On the 7th of September we were delighted to welcome poet Maia Elsner to UNITOM to launch her non-fiction debut ‘Dante Elsner - his life & art’.
The night featured a reading alongside a beautiful exhibition of some of Dante’s ceramic pots, paintings, and sketches. It was wonderfully immersive to hear Maia read from her book while surrounded by Dante’s artworks. Maia told stories of her grandfather's artistic obsessions, for example his desire to make a pot for every feeling. Dante was deeply committed to artistic honesty, Maia shared how this drove him away from more forgiving forms like oil painting which he viewed as dishonest due to a painter's ability to paint over and disguise mistakes. Dante was drawn to forms that required precision, that were hard or impossible to edit or recreate, he wanted each mark to be final.
After taking up ceramics, he found he preferred the intricacy and unpredictability of Raku; a form of traditional Japanese pottery. Dante often drew sketches on torn up canvas paintings that didn’t meet his exacting criteria, in fact, we learn that he destroyed the majority of what he made, and still left thousands of pots behind, giving us a sense of the immense scale of Dante’s output. Maia pieced together shards of story, using family anecdotes, old photographs, poorly kept records, voice recordings, and her own journey to Poland and Paris, compelled to see first-hand the colours of the forest where her grandfather lived for years, and views of the Paris skyline from the tiny room Dante inhabited as a refugee.
Maia began and ended her talk with ekphrastic poems written in response to Dante's ceramics, a touching way to frame the evening; as poet spoke to and through her grandfather's pots, and those same pots sat along with the audience as witnesses to her words.
Thank you to everyone who came and shared in this special event, to Guillemot Press, and to Maia Elsner. Copies of Dante Elsner - his life & art are still available to purchase in store and online.
About the author:
Maia Elsner is a Mexican-Polish-Jewish-British writer whose debut collection Overrun by Wild Boars (Flipped Eye, 2021) won a Somerset Maugham Award. She is currently a Zell Fellow at the Helen Zell Writer's Program in Michigan, where her writing has won the Hopwood Award for non-fiction.