John F. Deane, The Instruments of Art

Edvard Munch, Separation

Edvard Munch, Separation

 

it

 

The Instruments of Art

(Edvard Munch)

 

 

We move in draughty, barn-like spaces, swallows

busy round the beams, like images. There is room

for larger canvasses to be displayed, there are storing-places

for our weaker efforts; hold

 

to warm clothing, to surreptitious nips of spirits

hidden behind the instruments of art. It is all, ultimately,

a series of bleak self-portraits, of measured-out

reasons for living. Sketches

 

of heaven and hell. Self-portrait with computer;

self-portrait, nude, with blanching flesh; self

as Lazarus, mid-summons, as Job, mid-scream.

There is outward

 

dignity, white shirt, black tie, a black hat

held before the crotch; within, the turmoil, and advanced

decay. Each work achieved and signed announcing itself

the last. The barn door slammed shut.

 

 

*

 

 

There was a pungency of remedies on the air, the house

hushed for weeks, attending. A constant focus

on the sick-room. When I went in, fingers reached for me,

like cray-fish bones; saliva

 

hung in the cave of the mouth like a web. Later,

with sheets and eiderdown spirited away, flowers stood

fragrant in a vase in the purged room. Still life. Leaving

a recurring sensation of dread, a greyness

 

like a dye, darkening the page; that Dies Irae, a slow

fret-saw wailing of black-vested priests. It was Ireland

subservient, relishing its purgatory. Books, indexed,

locked in glass cases. Night

 

I could hear the muted rhythms in the dance-hall; bicycles

slack against a gable-wall; bicycle-clips, minerals, the raffle;

words hesitant, ill-used, like groping. In me the dark bloom

of fascination, an instilled withdrawal.

 

 

*

 

 

He had a long earth-rake and he drew lines

like copy-book pages on which he could write

seeds, meaning – love; and can you love, be loved, and never

say ‘love’, never hear ‘love’?

 

The uncollected apples underneath the trees

moved with legged things and a chocolate-coloured rust;

if you speak out flesh and heart’s desire will the naming of it

canker it? She cut hydrangeas,

 

placed them in a pewter bowl (allowing herself at times

to cry) close by the tabernacle door; patience in pain

mirroring creation’s order. The boy, suffering puberty, sensed

in his flesh a small revulsion, and held

 

 

*

 

 

hands against his crotch in fear. Paint the skin

a secret-linen white with a smart stubble of dirt. The first

fountain-pen, the paint-box, pristine tablets of Prussian Blue,

of Burnt Sienna – words

 

sounding in the soul like organ-music, Celeste and Diapason –

and that brush-tip, its animated bristles; he began at once

painting the dark night of grief, as if the squirrel’s tail

could empty the ocean onto sand. Life-

 

drawing, with naked girl, half-light of inherited faith,

colour it in, and rhyme it, blue. In the long library, stooped

over the desks, we read cosmology, the reasoning

of Aquinas; we would hold

 

the knowledge of the whole world within us. The dawn

chorus : laudetur Jesus Christus; and the smothered,

smothering answer: in aeternum. Amen. Loneliness

hanging about our frames, like cassocks. New

 

 

*

 

 

world, new day. It is hard to shake off darkness, the black

habit. The sky at sunset – fire-red, opening its mouth

to scream; questions of adulthood, exploration of the belly-flesh

of a lover. It was like

 

the rubbling of revered buildings, the moulding of words

into new shapes. In the cramped cab of a truck she, first time, fleshed

across his knees; the kiss, two separate, not singular,

alive. It was death already, prowling

 

at the dark edge of the wood, fangs bared, saliva-white.

Sometimes you fear insanity, the bridge humming to your scream

(oil, casein, pastel) but there is nobody to hear, the streaming river

only, and the streaming sky; soon

 

 

on a dark night, the woman tearing dumbly at her hair while you

gaze uselessly onto ashes. Helpless again you fear

woman: saint and whore and hapless devotee. Paint your words

deep violet, pale yellow,

 

 

*

 

 

the fear, Winter in Meath, Fugue, the Apotheosis of Desire.

The terror is not to be able to write. Naked and virginal

she embraced the skeleton and was gone. What, now,

is the colour of God is love

 

when they draw the artificial grass over the hole, the rains

hold steady, and the diggers wait impatiently under trees? Too long

disturbing presences were shadowing the page, the bleak

ego-walls, like old galvanise

 

round the festering; that artificial mess collapsing

down on her, releasing a small, essential spirit, secular

bone-structure, the fingers reaching out of need, no longer will.

Visceral edge of ocean,

 

wading things, the agitated ooze, women on the jetty

watching out to sea; at last, I, too, could look

out into the world again. The woman, dressed in blue, broke

from the group on the jetty and came

 

 

*

 

 

purposefully towards us, I watched through stained glass of the door,

and loved her. Mine the religion of poetry, the poetry

of religion, the worthy Academicians unwilling to realise

we don’t live off neglect. Is there

 

a way to understand the chaos of the human heart? our

slaughters, our carelessness, our unimaginable wars?

Without a God can we win some grace? Will our canvases,

their patterns and forms, their

 

rhymes and rhythms, supply a modicum of worth?

The old man dragged himself up the altar steps,

beginning the old rites; the thurible clashed against its chain;

we rose, dutifully, though they

 

have let us down again, holding their forts

against new hordes; I had hoped the canvas would be filled

with radiant colours, but the word God became a word

of scorn, easiest to ignore. We

 

 

*

 

 

came out again, our heartache unassuaged.

The high corral of the Academy, too, is loud with gossipers,

the ego-traffickers, nothing to be expected there. Self-

portrait, with grief

 

and darkening sky. Soon it will be the winter studio; a small

room, enclosed; you will sit, stilled, on a wooden chair, tweed

heavy about your frame, eyes focused inwards, where there is

no past, no future; you sit alone,

 

your papers in an ordered disarray; images stilled, like nests

emptied; the phone beside you will not ring; nor will the light

come on; everything depends on where your eyes

focus; when

 

the darkness comes, drawing its black

drape across the window, there will remain

the stillness of paint, words on the page, the laid down

instruments of your art.

 

 

from John F. Deane, The Instruments of Art, Carcanet Press, Manchester 2005

 

 

 PhotoBorn Achill Island 1943; founded Poetry Ireland – the National Poetry Society – and The Poetry Ireland Review, 1979; Published several collections of poetry and some fiction; Won the O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry, the Marten Toonder Award for Literature and poetry prizes from Italy and Romania. Elected Secretary-General of the European Academy of Poetry in 1996. Shortlisted for both the T.S.Eliot prize and The Irish Times Poetry Now Award, won residencies in Bavaria, Monaco and Paris. Latest poetry collection The Instruments of Art, Carcanet 2005; In Dogged Loyalty, essays on religious poetry, Columba 2006; latest fiction The Heather Fields and Other Stories, Blackstaff Press 2007. His latest poetry collection, A Little Book of Hours, came from Carcanet in 2008. He is a member of Aosdána, the body established by the Arts Council to honour artists “whose work had made an outstanding contribution to the arts in Ireland”. In 2007 the French Government honoured him by making him “Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres”. In 2008 John F. Deane was visiting scholar in the Burns Library of Boston College. 2010 sees the publication of a new novel, Where No Storms Come, and a new collection of essays, The Works of Love. His new collection of poems, The Eye of the Hare came from Carcanet in June of 2011. April 2012, John F. Deane was Distinguished Visiting Professor in Suffolk University, Boston, USA and in October 2012, Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill: New & Selected Poems, was published by Carcanet

 

 

 

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