Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fragonard Welcomes Spring (It Can't Be Long Now)

Here is poet George Spencer's "Swinging with Fragonard or Les Hasards Heureux de l'Escarpolette" from his collection An Unpious Pilgrim:

Dragonflies skim glowing ponds slowly greening.
All's a-simmer in the sod,
seeds soaked beyond the succulence of love
and then the thawing of motion
all leading to Fragonard's fragrant world.

What knickers             what knockers,
a maiden with a tiara of tulips on a swing
and peeping putti in the weeds
while the wind abounds with love songs,
singing of drum majorettes,
of lust's bejeweled slippers.

O bring on green swag to frame the moon,
luxurious bling to light this electric circus
on a night with a sweet tooth for May's candy
as the earth yields little green mouths,
toothless, longing for love and shouting:
                    Hello to spring
Les Hasards Heureux de l'Escarpolette
 by Jean HonorĂ© Fragonard, 1767-69 

More on Spencer at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Walt Whitman's Answering Service" by Philip Dacey

I'm still enjoying this remarkably versatile poet (see previous post), author of The Mystery of Max Schmitt: Poems on the Life and Work of Thomas Eakins (Turning Point Books, 2004). His homepage is
Innisfree Journal poems and comments about the poet.

Walt Whitman's Answering Service
Poet Philip Dacey

Who calls here,
hankering, gross, mystical, nude?

Did you expect to find me at home?
Then you do not know me.
I am never at home.
I am always on the road.
All roads lead to the telephone;
wherever you go, on or off
the road, a telephone wire
sings beside you.

I knew you would call.
Everyone does,
in his or her own way.
All the wrong numbers you dial
are meant for me,
are the attempts of your better self
to make the call
you are afraid to make.

If you would have me know who you are,
leave no name or number,
simply give to this line
the mist of your breath
and I will recognize you.

I will call you back
unless you wait by the phone
for me to call you back.
Be confident, but be warned:
my voice could be disguised
as anything, anything.

If you love me,
if you truly wish to get through to me,
you will hang up
at the sound of the tone
and dial your own number.
If the line is busy
or no one answers,
consider yourself lucky,
you can always call again.
If the line is out of order,
remember, you are the only repairman.
If the line has been disconnected,
remember, the only phone company
is yourself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Poet Philip Dacey on Thomas Eakins' Painting

The Mystery of Max Schmitt
by Philip Dacey 

In a few years, money will corrupt 

even sculling, the bets and scandals

sink industrial America's first 

public sport--the rower as hero,

the news papers awash with statistics, 

the dimensions of boats—
but now I am fresh from victory, 

letting myself enjoy the drift

after exertion, a starboard turn 

Champion Single Sculls (1871)   by Thomas Eakins 
past where I have turned 

to look over my shoulder 

and find you standing on the bank.

Here the river, a wide paten, 

lifts light like a host,  

the bread of time

an arrested moment,

nothing cast away in a vain hope 

of multiplying it. 

Here I am a pause 

within a pause.

My paddles feather in the water 

just enough to slip under its skin.

A lawyer by trade, used to the drag and  

of statutes and codes,

I love the language of rowing, its purl  

against the hull--

to feather, to settle,

to catch, kiss, cox,

to fly and die, 

but most, to swing,

to move in a perfect harmony 

of body and boat, muscle and machine, 

until boundaries dissolve 

and the sky could be water,

the water my rushing thought.

In the middle distance, Tom 

twenty-seven and just back from France, 

ambitious to part all the waters,

strains in a boat that carries his name. 

Our wakes tell the story, 

how we passed each other, 

two old friends from boyhood,  

just before you came.

Such a spacious afternoon on the


Such a promise of easy freedom, 

yet I hold you fast, 

the light turning my skin 

nearly white, like that of some 

athletic ghost  

as my eyes fix you in their gaze,

from which you cannot escape,

though you will proceed on your way.

For I knew you would be there

when I looked over my shoulder. 

It is why I turned to this side, 

singling you out from the others, 

and why you wonder 

about our connection, the strength 

of what burns between us in the air; 

as if  I were more than myself, or other-- 

Tom, say, looking out through these eyes,

his absorption in his own rowing

a deliberate misdirection, 

or even you,  

that too familiar stranger 

glanced in the calm surface of any mirror

and stroked furiously away from 

for so many years.

A sculler, I must face backwards 

to move forwards  

so that looking over my shoulder 

I seem to be moving into a future

that is already, before its time, all past.

