Monthly Ekphrastic: Nora Jane Slade’s What

Each month, Dilettante Army’s editors choose an exhibit or art happening for resident poet Molly Jean Bennett to address in a poem or short series of poems.

This summer, our correspondent was far away in the strange and not-as-damp-as-expected land of Portland, Oregon. Out of reach of her editors’ art-sense, Bennett selected her own ekphrastic object. She decided to visit the Portland Museum of Modern Art. Unlike New York City’s MoMA, which is housed in a palatial building on West 53rd Street in Manhattan, PMOMA occupies the stairwell and basement of a record store. From the basement portion of the gallery, one can hear the hearty gurgle of pipes overhead each time someone flushes the toilet.

portland museum of modern art

Photo by the author for Dilettante Army

PMOMA is an ongoing project of Oregon native Libby Werbel, who worked in museums in New York for a number of years. Upon returning to Portland, she started PMOMA as a way to diversify the city’s art scene. Many of the museum’s exhibits feature “outsider” artists, who Werbel prefers to call “self-taught” or “visionary.”[1] According to The Oregonian, a painting by the artist Mr. Otis in one of PMOMA’s shows once sold for $285 worth of hazelnuts.[2] A 2014 Yelp review said this of PMOMA: “I’m sorry. I’m an art freak, and I can’t call this place a museum, or a museum of modern art.”[3] Our correspondent was inclined to disagree.

portland museum of modern art

Photo by the author for Dilettante Army

PMOMA’s current show uses the dedication from Roxane Gay’s book Difficult Women as a jumping off point: “For difficult women everywhere, who should be celebrated for their very nature.” Called “Donna in Avalon,” the show features works by Vaginal Davis, Nora Jane Slade and Alexandra Eastburn. Our correspondent selected a piece called What by Nora Jane Slade. Slade often works with t-shirts and other used textiles in what she calls a “platform for dissemination of utilitarian positivism + magic.”[4] What is a 2015 oil on cardboard, wood, and metal pipe work.

portland museum of modern art

Photo by the author for Dilettante Army



She’s Not Hiding She’s Biting


What’s that smell? What do you believe
in? What stinks wet and muddy like death

at the bottom of the sea? What is your name
and what is its meaning? What will

you do with your bright arc of time? What
was the object—orange and fast-flying—

that landed on the porch just now? What
image appears when your eyes swell shut?

What color lipstick should I wear with this
crop top? What will we do in the end?

What name have you given this child? And what
station? What do you suck when your

thumb-suck goes dry? What kind of castle
are you after? What hot pain did you give?



[1] Burris, Bruce. “A Conversation with Libby Werbel, Director, PMOMA.” Brut Force. 2016. Accessed 2017.

[2] Parks, Casey. “Portland Museum of Modern Art: North Portland basement gallery offers home to quirky, contemporary work.” The Oregonian. 2013. Accessed 2017.

[3] T, Nathan. Yelp. 2014. Accessed 2017.

[4] Waggy Tee. Accessed 2017.