Your Hills Are on Fire by Jordan Trethewey

Your hills are on fire, why don’t you go downtown

 

see what all the fuss is about

you’ve been cutting firewood

living in a particle board tarpaper

bunkhouse hiding behind

an ancient white pine

when nature truly calls

 

worlds did collide where

you should have expected it

firewood     wood fire

and there you stand

in disbelief despite a cigarette

dangling from your lips

a pack of matches

in your callused hand

 

we worried when you wobbled

backwards on the progress ladder

feigning self-assuredness

while stumbling out the door

embracing fresh air simplicity

solitude in unrefined resourcefulness

 

take it as a sign given seekers

in old books there is nothing

to be found

you are your own mountain

to climb conquer or quit on

nature will provide until

we finish poisoning it

so let’s just go downtown

have an expensive drink

 

About the Poet: 

Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, NB, Canada.

He is also a husband, father (to two kids, a black cat, and a Sheltie), beer-league softball player, art aficionado, and remote sensing analyst (by day).

About the Artist: 

Marcel Herms is a self-taught artist. His work is primarily about freedom with a strong link to music. Just like music his art is about autonomy, licentiousness, passion, colour and rhythm.

He paints with any material he can get a hold of — acrylic paint, oil paint, ink, pencils, crayons, spray paints, etc. He sometimes mixes the paint with sand, sawdust or pieces of paper, painting on canvas and paper and other materials like wood.

His work has been printed in many (inter-)national publications (like Inside Artzine, Proper Gander, Bananafish and many more) and he has designed many records and CD-covers. 

 

Eva’s Comments:

I was thrilled to receive this poetry submission together with this image – an abstract, child-like ghoulish painting by a Dutch artist Marcel Herms. The poem has been directly inspired by the image, entitled ‘Your Hills Are on Fire’ and fits in conceptually with the raison d’être of the Journal. 

Trethewey tells me that he met Herms online and was immediately drawn to the artist’s stark and abstract style. Herms’s haunting images of stunted and grotesque characters shambling around his canvasses spoke to Trethewey visually. 

“He seemed to be expressing, visually, what I try to express with words, the dark and repressed side of everyday existence,” Trethewey explains. 

There’s also a desire in both Trethewey and Herms to not pander to the commercial aspects of literary and visual arts. They write and paint what they like and what they are inspired by, is my impression. So their works are eclectic, eccentric and unique.

Trethewey pens what comes to mind emotionally and automatically. Yes, writing can be crafted as we all know, but, the most authentic form of writing comes automatically. Trethewey allowed this image to first embed in his unconscious before using the technique of free-association, allowing his brain and fingers to latch on to a theme or a story he can tell which makes sense with the image and does it justice. He doesn’t worry about the re-writes and always goes with his guts. How images inspire us takes many forms. How images speak to us is also personal. A viewer’s response to an image’s voice, narrative, ellipses and backstory vary from one person to another. 

Herms’s paintings are categorised as Art Brut, a French term meaning ‘raw art’. This way of painting was invented by the French artist, Jean Dubuffet. He used the term Art Brut to describe any artwork resembling graffiti or naïve/child-like art created beyond the strictures of traditional academic fine art. For Dubuffet, fine art which he called ‘art culturel’ was dominated by academic art. Artforms that stray away from academic art often go uncategorised and unseen. These could be works by prisoners, psychiatric patients, refugees and children who often paint untrammelled and instinctively from the soul raw and emotional depictions of their inner worlds. As an artist, Dubuffet started to incorporate these qualities into his own works. 

In 1948, Dubuffet founded the Compagnie de l’Art Brut to promote the study of such art. He created an outstandingly large body of work which is now housed in a museum in the Swiss city of Lausanne – La Collection de l’Art Brut. The collection is worth a visit if you’re ever in Lausanne. Dubuffet’s works, disturbing and haunting, are also simultaneously calming and innocent. Cast your eye back to Herms’s untitled piece and let the innocence of its backstory speak to you. Look beyond the stunted grotesque depictions of the figures and their faces. Don’t all children’s paintings start this way? 

Art Brut is also sometimes categorised as Outsider Art. Outsider artists are usually untrained and are unconventional when working. They use whatever techniques, materials and genres that inspire them. Outsider Art can be folklorish, abstract, surreal and most often express the emotions and the inner world of the artist. They can range from 2-dimensional pieces such as paintings to 3-dimensional works like sculptures. A very well-known Outsider Artist is African-American William Edmondson (1874-1951). Edmondson became the first African-American artist to have a solo at MoMA and his pieces have been placed on auction at Christie’s. Today, they are worth in the tens of thousands. 

