Friday, 23 April 2010
Peter Porter, 1929-2010
Among painters, Peter loved Piero della Francesca above all, I think, followed, in no particular order, by Carpaccio and Piero di Cosimo and Pontormo. But he loved all the Mannerists. We used to talk about art back in the eighties when I was still a young poet, much helped by him, in his kindness and endless curiosity. He had enormous range as a poet, covering more ground than any other. That too was a product of curiosity. I wrote this for him on his eightieth birthday. We last met about three weeks ago when he was still full of conversation. His new Selected Poems are due next month.
THREE PONTORMOS FOR PETER PORTER*
1. Visitation: The Burning Mothers
If only, she said, we could be born of fire
as well as die in it, if only our mothers
could be called to be flames, or be eaten
by flames and be ash like all those others;
if just once the flames could be beaten
down that burn us from within
so that we ourselves might finally retire…
I watch them flickering into life, their gowns
blown this way and that, with each child
about to be born into light and those faces
impassive as the logs that must be piled
on to keep them burning: savage graces
for ever under the bright skin,
billowing fires of burning towns.
2. Supper at Emmaus: An Empty Plate
The plate will be empty off which they must feast.
The eye of God will sort out man from beast.
The grace of God will change the nature of bread.
Wine will be blood as soon as the Son is dead.
The grace of God exists that grace might be
Lodged somewhere in creation: gratis, free.
3. Deposition: Discord in Colour Theory
Here it’s the wind that dominates. You’ll note
Those somewhat surprising colours. I combine
Them against expectation, so red, for instance,
In the form of pink, is darker than yellow
In the form of orange. As for the blue, that sozzled
rain-dark pastel blue that seems to float
between tones so the whole thing’s shrill
or gives an impression of shrillness, a dance
expressive of frenzy if you like, that billow,
that settlement of blue-grey you couldn’t quite define
as blue of any one sort but leaves pink dazzled,
that’s what the rest sink into or settle on,
while at the bottom the luminous figure of John,
the beloved disciple, glows, squat and still,
so light on his feet you’d not think he supports
the death of God and the wind that blows
the world awry and away so everything flows
towards a grace that elevates what it distorts.
*This poem originally appeared in Poetry Review