Friday, March 29, 2013

The Muse of Remedios Varo

On the cover of my about to be published book, The Faust Woman Poems, a woman is feeding stardust to the moon. She sits in a sort of gazebo, suspended in dark moody skies. She operates an old–fashioned food mill—I remember it from my mother’s kitchen. Only her machine has a chimney that seems to draw down the stars. She grinds them up to make baby food, which she feeds to the moon in its cage with a long handled spoon. Where are we?

We’re in the imaginal world of Remedios Varo, a surrealist painter of the mid 20th century. We’re also in the poet’s study—I live in that world—feeding the moon—though my moon—I’m happy to say— is not in a cage. Perhaps that’s because I am a member of a generation that experienced the rebirth of the deep feminine, just a few years after Varo’s untimely death in 1963. That rebirth is the subject of the poems in this collection for which Varo is an inspiration and a muse.

Look at her painting, titled “Reborn.” A naked woman breaks through a wall. The moon breaks through the ceiling and is reflected in a bowl. Twigs and branches push through cracks, windows, the ceiling. The human made world is red as blood, vibrant as passion. The woman’s eyes are full of uncanny light. That’s one of the ways Faust Woman looks in my imagination.

Remedios Varo was born in Spain in 1908. She married the Surrealist poet Benjamin Peret. The couple went to Paris in the late 30s and was active in Surrealist circles. Peret was a left-wing activist and she a Loyalist so they were not safe in Franco’s Spain. They emigrated to Mexico. She was never to return to her homeland. But Mexico was magical for her art. Look at her “Unexpected Journeys” which is the cover art for a book about her work. 

My own family was forced to make an unexpected journey too, out of Hitlerian Europe to America. I identify with Varo’s story. In Mexico she befriended another fabulous Surrealist painter, British born Leonara Carrington.

The two women studied mysticism, Kabbalah and Alchemy. They were interested in psychoanalysis and told each other their dreams. My kind of friends. Here is Varo’s painting of a woman leaving her analysts’ office.

The woman is holding a ghost like a dead rat, her headdress is wild with what’s been released in her soul, her shawl covers her mouth for she’s been telling secrets, another pair of eyes are draped at her heart for she’s been seen and reflected; above her the sky is wild and moody. I know that feeling; I know her world well. My poems explore the weird and the uncanny, the mystical and the taboo. I too have an intimate connection with the moon. I want to thank the spirit of Remedios Varo and her estate for the privilege of using her image on the cover of The Faust Woman Poems. And I want to dedicate the following moon stuck poem from that collection to Varo, my sister in the imaginal realm.

Witch’s Sabbath

Long ago when night was your familiar
you knew the moon and the moon knew you
I mean carnally
Those stories about sex with the devil are about this

You knew the moon and the moon knew you
Joy from the sky made a music in your body
Those stories about sex with the devil are about this
moon penetration     stars awakening

Joy from the sky made a music in your body
Lion arose     horse flew
moon penetration     stars awakening
Something from forever loved you for a night

Lion rising    horse flying
Roots of the tree reach up into the sky
Something from forever loves you for a night
and the moon sings

Roots of the tree reach up into the sky
Branches touch down into earth
the moon sings
Naked you are     and flying

Branches touch down into earth
I mean carnally
Naked you are     and flying
rooted in the night     your familiar


I’ll be one of a group of local poets reading for National Poetry Week at the Montclair branch of the Oakland Public Library on April 16th at 6:00 pm. If you’re in the neighborhood, please come. I’ll be reading from The Faust Woman Poems.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Muse of a Younger Self

How Do I Get Back to You?

The Faust Woman Poems are about to come out. I have held the advance copy in my hands and mused about the wistful tug from my younger self that was one of many inspirations for this collection. She wants to be heard. Or maybe it’s that my aging body and soul need her voice, her “river glitter,” her “marijuana music” and “Kama Sutra dances” to sweeten and deepen my sense of my own life and that of my generation. Here is a poem I wrote for her:

In Memory’s Pan

You are river glitter
You with the long wavy hair
You with the questions

Once you saw molecules flow
    in a tree branch
Sat on a river rock
    in that old blue skirt

(Someone outside you was watching)

Now salmon have trouble leaping
Oak trees send their dead
I have woven marijuana music
  Kama Sutra dances
All the colors of fire
  into a shawl to wrap us both

  My pretty one
  O my fleeting one

How do I get back to you?
                     The Faust Woman Poems

Just as the final details for the book were being completed I got to see her again, or one much like her. She showed up in an Antonioni movie I’d never seen before—Zabriskie Point.