Thursday, November 20, 2008


Painting by Vincent Van Gogh


When I saw you in Paris in the spring of ‘87
your eyes were yellow-green and steady.

Your head was made up of short, broken strokes
of carrot color hair, styled like my father’s.

You were surprisingly neat. I noticed that
your blue cravat matched the buttons

on your jacket. Even in detached Paris,
you were emotionally motivated.

Your compassion for toil-worn souls
was still apparent. Even though your

palette was light and airy then,
I knew that your heart still belonged

to those who ate potatoes
in the semi-darkness.


Anonymous said...

You've scratched below the surface here... Love the ending, where you contrast his sentiments with the palette he uses.

joaquin carvel said...

his heart, exactly. if there was any madness in him it was his thinking his paintings would hang in the homes of the common man.

i have long been a fan of his, (for all the innovation & glory of the later works, i still love the potato eaters) and that you have seen seen and spoken him so clearly and skillfully, am that much more a fan of yours. beautiful work.

Anonymous said...

Even though my knowledge of paintings and painters is limited, I'm mesmerized by the descent inward, layer by layer.

S.L. Corsua said...

K., you blew me away with this piece. The measured pace of the poem renders a nostalgic feel; the lines and sentiments here make me wistful (in a good thank-God-I-read-this-poem kind of way). Cheers.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Yuzublizzard - I was hoping to give a little insight into the "man" and not just the artist.

I like the way you put it - "..contrast his sentiments with the palette he uses." Thanks for the insightful remark. ;)

Joaquin - A Vincent aficionado - wonderful! What a great line your wrote - "...if there was any madness in him it was his thinking his paintings would hang in the homes of the common man." Beautiful.

I went to Washington a few years back to see "Van Gogh's Van Goghs"
It was a religious experience. Beside the exit door, on the wall, was his last painting - Wheatfield with Crows. I kept standing there and standing there - loathed to go. Lines, excerpted from a letter to Theo were etched on the wall above the painting. So very powerful.

There is an exhibit, "Van Gogh at Night" - currently in NY at the Museum of Modern Art. It's there until Jan 4. Hoping to go. Thanks, Joaquin.

Jason - a very good way of putting it! As with Vincent - there was always "descent" and sooooo many layers! I don't know of which I am more fond, him - or his actual works; even though it is hard to separate one from the other. He was a passionate person, who couldn't control his emotions - and that is exactly what we see on his canvases. (thankfully for generations of human kind throughout the ages)

S.L. - I am always a little self-conscious when it comes to structuring a poem. I think I am like Vincent, somewhat. I feel an emotion, and write it out in a flurry of words - a burst of activity. Then I go back and try to make it into somekind of organized arrangement.

You pay me a great compliment in saying that my poem elicits a "good" wistful feeling in you. Thank you. ;)

Sarah Hina said...

I love Van Gogh!!

There is a watchfulness to this self-portrait. He is neat, but with Van Gogh, you can always feel the frenetic, dark passions swirling beneath the pretty surfaces. I get the impression that he's trying to hold onto something steady here...trying to hold onto himself.

And your brushstrokes here are equally neat and watchful, K. I love that about this poem--it really reflects the art. And yet, at the end, you acknowledge those shadowy places. I felt like the two of you overlapped. What a great convergence!

Don't you just love art? :) It's not self-contained. It inspires long after the person is gone. The artist still lives.

Rick said...

Over the years my brother and I have taken turns reading aloud to each other Vincent's letters to Theo. These are special times to us, and we came to feel as Vincent and Theo are family members. This Sunday after dinner I will read him your poem and you, too, will become part of our family.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Sarah, I know what you mean. It seems like Vincent is looking out so intently, as if to see who is studying him. Yes, I do love art too. I have always depended on it to help me through life.

I have studied Van Gogh in depth for many years now. He is certainly one of the most fascinating enigmas of the past, and perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

It is ironic that you said you felt the two of us overlap. I have felt that way about Vincent for many years. I feel a close kinship with him in many ways - not just the art.

