The poem “Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère, Édouard Manet, 1882” has been published on a free broadsheet available through the Take Flight Writing in Whangarei blog.
The broadsheet can also be downloaded from here.
The poem is based on the painting by Manet, which has fascinated and slightly disconcerted me for many years. It is a painting that just is not right – the perspectives don’t quite work, the reflections are physically impossible, the background seems to display an opulence that seems ill at ease, the man in the top hat is just scary and is clearly meant to be us, the viewer. I had been aware that Manet was not an apolitical artist, but the painting seemed to be shouting a message that I just could not get to grips with, perhaps because of stupidity, or ignorance (ie: ignore-ance) or just a plain unwillingness to face the message squarely.
What makes the poem interesting for me is its more ambiguous birth. The epigraph hints at this origin by quoting from Copolla’s Lost in Translation, a film I found baffling at first viewing, but which made more and more sense as I thought about it. Rather like the painting, the film offers up a different disjunctive perspective on the world without offering any solutions to the breakdown in comprehension, and it was this that I tried to incorporate into the poem.
When is a poem simply a version of another poem. This poem has so much in common with “in the cinema stalls watching”. Clearly it is using different words, a different context and so it is a different poem. Or is it really a different poem and not the same poem, just taken from a different point of view. At the moment this is a puzzle that I have not resolved, but its been entertaining me for some time.
Eventually I came to realise the poem came to a different conclusion to Bob simply because it does not offer any solutions. Instead, the look on Suzon’s face says something very different – a look of grief into an uncertain, likely a bleak, future that makes no sense but neverless happens. Its all rather different to Olympia, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe and even The Execution of Maximilian, all works that reflect a rather more realistic view on the world, perhaps not entirely credible or likely to be experienced as such, but neverless possible.
And, of course, this is Manet’s last painting.