The following feature is an experiment in contact. These amazing paintings are from the Traveler Series by Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi, a Washington D.C.-based Iranian-American painter. The paintings investigate themes of personal and national identity, featuring a recurring character in a series of bizarre explosions of scene and color. We commissioned some of the finest poets writing in America today to respond to these paintings with original work. Each poet was only granted access to the single painting assigned to her, and biographical information about Ms. Ilchi was withheld. The results are breathtaking, diverse, and a demonstration of the seemingly limitless possibilities of artistic collaboration.  –Bradley Harrison

Hedieh profile.jpg

Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi was born in Tehran, Iran and is currently living and working in the Washington DC area. Ilchi received her MFA in Studio Art from the American University in 2011 and her BFA with honors from the Corcoran College of Art + Design in 2006. She has received many awards including the Bethesda Painting Award, Robyn Rafferty Mathias International Research Mellon Grant from the American University and the Sons of the Revolution in the District of Columbia American Art Essay Prize. Ilchi has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Washington DC, Baltimore, New York City, Los Angeles, Birmingham, and Winston-Salem. Her work has been reviewed in a number of publications including the Washington Post and Art Papers magazine. Ilchi is currently an artist in residence at the Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, VA.


"Maybe/Maybe Not!" by Hedieh Ilchi
Acrylic on Mylar
42” x 34”

Matthew Zapruder is an American poet and Wave Books editor. He is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Sun Bear (Copper Canyon, 2014) and the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and a 2008 May Sarton Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among other honors. 

Matthew Zapruder

In Africa people are angry.
They are climbing embassy walls
and burning whatever is there.
Each time I click on some words
and read what we call news
although it is always too old
I feel certain some people
while I was reading have died. 
I know I am here merely reading.
I just sit in my room and worry.
As always I can do nothing
So I close all the portals and go
deep in my mind to discover
something about Tunisia.
Tunisia of desert silence
broken by occasional battles
where a man set himself on fire
then revolution then elections.
Tunisia whose cosmopolitan
capital city was Carthage
the Romans completely destroyed.
Tunisia where they filmed
the familiar home planet scenes
of the movie we all stood in line
a million years ago to see.
I don't know anything else.
Now I remember something
I once read about the forests
people are carefully growing
far from the capital city.
The trees are eating the poison
probably much too slowly.
But still they take the particles
and even if we don't deserve it
our air is a little clearer.
It's like the painting I saw
of a witch in the forest,
her hair in a black column rising
like smoke from a burning structure.
She was dragging three or four ropes
the color of umbilical blood.
She was guarded by her wolf familiar.
At first she terrified me.
Then I saw she was causing
certain spells to protect
far away new mothers
whose children must in the middle
of great violence be born.
The men surround the embassy.
It will never be clear who sent them.
For a moment I feel ashamed.
I breathe the clear terrible air.



"Don’t you waste my time!" by Hedieh Ilchi
Acrylic on Mylar
42”x 34”


Katayoon Zandvakili's volume of poetry, Deer Table Legs, won the University of Georgia Press Contemporary Poetry Series prize, and the book’s title poem was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 2000. 

       —for my grandfather
Katayoon Zandvakili

What if we let it all dissolve
The old stories and dark thoughts
Let them come tumbling down in the forest fire

Honey honey—says Coyote—nevermind the purple wizard behind
The smokescreen pyre
Develop heart; follow me into the Fire and only then will we 

Have Stories to tell our grandkids of
A very wild summer in California. Grow some heart.

Let the woman with the lamppost black hair lead us out of this forest
With her pure sweet example
Follow the red ropes of Love like vagaries she has woven in her left hand
Soft like childhood truth, softly electric like essence

The sea of surrender: being real in our ultra-real, beautiful bodies: I wanted nothing more

Coyote says, Look at me stand and shiver and never
Once complain. Look at me alive,
In the rustling grass. 
Be honest, human race.
Open your heart to the Fire of Love. 
Like these sister-like hedges fanning plumes of orange love.
Forget the Song of Leaving.
Stay, and make it lovely.
Take it away, girls.

The trio of backup singers, naked and encouraged, goes: 
I’m gonna use it up
I’m gonna kiss them all

Gonna burn bright—
I won’t dim my light, I won’t dim down.
Gonna kiss all the men with lustre now. 
All the men with lustre, now.

Kiss everybody, Coyote nods.
Bless them, kiss them fast.

Trio: We always had a real sense of
Destiny and now we are bringing
Down the house with love. 
Mary and Jane and Sarah,
Where are those fireflies
We saw under the netting?
Hold my hand—be my friend—that’s all.

He starts to leave, hesitates.
Let me turn and look at you one more time. Ah, you’re beautiful—

We could have cleared the rest as we always can, with a whoosh of the hands, but chose instead to put it in a poem so as to linger a while longer, striking tones and remembering.

The only poetry is nothing from any high holy book but what we do between this moment and the next, in the dissolving magical extension of the winged moments of our bodies alive, our ultra-real, beautiful, boundless—

Go on kid, he growls, get outta here. You’re gonna
Make me cry.

Hold my hand—be my friend—this is all

(Kiss me)

And I shall walk within my house with a perfect heart.



"Green Sorrow" by Hedieh Ilchi
Acrylic on Mylar
54” x 42”

Farnoosh Fathi's poems have been published in Tin House, Boston Review, High Chair, Fence, and other journals. The recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to Brazil and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, she currently lives and works in Carmel Valley, California.

[Heroics—it balls all heads to one capital: birth]
Farnoosh Fathi

Heroics—it balls all heads to one capital: birth. 
Who cares if its freedom is ugly, all are bleeding—
Thus is a standard almost cruel to hold up, 
Except that you, by one factory, 
Neither man nor woman, upheld it, sucking
Hands to head—
Hands to head, protection's cloud:
it rotates to an ornate tiff
An element of children oned to yourself,
Carved with golden rolls—
They shift, hem excrement and sour stilts—
Slow like a walk along the shelves.
On one sits a face pocked with soil—now goldenrod,
Pivot to a will. Cred to the bun
You are building to index force
Where a great white flies."