These poems are an extract from a collection that follows a conversation held between three muses/lovers of Picasso: Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar and Françoise Gilot. The speakers are indicated by the initials before each poem.
Emily Cooper & Jo Burns
You were young when we first met
Though already an artist
The mind ages at its own pace
The body is more punctual
The work, as you know, speaks
For itself. Exists outside our narrative
I admire your ability to create
Value. Slough off the excess
Round the sharp corners
I sit early in the mornings
Among bedclothes worn by many
And watch as the paintings
Waken, cast shadows
That have become so permanent
They have begun to mark the walls
Dora, if you could strip those walls of marks,
what would you paint on the blank canvas?
I think of us as corners of a huge room,
essential for the centre to even hold
but barely registered until someone looks.
He rarely considered the rest of the world
but as it happened, I was gifted
with autonomous movement.
I have to quickly explain my thoughts
about my painting, The Painters.
Pablo is surrounded by Gastaud, Pignon
and myself, three artists facing The Face of Peace
illustrated with Eluard’s one-line poem,
‘Man concerned with peace is crowned with hope’.
In my own composition, I am present
in three different ways: once as the young disciple
half-hidden behind the master, and then as his muse
in his interpretation of my face crowned with a dove
in flight but thirdly and most importantly,
I have a face and I’m the painting’s author.
Françoise, it is unfortunate, but for me
There are no longer any blank canvasses
What is absent is present in its absence
In the corner dust collects and softens me
I too have no broom, and all my brushes
Have collected paint, they sit together
In a ceramic cup, gently conversing
About what great works they touched
Dear Dora, I’m intrigued by your refusal
to give the world what it wants to hear.
To this end I’ve been listing some questions
which may or may not even have an answer.
When you switched to landscapes, were you relieved
to see the world from just one perspective?
Do you consider surrealism a child he bred
with you to then kidnap and smuggle away?
In your studies of objects, did you paint the penumbra
before the image? Or vice versa?
When you shone in your own field with Père Ubu,
did Cartier-Bresson praise or shun you?
When Cocteau drew you and Pablo painted over it,
did you feel, at that point, like you had an owner?
How did you handle the death of your mother
while you were both arguing on the phone?
Do you still believe in abstraction
or do you also still believe it’s a dead end?
How do you feel about the title in Le Monde when you died?
Everyone knows her name but no one knows who she is
Dear beautiful, young Françoise
I am old and tired
Perhaps you should ask your lover for the answers
He always knew me best
Or at least knew what direction I should be facing
For now I will face out the window
I’ve been thinking about my nails
About the green lacquer he bought me
The same shade as your foliage
Françoise, youth is not to be underestimated
I am pruning in the garden
The roses tell you their sweetest point
Peek green at you from the stem
Snap freshly like asparagus
You want so much to define me
To know me as you know yourself
But I have become unknown
I want it this way, I need to rest
Emily Cooper has been published in The Stinging Fly, Banshee, Poetry Ireland Review, The Irish Times and Hotel among others. She has been awarded residencies by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Greywood Arts, Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, and the Irish Writers Centre. In 2019 she took part in Poetry Ireland’s Introductions series and was a recipient of the Next Generation Award from the Arts Council of Ireland. In 2020 she received funding from the Arts Council of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Donegal County Council. Her poetry debut, Glass, was published by Makina Books in 2021.
Jo Burns grew up in Maghera, Northern Ireland and now lives in Germany. Her poems have won the Magma Poetry Competition, the Irish Writers Week Listowel Poetry Competition, the Poetry Society Hamish Canham Prize and been placed and shortlisted for the An Irish Post Poem of the Year 2020, Bridport competition, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Strokestown International Poetry Prize among others. She has been published in the Stinging Fly, Poetry Ireland Review, Oxford Poetry, The Tangerine, Poetry News and Magma among many others. Her first collection, White Horses, was published in 2018 by Turas Press, Dublin. Her second collection, Brink, was published in October 2021.
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