Expansive Poetics – (Albert Pinkham Ryder)

Alfred Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) – The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) – oil on canvas – 70.5cm x 90cm – (1896-1908) courtesy the Cleveland Museum of Art

AG: There’s one painting in here I’m looking for. It’s a painting of (Albert) Pinkham Ryder, which is really uncanny. Anybody know Ryder? Death on a Pale Horse?, a Rembrandtian painting, dark-brown, black-ish, of a horse riding around a race-track, with a skeleton with a scythe on top of the horse, going around the cycle. So this is the painter of that, who lived on Fourteenth Street in New York, and he’s the great American Blake-ian, Blake-ian painter, that is, (a) self-taught, indigenous, lonely genius who lived in a grubby furnished room and painted paintings which are now considered the greatest of all American indigenous paintings

Albert Pinkham Ryder

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) – Portrait of Albert Pinkham Ryder  – oil on masonite – 71.1 x 55.9 cms (1938)- Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

So that’s his (Marsden Hartley’s) portrait of (Alfred) Pinkham Ryder. You can see there’s something going on between them. It’s a great portrait. I don’t know what the colors are like – I’ve never seen the original.

So that’s the kind of man – that kind of straightforward, monumental. His paintings are monumental, straightforward, rock hard. And his poetry has a little bit of that. And we have that at the beginning of our anthology. And the reason (William Carlos) Williams liked him was that Hartley (like Williams and like (Alfred) Stieglitz, and all the other folks of his time, even Hart Crane later) was preoccupied with discovering his own psyche in an American Place (that’s why the gallery was called “An American Place”), as distinct from a European place, as distinct from European poetry and European painting.

There was a problem of recognizing our own speech, recognizing our own speech rhythms, and beginning to build a new poetics or a new prosody and a new way of approaching poetry by listening carefully to the actuality of our speech  (to our idiom, the American idiom, which is Williams’ term) beginning to become conscious of that and measuring that. Becoming sensitive to it so that you could hear the little cadences and halts and strange diction, strange local vernacular diction (like Williams writing down on his prescription pad the phrase, “I’ll kick yuh eye” – Y-U-H E-Y-E, which he showed me on his prescription pad as an example (sample?) of American-ness or Rutherfordian – “I’ll kick yuh eye” – Y-U-H E-Y-E” – He said, “How can you measure that by the English measure of iambic pentameter or stress count? – “I’ll kick yuh eye” – actually, it’s more like the Greek (or the) measurement of Greek tones than English. Because Greek had a little accent, a little circumflex, for tones that rose and fell – “Akhilleus, I’ll kick yuh eye”! – So Pound was researching Greek as a hint for how to transcribe American cadence and tones. Williams was listening with naked ear to mouth-tongue-talk from the kitchen, and Marsden Hartley just did it naturally as a painter, because he was focused clearly – that one solid gull,that one solid portrait of a guy in a wool cap. And so he fitted in with the whole intellectual circle and artistic circle of post-World War I and the ‘Twenties.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately three and a quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately severn minutes in]

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