This is a poem I wrote about 5 years ago, after having coffee with an elderly painter. He clearly enjoyed having an audience, and was very forceful in his views. I went home and wrote the first draft while the memory of his words stayed fresh.
This poem is in my ‘Talking to the gods’ section of Songs from a New Place. Not that I considered this artist a god—far from it, although he was a skilful portrait painter. But he clearly suggested he was channelling his god, so this seemed the right place for it. All Art (one version was also called Flat People) is another of my “ekphrastic” poems (poetry jargon for poems in response to some art form). You’ll find some more on the Talking to the gods page.
All Art is Analogy
All art, all language, is analogous, he said.
Nothing we make or say is real, true,
only what’s in here, banging his chest between
the braces over his blue checked shirt. Only feelings are real.
because you squeeze them from the tube to the palette,
from the brush to the canvas
without alteration. They are what they are.
Trust your hand, he said. I thought it should have been
trust your eye.
It’s as well he said hand, for my eyes are untrustworthy.
Blurry and doubled, they lie to me.
Nothing that I see is true. My vision is analogous
to the distortions within, because nothing is real
except what’s here under my ribs, behind
the breasts moulding my yellow tee. Who’s there?
Passion? heartache? loss? fear?
Trust your hand. Bypass the planning mind.
When the artist and the sitter come together, they create
a new person, he said. A novel offspring from their union:
A flat person, alive in its painted canvas skin.
“I believe in God when I’m painting,” he quoted; then: God
didn’t have time to create flat people, so we artists do the work.
I’m a thinking animal, I replied. No god within.
My flat people crawl out of my brain
onto my page.
They writhe and wrestle with their sorrowful joys,
seeking their truth in the tumbled landscape of my language.
Yet, nothing I say is true. It never happened. It wasn’t me.
I was someone else at the time. I’m a writer:
can you really trust my hand?
I’m a metaphor junkie, simile needlepricks scab my lines. I’d say
anything for a fix – jokes, puns, lies, mutterings from my subconscious,
the literal bloody truth.
My mouth spurts liquid blossoms across the paper’s sand
black purple, blue-green, bile yellow, rust,
pigments of decay
taken as read.