Saturday, May 05, 2007

Kathe Kollwitz

A couple of weeks back I went to an exhibit of etchings by Kathe Kollwitz. The room for the exhibit was an upper floor in our local art museum, and seemed a kind of sanctuary from the crowds of art enthusiasts on the floors below. I have always found the work of Kollwitz to be moving and disturbing and somehow unanswerable. That is, one cannot argue with it or rationalize it or distance it with talk of art movements or technique, etc. It is, in this sense, pure. One simple walks among her pictures, and discovers in her work the echoes of a grief one would have thought inexpressible. But for Kathe, it simply had to be expressed. That was her burden and her mission.

After a while I sat down and scribbled out a poem about my experience of her work. If you are not familiar with it, perhaps you should look at some of her pictures on Artnet.
I see it at last,
on the uppermost floor
of the Portland Museum of Art,

the darkness you saw,
the dark within and without,
printed on woven paper,
the rough texture

of manifest darkness--
the stark light shining on curve
and crevice of mother
and child, lost

in darkness; on the widow;
on the man without hands, and the woman
with hands like bricks; and on
the streched necks

of the mourning children.
It is life that is dark here
and death that is white and stark,

and there is never a glimpse of sky.

And here, here
in this quiet room of art
I glimpse it, I see

the hardness and the sorrow
from which you refused to turn,
to which you refused to surrender,
of which you could not
keep silent.

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