Remembering Picasso the Poet

Picasso

The true immortality of a genius cannot be held in a watertight container, as shown by the different hues of Picasso as an artist. His supremacy as a visual artist is seldom disputed and it may have been the magic wreathed in his painting that led to his eternal glorification. But had it not been for the brush, the pen too might well have led Picasso to the path of immortalization as a true genius. In his own words, Picasso said “that long after his death his writing would gain recognition and encyclopedias would say: ‘Picasso, Pablo Ruiz – Spanish poet who dabbled in painting, drawing and sculpture.”

A wizard with free verse, Picasso was also capable of painting his soul on the canvas of words.

Picasso had been acquainted with several poets and writers in Paris, and was a frequent guest at gatherings at the famous author Gertrude Stein’s home, along with writers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Joyce (Isn’t there a permissible level of genius in one room?).  It was no real surprise that he eventually tried his hand at poetry, considering that he lived in an era which saw an explosion of cross-medium experimentation. However, the catalyst for this highly inventive and innovative artist to dabble with poetry was rather clichéd. It was after his wife left him in 1935 that he began jotting down in little note-books that he hid as soon as anybody entered that room.

But there is something  with the great panache with which he expressed himself through the written word that rouses the admiration of his reader.  His poems were quintessentially a juxtaposition of reality and imagination, in long unpunctuated phrases, with a certain disregard for the traditional notions of grammar and structure, including a notorious disdain for punctuation which he expressed rather colourfully as “Punctuation is a cache-sexe which hides the private parts of literature.”. His poetry was much like his brush strokes and often collated conflicting emotions and ideas together.

… the street be full of stars
and the prisoners eat doves
and the doves eat cheese
and the cheese eat words
and the words eat bridges
and the bridges eat looks
and the looks eat cups full of kisses in the 
orchata
that hides all with its wings
the butterfly the night
in café last summer
in Barcelona

As you can see, Picasso’s poetry, like his art- hard to decipher. It’s almost a series of words flung together by Picasso in childlike glee to give an insight into the complex construct of his mind.  His poetry is also interpreted as an unbridled flow of his thoughts, hastily changing frames, with a blatant disregard for syntax of sentences-rushed to record the various strands of musings as they came to him.  The painter in him is especially apparent with his evocations of colour.

listen in your childhood to the hour that white in the blue memory borders white in her very blue eyes and piece of indigo of sky of silver the white white traverse cobalt the white paper that the blue ink tears out blueish its ultramarine descends that white enjoys blue repose agitated in the dark green wall green that writes its pleasure pale green rain that swims yellow green.

But besides, there’s a a lot of evocation of smell, taste, and sound, and a strange fascination with sexual and scatological behaviour.

Picasso’s emerging literary talents led him to make a truly unique piece of art called ‘The Dream and Lie of Franco’, Picasso’s first political piece intended to raise funds for the Spanish resistance. It was a similar format to the popular Spanish cartoons of the day, and the bizzare combination of images and words is, some believe, one of the works of art to truly break down the distinction between thoughts, writings and images- the holy grail of the surrealist movement.

dream-and-lie-of-franco-1937-1

More than anything, any work of art by Picasso captured the constant state of flux that inhabits the world outside, and thus it becomes necessary for the reader to place his poetry in tandem with the time period and the place where it was written, to capture the true essence of his works. A wide variety of his works are available in French and Spanish, but regrettably, there are few English translations.

Picasso has been able to establish himself as a man of unadulterated expression, who was able to externalize his interpretation of the world and the ultimate ‘truth’, irrespective of the medium asserted by him. His mark of true genius thus becomes the deftness with which he approached both painting and poetry, to bring out the expression that embodied his being.

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