The State of Art

The art world has completely turned around.
Now critics blind themselves, or close their eyes,
Shout how their contacts and their creds abound,
And laud sick rancid leavings to the skies.

Admiring excrement (which has been canned,
Shown, sold, and showered with the highest praise)
Investors gather, next to the best brand
Of booze, and clink their ice on crystal, gaze

At what they think is art. They linger here
(For trading nonsense objects is their game)
To worship stacked up bronze-cast cans of beer,
And urge the rest of us to do the same.

Once Rauschenberg’s stuffed goat head in a tire
Took first prize at the Venice Biennale.
The best of all the ordure in the mire,
That goat stares out across a putrid alley

Of concrete cubes and ugly rusted beams,
Fake waterfalls, live trees choked up and wrapped
And all the other sophist, ugly themes.
Are there no artists left who aren’t trapped

In lies and fakery and worthless schlock?
As pressure builds, there’s bound to be a vast
Collapse of pretense, and a taking stock.
Art that comes from dung heaps will not last.



A Table

A table’s set with spoon and fork,
But nothing rests upon the plate.
A bottle’s memories uncork;
We drink to vagaries of fate.

The table’s set. There is a knife
To cut the absent meat. A stone
Is placed within a bowl—that’s life,
For in the end, we go alone,
Defying finely fractured sums,
The spilt wine and the scattered crumbs.

The table’s garnished with a heart—
Add some art to light the day—
Let all who wish to stand apart
Go wandering their own rocky way.



House Sale

A wind of change flies through the halls,
Pushing the prints upon the walls
Askew, and tumbling each old quilt
And threadbare doilies, placed with guilt

In heaps upon the tables there.
A strange regressive waft of air
Speaks of the past, but not next year
When, doors locked, the raccoon and deer

Will wait for salt and peanut buttered
Snacks in vain; hear no words uttered.
For now each chattering china bird
Repeats the message it has heard—

Away with order, calm, and peace!
Some outgrown clothes, an old valise
Whirl in chaotic dance. Outside,
The glider rocks on its wild ride

With canopy at rakish tilt,
Evoking memories, like silt
Disturbed upon a river’s bed
As ghostly as the walking dead.

Two cars’ impatient engines hum
Beside a loaded rubbish drum
As handlers clear out every room,
Leaving a box much like a tomb.



A former Wilbur Fellow and six-time Pushcart nominee, Sally Cook is a regular contributor to National Review, and has appeared in venues as varied as Chronicles, Lighten Up On Line, and TRINACRIA. Also a painter, her present works in the style known as Magic Realism are represented in national collections such as the N.S.D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Burchfield-Penney, Buffalo, NY.

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23 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    All 3 very good, Ms Cook. I like especially the contemplation of impermanence and ruin in the domestic context–a bit like Wyeth, but messier and without the idealization.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Sally, what wonderful array of superlative poetry. In ‘The State of Art’ expert employment of literary device conveys exactly what’s happening in the art world… and it isn’t pretty. The build up to your masterly closing stanza is perfect. For me, the conclusion serves as a warning about today’s feet-of-clay society, which begs the question, how on earth are people drawn in by this?

    ‘A Table’ and ‘House Sale’ are haunting, atmospheric and tap into the senses with skill, flair, and excellent imagery. I especially like ‘House Sale’. It reminds me of the sale of my grandparents’ and aunt’s houses after their demise… and all the memories and ghosts of old laid to rest along with them. The closing line is heart-rending.

    I love these poems – they’re inspirational, skillful, beautiful and exactly what I need this morning. Thank you, my friend!

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Susan –
      I guess we have a mutual admiration society going here – I love the whirling dervish of your poetic style; you are the first poet I have seen in a long time who seems to have stepped out of the eggshell fully fledged and full of ideas and direction.
      Thanks so much!

  3. Gail

    Beautiful images in ‘House Sale’, Sally. Love how you moved through the domestic landscape, including all cessation of daily habits and sounds.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Gail —
      Yes, there is far more to a domestic scene than forniture and accoutrements, as you have noted. I think of the animals who always come to your door in the country during dead winter, hoping for some sustenance to keep them going. I knew a nurse who welcomed them, probably to excess. She would leave her sliding doors open just a bit and in would come the things, and I mean things — deer, rabbits, cats, woodchucks,
      any four-footed thing that needed help. It was quite a sight to see them all eating together in her dining room!
      Reminds me of the tale recounted about a nurse Joe Salemi knew who would not help a human if this did not adhere to “the rules.”
      I think you must be very sensitive to past times. This is a great poetic advantage.