We write what we know is often something that writers would say. Writing comes from the depths of our souls, is what I often say. We write for many reasons and more often than not, we write to express what our inner-worlds have experienced or are experiencing. Writing is a form of catharsis and allowing images to inspire us is a doorway to finding release. 

 

 

I Can’t Forget by Townsend Walker

I thought I’d found the peace that I’d come for.  Here in Munich, where I spent a year in college.  A felicitous town with musicians on every corner: Mozart concertos, Bach sonatas, a Billie Holiday tune here and there.  Choirs singing hosannas to the highest lighten even the heavyset Cathedral of Our Lady.

On Wednesday, I strolled into the gardens of the Stadtische Galerie.  The museum was housed in a gold-colored Tuscan villa, once the home of the painter Franz von Lenbach.  The first gallery held Klee’s colorful and cheerful work: Southern Gardens: vivid orange, red, blue and aqua patches and Rose Garden: carnelian, cerise and scarlet geometric figures and a cluster of smiling people.

The next gallery was deserted.  Klee’s Ravaged Place hung on the far wall: a bruise-purple building with a dabbled white roof is askew in the background.  The building once had four walls, but like a stage set only the façade remains.  Its gaping window holes were shaded violet black, wraiths curling behind them.  Two smaller structures tilted in from outside the frame.  Their windows were vacant eyes to the sky.  In the foreground, headstones.

Not different from my last patrol.  A long day.  My unit had beaten off two insurgent attacks and we were a couple miles from base.  We saw the village beyond the ridge.  Smoke, still curling.  Crumbled dun-colored mud houses.  Wooden framing sticking out at unnatural angles.  Fragments of cloth fluttering from splintered windows.  Blackened shards.  Littering the sand, blood-streaked arms and legs and a doll.

The memory emptied me and I slumped on a museum bench, head in my hands, heart pounding.  I was nauseous, like the time in the back of an old bus bumping down a mountain road in Morocco, sucking diesel fumes and greasy mutton.  Hot and I couldn’t get up, trapped between two guys who were asleep.  I squeezed my head tighter and tighter to quiet the clattering explosions in my skull.

My Dad, a Nam vet, never told me about the flashbacks.  But he was career; maybe it’s different for them.  My twin brother Will followed Dad’s lead, until it all ended at Shahi Khot.  I’d stayed away from everything Army until what happened to Will.  But I had to finish what he started.  That’s the way it was with us.  So it was Special Forces and language school.

Someone hit me.  I jumped; nearly knocked the old man down.  Slowly, I saw him, the attendant, a thin wispy-haired man carved by age.

Bitte, are you well?”

Probably, he only tapped me on the shoulder.

“I’ll be fine, danke.

“I never come in this room,” he said.  “Too many thoughts, too many memories I don’t want to have.”

Looking down at him, I asked, “Der Zweite Weltkrieg?”

“Stalingrad,” he said.  “I can’t forget.”

He looked at me, eyes filling with tears.  His lips moved, but no words came out.  Then he placed a thin arthritic hand on my arm and held tight.

I walked slowly out of the Galerie and back through the Plaza of Our Lady.  Leave was over.  That evening I took the train up to Frankfurt for my flight.  I’d be in Kabul in twenty-four hours, and sign up for another tour.  I’m not haunted by memories there.

 

A Note on the Author

Townsend Walker lives in San Francisco. His novella La Ronde was published in 2015 and his short stories have appeared in over seventy-five literary journals. “A Little Love, A Little Shove” and “Holding Tight” were nominated for PEN/O.Henry Awards. The two stories are included in his new collection, 3 Women 4 Towns 5 Bodies. Townsend wrote A Guide for Using the Foreign Exchange Market, Managing Risk with Derivatives, and Managing Lease Portfolios, during his career in finance. In addition to writing stories, Townsend conducts a creative writing workshop at San Quentin Prison.

Townsend submitted I Can’t Forget along with an image of Paul Klee’s painting, ‘Destroyed Place’, which Klee completed in 1920. However, in the story, Klee’s ‘Ravaged Place’ is referred to. On further reading of Walker’s ekphrasis of the painting, he seems to be referring more to ‘Destroyed Place’: “The building once had four walls, but like a stage set only the façade remains.  Its gaping window holes were shaded violet black, wraiths curling behind them.  Two smaller structures tilted in from outside the frame.  Their windows were vacant eyes to the sky.  In the foreground, headstones.” [‘Ravaged Place’ is actually entitled ‘Ravaged Land’.]

