The Under Painting

A warm kitchen full of people talking,
faces softly out of focus,
children playing under tables.

Streamers of kelp drift through the scene.
Bits of orange pollen blow on the night wind.
A chimpanzee sits above on a knoll with a stick.
Angling for ants, he drops the stick into the kitchen.

A woman in the living room
is carrying her mother on her back.
She is the only one who can see her.

Another woman is eating a bowl of chain stew.
A third century saint looks in through a corner window.
A teapot, big as a car, is leaving by the side door on cat feet.

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8 responses to “The Under Painting

  1. If there were such a thing as the Hieronymous Bosch Award in 21st. Century poetry, you would be in serious contention for it…. 🙂

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  2. That’s interesting to me, since I work–on and off–with the idea of a palimpsest, the shadow text beneath a manuscript text. Pentimento is close to this in intent, since it is a previous work “repented”. An underpainting is different; more supportive; a plan, not an obliteration—like an analytical scaffolding for what is to come later. They’re all three about time, and layers, getting at what’s underneath..I think we already have these in poetry, since words have more layers in themselves than paint., but I guess if you’re talking about poetry primarily as visual images….nice to think about, Burl, thanks.

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  3. Fascinating idea for a poem! In one sense an underpainting is present in any poem that has undergone careful drafting and revision, I suppose, but doesn’t show through. Your deliberate play with this is very entertaining, Burl.
    I enjoyed your exchange with Cynthia too

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    • John, I usually try not to get too far into the polemics of poetry, the objective correlative, the new criticism, etc. I agree with Cynthia that the ideas of pentimento and an underpainting are already inherent in language and therefore poetry. To me, interesting things happen when ideas cross art forms. Bebop was borrowed by the Beat poets and incorporated into their rhythmic structure, etc. I’m just wondering aloud if the idea of using images in multiple ways in a poem, with an explicit under painting and beyond, and learning more about how it works in painting –like poly rhythms work in bebop–might be developed more. I think this is sort of what Transtromer does and the critics have already reduced it to “deep imagery. ” But I think there is more to be mined here. Also, I think you can ruin nascent ideas by talking about them too much, so I think I’ll shut up and write. 🙂

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      • I think you are on to something here, Burl, and shall watch for how you handle it in other poems (if you should choose to pursue examples on your blog).
        Ideas that cross art forms? Yes, so much to think about. Personally I love the way a Petrarchan sonnet seems to succeed by observing the golden section.

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  4. Transtrormer …now there’s an “acquired” taste!

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