A Weekend of Dali in London

This weekend I was lucky enough to go and see one of my favourite Salvador Dali paintings up close at the Freud museum in London. ‘The Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ (1937) is a painting I’ve written about many times, but it is only when you really see it up close, that you begin to take in the true depth and intricacy of the work. It is much smaller than I had imagined, as I had always thought it would be a few meters tall and wide, for only that could capture the scale of the myth and the events of the painting. But much like ‘The persistence of memory’, which is the size of a postcard, it is relatively small (perhaps a3 sized – see image below). Yet the depth and intricacy of such a small painting, the detail on each and every one of the figures – all fully formed and realized – is staggering. But there is also a dimension – and I’d never really considered this in the images I’d seen printed in books – through the way the paint spatters and oozes and circulates, perambulates in currents of colour making it even more dream-like and psychedelic in reality. With the epigraphs on the walls of the gallery wherein Dali speaks of inhabiting madness whilst painting, I was reminded of Kay Jamison’s book Touched With Fire, in which she writes about the circumambulatory consistencies in works by the great so-called ‘mad’ or manic-minded painters like Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. It seems as if Dali is somehow  tapping into these mentalities here.. The significance of the painting to The Freud museum also bears mentioning, for Dali, like most all the surrealists, worked at the aestheticisation of Freudian psychoanalysis, and so Freud was a hugely significant figure for his ideas. Dali had met Freud at his London house (the house where this very exhibition was held) on July 19th 1938, and Dali had brought this painting along with him. So this was a kind of symbolic return for the painting. Dali took artistic inspiration from their meeting, drawing many pictures of Freud, and even likening Freud’s cranium to the spiralling shell of a snail, using it thenceforth as a symbol for Freud in many subsequent works. Freud himself was taken aback by Dali, and later called him a ‘mad Spaniard’ (surely this brought major boasting rights to Dali considering the stature of some of Freud’s best known patients), but he too was nevertheless deeply impacted by their meeting. Freud later said: “I was inclined to look upon the surrealists, who have apparently chosen me as their patron saint, as absolute cranks. The young Spaniard, however, with his candid fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has made me reconsider my opinion”. Not a bad legacy hey? To convince the very founder of psychoanalysis that just maybe there’s something to surrealism after all? Breton famously kicked Dali out of the movement, and yet it was Dali, not Breton, who convinced Freud of their significance. So anyway, to finish the weekend off, on the Saturday I presented a conference paper at Birkbeck university on Salvador Dali and the symbolism of death and decay within his work.

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me gazing on the Metamorphosis, beside which are the echoing, joyous words of Dali – “the only difference between myself and a madman, is that I am not mad!”

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“In classic paintings, I look for the unconscious – in a surrealist painting, for the conscious” – SIGMUND FREUD
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Freud’s spiralling, conical cranium
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a poem written by Dali to complement the painting
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Freud’s infamous couch and the office where many of the legendary unconscious plunders were undertaken…

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Freud’s totem collection. It is said he often held many of these figures as he spoke to patients, as if trying to draw some ancient, mythic significance from them… the ancient myths and the unconscious mind are seen as somehow deeply intertwined

***

Thrills with Daffodils – A Wordsworthian lovesong (Warning: silly and exlpicit)

Earlier this year I went on a fantastic, unforgettable trip to France and Switzerland as part of an MA Romanticism course. As a group we gelled almost immediately, and one night, after a long day of roaming the Grasmere hills and reading and reciting Wordsworth’s genteel poetry, we got drunk and decided to write some of our own… needless to say our take on Wordsworth was a little more explicit than the original. We decided it should revolve around Jeff, who was our fantastic and friendly tour guide through Wordsworth’s life and work, whom we all liked and liked to have a laugh with. So here I give you our collective masterpiece by a bunch of drunk Romantic literature students.

***

‘Thrills with Daffodils – A Wordsworthian Lovesong for Jeff’ by a bunch of drunk Romantic Literature students

Oh Wordsworth, you surely cannot know what
your words are worth to me?
Was it for this?
Or was it for John Carter?
But know this, my Jeffrey:
When I read the prelude,
I feel the need to get nude,
to let loose, in the reclusion of you…
Surely there is no manuscript
without you and I?
And twere there a shortage of pages
I need only your sodden, emptied clothes
for this, my lovesong for the ages..
The way you so tenderly touch the books spine
O’ twas sublime! Might you do the same with mine?
And Lo! On a gentle Grasmere peak
I wandered lonely as a cloud
You made my dick stand tall and proud…
As a curator, you conserve the past,
and so I wonder how long you’d last…
would it be dream-like slow or rapid fast?
And wherefore would our clothes be cast?
In the midst of pleasure when you said “go harder”!
I cried back “NO! Pray but think on John Carter!”
I could arrange the objects in your museum
In a way that will make you cum…
We might near that beauteous Elysium,
If you’d but do me up the bum?
O’ Come inside my Dove Cottage!
Bind me! Stitch me! Hold me hostage!
Dorothy and William let us follow…
let us pick up those fallen pieces
and stitch them together, like you didst to me.
Oh Jeff pray take rest, I shall be your scribe..
As you share your love of Will
May I play with your quill?
But give me a moment, I need to refill.
You folded me over in every direction
Will you help me sustain this massive erection?
The way you unfolded the map
To my heart, twas but a trap…
I remember in the room that tranquil breeze
But rejoice in knowing it was only you I seek to please.
I worked oh so hard to form a quarto
But alas! all I could get was an erecto.
Your homemade ink hast left a stain upon my heart,
While these manuscripts of such delicacy,
Set my heart aflutter like a feathered quill.
I’m bamboozled by your love,
Oh Jeff, you make me feel like a first edition…

