W.H. Auden’s ‘Musee des beaux Arts’ is probably the best known poem that takes a painting as its starting point, much as Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ imagines a painting that sparks a fiction. The Australian poet Peter Steele wrote a fine book that drew on a visual gallery, and of course Peter Porter wrote several splendid poems that come into that category rather forbiddingly described in literary dictionaries as ‘ekphrasis’. As far as I know, such poems are thin on the ground in New Zealand writing, with Hone Tuwhare’s poem about a Ralph Hotere painting certainly the best known. More recently, Anna Jackson has a good one that takes off from Browning’s Duchess. But what a delight then to come across Peter Belton’s ‘Talking with Painters’, an on-going series written by a practising artist and teacher at the Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill. Some of these will be published later in the year, but in the meantime a coup to offer a number of them here on the Laureate blog, as well as some of Peter’s images. I was struck by the imaginative flair and range of their engaging with artists as well as their works, and by how deftly an informed eye is so at home with the challenges of another craft.
– Vincent O'Sullivan
All said and done, they left the bankrupt with only a
mirror which shattered anyway through his distraction
collapsing hours spent in half-light before a window of white canvas
into a stare. So much time to think.
Thick with the dusty stuff of pigment let him paint
an inch thick; for we must come to this. Saskia with blood in
her mouth. Geertje’s exhausted eyes puzzled with weeping and
Hendrickje lifting her shift; lowering her eyes.
Stand Tapies against the wall and shoot him
Would he be the Master of Analogy through simulation?
Must he, needs be, create yet another allusion without irony
or reflection to the timeless wall?
Blood sticks to walls and bullet strikes suck punches like offended mouths.
Strike me with stuff. Scratch me artfully. Pastry bits onto me.
Beyond reflection? Maybe.
Peter Belton, My Shadow before the Torrent (2013), Mixed oil media on board, 770 x 900mm
The hand slips, mind.
Does glimpsing slip the eye?
Words fail on our lips.
Do we sense the lie?
Do we hear then? Do blind men see?
Or has all meaning passed us by?
The Curator sings his lament
an elegy to holding and keeping
Is a palimpsest a sideways swipe at being again?
An erasure of impression with another, another?
A sideways swipe after the fact when folding follows
collapse into messiness; abjected, altered, muted?
Another footfall becomes a sediment to be peeled, revealed
and, bye and bye, a gouge to bleed by.
Embed the press of palimpsest; straw into lead Mr. Kiefer
and lay your weary impressions edge to edge.
Peter Belton, Sunset: Foveaux Coast (2014), Mixed oil media and Livingstone marl on board, 900 x1100mm
no title and no thing
So everything signifies and Kurt Schwitters lugs his valise
laden to the next trainstop. Ambleside from Hanover.
Handover hands thick with worrying paste and patches.
Tickets from Neverwas to Maybe and Stumbledown
revealed in the small nervousness of torchlight.
On Kitaj’s Suicide
Kitaj hunted by the Jew
within and over his shoulder
watching the crackling air.
Kitaj hunted no rest for bodies
over there, beside his shoulder
burdened with pointy fear.
Kitaj - just behind us now
slipped his burden from shoulder
to shoulder. Our shoulders
Peter Belton, Prospecting (2015), Mixed oil media and Livingstone marl on board, 770 x 900mm
How might it be? (for Johannes Vermeer)
Spinoza, the lens grinder shaved pixels from his looking glass;
bending refractions in order to magnify.
It was, as his friend the painter noted, about selection
so that we might reflect upon our seeing
more clearly: pearls of light to be discovered dancing
in the tapestry of the moment.
A Light Bright Beach
Drawing across my eyes,
dexter and sinister switching
so like a white horse’s tail
to keep the moment away;
and voices rolled
into the wash of stones.
Peter Belton, Flying Man (2010), Oil media with encaustic, 300 x 600mm
1914: An Old Photograph from Berlin
I see you wave.
Your hand in his arm
to arm his smile.
Compliant, bemused boy
short stepping not so sure of
the weight of rifle
upon his shoulder.
Your face gripped thin
lipped with resolve your eyes
away out there.
It is an old photograph. Flat toned and
airless he marches a
plucked flower button-
holed to his heart.
Your blouse so white.
There are holes; perforations in your
lace like a file of bullet strikes
about to poppy froth.
He marches. He is a frozen moment.
Her white arm upraised;
shot clean with holes.