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.
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