Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thoughts on Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2)"

Marcel Duchamp, 1912
Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2)
Philadelphia Museum of Art 
A Rose is a Rose is a (No.2) Rose

She comes from nowhere,
gains speed dead center
with so much commotion
we worry about a crash
about cubes and cones
that might shatter and splinter
and we are relieved
when she arrives, five steps later
when a heel checks the body
causing her pelvis to lift, her
spine to jerk. Whiplash implied.
Her shoulders screech backwards
into the figure before, into
the self of but a split second prior.

That is the whole story.
Charge down the steps.
At the bottom, dig in heels.
Rush to stop to show
shadows and facets, the harsh angles
of id. Perpetual motion, she is
humanity stumbling, rushing
headlong into WWI. Or not.
Maybe her dissembling self
is mere metaphor, imploring
time itself to stop and us to smell
the roses down the street
in Gertrude’s drawing room.

Problems Posed by (No.2)

When is a pose is no longer a pose?
How much to or fro till it’s a pantomime?
Does imminent danger make a picture moving?
Does hard work make it lurid?

How many times did (No. 2) descend before Duchamp deemed the work complete?
Did (No.1) not make the cut?
Did she run the steps endlessly or stand each one separately?
What about those hard, swollen gams in the middle frame?
Do you feel sorry for the model?

Was communication between them politically correct?
Did she know she was being artistically abused?
Was (No. 2) hurrying to a different atelier, to a real artist, seeking respect?
Can she hear war in the offing, eardrum-shattering canons to come?
Was she the first person forced to run steps for a living?

Look Again (No.2)

Dulled yellows, flat browns
unexciting greys on beige
imbed (No.2) into
a splintered stairwell, an
impoverished pallet
of late afternoon when artists
view a canvas through
the nose of a glass
of beer or cognac
and the work bricks up.
The time of day when
honest painters rip pastels
from the sky like Band-Aids
from a wound, allowing
the human condition
to step outside for a good cry,
when even a Monet splash of
fragrant light is useless
against the onslaught
of the unknowable.

We move with her
because we too are in a rush
also painted in impoverished
colors and dissembling
for the world to see, racing our
expectations and apprehensive.
Having hardly succeeded in
descending five shallow steps,
we see how well expressed she is,
how historically normal it is
to jerk backwards,
dig in those heels,
to fear a hidden pit,
the trap door releasing
into loneliness
at the end of the day.

Originally from Philadelphia, Jacalyn Carley moved to Berlin shortly after graduating from university and spent 20 years as a modern dancer. She has published four books—two novels and two nonfiction books—in German translation only. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Silver Birch Press, Mississippi Review, NPR Berlin, and local Berlin expat journals. She is currently working on a collection of poems, The Drawing Room, that deal with the nude in the studio, in painting, and some who are stubbornly incognito. Carley directs Sarah Lawrence College's Summer Arts in Berlin program, and also donates time to help refugees in Berlin. Read more at jacalyn-carley.com.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Joan Snyder's Poem-Paintings

Happy Birthday, Joan Snyder, born April 16, 1940, in Highland Park, NJ. Watching a slideshow of the painter's life and work at the School of Visual Arts recently, I realized how often she incorporates text in her works on paper and canvas. Here are a few of her poem-paintings and the sources of the poems she used.
Ah Sunflower! 1994-95
 Ah Sun-flower! weary of time, 
Who countest the steps of the Sun: 
Seeking after that sweet golden clime 
Where the traveller’s journey is done. 

Where the Youth pined away with desire, 
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: 
Arise from their graves and aspire, 
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Wm. Blake
See What a Life, 2010
"See what a life the gods have given us, set round with pain and pleasure. It is too strange for sorrow; it is too strange for joy." HD Thoreau

Love's Deep Grapes, 1984
"I saw stones weep. There is a sadness in things apart from connected with human suffering."
Virgil, The Aeneid
Joan Snyder

Friday, April 8, 2016

Robert Rhodes and Steve Klepetar Experiment with Fire and Ice

Sunset with frost, Monica’s front window
After the painting by Robert Rhodes

This could be how the world began, heat and frost:
a molten land between the two, where first flesh
quickened and a giant rose in the great gap.
Then the gods brought him down, split his skull
and made the vault of sky from the upper dome.
His body became the earth, his blood the rivers
and the seas. His bones became mountains,
his crushed teeth boulders and stones and pebbles
and sand. One gray eye lit on fire and became the sun;
one stayed milky cold and was the moon.
Wolves chased them across the sky. From his hair
the gods wove trees, whole forests guarded
by ravens and owls. The maggots on his flesh
they made into us, who delve and plow, and build;
struggle and war, conquer and destroy; paint and sing
and make up stories against the coming time when
seas boil and the flaming sword burns everything to ash.

Walking on the Ice in Buchanan Park
After the painting by Robert Rhodes

Rushes and reeds by the frozen lake,
olive shadows rise like bruises
on the ice. So quiet here, cold and still
in February’s dim light. Earth sleeps
beneath our feet. We speak in hushed
voices, afraid to startle this placid winter
scene with brittle sounds. You speak
of your dreams, how your mother
came to you with hollow eyes, held out
a loaf of her bitter dark bread. “Eat this,”
she said, her voice a rustling of dead leaves
in a snowy field , “and remember the names
I brushed hard across your face.”
You woke to a flash of lightning that tore
green tears from your eyes, your mind
flaming to orange and red, the only
dazed and  unquiet thing in this ghostly calm.

Steve Klepetar’s work has appeared widely, and several of his poems have been nominatedfor the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Recent collections include My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto and The Li Bo Poems, both from Flutter Press.

Robert Rhodes grew up in the Mississippi River delta region of eastern Arkansas, near Memphis, TN, and now lives in Lancaster, PAHe has painted since he was 12, and for nearly 20 years was a newspaper journalist. He has published three poetry chapbooks and the 2009 nonfiction book Nightwatch: Alone on the Prairie with the Hutterites. About these recent paintings he says: "Sunset with Frost (2016) is oil on board. Walking on the Ice (2015) is acrylic on paper."