Saturday, 8 September 2012

Profile: Jalina Mhyana

Jalina Mhyana is a two-time Pushcart nominee and graduate of Bennington College’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Mhyana’s second poetry collection The Wishing Bones was chosen for publication by Pudding House Collections’ 2006 Chapbook contest. Her work was also a finalist Perigee’s 2004 poetry contest. Mhyana’s first chapbook Spikeseed was published by Bad Moon Books in 2004.
Major Jackson wrote, "One admires the high-spiritedness and Dionysian spirit that sings loudly in [Jalina's] poems as well as the large-scale intellect that ranges over various cultures.”

Jalina is currently co-writing an epistolary novel with writer and artist Sean Quinn entitled Swansblossom & Calliope. Sean Quinn is also editing her autobiographical novel Keeping. Please visit Jalina's website to read finished work, work in progress, blog posts, and to view her photography. {}

Villanelle inspired by
Piero di Cosimo’s
Forest Fire
Circa 1505, oil on panel
Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford
The Villanelle, a poetic form that focused on pastoral themes, became
famous during di Cosimo’s time - the Italian Renaissance of the 1500’s.
It’s been burning five centuries. Beasts long to escape
the painting’s few feet of imaginary damnation.
But hoof and wing are fenced by the frame’s dire
straits, a fence they pray will fall to di Cosimo’s fire.
They dream of the wall’s green meadow—a migration
into Michelangelo’s verdant Virgin and Child, to escape
the hemorrhaging paintbrush. The artist was inspired
by Lucretius, one candle lit by another, a conflagration
of Renaissance thought. di Cosimo painted flame directly
onto wooden paneling—only arsonists would conspire
to burn so brightly. Ironic the artist’s benign flirtation
with fire, as he ate his meals raw in the chill to escape
flame within the frame of his home, a pyre
lit in his nightmares. Better the forest’s prostration
to terror: he traps his fear inside the frame’s dire
embrace and watches it consume his empire.
Animal instinct turns man to beast—a translation
even cave men could understand as they escaped
caves of small skulls painted with shadows of fire. 


  1. Very nice. "a fence they pray will fall to di Cosmo's fire..." I love that image.

    1. Thank you! The poem finally came together after about a thousand drafts! Much better than that draft about eggshells. haha.

  2. Signora and this Villanella! I say wonderful - a poignant expression/interpretation of de Cosimo's "Forest Fire". Love it.

    1. Thank you, thank you! I'm going to be smiling all day now.

  3. This is a very interesting poem. It leaps (flame-like?) directly from the first brush-strokes of the painting, to the present. It's a distinctly strong poem Jalina, challenging both the imagery of the depiction, and the reality of the physical painting. There is simplicity in addressing one aspect, the image, the action, the artist. Here your frequent, brush-stroke like, tempo ranges across the themes. The poem attracts the viewer into the painting and forces questions of our very humanity; captured in a fearful, animal eye. A testimony to renaissance, a literal rebirth for di Cosimo. You have done yourself proud.

  4. Thank you, Burt. I'm so honored that you enjoyed my twist on di Cosimo's painting. I absolutely love the evocative, feverish way you describe both the painting and my poem, as if my poem had literally been sparked by di Cosimo's fire. Beautiful writing!