Of Course, Of Course

Yesterday’s poem which I wrote tonight is called “Of a Different Color,” based on Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s 1912 painting The Bathing of the Red Horse (the picture at the link is not nearly as vibrant and startling as the print on the postcard is, unfortunately), a very beautiful, but strange image of a naked man riding a horse that dominates almost 2/3 of the picture.  What I know about Russian art could fill a soupspoon (there’s a shocker), so here is an interesting quote about the painting that I found by Molly Priesmeyer in her article “A Horse of a Different Color:  Politics and Aesthetics Collide at the Museum of Russian Art”:

. . . the rich colors in Petrov-Vodkin’s famous 1912 The Bathing of the Red Horse, a painting that offers an ominous foreshadowing of the Soviet future (the red horse stares at the viewer, rising above the world), are surreal or even Chagallesque. The 62- by 72-inch painting is one of the first things you’ll see when entering the newly transformed Spanish-revival Mayflower Church. It’s an iconic image of what the Russian avant-garde could’ve become had it not been rejected for its realistic and transformative imagery.

As a funny aside, I guess that idiom “a horse of a different color” is so ingrained culturally, that of course she used it in her article title, as I did in the poem’s title.  Well, how often do you see a red horse, anyway?

What appeals to me about this picture is that the colors are so vivid and there is something surreal about the picture–I would agree about the Chagal comparison.  I suppose I ought to have made the connection about the red horse as symbolic of Russia, but that would have been too insightful.

My poem is also strange, maybe a little surrealistic.  In the poem, the speaker comments that the sea is “uneasy” because this horse is present, and the horse’s appearance disturbs souls long dead.  While I have to say the horse doesn’t look particularly evil to me in the painting (actually I think it looks kind of cute in prancing sort of way), perhaps somehow I intuited that “ominous foreshadowing” which is why the horse in the poem is a proverbial harbinger of doom.

I don’t know how I feel about this poem.  I read through it, and while I like the words, when I finish reading it, I have to admit I’m like “Huh?  What does this mean?”  Which is not, perhaps, the best reaction to have when you read your own writing.  But I’ll get it in the mail tomorrow. 

And somehow, I’ll have to come up with a Day 12 poem, and a Day 13 poem.  I really want to get caught up.  (Yeah, yeah, I’ve been saying this for days.)

In other news, I received my print copy of Ouroboros Issue 3, the one which contains my poem “The Tears of St. Lawrence.”  And it just occurred to me, that the Perseid meteor shower happens right around now.  It’s too bad Atlanta’s night haze obscures any chance of seing them.

Also, my villanelle “Tulips at the Door” just came out in The Reach of Song, and Her Mark 2010, a day planner with art and poetry for 2010 produced by the Woman Made Gallery (a Chicago art collective), came in yesterday’s mail.  My poem “On Sanitizing Official Versions” is in it.  Maureen Seaton was the poetry judge.

It is a lovely planner, big enough to write in, but small enough to fit in your purse.  If you are interested in buying Her Mark 2010 and supporting a worthy cause, go here (scroll down toward the bottom of the page).  It’s $15 plus shipping, and well worth it.

And now I’m turning into a pumpkin.  Good night, all!

Poem Raider

Day 10’s poem I based on an image in an ancient Greek cup attributed to Euphronios called Achilles and Patroclus.  What was interesting (and fortuitous) about this postcard was that the inspiration for the poem came from an NPR report I heard yesterday on the drive home about Italy going after tomb raiders and trying to repatriate their stolen art (to the everlasting sadness of museum curators who’ve paid good money to buy those pieces), and the reporter happened to mention Euphronios specifically. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did actually take a class on Greek Art, but I can’t say that much of it stayed with me, with the exception remembering a smattering of  details about “red ware” (red figure pottery) and “black ware” (black figure pottery).  To be fair, I was 18 and stupid, and I think I got a D  in that class–trying to identify 100 slides per test when everything looks like red and black figure pottery (or ruins of some sort or another) is not exactly my strong suit.

In my poem, “Filching Euphronios,” I bring up the NPR report and the “antiquities dealers” who are really no better than “burglars.”  I’m not in love with the title, because “filching” is the wrong word, tone-wise.  It’s a totally awesome word in other respects, but when I’ve used other words like “steal” and “raided” and “fencing” in the poem, which are a bit more serious, “filching” is too light-hearted to describe what is, after all, a terrible crime against a country’s national treasure.  The one plus side of the word “filching” is the consonance of the “f” sound in Euphronios.

