Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Bohemia Lies by the Sea"

German painter Anselm Kiefer has taken the title of this landscape—Bohemia Lies by the Sea (1996)—from that of a poem by Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (1926 – 1973). She may have been inspired by Shakespeare's stage direction in his play The Winter's Tale, Scene III, "Bohemia. A Desert Country near the Sea." Both painting and poem explore the longing for utopia, a longing that can never be realized (just as the former kingdom of Bohemia, landlocked in Central Europe, can never lie by the sea).

Ingeborg Bachmann (1926 – 1973)
Bohemia Lies by the Sea

by Ingeborg Bachmann

If houses here are green, I’ll step inside a house.

If bridges here are sound, I’ll walk on solid ground.

If love’s labour’s lost in every age, I’ll gladly lose it here.

If it’s not me, it’s one who is as good as me.

If a word here borders on me, I’ll let it border.

If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I’ll believe in the sea again.

And believing in the sea, thus I can hope for land.

If it’s me, then it’s anyone, for he’s as worthy as me.

I want nothing more for myself. I want to go under.

Under – that means the sea, there I’ll find Bohemia again.

From my grave, I wake in peace.

From deep down I know now, and I’m not lost.

Come here, all you Bohemians, seafarers, dock whores, and ships

unanchored. Don’t you want to be Bohemians, all you Illyrians,

Veronese and Venetians. Play the comedies that make us laugh

until we cry. And err a hundred times,

as I erred and never withstood the trials,

though I did withstand them time after time.

As Bohemia withstood them and one fine day

was released to the sea and now lies by water.

I still border on a word and on another land,

I border, like little else, on everything more and more,

a Bohemian, a wandering minstrel, who has nothing, who
is held by nothing,
gifted only at seeing, by a doubtful sea,
the land of my choice.
- translated by Peter Filkins

painters and poets

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Joan Mitchell's Response to Frank O'Hara's Poem

Joan Mitchell (February 12, 1925 – October 30, 1992) painted "To the Harbormaster" in 1957 as a tribute to Frank O'Hara's poem. Apparently, there are still a few nuts who think his poem's about the sea.

© Estate of Joan Mitchell

To the Harbormaster

I wanted to be sure to reach you;

though my ship was on the way it got caught

in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks, it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

Frank O'Hara's Response to Larry Rivers' Painting

On Seeing Larry Rivers' "Washington Crossing the Delaware" at the Museum of Modern Art
Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1953
Now that our hero has come back to us
in his white pants and we know his nose
trembling like a flag under fire,
we see the calm cold river is supporting
our forces, the beautiful history.
To be more revolutionary than a nun
is our desire, to be secular and intimate
as, when sighting a redcoat, you smile
and pull the trigger. Anxieties
and animosities, flaming and feeding
on theoretical considerations and
the jealous spiritualities of the abstract,
the robot? they’re smoke, billows above
the physical event. They have burned up.
See how free we are! as a nation of persons.
Dear father of our country, so alive
you must have lied incessantly to be
immediate, here are your bones crossed
on my breast like a rusty flintlock,
a pirate’s flag, bravely specific
and ever so light in the misty glare
of a crossing by water in winter to a shore
other than that the bridge reaches for.
Don’t shoot until, the white of freedom glinting
on your gun barrel, you see the general fear.
For more on the Rivers/O'Hara collaboration read this essay.

Barbara Guest and Mary Abbott

Continued from previous post
In the 50s the poet and art critic Barbara Guest began collaborating with the Abstract Expressionist painter Mary Abbott (read more on Abbott at the McCormick Gallery website). Guest was interested in poems that were essentially words given to an artist who “placed” them in a painting; this was based on the work of surrealist poet Mallarme. The works by Guest/Abbott were first shown at New York's Kornblee Gallery in 1958 along with collaborations by Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara. One such placement painting is Le Chante de Rossignol - For Joseph Cornell. 1959 oil on linen 73" x57″
©2012 by Mary Abbott, used with permission courtesy of the McCormick Gallery, Chicago

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Barbara Guest, Artist and Poet, 1920-2006

Barbara Guest’s poetry is suffused with references to painting, her education as a writer inextricable from Abstract Expressionism as created in New York during the 1950s and ’60s by, among others, her friends Mary Abbott, Helen Frankenthaler, Richard Tuttle, and June Felter. Her articles in ArtNews and Art in America were published as Dürer in the Window, Reflexions on Art. Her Collected Poems was published in 2008.
Here is a sample from “Quilts”:


Reality could be their tassel

and Reality is there, that’s what I

    think about a quilt

it’s Reality, and it satisfied

    Rauschenberg . . .

they gave a dimension to a pattern

weaving in and out in streams

that’s Reality.

