Towards Klee? But he is a philosopher. More like Gertrude Stein? But Marie is less programmatic, therefore never foolish.
- Paul Goodman on Marie Menken
The above images are reproductions of the brochure for Marie Menken's exhibitions of paintings at the Betty Parson's gallery, New York, Oct 31 - Nov 19 1949. The paintings themselves - and thoughts on Menken's provocative use of titles - will be the subject of a later post. A simple list of titles for the show's twenty five paintings is itself highly revealing about Menken's creativity, reading, and relationships:
COME UP IN THE AIR AND PLAY WITH ME
"HUSH, SAD ONE, HUSH" - Ben Moore
CHAS, ADDAMS: HIS DOG
SONG OF THE DEAD BIRD
"TO A GREEN THOUGHT IN A GREEN SHADE" - Andrew Marvell
ELEGY FOR HART CRANE
"IN THESE POINSETTIA MEADOWS OF HER TIDES" - Hart Crane
SAINT SEBASTIAN'S WOUNDS
JEWELS OF THE MADONNA
"HELP! HELP! ANOTHER DAY" - Emily Dickinson
THEREFORE ALL POEMS ARE PRAYERS
GOD'S IN HER HEAVEN
MAGNET FOR A BATHYSPHERE
KIT SMART'S CAT JEOFFREY
PICTURE WITH A TEAR
HURRAYING FOR THE DODGERS
WHAT THE SMALL BOY SAW WITH TEARS IN HIS EYES
"THE PUZZLED PARTS FALL ALL IN PLACE" - Paul Goodman
Here, I want to focus on the two pieces of writing contained inside the brochure: a short poetic endorsement from George Barker, and a longer essay from Paul Goodman, somewhat based around Menken's own comments.
Like the endorsements and designs of the Gryphon Group brochures - reproduced here - such writings are valuable for showing both the range of writers and artists that were part of the Menken-Maas circle, and for expanding her written fan-base beyond the oft-cited tributes by Brakhage and Mekas.
I also see Barker and Goodman as offering case studies of how Menken's work was seen as "poetic" - or, more broadly, how a notion of "the poetic" was working in Menken's constellations of artists and writers in New York in 1949. This is where even a preliminary examination of the titles of her paintings is useful.
If the notion of "film poem" - as was claimed at Tate Modern - is still a limiting one for thinking about Menken's work, the following quotes at least allow the concept of "poetry" a more substantial presence and genealogy.
George Barker's short prose-poem of a tribute appears on the back cover of the brochure:
When whales give up their secrets it is a spout and when geology gives up is secrets it is seismics and when doxology gives up its secrets it is poetry and when politics gives up its secrets it is pride and when comedy gives up its secrets it is a quartet of brothers to the great economist and when the Renaissance gives up its secrets it is Pico della Mirandola and when Lithuania gives up its secrets it is the fairy story in Marie Menken's mirror.
Marie Menken, A Green Dream, 1946, oil, sand, glass, and thread on masonite, 13 x 13 inches. Reproduced with the kind permission of Douglas Crase and Frank Polach.
Inside the brochure is this essay by Paul Goodman:
Continuous with the childhood in her, she uses the kinds of Earth and Fire as natural signs or in simple allusions that are the first remove from natural signs. Dirt stands for earth and dirt (as in COME UP IN THE AIR); patina is age and rediscovery (PUZZLED PARTS) and waves are flowing waves (HART CRANE); if it has sheen, it is aerial, if it flames it is magic fire, that is primal-natural fire (HEAVENLY HOOSEGOW, CELESTIAL DEW); if the colors are red or purple they are Poinsettia passion (POINSETTIA MEADOWS OF HER TIDES), if they are ice-cold they are icy (TRAPEZE FOR ANGELS). When she wants to blot out the picture, to make a non-picture, she approximates the day-hues; yet in the dark it luminesces and is there after all (MAGNET FOR BATHYSPHERE). And the most rudimentary sexual and kinetic symbols, pyramids, circles, ups, and bars. Sparsely scattered jewels, like Plato's "reminders of the courts of Jove" - but they are only beads. This is the most naively direct picture-language that I know; examine it close, just what kinds of matters are there and the order in which they overlay, and you will know the thoughts, the aspiring, grief, and dread; without obscurity, without symbolic distance, or with little symbolic distance.
(Towards Klee? But he is a philosopher. More like Gertrude Stein? But Marie is less programmatic, therefore never foolish.)
Not obscure; yet everywhere what are these threads? - Of course it is one thread, as a chronological study shows at once, for the thread has a unified career. "I outline with the thread," says Marie, "because it can be arranged." Good; in the very early ELEGY FOR HART CRANE the thread holds the figure together against the waves - but he drowned in the waves. (So DEAD BIRD) - for a time the thread is unbroken in the picture. But later (PICTURE WITH A TEAR, HELP! HELP! ANOTHER DAY, and especially POINSETTA MEADOWS) the threads are broken, they scatter. Then suddenly for a brief moment all is continuous again, in the sorrowful outline of a child or of oneself at last pitied, coming from? falling back into? the poor sober background ("It is brown and poor, I had no money for colors," HUSH, SAD ONE, HUSH). Well, then in the beautiful PUZZLED PARTS FALL ALL IN PLACE the thread is a moment at rest in the plane. This is the end of it. The end? Turn out the lights! The BATHYSPHERE of night luminesces with threads of sand. In the JEWELS OF THE MADONNA the threads are garishly, falsely I believe (they are painted!) "arteries." And oh, in the terrifying SAINT SEBASTIAN, they incrust as the prison bars that, sprung from the crabscar of the childless womb, are scabbing the picture, crusting it, effacing it. ("These are the wounds," she says. But obviously they are the scabs.) Is this bad? No; for see, the welted scabs are becoming three-dimensiohnal. She will make sculptures of them - this is what we all do.
She "does not know" whether the background shape in SAINT SEBASTIAN, flaming to magic fire, is "a man or a woman," nor "from what part of the body that crabstar starts, maybe midway between the genitals and umbilicus, or it feels just from all over me." So. I know. It is a childless woman.
She says the POINSETTIA MEADOWS is "embarrassing"; it began all red, but she felt this was vulgar and put in the greens, but these of course just heightened the value of the red; then she began with the knots and bunches, but they unravelled, and that was "embarrassing."
The threads! We know that drawing, outlining, is character, for it is the active response of the soul; the colors and space are given.
Ow! There is an old Jewish proverb: "Take thread; sew together this pot that I've broken... All right; take sand, make a big thread, give it to me and I'll sew." Marie! ...Marie ...