing of her work on the museum with my accomplice on the time. I saved seeing echoes throughout artwork, reminiscence, and place. Writing the poem enacted a retrospection on youthful queer longing and imagining.


Commentary by Amanda Moore

Because the world reopens and we’re capable of finding secure methods to reengage with actions, outings, and places beforehand shut down as a result of pandemic, I’m thrilled to be rediscovering my favourite artwork museums, which I respect anew after a lot time away. In returning to galleries and work I’ve visited earlier than, I’m not solely capable of get pleasure from these works within the present second, however I additionally really feel my earlier selves and experiences alongside me, informing my reactions and emotions and making a dialog throughout, time, area, and reminiscence. 

Right now’s poem, “Personal Assortment” by Shelley Wong, completely captures this expertise of museum-going. It begins within the current tense on the San Francisco Museum of Fashionable Artwork, which occurs to be my hometown museum and one among my all-time favorites, noting not which exhibit or portray the speaker is visiting however reasonably that “the ocean drawn in pencil is not / on show.” What is on show isn’t talked about, nevertheless, as a result of the poem’s narrative goes on to observe a thread of affiliation, filling the gallery the place the speaker doesn’t discover the drawing with, as a substitute, layers of reminiscence and consciousness: work, a lover, landscapes, and images that mix to develop into an exhibit of its personal, albeit a non-public one which solely the speaker can expertise.

With a number of deft strikes within the poem’s opening, Wong covers numerous narrative floor, taking us from a gift second within the gallery by means of a reminiscence of an impulse the speaker had prior to now whereas viewing the beforehand talked about, now-absent ocean drawing (“I as soon as thought I might wreck / that water.”). Subsequent, the speaker strikes on to 2 different work she seen prior to now: one her accomplice preferred “of a blonde girl studying a newspaper” and “a sister” portray which the speaker “admired / again in New York.” We cross time and distance right here, shifting from one facet of the nation to the opposite, San Francisco within the current to New York prior to now, and are uncovered to a few artistic endeavors that crowd the speaker’s consciousness. The 2 “sister” work are of ladies, a blonde reader and “a girl / [who] contemplates a water pitcher,” giving rise to the revelation that, because the speaker and accomplice wandered from gallery to gallery, they discovered that “no ladies resembled” them.

The speaker and her accomplice’s incapability to discover a likeness of themselves within the galleries and work opens a number of streams of commentary inside the poem. One is about who consumes artwork, particularly in museums, and whereas that is wealthy territory to discover, significantly in consideration of the poem’s title and the reference to the “curator’s observe” within the British Museum, I’m rather more excited by what it says concerning the topics of the work and the speaker herself. Based mostly on the poem’s description, I’m guessing the speaker is speaking concerning the work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, maybe “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” or “Woman Reading a Letter” (I’m a fan of the primary as a result of the topic is extra noticeably “blonde”) and “The Milkmaid” or “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.” The ladies in these work from the 1600s are depicted within the home sphere, collaborating in quiet, home actions. They’re white, possible European, wearing interval clothes, and taking part in conventional roles, not the least of which is as a topic of an idealized portrait. 

In distinction, the speaker and her accomplice are trendy and put on “quiet glasses, [their] hair in low ponytails,” resisting fashions of conventional femininity and domesticity. The poem highlights the couple’s travels to such locations because the Grand Tetons, England, and Oregon, a distinction to the only small nook of house “in cathedral mild” the place Vermeer set a lot of his work. Vital as nicely is that the speaker compares herself and her accomplice to George Washington, whose portraits depict him crossing the Delaware in full uniform or posing for his presidential portrait, photographs evoking independence, daring, and authority extra consultant of those trendy ladies than the quiet, home, Eurocentric scenes of Vermeer’s work.

One of the crucial compelling parts of the speaker’s battle to search out her resemblance or analog in museums is knowledgeable by the poem’s queer sensibility and expertise. This piece facilities on and celebrates a relationship between ladies not typically depicted or represented brazenly in museum galleries, yet one more method that Wong’s poem interrogates artwork and illustration. It’s vital that the ladies within the poem don’t merely devour artwork; the speaker’s accomplice makes artwork, and the speaker herself is the topic. Just like Vermeer’s topics, she doesn’t meet the gaze of the digital camera or viewer, and she or he is depicted studying and observing. Nevertheless, that she reads museum notes and observes the pure world makes her a extra worldly determine. Furthermore, the best way she is “held” by her accomplice, even “from a distance,” is intimate, interactive, and tender, versus how Vermeer observes his topics from an goal, reserved standpoint.

Regardless of the slim margins of museums and classical work, the speaker doesn’t totally dismiss the enjoyment of experiencing that artwork. Her introduction of “sure French phrases” reminds us that she will be able to discover issues “charming,” even when she doesn’t know what they imply and might “by no means correctly pronounce them.” She and her accomplice admire the Vermeer work in the identical method she is charmed by expressions equivalent to “mélange, de rigueur, au courant”—phrases she might not wield or perceive however that however deliver her delight and inform her creativeness and understanding of the world. 

The title “Personal Assortment” speaks to the poem’s many layers and meanings, evoking from the very starting the artwork world Wong explores within the poem. It after all connotes the unique nature of a museum or collector’s “personal assortment,” a phrase one would encounter on the label beside an paintings to point its supply: assortment, present, or bequest. On the identical time, it acknowledges the person and the personal method a viewer incorporates their “assortment” of associations into the viewing of a chunk. Standing in a museum gallery, our speaker sifts again by means of different galleries, ideas, and experiences as a girl and as a accomplice, a non-public (re)assortment of types. It’s this studying of the title that invitations me to discover my very own sequence of associations, the poem enacting its which means and creating an expertise as absolutely because it conveys it. 



Amanda Moore‘s debut assortment of poems, Requeening, was chosen for the Nationwide Poetry Sequence and might be printed by HarperCollins/Ecco in October 2021. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies together with ZYZZYVA, Cream Metropolis Evaluate, and Greatest New Poets, and she or he is the recipient of writing awards from The Writing Salon, Brush Creek Arts Basis, and The Saltonstall Basis for the Arts. At the moment a Brown Handler Resident on the San Francisco Pals of the Public Library, Amanda is a highschool trainer and Marin Poetry Middle Board member, and she or he lives by the seaside within the Outer Sundown neighborhood of San Francisco along with her husband and daughter. Writer picture credit score: Clementine Nelson.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here