Poetry Thursday: Talking It Up

This week's Poetry Thursday task was to incorporate dialogue into a poem, to take the poetry of talking and blend it into a poem. Of course, with speech, you also introduce other dramatic and narrative elements into a poem, which is a nice way to stretch what poetry can include.

My poem for this week is a part of sequence that invents a parallel life for Matthew Barney, imagining if he were three inches taller and had a shot at a professional football career in the 1990s (fulfilling a childhood dream), rather than becoming one of the most important visual artists in the United States. So earlier in the sequence, he becomes famous for playing with the then Los Angeles Raiders, and he parlays that fame into a life of celebrity-hood. Of course, he's not a complete sell-out, and he strikes up a romance with Miranda Richardson. Yes, you may ask whose fantasy this really is about.

Obviously, the romance with Miranda Richardson is a complete fiction, but it’s nice to think about. In the early 1990s, she won attention for a number of films, especially her work in The Crying Game, as an IRA terrorist (Ireland does figure into Barney’s Cremaster Cycle), which led to her role of Viv Eliot in Tom and Viv. And so I could see their paths crossing in L.A. at some point.

The poem takes up an image in one of Barney's films, the Cheetah-woman, that reflects his interest in metamophic tropes: it creates beautiful and ugly and memorable and frightening and horrific and poetic imagery in his work. So I decide to let Miranda undergo her own beautiful transformation in this poem--why not?

Also about Matthew Barney, everyone in the New York art world knows that Barney’s companion is the Icelandic rock star Bjork, but everyone really hip in the New York art world doesn’t mention this fact. Leita, by the way, is not Icelandic for cheetah, but for another word word.

And finally, this poem starts with one of those night-time conversations, that falls away to sleep, and then to dream, and then a little beyond.

Miranda Richardson, or the Cheetah-Woman

Miranda? Miranda, are you awake?

Yes, Matthew.

Do you know the Icelandic word for Cheetah?

Icelandic? Cheetah?

Yeah, what does an Icelander call a cheetah in Icelandic?

Is Icelandic a language? Don’t people in Reykjavic speak some other language? I mean, don’t they call their language something else?

No, I’m sure it’s Icelandic. What else could it be?

And a cheetah? Why would there be an Icelandic word, a real Icelandic word, for a cheetah? Where would they run into one?

We say cheetah, and I was wondering what they say.

But cheetah is hardly an English word, isn’t it?

So, you don’t know then?

Sorry, love, I have no idea.

Miranda is falling
asleep, on their bed, beside
bowls of figs, black cherries, grapes,

and olives, and it is Lush
, Billy Strayhorn, from earlier
in the evening, that accompanies

Miranda’s falling, now through L.A.,
later New York, then London, the usual
homebound arc, through the questions

of “What’ll I do next,” with
Vivien Haigh-Wood’s biography
on the floor. In the morning, she’ll

wake quite restful, unblemished,
but now, in this falling, along
her temple and across her thighs

and calves, appear spots, white
then blackening, and then hair,
curling from her vagina, spreading,

over her buttocks, over her legs.
Over her closed eyes, a hint of almonding,
a down-turn in the mouth, but nothing

so definite, and then a slight softening,
fattening of her flesh, slight, across her
belly and torso and breasts, and then

her nipples become blond, flatten,
almost indistinct. As with any
man’s, Matthew’s penis hardens,

while he watches malefully
with longing. He doesn’t touch
the cheetah-woman, this strange

British anthromorph, especially while
she’s still falling to her sleep,
after a long day already, after

his silly questions that are a wonder
to her, and a trial, too.
Miranda is in London now,

somewhere between adolescence
and childhood, nowhere near
Iceland or Ireland, and she is

circling in her sleep-dance,
purring in her sleep-fall,
leita, leita, leita.


Oh my gosh! This is wonderful, Jim. Absolutely! You are a true genius with imagery and words.
May I just say that I so want to be the cheetah-woman. :)

Quite an amazing poem with such vivid dialogue that crosses the boundaries between art and fantasy, dreams and realities.


jim said…

There's more transgression to the Cheetah Woman. She's played by Aimee Mullins (this is in Barney's Cremaster 3 and there's a good layout of her work in the New Yorker about three years ago), who is a double-amputee. Barney "sculpted" legs for her to play this part. It's rather amazing on so many levels.
That was simply marvellous. Very insightful. Thanks.
Tammy said…
Bravo Jim! This flowed beautifully into a dream state. The visual was wonderful. Your imagination rocks!
Clare said…
Wow, what a ride! I want to read it again! This is incredibly clever and visually striking. Way cool.
ren.kat said…

and it's geopard, as far as I know.
Wow- what is there to say? That is one of the most creative and powerfully visual poems I have read in like... forever! I was really caught up in it, too... I loved being that fly on the wall as Barney asks his seemingly non-sensical questions and I loved Miranda's transformation process... I'll probably dream of the cheetah-woman tonight...
Thanks, Jim- so cool...
I'm trying to imagine cheetahs in Iceland.. Excellent poem and interesting to read about the background to your writing it.
Catherine said…
I'm always amazed by the range of your knowledge and inventiveness. I love this poem (and accompanying photograph)
wendy said…
You never fail. Always somany tastes and textures and essences to your work. I kept staring at that actress. Who is she???

Then...ah yes..she was in Phantom of the Opera. (The movie.)

There is something cat like about her. She has a quiet power.

Great work.
Jessica said…
This is so inventive and surreal -- I love it. Thank you for the preface beforehand, as well. I'll have to look him up as an artist.
Remiman said…
I read a phantasmagorical poem of rich imagery. When the unreal can seem possible, then the poem is a success. Yours does and is.
jim said…
Gautami, Tammy, Claire:

Thank you--you know it's a matter of having a lively imagination, too, when reading poetry. Isn't that the best part?
jim said…

A geopard, yes! I gotta get me one of those. Meeerrrrrroooooow!
jim said…

Miranda Richardson is one of my all-time favs . . .
jim said…

Phantasmagorical! Wow. Thank you.
Writer on Board said…
Seems like two poems and I like them both very much.
Rob Kistner said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Kistner said…
Rel is absolutely correct -- phantasmagorical!

I actually used that word once in a poem -- I think?

Thoroughly enjoyed your piece Jim.