Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Poet Colette Inez and Painter James Ensor in Brussels

The Entry of James Ensor into My Memories of Brussels
by Colette Inez
(My first years, and those of Belgian painter James Ensor's last, quickly slipped by in Belgium.)

Self-Portrait, 1883
James Ensor Speaks of Colors and the Stormy Reception That
Greeted His Work

"My colors are purified...integral and personal.  Yet I upset convention...I was called nasty, bad...a simple cabbage became obscene; my placid interiors...hotbeds of revolution.  Critics...snarled without let up...."1.

I Speak of Birdsong Street, of My Beginnings

On the Rue Chants D'Oiseaux, I warbled Sanctus from a small rose mouth. Puny recruit in the militant church, my blue uniform drew motes of silver dust, gray lint, yellow pollen from trees in a spring Brussels doled out as a gift to each inhabitant.

Love child, bundled off to the Catholic sisters, over the years I spooned simple cabbage in soups and stews without letup, sniffed nasty and agreeable smells in placid interiors.  Lilacs and farts.  Garlic and apples.

My walls were the grey white of fog-edged skies in autumn, of oyster shells, and rows of iron beds planting shadows like columns in an underwater light. Fumbling for a chamber pot in the dark, I smelled the waters of my body.  When I rolled out from a flannel bolt of dreams, what was real?  Piss that streamed in a roar.  Like a waterfall.

James Ensor Writes of His Painting "The Consoling Virgin"

"I had a glimpse of the Consoling Virgin...recorded her peaceful features on a panel of good quality.  I kissed her little feet of snow and mother-of-pearl.  On the hard substance of the old panel, the diaphanous image can still be made out...."
Adam and Eve Expelled
 from Paradise,

I Describe the Holy Mother and Reflect on My Parents

Stained-glass windows beckoned me to begin such reveries as I could draw out of my body at matins, vespers and lauds.  Snowy lamb of God lulled by Vierge Marie, who attended my prayers, a blue cloak falling to her feet.  If she is the mother of God, God and Jesus are brothers.  I asked but no one answered me.  The God I believed in saw me squat on the toilet, a pimple on my rump, snot in my mouth.  Didn't Sister say he was everywhere at once?  Integral and personal?

Did my mother wear pearls?  Did my father work the clasp to slip them off her neck?  Before I was born my father kissed her little feet. Perhaps.  My parents were diaphanous images.  Yet I waited for them to shelter me, prayed they would come when I sang French words.  Fleur-de-lis and alouette.
The Entry of Christ Into Brussels in 1889

James Ensor Writes About Words

"Ah, but I love to draw beautiful words, like trumpets of light...words in the steel-blue color of certain insects, words with the scent of vibrant silks, subtle words of fragrant roses and seaweed...words whispered by fishes in the pink ears of shells...."

I Leave Belgium for Another Country

When I quit Brussels in the spring just before the war, sailed past Ensor strolling on the beach at Ostend, my words adored the ship coaxing me to America on the steel-blue waters of the sea.  Fishes sang green and orange notes in my ear without reasons.  Explorations.  I will learn of my dead father's holy words, the rain of gray words in my mother's letters will bathe me in cool weather.

James Ensor in His "Reflection on Art"

"Our vision is modified as we observe.  The first vision... is the simple line, unadorned, unconcerned with color. The second stage is when the better-trained eye discerns values of the tones, their subtleties and play of light…."

Colette Inez in Her Reflections on Memory

The simple lines of trees on the Rue Chants D'Oiseaux, the parallel lines of trolley tracks.  The Children's Home. The shadow of the iron gate.  Where did they go?  To the heaven  of seaweed and roses Ensor gathered in plays of light?  And the child I ask what am I to learn in the subtle world?  And I answer her, to draw consoling words out of the air.  To arrange them like irises in a vase, to weave them into proof our lives like a sea teem with remembrances.  To endure.  Integral and personal.

1. Letters of the Great Artists, from Blake to Pollock, Random House, l963, pp 174-l77, Ensor's translator: Paul Haesaerts.

Poem first published in the Northwest Review, March 1990.

Colette Inez, born 1931 in Brussels, Belgium, is an American poet and a faculty member at Columbia University’s Undergraduate Writing Program. She has published 10 poetry collections and won the Guggenheim Fellowship, Rockefeller Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts (NEA Fellowships) and many other awards.

James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor (1860-1949) was a Belgian painter and printmaker, an important influence on expressionism and surrealism who lived in Ostend, Belgium. He was associated with the artistic group Les XX.

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