You ask questions aplenty, to make us smarter
But the answer of course, is e’er John Carter.
You impressed me with such erudition,
And ere with your permission
didst I move the book-bearing box,
and pray as not to make you cross.
You taught me to count,
Just know that you can count on me,
And while I know how much you like rough edges
To these gentle hands one pledges.
Grab the needle and stitch me,
Make surest that thy hands are clean,
and be my needle, tend my seem.
And with your permission, John Carter,
We shall get dirty after class,
Shalt thou take me up the Mer de Glace?!
O Pluck my dainty daffodil!
And know that ten thousand daffodils dancing
Cannot compare with the tender rhythm of our humping.
I think often on when you showed me the prelude manuscripts
and freely weep,
As we bang on sweeping hilltops like horny sheep.
Feed me your Grasmere gingerbread
Whilst you go about giving me head.
And when you taketh me to bed
Twould be no struggle to get Jerwood.
Ah, let it be known the Grasmere trust
Didst nothing but stoke the flames of my lust,
Why we could together wipe the dust from Will’s bust,
Then fuck, ever so thoroughly we must..
Through time we shall travel,
The deepest mysteries of your body must I unravel.
I will write you a lyrical ballad,
whilst you gently toss me like a salad.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Graffiti-poetry

SAMO, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early alter ego, once wrote ‘graffiti is a poem the city writes to itself’. Though he’s best known for his iconic grafitti art – which sort of blends 80 neon, cave/wall art and tiki masks – his origin you might say was words. SAMOs words plastered and invigorated the New York city streets of the late 70s. Dwindling democracy, rife racial discrimination, violent capitalism and rampant poverty.. these topics were the rocket fuel to his booming creative engine. His words, like his art, were simple and yet pierced to the bone, they grappled with the deeper, underlying truths which were not to be found anywhere else. They made the unspoken not only visible, but beautiful. though already well on his way to the history books and stardom, in 1980 he was befriended by Andy Warhol who immediately saw his artistic genius and even bought some of his work.. Basquiat was made. Later he would collaborate with Warhol, though Warhol himself, one of the most iconic artists who ever lived, was disconcerted by just how easily his own work became lost, drowned out and utterly overshadowed when put anywhere near the sheer aesthetic immensity, originality and gravitational pull of Basquiat’s art. Jean-Michel died tragically of a drug overdose at just 27, but he was prolific, and created thousands of sketches, and hundreds of larger paintings which continue to hold great power and significance.

Below is a series of fragments taken from Basquiat’s early notebooks (ed. Larry Warsh), which I’ve rearranged to make a series of poems. Many of the words and phrases appear again and again in his grafitti/art/poetry – a hoard of words and images that he cut and pasted here and there, not unlike that method used by William Burroughs, an author whom he greatly admired. Many of the phrases in the books are crossed out, and it is not known for certain why. It could have been that he did not like these fragments, or maybe because he had already used them out on the streets. If the latter is true he’d have been something like an 80s NY version of Wordsworth: wandering about with his notepad and spraycans, jotting down ideas and poetic fancies as he went about on his odyssey, through streets thrumming and overflowing with energy and vibrancy. A sense-blitz, in which his creative mind was set alight by the scenes all around him. Many of these fragments, as you’ll see, are so vivid and poetic they could easily have come straight out of the pages of the Beat poets. They’re simple, raw and cut to the core. Here is

 

((___POEMZ“__by____Basquiat©____))

***

THE DREAM WILL NEVER DIE

ACCEPT THE REALITY OF LIVING

RUSHED INTO A LIMO BY SECRET SERVICE

IN A FRONTAL ATTACK

***

MILLING IN THE CROWD

TODAY HE ADMITTED TO BEING FOOLISH

RAN INTO THE TRAIN TO BEAT OUT THE FLAMES

THEY HAD TO

THEY FALLEN ASLEEP AND WERE INHALING THE SMOKE

SLIGHT CRACK IN THE GAS LINE

***

EMPTY AND MISRABLE

THIS LIFE IS AN OPEN SORE FESTERING

BRICK RUINS

TOMB HOLLOW MORTURARIES

VOICES OF AUTHORITY MAKE MAJOR CLAIMS

OTHERS   FROM THE EAST

GATHER AROUND THEM

SHO…

***

THE BAR WAS REALLY RED WITH CHINESE PAPER CUTOUTS

AND WOOD PANELING

THERE WAS A GLASS ARGUMENT AT THE POOL TABLE

IN THE BACK

“THAT’LL BE EIGHTY CENTS POP”

