Thursday, May 14, 2015

Van Gogh in Poetry

Vincent Van Gogh is not just a great artist (oh no) but he is also considered a great metaphor for poets. (For those of you who failed English 101, a metaphor is a description that does not use "like" or "as.") In other words, metaphors are things used to describe other things. This may seem like a roundabout way of making a point, but many times the point made with a metaphor makes more of an impact than if a poet or writer just used a plain description.

Here's a short look at how Vincent Van Gogh has been used to describe other things by major poets of the twentieth century. Major to ME, anyway and hopefully major to you. This is in no way a comprehensive list.

Charles Bukowski

This much-missed American icon (and subject of the cult film Barfly) was one of the most accessible poets America ever produced. He made his point without being sappy or using references so obscure that only he himself could comprehend them. Van Gogh shows up several times in the course of Bukowski's career.

Van Gogh is the starving artist who no one understands. He's very much like Bukowski himself, only Bukowski did receive critical acclaim and some money in his debauched lifetime. Van Gogh is described as a romantic and a professional fighter. He's also sometimes a hero for Bukowski, such as in "About My Very Tortured Friend Peter."

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton was the OTHER woman poet who committed suicide. She's best remembered, perhaps, as the inspiration for Peter Gabriel's classic song Mercy Street. She was also a very powerful and influential poet who first wrote poetry as a suggestion from her therapist. She wrote mostly about herself.

The Starry Night refers to Van Gogh's painting of the same name (the one Dan Mclean sang about.) It begins with a quote from Van Gogh's letters. It then describes Sexton's emotions when viewing the painting. It has an achingly beautiful refrain: "Oh starry starry night! This is how I want to die." You're not alone, there Anne.

The Van Gogh Poetry Challenge

While researching this article, I stumbled across the Van Gogh poetry challenge. It has some interesting work. Poetry and paintings both are stereo-typically hard to get for the average person, but I think these poems are easy to get and rewarding to read.

If you could  write a poem about Van Gogh, what would you write?

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