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Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Nude descending to an entrance - or an exit


Nude Descending a Staircase Marcel Duchamp




Slowly the ball of her right foot descends
to press down gently on the stair below,
rolls like a marble on an endless track,
seeks out the spot - the only spot - that does not creak.
Slowly her weight transfers to it.

Slowly the left descends to add its weight,
she feels the pace of life take a new leash.
The house is full of echoes: voices, rasps and groans,
she hears the sound of someone shuffling cards.
A fortune being told? Perhaps a fortune lost.

The warm air from below seduces her, clings
like a robe to her nude form. She moves her arms
as if to draw the garment round her, but instead
looks through the window on the mezzanine. A flash
of light from moon or car illuminates the scene:

a fox runs headlong, through a field and down the hill,
then lets the forest swallow him. STEEP HILL, she reads.
Then: 1-IN-5. ENGAGE LOW GEAR. The catseyes glint,
and all but freak her out. DANGER LORRIES TURNING
screams at her. She turns, looks back to view the screen,

sees overlapping versions of herself - fifteen
she counts. They clunk a bit. Walt Disney-ish,
the way they portray movement. Spread below
an engineer's delight: what passes in these more
enlightened times for what we used to call

a life class: cat-walk, film and video
The students cheer and throw their cameras
and mobiles in the air. The right foot's off again.
The window mists and seems to move. NO PARKING looms
and TURNING NOT ALLOWED... BEWARE PLANT CROSSING. Arms

appear. Two hands. The hands sweep back and forth.
The window fails to clear - her body-heat, perhaps.
The willows - or the window cleaners - gently tap
the glass. Her boyfriend's naked form falls limply on her lap.
The window clears, the local constable peeps in.

The verities of life vie in her consciousness,
the who and where she is, how life unfolds;
expressions of her hopes and memories.
As easily she slips between them as to sleep,
like being born or fading into death.

26 comments:

Karen said...

Wow! This is fantastic, Dave! You have created an entire world here. Details about her awareness of the sound of shuffling cards, the fox in the field, the meaningul signs, the screen, the class, and the constable create a surreal world to tell this story. This may be the best poem written for a painting that I've seen. Fascinating take!

jinksy said...

'overlapping versions of herself'... Guess we all have a few of those, too.
I love the illustration more every time I look at it.

Shadow said...

so many aspects, reflections and mirrors here. very well done!

The Weaver of Grass said...

I love that picture Dave - and my goodness me what a fertile imagination you have - fantastic poem.

steven said...

hi dave - a very nice unfolding of the enfolded. have a lovely day. steven

Barry said...

A beautiful poem Dave. It adds dimension to an already textured picture.

Linda said...

This is the first time to my knowledge that I have read a cubist poem. You have managed to capture all the aspects of her descending existence. What a neat idea to even try to do this. I enjoyed all the images of movement and sound you have woven into and out of your poem, the marble, the fox, the card shuffling. Brilliant work!

Kay said...

As there is so much going on in the art work, there is so much going on in the writing...wonderfully, no less, self-evaluating, contimplating

Deborah said...

...speechless. You are the gentle master of your words. It isn't the words so much as our enduring love of them that give us gifts like yours. Thank you for sharing your gift with us, David. You breathe life into your words. Such a treasure.

Deborah

Helen said...

Dave, your ability to take words and create such vivid images - is astounding!

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

A rare life you have given this lady. I love the idea of the warm air clinging to her like a robe. And so much going on - can't anybody get some rest around here?!

Friko said...

Again, great imagery; I see them as images in the imagination of the imaginary nude in the nude descending. entrance or exit? It makes no difference.

I don't suppose this makes any sense?
Maybe not, but I like it and I like what I imagine the poem to be saying.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, I enjoyed the rhythm and the pace of this poem being not much familiar with the subject.
There is a sense of urgency and speed in the succession of the lines with both a great suspension and absorption in the last two.
I think that at this point you could put together a collection of poems on paintings and sculptures ( maybe you have already done that.)


Thank you for your comment on my latest post.
Yes, standard varies from year to year and here in Italy from class to class because we teachers go into the classes, classes don't come to us as I think happens in England. And classes get "moulded" in the most unpredictable ways often by different teachers with their own personalities, abilities and moods...We often clearly see,and/or pretend not to see that "we just reap what we sowed"....

Ronda Laveen said...

Loved the pacing and visual images of this piece. They produced such unconnected connections to emotions. You are so right. Entrance or exit? And does it really matter if it's all the same?

Rachel Fenton said...

When I first saw the image I was worried. I love this nude and I have read so many poems about art that have made me cringe, but i have to say, I think you've pulled this off brilliantly. The only thing I don't like is the "ish" on Disney (don't have a valid reason for that one) and the separation of forth from the definite article in the penultimate stanza. I'm not sure severing them really adds anything. (I realise this may all be due to the contraints of how much you can fit on one line on blogger) Could you move the and to be with forth?
A wonderful poen and I, too, love the constable peeping in!

Dave King said...

