Monday, 20 January 2014

Barry Hill: Naked Clay: Drawing from Lucian Freud


Having seen a copy of this collection on the Shearsman Books website, I knew I had to have it. The subject matter, although I was not particularly familiar with it, appealed to me. Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud the famed neurologist and  psychoanalyst, was highly regarded as one of Britain's .twentieth century, figurative artists. Born in Germany in 1922 he achieved worldwide acclaim  as an artist before, years later, some ridicule when he painted Queen Elizabeth  II's portrait which many found offensive. He died aged 88 in 2011.

Barry Hill is an Australian. Born in Melbourne in 1943. He is a journalist, historian, poet and academic. He has written in total some eighteen books comprising poetry, fiction, non-fiction and essay.

Here below is the blurb about the book cut and pasted from the Shearsman Books website...

Naked Clay is an intimate response to the paintings of Lucian Freud—the great amplifier of twentieth-century figurative art,' as the critic Sebastian Smee has written. With an astonishing touch for individual paintings, and for the connections between seeing and touching, Hill begins his own process of amplification with poems arising out of the 'Flemish' portraits and life-studies of Freud's early work, those exacting acts of surveillance that made such an impression on London half a century ago. The poems then move, in keeping with Freud's shift of style, into the matters of the flesh, nakedness and performance with which the painter is still confronting viewers. Of Freud's 'late style', the painter Frank Auerbach wrote that it has 'no safety net of manner.' This might be said of Hill's engagement with Freud's incomparably candid treatment of his ailing mother, his naked daughters, his male and female friends, each of them tenderly and shockingly rendered in all their 'creatureliness'. The poems are as urgent as the paintings and taken together they constitute an essay on the ambiguous gifts from a painter of such mortal, material presences. Barry Hill has created a unique space for the senses and the intellect to be prompted, explored and disturbed.

What I with bare faced cheek have attempted here, is to place poems against the art they were written for. I think both images and words work without each other even though one format relied for inspiration on the other. For me, this is like a courtship, a flirtation, an intimacy where one sees what the other feels recording that emotion for posterity.

Obviously, I haven't matched each artwork with each poem. As the book has sixty-one poems that would have taken me an age to do and you weeks to read. This is but a pairing of some of the art and words. The book is divided into five parts. - Glass, Clay, In Sight of Death, Roll Up Roll Up, Magnanimity. I have selected five poems and placed the appropriate artwork above them.

Here then "Naked Clay. Drawing from Lucian Freud...

Boy With a Pigeon, 1944

Boy With a Pigeon by Lucian Freud

In the palm of one hand
I can feel the soft weight of the bird
all its downiness of the kind
I had, once upon a time
on my cheek, my upper lip.
In my other hand its feathers quiver
then settle like a silk bow tie.
Blue sounds, blue sounds—
the bird colours my jacket
calls into my stiff throat.
Then we can’t help but
bunch up a bit, tuck down 
for a pin-pointed look..

_____________________________________________________________________

Naked Man With Rat, 1977-78



..There is no getting away from it.

This redheaded man
hair as long as a woman’s
has his hand back on the cushion
in startled surrender to something or other…

His spade-flat chest barrels under his thick neck.
His carroty scrotum is a feature—
balls in the hand
would weigh a pound of butter
the pubes a sporran.
His legs are spread like a slut in a window.

One nagging thing is that he’s been left
nameless with mustard-tinted knees
shanks chalky and mauve
He’s muscular as a good sprinter
heels chaffed and together prayerfully
with one arm raised with a hand beside his head
an open hand that could be waving.

The other arm, the spooky one, is along his body
half of it across, over his belly
a forearm touched with more ginger
the hair there friendly with the fiery scrotum

and its warmth is spreading to the other on the settee
the one that is closed
ever so gently
around the rat.

Yes, a black rat,
a ‘Japanese laboratory rat’ I have read
since coming upon this man.
Held gently, as I say, but firmly enough.

From the top of the hand, the head of the rat protrudes
Its eye bright, a white dot
Its mouth open, showing some purply pink
and out from the hand at the other end
is the rats behind
and its tail
which curves, turns over the man’s thigh
right near the tip of his cock
at rest by the circumcised knob.

A sharp cry issues from the rat. It must—
that was my first thought.
Its stillness makes each ring of its tail tighten.
The trance of the man deepens.
His cock and balls
their indifference
becomes fathomless.

Instantly after that –a spasm—of relief!
It’s the strangest thing
to be so quickly accustomed….
as if one has lightly eluded something horrible
as if one has met one’s
match in the clinic
and can

 welcome to the lacunae…

Nothing you can put the finger on.
Not something to write home about either…

But it’s all there, these matters of fact.
I have a cock, my new companion has a rat, so what.
I have friends, most of them women, that’s that.

Look again. Does the creator give a clue?
(Do we ever clues at our most creative?)
You half hope to see the painter’s drink
hidden under the settee…
or a Stoli near the playboard
which pretends to lighten the room.

No. Just a general air of resentment…
at the amount of dowdy brown, perhaps
at the sullenness of the rat…

I came to think it an atmosphere of slackening.
After the vague promise of mammalian glory
― a shocking double whammy –
-                        there’s this codger weirdly naked sprawling
-                        showing his grasp of captivity.

________________________________________________________________________________________

.Eli, 2002

Eli - Lucian Freud
.
Ruddy heels and ball of foot
those insteps after some night out
belong to the man the master
who lies in turn
on the etherised cloth with whippet sleeping
under princess lashes.

A long damp snout
a tail between his legs
and pointing satyr-like
into the sweetest empty space.

When he wakes
it’s the dog that will feed the man

before a long, easy run.

____________________________________________________________________________

Annabel sleeping, 1987-88


Annabel Annabel in celestial blue
you have turned away
for God knows what.

Your gown contains you
and the soles of your feet
are there to be washed.

__________________________________________________________________________

Esther, 1982

Esther - Lucian Freud 

In the moment the cheek presses the pillow
a warmth returns to the face
the heat of the bed has risen
and the throat
with its lustre, informs the mouth, hot summer lips.
The teeth , if glimpsed, would gleam like the whites of eyes.

The truth is as it is with a filly in the stall.
When the afternoon draws close
the nostrils of a creature ―
husband, lover, friend or father ―
sense the moist dark.

The manes we have want to be brushed hard
heads feel heavier than hearts.

_________________________________________________________________________________


All art Lucian Freud.                       All poems Barry Hill. 




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