A Tall Story, in Photos and Words

Arts7 MIN READ

The allure of obelisks captures the interest of Colby scholars Gary Green and Gianluca Rizzo

Gary Green, Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., 2017
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August 18, 2022

Photographer Gary Green and poet Gianluca Rizzo collaborated across disciplines and time to create the book Obelisks. Published by the Italian press Danila Montanari Editore, the book explores in quiet black-and-white photographs and layered text the enduring intrigue of obelisks as markers of time, history, and human activity.

Tall and narrow like its subject, the softcover monograph presents two dozen images of various Roman monuments and a series of poems about uniquely American monuments. Green, a Colby professor of art, includes entire monuments in some of his images, while focusing on details and surrounding neighborhoods in others. All made with film, the photographs lead viewers to ponder the relationship between Rome, the monoliths, and neighborhoods they occupy. Rizzo, the Paul D. and Marilyn Paganucci Associate Professor of Italian Language and Literature, wrote a series of poems, in English, based on such American monuments as Bunker Hill near Boston, San Jacinto in Texas, and the recently destroyed Georgia Guidestones. Rizzo’s poems reflect and interpret the words carved into stone, the people who carved them, and the stories they tell.

Obelisks opens with the Latin phrase Nec Ventos Nec Hiemem, which translates as “neither wind nor winter.” Taken from one of the obelisks pictured in the book, the phrase suggests the permanent nature of monuments. Noting that history is always up for debate, one reviewer said of the book, “… This beautiful little, physically unimposing volume functions as a guidebook not so much to specific places or even eras, but as a guide to ways of thinking about and questioning history, the histories that surround us, which we move through every day, whether in a foreign land or closer to home.”

Gary Green, Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, 2016. (Detail)

AMERICAN OBELISK NO. 5
(Bunker Hill Monument)

this most unnatural rebellion 
of Quincey granite
standing on union
in the shape of a spoon 
or a half-buried egg
a kind of small pocket dagger 
furnished with knives, although 
they were soon proved useless 
for anything but cooking
they desired, therefore, to substitute 
an instrument of more general utility 
for the bullet is foolish,
the bayonette wise
and the doctrine was largely based 
around the concept of reach
and a Boston ship rigger
built a special hoisting apparatus 
and the first commercial railway 
in America was born

farmers, tradespeople, and merchants 
from every level of society
—as they are wont to do—
and General Gage found his army 
encircled for the first time
in pitched battle
and built an earthen fort
to avoid further harassment 
they set the town on fire
struggled to control their own destiny 
countless scores of individuals 
interested in our nation’s founding 
solicited from the public

properly, a glacial drumlin 
open and easy of ascent,
and, in short, would be easily carried

a fish, a pine tree
and a quiver of arrows 
like a bunch of asparagus
and Admiral Graves awoke

irritated by the gunfire
and John Tyler was present 

and Daniel Webster
his face like a Maine lobster
and the stone wall on the Mystic River 
at the rail fence
the statue of William Prescott 
with his new hat
e le du’ dita de romoletto
          and yet, to set forth Particulars 
          of his conduct would be tedious

the largest highway 
construction project in the U.S. 
I wish we could sell them 
another hill at the same price 
and the cables evoke
imagery of the riggings 
the white of their eyes 
and two additional lanes 
are cantilevered outside

fourteen elephants 
crossed the new bridge 
for it is widely believed 
that these animals 
have uncanny instincts
and will not cross unsafe structures

that they might erect upon it 
within their imperishable obelisk 
this model to be inserted
with the appropriate ceremonies

          (e non perché son pesanti)
Gary Green, Untitled, Piazza Navona, Rome, 2016

AMERICAN BODIES
(Coda)

I want you to write me a letter 
a series of abductions
with a great deal of composure 
an exhortation to forgetfulness 
an echo of lesser talent
         a less hazardous pursuit

as you enter the cathedral
you are at the bottom of the ocean: 
growing like exogenous plants 
standing beneath these serene skies 
measuring with their bodies
the breath of vast empires 
built on piles
               of their own driving 
to them, a man has not two arms
he has eight, he has sixteen, 
he has twenty, he is pierced 
all over with arms
luminous circumferences, 
flowers, forces like the postcards 
they sell in India

our molting season
                  must be a crisis 
easily quieted by a naked thief
no better than wooden horses

the ally of tyranny
the opponent of material prosperity 
the foe of thrift
the enemy of the railroad,
                   the caucus, and the school 
approving that our bodies
of a stony nature
are positive hinderances
to the elevation of mankind 
hunted down
           and caught
           and carried back
but I bite my lip and keep quiet 
a tedious low-water trip
on a steam boat
         from Louisville to St. Louis 

our progress in degeneracy 
appears to be rapid

if my facts were false 
my words were wrong-
       but were my facts false?

with a task greater than that 
who can go with me
and remain with you down 
to the last period
                  of recorded time
but in a larger sense

pretty much all the ingredients 
         and trappings
of domestic dementia
         and prudence 
pity us who always battle
on the frontier of the boundless 
new hands will grow
new doors will sprout 
for the savage stands 
on the unelastic plank
                      of famine


Obelisks book cover

For information about the book and to order a copy, visit Photo-Eye Bookstore.


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