This artwork points to Klee’s skills as a draughtsman, indicated by the buildings. The two-dimensional surface and shapes indicate the influence of Cubism, which Klee discovered during his travels to Paris where he met Robert Delaunay and discovered Picasso and Braque’s works in galleries. The sense of the surreal is highlighted by the hands sweeping from the headstones towards the vacant buildings, rendering the landscape a ghostlike presence. Death permeates the piece, signified by the dark sombre tones of black against purple.

Walker’s story is a great example of how art can emote and bring forth stories buried in our unconscious. It is also a great example of how a writer can combine Ekphrasis in a work of fiction. Visual Art as prompts to writing is not a new concept because art triggers memories, sensations and emotions in each of us; I Can’t Forget indicates this.

 Eva’s Comments

Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, to a German father and a Swiss mother. His parents were both musicians; his father was a music teacher in Bern where the family settled in 1897, after moving around in Switzerland for some time.

Music and art filled Klee’s life since childhood. Encouraged by his parents, he studied the violin. Although he was very good at the instrument, he chose to focus on visual art during his teenage years. However, his parents were not that supportive of his forays into art, preferring that he continued with music.

Against his parents’ wishes, Klee left for Munich in 1898 for art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and briefly attended Franz von Stuck’s class there. He chose to settle in Munich in 1906 after spending some years travelling to Italy, France and living some years back in Bern.

In Munich, Klee focused on graphic art for the most part. A chance meeting with the abstract artist, Kandinsky, in 1911 would change the course of his life. Kandinsky recognised talent in Klee’s work and was very supportive of him.

In 1912, Klee exhibited in Munich’s Galerie Goltz in the second exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a group formed by Russian emigre painters (Kandinsky included) in response to the rejection of Wassily Kandinsky’s work, ‘Last Judgement’, from an exhibition. Der Blaue Reiter is also an art movement important in the development of Expressionism; this art movement lasted only 3 years from 1911 to 1914 but has left the art world with a vast collection of artworks which can be viewed at Lenbachhaus, Munich.

Paul Klee was very interested in colours and was an avid researcher in colour theory. He wrote extensively on the effects of colour on art. His lectures at the Bauhaus School of Art, where he taught for 10 years starting in 1921, have been published under the name, Paul Klee Notebooks, a two-volume work, considered as important to modern art theory as Leonardo Da Vinci’ s Treatise on Paintings is for the Renaissance.

A trip to Tunis, Morocco, in 1914 impressed Klee so much that he would later write, saying, “colour and I are one” proclaiming himself a “painter.” From this period on, Klee started to experiment with abstraction. Already a skilled draughtsman, he combined his abilities in draftsmanship—straight lines forming shapes like rectangles and triangles—with colours to form a unique style—visual art, combining Expressionism, Cubism, Abstraction and Surrealism, all associated with music—that some scholars have recognised to be influenced by his earlier schooling in music. Perhaps, Klee could be a synesthete like his friend, Kandinsky.

Klee was conscripted as a soldier of the German Reich in March of 1916. Fortunately, for him, he spent most of the war in an office which spared him from the horrors on the war front. Klee’s diaries and letters indicated his detachment from the war. But the war would leave profound impressions on him. The death of his friends August Macke and Franz Marc devastated him. He responded by creating pen and ink lithographs dealing with war themes. Perhaps it was during this time that Klee would come to say “I paint in order not to cry”, a phrase that has come to represent his works made during and after WWI. Critics have said that Klee’s pieces during and after the war indicated his detachment: Klee commented on the devastation brought by war by abstracting it, representing the horror by symbols and leitmotifs.

“The more horrible this world (as today, for instance), the more abstract our art, whereas a happy world brings forth an art of the here and now.” — Paul Klee (diary, 1915).

Paul Klee passed away in 1940, in Switzerland, from a wasting disease that engulfed him towards the end of his life. The pain caused by Scleroderma would enter his later work. I think apart from expressing his physical pain on canvas, Klee also drew from the trauma incurred during the war and allowed this to find expression in his work. Paul Klee left behind an oeuvre consisting of just under 10,000 pieces of artworks. Although born in Switzerland, he never obtained Swiss citizenship because the Swiss authorities felt that his artwork was too revolutionary for the period.

Paul Klee’s work can be viewed worldwide as well as at the Paul Klee Centre in Bern.

 

 

Image Credit: ‘Destroyed Place’, 1920, Oil on paper, 8 3/4 x 7 5/8 in. (22.3 x 19.5 cm), Lenbachhaus, Munich.