by Camellia Mukherjee
There is a longstanding relationship between poetry and painting. In 1951, at the Museum of Modern Art, Wallace Stevens delivered a lecture in which he explored the parallel elements of poetry and painting. He defined four main areas of influence: “sensibility, subject matter, technique, and aesthetics.”1 As a writer, I am often drawn to other art forms. When I listen to music, I sometimes play the same song over and over to differentiate the tunes of the instruments. When I look at a painting, I observe the details: the flaws of the oil pastel or the strokes of the pencil. As Stevens said, it “is a normal activity of the poet’s mind in surroundings where he must engage in such activity. Thus necessity develops awareness and a sense of fatality which give to poetry values not to be reproduced by indifference and chance.”2 It is not just the finished piece that attracts us but the process itself. We look to learn about the creativity; we desire to see through the eyes of the other artist. In doing so, we develop a relationship and a heightened sensation that inspires us to create in turn. In China, there is a practice of inscribing poems on painting to deepen the experience of the observer. As Chaves states, this is “so that while the physical beauty of the picture is enhanced by the elegance of the calligraphy in which the poem is written, the imaginary world conjured up by the painting may be further expanded by the imagery of the poem.”3 In this short interview with Jean L. Kreiling, the poet talks about her inspirations that led her to write “Man at Work.”
PY: How did you discover Poor Yorick and what inspired you to submit your work to us?
Jean: A poet whose work I admire praised Poor Yorick’s thoughtful presentation of his poem, and so I visited the site myself. I was impressed with both the appearance of the site and the quality of the work the editors chose to include. In addition, the title Poor Yorick appealed to me—such a perfect evocation of the creative possibilities embodied by any sort of relic.
PY: Willy von Beckerath drew a series of portraits of Johannes Brahms, the German composer. What drove you to this particular drawing of Brahms that you speak of in your poem?
Jean: When I was in graduate school (studying musicology), a close friend gave me a print of the Beckerath drawings. Years later, another close friend, a conductor himself, offered a half-serious analysis of Brahms’ technique based on the drawings. Those personal associations encouraged my close contemplation of the drawings; the one on which I wrote offered a paradoxical image that begged for an attempt at explication.
PY: Are there any other works of art, particularly a painting based on a musician that inspires you or that you have written about?
Jean: Several paintings have appealed to my imagination, including a few on musical subjects. The wonderful literary magazine New Walk published my sonnet inspired by Renoir’s “Two Girls at the Piano” in 2011.
1. Benamou, Michel. “Wallace Stevens: Some Relations between Poetry and Painting.” Comparative Literature 11, no. 1 (1959): 47-60. doi: 10.2307/1768376.
2. Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951. https://archive.org/stream/WallaceStevensTheNecessaryAngelEssaysOnRealityAndTheImagination/Wallace-Stevens-The-Necessary-Angel-Essays-on-Reality-and-the-Imagination_djvu.txt.
3. Chaves, Jonathan. “On the Relationship of Poetry and Painting in China.” Ocean of Poetry: Poems from the Chinese. Last modified 2016, http://poetrychina.net/wp/calligraphy-painting/poetry_painting.