      • Gail

        Dear Sally,

        I would’ve liked to have seen your friend’s dining room so occupied. My kids are always disappointed that it’s against the law to make pets of wild baby orphans. We’ve never had the opportunity to do that, but we have plenty of friends who have had pet squirrels.

        Is being sensitive to the past an advantage to a visual artist?


    Sally, all three of these are terrific. I love the many moving images in House Sale — a contrast of chaos, echoing memories and a wistful leaving. But I especially enjoyed State of Art. It reminds me of the many times I’ve shouted back at the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow wondering how they could be so blind as to the dreck they were assigning big numbers to! Sometimes the art world (dare I include the world of contemporary poetry?) can feel like a reenactment of “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Brian —

      Thank you for your apt and sensitive understanding of these poems. You think you are in a re-enactment because the reality is – the Emporer HAS no clothes !!

    • Sally Cook

      I think, Paul, don’t you, that if we can make an image strong enough it can then transcend the bounds of the ordinary, leap over the gates of the obvious and directly connect with another person’s experience? It is something deserving of hard practice; then even if we don’t always succeed, we can be happy when we do.

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    These three poems are magnificent examples of poetic craftsmanship. In a sane world, Sally Cook would be recognized as one of our major poets.

    • Sally Cook

      Joe, thank you for this great compliment. Right back at you!
      I believe we have an Algonquin of letters right here.

  6. Jeff Eardley

    Sally, what a super trio to read on a cold, wet day here in Merrie Olde Englande. This is poetry of the highest order and I enjoyed every word of all three.
    Thank you.

  7. Sally Cook

    Jeff, you are so kind. You just reminded me of one of my English ancestors who was kidnapped as a child off the streets of London, and put on a slave ship anchored in the Thames to be taken to the new world and sold as an indentured servant. I believe that phrase identifies as “slave.”
    The only reason anyone knew who he was turned out to be because he had the family Bible under his arm, and names and dates were written in it. So much for white supremacy.

  8. Sally Cook

    Joe, thank you for this great compliment. Right back at you!
    I believe we have an Algonquin of letters right here.

  9. C.B. Anderson

    The title, “The State of Art”, may be construed as “The State o’ Fart”. Found art should never be confused with profound art. At the very end you write that it “will not last,” but it has already lasted far too long.

    In “A Table” I was reminded of Stone Soup. Do you remember that uplifting story from grade school, where the traveler put a stone in a cauldron to boil and got all the villagers to contribute some scraps of food? After the soup was eaten, everyone marveled at how delicious the traveler’s stone had made it.

    “House Sale” evokes a very clear mood, though it is hard to describe the mood in words. And your reference to peanut butter is so true. In my decades of trapping garden pests, I have found that you can catch almost anything with peanut butter. I’ve caught chipmunks, squirrels woodchucks, opossums, raccoons, skunks and, once, even a beautiful red fox. The fox was relocated a good distance from our chicken coop.

  10. Sally Cook

    Dear C.B. -You changed my title to “State Of Fart”, but as that is a reference to a natural body funcion, it is too weak a description, only because the current contemporary art world is UNNATURAL. For my part, I shudder at the image of a child born today who develops artistic leanings.l Where does he go to develop in a world where everything sane has (by then) been removed and replaced by one or another sort of insanity?
    We are enjoying the last dregs of civilization.
    Peanut butter is good for man and beast alike; and skunks, once de-scented, are just like docile cats. As a kid I always wanted one, but my mother couldn’t accept a wild animal in the house, so it never happened. But when living in New York I had a neighbor who traveled the world trapping jungle animals for zoos. He owned a pet skunk and seversl Israeli mice. In fact, you never knew what yiou might meert hopping around in his kitchen !
    Yes, I do remember the story of stone soup, and always admired the graceful way in which the author made his point.
    More to come.

