Monday, October 6, 2014

Ekphrastic poems for October 6

The Starry Night by Anne Sexton
Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits, Elizabeth Jennings (1975)
The Self-Portrait of Ivan Generalic by Gjertrud Schnackenberg
The Village of the Mermaids by Lisel Mueller
On Seeing Larry Rivers' "Washington Crossing the Delaware" at the Museum of Modern Art by Frank O'Hara
Washington Crossing the Delaware by David Shulman
Monet Refuses the Operation- Lisel Mueller

Ekphrastic responses:

For the Anne Sexton: ( how different from Hopkins’ “Terrible Sonnets” filled with elves and dazzle ).
Note how she repeats” “This is how/I want to die. “ But the second time she continues with a colon— in the final stanza — the pull of the “into that rushing beast of the night” — the vital energy to which to abandon oneself. I found it interesting that her 8th collection of poetry, “The Awful Rowing Towards God” derived the title from her meeting with a Roman Catholic priest who, although unwilling to administer last rites, told her "God is in your typewriter.”

I feel in Sexton’s ekphrastic response, she captures Van Gogh’s energy — understands his manic affliction there in St. Rémy, which is shared with the reader by the epigram. She has put herself into the painting, feeling the aliveness, where her identity can only interfere.

The next poem is a marvelous contemporary response by a woman to an old master from 400 years ago! In today’s discussion, it came up that Rembrandt did the most self-portraits of any artist — over 40! Perhaps he loved painting so much, he used the subject best at hand (himself)… Jennings captures both a poem addressed to any “you” who reads the poem, as well as the “you” of Rembrandt who captured life in paint, in an excitement of portraying a breath of truth! She addresses Rembrandt, the self, and also the bonus old age adds to a self-portrait.
Sadness, joy, what to reckon with… Would this message have worked as well with a different painting? Can we look at this painting in quite the same way having read her words?

The self-portrait of Ivan Generalić is a hard poem. The portrait from 1975 was the one in the powerpoint which showed the bald man against a turquoise background. No villages, hills, animals. The complex rhyme scheme seems to clatter as religious references in the tercets build, build, to the final squares of black.

The Larry Rivers’ painting with O’Hara’s response. Note how O’Hara includes the title, the artist and where the painting is… the tongue-in-cheek tone of a poem written in the McCarthy era, challenging some of the clichés (don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes… and the whole idea of truth — George Washington and the Cherry Tree) in a sort of irresponsible use of language with a ? and ! interrupting the flow of a sentence as if telling you how to read it… General Fear as persona… or the General who fears… or just fear, general…
Both painting and poem unnerve, create a different feel to the “myth” .

By contrast, the Shulman poem to the realistic almost iconic view of George Washington crossing the Delaware, gives an energy to the crazy idea of his campaign. Each line is an anagram of the title! And it’s a rhymed sonnet… so perhaps the unimaginable form belies the unimaginable feat which set in motion our country. In my book, a lot of fun!

The Monet Refuses the Operation is a wonderful dramatic monologue where a woman takes up Monet’s voice… and sums up impressionism, and takes the physicality of painting and his serial paintings to metaphysical realms.

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