Thursday, 30 July 2015

Failed Love Poems

Joan Fleming's second poetry collection Failed Love Poems is released in August. We asked Joan to discuss a poem from the book, and also her choice of the wonderful Kushana Bush illustration for the cover.

Joan Fleming, author photo by Kate van der Drift


The gift of the woman is that she comes from a series of alcove
in a tangle of flowering. The gift of the man is that
he knows
where he comes from. The mistake of the man is that he
thinks he knows.
When I dipped my arms in source colour and dragged them down the wall
how clear
I was being. Here are the handprints of the woman as she presses
and folds
her body to the ground. Here is the time it takes for the chicken
to stop
its live signalling and know where it comes from. Hands, feet, fire, colour,
shape, chicken, film. It takes a length of struggle for the wings to
their beating once the head is gone. Here are the traces of
the woman who scooped
the shape of her body then rose and took photographs. After I went
the window the women I had needed in life asked Where is Ana Mendieta?
One man
thought he knew what he had heard me say which was no no no no no.
The truth is,
the mistake of the man is that he disassembles materiality storey by storey.
The gift
of the man is that he tallies his bricks and pushes the source away.
In life
I flamed and scratched and I wore the taunting mask when we drank and
the truth
is I loved him. He was larger than me and what he made on the gallery floors
cast all
kinds of shadows. But I was very clear. I dug my heels in and
no one knows
how quickly I went out the window. After we made love I covered
his face.
I covered his face with my hands.

“Traces” is the first poem in the book: a small biography in verse, about a love that failed so spectacularly and disturbingly that I had to write about it. Ana Mendieta was a Cuban American 'body' and performance artist. Her simplest works are the most haunting to me, like the work she made by dipping her hands and forearms in blood and then slowly wiping them down a gallery wall. 

She had a tempestuous relationship with her husband, the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. One night, after a violent argument, she somehow “went out the window” of her 34th story New York apartment. Those are Andre’s words. He was acquitted of murder in 1988, and his story about what happened that night continues to shift and change.

There are other details about Mendieta’s death that I couldn’t get out of my head. When she fell, her body made an imprint on the roof of the deli on the ground floor of her apartment building. This imprint is eerily suggestive of her ‘siluetas,’ where she created the shape of her body in hollows in the earth and then documented them with photographs.

I don’t know what happened that night, and neither does the poem. I wanted to write something crystal clear yet mysterious. The images of the poem came quickly, quicker than the form, which took some time to resolve, but when it finally did, it felt inevitable.

The cover of Failed Love Poems, illustration by Kushana Bush

Kushana Bush lent us her image distracted kneeling lovers for the cover. I’m so struck by this drawing. The details are both delicate and visceral. The lovers are touching tenderly, but there is something between them, keeping them apart. In a way, the entire book is about that ‘something’ — the sometimes unspeakable, sometimes unseen thing between lovers that keeps them from happiness.

There is joy in the book too, though. I don’t believe in “failed love” as a failure, not really. The relationships that don't last can teach us as much as the ones that do.

Failed Love Poems by Joan Fleming is published on August 13 and will be available in all good bookshops and through VUP's online bookstore.
$25, p/b

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