The Artist. His Model. Their Dog

Published : Tuesday, December 04, 2012 | Label:

1. Dog Sonnet

Best Australian Poems 2012 (edited by John Tranter) is out, and there’s a poem of mine in there: “Dog Sonnet”. It’s a sonnet about a dog…

...My dog, Honey. And of course, since it’s a poem—and a sonnet, at that—it’s about a few other things. Probably more things than it knows. But integrity and love are two of them.

Tranter’s reversed the alpha order of the names this year, so my dog and I get an early appearance (after some nice poems by Fiona Wright, Jen Webb, Alan Wearne and Chris Wallace-Crabbe). It’s a strong and interesting collection this year. One of my favourites is Luke Davies’s “At That Moment”. I miss Judy Beveridge and Stephen Edgar and Debby Lim and Susan Fealy and some others, but BAP doesn’t aim to be encyclopedic, and shouldn’t be expected to round up all the usual suspects. Each issue will reflect its editor’s taste. I’m delighted and a little relieved to be in there, my philosophical collie and I.

2. The Artist & His Model

And Bronwyn Lea has included my poem, “The Artist & His Model,” in Australian Poetry Journal 2.2 (out December 2012).

“The Artist” the first poem I managed to finish after the Montreal Prize last year: the scale and weight of that prize had stopped me in my poetic tracks for a month or two. It’s a different poem for me: it’s a dramatic monologue, for a start. In it, I channel Henri Matisse, imagining his making the drawings and studies that became his painting, “The Artist & His Model”. It’s a kind of ekphrasis, I suppose.

Nice becomes Kingscliff in the poem; 1919 becomes 2012; and Matisse, I guess, becomes me. It’s a poem written just after my fiftieth birthday, after a summer spent on north coast of New South Wales. That coast washes the poem. But it woke into my consciousness during a visit to the Matisse exhibition at GOMA in Brisbane in late December. There is in Matisse’s life and work a strain between sensuality and refinement, between wantonness and propriety, between the Bohemian and the Bourgeois, that I seem to understand. There is delight in the shapes and shades of the world; there is a wanting I share to let “each thing on earth...each carnal thing” stand free of all one’s desire for it and one’s longing to make it over into one’s beloved or one’s work of art: this I also I understand. And attempt. There is a capacity for love—in Matisse and his work (and for all I know in me and mine)—that, only in art, one can find a way to let himself admit. All this, I guess, along with some birds and weather and gestures toward some Matisse drawings I love, is in the poem.

I’m not sure, as I write, who else is in the issue—I haven’t seen my copy yet. But I’m sure it’s strong, and I’m thrilled to have been chosen again. The theme of the issue (2.2) is Art (and you can see how my poem fits that bill)—Lea lets her themes suggest themselves from the poems. Here’s a little piece of my poem:

Every piece of the carnal world

Takes the shape of a question it alone knows
How to pose. And you can keep on posing
Yours as long as you like, for I am in no hurry
To make an answer; I’m content just to follow my hand…

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