Friday, October 3, 2008

“Imaginary Still Lifes”


I was actually thinking of posting another poem this week, but then stumbled across this work while browsing thru Out of This World, an anthology from the St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery Poetry Project, & was quite taken by it.

The poet, Joe Brainard, is actually best known as a visual artist, & also for a unique memoir titled I Remember—each sentence begins “I remember”—a technique that as you’ll see is echoed in “Imaginary Still Lifes.” Knowing that Brainard was a visual artist, & also that he loved collage will make a lot of sense as you read this prose poem sequence.

Brainard, who was born in 1942 & died in 1994, was another member of the “New York School” of artists & poets. It’s odd in a way that three members of this remarkable group were classmates at a high school in Tulsa, OK—Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, & Joe Brainard. Besides Berrigan & Padgett, Joe Brainard was also closely associated with other members of the “New York School,” including poets Frank O’Hara & John Ashberry, & painters Alex Katz & Larry Rivers.

I find “Imaginary Still Lifes” quite a delightful piece, & reading it has made me want to explore Brainard’s work more. It is a bit uneven, I think—neither Eberle nor I were real taken with “No. 10”—but all in all it’s a deceptively simple poem written by someone with a real love & feel for objects. Brainard also shows his artist’s training in terms of the way he expresses color. Hope you enjoy it, & perhaps will seek out some more of Brainard’s work, too; both I Remember & The Nancy Book seem to be widely available. You can hear Joe Brainard read at PennSound, & can also find out more about him here, at poets.org.

Imaginary Still Lifes

(No. 1)
I close my eyes. I see a light green vase. A very pale light green vase. Right beside it stands something black. It is a small black ashtray!

* * *

(No. 2)
I close my eyes. I see white. Lots of white. And gray. Cool gray. Cool gray fabric shadows. (It is a painting!) With no yellow. By a very old man.

* * *

(No. 3)
I close my eyes. I see specks of colors. All clustered up loosely together. They are flowers. In a vase that doesn’t seem to matter much. Paint. This imaginary still life is obviously a painting by Jane Freilicher. And, if I do say so myself, a very good example.

* * *

(No. 4)
I close my eyes. I see bright orange. Almost red. A touch of purple. A speck of black. And a thick bluish stem. An exotic flower of some sort. Driftwood. Bamboo. (A bamboo mat) A figurine. Chartreuse. (1953!) This is a Polynesian still life.

* * *

(No. 5)
I close my eyes. I see—I hear music! This is not a still life. This is the radio on!

* * *

(No. 6)
I close my eyes. I see black. Just black. But wait……….a little white teapot is beginning to emerge, like a cut-out. Getting bigger, and bigger, And bigger! Until, now all I see is white.

* * *

(No. 7)
I close my eyes. I see a white statue (say 10” high) of David. Alabaster. And pink rose petals. And black velvet. This is a sissy still life. Silly, but pretty. And, in a certain way, almost religious. (“Eastern” religious) This still life is secretly smiling.

* * *

(No. 8)
I close my eyes. I see a charming nosegay of violets in an ordinary drinking glass. That’s all.

* * *

(No. 9)
I close my eyes. I see—a candle is casting a glow over everything. A flickering glow. From inside red glass. Covered with white net. With big holes. Salt and pepper. Little bags of sugar in a container. Red table cloth. One wine glass. I am in a Village restaurant waiting for my dinner to come.

* * *

(No. 10)
I close my eyes. Copper. I see a copper tea pot, rather well painted. Against a dark green drape, also rather well painted. By an art student. A she. Probably she went on to be an art teacher. Probably her name is Miss Black.

* * *

(No. 11)
I close my eyes. I see a pack of Tareytons. A pen. A bottle of ink. An eraser (A large gray wad). Dr. Pepper (Can). Ashtray. Matches. (A book of). Yellow Pencil (No. 2 Mongol). (Etc.). All scattered across this big brown table where I am writing this at now.

* * *

(No. 12)
I close my eyes. I see old fruit. Pots and pans. And scattered utensils. Brown. Art. Dutch. By nobody in particular. (Museum) And so, on to the Frans Hals.

* * *

(No. 13)
I close my eyes. I see a lazy guitar. A little potted cactus plant. And the rainbow blendings of very bright colors woven into a poncho, slung over a hand-painted wooden chair. (1955!) This is a “tourista” postcard still life.

Joe Brainard
© Joe Brainard, 1986

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.

Post a Comment