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Joshua Poteat

Illustrating the Illustrators

[See Plate 123, Fig. 46-47]

When we wrote the name that we were told


             was ours, the name that contained all


we would be given and all that would be lost,
                         there was a pleasure in the small, exact


movements of our hands, the pencil a machine,


          worshipped, and that was where it began.


We said Let us be children together,

                          and we drew our lives before the body.


We drew the coal-quay whores with wooden legs,


          the tow-horses asleep against the fog. Even dusk


flooded a whole new darkness, a sympathetic ink.
                          We said If death is like this then give us more.


From Illustrating the 13 transits of Mercury in the 19th century


Mercury asleep against a blue-ribbon goat


And everyone a witness of the buried years, of

the animal’s flesh, all animals the living island,

the only ones under the trees. Our ancestor with

the crippled wrist gave us light, and our goat ate

clover softest from the hand.


Mercury asleep with the whippoorwill


The living darknesses of nests in the garden,

snake-paths through the straw, I know in myself

that call, dense where the landscapes line

themselves up, emerging throughout the weeds.

Where the ghost lamb stood, night came from

the ground.


Mercury asleep in the retreat of lost armies


The clear water that appeared in craters after the

cannons fell, after the enemy said I’ve never seen

snow before, froze, and we drank nothing.

Through the ice, we could see black fish

mouthing at us, so we cut holes for them to visit,

took them for our wives. This is a new world, we

said. Farewell to the other.

Mercury asleep again on the illustration of the metal tongue
[See Plate 19, Fig. 95]


There are geese in the sky tonight, alone in their

snow. I can hear their metal tongues, calling to

that unknown season, over the houses, the

harvested streets. In the innumerable world, in

the brave ghost kingdom, there are many ways

to live, and this is one of them.

-from Illustrating the Machine that Makes the World

BIO: Joshua Poteat got his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1993. received his Master of Fine Arts in writing at Virginia Commonwealth University in May 1997. Poteat has published two books of poems, Ornithologies (Anhinga Poetry Prize, 2006) and Illustrating the Machine that Makes the World (University of Georgia Press/Virginia Quarterly Review, 2009), as well as a chapbook, Meditations (Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Award, 2004). He has won prizes and fellowships from bodies including The Literary Review, Bellingham Review, The Millay Colony, Virginia Commission for the Arts and Virginia Center for Creative Arts. He was named the 2011-2012 Donaldson Writer in Residence at The College of William & Mary. Poteat is also an assemblage artist of sorts, making light boxes and ink transfers out of found materials, and collaborating with the designer Roberto Ventura on art installations, one of which won Best in Show for InLight 2009. Poteat lives in Richmond, VA, with the writer Allison Titus. He is an editor at the Martin Agency.

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