Interview with Brett Foster on his poem “On Leonardo’s ‘Figures To Represent Labor'”

A Q&A by Melissa Gordon

PY: Your poem “On Leonardo’s ‘Figures To Represent Labor'” was inspired by the drawing “Figures To Represent Labor” by Leonardo Da Vinci. This drawing is part of the Royal Trust Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Did you see this drawing in person? Can you talk about your experience and how it inspired you to write your poem?

BF: Alas, no, I have never had the chance to see the original Leonardo sketch in person! Though I would love to. A few years ago I had the chance to write an essay on Bronzino, when many of his drawings were featured in a Met exhibit. They, too, were dazzling. I think I likely first encountered Leonardo’s memorable gallery of human action in one of those over-large coffee table books, “The Complete Leonardo,” or some such over-selling title. I wrote the poem at a time when I was intensely studying Italian Renaissance literature and taking an interest in its visual art—Alberti’s work, and various frescoes and chapel installations (usually so surprisingly programmatic) in Renaissance Rome. The poem, in obvious ways, owes something to John Keats’s meditations in his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”


PY: What made you decide to submit this poem to Poor Yorick?

BF: I had been following Poor Yorick as a reader, and I became hopeful that a “journal for rediscovered objects” (which delightfully gets me thinking about repurposed theater props for the early-modern stage!) might be a good place to submit a poem on a particular page of sketches by a Renaissance master. And personally, it is a thrill to see a high-resolution reproduction of that page of sketches appear beside the poem. An optimal design!