How strange now to hold both oars loosely in 
one hand! 
Like the four ducks that have folded their 

A kind of amen

And you, when you leave me, 

will you drift or steer, 

and which course, 

past or future? 

Why do we wound the water 

to move forward? 

The wider the wake, the sooner it will  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Poet Denise Levertov on Painting and Photography

Denise Levertov

Looking at Photographs

I have always had a strong love for looking at paintings – a love for color, for the thickness or thinness of paint, and for the miraculous coexistence of sensuous surface reality – brush marks and the grain of canvas showing through – with illusion, the depicted world to be entered. And in thinking about the process of writing poetry, I have often drawn analogies with the painting process, feeling a correspondence, for instance, between the intuited need in one poem for a limpid fluidity of diction and rhythm and the intuited need for transparent color and flowing line in a certain painting; or again, between the compositional need for strong and harsh outlines or heavy thick paint in one painting and for halting rhythms and thick heavy words in a certain poem. The standing back to regard the whole canvas from time to time, then returning to the close embrace of details, also has its parallel in the experience of writing a poem. Yet I have come to see that the art of photography shares with poetry a factor more fundamental: it makes its images by means anybody and everybody uses for the most banal purposes, just as poetry makes it structures, its indivisibilities of music and meaning, out of the same language used for utilitarian purposes, for idle chatter, or for uninspired lying.

Because of this resemblance in the conditions of the two arts – because the camera, like language, is put to constant nonartistic use, quotidian use by nonspecialists, as the painter’s materials (though often misused) are not – a poet finds, I think, a kind of stimulation and confirmation in experiencing the work of photographic artists that is more specific, closer to his poetic activity, than the pleasure and love he feels in looking at paintings. I can often turn to fine photographs to help myself discover next steps in a poem I am writing: almost it’s as if I can respond to such photographs because I’m a working poet, while my response to painting, intense though it is, is in some degree detached from my life as as active artist, is a more passive receptivity.

Even though one may never write a poem directly inspired by a photograph, these images drawn from the same sources the poet’s own eye can see (photography having even at its most individual, subjective, or transformational, a relationship to the optical far more basic than that of painting) and which are transformed into high art through a medium of unexotic availability, connect at a deep level with the poetic activity; and are, in fact, possible sources – as nature is source – for the poet, to the degree that paintings are not, even to someone who loves them as much as I do. Perhaps another way of saying it would be that photographs – and I don’t mean only documentary photographs – teach the poet to see better, or renew his seeing in ways closer to the kind of seeing he needs to do for his own work, than paintings do; while the stimulus of paintings for the poet as poet. i.e., their specific value for him aside from his general human enjoyment of them, may have more to do with his compositional gesture-sense (as music may) than with the visual.

painters and poets

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Don't Let That Horse Eat That Violin"

One of our favorites by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Marc Chagall's "The Horse with Violin in Mouth"
Don’t let that horse
                        eat that violin 

   cried Chagall’s mother

                                But he 
                      kept right on

And became famous

And kept on painting
                        The Horse With Violin In Mouth

The Poet Reading

And when he finally finished it 
he jumped up upon the horse
                                and rode away 
         waving the violin

And then with a low bow gave it
to the first naked nude he ran across

And there were no strings 

from Coney Island of the Mind, New Directions, 1958

painters and poets

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Anne Sexton's "The Starry Night"

I've been reading Maxine Kumin's wonderful tribute to her friend and colleague the poet Anne Sexton "A Friendship Remembered" in To Make a Prairie. Here is Sexton's
"The Starry Night":

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall 

I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.
- Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

Anne Sexton, “The Starry Night” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. Reprinted with the permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.
Source: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981)

“Starry Night” is currently on view at MOMA in New York. Read more here 

Sexton Reading her Poem

painters and poets

Sunday, January 6, 2013

George Schneeman's Collaborative Art

George Schneeman, 1934-2009, lived and worked on New York's Lower East Side and in Tuscany. He created hundreds of paintings and collages with poets Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Michael Brownstein, Tom Clark, Edwin Denby, Larry Fagin, Dick Gallup, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Greenwald, Steve Katz, Lewis MacAdams, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, Harris Schiff, Peter Schjeldahl, Tom Veitch, Anne Waldman, and Lewis Warsh. He also created cover art for his friends' poetry collections. Read his NY Times obituary here. Read a review of his work at a Brooklyn Gallery here.

George Schneeman and Anne Waldman by Daniela Mugelli

George Schneeman and Ron Padgett, (1967) Collage 

painters and poets