David Pollard

Self-Portraits (2013)


David Pollard’s third collection is a virtuoso, volume-length series of imaginary self-portraits that feature artists from ancient Egypt, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the present day. Each artist re-instruments the very act of painting or drawing, making marks on a life that persists from the other side of the canvas, glass or other mediums of death. In these imaginative confidings, Pollard’s new amplitude stretches his linguistic brilliance with a human resonance, confirming his unique voice and arguing – perhaps too quietly – for an essential place in British poetry.


Praise and Poems

In his poetry David Pollard displays an uncanny ability to let words collide so as to interrupt their sense, only then to renew their saying power somewhere beyond the limit of fixed speech. His artistry turns words—in his own words—into “glancing letters of illumination craning into the darkness.”
John Sallis

What is the relationship between the painted image and the poetic word? Pollard enters this fray, discovering new poetic voices that allow both artworks and artists, from the ancient to the contemporary, to paint without seeing in the sense that Leonardo claimed that ‘if art is dumb poetry then poetry is blind painting’. Pollard places his poetic imagination in the intermediary space ‘between dumb art and all the ways it speaks,’ creating poetic painterly portraits that breathe new life into the range of poetry’s traditional entitlements and that allow the imagination in the being singular plural of its works to shine forth. This is a major work and a cause for poets, painters, even philosophers, to celebrate. It is a work to which I will return again and again.
Jason M. Wirth

I also enjoyed Pollard’s Michelangelo sonnets, including a whole octet withoutstopping carried off brilliantly!
Peter Brenna

Includes poems about:
Bek, Brother, Rufillus, Maestro, Mateo, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Lippo, Lippi, Bosch, Mantegnada, Vinci Dürer, Cranach, Michelangelo, Raphael, Baldung, Titian, Holbein, Bronzino, Vasari, Tintoretto, Veronese, Anguissola, Barocci El Greco Carracci Oliver, Wtewael, Caravaggio, Rubens, Gentileschi, Poussin, Velazquez, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Rosa, Metsu, Vermeer, Rigaud, Hogarth, Chardin, Reynolds, Fuseli, Goya , David, Gillray, Lawrence, Hazlitt, Blake, Friedrich, Turner, Haydon, Cruickshank, Severn, Delacroix, Palmer, Daumier, Courbet, Rossetti, Pissarro, Manet, Whistler, Cezanne, Rodin, Monet, Gauguin van Gogh Sickert, Hiroshige, Munch, Kollwitz, Matisse Churchill John, Bell, Picasso, Braque, Rivera, Kokoschka, Chagall , Morandi, Lartigue, Kahlo Guttuso, Bacon, Carrington, Freud, Tàpies, Warhol, Wallinger



Acumen 79 – May 2014

Readers who (like me) have an interest in the visual arts as well as in poetry will surely find much to enjoy in David Pollard’s Self-Portraits: Poems based on artists’ self-portraits (Waterloo Press, 95 Wick Hail, Furze Hill, Brighton BN3 1NG.154pp.; [£12.00). Just under 90 poems are presented in the voices of a series of artists and arranged chronologically, from Bek (an ancient Egyptian artist of the time of Akhenaten) to Andy Warhol. In each case the starting point is a self-portrait made by the artist in question, more often than not a free-standing self-portrait, occasionally a painting (such as Veronese’s Wedding at Cana) in which the artist has included an image of himself. Most of Pollard’s poems are not ekphrastic in the purest sense of the term, they don’t, that is, have as their main object the poetic representation of the visual work, rather they reflect (self-reflect) on the character represented in the painting. Still, since many of the poems do make some reference to a specific painting (date and location of the work are given in most cases), the book is best read (unless one has a quite superb art library to hand) with Google Images within easy reach.

One of the things I like is the way that most of Pollard’s poems are lightly punctuated, so that the fluidity of imagined thought governs the poems’ movement, rather than the formality of language ‘correctly’ punctuated. Parentheses are also used very effectively, capturing the thought-within-thought or the thought-about-the-just thought of the vigorous mind. Some of the poems explicitly evoke an imagined viewer/hearer/reader (as when Pollard’s Hieronymus Bosch begins thus: “I hide behind the silvered water / where you seek my image / and find it thus inverted”), while others, such as the poem ‘by’ Maestro Mateo, are more in the nature of interior monologues than addresses to another. Some of Pollard’s artists go in for consideration of their own techniques and their place in the development of art. The following lines are ‘by’ Veronese:

I deny chiaroscuro and can keep
the strength of hue in shadow,
sfumato like da Vinci but with light
balancing light, Correggio subtle angles
and sainted Michel for the heroic,
none of whom could do my architecture of lines
– or trick the eye like me.

Some of Pollard’s best writing captures the artist’s awareness of his own ageing and mortality reinforced in the focused concentration involved in the creation of a self-portrait. The wonderful red chalk self-portrait of Nicolas Poussin (now in the British Museum) prompts a fine poem which opens thus:

Rough chalk alone can sketch
disgust of self and eye;
my vita brevis on a scrap of paper
Far From the calm severity
of the mind’s control.

The phrase-making is often impressive (and, yes, memorable), as when the Romanesque Spanish sculptor Maestro Mateo (c. 1 100-1200) opens ‘his’ poem thus:

Minstrel of hammers exiled from my own creation,
I set myself to kneel eternally in prayer
becalmed behind closed lids

or the initial lines given to Lucien Freud:

The structures of the skin have oiled me into life,
forced concentration into pain,
their own emasculation into paint,
Masked the devotion of the glass to me

or, indeed, the lines with which the poem by Pollard’s Giorgio Morandi closes:

Existence is the colouring
Of lost time quietly remem
Forcing the sight to cast
itself again into the
forms life takes
as nothing almost
can change so much’

This is a remarkable and illuminating collection. It has already rewarded more than one reading and I am sure it will richly reward many more.


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