Sunday 14 May 2017

BLUEBERRY EYES: a poem from Franz Kline

In yesterday's post, linking to my Guardian obituary of Jean Stein, I mentioned that I had published two poems based on paintings by Franz Kline in her magazine, Grand Street (issue 54: Fall 1995). I did have a query asking if I might make them available. So here is 'Blueberry Eyes'.

Because the issue was themed 'Space', the first of those poems was 'Torches Mauve', which began with a mention of space, and was concerned with the space within the frame. I think that was the hook I used to pitch it to the managing editor, Deborah Treisman, whom I had met. Coincidentally, I had been rewriting 'Torches Mauve' recently, after seeing the painting again in the Abstract Expressionist show at the Royal Academy, but looking at it today I started clawing the original back, with only a few changes. I will sit on that one for a while.

The other was 'Blueberry Eyes'. I liked it a lot, and thought they worked together well, but it had actually been published already, in my 1991 Northern Lights pamphlet Chump Change. As that was a limited edition of 300 copies, I figured I was on safe ground.

The poem was inspired when I saw Kline's 'Blueberry Eyes' in March of 1989 in Washington DC, where I was attending a world broadcasters' conference sponsored, I think, by the EBU. I took time off to hit the galleries, and I believe this was in the National: I can still recall the wall and the placement of the painting, I'm slightly less sure of the building itself. I wrote it out as a poem over the next two years and Chump Change appeared in May 1991. I still like the way it moves, with a rhythm I still see in the painting, and the tension between colour and black. Kline was so good painting with colour, and he did so few of them before he died. 16 years later, here it is again


Let's fight to hold
the darkness off

somewhere, the other
side of, the river

the shadow of a
bridge, let's let

the night begin
to echo & watch

as flashes of light
bounce off the flow

of water below.
On board a train

New York is

bridges connect
deserted islands

remain as sun dis-
appears behind the

Palisades, greens
turn to yellow

red & swirls to
stop at Spuyten Duyvil

& in that instant
train & landscape

intersect &
sunlight dies

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