Karen
Wow indeed! I hadn't expected such a reaction, but I do thank you for the encouragement.

jinksy
It is one of my favourite paintings. Certainly my favourite Duchamp art work.

Shadow
Thanks a lot for that.

The Weaver of Grass
Thank you very much - but I owe most of it to the painting.

Steven
Nice word play, too - and thanks for the good wishes.

Barry
Nice thought Barry - hope you're right!

Linda
Thank you for that feedback. It is always interesting - and very useful to know what others see in a poem.

Kay
Hi Kay, good to have you stopping by to comment. Thanks for that and thanks for the generous remarks.

Deborah
Hi Deborah, and welcome to the blog. I too, am a little speechless - at your gracious remarks, for which much thanks.

Helen
Many thanks for such a kind response.

Derrick
Lovely! Superb remark, it brought forth a broad and long-lasting smile, I can assure you.

Friko
That is a very good interpretation, I think. I actually started out thinking I might make it a trip (as in narcotics) but binned that idea early on.

Tommaso
Many many thanks for the comments and the suggestion. No, I have not done that yet, though I confess I have thought about doing so.

Ronda
No, in a sense when you do the one you are doing the other. It depends upon the viewpoint. What I had in mind were the two realities of her driving away (exit) and descending the stairs (entrance), but as I say, it depends where the observer is standing.

Rachel
I understand yourreservation about the -ish. I did think about that quite a bit, but will give it some more consideration. I'm not sure, though, that I'm with you when it comes to back and forth. I certainly did not do anything as a result of constraints on Blogger. I understand why you may have been worried initially - it is one of my favourite works, also.

Carl said...

Hi Dave-

I think you have captured the painting in words. Just wonderful.

A Cuban In London said...

I marvelled at the 'roundness' of your first verse.

'Slowly the ball of her right foot descends
to press down gently on the stair below,
rolls like a marble on an endless track,
seeks out the spot - the only spot - that does not creak.
Slowly her weight transfers to it.'

There are 18 'Os' (or should that be 'Oes'?) plus the idea of the ball of the right foot, plus the rolling like a marble (which are normally round). This verse and the poem as such bring to mind ideas about cycles, repetition. And you last line is the clincher in my theory, 'like being born or fading into death'. They're both similar because of the unconscious state in which we are.

Great piece.

Greetings from London.

ScarletTd1ar1es said...

now that was perfectly exemplary.

Sarah Laurence said...

I love that painting – so much dynamic energy. Your poem follows the image well and says more.

Adrian LaRoque said...

I know Dave, you paint with words.

Susie Hemingway said...

Oh! how I love this Poem Dave, particulary the first four verses, they quite stirred my heart. The lines "she hears the sound of someone shuffling cards. A fortune being told? Perhaps a fortune lost" are just music to my ears. In just two sentances you paint so clearly a wonderfully enticing and descriptive picture.

You have captured this wonderful painting so well. I shall enjoy learning much from you. Thank you for this wonderful poem it did appeal greatly to me.

Dave King said...

Carl
Thanks for that Carl.

A Cuban in London
All my best bits are inadvertent! A useful analysis, though. Thanks.

ScarletTd1ar1es
Ans an absolutely exemplary response, if I might say so! Seriously though: thanks.

Sarah
It is a great painting, for sure. Thanks for the feedback.

Adrian
If only I could write with paint!

Susie
Many thanks for the generous response. Much appreciated.

Mairi said...

I thought Linda's comment was particularly useful in thinking about this - the idea of a cubist poem, the fracturing of consciousness parallelling Duchamp' fracturing of the image. And the Cuban's observation about the number of those round letters - number 15 in the alphabet was astute. They do contribute to the feel of the verse and their absence in the second verse, the long and soft o sounds are mostly replaced by ow sounds except for the initial repetition of 'slowly' and the two important long o sounds in echoes and groans. It's all very interesting.
I didn't comment earlier on the Venus of Willendorf but liked it very much. Part one could easily stand as a poem by itself. The rhyming is particularly well done.
I finally got around to posting the piece I mentioned earlier, that talks, among other things, about what the reader brings to a poem. You might find it interesting. It's at http://theplumblineschool.blogspot.com/

Mairi said...

I thought Linda's comment was particularly useful in thinking about this - the idea of a cubist poem, the fracturing of consciousness parallelling Duchamp' fracturing of the image. And the Cuban's observation about the number of those round letters - number 15 in the alphabet was astute. They do contribute to the feel of the verse and their absence in the second verse, the long and soft o sounds are mostly replaced by ow sounds except for the initial repetition of 'slowly' and the two important long o sounds in echoes and groans. It's all very interesting.
I didn't comment earlier on the Venus of Willendorf but liked it very much. Part one could easily stand as a poem by itself. The rhyming is particularly well done.
I finally got around to posting the piece I mentioned earlier, that talks, among other things, about what the reader brings to a poem. You might find it interesting. It's at http://theplumblineschool.blogspot.com/

Dave King said...

Mairi

Oooh, so many goodies there! Many thanks for the comments, and above all for introducing me to the Plumbline School.