Monday, August 29, 2011

"Portrait of the Crone at her Food Processor"

Collages by Bill Fulton
       It is 5:20 on a Friday afternoon. I have been out on my deck all afternoon  writing false starts. No real inspiration - the only thing that has arrived are a couple of squirrels, a raucous jay and my cat who gets into a chorus with the squirrels - they chatter and she hisses. I feel like joining them. I could be the third line in an interspecies fugue.

     We have to leave for dinner at 6. I need to  get organized, get dressed - and a First Line arrives from the Muse.  I type it, and she sends more, this feels Right, I can’t just stop, could She/I (not to mention the jay, the squirrels and the cat) hold on to the The Rest till tomorrow? I could Get Back To It when we return this evening, or, maybe I could cancel our plans?

     It is now 5:40, and I’m getting dressed, running the lines through my head, so I won’t Lose Anything Important...maybe I could take out my Little Notebook and write during dinner. I picture myself in the restaurant writing with my right hand and dropping salad on myself with the left. I could bring an apron. Wear old clothes….

     Welcome to my world. The song says “When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not”, but I like to believe I can summon the Muse. She laughs and prefers the word “prepare”, as one would for a religious service, or important guests, the newlyweds William and Kate, for example, or a Nobel Laureate. The house has to be orderly - not perfectly clean, she shares my impressionistic, astigmatic view of the world - but orderly. Everything put away. My desk has to be cleared off, though I haven’t written on it since I bought it.

     She also likes a little chocolate. For a while she wouldn’t appear for anything less than 70%, Dark and Imported. Now it’s chocolate blueberries, available at one place only, which is miles from my house. My muse is happiest Out of Doors, next to a river in a rain forest
Photo by Bill Fulton
near exotic ruins, within sight of a mountain range, somewhere that costs a lot of money to get to. Fortunately, she is willing to appear on my deck.. She once haughtily informed me that she wouldn’t be caught dead performing in a cafĂ© on a laptop with “dingy people” (her words), unless it overlooked the sea.    
Photo by Bill Fulton

     The Muse. I have been known to name everything - animals, cars, the dishwasher - but she has never announced or accepted a name. When I once referred to her as Sophia, Wisdom, she told me to get over myself. She believes that her origins are in the Ancient World, but where exactly, I don’t know.

      She adores mythology, from any culture, and prefers to mask and cloak the uncomfortable realities of my life with a convenient archetype or deity. Take aging. I’m at the point in life where it is better to hide the week before Thanksgiving and avoid the country, so my emerging turkey neck won’t tempt a hunter. My muse has turned eagerly to the Crone to handle this phase. Not the fearful, wart-faced tempter of Snow White, with her poisoned apples, but the wizened, liberated Old Woman of the Crossroads.

The muse can be very generous to me. No cauldrons or broomsticks for this crone -
she’s willing to provide me with modern conveniences, as she does in

     Portrait of the Crone at her Food Processor  

Old wood stove under her skirt    
she still flirts   to sweeten the pot
the base of her broth is calcified bone
knowledge levels a quarter cup of fear
she slices decades of laughter
adds centuries of sorrow      
finally dices the old secrets
Only the moon knows her true name  
only the moon will remember

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Portrait of a Woman Weeping"

             Picasso. Revisited. An exhibit at the De Young. Another exhibit at SFMOMA  features his work. Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris have edited and translated his journals into poems. (Pablo Picasso: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & other poems, Exact Change, 2004). I order the book, curious and wanting a new inspiration for my own work by the artist I have returned to again and again.  “Poetry Unhinged” Michel Leiris calls it in his Afterword, “closer to Dadaist nihilism than to surrealism”. Was that Picasso’s desire, to destroy meaning? We know how he broke from the past, but nihilism? I won’t continue without giving you a sample, and I’ll choose at random:
        the slender sojourn of the secret price of pain simmers on the
        low fire of memory where the onion plays the star it
        detaches itself from its lines having read and reread the past
        but at the crack of the riding-whip caught straight in the eyes (p.98)
“the secret price of pain simmers on the low fire of memory” is a wonderful image, but my brain, which looks for continuity, for meaning, for revelation or narrative, gives up, as though I have entered a dense labyrinth with no center, no way in - but there is always a hint of minotaur, for he wrote during the same period
    “If all the roads I have been down were marked on a map and joined
     up with a line, would it not represent a Minotaur?”  

                               (Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris
                                Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. P. 141)
Minotaur and His Wife
       The minotaur, half bull/half man, at the center of the labyrinth, the garden. What, I ask myself, if there was no censor, no conscious linear narrative, between oneself and the maze of images, feelings, and archetypes that make up what is usually hidden, would that explain the fecundity and astonishing flow of his imagery? Another random selection:
     entangled in the rainbow of their feather oxen plowing up the
     flames of crystal of the howling that perfumes the angles and
     the curves snared by the web of nails and begging help……..(P. 206)
The selection covers a page, and these pages were written daily - a kaleidoscope, a display of fireworks, or simply an inventory, or what comes in with the tide. Imagine a basin that is never empty, but the source is unknown.
      Years ago I concentrated on Picasso’s experience during the war years in order to understand the relationship between art and terror, which is so strong in the 20th century. The ‘macho’, the womanizer accused of sadism, of feelings of omnipotence, the toreador lover, and endless innovator experienced terror during the Spanish Civil and World War II, a terror he was ashamed of. Here is a selection from his journal:
        " and anguish...what horror what distress and what cold
    in the bones and what unpleasant odor ....wing.... ...desperate cry...
    girl dead of liquid [rains]...the dead fall drop by drop....
    clouds shit...horror and despair....wing[ed tank stuck in the blue sky...
    the nest of vipers...the desperate cries of birds...the infinite center of
    void on the skin torn off the house.... 

                          (Picasso and the War Years: 1937-1945, Ed Steven A. Nash, 
                          Thames and Hudson, 1998, P. 57))
The savagery of the war resulted in paintings of literal butchery:
Sheep's Skull
     The Spanish painter Zubaran painted racks of lamb, and the skull was a frequent subject of Spanish and medieval painting in general, as a symbol of vanity or the brevity of life. But Picasso’s skulls still had their meat on them. His overburdened psyche found release in art, and despite the Occupation, and the warnings and threats he received, he continued to paint what he felt.
     In 1942 the wartide was turning. America had entered the war, the allies had invaded North Africa, and the Nazis were facing defeat in Russia. Picasso began the drawing for Man with a Lamb, and you probably have seen the result, the bronze which currently is on exhibit at the De Young:

                Lamb of God? Good Shepherd? Abraham’s sacrifice? Picasso would only say “there's nothing religious about it at all. There's no symbolism in it" and that he just wanted "a human feeling, a feeling that has always existed." (Ibid, P. 112) The sculpture remained in his studio for the rest of the war, and if postwar visitors wanted a photo, Picasso posed next to the sculpture. I think this was a victory - over the panic-stricken, butchered imagery that had taken him over, and he took pride in this victory. He had overcome hell and returned to the simple humanity of everyday life.  “Dadaist nihilism”? I don’t think so. The urge to annihilate, in the man, in the world, was overcome.  
At least in that instance. In that world. At that time.  

Portrait of a Woman Weeping  

That ridiculous hat
her face made up 

in prisms of comic book color
those petrified animal eyes

The face of  Europe
breaking and weeping -

The woman    Dora Maar
the cruel brushstrokes of her lover
her crystalline surface   shattered
What man can watch a woman weeping
without seeing his own death?