Wednesday bares the turned page of her shoulder
Friday walks to Sunday through the red blades of the
Saturday is the feral cat with the swollen balls
Here they come, the butched leaves, riding in from Dead Rock
Are these then townfolk on the srteets, selling their little dolls
woven on tongue depressors?
Oh to fly over Crippled Creek, dropping leaflets of a leafy color all over town
Would you reach up to kiss the hand of an Immense Phenomenon,
like you were a worshipper or something?
Look, an old box in the basement full of application forms
The photo memorializes my first encounter with the paintings of Jack Yeats. The time was the mid 90s. I was having dinner in the restaurant of the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co. Cork, Ireland, when my daughter made out the name Jack Yeats on a tiny card beside the murky painting behind my head and remarked on it, knowing, as she did, that I was thinking of writing a book on William Butler Yeats, his brother.
In all my reading in the W. B. Yeats criticism, Jack Yeats had never been brought forward as a force to reckon with. But Jack was a genius in his own right. An exhibition of his work in the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin in winter, 1995, brought this home to me. I was to go on to write, over many years, a book on the work of both brothers, which was eventually published in 2008.
Skip here to Jack Yeats’s aesthetic, which became thoroughly modern after 1925—unlike his brother’s, “experimental.” An aesthetic of representation that was impatient with itself. Restless. Turning away from solids. Sniffing their atomic composition. Work in which “memory,” so Jack Yeats said, played a large part, a sort of wind blowing through the colors of the landscape, making a splatter of them. The elements of the painting tend to cross one another, unsecured and unowned—an effect magnified, not diminished, by blown-up details. In his pictures, to put it another way, time does not hold.
The somewhat comparable poetics of the definitive line, at once complete and lonely in its big or little crowd, needing others, has made an appearance of late in other work besides mine, perhaps most notably in Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat. In my own work, it is still very much the exception, but it sometimes feels right when it comes to me, as it did in “Floating Ant.” Of course, the poem isn’t specifically inspired by Jack Yeats; it comes out of the general kitty and atmosphere of modernist practices; but, as in his paintings, nothing in it knows what direction to take.
Cal Bedient is the author of a number of books of literary criticism and of three books of poems: Candy Necklace (1997), The Violence of the Morning (2002), and Days of Unwilling (2008). His newest poetry collection, The Multiple, is forthcoming from Omnidawn Publishing in September 2012. He is co-editor of the New California Poetry Series and of the journal Lana Turner.