  11. Sally

    Dear Gail and C.B. —
    Yoiu ask of knowledge of the past is of help when working visually, and I say all worldly knowledge is of help. But there is something more helpful to ALL creative endeavors, and that is the realm of ideas. In short, you can’t get here without going there. These precepts are written in stone, as it were, and without them there is no way to get there. Some of them are truth, and an integrity that would make a stone seem like a marshmallow.
    TO KIP:
    I’ve been wondering all afternoon what happened to those unlucky woodchucks and opossums who chanced upon your tempting peanut butter snacks, and I don’t like what I see.
    I happen to be very fond of woodchucks, and every year I write a woodchuck poem which I exchange with a friend who has also written one. Punxsatawney Phil is one of my favorite chucks, but there are many others all over the country that are rudely awakened on Groundhog Day to look for shadows. Please tell me yours did not come to a bad end.
    As for opossums, any creature who can grow a new set of teetrh when needed and hang by his tail at will has my unbounded admiration. Both of them keep lesser creatures away. Hope you showed some mercy to my scaly-taled friends as well.

    • C.B. Anderson

      If you are fond of woodchucks, Sally, then your gardens will always be under attack. It’s your call. Those woodchucks of mine came to a good end — they are all dead. Opossums I can take or leave, but should any dare to mess with my gardens …. I don’t care about their teeth, and they would be well advised to keep their distance. Send them all back to Australia is what I say.

  12. Margaret Coats

    Sally, in contrast to others, I find “A Table” my favorite of these poems. It is “set,” or made in orderly fashion of good English sentences and stanzas that convey ideas. This is not one of those dull, modernist poems proudly dealing with simple everyday objects, but incapable of saying anything about them. Your poem has order, but the meaning within the order isn’t obvious. It’s contained in thought-provoking images. In the first stanza, I see an inviting table with drinks before dinner. In the second stanza, the table seems less inviting because dinner is not nourishing and the service is sloppy. In the third stanza, I again find the table inviting, because love and art have transcended the question of nutrition. At that point, anyone who doesn’t like the situation (maybe because of the sloppy service) is boldly disinvited.

    Like C. B., I thought of the stone soup story as one solution to the lack of food. But I also thought of a stone as being what is given to children instead of bread, by a bad father (Gospel parable). Still, the bowl as container favors the soup solution. Anyway, there is something here to think about, and I enjoy the thought process.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Margaret –
      Your comments and analyses are of the sort that are always filled with rich restorative comment
      Thank you for that, very much.T
      he idea for this poem came from a long series of painting I have made over the years of dinners set out on red and white chequered cloth. Most of these have been of pasta, bread, salad, wine and dessert. I have made them very tempting, and yet they cannot be consumed because there is never any table silver. Strangely, each time I made one it sold immediately, and I was able to buy more pasta, salad, wine and dessert for mysel and others..
      The last one I made was of a potroast, and should have been just as tempting, yet it never sold. For some reason it only works with pasta in speckled roastimg pans !
      Recently I began to think of inviting a guest or guests to this non-feast, and came up with the idea of inviting Van Gogh to dinner. The choice of guest for this famine at the dinner table has made it appropriate for me to place a huge bouquet of sunflowers there. We will see what happens —
      perhaps Vincent will receive some long delayed
      nourishment in my new painting.
      What fun the world of ideas is ! One thing for sure, I will be serving pasta.

      • Margaret Coats

        Sally, thanks for your response, and sorry it took me a while to reply back. I like your poem even better now, and I think you’re onto a current trend. One of the glossy food magazines recently started a feature in which a celebrity is asked to describe an ideal meal. He or she gets to choose the food, the drinks, the place, the decor, the guests, how they are to dress, and any other detail that would make everything perfect. Anyone living or dead may be a guest, meaning that your pasta dinner for Van Gogh, with sunflowers on the table, begins to fit the plan. This trend could have us all working in synaesthesia, and unique results guaranteed!

  13. Sally Cook

    Dear Margaret –
    Thank you for returning to reply.
    However, I am afraid that I must disagree, for the following reasons:
    First off, there are too many rules and paths to follow in this charming game.
    However, it is a game for those with too much time on their hands; for the kind of people who change their artwith the
    color of their carpet.
    The minute you mentioned “slick magazines” my back went up. While it might be argued that the game and synesthaesea are synonymous, I think the difference lies in depth. Even when an artist plays, this artistic endeavor is on a deeper level.
    Also, nothing we do is ever perfect.It is simply not in our makeup, though we can but try; and should.
    Example: I am still trying to figure out why my spaghetti paintings had a universal appeal, but the one of a potroast had none.
    Nevertheless, thanks for telling me about the “meal” game in slick magazines. Shows some folks in that world are trying!
    Always a pleasure to hear your ideas


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