Five Poems after David Hockney After Wallace Stevens After Picasso
"In 1937 Poetry Magazine published most of Wallace Steven’s poem, “The Man With The Blue Guitar,” inspired by Picasso’s painting, The Old Guitarist. That same year Picasso painted Guernica, protesting Franco using Hitler’s Luftwaffe to bomb the Basque town. Also in 1937, English artist David Hockney was born.
In 1977 Hockney created a series of 19 etchings titled The Blue Guitar after Stevens. He wrote, “Like the poem, they are about transformations within art as well as the relation between reality and the imagination.”
When I saw his work at MOMA, I wondered who was going to write a poem responding to Hockney to continue this conversation of discovery. I waited and waited and no one did, so I borrowed the titles of his 19 etchings to use as springboards to reflect on Picasso's guitarist, Steven's poem and Hockney's etchings."
The Old Guitarist
After waking to cheese and chorizo,
bread and coffee, I slide my fingers,
my bent, blue, arthritic fingers,
along your fretted neck.
And you moan when I lick you.
And you moan when I stop.
And my breath upon your breast
leaves us breathless as our bodies
turn into a body of song.
I want to taste the world within your world
of rosewood. I want to feel the feel of you,
the you of you, the very, very real of you
before caesura pries us apart. Before
I leave this world the way I slid into it--
sans teeth, sans hair, sans you, crying
Not yet. Not yet.
What is this Picasso?
Because Hitler painted landscapes only as they are,
his landscapes looked like landscapes and nothing more.
So he painted huge machines dropping little machines
that Guernicaed the landscapes he could merely render.
Listen, we bitch war, but truth is, few of us would be
who we are unless there were so much of it. History
is an imaginary box with real bombs mewing inside.
We know they’re live when we hear them cry,
Have some more. And we say, Sure.
Let’s blow something up. Things as they are, are--
Don’t get me wrong, change can be good, but
so much depends upon who’s playing the blue guitar.
A Picture of Ourselves
O, do not ask what you can do for your country.
Ask for it to build for you, something huge.
Say, a corporation. Call it Manifest Duh.
Say, a religion. Call it Eminent Dumbrain.
Say, a wall. Call it American Except.
Look, up in the sky, stars turn over their engines
in the Guernica dark, and below, Main Streets
drape their coffins with flags.
Let’s make everything great again.
Let’s send everyone back.
What I mean is…is parade is history,
celebrated after the war is won,
the enemy done and the myth sips a cordial,
lights a cigar and polishes its story.
It was pageantry all afternoon.
And in the evening it was debris.
What we need is a song, you and me.
Let’s have us a song--
I place a guitar in Tennessee
And strike a chord
A minor chord that floats
Like feathery floss
Across the breezy slopes
And in the sky
Ain’t that the sky
A chorus of pundits cries out sharply
Things as they aren’t
trump what they are
What they are
Etching is the Subject
Etching is the subject of etch,
as making is the subject of poem.
Unlike nature that doesn’t mean to mean
or to be beautiful or to kill,
the poem is an obsession
of imagination over will.
When Dora Maar posed for Picasso,
he unscrewed her lens from her art.
She became his model, his muse, his lover,
but no longer a maker.
Look how pensive she looks in this engraving,
looking without and within.
O Dora, mi amor, even though a counterfeit
of your countenance hangs in my room,
I don’t think I ever
knew till now
Peter E. Murphy
Peter E. Murphy was born in Wales and grew up in New York where he managed a nightclub, operated heavy equipment and drove a taxi. Author of eleven books and chapbooks of poetry and prose, his work has appeared in The Common, Diode, Guernica, Hippocampus, The New Welsh Review, Rattle, and elsewhere. He is the founder of Murphy Writing of Stockton University.
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