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Nude Descending a Staircase -- X J Kennedy

Guest poem sent in by Ivan Krstic

Breaking with Minstrels convention, I'd propose the readers take a look at
Marcel Duchamp's painting, 'Nude Descending a Staircase', before reading
Kennedy's poem.

The painting can be found at:
http://www.beatmuseum.org/duchamp/images/nude2.jpg
How the two relate is explained after the poem.
(Poem #1230) Nude Descending a Staircase
 Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
 A gold of lemon, root and rind,
 She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
 With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

 We spy beneath the banister
 A constant thresh of thigh on thigh.
 Her lips imprint the swinging air
 That parts to let her parts go by.

 One-woman waterfall, she wears
 Her slow descent like a long cape
 And pausing, on the final stair
 Collects her motions into shape.
-- X J Kennedy
This poem, the first I've read of Kennedy, captures with unique elegance the
seemingly crass sensuality of Duchamp's painting. Marcel Duchamp
(1887-1968), a dadaist and cubist, painted the Nude in trying to capture
continuous motion with overlapping cubist figures. Highly unorthodox at the
time, the painting evoked quite a flurry of emotions at the 1913 famous New
York City's Armory Show.

X.J. Kennedy, faced with the comparably easier task of conveying continued
motion in words, nevertheless had to evade the trap of losing Duchamp's
rough cubist figure overlap in his poem - and succeeded. In line 4, the
short pause between "nothing on" and "nor on her mind", accomplished with a
full-stop between the two sentences instead of a comma, accentuates the
briskly cheerful, worryfree poise of the woman descending the staircase. The
final two lines of the second stanza, possibly my favorite bit of this poem,
evoke a very unusual image: though we don't usually think of air parting as
we walk through it, Kennedy makes the image very accessible; it becomes easy
to imagine air, entranced by the woman just as much as the "spying"
narrator, making way for her to pass.

The last stanza (specifically the last 2 lines) relates very closely to the
painting, alluding to one's almost unconscious expectation for Duchamp's
overlapping figures to collect into a definite shape.

Ivan

Some links:
 X.J. Kennedy home page:
  http://www.xjanddorothymkennedy.com

 More of Kennedy's poetry:
  http://www.poetrymagazine.com/archives/2003/Feb03/kennedy.htm

 Kennedy, alternative biography:
  [broken link] http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?45442B7C000C000008

 Kennedy, various links:
  http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/litlinks/poetry/kennedy.htm

 Information about Duchamp's painting, owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
  http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/modern_contemporary/1950-134-59.shtml

 Duchamp information:
  http://www.beatmuseum.org/duchamp/marcelduchamp.html
  http://www.marcelduchamp.net/

 Duchamp, various links:
  [broken link] http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/duchamp_marcel.html

53 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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