Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Jon Stallworthy

As the final week of this month begins, maybe Monday will be an appropriate opportunity to remember Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born in southern France on November 24th in 1864. Perhaps no other painter except Pierre Renoir depicted nightclubs and dance halls of nineteenth-century Paris as well as Toulouse-Lautrec. However, where Renoir contentedly captured an elegant atmosphere filled with friends in an environment of glamour or gaiety and concentrated on distinctive patterns found among the movement of those in attendance—as in The Moulin de la Galette, his well-known portrait of a dance hall on a cheerful Sunday afternoon—Toulouse-Lautrec focused more closely on the entertainers and patrons as individuals in much the same way Edgar Degas isolated ballet dancers backstage or in rehearsals for study. Yet, while the limber long-legged ladies performing in a Degas painting usually appear delicate and move with fluid grace, the people frozen on a Toulouse-Lautrec canvas frequently seem like more earthy characters with darker, perhaps even sinister, histories sometimes suggested by the artist’s peculiar cast of colors and uneven lighting.

A number of his women particularly at times suggest a shady past and may represent individuals on the fringes or completely beyond respectable society—actresses, dance hall girls, prostitutes—females with difficult lives whose bodies are commodities and women whose physical features always exist as targets for observation and speculation, normally by others better well off, carefree revelers from an upper-class background. Indeed, some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s artworks frankly examine everyday events and voyeuristically illustrate intimate details in the inner workings behind the scenes at brothels that certainly would have been perceived as shocking to quite a few, especially as subject matter for proper art.

Some suggest these women, who make a living through the use of the beauty or agility of their bodies that others may gawk at or ogle, might have fascinated the artist and provided figures for empathy because of his own feelings of self-consciousness about his physical deformity as a dwarf and his crippling disabilities, which attracted much attention whenever he ventured into public places and engaged in social situations. In addition, as a person who was unable to participate fully in many of the popular activities on display at cabarets, in dance halls, or among various groups gregariously congregating outside boulevard cafés, Toulouse-Lautrec represented the perfect example of spectator, the perspective from which the images and personalities in his paintings often are portrayed.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s most famous painting may be At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-95 (pictured above), which exhibits a moment stolen from an ongoing narrative of action. In this piece the artist also demonstrates his willingness to playfully include wit and humor. In the center of the scene, a group of three gentlemen and two ladies are engaged in conversation around a table. However, in the forefront of the setting a woman stares from around one edge of the canvas, her face and body partially outside the frame of study. The artist has positioned her so that she is watching us, glaring at the onlookers peeping into the barroom like voyeurs, perhaps causing viewers of the artwork to feel a bit under observation and self-conscious as well.

Moreover, just behind the folks gathered at the table, we can discern a self-portrait of the painter, as Toulouse-Lautrec draws himself into the picture to reverse the familiar process for this artist and now to be observed by us rather than continue only as the observer. Additionally, the painter chooses to use colors that seem selected to suggest a slight sense of unreality or an aura of otherness. Indeed, the woman in white face powder gazing back at the audience for this painting has been placed in unusually bright and sharply-angled light so as to come across as overexposed or disguised by an array of colors, hues that make her appear to be wearing a mask, which practically conceals her true emotions and distorts her personal identity.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-95, an oil on canvas, is part of the permanent collection in The Art Institute of Chicago, and it was included among a number of that museum’s holdings that were subjects for literary interpretation in an excellent book of ekphrastic writings titled Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, edited by Edward Hirsch. The volume, published by The Art Institute of Chicago in 1994, features the works of nearly three-dozen writers, mostly contemporary poets or fiction writers commissioned for the project, who were inspired by selections from the museum’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century masterpieces. Among the pieces in this anthology, Jon Stallworthy contributed a wonderful 1963 poem he previously had composed in response to Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting:


“Cognac—more cognac for Monsieur Lautrec—
More cognac for the little gentleman,
Monster or clown of the Moulin—quick—
Another glass!”
The Can Can
Chorus with their jet net stockings
And their red heads rocking
Have brought their patrons flocking to the floor.
Pince-nez, glancing down from legs advancing
To five fingers dancing
Over a menu-card, scorn and adore
Prostitutes and skinny flirts
Who crossing arms and tossing skirts
High-kick—a quick
Eye captures all before they fall—
Quick lines, thick lines
Trace the huge ache under rouge.

“Cognac—more cognac!” Only the slop
Of a charwoman pushing her bucket and mop,
And the rattle of chairs on a table top.
The glass can fall no further. Time to stop
The charcoal’s passionate waltzing with the hand.
Time to take up the hat, drag out the sticks,
And very slowly like a hurt crab, stand:
With one wry bow to the vanished band,
Launch out with short steps harder than high kicks
Along the unspeakable inches of the street.
His flesh was his misfortune: but the feet
Of those whose flesh was all their fortune beat
Softly as the grey rain falling
Through his brain recalling
Marie, Annette, Jean-Claude and Marguerite.

—Jon Stallworthy

1 comment:

lynette bremer said...

many accurate insights.
i might add, and many do not realize this BUT
degas' soft pastels of beautiful ballerinas do not
totally address the realities of the abusive and oppressive lives these young women led.
degas chose to elevate their artistic contribution, and yet if you look closely, and i have at musee d'orsay,
you will see the pain and angst of their situations.
ballet mistresses and theatre managers were often
as bad as any johns and stringent in their controls.
degas presents them as suffering angels and
is paying tribute by doing so.
lautrec immortalized the under side of parisian bar life, but it is a much stronger statement and the colors reflect this.