6 OR 7 OLD PUGS IN FELT

SHE LOOKED LIKE A VILLAN FROM TERRY AND THE PIRATES

***

I FEEL LIKE A CITIZEN

IT’S TIME TO GO AND

 

COME BACK A DRIFTER

***

LEAPSICKNESS

THE LAW OF LIQUIDS

THAT THORN IN MY HEAD NAGGING

MY FISTS CLOSED

VICTIMS OF EMBELLISHED HISTORY

THE SPORES FLOATED ON EVERTHIN

***

COLONIES OF BLACK RODENTS

FAKE SANDPAPER

SLEDGEHAMMER EYES

ROAD DINER

PLAY THE PART FOR HIS OWN REASONS

***

A MARBLE IN A SHOTGLASS

AFTER BREAKFAST HE STEALS A WALLET

FROM DAY OLD DRUNK ON SATURDAY MORNING—–

KERNELS OF CORN AS A FINAL OFFER FOR DEFECTIVE RIFLES

***

A YOUTH WITH “CROW” SYNDROME:

(AN ATRACTION TO SHINY OBJECTS)

SEES THE STONE AROUND HER NECK

FAT MONKEY

***

THE JIG IS UP

SO SAY GOODBYE TO THE NIGHTMARE

ON AUTOMATIC PILOT

***

FLICK OF THE WRISK

JAPANESE ARCHITECTS

AREA CODE OF ST. LOUIS

***

HE WAS PASTY WHITE

NO HE WAS SWARTHY, DARK AND SEXY—

NO HE WAS PASTY WHITE X—

***

A PRAYER

NICOTINE WALKS ON EGGSHELLS

MEDICATED

THE EARTH WAS FORMLESS VOID

DARKNESS

FACE OF THE DEEP

SPIRIT MOVED ACCROSS THE

WATER AND THERE WAS LIGHT

“IT WAS GOOD”©

BREATHING INTO HIS LUNGS

2000 YEARS OF ASBESTOS.

***

 

 

Haikus by Kerouac (and a few of my own)

I occasionally dip into Kerouac’s Book of Haikus or ‘pops’ as he called them. He once said “a haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture”. And so they‘re not inhibited by the rules of traditional haiku, just free, random, and spontaneous.. three lines to capture a scene or moment or idea… and he was a master of it.

*

the sun keeps getting

dimmer – foghorns

began to blow in the bay

*

the sky is still empty,

the rose is still

on the typewriter keys

*

In the sun

the butterfly wings

like a church window

*

You’d be surprised

how little I knew

even up to yesterday

*

praying all the time –

talking

to myself

*

the bird came on the branch

-danced three times-

and burred away

*

Drunk as a hoot owl

writing letters

By thunderstorm

*

Useless! useless!

heavy rain driving

Into the sea

*

Halloween colors

orange and black

On a summer butterfly

*

Wild to sit on a haypile,

Writing haikus

Drinkin wine

*

Gull sailing

in the saffron sky-

The Holy Ghost wanted it

*

Barefoot by the sea,

stopping to scratch one ankle

With one toe

*

Perfectly silent

in the starry night

the little tree

*

Swinging on delicate hinges

the autumn leaf

almost off the stem

*

rain’s over, hammer on wood

this cobweb

rides the sun shine

***

And here are a few of my own inspired by Kerouac:

a swooping swallow

sketches the outline

of distant mountains

a falcon perches

on the crash barrier

waylaid by human logic

everyone else

saw white walls

she saw snowy hills

in some childish dream

he smeared paint onto my cheek

I tipped into infinity

driving by night

the snow hits the window

like stars at warp speed

will you fall

into these words

or stumble over them?

in heaven

frontcrawling

through clouds of people

Gauguin humbled

by these people of the forest

who spoke only truth

body aflame

mind soaring

on a higher plane

a  robin

prancing branch to branch

will-o-the-wisp

birds in flight at dusk

breathtaking

effortless

cold white mornings

beautiful december

silences

leaves in icy stasis

like mosquitoes

forever in amber

***

“such pillars of fire must precede the great noontide”

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Gerardo Dottori – Burning City (1926)

“Here is the great city: where you have nothing to seek and everything to lose… Here is the Hell for hermits’ thoughts: here great thoughts are boiled alive and cooked small. Here all great emotions decay… Do you not smell already the slaughterhouses and cook-shops of the spirit? Does this city not reek of the fumes of slaughtered spirit?… Woe to this great city! I wish I could see already the pillar of fire in which it will be consumed! For such pillars of fire must precede the great noontide… I offer you in farewell this precept: where one can no longer love, one should pass by…”

– Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“Behold, I am the prophet of the lightning!”

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Benjamin West – Franklin drawing electricity from the sky (1816)

“I love all those who are like heavy drops falling singly from the dark cloud that hangs over mankind: they prophesy the coming of the lightning and as prophets they perish. Behold, I am the prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud!”

– Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

***

raptured conductor

beckons the glorious maelstrom

to o’erthrow the ages

***