Along with the Everyman Library book of Love Poems that I used in an abstract a few weeks ago, came the anthology, Erotic Poems, from the same series. In it I found The Woman Underneath by Robert Maître, a poet about whom I know nothing and who seems to be strangely absent from any Google search. Here’s an excerpt:
But, somehow, it was the synthetics,
hitched nylon, an erotic mechanics,
that set us light years apart.
What did we have when we undressed?
Socks. Jockeys. A string vest.
But when they stepped out
of shoes, blouse, and skirt –
Inspired by the illustrations of John Cuneo, this collage features a certain type of man: you know him – he holds all sorts of opinions about how a woman should look but allows himself different standards. He has money, thanks to a business that owes its success to never underestimating the ability of the buying public to pay over the odds for something they don’t need. Unfair employment contracts meant that he didn’t have to worry about taking care of his staff and provide him with money enough to treat himself to expensive suits, a red Z4 and an all-year tan. If only he’d paid more attention to his underwear.
Here’s a picture which started life as an exercise in combining paint and collage. Taking its cue from the line about ‘the pilgrim soul’, the suggestion of landscape and a path through it was used to imply movement, an emotional journey from one place to another. It isn’t by any means a finished picture, but more a work in progress. I might even, as I learned to do in my Seawhite Studios workshop, paint over the whole thing and start again!
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,/ Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,/ Yet knows its boughs more silent than before
One man loved the pilgrim soul in you
Rosy lips of such ecstasy
Words at once both true and kind
I have not a crumb of comfort, not a grain
Remember, in the eyes gazing at you
Quickened so with grief,
Slow and sweet was the time between us
There could be a whole short story in the inscription, written inside the book (below). Note the date and wonder what happened to these two, and why her gift ended up among the reduced stock of an online book dealer. Let’s at least hope that the time between them was slow – and sweet.
Poems by Edna St Vincent Millay, W.B. Yeats, C.P. Cavafy, Yehuda Amichai and Robert Graves.
When I was younger no-one talked of seasonal affective disorder: a cynic would say that giving something a name enables someone to sell you something to alleviate it. Whether it is real or just a way to pharmaceuticalise that feeling that winter may never end, it is the case that many of us endure winter rather than enjoy it.
Where I live, with its typical northern European sea climate, the peaks and troughs of the seasons are somewhat levelled, but when I was growing up in the north of England and later, living in the south of Germany, the seasons were more clear cut.
And winter brings its own rewards. What could be better than a crisp morning with the frost on the grass and a thin mist hanging in the trees; or that peculiar silence when you wake to discover that it has snowed overnight; or even a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon with a log fire and a DVD of The Big Country or that book you’ve been meaning to read?
I saw these cobnuts and thought their papery husks would lend themselves to the looser approach to still life painting that I’m trying to develop. The words, taken from The Thrush by Edward Thomas:
I must remember
What died in April
And consider what will be born
Of a fair November
actually refer to memory, language and perception, but could easily be a call to mindfulness, to living in the moment, to appreciating the seasons as they arrive with their gains and losses. After all, what else is there to do?
Recently I discovered the work of Hans Bötticher (1883-1934), who wrote under the pen-name Joachim Ringelnatz. Although for much of his life he worked as a kabarettist – a sort of satirical stand-up comedian, creating a bawdy mariner character called Kuttel Daddeldu – what remains of his work these days are numerous poems and a small body of paintings and drawings.
His poems are strange and witty, often bordering on the absurd. There was Once a Boomerang, for example, goes like this: The boomerang’s design was wrong -/ Just a little bit too long./ Off it flew on maiden flight/ And promptly disappeared from sight./ Spectators lingered with concern/ For hours, awaiting its return.
When I read the poem below it begged me to illustrate it, to which I generously agreed. If you can read the German version please do, as I feel the English translation makes too many concessions to the rhyme scheme. Of course the ending also has to be different because guinea pigs in German are known as sea pigs, even though they live on the grassy plains of South America (but they were brought across the sea to Europe, hence the name).