Thursday, September 27, 2012

Paintings of E.E. Cummings


As a poet, E. E. Cummings has enjoyed wide popularity during the 20th century, and great critical acclaim. His poetry has been widely hailed for its experimental form, typography, grammar, and word coinages, as well as for the subtlety and sensitivity of its perceptions and feeling. His nonfiction prose has been praised for its bitter wit and for the clarity and forcefulness of its expression, revealing Cummings as an intelligent, critical observer and chronicler of the modern, who, bound to no school of writing, expresses himself as an idiosyncratic individualist. His highly developed sense of the aesthetic was married to a deep skepticism toward that which was fashionable but uninformed by critical intelligence and the warmth of the human heart. Ezra Pound went so far as to place Cummings' EIMI as the second most important book of the 20th century, ahead of James Joyce's Ulysses and second only to Wyndham Lewis's The Apes of God.
Less well-known are Cummings' achievements as a visual artist and the extent to which they express in an entirely different medium the same aesthetic principles and rigorous artistic intelligence that inform his poetry. Cummings viewed himself as much a painter as a poet, as evidenced by the enormous amount of time and energy he devoted to this lesser-known half of his "twin obsession." Not only did Cummings spend a greater portion of his time painting than writing, he also produced thousands of pages of carefully thought-out notes concerning his own aesthetics of painting: color-theory, analysis of the human form, the "intelligence" of painting, reflections on the Masters…
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painters and poets

Paul Klee "On Modern Art"

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.
—Paul Klee.

Known today almost exclusively as a visual artist, Paul Klee (1879-1940) was also a poet who experimented across a range of poetic forms. In 1901, while still vacillating between a career as a painter and one as a poet, Klee predicted he would end up expressing himself through the word, "the highest form of art." Among Klee's written works is the essay On Modern Art, published in 1966:

"In the womb of nature, at the source of creation, where the secret key to all lies guarded.
   But not all can enter. each should follow where the pulse of his own heart leads.
   So, in their time, the Impressionists - our opposites of yesterday - had every right to dwell within the matted undergrowth of every-day vision.
   But our pounding heart drives us down, deep down to the source of all.
   What springs from this source, whatever it be called, dreams or idea or fantasy - must be taken seriously only if it unites with the proper creative means to form a work of art."


Order On Modern Art here

W.H. Auden on Vincent Van Gogh

Auden wrote perhaps the most famous poem about a painting, his "Musee des Beaux Arts," and used visual art as a theme in many poems. His review of Van Gogh's Complete Correspondence was later edited and published as Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait. Here is an excerpt: 
"The 19th century created the myth of the Artist as Hero, the man who sacrifices his health and happiness to his art and in compensation claims exemption from all social responsibilities and norms of behavior.

"At first sight Van Gogh seems to fit the myth exactly. He dresses and lives like a tramp, he expects to be supported by others, he works at his painting like a fiend, he goes mad. Yet the more one reads these letters, the less like the myth he becomes.

"He knows he is neurotic and difficult but he does not regard this as a sign of superiority, but as an illness like heart disease...."
Read more here

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Manet's Olympia" by Margaret Atwood

 Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, Musee d'Orsay
She reclines, more or less,
Try that posture, it's hardly languor.
Her right arm sharp angles.
With her left she conceals her ambush.
Shoes but not stockings, 
how sinister. The flower
behind her ear is naturally
not real, of a piece
with the sofa's drapery.
The windows (if any) are shut.
This is indoor sin.
Above the head of the (clothed) maid
is an invisible voice balloon: Slut.

But. Consider the body,
unfragile, defiant, the pale nipples
staring you right in the bull's eye.
Consider also the black ribbon
around the neck. What's under it?
A fine red threadline, where the head
was taken off and glued back on.
The body's on offer,
but the neck's as afar as it goes.

This is no morsel.
Put clothes on her and you'd have a schoolteacher,
the kind with the brittle whiphand.

There's someone else in this room.
You, Monsieur Voyeur. 
As for that object of yours
she's seen those before, and better.

I, the head, am the only subject
of this picture.
You, Sir, are furniture.
Get stuffed.


Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House: New Poems (1995).

c. painters and poets

Marianne Moore's Desk, as Recalled by Robert Andrew Parker


The painter Robert Andrew Parker collaborated with the poet Marianne Moore on “Eight Poems,” published by MOMA in 1962. Here is his reaction to Moore's home on West Ninth Street:

“A very fragile place, very fine, well-waxed, everything treated carefully and shown with pride. She sent me a photograph of her desk once. On it were a leopard made of bone with painted spots, an elephant with his legs stretched out like a rocking chair’s, an early engraving of a rhinoceros, some candles, a Russian icon, some brass boxes for stamps, some bells, a photo in a round frame of her father. I saw a picture of Francis Bacon’s studio once, ankle-deep in torn paper, rags, crushed tubes, cigarette stubs, all sorts of filth. I thought how right and appropriate it was, all connected to his work. I felt the same way about Marianne Moore’s house: everything had to do with her work—the quality, the attention to detail, the perfection of it all. And the smell of a particular furniture wax that indicates a rich, well-ordered house.”

