Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Poet Jee Leong Koh Studies Self-Portraits by Durer, Warhol...

Jee Leong Koh is the author of four books of poems: Payday Loans (2007), Equal to the Earth (2009), Seven Studies for a Self Portrait (2011), and The Pillow Book (2012). In Seven Studies, the self appears first as a suite of seven ekphrastic poems (below),  then as free verse profiles, riddles, sonnet sequences, and finally a divan of 49 ghazals. Koh curates the website Singapore Poetry, a gallery of all things poetic about Singapore. Born and raised in Singapore, he lives in New York City and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter.

Albrecht Durer 
Self-Portrait at Age 28, 1500

Study #1: After Albrecht Dürer

Double eye. Double bind. Double blind.
The dark paints the dark in the dark.
I am the Christ. I am not the Christ.
I am not making claims, or so I claim.
So I watch my eyes, my eyes that work
in blue, in all that looks beautifully true.                               
When the doormaker throws the sun in
my face, and shows my eyes are brown,
you shan’t take my word for it any more.
Word can stand down, leave by the door.  

Study #2: After Rembrandt van Rijn
Rembrandt van Rijn
 Self-Portrait, 1659

The guarantee is your willingness to make faces
at yourself, and to let the weather do likewise.
No plastic surgery. No wrinkle cream. No hair dye.
Laugh lines, you mock the sudden errors in the text.
The serious creases supertitle a slow crash.
This face is, you claim with a golden flourish, me.
Well, in that case, who am I? Who is this writing
about you, making you up as I paint, repaint,
affording you the best lines, begging a few laughs?
Who but this dour worrier is your dear guarantor?

Vincent van Gogh 
Self-Portrait, 1889

Study #3: After Vincent van Gogh
God sank a mineshaft into me for a reason
I could not see in the coalmining district.
Coal dust ate the baby potatoes and beer.
When a man slammed into a woman, dust
climbed in their heads and formed a cloud.
I carried away what was mine, and burned
black into blue, red to rose, yellow to gold.
I burn a house and change it to a church.
I burn the fuse of flesh and my face bursts,
a wheel of fireworks, a vase of sunflowers.

Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait, 1911

Study #4: After Egon Schiele
Look at me, cock in my claws,
combcrimson from scratching.
Skinny arms kink round my back
but can’t kill the screeching itch.
The hand can’t scratch its bones.
I snap off the blackened arrows
but their featherless beaks stab
the crying katydids, their broken
feet catch in the scattered flesh.
I stretch the canvas on the rack.                                                  

Frida Kahlo
Self-Portrait with Monkey, 1938

Study #5: After Frida Kahlo

I dream I am a wreck of a woman.

I am not grand like ruins, I am not a broken column.

I am the traffic accident on morning radio.
A bus handrail is sticking in my uterus like a huge thumbtack.

My collarbone hangs from my throat like a necklace.

I dream a monkey is picking up bits of my spine with his pale hands.

The monkey is carefully arranging me back together.

I hear the Professor say the monkey is the traditional symbol for lust.

My monkey is very gentle.

When he is finished, I will take him to my breast, and offer him my nipple.

Andy Warhol
Self-Portrait, 1986
Study #6: After Andy Warhol

Why be a man when you can be a brand?
Be copies the machine clicks to the market
to compete against other copies for a niche.
Not Nietzsche but Benjamin. My fancy
education. My immigrant genes. My coming
out or not coming out, and other agony stories.
What are they but printings on silkscreens,
recognizable by the cock or the shock of hair?
I’m waiting, like a dupe, in a photo booth,
wondering if I would pay for duplicates.

 Study #7: After Yasumasa Morimura

Yasumasa Morimura, 
After Marilyn Monroe, 1996
After strapping the tits to my cricket chest
and pulling the famous hair over my scalp,
I talk to Marilyn about loving Art, playing
dumb blonde, being closeted as one thing.

She answers, with a toss of her head,
her nipples erect as the stalk of a fruit,
Grab me.
                I demur. Soft from politeness
or fear or disbelief.

                                She takes my hands
by the wrists, presses them between her
thighs. Now we can talk about anything.

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