In Madrid, at the beginning of my month’s sojourn in Spain, I was quite struck by the room in The Prado of Goya’s “Black Paintings,” those he painted at the end of his life to hang in the house he retreated to called Quinta del Sordo (Deaf Man’s Country House), located outside Madrid, the most famous of which is Saturn eating one of his many children. When traveling, I find it’s always useful to set myself a project among other things, such as translations, writing aphorisms, and just writing poems as they come. The project that naturally arose was to write a sequence of poems in response to each of the 14 paintings in Goya’s series. Is it by sheer happenstance that I have been staying in the bedroom/studio named Goya? (Each artist bedroom is called by the name of a Spanish artist, the others on my floor being Lorca and Cervantes, both given to painters!)
So while I sit here in my studio, surrounded by visual artists, I spend part of each day studying reproductions of paintings and writing about them. Something about their dark subject matter and technique (Goya often painted over a previous image with a layer of black carbon) attracts me as I sit here surrounded by so much desert light. Of course my chief concern is that I haven’t quite figured out a fresh approach to these paintings, to ekphrasis in general, and to my own increasing body of ekphrastic poems.
Goya’s technique in this series seems very fast—even gestural—and he obviously painted over sections of each canvas. I decided that I, too, would not labor over the initial drafts of these poems, but would try to write each one very quickly. That does not mean, of course, that I won’t then go back and revise—write over the original words, as it were. But the initial approach is to be as quick as a Chinese calligrapher’s stroke down a page. Have I succeeded? That remains to be seen. In the end, it will depend on what I am able to do in the revision process which, because I had no printer here, will have to happen after I return home.