Mary-Sherman Willis


How could a housewife with three small children, living in Washington DC, fit the role of pioneer of far-out art? —Clement Greenberg, Vogue May 1968

In a city of spooks and journalists and lawyers
and their furious wives

you lived, a gentle wife,
interstitial between women and men:

where the children are.
You made up your mind, learned to bear up 

and endure. And keep your temper. Every day
in the cold studio

you loaded up the brush
and dragged paint across a box’s surface, pulled

its burden till it gave up and went dry. Incense
of gesso and turpentine.

Fine grit removed the traces
of the hand. Then you pulled the paint across the grain.

Repeat, repeat. In pure obedience
we spend ourselves into the physical. Into the column,

the totem, the monument, the henge, the coffin, the child.
The city was on fire.

Your column stood up straight like a woman
holding up the roof,

and the seasons go around it, and light goes
around it recording time.

for Anne Truitt


Anne Truitt (March 16, 1921 – December 23, 2004) was a minimalist sculptor who lived in DC from 1947 to 1949, and from 1960 to the end of her life. She wrote three influential books about the creative process: Daybook (1982), Turn (1986), and Prospect (1996).


Mary-Sherman Willis is the author of Graffitti Calculus (CW Books, 2013), and the chapbook Caveboy (Artist's Proof Editions, 2012) and translator of Appogiatures by Jean Cocteau (Grace Notes, 2017). Her poems and reviews have appeared in the New Republic, Hudson Review, Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and Poet Lore. A graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she serves on the board of the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series a the Folger Shakespeare Library, and has taught creative writing at George Washington University. To read more by this author: Mapping the City Issue