The poetic side of genius
Pablo Picasso's writing - done in the raw, unpunctuated style of the Surrealists - receives its first major translation into English in a new volume of poetry.
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"It's a kind of writing at top speed. The pencil does not leave the paper," explains Joris. Picasso, he ventures, may be "the most accomplished Surrealist poet. In terms of going for the absolute Surrealist process of breaking all syntactical barriers and eliminating the [intellectual] policeman who prevents you from saying things."Skip to next paragraph
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Surrealist writings provide insight into Picasso's art, art scholar and curator Richard Kendall observes.
"They are of interest," he explains. "Not frivolous or foolish. A lot of people don't realize how engaged Picasso became with Surrealism, what a big part the tormented, the macabre, the dreamlike, the fantastical played in his work. His writing is of a piece with that."
Picasso provided art for Surrealist journals, and was close friends with writers and artists associated with the movement. "The Surrealist strand is always there, but it comes through in the 1930s," Mr. Kendall says. He cites Picasso's great antiwar painting "Guernica" as "the picture of a nightmare." The poetry "brings something to our understanding of 'Guernica.' "
Rothenberg and Joris, who collaborated on the book from their respective homes near San Diego, Calif., and Albany, N.Y., are best known for "Poems of the Millennium," a 1,600-page, two-volume anthology of avant-garde, alternative, and postmodern poetry. It was while compiling that project that the two men, both accomplished poets in their own right, first published Picasso.
The present collection was translated by Joris, Rothenberg, and more than a dozen contributing poets from a 1989 French volume, "Picasso: Writings." While both editors hope publication of the English version will be regarded as a literary event, they are aware that Picasso's seminal importance as a painter is the main interest.
"It's more likely to be an event for artists and art historians," says Rothenberg. "It's hard to break through those boundaries."
Kendall agrees. "We're interested in almost everything Picasso did. If he had not been an extraordinary artist, his writings might then have disappeared. They're a minor aspect of his extraordinary career."
Joris, for his part, argues that the writing stands on its own merit. "These are live poems. These are not museum pieces," he says. "They may be more alive at this point, fresher - they have not been framed, like the paintings, by tons of critical discourse."
While their relative merit may be debated, the writings nevertheless give voice to Picasso's intent as an artist. Whether as pictures or words, his art aimed for the same effect. "Everything you find in these poems," he insisted, "you can also find in my paintings. So many painters have forgotten poetry ... and it's the most important thing."
orange blossom jasmine cabinet perfumed with pine scent little sugar cube stuck sentry-like on point of bayonet drawn from his gaze and bleeding honey from his fingers on the dove's wings burning at lake bottom in the skillet of his eyes shows up exactly at the happy hour with its flower needle pin prick poised to touch the sea's snout blue bull wingèd incandescent spread out at the ocean's rim
- Pablo Picasso
the claws of
on the rose
- Pablo Picasso