Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Artists Käthe Kollwitz and Dorothea Tanning Meet in the Virtual Studio

Self-portrait seated at a table, 1892
Self-Portraits: Käthe Kollwitz 
by Susanna Lang

She was old even when she was young.
Kept late-night vigil, the lamp
shining white on her smooth skin,
the unmarked page, her stilled hands.

The same eyes look out from
her sketch at 60, my age now. 
The years between all war years.
Her gaze disembodied, no paper

ready for her pencil, no hands,
only a smudge of charcoal
haloing her face. The same
downturned mouth.

She knew even before her child
was born, what emptiness
would hollow out her body
Self-Portrait en face, 1923
at his death; had swallowed

the grief of all the mothers who sat
by all the deathbeds, heads in their hands
and the long night folding
like a cloak around their shoulders.

After Dorothea Tanning's Still in the Studio, 1979
by William V. Ray

Use blunt edges.  Thick black.  Face — make it red as intrusion.  Use a knife.  Use the

pistol-handled brush.

Studio — a fragile ark.                                                             Studio — razor line.
Scrape it off.  Scrape it.  

In my head but they’ll see it.

  Ghetto-brown window.  Way in and out.

Can’t turn to face who’s in the room.

About her painting Tanning wrote: "April 1976. There is no light in the studio, nothing moves and the colored jokes are fading fast. The disorder is grievous. (Is the heart condemned to break each day?)

June. Still in the studio. Everything is there at the bottom of my crazy brain. Everything. But it’s stone-heavy and will not rise. Most of the time it’s all dark down there. You can stumble around for hours without joy. My mind is a cave and its words are hidden in boxes and trunks with lost or rusty keys. If you find the keys they don’t fit the locks. Or if they fit they don’t turn. Or if they open the lock the lid does not rise, the hinges are stiff. Even if, finally, the trunk is opened, most of its contents are rotted or moldy from their long wait and aren’t worth the trouble of dragging into the light.

I went on painting, numbly, doggedly, somberly, something that when it was finished I called Still in the Studio. But it was as if the paints had curdled in their tubes. Colors that I had so loved stubbornly eluded my brushes in this brokenhearted work that turned out to be a kind of farewell to Paris and to France."

     –from Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001, pp. 297-298.

Susanna Lang’s most recent collection is Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013). A two-time Hambidge fellow and recipient of the Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer's Center, she has published original poems and essays, and translations from the French in Kalliope, Southern Poetry Review, World Literature Today, Chicago Review, New Directions, and Jubilat, among other journals. Her books include translations of Yves Bonnefoy as Words in Stone and The Origin of Language. Lang teaches in the Chicago Public Schools. See her author's page here.

William V. Ray is a retired English teacher, who has also been an editor, freelance writer, and, of late, a café owner. His published work includes textbooks as well as poetry and poetic prose.  He is the editor of the recently revived online journal The Courtship of Winds.  He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.  For more detail, please visit his page at LinkedIn:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Poet Nancy Scott Travels with Rousseau's "Sleeping Gypsy" to the Empire of Light

The Sleeping Gypsy
Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

The melody of the lute lured the big cat. Fearless, the gypsy
offered him water from her cupped hands. Then, she bid the lion

stay, sang of unrequited love, hardship, the gypsy’s lot, how she’d
roamed thick forest, searing desert, cast out from kumpania, family.

At dusk, she read the lion’s paw and lied to him, as she does to all
not of her kind, whispered, if he stayed by her, she knew a way

from these barren dunes to a great savanna filled with creatures
to sate his appetite. He could kill a fatty ewe, she’d roast it, together

they would eat it to their liking. No misgivings about taking beast
as companion. Lion, she said, we’ll travel like the water. No foot-

prints, no dream of home, just life along the lungo drom, long road.
So it is with survival: one stands guard, one sleeps.

The Empire of Light, II
René Magritte, oil on canvas, 1950

My nightmares are like that—
a single street lamp, not illuminating anything,
the street’s bathed in darkness, and I’m running
and stumble, and there’s a house, maybe two,
maybe three, I lose count as I’m running,
out of breath now, and light from a window, here
and there, but the street is deserted, no people,
no cars, not even a stray cat, and yet behind
one of those closed doors may be what I’m trying
to reach, but I can’t stop to find out, so I keep
on running, and will myself not to look up,
because over the trees, above this desolate street,
there’s a bright blue sky frothy with clouds, and
if I could get a good running start, I could lift off
and soar, leave this endless street where no one
goes out, not for a smoke or to walk their dog,
and if I stay steady, I could float forever
in perpetual day, but I know that’s not what I am
looking for, so if I can reach the corner,
I’ve got a hunch that on the next street, day is
day and night’s night, and with my legs aching,
I’d settle for that, so I keep on running, past
the same windows, same trees, still hopeful
I’ll make it, because as I said at the start,
my nightmares are like that.

Self Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle
Arnold Böcklin, oil on canvas, 1872

Villa Bellagio*
San Domenica di Fiesole

Herr Böcklin,
I’ve been here six weeks now,
sit under the portico writing.
A small, feisty dog doesn’t approve,
escapes to nip at me,
oblivious to the caretaker’s broom.

I often watch Il Duomo nesting
in low morning mist,
while orange-tiled roofs, cypress and fir
angle down hillsides.
Potted lemon trees ring the courtyard
just as you drew them.

The crumbing Etruscan wall holds,
the path overgrown with lichen
and moss. Perhaps in the shadows,
one, maybe two,
of your ebullient mythical creatures.

A young man brings fresh-killed
chickens, not plucked.
Basta, I say, no more, but he returns
again and again.
How persistent he is, Herr Böcklin,
as I imagine you
in your studio, palette and brush
defying death.
*Böcklin’s home in Italy, late 19th century;

The Absinthe Drinker 
after a painting by Edgar Degas, 1876

He’d run off, left everything behind, me waiting
by the window imagining him dead,
the landlady banging on the door for the rent.
            I was still in love with a pile of bones.

Ah, hot coffee to lift my spirits, when a stranger
sat down across from me without asking,
stared until I said, Do you like what you see?

You have just the expression I’m looking for.
Dressed like a gentlemen, he said he was
was an artist in need of a model. His nose slid
like a banana peel and dark hollow eyes,
not my sort. I liked my men brawny and blue-eyed.
I was flattered but directly I told him,
Mind you, I won’t take my clothes off to which
he replied that I just had to sit at a table

in his studio with that look, as if I had a whole lot
of troubles, and I said, You got that right,
but what’s in it for me? He offered enough money
to pay all my back rent and a month ahead.
How could I refuse? I came to his studio once
for a pencil sketch; another time,
he took out his brushes but wouldn’t show me
what he’d done. When it’s finished, he said.
The last time he poured me a cup of tea, then
pulled the cloth off the easel.

That’s me, all dolled up in a silly hat I’d never wear.
As for the absinthe, he’d added that later.
If he’d asked, I’d have said, Never touched a drop,
 seen what happens to folks who don’t stop.
I had more troubles by then; his money ran out,
and that dirty man with the beard and pipe
sitting next to me? Never laid eyes on him before.
I don’t think this artist has much
of a future. Who’d buy such a gloomy picture?

Poet Nancy Scott is the managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets' Cooperative in New Jersey, and the author of eight books of poetry. On Location (March Street Press, 2011), a collection of ekphrastic poems inspired by 19th and 20th Century Russian artists, is dedicated to her Russian grandfather. Scott is also an artist, working primarily in collage and mixed media. Her collages have been featured as cover images on her books as well as on those of other poets. Read more on her website.