Raiding the Arts for Poems

  • J.S. Porter’s April 2005 submission to Hammered Out, Issue #6

By J.S. Porter

Frances Ward gathers bottle caps and cigarette butts, sequins and metal shavings, and makes them into paintings. I draw inspiration from movies, books, music and visual art, and try to make poems.

I’ve written poems on the songs of Bob Dylan, the music of Jan Garbarek, the acting of Marlon Brando, the movies of Wim Wenders and the sculpture of Wayne Allan. See my website — click Spirit, click Notes on Wayne Allan’s Sculpture — for poems on his sculptures.

In this issue of Hammered Out, I respond by poem to the life of Anais Nin, the films of Emir Kusturica and the paintings of Marc Chagall, the paintings of Paterson Ewen, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Paul Klee, the self-annihilating sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy, the paintings of Paul Cézanne and the dark sun self-portrait of J.L. Tossounian.

I like the mixedness of things. Fusions. Hybrids. Mongrels. I like poems that don’t look or sound like poems. I like notepoems.

Man Ray said in a 1951 interview that “Perhaps the final goal desired by the artist is a confusion or merging of all the arts, as things merge in real life.”

My dream is to write a book in which my notes and poems, confessions and meditations all merge into a single wild but structured and unclassifiable form. I’ve written a long notepoem called “Saudade: A Poetic Investigation into a Portuguese Word” as a first step towards my dream.

Anais, Desperately

By J.S. Porter

The woman with perfume named after her. The woman with two husbands, the woman whose father pays her too much attention, and then too little. The woman with an open womb. The woman who tells lies. The woman who tells the truth.

Can’t get the title right. How can I write a biography when I can’t get the title right? How about: The woman who wants desperately to be loved. Or, more personal: The woman who disappoints her daddy and, thereafter, tries desperately to please men.

The adverb desperately keeps coming back. How about just Desperately. Or: Desperately, Anais Nin.

With any human life, what do you give pride of place to? What’s more important—the wound or what conceals it? Suppose you’ve got ten pages to tell the story of Anais Nin. What do you tell and not tell?

Is the first page the incest with her father? The second, his abandonment of her. The third, the writing of her diary written to call him home. The fourth page, her lifelong commitment to her diary, and its publishing trajectory from obscurity and oblivion to recognition and praise.

No, wait. Don’t you want two or three pages on the incest? It’s the primal wound. It’s what puts her on one course of action as opposed to another. It’s what partially explains the subterfuge, the illusions, the veils, the dance. Yes, let’s say you need three pages for incest. Not only about what he does to her, but what later in life she does to him.

She seeks revenge. She seduces him. She abandons him. She re-enacts the whole drama, but this time in the power-position.

All right, we’re still working on our ten pages. Put down two for incest. One page for her father’s, and one for hers. Then three for the diary: its origins, its development, its completion. It has to be one of the longest diaries on record, and one of the most delicately latticed. Not so much events, about which she takes great liberties, but moods, tones, atmosphere, as if she were a Japanese novelist or a French poet.

Five pages to go. We need one for her loves and seductions: one page for her romps with Henry Miller, Otto Rank, her cousin, her strangers. We need one page at least for her bi-coastal husbands, her Hugo in New York and her Rupert in L.A. Three to go. We need one for her voice, her accent, her beauty, her make-up, her dress, her sense of style. We need one for her heroic fight against cancer. We need one for her impact on the women’s movement, and writers everywhere.

A life in ten pages or ten paragraphs. It’s more than most of us get.

Notes on the Images in Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer

by J.S. Porter

He constructs a ring of icicles around a stone.

The sun that makes the ring glisten melts it.

He places dandelion heads in a pool of seawater.

The flowers wilt.

He positions wool around a stone wall.

Rain despoils his embroidery.

He grinds an iron-rich stone, shapes it into rounded clay and tosses it in the river.

The clay streaks blood for an instant, then disintegrates.

He drops a chain of broad green leaves into brackish water.

The chain snaps as the water quickens.

He builds a stone beehive while the tide is out.

When the tide comes in, water submerges the stone.

He makes a stick nest on a stone table.

The sticks come apart in the on-rushing water.

“When I make a work,” Goldsworthy says,

“I often take it to the very edge of its collapse.”

Everything is a snake, coiling and uncoiling; everything is a river flowing.

The artist sees the line of flow, recreates it, and waits for its destruction.

Ewen, Basquiat & Klee

By J.S. Porter

Didn’t think it would end this way
Expected a Paterson Ewen
Something large and cosmic
something bright and blinding
a comet streaking, shrieking across the sky
Instead, it ended in a Basquiat scratch
hardly noticeable
It ended in a tiny Paul Klee angel
weary and confused

Cézanne’s Skulls

By J.S. Porter

He paints what’s in
his room: a tea pot, a table,
some fruit, hat, coat,
his walking stick, son, wife,
his maid.

He paints the skulls on
his shelf and table,
10 times,
and his skull of stone—
Mont Sainte-Victoire—
87 times
as if by repetition
he can restore his mother
to life.

  • Cézanne’s mountain paintings increase furiously between the time of his mother’s death (1897) and his own death (1906).

One Plus One Plus One

By J.S. Porter

for Antonio Lopes, a friend in cyberspace

In the paintings of Marc Chagall
and the movies of Emir Kusturica,
no one dances alone,
or drinks alone.
One is always one

The world swarms, swirls
and sticks.

The bride has her groom.
A beautiful woman has her village.
The musicians, accordion Gypsy
or fiddler Jew,
have their instruments.

And animals—
roosters, chickens, cats, dogs,
donkeys, doves, horses, ducks—
crow, cluck, meow, bark,
bray, coo, neigh, quack
in the chitter-chattering no-one’s-
ever-alone universe.

Looking at Tossounian

By J.S. Porter

Self-portrait: J.L. Tossounian, 2002, acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 12” (length) by 9” (width)
Colours: black and gold, with deep red highlights of raw sienna
Composition: a masked face, gold markings, three decipherable words

From black comes gold,
            From nothing something.

            Comes the sun.

The sun licks into life
             gold-streaked hair and dark-bright eyes,
             face aflame, face blackened.

The sun brands into being
             primal scratches,
            on their way to sun-spotted language.
Three words are visible: and, It, is,
             the agitated imperative of the calligraphic universe.

And, the hope of more.
It, still a mystery.
Is, the open sesame, the abracadabra of the world.

The painting splits into spheres,
               the face and the word,
               the black sun and the gold sun;
hieroglyphics as much the artist
                       as masked face, black-gold hair and blazing eyes.

Is the face a comment on the indecipherable markings?
Are the markings a comment on the masked face?

Each speaks to each: the illusion of a face to the illusion of a poem.
From the marriage of two illusions real presence comes.

Last update: