October 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
Not only was John Wood our editor for more than 15 years, he is a brilliant and established poet
from Cracked: The Art of Charles Grogg
Though I am a photographic historian and critic, I am primarily a poet; however, except for writing a few Japanese waka in homage to my friend Masao Yamamoto, I have never written poems inspired by the work of any of the photographers whose work I have written essays about. The photographs, though wonderful, never suggested subjects to me-until I encountered Charles Grogg’s work. It would be improper of me to write about the poetic aspects of my own work, but I can say something about their content as it refers to Grogg’s art.
The fence-mender of the poem “Fence” is, of course, Grogg, and fence-mending is a metaphor for his art making. The poem makes clear that it is his “chosen profession” but also makes clear that he has not chosen it but that it chose him and that his re-shaping, re-forming art is to my eye a profound expression and act of love…
The fence mender’s dilemma is
how to proceed. There’s always
such hostility on either side.
Being in between contorted faces
is distracting, as is avoiding
the flying spittle, the occasional stone.
Rain coats and shields are useful,
especially when he becomes the target,
which is more often than not.
But who would give up a chosen profession?
And for what: becoming a snail driver,
a semaphore man, a town crier,
a berry buster? Certainly not for one
whose profession had chosen him.
There is no choice in spite of rocks and spit,
the cumbersome garb he must wear. And so
he continues buying the costliest needles,
gold-tipped, of course, and iron-strong thread
spun from the silk of golden orb weavers.
His hands dance along the sad shatters
with the confidence of a cosmetic surgeon
re-forming the destines of the unloved and ugly.
Such mending mastery as his is love’s
most profound, best, and final act.
from The Symmetry of Endeavor
When we look at images as radiant as his wide Calla 3, his tall lean Calla on Black, his Sunflower Rising, which looks like the sun itself aflame, the Nile Lily Bud or his Melinthus in the Rain, as perfect a wet leaf as I have ever seen in any photograph, we see exactly how a master artist manipulates craft to the higher service of his art, how he makes craft the vehicle and servant of his art. His Luminescent Datura seduced me from the first moment I saw it. Besides being a beautiful flower datura, of course, is also a powerful drug, a sexual stimulant, and has been associated with women called witches since the Middle Ages. However, without thinking of any of those things, when I first saw this amazing image, I did not see the flower at all. I saw a lady with a slim neck in an Art Deco gown, her face cropped from the photograph, a curl from her head falling on her shoulder, her right arm bent at the elbow and resting on a piece of furniture, obviously by Ruhlmann, and her hand, though out of sight, holding either a martini or a cigarette. I saw Paris in the Twenties when I would have loved to live there. Such imaginative leaps are the leaps that art graciously allowsand which inspired the poem that follows, even thoughI am certain my lady or thoughts of Mistinguett, the great chanteuse of that time, or the famous club Le Boeuf sur le Toit was nowhere in Rondal Partridge’s mind when he made this work. His thoughts were on capturing a flower. My thoughts were on sex. But great art always transcends the intentions of the artist. That is its blessing and occasionally the artist’s curse.
LADY IN A FLORAL DRESS
A curl cascades, reclines upon her neck.
She stands against a lacquered cabinet.
One hidden hand holds her drink,
the other, a Turkish cigarette.
This Deco dame is surely French
and probably knows Mistinguett.
Would she accept a little pinch,
then smile and say with no regret,
“Was it Le Boeuf sur le Toit where we met?
We danced. You held me in a clench
and called me mon petit pet.
Men like you I never forget.”
He wondered what could be her game.
His, of course, was exactly the same.
from The Imponderable Heart of Meaning
As we approached our sixteenth year of publication, Steve had the happy idea of our doing a book together-his photographs and poems of mine inspired by them. Though I have been writing poetry for over half a century, I cannot say I know where poetry comes from, but I know it is very hard to make a poem from a work of visual art. I said I’d try and with a great box of Steve’s prints before me, I was surprised to see how words quickly started to appear and shape themselves into lines and eventually poems. In every case it was his visual magic that inspired the poem. So these poems are a real monument to our years of friendship and work together.
I had hoped that this volume would be entitled In the Face of the Electron because that is the title of a poem I wrote for one of Steve’s most amazing and brilliant photographs-an abstract image of the most intense power, an image that allowed me to look into the face or heart of the electron… I’d hoped we would use the photograph because I love it but also because of the poem it led me to. My own work, though sometimes comic, tends to be dark, somber, occasionally even savage. But what Steve’s photograph allowed me see was something rich and affirmative…
IN THE FACE OF THE ELECTRON
In the unstopping spin and swirl
of matter’s uncertainty, it can
sometimes be caught unaware
and resting for a short fraction
just as the more common birds
are often caught, and so
the Nature artist must be quick
and snap it before it flies off
as the fastest light excels,
to snap it before the electron’s
huge and fluffy wings again
begin to beat, driving matter
mad in its motions, and before
its beak begins again to peck
at the atomic shell, and before
its maddening dance must begin
again to hold everything together,
secured in the electron’s hold,
its wide-wings’ generous, spinning embrace,
succoring with no knowledge of its doing so
the imponderable heart of meaning.