Thanks for always reaching in and pulling out the marrow! I DO appreciate it, Sarah. :)

Rick, Thank you so very much for including me in what sounds like a fabulous family! I am honored! Please give your brother my best regards on Sunday.

Yes, Vincent and I go way back. I, too, read the letters quite often. Each letter, with its philosophy and description of his newest painting, is a little work of art in and of itself!

What a treasure trove he left us -through what he thought were simple letters to his beloved Theo and other family members. The letters are surely a good look into the rich tapestry of his life and works.

Thanks, Rick. Always appreciated.

Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

I loved this! I'm a big Van Gogh fan as well. I love the peasant feel of this piece - it doesn't sound elitist at all the way words about many artistic masters tend to be. This is presented with a profound simplicity that captivates the general nature of Van Gogh's works which have layer upon layer of insight and meaning.

Interesting that there was no reference to his madness or his ear...


K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Minister - Ah, there are so many of us Vincent enthusiasts - and no wonder. His artwork is so captivating and his life so intriguing.

I like the way you say this has a peasant feel to it. (Vincent would like that, too. ;) )

This is just one poem. I have written several, one of which does deal with his madness. I am sure I will write a few more before it's all over. I don't know if I will write about his cutting off his earlobe, but, I might.

Julie said...

Beautiful! The last two lines are excellent. I can't help but gush. This poem is like a painting itself. Gorgeous lines, colors, feelings derived from the words. You have done a great justice to the artist...and to your art.

rosetta said...

who does not love Vincent,I don't know if we love him for his painting or his compassion for the common man.K you always capture so much with your words.great thought

Catvibe said...

I was so blown away when I saw a real Van Gogh for the first time in Paris. I had just read Lust for Life so I thought I was prepared, but the paintings bowled me over in emotion. Your poem captures him. The last 3 lines especially, very beautiful.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Julie - most appreciated. The more I studied him, the more I liked him as a person. I know he was difficult and quarrelsome, but, it was his passion for life that made him that way. He did have some mental issues, too, of course. He overcame so much in his life and painted so beautifully in spite of it all. I admire his tenacity and his willingness to "go on" in spite of much tribulation.

Rosetta, thank you so much.

True - to know him is to love him. I think we love him for all that he was - one of the world's most renowed artists and a tortured soul that led a tragic life. He cared so deeply for others around him, but could not love himself.

Catvibe - I remember the first original Van Gogh I ever saw. I was standing in the Philadelphia Museum of Art just staring at his painting, Sunflowers. I felt tears streaming down my cheeks. I was so emotional - to know that he actually painted it - had it in his hands, studied it, redid it, wrote to Theo about it and drew a picture of it in his letter. He said of the sunflowers - that they were a source of strength for him - like suns shining on him all winter long. ;)

trooping with crows said...

More and more, I feel like art and poetry are the same. There are those who paint whatever it is they need to express and poets write it. This truly comes through in Vincent's work...just the very way the paint is applied, thick with hard tourtured strokes.
I can remember the first time I saw a Van Gogh in person in NY,(Sunflowers) I was so emotional when I saw his signiture! I was like, "This was a real guy! There is where his hand wrote his name!"

Just a beautiful poem. To me, it captures the peace that I hope Vinnie found at some point in his life or in death. An excellent tribute to a man we would all have loved to know.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Trooping with Crows - I feel the same way...poetry is a painting done with words, and a painting is a poem done in images. So true.

Oh yes, I have the exact same experience as you had whenever I see his work in museums. It is almost a revelation of sorts.

I hope, too, that Vinnie Van Go-Go,as I respectfully refer to him, has found peace and love - the two things that eluded him here on earth. I know he has found fame at last. ;) Thanks, my friend.

Billy said...

I knew that your heart still belonged

to those who ate potatoes
in the semi-darkness.

amazing couplets, with language that is simple yet evocative. you have some of the best poetry on the web. i'm going to link you to my two blogs.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Billy - wow...thank you very much for that generous compliment. Coming from such an accomplished writer, it means so much to me. I am proud that you find my work appealing.

I appreciate your linking me to your blogs. Regards - K