Monday, March 25, 2013

Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

Mark Nepo's "Fire Without Witness" is an epic poem that centers on Michelangelo as he paints The Sistine Ceiling. While painting the different panels, he reveals stories of his time, his life, and through his dreams, the future. As the panels are painted, the prophets and sibyls and objects of Creation come alive, unknown to Michelangelo, and tell their stories. The poem presents two skewed realities, and while at times the Biblical and mythic voices see Michelangelo, they never reach his awareness. 
The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.
About his work, Nepo says "It took me ten years to write the poem, which seems now a painting itself. It seems a vision of that rim between the human and the infinite, where our body of sense almost leaves us, than settles and hardens into what we are. And when dealing with the infinite, all comes down to one encompassing, unnamable source, one fire without witness. As Michelangelo himself put it, “What is in the very center is always free.”

From Part III: Michelangelo stalls on the scaffold to recall how he first saw the Pieta, complete, in the unquarried marble at Carrara.

"Someday, I'll carve a Venus, bunching
the warm breasts high, the silk legs closed,
the most perfect virgin, with everything
to give, and no desire.

O what if Heaven is as cold.
The things I love most wait hunched
in the white Carrara grove, never
where the workmen mutter. Like fish,
the statues scatter from the lines.
I hunt alone, away from the crews,
and the statues pull back, deep
in the thick of the mountain.
They hold still as the stone,
and some arch themselves
along the inner faults,
dreaming slowly
not to be found.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Painter Joan Mitchell and Poet James Schuyler Go Right on Shining

Two Poems by James Schuyler


And when I thought,
“Our love might end”
the sun
went right on shining


The mint bed is in

bloom: lavender haze
day. The grass is
more than green and
throws up sharp and
cutting lights to
slice through the
plane tree leaves. And
on the cloudless blue
I scribble your name.

© Estate of Joan Mitchell

Despite this fierce photo, Schuyler's readings of his poems is incredibly gentle. He, Ashbery, O'Hara and Koch were part of a New York group of poets, who retreated to the Hamptons in summer and collaborated with painters Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Jane Freulicher, Nell Blaine, and Grace Hartigan.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hecht and Bellini "At the Frick"

Giovanni Bellini, "St. Francis in Ecstasy," 1480
Poet Anthony Hecht 

At the Frick
by Anthony Hecht

Before a grotto of blue-tinted rock
Master Bellini has set down St. Francis.
A light split through the Apennines to lock,
Counter, and splice man’s painful doubleness.
Else he could weakly couple at the belt
His kite-mind to his cloven nether parts
That seek to dance their independent dances.
The sudden light descending came to bless
His hands and feet with blisters, and to melt
With loving that most malleable of hearts.

Birds in the trees his chronicles recite:
How that God made of him a living net
To catch all graces, yet to let through light.
Fisher of birds and lepers, lost in thought,
Darkly emblazoned, where the oblivious mule
Champs at the grasses and the sunset rusts
The hilltop fortress, where the painter set
Heron and rabbit, it was here he caught
Holiness that came swimming like a school
Of silver fishes to outlast his lusts.

Now I have seen those mountains, and have seen
The fawn go frozen on the road with fear
Of the careening autobus, the sheen
Of its dilated eyes flash in its head
Like glass reflectors, and have seen the trees
As green as ever where their braches thresh
The warm Italian winds of one more year
Since that great instant. The painter’s dead
Who brought the Doge and nobles to the knees
Of the wind’s Brother Francis in the flesh.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Poet Mueller and Painter Delvaux, "The Village of the Mermaids"

Lisel Mueller

Paul Delvaux: The Village 
of the Mermaids
Oil on canvas, 1942
Who is that man in black,
away from us into the distance? 

The painter, they say, took a long time

finding his vision of the world. 

The mermaids, if that is what they are 

under their full-length skirts, 

sit facing each other

all down the street, more of an alley, 

in front of their gray row houses. 

They all look the same, like a fair-haired 

order of nuns, or like prostitutes 

with chaste, identical faces. 

How calm they are, with their vacant eyes,

their hands in laps that betray nothing. 

Only one has scales on her dusky dress. 

It is 1942; it is Europe,

and nothing fits. The one familiar figure

is the man in black approaching the sea,
and he is small and walking away from us. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

"American Gothic" by Poet John Stone

Our favorite couple...taking a photo op.

American Gothic, 1930 by Grant Wood
American Gothic
John Stone (1998)

Just outside the frame 

there has to be a dog 

chickens, cows and hay 

and a smokehouse

where a ham in hickory

is also being preserved 

Here for all time

the borders of the Gothic window 

anticipate the ribs 

of the house 

the tines of the pitchfork

repeat the triumph 

of his overalls
and front and center

the long faces, the sober lips 

above the upright spines

of this couple 

arrested in the name of art 

These two 

by now

the sun this high

ought to be 

in mortal time 

about their businesses 

Instead they linger
within the patient fabric 

of the lives they wove 

he asking the artist silently 

how much longer

and worrying about the crops 

she no less concerned about the crops

but more to the point just now 

whether she remembered 

to turn off the stove.