Her poem “The Nude” references a drawing by Warren Brandt:
As the swan entered Leda

so the actual timing of an artist’s

     abrupt gesture

Is supernatural despite interferences

of local ornamental mundaneity,

The supernatural contacts ecstasy


in a guise of nudism.

The artist borrows mannerism and


he is free to copy, the other world is


Guest collaborated with artists on many books:
I Ching, with Sheila Isham, 1969, Mourlot Art Editions, Paris, France, 
Musicality, with June Felter, 1988. Kelsey St. Press

The Nude, Warren Brandt, Art Editions, New York,1989

The Altos, with artist Richard Tuttle, Hank Hine Publisher, San Francisco, 1993

Stripped Tales, with artist Anne Dunn, Kelsey St. Berkeley, California, 1995

Strings, with artist Ann Slacik, Paris, France, 1999

The Luminous, with artist Jane Moorman, Palo Alto, California, 1999

Symbiosis, with artist Laurie Reid, Whitney Museum, New York City, 2000, and Kelsey St. Press, 2000.

Her collages were used to illustrate her poetry books.

Here is an essay on ekphrasis in Guest’s poems by Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stanley Moss, Poet and Old Masters Art Dealer

Today I discovered www.stanleymoss.com and spent time reading about Moss' successful career as an art dealer. Then enjoyed poems like this one:

by Stanley Moss
for Yehuda Amichai
Snow clouds shadow the bay, on the ice the odd fallen gull.   
I try to keep my friend from dying by remembering
his childhood of praise to God, who needs us all. Würzburg:   
the grownups are inside saying prayers for the dead,   
the children are sent out to play—their laughter
more sacred than prayer. After dark his father
blesses and kisses him Güttenacht. He wakes
to go to school with children who stayed behind
and were murdered before promotion.

Now his wife lies beside him.
He may die with her head on his pillow.
He sings in his sleep:
“Her breasts are white sheep that appear on the mountain,   
her belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.”   
Awake, he says, as if telling me a secret:
“When metaphor and reality come together, death occurs.”   
His life is a light, fresh snow blowing across the bay.

A year later in Jerusalem, he carries a fallen soldier   
on his back, himself. The text for the day begins:   
“He slew a lion in the pit in a time of snow”   
Seconds, minutes, hours are flesh,
he tells me he is being cut to pieces—
if they had not made him turn in his rifle …
He sees I can not bear more of that.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding   
of hands in sleep and we drink to life.
Chilled in desert heat, what keeps him alive:   
soldiers—his wife, his son and daughter,
perhaps the ashes of a girl he loved in childhood.   
Outside their window
a Sun Bird and Dead Sea Sparrow fly
from everlasting to everlasting.
Later he covers my head with his hands, blessing me,   
later unable to walk alone he holds onto my hand   
with so much strength he comforts me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Monet's "Wheatstacks" Has Youth Appeal

In this youtube.com video, schoolteacher Paula Rucker explains to an audience at the Getty Museum how her young poets react to Monet’s painting “Wheatstacks.” 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Nude Descending a Staircase"

BY X. J. KENNEDY (After the Painting by Marcel DuChamp)

Toe after toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"The Mad Potter," by John Hollander

Now at the turn of the year this coil of clay
Bites its own tail: a New Year starts to choke
On the old one's ragged end.  I bite my tongue
As the end of me--of my rope of stuff and nonsense
(The nonsense held, it was the stuff that broke),
Of bones and light, of levity and crime,
Of reddish clay and hope--still bides its time.

Each of my pots is quite unusable,
Even for contemplating as an object
Of gross unuse.  In its own mode of being
Useless, though, each of them remains unique,
Subject to nothing, and themselves unseeing,
Stronger by virtue of what makes them weak.

I pound at all my clay.  I pound the air.
This senseless lump, slapped into something like
Something, sits bound around by my despair.
For even as the great Creator's free
Hand shapes the forms of life, so--what?  This pot,
Unhollowed solid, too full of itself,
Runneth over with incapacity.
I put it with the others on the shelf.

These tiny cups will each provide one sip
Of what's inside them, aphoristic prose
Unwilling, like full arguments, to make
Its points, then join them in extended lines
Like long draughts from the bowl of a deep lake.
The honey of knowledge, like my milky slip,
Firms slowly up against what merely flows.

Some of my older pieces bore inscriptions
That told a story only when you'd learned
How not to read them: LIVE reverted to EVIL,
EROS kept running backwards into SORE.
Their words, all fired up for truth, got burned.
I'll not write on weak vessels any more.

My juvenalia?  I gave them names
In those days: Hans was all handles and no spout;
Bernie believed the whole world turned about
Himself alone; Sadie was close to James
(But Herman touched her bottom when he could);
Paul fell to pieces; Peter wore away
To nothing; Len was never any good;
Alf was a flat, random pancake, May
An opened blossom; Bud was an ash-tray.
Even their names break off, though; Whatsisface,
That death-mask of Desire, and--you know!--
The smaller version of that (Oh, what was it?--
You know . . .)  All of my pots now have to go
By number only.  Which is no disgrace.

