21 June 2012
Alfred Wallis, Sailing ship and orchard, 1935-37 (circa)
On Sunday 10 June poet Tamar Yoseloff ran a study day here entitled ‘Wallis and Poetry’ to coincide with the Alfred Wallis display in the gallery. We are delighted to be able to share two of the poems that emerged from the day. Tamar also wrote a fascinating post on her blog about Wallis and poetry, see: http://invectiveagainstswans.tumblr.com/
Please read the poems below.
In memoriam – Alfred Wallis 1855-1942 – Cornish Mariner and Painter
He knows the roof of the sky
how it can darken in anger
at a penny in a sailor’s pocket
the hint of a whistle
the whiff of a woman
He grew up on tales of Franklin’s fate –
the ships splintered in an arctic grip
the starving men dreaming
of the blue flesh of their own dead
He knows how the land feels
after days, weeks away
how it tilts him and sways him
as if he has defied his God
with the velveteen sweetness of brandy
He wades through the flotsam
of the grocery store
stamping boxes to a flatness
he can fill with his world
seeking nails he can use
to crucify his visions
In the world beyond
the privileged discuss Primitivism
over cups of Darjeeling
taming fears of consuming darkness
by sending forth the sacrament
the word made flesh
In the world beyond
the scholars pick clean
his remains – marvel
at the whiteness of his bones.
‘Small Boat in a Rough Sea’
Alfred Wallis, the Cornish painter, spoke of every boat of the fleet having ‘a soul, a beautiful soul, shaped like a fish’
Sure at last that it was his life he was living
he painted the way he read God’s word, daily
and in simple tones, with the sombre shades
of yacht-paint he had to hand: rock-colour,
sand-colour, for ships and cottages, a flock
of enamelled birds, the moon atop a hill.
He’d picture the bowl of sea in Mounts Bay,
its broken crests of wave, the gulls tucked
into its cliff-folds, its tall masts and rigging,
the tide of its breathing like his very own.
What he could never catch was the fog,
the peninsula turned isle wreathed round
by the haunted sound of its fog-horns,
St Anthony’s Head, Longships, Lizard Point,
like souls on their journey or parishes already
in mourning, Trevose Head, Pendeen.
The bodies recovered have not been named.
But in the dawn a shoal of selves, fine and silvery
as pins, will be putting out for Troy and Eldorado,
for whelks or herring or pilchard, pelagic gold:
It’s always been crabbing or fishing with him, he loved it
since he was a nipper. Plymouth, Lundy, Sole.
Porpoises black as bibles ride the turquoise
and the great white sails glide on like ghosts.
(The quote is from an interview given by the mother of one of the missing fishermen from the Purbeck Isle, which went down off the south coast of England on 17 May 2012.)