Michael Shepherd

Rookie (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

0282 A Necessary Art - Poem by Michael Shepherd

There's art history, and there's the history of art.
Art history, you can learn anywhere these days;
the history of art's some other, thrilling thing, a life-blood
pumping its heart intensely as if it were a matter
which it is of course, of life and death..

and who will tell you, except those who lived it through,
who will tell you - except perhaps old men;
while the students yawn, stop taking notes,
and wonder if the chick back there
is up for it?

Who will tell you that the truth is savage,
and the world hard earned,
and art, painting, poetry,
a matter of life and death?

Who will tell you, for instance, how after 1945,
when war ended, and 'peace'
was the threat of nuclear annihilation,
the great French artists, who had made
their various accommodations with the occupying power
brought out near ten years' work the world had never seen?
As if archaeologists, searching for the past,
had found instead, the future?
Picasso, Matisse, Leger, Braque - you know the names...

and how Picasso, who never allowed any other artist
to see him at his work, opened his Paris studio
to hordes of American servicemen? Interviewed
in the great French magazine, Cahiers d'Art, in I think
the late 1940s, he said his art was
'une somme des destructions' - a sum of destructions;

and Wallace Stevens, in a lecture at the Met, in 1951,
remembered the phrase, made it his text, and
told the post-war world that painting, as with poetry,
was man's great chance to seek his self - for each of us
to find out who we really are - in ways, we listening
were to assume, which might not always be heard in churches
or from philosophers' petty squabblings..

now today, this may seem a truism put out by slick PR
from auction houses; who can tell you
what it was like to hear that said?
and by so great a poet man?

There's art history, and the history of art.
Who will tell you that the truth is savage
and the world hard earned,
and art, painting, poetry,
a matter of life and death?


Comments about 0282 A Necessary Art by Michael Shepherd

  • (5/18/2006 4:52:00 PM)


    As someone who paints, writes poetry and has had her life saved by these very things...I know what you mean... (Report) Reply

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  • (5/4/2006 4:52:00 AM)


    I often see small pieces of the world, and events seem disconnected to my ignorant eye, whereas in fact they are secretly linked. You connect and in your interpretation everything has resonance. To read such poetry is mind-expanding. Julia (Report) Reply

  • (9/2/2005 7:10:00 AM)


    Thanks for that comment, and respect for one who knows more about life and death than most of us... (Report) Reply

  • (8/30/2005 11:51:00 PM)


    This is one for the books. Record it and get it podcast. That is how it would best be enjoyed. Most excellent. (Report) Reply

  • (8/30/2005 5:52:00 PM)


    Nice poem. Learned some things. Liked the third stanza repeating at the end. Thank you. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Poem Edited: Saturday, July 15, 2006


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