Reprinted from Poets on Painters, edited by J. D. McClatchy, U. of California Press, 1988.
Robert Andrew Parker,
“Cow in Field I”

More on Moore 
More on Parker

W. C. Williams and Matisse's "Blue Nude"


William Carlos Williams “A Matisse”
Matisse, Blue Nude, 1907, Baltimore Museum of Art
From Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams, New Directions, 1969.
On the French grass, in that room on Fifth Ave., lay that woman who had never seen my own poor land. The dust and noise of Paris had fallen from her with the dress and underwear and shoes and stockings which she had just put aside to lie bathing in the sun. So too she lay in the sunlight of the man’s easy attention. His eye and the sun had made day over her. She gave herself to them both for there was nothing to be told. Nothing is to be told to the sun at noonday. A violet clump before her belly mentioned that it was spring. A locomotive could be heard whistling beyond the hill. There was nothing to be told. Her body was neither classic nor whatever it might be supposed. There she lay and her curving torso and thighs were close upon the grass and violets.

So he painted her. The sun had entered his head in the color of sprays of flaming palm leaves. They had been walking for an hour or so after leaving the train. They were hot. She had chosen the place to rest and he had painted her resting, with interest in the place she had chosen.

It had been a lovely day in the air. ---What pleasant women are these girls of ours! When they have worn clothes and take them off it is with an effect of having performed a small duty. They return to the sun with a gesture of accomplishment. ---Here she lay in this spot today not like Diana or Aphrodite but with better proof than they of regard for the place she was in. She rested and he painted her.

It was the first of summer. Bare as was his mind of interest in anything save the fullness of his knowledge, into which her simple body entered as into the eye of the sun himself, so he painted her. So she came to America.

No man in my country has seen a woman naked and painted her as if he knew anything except that she was naked. No woman in my country is naked except at night.

In the french sun, on the french grass in a room on Fifth Ave., a french girl lies and smiles at the sun without seeing us.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ekphrastic Poems by Mary Jo Bang

Abstract Painting, Blue
(Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, Blue, Oil on canvas, 1952)

Why are children jealous
of their fathers? Steps
run up against the stones
which gate tombs,
flagstone oratories
where the organ murmured,
where the dead posed face.
Nothing water bottles!

A youth carries out in leaves
a greyhound. Do they cry?
They cry I. I am not unaware.
The curious remain
a chorus. Time took a step
and said, who expired?
Some rich person,
another right hand.

And art?
I was occupied.
Exempt at the time.
One of the monstrous figures
that sculptors attach
by the shoulders to gutters
squeaked and twisted.
I encouraged a smile.

Art gave me the first
conditions of art,
which is idea. Isn't this the "here Me I exist"?
That positive orates the room.
In drama everywhere is seen,
as I see you. It is better
than the mirror.

Scissors sound from the vault
and then ... And then? And then
the street woke up me.
I had a dream. It was Saturday.
What do you want?
Theory to be forced to answer the curious.

Rock and Roll Is Dead, The Novel Is Dead, God Is Dead, Painting Is Dead
(Bruce Pearson, Rock and Roll Is Dead, the Novel Is Dead, God Is Dead, 

Painting Is DeadAcrylic on styrofoam, 2003) 

Ultimately, it's forensics.
Electric energy permanently turned
to a flat state.
A stainless steel basin
out of which the caged Eden weasel eats

what Eden weasels eat.
From the iceberg, you can see
any number of active disasters,
each with its own way of unraveling
into further catastrophe.

In the next scene,
the colored domino moments meet
in a clap-clap racket that meshes
with a lean hiss
from a deflating inflatable snake.

Chaos is a scream. This is all I know:
it's cold although not completely
covered in ice. People still exist.
Can we discuss the role of allegory
in private mythologies?

Mirage metamorphosis
advances unhampered.
We're at...


In an interview, Mary Jo Bang described her own approach to ekphrastic poems: "I am taking an existing work of art and rewriting over it. I'm imposing a new narrative on it, one that is partially suggested by the artwork itself and partially by something that comes from within. Sometimes that thing is an autobiographical moment, sometimes it's a larger concern, social or political or intellectual."

A review of ekphrastic poetry by Mary Jo Bang and Debora Greger.