I am very familiar with David Welch's poetry, as I have been following him for the last five years or so. In fact, I thought of David sometime ago, circa 2006, when I was house-sitting for a family I befriended that lived in Topanga, California. The family was teaching in India, and they had a coffee table book of Magritte's poems in their living room. Before you think what you're about to think, let me say that yes, of course, poets often try to emulate the visual arts in their poems. Larry Levis wrote beautiful poems about a Koudelka photograph and Carvaggio, many poets love Edward Hopper and rightly so, Parmigiano's wonderful canvas yielded John Ashbery's epic "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror", and Terrance Hayes is a gifted painter who writes some rather incredible poems. We, poets and visual artists, are allies in the same fight and we trade weapons to generate new kinds of aesthetic achievement.
Like Magritte, David is unconcerned with the expectations of reality. Things cohabit in a sense of being and non-being in his work that is powerful and enjoyable. He is frequently ekphrastic, in a way that does justice to his subject matter, if not trumps it. He forges new realities in song, and, more importantly, he values another artist's vision and sees it as a portal to a multitude of new realities, surrealities, and abnormalities. His poems are extremely visual, provide a unique balance of comedy and tragedy, and I think he sees the world and its art in a way that should be noted and followed.
, by Larry Levis, Phillip Levine spoke in the forward about the deceased poet as being at the "very height of his powers," and while I cannot think of aesthetic achievement akin to an artist as having accumulated "powers" like Spawn or the Incredible Hulk, when I first read David's poems, the visual intensity and the originality of it all both moved and scarred me at once. Here was a young man seeing the world in a way I didn't want to see it, yet I couldn't look away. In the spirit of ekphrasis and lyrical intensity, it is a great honor to introduce two of David Welch's poems today.
Nude w/ Pitcher, Pablo Picasso, Oil on Canvas, 1904
“My Love and I are inventing a country…”
…when the pitcher tilted, nothing
but air spilt from its lip. The molded bowl
filled with a promise,
and in the mottled light of our studio
we sensed the foundations—
earth tones to mask each slip of the clay,
the musk scent of silt.
In our country,
light is horizon cloud
and harbor, dusk shades as shadow
on bare skin,
and my Love keeps
her hair tied back, the soil-toned coils
draped as if to outline her spine—each border
a thumb-smudged line
of oil to tempt the eye.
To examine is to notice
the allure in gesture, a tipped chin.
our country in a gauzy light,
empty and fragile as an artisan’s bowl
(no function more held than the gift);
filled with broth or potpourri
the varnish wears and seeps,
but my Love stands
with the pitcher of our country
bare, with the taste on her lips.
You are in the unsteady lake
but one poem is not a boat.
Or, you’re in the sea—
the sea is a chanting canyon.
Steer closer: see the salt-
tint cry of the gull’s wing?
Quelqu’un est à venir
its feathers say. The feathers are
French though it doesn’t matter.
Our sea is no nonsense.