Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Poet Robert Klein Engler Visits Marsden Hartley

Since our blog was mentioned in a public talk this week at New York’s Met Breuer, we feel it’s only fair to plug its current stunning exhibit “Marsden Hartley’s Maine.” And what better complement than Robert Klein Engler’s poetic tribute to the painter’s life and artistic gifts.

Seeing Again a Painting by Marsden Hartley
at the Terra Museum
Marsden Hartley, Painting No. 50, 1914-15

The wind of music swings open a gate.
An arc of hand draws the line and bow,
then a touch to dampen the timpani.
The name of his lover rides to heaven
held high by the hum of violins.
Such is the sigh when flesh unfolds.

The artist outlines chevrons in black,
all the while imagining his lover’s face.
There is so much he wants to show him
as horns echo the dance of armies.
Paint a red arrow flying to yellow wings.
One sore heals another.

The New World draws out the old
when he sulks below the lamps of Paris.
A lame warrior from birth, he is one
who gains the hour by a sketch.
Stay away. His lips taste of tobacco.
Forget the jigsaw years, just build a day.

The gray hulls of battleships move
like a brush through murky turpentine.
Gunners sight their shells by eye.
An artist learns to aim at another heart
with the viscous scope of oil.
We are all fisherman who haul up bones.

These mark the confines of his world:
a rocky coast in Maine, the weave of linen,
pallets of mute desire, and a bottomless
draw when men move into shadows.
“If he is part of me, how can he go away?”
All ages are equal by the wound of love.

Time and desire. The itch of melodies.
The other word for loneliness is ice.
To sing when the snow falls is to weep.
He painted a code for their names
and read it like music. The color lingers,
then a blank silence like looking at the sun.

(First published in Chicago Literary Map, 2013)

Yellow Star, print by Robert Klein Engler

Marsden Hartley In Love.

The struggle with paint is the struggle with desire.
His witness ends up a portrait in Galley 265, but
is something beyond an image the way his clouds
are like stones above the breast of hills and a badge
of red sky is sacrificial blood. The eye goes out
to earth, to the storms of nature, when it will not
tell how perishable are limbs, how distant is our
father, how the teeth of the sea chews up drowned
men or insignias of war eat epaulets and arms.

Even with his skill to tell of what he's lost, it's not
enough to bring one back, it's only oil on cardboard.
The paint is as thick as skin, the brush draws lines
like fingers tracing a nipple. Oriental empires come
and go, but not the hero of Maine. When he is old
he will wear a heavy, black coat with the lonesome
weight of hope. His broad-rim hat casts a shadow
by his eyes. Outside, knots of tourists talk and talk.
The traffic sign on Wabash Street blinks, "Walk."



Robert Klein Engler lives in happy exile in Omaha, Nebraska, and sometimes New Orleans. He is a writer and artist. Robert holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has received Illinois Arts Council awards for his poetry. Google his name to find his writing on the Internet. Michael Morgan, writing in the Comstock Review, says that Robert Klein Engler "...is a poet of the first rank,” whereas Andrew Huff writes in Gaper's Block  that Engler's writing is, “a sublime banquet of bullshit."

Read an interview with Engler here

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