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Poet as collage artist

Many poets will be familiar with the idea of a ‘word palette’. We often use the vocabularies of a landscape, craft or occupation to create metaphors or unify a piece of work. In his intriguing pamphlet Frank & Stella, Mark Wynne has taken this idea a step further, adopting the art and life of the painter Frank Auerbach as his palette, along with borrowings from commentary about the artist, and composite characters created from the artist and his models.

The material is reworked to create a new context for Wynne. He interrogates his own concerns through a collage of all things Auerbach in short poems with mostly unpunctuated lines, as in ‘Primrose Hill’:

I take bus rides
    all over town

the razed cityscapes
    comfort me

after months & months
    over Primrose Hill

a secret geometry
    finally emerges

my life illuminated
    by a lie

Many of the poems are set in urban interiors, with place names and poem titles taken from Auerbach’s life, as in ‘Finsbury Park’:

I pace from room to room
I have seized all points of view.

Other poems are concerned with spaces where important scenes have occurred, or where people are missing, as in ‘Insomnia’:

I wake up at five — impatient —
           for what?
my language is impoverished

strange how the absence of one
woman can empty a city.

Auerbach’s technique of painting in heavy layers and scraping away to begin again is referenced in some poems, as in ‘Camden Town’:

I wake up every morning
            stunned

the walls scraped bare
            again.

This is not to say that the reader must be knowledgeable about Auerbach, although that would add another interesting layer. I enjoyed the poems with only a brief foray online to gain some idea of the images and context from which the poems were created.

Where the poet and artist perhaps differ is in the thickness of the brush strokes. Auerbach’s paintings strike me as weighty with their density of paint. Wynne’s poems, paradoxically, gain weight from spare language and lightness of touch.

Heidi Beck