I like this poem, actually.  And before you say “JC, you’re always saying you like these poems, so you must be a really vain, self-impressed person,” please know, that’s not true at all.  It’s just that using art for a prompt has really been helpful.  The summer months are usually huge doldrums when it comes to my writing.  For one thing, my writing group goes into hibernation, and I really appreciate and need the structure of having to produce a poem for them every week.  For another, when it’s too hot to think, my brain shuts down, and it’s just hard to write.

Even if these postcard poems aren’t Great Literature (TM), at least I’m thinking about writing, and actually forcing myself to write.  When you have to have a poem to send out or risk someone’s utter disappointment, that’s strong motivation.

Of course, I still owe a poem for Day 11, but maybe I can work on that tonight.  When I’m also supposed to be working on my syllabus for Freshman Seminar.   *Sigh*

Amor Vincit Omnia

I am a postcard behind again.  I should be on Day 10, but yesterday I could not get a poem to work to save my life, and I just wasn’t being inspired by Caravaggio’s Victoriuos Amor (which is clearly a typo for “victorious”–well, Hidden Love is a German publication), which has a cherub standing beside some musical instruments, holding some arrows, and smirking at the viewer.  It’s basically a stupid little, smug looking Cupid.  And, wouldn’t you know?  I just found it on Wikipedia–so feast your eyes on Caravaggio’s Cupid and read a little about the painting.   As for myself, I’m setting it aside for the time being.

This evening I worked on the painting I should have written about yesterday when Caravaggio’s dippy Cupid was annoying me.  And truthfully, it’s not exactly a painting, and it’s not exactly a photograph.   Anyway, the work is St. Sebastian by Pierre et Gilles.  According to Wikipedia (and hey, this is a blog, not an essay, so I can quote Wikipedia with impunity):

Pierre et Gilles, Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard, are gay French artistic and romantic partners. They produce highly stylized photographs, building their own sets and costumes as well as retouching the photographs. Their work often features images from popular culture, gay culture including porn (especially James Bidgood), and religion.

I couldn’t find the 1987 St. Sebastian, which is kind of a lovely picture.  The Sebastian here is fit and a little bit muscular, but he’s also beautiful, with a sweet-must-be-kissed look on his face, and a gentle innocence the picture compells you to want to corrupt, but nicely.

In my poem, which I’ve creatively called ” St. Sebastian II” (to distinguish it from my poem “St. Sebastian” from the other day), I suggest that his face is really a woman’s face “with a mouth like a Revlon ad”–but of course, after reading about Pierre et Gilles’ collaboration as well as their love affair, the face is just a youthful, pretty-boy face.  

I did find their 2009 St. Sebastian  if you want to look at it, which I don’t like at all.  But then I’m not generally attracted to beefy men and “beefcake” as a genre.  It might be the codpiece throwing me off–it looks so stupid.  I think I would have preferred a Speedo.  (Still, if you’re going to go for the porn look, really go all the way, and let his bits hang out.  I’m just sayin’.)  

I realize I am definitely not the intended audience for this work.  I think I liked the gender ambiguity of the 1987 picture–it’s just softer and sweeter, and it must be said, somewhat holy.   Even my poem, which does comment about how the figure looks, isn’t as lascivious as the  poem I wrote the other day.  In some ways, it seems sacrilegious to lust too much after this St. Sebastian, though clearly the speaker of the poem is physically attracted to him.

The 2009 Sebastian counterpart is just too in-your-face–too much f***, too little art.

Tomorrow I’ve got to throw 2 poems together.  I’d like to be caught up.   Love may conquer all, but it doesn’t get the poems written for me.

Things Orphean

I have a first draft of my Day 7 poem, which I finished before the delivery guy dropped off dinner for us.  But even as full of Chinese food as I am, the MSG haze isn’t clouding my knowledge that the poem “Beware the Maenads” has problems.  It’s those last three lines that are especially troubling me… they don’t pack the punch that the end of a poem ought to have, and I think they are kind of “announcey.”  Too “here’s the point of the poem” to be poetry.  I hate it when that happens.

