For Maureen Duffy, pictures are magical creations and recreations – of history, mythologies, landscape, love and death – where artists take risks analogous to a poet’s with words. Pictures abound in this collection, ushering the reader from canvas to screen via x-rays and iPhone snapshots, the latter inspiring the closing sequence Burdsong. Above all, Pictures from an Exhibition celebrates the mind’s eye, which is its own exhibition gallery: transforming Darlington Station into an upturned ship’s hull or a mauled pigeon into a still life, and glorying in the lives, loves and creations of painters from Veronese to Anselm Kiefer.
BLACK ON BLACK
For Anselm Kiefer
Growing up in the aftermath your colours
are grey and black, the tones of grief and guilt
with only a sprinkle of stardust hinting
at hope. You, we, are alone in the blasted
or frozen landscapes of nightmare, where
even the sunflowers are burned black.
Only the artist’s palette wings up while
you articulate the burden of history
in memorial towers of ashen canvasses
or steely heaps of books too heavy
to lift the heart on outspread leaden wings.
Exalted empty chairs are the trinity’s
vacant thrones. The godhead has gone to join
Odin and Thor now Solomon’s love song
resounds through a vaulted oven.
Born a war before you I still remember
the heaped bones strung together with shrivelled
sinew, humanoid with only an echo
of flesh and blood, a boney semblance:
the Belsen dolls. And our own grey guilt
that we didn’t see until too late. The poets’
words stumble among the parched furrows:
Celan, Wilde, Woolf exhaling the only
human breath , except for your lone figure
upright or stretched out, corpsed, sprouting
a tree of life from your guts, as we try
to do, flailing against history, manstory
prestory, before there was anyone
to tell it in song or paint or rhymes:
Pleistocine, Cambrian, Devonian
the labels we tack on to try to pin down
aeons before us while we trawl our nets
to catch the recent past, mystory
then yours by adoption; black on black.
You set love against it, innocent boy
bodies, soft and white to negate cold steel
lead, ash. Yet the way out leads through
the Black Forest again as we leave
recalling another war, the blasted
stumps of Nomansland, its ashen earth.