Monday, January 23, 2006

Picasso Poem

The second poetry exercise given to me as part of my course at Grub Street asked students to go forth and gather favorite first lines of poetry. I found this a worthwhile venture. I sat with books of poetry that I hadn't perused in years. I paged through entire anthologies that usually gather dust because I am daunted by their sheer size. Once I knew that I was to mine only first lines, I had the energy to dig in.

Of course I found myself reading much more than the first lines and losing myself in the pages. I gathered many first lines (and perhaps I will enter them in this blog at a later date). The task was to use these first lines as a jumping off place for a new poem. Thus far I have written two very different poems. I'll include one here. First, here is the poem I ransacked:

Musée des Beaux Arts
W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

And here is my new poem:

Musée National Picasso Paris
Janet Kelley

About strangeness, he was never wrong,
Picasso: how well he took human skin and bones
apart. The joints, the hidden fluids and mucous
grease between living bone, these became, for him,
a palette. Each small hard mystery within the body,
the human form, was splotched across his wooden arc of oils.

He must have planned his compositions in the shower,
on the way to the café, after fucking, after wishing to
fuck her instead or him. His bristles scraped the canvas
hard as glaciers in slow retreat. Crevasses fractured, graphite boulders
left stranded on plains. This must have made him laugh.

It made us – two college girls – earnest. She tried to wander and
get lost there, in the wake of his fervor. I gave up. His art
abused me, made me feel small. So much brazen wanting humidified the
air with his heavy longing, caused constriction in my chest and condensation
between my thighs. I had gotten lost in the Renaissance, happily. To love him,
openly, seemed a kind of cuckoldry on my part.

We dared not laugh, or try to appear witty about cubism.
Instead we lined up for the toilette. When the women’s stayed occupied,
we brazenly entered the men’s room, taking turns to guard the door.

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