Monday, May 17, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "Caught on Memory, Art Students' League, 1957"

Caught on Memory, Art Students' League, 1957

A blind salmon swimming
after my older brother,
I pluck a name from the catalogue.
George Grosz. I know enough
to know he's famous,
but not for what. And from Germany,
soon to repatriate. Gill hooked. First
day of class, stationed by the door,
newsprint pad propped against easel,
I gasp as the male nude strikes
two-minute poses. Legs wide, calf muscles
taut, arms stretched overhead.
Leaning left, fingers spread.
My charcoal breaks.
Five poses, ten, warm-up
for a long study
of his lean buttocks, the black
stool on which he rests one heel.
A group clusters, teacher hidden,
words inaudible, then swarms
as he moves to another
drawing, coming closer until
the small man, arm lifted to correct
foreshortening, thick marks on a timid sketch,
is revealed. He catches my eyes,
stares, unblinking.
                                It's hours
before he looks away
and I grab my tablet, leave 
the room, never to return.

This was published in an extremely small journal called "Purple Patch" in London. The editor just Xeroxes whatever he's accepted and shoves it in rather haphazardly.

I've always been fond of finding subversive or radical, very unconventional, places to send poems. My first work was published in "Struggle," a small radical  journal that I've always liked. That editor sometimes sends me notes written in the most beautiful handwriting. He's true to his philosophy, a blue-collar worker who supports his political ideals. I quite admire him, Tim Hall.


  1. Dear Melissa - you've told my story! Just yesterday I was telling two women friends about life drawing classes at Art School and in particular about one of the male models who would fixate on a different female student each class. My turn came during one the exam sessions, and oh... how awkward and blush-inducing it was for the very naive young me! (I was a sheltered boarding school girl!) His eyes never left my paper, either - I could feel them boring a hole in my page, especially when I could no longer avoid drawing his genitals! What could I do but keep going? It was an exam - I had no choice but to see it through, but oh my... it was 'hours before he looked away. . .' His name was Pete. (And I still have those drawings!)

    Warm greetings to you - and thanks for your poem and the memories it's woken.


  2. Oops, I've just realized that my last comment may come across as ambiguous... SO, just to clarify, the studio situation was more eye-opening than distressing or inappropriate.
    L, C

  3. Terrific poem, Melissa.

    Have you seen Anthony Duce's work:

    Anthony paints and writes about his models and the experience of painting them.

    I find it fascinating. I can't imagine drawing a nude, but then again I can't draw.

  4. Dear Melissa:
    I like the way this poem comes in spurts!
    You're still drawing.

  5. Your poem catches that capturing brilliantly.


  6. My favorite line: "Gill hooked." This poem is wonderfully paced, which just adds to the unease of the narrator. Bravo!

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