Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Interior Sculpture: poems in the voice of Camille Claudel, by Kathleen Kirk

We should get out of the way right away any idea that I am a poet, or am actually qualified to analyze poetry in any meaningful way. Nevertheless poetry is always in need of further advertisement, unlike all those things in the world that get far too much of it. As it happens, several of my friends and acquaintances are poets, and good ones, so I think the least I can do is add a blog post on poetry from time to time. Who knows? I might actually learn something.

Besides, in this age of everything digital, chapbooks are cool. We should all buy more of them and support the people who take the time and care to make them, rather than just being attuned to the think that the big marketers tell us to want, right? Chapbooks are nice little objects in themselves. Plus, they are fast reads.

Okay. As the subtitle tells us, these poems are a thematically related set of short poems based on the life of Camille Claudel. Remember her? I did, but vaguely. Her life speaks to our era in many ways, and it's no surprise that there have been a couple of big movies devoted to her life, not to mention books, an opera and so on. Many people will know the basic bio, but briefly, she was a woman who had been interested in earthy materials like soil and clay since childhood, but found a mentor in the sculptor Alfred Bouchet, and under his auspices set up a workshop with other young women sculptors. Not as easy as you might think back in 1882. When Bouchet eventually went off to live in Florence, he asked Rodin to continue teaching his students. This, you might say, is where the trouble began.

Camille Claudel became Rodin's muse and lover. Intuitively one feels that it would be hard to be both muse and artist in one's own right. In any case, it was a stormy relationship. As such things do, eventually it broke.

Claudel began to have some sort of mental trouble in the early years of the new century. As with many sorts of women's madness, there seems to have been a great deal else involved than the purely organic. Claudel did not have what you might call a lot of family support once her father died, and eventually she was institutionalized for a very long time and until her death. Her "voluntary commitment" was not exactly or at least entirely that.

The title of this chapbook comes from a description of her work by Claudel's brother Paul, the poet. Their relationship was also complicated.

There are many wonderful, if tragic lines in these poems. I won't pick out too many, as I should leave them for you to discover, but grant me a couple:

"I was working small
from poverty, not some decorative
impulse in myself." 


"I am a woman crouching
in a corner. I am a torso of a woman crouching."


"We don't know what will pierce us."

As the back of the chapbook tells us, the poem cycle was part of a larger collaboration of dance music theatre and poetry called Claudel, which was performed earlier this year. The poet thanks her sister, the actress Christina Kirk, for reading the poems aloud as Camille Claudel in the asylum at Montevergues. Even just hearing of this gives me goosebumps.

So where can you get a copy? You can get one right HERE .

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