My poem is not really about Orpheus–but rather, it focuses on the Maenads, who were devout acolytes of Dionysus known to get drunk, dance insanely, have wild sex parties–and in their inebriation, go on crazed hunts where they tore the flesh off animals.   According to myth, Orpheus dies at their hands (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog) because he had given up worshiping Dionysus and became instead a follower of Apollo.  Then he has the bad taste to basically give homage to Apollo in a Dionysian temple.  I mean really, if you’re going to worship a competing god in the wrong temple, maybe you deserve to be torn to shreds.  

Anyway, on the plus side, the poem is much shorter than yesterday’s–13 lines.  And I’m hoping that I can rework the ending and maybe cut it to 12.  That way I can write normal-sized on the postcard.

The Death of Orpheus (1876) by Dagnan-Bouveret is dated 20 years before Séon’s Lament of Orpheus painting.  I wish I had some background in art–for instance, I wonder if Séon had seen Dagan-Bouveret’s painting–if the reason Séon’s Orpheus has flung his arm over his eyes is because he was echoing the earlier painting.  Not that it matters, but it’s interesting to me to speculate.  Or, perhaps  many Orpheus pictures have the flung arm over the eyes bit–maybe it’s iconographic, like Sebastian being peppered with arrows is.

Another reason that I wish I had more than a passing knowledge of art is because the other group members in my writing group (the DYPS) particularly Bob Wood, are always bringing in ekphrastic poems and I feel like a complete idiot because I generally never know the work they’re writing about.  It’s a real defeciency in my humanities background.  I’ve had four college art classes in my life–a basic survey of art, one Greek Art class, a drawing class, and a class focusing on color–which makes me about as knowledgible as a kindergardener.

My mother inherited these beautiful Time-Life (?) art books from Gramma when she died in 2006, and I had great plans to read them and educate myself on art so that I could write ekphrastic poems with the best of ’em.  But the only one I kind of read was on Vermeer, and I love his paintings, but the rest of them I’ve never looked at.  

As you can see, I have a real hole in my education.  It’s really kind of embarrassing.  I like art a lot and I have little pockets of knowlege, like I’ll remember an artist or a title, but more than that there’s nothing.  It’s not like my Mom didn’t expose us to art, either, because she did, and I love museums, but I’m just woefully ignorant.  And short of taking a History of Art class, I don’t know that much will change.  Alas.

I Can Has Poem Plz?

Today has not been successful when it comes to writing–as in, no poem writing has taken place.  Part of the problem was I really couldn’t decide which picture to use–there were two about Orpheus, who, because he was known for his poetry and musical ability, has always interested me.  

The first choice was the Lament of Orpheus, by Alexandre Séon (1855-1917), which I like because he’s destraught on the beach, one arm wrapped over his eyes, the other clutching a lyre made from a turtle shell,  after he’s come back from the Underworld, but lost Eurydice for the second time.   In fact, according to myth, after he lost he again, he was never to love another woman, and chose instead young men.   Something about his grief and love for Eurydice moves me.  

The other Orpheus picture, The Death of Orpheus, by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (that’s a name for you!) (1852-1929), also shows Orpheus flinging his left arm over his eyes.  In the link I’ve provided, the color is much darker; in the postcard I have, it’s much more mossy-colored, and there is a strange, almost ethereal green hint to his skin tone.  I like this picture because of the forest setting, but I have a hard time thinking he’s dead here because he is, after all, standing up.  And he frankly doesn’t look like he’s been ripped to shreds by the Maenads.  Not to be lurid, but according to myth, his head needs to not be part of his body.

So, herein lies the quandary.  Do I write about Orpheus’ death, in which his head and lyre are carried to the Isle of Lesbos and enshrined, or do I write about his deep, abiding love for his lost wife?  Or, should I pick another picture entirely so I can eliminate having to pick between the two? 

Maybe I’m just not feeling Orpheusy.   There are plenty of other myths in my postcard book to choose from.  Of course, who’s to say that I’ll feel inspired enough by any of the others?

********ADDENDUM*******

Ok, so I wrote a poem based on Séon’s picture, and I like it–I mean, it’s got the usual early draft problems, but the main issue is that it’s 21 lines long (not counting the spaces between each tercet), and there is NO WAY I can handwrite the poem on the back of the post card.   I think even if I typed it up in tiny font, and glued it to the back of the card, I would be hard-pressed to get it to fit.  So I’m thinking I might have to either pare it way down, or just write something else.  Anyway, the title is “You Looked Back.”

Tomorrow, I will try to write another, shorter poem about Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as write on Dagnan-Bouveret’s painting.  I hope.

Sexy St. Sebastian

As difficult as it was to write yesterday’s APPF poem, today’s was just that easy.

