Nude Descending a Staircase

May 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh —
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.

– X. J. Kennedy

By the use of doubled-up words throughout (“toe upon toe”, “nothing on. Nor on”, “parts to let her parts”), Kennedy mimics the overlapping motion of Duchamp’s famous nude figure. The poet imagines the figure as female, whereas the artist never mentions its gender, but I think the latter would appreciate the the anatomical mischief the former splays across the stanzas (the poem’s wordplay is reminiscent of that in L.H.O.O.Q.)

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Why I Am Not a Painter

April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

– Frank O’Hara

O’Hara and Goldberg end where the other begins; O’Hara starts with something abstract, the idea of orange, and ends up with words, while Goldberg begins with sardines before replacing it with abstractions. The symmetry is furthered when both use their original ideas as titles and not as part of their respective works. One could argue that words and paintings are already abstract — they both symbolize something real — and O’Hara and Goldberg are therefore painters and poets. Oh, O’Hara, you coy thing.

As a side note, “of how terrible orange is/ and life” must be one of the funniest enjambments in poetry.

High Renaissance

March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

‘Nomine Domini
Theotocopoulos,
None of these prelates can
Manage your name.

Change it. Appeal to their
Hellenophilia.
Sign it “El Greco.” I’ll
Slap on a frame.’

– George Starbuck

Thanks to English prosody, a six-syllable word is almost always double-dactylic; stresses shimmy into their appropriate positions based on a word’s syllable count (compare op-er-a to op-er-a-tic). Anthony Hecht and John Hollander must have known this linguistic trick when they invented the double-dactyl in the late 60s — the rules call for a single six-syllable double-dactylic word in the antepenultimate line. And George Starbuck must have known that a name like Theotocopoulos practically demands its use in the form.

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