Fruit as Still Life / Vruchten als stilleven

Is fruit ever not still?

Life is never still.

A still life isn’t still.

Broad, flat flaglines. Blanks

which are greased.

(Interlinear lures.) Propelled
—seeming (as though
behind, a scrim of clear
water was written . . .)
White + turquoise,
they manage

through a kind

of magic to
be neither
foreground nor

the jagged

edge of a crown
bowl. This Karel

Appel is really

an animal! Likes
his fruit striped. With a hint
of stench in it—liquor

of unwashed

about it. A colour

between brown

and peach,—somewhat
weepy when squeezed. An after

-Eden aftertaste

remaining on the observer’s
eye-tongue (a crown). A lurid
lack. (This impasto

as thick as pasta.)

Questions and Answers

A. iv. As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

Read. Read whatever poetry inspires you, and study the language as carefully as possible. Why is the poem successful? What about it speaks to you? What form does it have? What devices? But also, feel free to read other subjects you are passionate about, and experience different facets of life so that your writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Once a poem feels finished, put it aside for a few days or weeks and look again. — If you thought it couldn’t be better after one or several drafts, you were probably wrong. Letting go of portions of poems which don’t fit is just as important a part of the writing process as creating the original material. If it is hard to erase a line you love but you realize it doesn’t work, you can perhaps find a place for it elsewhere, or even build another poem around it. Think of the integrity of the work you are creating… If you are editing you might reach a point where you suddenly hear this nagging voice within you. — This is your Voice of Poetic Conscience. The Voice of Poetic Conscience doesn’t just work for you, but for poetry itself. It sees beyond the demands of your ego or moments of complacency and insincerity. It’s a person inside you who has you hooked up to a poetry polygraph test. When that needle starts oscillating wildly, this is the point where you must stop, rework the line, or even rethink the direction of the poem entirely. No matter how difficult the struggle — try to persist until you have satisfied this inner critic. If the poem seems flawed and unfinished to yourself, it will more than likely also seem that way to the reader.

B. ii. What poetic techniques did you use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?

The poem begins with three lines which engage in a repetition of words and rhythms. They use the rhetorical device of epistrophe, in which each sentence concludes with the same word. While the lines mutated in a way which bent the operations of language and logic (much in the same way a verb is conjugated) sounds and meanings arose which were of interest to me, although this came about after much shifting around of words and rhythms. It is a common enough device in modern poetry, although I think if all one did as a poet was to repeat and mutate sentences that it might not be very successful. I did it because one sentence replied to another, and I wanted it to go further. It felt “fresh”. I think when successful this kind of language play tears open a hole onto the absurd. Absurdity is kind of like a joke but it is not.  In absurdity, we are struck with a keen awareness of how although we rely on language by necessity, language is also failure and imprisonment. Operations of language can swallow us whole, and in themselves are laminated, merciless objects which are not thoughts in themselves or anything of human value outside of context. Language is tied to and creates a basis for systems of domination. While some absurdity is painful, some of it is also fun, liberating and/or cathartic. Or any good metaphor for that matter—which although not necessarily absurd—like absurdity it cannot really be translated or described in other terms. In shared absurdity, the acknowledgment of the failure of language and logic expresses a human predicament, is adaptive tool, and perhaps our greatest protection against total imprisonment.
Moving from these lines deconstructing the painting’s genre and title, I shifted into a physical description of something which really inspires me about Karel Appel’s paintings. — I wanted to describe the sensation of how bold fields of stripes seem to float and propulse against one another. To maintain this feeling of both levitation and propulsion, I felt that sticking with shorter lines and using enjambments which share a similar feeling of tension to the painting was the way to go about it. And then suddenly — the painter himself becomes the subject. I had just read a book on Appel which had sat for years on my shelf and was inspired to bring him into the painting. I don’t know if I would have appreciated Appel as a person, but this is another matter entirely to someone having an appeal as an artist. The poem is quite free in form compared to others I am working on, outside of the constant desire for language to be inscaped to its subject. (To verb Gerard Manley Hopkins’ term.) This freeness seemed only suitable for such a subject. Unlike much poetry I’ve written, it involved little feeling of struggle or angst. I was simply caught up in the painting itself, and it became both celebration and homage to Appel’s brash use of colour and paint, as well as his wilfully childlike and anarchistic personality.

This poem “Fruit as Still Life / Vruchten als stilleven” originally appeared in Rescaling CanLit: Global Readings Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 238 (2019): 101-102.

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