James Coghill – Poem and thoughts

Bengt Crantz


after the artist’s self portrait


jowls with accents of boiled ham

dare me to come closer


to where the muzzle breaks through

and his nose triangles up,


stretching the philtrum taut,

as he bites down on his inside lip,


eyes, stretched and blank

as the skin of a boiled egg.


This is self-effacement, I swear it.

Crantz: nothing but a haughty squint


cross-eyed with nerves,

conger eel lurking behind the canvas


he boils with pigment, rollicks

unsuspecting fabric


to elver art, to garter snake orgy,

to a Västergötland scene’s,


deep tourette’s, its ancient tic:

humpbacked and hoary


landscape wrought and textured.

It’s this I covet: long to match myself against,


to break the laws of this place,

to feel, at once, that artful Utland


stretched out across the proffered

lifeline heartline headline of my hand.


This poem catalogues my reaction to the Swedish artist Bengt Crantz’s ‘Svälvporträtt’ which I saw last year at an exhibition in Borås Museum. In the poem, I attempted to give voice to a frustrated kind of ekphrasis intermingling descriptions of Crantz’s artworks with my responses to them. Chief among these is the envy I feel for the tactile effect that he produces in his landscapes. He does this through using especially thick brushstrokes, building up a remarkably textured surface. Encountering this use of texture, I found it a struggle not to reach out across the velvet ropes to feel the surface of these paintings and resented Crantz for having created something so simultaneously touchable and untouchable. What I wrote as a response is, therefore, a kind of substitute for transgressing the law of the art gallery by following my impulse to touch (and therefore deface) Crantz’s artwork. This tension, between touch and untouch is something I cannot help but find analogous to the modern experience of the natural world. Despite it being there on a daily basis, it remains resistant to our understanding. I hope this comes across in what I came up with and that my use of ekphrasis comes close to doing the artist’s work a kind of justice…

James Coghill is an ecopoet currently clinging to the edge of the country by his fingertips. Most recently he has had poems published in Blackbox Manifold, Sidekick Books, Lives Beyond Us and The Emma Press Anthology of Dance. He has interests in Swedish language and culture, Christian mysticism, and (of course) ecology He blogs here: https://thesolenette.wordpress.com/