Begin with being--in an anagram
Of unending--conclude in some dark den;
This is no matter.  What I've been, I am:
What I will be is what I make of all
This clay, this moment. Now begin again . . .
Poured out of emptiness, drop by slow drop,
I start up at the quarreling sounds of water.
Pots cry out silently at me to stop.

What are we like? A barrelfull of this
Oozy wet substance, shadow-crammed, whose smudges
Of darkness lurk within but rise to kiss
The fingers that disturb the gently edges
Of their bland world of shapelessness and bliss.

The half-formed cup cries out in agony,
The lump of clay suffers a silent pain.
I heard the cup, though, full of feeling, say
"O clay be true, O clay keep constant to
Your need to take, again and once again,
This pounding from your mad creator who
Only stops hurting when he's hurting you."

What will I then have left behind me?  Over
The years I have originated some
Glazes that wear away at what they cover
And weep for what they never can become.
My Deadware, widely imitated; blue
Skyware of an amazing lightness; tired
Hopewear that I abandoned for my own
Good reasons; Hereware; Thereware; ware that grew
Weary of everything that earth desired;
Hellware that dances while it's being fired,
Noware that vanishes while being thrown.

Appearing to be silly, wisdom survives
Like tribes of superseded gods who go
Hiding in caves of triviality
From which they laughingly control our lives.
So with my useless pots: safe from the blow
Of carelessness, or outrage at their flaws,
They brave time's lion and his smashing paws.
--All of which tempts intelligence to call
Pure uselessness one more commodity.
The Good-for-Nothing once became our Hero,
But images of him, laid-back, carelessly
Laughing, were upright statues after all.
From straight above, each cup adds up to zero.

Clay to clay: Soon I shall indeed become
Dumb as these solid cups of hardened mud
(Dull terra cruda colored like our blood);
Meanwhile the slap and thump of palm and thumb
On wet mis-shapenness begins to hum
With meaning that was silent for so long.
The words of my wheel's turning come to ring
Truer than Truth itself does, my great 
Ding Dong-an-sich that echoes everything
(Against it even lovely bells ring wrong):
Its whole voice gathers up the purest parts
Of all our speech, the vowels of the earth,
The aspirations of our hopeful hearts
Or the prophetic sibilance of song.

"Archaic Torso of Apollo," by Rainer Maria Rilke

Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
translated by Stephen Mitchell

"Number 1 by Jackson Pollock," Nancy Sullivan

No name but a number.
Jackson Pollock's "Number 1"

Trickles and valleys of paint
Devise this maze
Into a game of Monopoly
Without any bank. Into
A linoleum on the floor
In a dream. Into
Murals inside of the mind.
No similes here. Nothing
But paint. Such purity
Taxes the poem that speaks
Still of something in a place
Or at a time.
How to realize his question

Let alone his answer?

"The Painting," John Balaban

The stream runs clear to its stones;
the fish swim in sharp outline.
Girl, turn your face for me to draw.
Tomorrow, if we should drift apart,
I shall find you by this picture.

"Joseph Cornell, with Box" by Michael Dumanis

World harbors much I'd like to fit inside
that the parameters preclude me from.

I'm the desire to have had a say.
I'm the desire to be left alone

amid brochures for Europe's best hotels
behind a locked door on Utopia Parkway,

where Brother, crippled, rides his chariot,
where Mother's all dressed up and going nowhere.

Together, sotto voce, we count hours,
fuss over newsprint, water down the wine.

When I was shorter, we were all divine.
When I was shorter, I was infinite

and felt less fear of being understood.
I am the fear of being understood.

I am the modest Joe who hems and haws
at blond cashiers ensconced in ticket booths.

Lacking the words to offer her the flowers
I'd spent a fortnight locating the words

to offer her, I threw the flowers at her.
As penance, I entrenched you, Doll, in wood.

Through your shaved bark and twigs, you stared at me.
Being a woman was out of the question.

Being a question caused women to wonder.
How unrestrained you must feel, Wind and Water.

You are the obligation, Box, to harbor
each disarray and ghost. I am the author,

the authored by. I am a plaything of.
Who makes who Spectacle. Who gives whom Order.

My father was a man who lived and died.
He would commute from Nyack to New York.

The woolen business had its ups and downs.
How unrestrained you've become, Cage and Coffin.

There is an order to each spectacle.
You are the obligation, Wind, to sunder

this relic of. Am reliquary for
the off-white light of January morning.

Have seen you, Fairies, in your apricot
and chestnut negligees invade the mirror,

tiptoe on marbles, vanish from the scene.
Am reliquary for what World has seen.

I'm the ballet of wingspan, the cracked mirror.
Canary's coffin. Sunshine breaking through.