The Poetic Art and Life of Susan Read Cronin

By Zach Rosen   |   April 4, 2023

Life may imitate art but for many of the artists I know, the two are pretty melded and hardly an imitation – they are their art, and the art is them – and this seems true for Susan Read Cronin and her collective body of work as well, including her newest book of poetry, What’s Left

Cronin is most known for her bronze sculptures that have adorned galleries, museums, and private collections for nearly thirty years. Her bronzes are often themed with a whimsical style and subject matter, sometimes pulling from storybooks and childhood, and often incorporating wordplay into them. This playfulness can be found throughout her artworks but also dashed into her life – e.g. her sons are named Read and Wright. 

This theme can be seen in her bronze exhibit, Fables, Foibles and Fairy Tales, that traveled to various venues and nearly 20 museums, including the Solvang-based Elverhøj Museum of History & Art last year. In the sculpture, Giddy Up, a hare rides the shell of a tortoise, its ears whipping back from the thrill of the ride. 

Her poetic works are formed from the same whimsy as her art works. Some poems play with lore – like “William Tell’s Daughter” or “How Hansel and Gretel Affected My Housekeeping Skills as a Child” – while others explore Cronin’s sentiments of youth, love, and married life, as in “Unborn,” that includes the memorable line:

I am a piñata.
You are the prize.

While always playful, there also tends to be an underlying heart and a raw love for her subject matter. In the bronze work, To Have and to Hold, a lanky hare embraces a large carrot as if caressing a lover, staring longingly into its root. The poem, “A Labor of Love,” details a partner’s willingness to cook breakfast for their significant other… but also all the ensuing questions of them on how to do it. One will often find that her work simultaneously celebrates somber and beauty, such as in “Nothing to Hold”:

When an astronaut cries in space
his tears float off his face.
Will my tears float away
the same way, too, when
you are gone – there being nothing
left to hold them here?

Poetry is not her first foray into the literary world either. Over 20 years ago, she produced a foldout book called Bronze Casting in a Nutshell that included illustrations from her father A.D. Read, a cartoonist. This wee treatise details the metallurgical art process in 15 simplified steps along pages that accordion out to unfold a story about casting a bronze nutshell sculpture. 

What’s Left is her third poetry book and is split into three main sections of poems: THE FIRE, JUST B., and LEFT – each one being introduced with its own short two-line (or less) poem indicative of Cronin’s reductive style. The section LEFT is introduced with:

If I left, there would be no one
left on the left, right?

The intro poem for THE FIRE section comes from her poem, “The Fire.” And fire has had an influential role in her life, moving to Montecito right before the Thomas Fire. It was also a fire at Cronin’s Vermont home in the mid ‘90s that led her to pursue bronze casting as a creative outlet during the years of rebuilding it took to recover. 

Once again, it was disaster – this time on the global scale – that formed the opportunity for her creativity to shape What’s Left. “I’ve been quietly writing poetry and memoir as a sideline on and off for years,” she says. “It was the gift of the COVID lockdowns that inspired me to mine my inventory of pages to see if there was anything in there worth pulling out and reworking.”

For those who wants to hear What’s Left, Cronin – along with former Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Laure-Anne Bosselaar – will be at Tecolote Book Shop this Saturday, April 1, from 3-4 pm where they will be hosting a book launch party accompanied by some refreshments, revelry, and readings from Cronin’s new book.  


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