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Painted by Charles Demuth in 1928, this is a painting that hangs in the Met, which I adored for its fantastic back story. Particularly as it’s about the interplay of inspiration between artists of different disciplines, not exactly collaboration, but a work that wouldn’t have come about without the work of another artist. Or, in this case, poet: William Carlos Williams.

Demuth’s “abstract portrait” pays homage to his friend Williams’ poem The Great Figure.

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

Within the portrait Demuth arranges shapes and symbols related to Williams – the poet’s initials, the names “Bill” and “Carlo”. And the colours of course perfectly capture that zinging kinetic tension of the shiny red firetruck, emblazoned with its figure five, in gold.


Perhaps Williams’ most famous poem is this one:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It’s recklessly simple and so sensuous – it always leaves me craving cold ripe plums, the ones with bittersweet black skin and ruby flesh, that leave juice running down your hands at the height of summer. It also leaves me feeling deep sympathy for whoever the note was intended for.

It must have had much the same effect on Adam Ford, who wrote a great little book of poems called Not Quite The Man For The Job (Allen & Unwin, 1998, tragically out of print – has anyone seen my copy?!). This may out me as the poetry ingrate that I am, but since I found this book in our high school library it’s remained my favourite poetry of all time. Except maybe Prufrock, but that’s another story. Anyway. Ford did a fantastic poem in response to Williams’, along the lines of “damn you, you’ve been eating my fruit for weeks, now I’m hungry and you’re dumped”.


As soon as I find my copy of the book I’ll post the poem, but for now here’s another poem as a consolation prize (in the Phoenix sense of consolation prizes, ie, equally awesome):

Living With An Editor

after fumbling through
the cupboards
i leave a note:
where the hell
is my small
rounded
little frying pan
missing in action
for weeks?

the request came back
with red texta
all over it
& a response
that read:
can’t process
the information-
too many adjectives
& unnecessary
background.
targeted audience
doesn’t care about
the plot
either.

We’re signing off the magazine tomorrow. Things always get a little mental around this time. Right now I’m in bed under a blanket of A3 proofs, covered in scribbled corrections. Proofreading: it makes reading fun-proof. But this little poetic diversion was a nice respite….

UPDATE: Not that this detracts in any way from the magnificence of the last poem, but it is in fact by Alica Sometimes. Sorry! Adam has been kind enough to include his poem in the comments. x

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