Sunday, May 6, 2012

Marriage of Painting and Poetry

Excerpt from a new work "Painting and Poetry," available here. 

The Marriage of Poetry and Painting
        In his essay “The Relations between Poetry and Painting,” Wallace Stevens supposes that “it would be possible to study poetry by studying painting or that one could become a painter after one had become a poet, not to speak of carrying on in both métiers at once, with the economy of genius, as Blake did.”[1] Stevens is recapitulating Horace, the Roman poet who insisted in his Ars Poetica (c. 13 BC) “ut pictura poesis” or “as is painting, so is poetry.” Certainly the two are wedded in the minds of Rilke (Letters on Cezanne, 1907), Baudelaire and, more recently, John Ashbery and Barbara Guest.

Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand
            Kindred Spirits (1849), a painting by the Hudson River School artist Asher Durand, depicts Thomas Cole and his poet friend William Cullen Bryant contemplating the beauty of the Catskill Mountains, a region Cole immortalized on canvas. In New York City during the 1950s and ‘60s, poets and painters collaborated, consoled each other, and cheered each other on. Poet James Schuyler was profoundly affected “by the floods of paint in whose crashing surf we all scramble.”[2] What could be more celebratory than the paintings Joan Mitchell created from poems by Frank O’Hara (Ode to Joy, To the Harbormaster) or Wallace Stevens (Hemlock)?
            Poets and painters continue to cross-pollinate. Here are a few of their offspring: W. D. Snodgrass’ Matisse: Red Studio; May Swenson’s The Tall Figures of Giacometti; Allen Ginsberg’s Cezanne’s Ports; W. C. Williams’ Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, The Hunters in the Snow, and many more; X. J. Kennedy’s Nude Descending a Staircase; W.H. Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts; John Berryman’s Winter Landscape; Paul Engle’s Venus and the Lute Player; Derek Mahon’s Courtyards in Delft and others; and Randall Jarrell’s The Bronze David of Donatello.

[1] The Necessary Angel, New York: Vintage Books, 1951, p. 160. 
[2] Quoted in Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter by Patricia Albers, New York: A.A. Knopf, 2011, p. 201.

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