The Entry into Jerusalem, c.1305
I am a smiling donkey
I am practically giggling
With the Good News
When the golden age arrives
For children’s illustrated books
I will trot from this fresco
Onto those pages
And wreathe the unlettered
In smiles again
Study of a Young Woman, 1665-7
When I come to the party in New York
Be honest about what you see
Be clear about your feelings
Two hundred years of disregard
Must count for something
I come with nothing behind me
I waited for you to know
The harmony of my discretion
The splendour of his slowness
Basket of wild strawberries, 1761
May I offer
Something for your private collection?
A glass of water
As you say Cool
And strawberry strawberry
Or would you prefer some more apricots
In a jar with no label?
My name is Rachel Mutt
I work from four to eight three times a day
Nine days a week fifteen months of the year
Cleaning lavatories in an Institute of Higher Education
In the English Midlands
Life has dealt me seven truckloads of shit
Leaving me with nothing but pride in my work
Ignoring the framed sheet above the hand dryers
I signed today my very own piece of Art
In 2019, I wrote a short poem about Mark Rothko, prompted by his untitled yellow painting in The Tate at St. Ives. In the week following I wrote another poem on Giotto’s The Entry into Jerusalem. In the drafting I nudged this second piece into the same nine line and stanza form as the Rothko poem. Though lightly undertaken, this brief exercise in my notebook provided the impetus for a series that I immediately wanted to realise. Each poem would be a miniature canvas – type on paper if you like – a scaffold erected against a work of art that compelled my eye and imagination
I strive to include something in each poem that can be termed, as Elizabeth Bishop might have put it, accurate. Every other aspect - of idea, thought, tone of devotion or speculative fancy - negotiates, in the absence of the image, with a reader’s level of interest, knowledge and curiosity.
Some poems about paintings are marred by solemnity and an ordinary, laboured observation. I am conscious of a different temptation – brief anachronistic ironies – and hope this is not a prevailing note, though I don’t mind if it is one of the notes. My modest ambition is that each and all can be read, as Auden has it, ‘without contempt’ as the responses of an individual in front of a work of art. And though part of my ambition is to look anew, the instinct to admire is equally dear to me.
Lytton (Strachey) was a great reader. Holroyd (Michael, his biographer) tends to describe this as idleness, an attitude which Lytton himself shared. But reading is not idleness – any more than listening to music or looking at pictures – it is the passive, receptive side of civilization without which the active and creative would be meaningless. It is the immortal spirit of the dead realized within the bodies of the living. It is sacramental.
Stephen Spender Journals 1939 – 1983. 4th January 1980
spirit in these lines is evident in Spender’s poem “The truly Great” – mocked
by Thom Gunn –
I think continually of those who were truly great (Spender)
I think of all the toughs through history
And thank heaven they lived, continually.
I praise the overdogs from Alexander
To those who would not play with Stephen Spender. (Gunn)
Gunn had too fine a mind and was too good a poet to nag that theme for long, though contemporary critics of canonical ordering are not so reticent, far angrier and certainly less amusing.
What Spender’s poem and diary entry - nodding to each other across the decades of his literary life – express so attractively to this reader is the proposal that in the artist (and reader, looker, listener) modesty and grandeur of vision are creative companions.
Many of the works of art I have responded to in these poems are truly great. I have been thinking about them, continually. I offer modest poems. That offering is the only accessibility I seek in their presentation here.
Adrian Buckner July 2021
Copyright © Adrian Buckner, 2021