Monday, January 9, 2012

Hicks-Jenkins chooses Youmans

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, "Journey's End," 1999

Clive Hicks-Jenkins earned the honor of being the first to turn in a piece for The Lydian Stones.  However, to publish it immediately meant that the very first post would be about the person behind the site, and that smacked of self-love to me.  So I have delayed it until now. However, I am quite pleased and honored that Clive wanted to write about a poem of mine, and the post is a good celebration of a friendship that began through encounters with words and pictures.  If you want more, be sure and visit him at his site, where you can see many a jeweled "story, wings, or saint" and visit the Artlog.  I should add that my upcoming collection of poems, The Foliate Head, will feature four foliate heads by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, one on the cover and three as division pages. 

About Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is a painter living and working in the Ystwyth Valley in West Wales. 2011 marked his sixtieth birthday, an event celebrated with a career retrospective at the National Library of Wales, where over two hundred painting, prints, drawings and 'private press' books were assembled for the exhibition. He has produced two book covers for Marly Youmans, Val/Orson and The Throne of Psyche, with several more planned. Marly is one of six poets who produced works linked thematically to the artist's paintings, compiled as The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins and published earlier this year by Grey Mare Press.

About the poem

Perhaps it will be considered partisan to have selected a poem by a friend about one of my own paintings, but as the painting sprang from a significant event and the poem has assumed significance because of its beauty and insight, then so be it. Marly and I forged a friendship through the medium of e-mails. We had been forging away for some time when out of the blue tumbled five poems from her together with a dedication proclaiming them a celebration of my forthcoming sixtieth birthday. All five were extraordinary, stand alone works that didn't require the proximity of the paintings to validate them, though poems and paintings are reproduced together in The Book of Ystwyth. The Blue Marches takes its theme of loss from a painting made as a memento mori after my father's death. To this day I don't know how the poet captured so much that I was intending in paint that couldn't be conveyed, by me at any rate, in words. I can't recall sharing my feelings with her about my father's death. However Marly has an extraordinary intuition wedded to empathy, which in part must account for the illusion that she opened a secret door in the back of my head, stepped in and took a stroll around. That requires curiosity, tenderness, subtlety, and something that I can only describe as poetic genius. For me that's what Marly is, a poet of genius. I believe she will be discovered by those who love poetry. I believe she will be remembered.

The Poem


                  “. . . this early painterly approach to objects
                  can be seen in Journey’s End, the little still-life/landscape
                  painting of my dad’s tea mug standing in front
                  of Tretower Castle.”  –Clive Hicks-Jenkins

There’s nothing here bejeweled with twig and flower,
No wolfish fur that burns as if a kiln
Had been flung wide to let in sprays of salt,
And most of all, no story, wings, or saint.
Instead there is the seepage of a blue
Not twilight:  low, continual dim glow
Dispersed from borderlands beyond this world.

So here is landscape as the stillest life,
So here is still life hunkered in the grass,
Estranged from lamplit houses, grown outscale.
There’s nothing here but cup and keep and tree,
And tree resembles keep, and keep is tree
Truncated—cup is stump of leaning tree.

No teller yet, unless the tale be one
Older than the famed white book of Rhydderch,
Older than the red of Hergest, older
By far than these… Fetch me a magic fruit
So I can taste its glistening cells and gulp
The stubborn words that linger out of reach.

In blueing light, a father’s mug might be
The grail, might be Welsh cauldron, wombed with life,
Might over-brim with death-drink, colorless.
There’s nothing but a shadow in the cup!
Its clipper ship in sail is doldrum-glazed,
Forgets the fragrance of darjeeling seas.

The motte, a mound of good Welsh earth, was his,
As was the tower vacant to the sky,
The kingdom known as Powys long ago,
And all the rainy borderland of blue—
All things that flee and hide in borderlands
Between the earth and sky belonged to him.

But now he has passed through that realm of dreams
And left you wondering by hills of earth,
And long you’ll muse, and long you’ll meditate
And never understand the world you brushed
Across that sheet of paper:  world where tree
Is keep, and keep is tree, and cup can loom
As high as high Tretower or a tree.

                        Journey’s End, 1999

Reprinted by permission of the author.
Offered by a reader, following some posting confusion, and used with thanks: "Comments are most welcome. If you have no Google account (or AIM, etc.), choose 'Name/URL.'  It is not necessary to add the URL unless you have one and choose to do so." 


  1. Oh.

    There’s nothing but a shadow in the cup!
    Its clipper ship in sail is doldrum-glazed,
    Forgets the fragrance of darjeeling seas.

    My favorite lines. They took me straight back to the image of the painting, to see it for the first time.

  2. Beautiful poem, Marly. Really astonishing; the two together are quite a moment.

  3. 'So here is landscape as the stillest life,'

    We have been offered the landscape of a whole understanding, both visually and in poetry. I am so very pleased that Clive Hicks-Jenkins has presented us with this. The painting and the poetry belong together and one echoes the other.

    It does not get much better than this!


  4. Ah, genius indeed, both the poet and the visual artist. Marly's poetry is very visual, mythical, and mystical - a perfect match with Clive's work and back. An enviable and beautiful collaboration and friendship!

  5. Ah, thank you, Dale and Zoe, Paul and Marja-Leena--

    Now I know why novelists sometimes address us as "Dear Reader!"

  6. Oh thank you everyone. Lovely comments. Our friend the painter Charlie Burton has an eccentric toast that I've only ever heard from his lips, and that he uses in the company of the closest friends. I shall salute you all with Charlie's toast. So charge your glasses, raise them high and join me in shouting enthusiastically and with big smiles...

    'Aren't we nice?'

  7. I'm speechless. I don't need to be with voice. Both painting and poem speak of deeper thoughts.

  8. Clive: Aren't we nice, though!

    And thanks to Meran.

  9. "So here is landscape as the stillest life..." -- Yes. And it takes two people steeped in stillness and solitude to mirror it back and forth. I loved this poem when I first heard you read it, Marly, and love it that Clive has continued the conversation with this deep appreciation.

  10. Thanks, Beth! I am very glad that you like the exchange.

    (But you should have heard me read it with pseudo-Welsh pronunciation! I'm afraid it was rather funny... and no doubt frightened Clive and Peter when they first heard it!)

  11. You were a fast learner once you got here and were able to hear the pronunciations is person. You have a good ear Marly.

  12. Beautiful painting and exquisite poem!

  13. First Zoe, now Chloe! I think we should demand rhyming commenters...

    And I know which Chloe--loved your birds and horses... those Christmas horses were especially cunning! And I am glad you liked our collaboration.

  14. I love this pairing. Thanks for making my day better.

  15. "No teller yet, unless the tale be one"
    Brings to mind many tales of history of the struggling and changing region.
    Methinks the cup the key!