Gerald Locklin's The Modigliani/Montparnasse Poems
Gerald Locklinís collection The Modigliani/Montparnasse Poems is a mixed study on the work of Modigliani and on Locklin's visit to the ďModigliani and the Artists of MontparnasseĒ exhibit featured at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the summer of 2003. The collection begins with the piece titled, ďAmedeo Modigliani: reverdy, cendrars, et cetera,Ē whereby the author acknowledges first all possible poets in attendance at the exhibition:
Why do poets have to affect
Such a depressing air
(probably because they know
how thoroughly expendable
all but a few are)
Do Locklinís poets in his piece mean to include him? Does standing in the presence of such historical artwork bring into question Locklinís relevancy as an artist? Such a line of questioning isnít thoroughly resolved, however, in Locklinís next piece, ďAmedeo Modigliani: Paul Guillaume,Ē in which the reader notes both a sense of humility and gratefulness in the authorís words, not just for himself as a humble artist, but for all the greats artists in history:
The art dealer wears the tie.
Thank god for the art dealers,
The owners of the galleries
The agents, publishers, and publicists
The curators, reviewers, impresarios
The tax accountants and the bibliographers
Thank god for all who wear the ties
And count the beans
And fight the battles
(sometimes with each other)
so the artist
(if heís fortunate enough to enjoy
the services of all or of any of them)
wonít have to.
So begins Locklinís exploration of Modiglianiís work with a variety of interesting speculation regarding Modiglianiís basis of work. Speculation in the sense that although Locklinís knowledge of Modigliani is visibly exemplary within the collection, he nevertheless wonders further afield for more possibilities of Modiglianiís motivation to his work beyond what is in history books and bibliographies. This is what makes The Modigliani/Montparnasse Poems an appealing collection. It weaves between historical contemplation and hindsight on being an artist and even critique of the great artistís work all within one piece of work as best exemplified on ďAmedeo Modigliani: Reclining Nude, 1919Ē:
He was trying too hard here
To achieve the classic,
Assure himself a place in history.
Of course he must have known
He was dying.
Thus, forearms and breasts
Are all too large.
The hair of head, armpits, and vulva
Too exact in color.
The torso too self-concisouly elongated.
The pose too much a nod to goya.
Thus it was sure to be admired,
By those who think that final words
Are always best words.
It doesnít matter.
Heíd assured his fame
With the great portraits of the year before,
A wunderjahr indeed.
And this one is still better than almost anyone
Else could have doneóthe relationship of the
Figure to the background in itself is brilliant-
But itís not his best,
He simply worked too hard at it,
He had one eye on history,
When both should have been drinking her.
It is to be noted that Locklinís ability to bring each piece he uses for character study to life by, in some cases, also approaching the characters themselves in Modiglianiís work, breaks what could have been a monotonous formula of study character. In this case, Locklin achieves to expand the study beyond Modigliani the artist, but also the world around and the individuals within his life managing to include commentary between the relationship between the legendary artist and his subjects.
In The Modigliani/Montparnasse Poems, Locklin manages to be simple yet ambitious in scope. By choosing to place his character study alongside the experience of his exhibition visit, he creates a compelling discourse on what it is to be an artist, juxtaposing between the great artist, Modigliani and a humble admirer, who also happens to be an artist, how art affects the person throughout his lifetime and how such art stands within the hindsight of history recorded. This point is most markedly made in Locklinís piece, ďan art student at a certain stageĒ:
She hisses at her elders,
ďhe is not considered major nowadaysĒ
I want to ask her why she cares
What heís considered,
Why she cares what her guests
Think of him,
How highly she herself feels
He should be esteemed,
And whether she does not find often
That she disagrees with those who drive
Her to the passive (though aggressive)
But we have all been students once,
And itís a terrifying thing to be,
So impressed by the glib self-assurance
Of the arbiters of fashion,
And as such so easily enlisted into the
(temporary) ranks of the cultural terrorists.
(The Modigliani/Montparnasse Poems, Gerald Locklin, copyright 2005, doom-AH Books, email@example.com ISBN 0-9742099-1-1 $15.00)