Poems from ‘The Conversation’ by Jo Burns and Emily Cooper

 

Emily and Jo write: “What follows is a six-poem sequence taken from the manuscript of a collaborative poetry collection, The Conversation. This collection follows a conversation held between three muses/lovers of Picasso: Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar and Françoise Gilot, as well as between ourselves: Emily Cooper and Jo Burns. The themes discussed are fidelity, abuse, the ownership of art, religion, grief, and motherhood.”

 


 

F.G

 

    Hung

 

Dora, I wasn’t interested in his paintings of me
so I encouraged him to draw a new model.

Sylvette was shy, with a high ponytail,
her portrait influenced Bardot.

He tried every string he had in his hand
to turn my eyes green, pull jerks out of me,

calling me a monster of indifference.
He was craving theatrical mayhem

and his way of holding each marionette
was sophisticated, so in need of attention.

I’d broken some code and it drove him insane
that he couldn’t place me where he wanted.

With each pull I let the strings fray
by refusing to dance to his tilted hand.

Of course, unsurpisingly, he tried to bed her
but that young girl wouldn’t even sit for nudes.

Later, inspired, she became a painter herself
and remembered him like a gracious father.

To capture the ones not controlled from his wires,
he immortalised them instead as goddessses

where they moved from easel to be hung up high
on a wall, never falling to the floor to lie

as doormats. And when I heard the news
about Marie-Therese, in a noose, then Jaqueline,

tragedies which could have played out in theatres
with puppets at the Acropolis,

I admit that I felt a new, stronger, connection,
to the artist who lived on without him. You.

I sold La Femme Fleur. I couldn’t bear to look
at something that was never me from the start.

Dora, he didn’t paint us as we were, just
what he could see in his own heart.

 
 

D.M

 

    Hot House Flowers

 

Today I re-potted my aloe vera plant
It had spawned seven babies

Shoved in close beside their mother
They didn’t have the space to breath

Shaking them loose I dislodged their roots
Lost networks that bound them

To their origin. Françoise, it’s not easy
To be wrenched away. I tried hard

To place the babies in new pots
Gently filling around them with damp soil

I gave each one enough room to grow
But I’m sure at least one will die

The conservatory of the house he bought
For me in Menerbes is beginning to warm again

By summertime it will be full-green
Like we were in his eye. Full of possibilities
Fertile ground

 
 

F.G

 

    Déjà- Vu

 

When Cuny whispered to me in a tavern
that the woman sitting next to Pablo was you,

Dora Maar, I recognized you at once,
beautiful oval face with a heavy jaw.

Your penchant for saying nothing
was much more than any dignity.

You carried yourself like a sacrament.
In contrast, there was nothing sculptured

about him, his manner of moving,
as he twisted and turned, bringing

plump red cerisses to our table.
Girls who look like that can't be painters

he laughed. We were received later
in a hothouse of plants and cages

filled with doves. The plants were spiky
and green and it’s just occured to me

now, despite all this talk again of him,
I’d seen the plants already in a gallery,

Dora, a month before in a portrait of you.

 
 

D.M

 

    They are all Picassos, not one is Dora Maar

 

Those plants belong to you
As much as to me

Did you think you were the first
Woman of green? You might

Look longer at my face
I have green eyes too, Françoise

Sacraments are ceremonies
To be performed again and again

Women are machines for suffering
Circuits of grief and pain

Perennial in our miseries
Through us man will sound

The depths of silence and of
The fecund night. Or perhaps

I’ve taken that line from somewhere else

 
 

F.G

 

    Tête de femme

 

Dora, don’t we all take lines from another?
Picasso himself said the great artists steal.

I’ve written these words already in my memoir
so in essence I’m plagiarising myself.

In our ten years together, I was relieved
when he captured me in lithography.

Marie-Therese was the neoclassical muse
while you were his cubic masterpiece.

I couldn’t beat that. As he abandoned the rules
to print his side of a story you could think

he understood my personalities and moods
but I tried to explain it was his work that held me,

not the image of me that I saw in it.
I became his constant tug-of-war,

how I wanted him to see me—
the way I was — and how he saw me

in frustration and fantasy.
When I visited him for the second time

all those years ago, he showed me
paintings of skinned rabbits,

pigeons, a reflection of the war,
the search for food. It was rumoured

he was prolific because you made sure
he didn’t starve. The art scene, outside France

didn’t even know if he was still living
while you were keeping him fed and warm.

He showed me other paintings like papiers collés,
or women wearing hats topped with forks.

Then finally he showed me a group of portraits
of you, tortured in his form of jagged war,

the finest paintings he ever did, I believe.

 
 

D.M

 

     A Seat at the Banquet

 

Food is more than just a sacrifice
The offerings I made at Picasso’s feet

The rabbits, pigeons, bowls of soup
Bread broken by his hands were a guarantee

Of his safety. You see Françoise
I was more than his lover, at this time

I was in some ways his mother too
I kept him warm at my breast

Used everything I had to keep him safe
When you consider that this has been forgotten

Look at your children and consider
What you would do for them

What thanks you might expect
What torture you feel watching them

In any kind of distress. I cried for him
And he cried for me too. But the composition

Of a child’s tears and its mother’s
Are not the same. I salted his meals with mine

Knelt down at his feet when in danger
What exactly I gave is unclear

He painted me into a corner one day
The next I filled the canvass

We swelled and shrank together
My crusts were his. Eucharistic love

 
 

Emily Cooper and Jo Burns

About Emily Cooper and Jo Burns

-----EMILY COOPER has been published in the Stinging Fly, Banshee, the Irish Times and Hotel among others. She has been awarded residencies by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Greywood Arts and the Irish Writers Centre. In 2019 she took part in Poetry Ireland's Introductions series and was a recipient of the Next Generation Award from the Arts Council of Ireland. Her debut collection, 'Glass', will be published in May 2021. She lives in Donegal.  -----JO BURNS grew up in Northern Ireland and now lives in Germany. Her poems have won the Magma Poetry Competition, the Listowel Single Poem Competition, the Poetry Society Hamish Canham Prize and been placed and shortlisted for the Bridport competition, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Strokestown International Poetry Prize among others. She has been published in the Stinging Fly, Poetry Ireland Review, Oxford Poetry, The Tangerine, Poetry News and Magma among others. Her pamphlet, 'Circling for Gods', was published by Eyewear Press, London. Her first collection 'White Horses' was published in 2018 by Turas Press, Dublin.