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 Don’t Usually Write Ekphrastic Poetry, But…

I was really happy with my Day 4 poem for the APPF, “How the Cypress Came to Be” (although there are a few iffy lines that could be improved).  I like “origin” poems, and in this one the speaker addresses Cyparissus about (accidentally) slaying the deer that Apollo gave him, and who, in grief, Apollo turns into a tree.  

In Dubufe’s picture, Cyparissus is draped over the deer, and Apollo is gazing at him rather tenderly.  (Well, this was in the Hidden Love postcard book.)  I was looking online for that image so you could see it, and  so far I haven’t found one in color, but you can see it  here in black and whiteBoth of the figures are slender, hardly muscularly developed at all ( youths, I guess you’d say), though Apollo is clearly older, and the concern–love, maybe–that he shows Cyparissus is evident in the way he holds the younger man.  

The Apollo in Dubufe’s picture is much more emotional than the  disdainful Apollo who appears in Pietro Perugino’s Apollo and Marsyas, the image on the postcard I sent yesterday.  I like this painting because it’s from the Renaissance, with a beautiful orangey patina and lovely depth of field.  And the appearance of castle and the mountains in the background amuses me, if only because it strikes me as anachronistic, as if this scene from Greek mythology happened in medieval Italy.  Perugino was known for his more Catholic art, though I seem to recall vaguely that Michelangelo  called him a hack.  Still, there is something almost sweet in the way Perugino has painted Marsyas as he plays his aulos-reed pipe.

In my poem, “Competition,” the speaker addresses Marsyas’s eagerness to engage in a music contest with Apollo, and is critical of him, particularly because in the myth, the Muses are the ones who judge this contest AND Apollo is basically the Muses’ choir master (a slight conflict of interest).  Clearly this is a myth about the perils of hubris, although I like to think in my poem I hint that the reason that Marsyas dies is not simply because the Muses choose Apollo as the winner, but rather because Marsyas was indeed the superior musician, and Apollo was jealous.

However, I am neither a scholar of art nor mythology, so I’m sure there are errors in what I have written here.

I know that the point of the APPF is to try to write a poem that somehow communicates what people usually use postcards for–to write about place.  According to the website, we’re to write about:

. . . Something that relates to your sense of “place” however you interpret that, something about how you relate to the postcard image, what you see out the window, what you’re reading, using a phrase/topic/or image from a card that you got, a dream you had that morning, or an image from it, etc. Like “real” postcards, get to something of the “here and now” when you write.

Perhaps I should make my poems more personal?  Postcards are generally personal, focused on the I.  Although, I have to say, in both of these last two poems, I’ve used direct address, so in a way, I am in the poems.  (Yes, I know, the speaker of a poem isn’t necessarily the poet–please, I wasn’t born yesterday.)  We’ll see.

Tomorrow I think I will choose the postcard of Donato Creti’s painting, The Education of Achilles by Chiron.  I hope the poem will turn out well.