Meeting the bar as a cubist poet.

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Hello Björn is here with a challenge that I hope will bring out the best of you. I find it interesting how different movement in art and art actually follow each other. For instance we have all heard about expressionistic poetry. So I thought that today we would start to investigate this a little bit more during some months to follow. I will be researching the topic and see how thoughts in art represent themselves in word.

Today we will discuss cubism, not only because it’s one of the least obvious, but also because it connects to a poem I wrote last week for OLN, and some of the comments I received around that.

So let us start with the definition of cubism in art. Cubism is first of all not abstract, but another form of realism. The pioneers where Pablo Picasso and George Braque who started to explore reality using the following starting points.

Break the concept of perspective, something that had been around at least since the renaissance.
Break the picture into simplified objects with clear borders in between. These forms were often done as geometric object, each of them simplified and with clear borders between them.

Pablo Picasso, 1910, Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier), oil on canvas, 100.3 x 73.6 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Pablo Picasso, 1910, Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier), oil on canvas, 100.3 x 73.6 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York

You can see this very well represented in Pablo Picasso’s “girl with a mandolin” where different parts have been broken up and simplified. Then the parts are showed in different perspectives, almost as you have tilted the building blocks.

Cubism was later on further developed, but I think sticking to these two small rules we can easier see how this applies to poetry.

We have already looked on one artist who inspired by this wrote poetry, that yet today sits among the most controversial. Gertrude Stein, and her book Tender Buttons. For her the simple items where the words themselves, and by abandoning concept as grammar or meaning created images that actually crosses the border into incomprehensible. There are cubist painting that are very hard to interpret as well but since we’ve have had a prompt on that already I would like to present you with another cubist approach.

If you on the other hand start with simplification of poetry into very short pieces, we are all aware what can be done using for instance haiku or tanka. Or sticking to modernistic principles we can use an imagist approach. Poems like that are complex in themselves because we have to fill in the gaps ourselves as readers. A short poem like that will be viewed different by context of the reader.

Consider now a cubist approach, where you write many small poems on the same object but with a shift of perspective, and you might see that that the poems put together will form something where gradually the poet provide a clearer and clearer context. I see it almost as a conversation with the reader. This has of course been done many times through history, but for it to be truly cubist we also need to break the pieces apart. We have to show the borders between the perspectives and refrain from blurring the edges, or at least have a shift of perspective large enough to provide contrast.

So now let’s jump to an example, the most famous one:

Wallace Stevens’

Thirteen ways of looking at the blackbird.

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Notice how each poem could be written using imagism or other modernist poem, it’s simple a clean, like the geometric shape in a cubist painting, but when put together they form a complex weave that together form a new unity, like the full painting. Notice how a coda if read by itself would require you to fill in plenty of gaps, just like how a portion of a cubist painting would be something different than the whole poem.

For today I would like you to:

Select a simple object, or a common concept
Write several poems where you look at the object from different perspective. This perspective could be anything (poets have so much freedom than painters) such as being placed in a small narrative, at different part of the day or at different seasons.
Order your small poems in an order where you while striving to create contrasts and keeping the coherence of a complete poem.

If you want to paint more, you can let the poems be moved closer, they could be different codas, stanzas or just images with line break between. Like Claudia’s prompt on layered poems.

Post your poem when you are ready and link up to the link below. Come and read, comment and have fun… Remember that the prompt is open 48 hours so spend your time writing and rewriting.