The postcard was St. Sebastian by Nicolas Régnier (1590-1667), and naturally, I was curious why this picture was included in the Hidden Love book.  So I checked him out, and found a very interesting article in The Independent that details St. Sebastian’s long-standing position as a Gay Icon.

From its inclusion in the book, I thought it just had to do with his being young and beautiful and practically naked (and pierced by phallic arrows no less), but the real way his image became homoeroticized was a bit more involved.  Because the Romans prayed to St. Sebastian during the Black Plague since he was known to have survived the arrow attack, and the epidemic miraculously ended, he became ultra popular as a saint, favorited by everyone.

Even though the historical St. Sebastian was in his 40s, wrinkled and grizzly, before he was actually clubbed to death, even in Middle Ages, peopled idolized beauty.  They wanted their saints to be gorgeous and blooming even as they’re dying, and artists couldn’t agree more.  So, he got a Cosmo makeover,  and he became an ever youthful pin-up boy of martyrdom.

So the poem I wrote, simply titled “St. Sebastian,” is basically a lecherous sonnet about ogling him.  I really like it.  Is it a great poem?  Probably not.  But there’s something titillating about eroticizing a saint and lusting after him (even if I’m not the first to do it).

Of course, not everyone would have been a fan of sexualizing the sacred.  The Church recognized the problem of the lone nude figure in art during the as Shiela Barker discusses in her essay “The Making of a Plague Saint” in Piety and Plague:  from Byzantium to the Baroque, which explains why St. Irene begins to appear in paintings with St. Sebastian.  The Church was afraid young women would experience lustful urges–which Irene’s appearance would theoretically quell.

Of course, if you have a perverse mind like I sometimes do, what’s to prevent you from thinking about corrupting both of them?  But I digress.  The point is, the poem is written and dropped in the mail, and I am extremely happy about it.

Day 5 Postcard Poem: FAIL

Alright, I admit it, I didn’t sent out a postcard today.  I’m still working on the poem, which was going to be based on Donato Creti’s The Education of Achilles by Chiron, but it just wasn’t coming.  

I think the problem is I don’t really dig Achilles.   He had a bad attitude and a bum heel, big whoop.   Chiron is much more interesting, being a tender but strong Centaur whose interests include medicine and astrology.  So I mostly wrote about him, but the poem has too many abstract words in it.  It’s just not gelling.  

And I would just choose another image and try to throw a new poem together, but I’ve already written the name and address of the person I was to send it to, plus stamped it.  So I’m a little bit stuck.  Chris is at his club this evening, so I plan to work on the poem some more.  Perhaps the silence will help.

So I had been thinking that no one was sending me poems for APPF.  But today when I checked the mail, not only were there 4 postcards, there were about 400 bills, magazines, and ads.  Clearly, the USPS just hadn’t been in the mood to deliver my mail.  

These are the authors and titles of the poems I’ve received:

  • Josie Emmons Turner, “Ella vive”
  • Andrea Bates, “Last Chair of Summer”
  • Russ Golata, “Ambient”
  • Someone who didn’t put her name, “I am 3 years now past you” (which was really the first line of the poem)

I tried doing some detective work on the anonymous poem, by looking at the master list and counting back several days, but of course the postmark on the card (which was kind of fun because she handmade by gluing pictures from a magazine on an index card) is blurred.

You can’t beat 4 pieces of personal mail in one day, but I think I’d rather have it spread out over 4 days just the same.  It’s hard to take it all in.

In other news, I sent off a chapbook today (not the one I mentioned the other day where I wanted to put together “left over” poems)–this is the sixth press I’m sending it to.   What was really nice about this press was that it only had a $10 fee–which is practically a gift.   We’ll see.  I also sent a submission out to a couple of journals.  Hopefully, something good will happen.

Alright, I’ve put off writing my poem long enough.  I didn’t forget you, Chiron, I promise.  I was just temporarily avoiding you.

*******ADDENDUM******

For better or for worse, I’ve finished it.  “Horse Sense” still has a lot of abstract language in it, which I hope can be improved when I bring it to the DYPS (my writing group), but the postcard will go out in tomorrow’s mail as is.  I don’t think the poem is terrible, and as I said, the last line is very good.  The one thing I couldn’t do on the postcard was space the lines in couplets–I can only fit 16 lines on a postcard printing in teeny-tiny handwriting, so the spacing had to go.