Keeping track of the past


I retain all the restaurant bills
        and museum and cinema tickets

as markers in the books I read
        I know that on 10 February 2017
we paid a visit to the Guggenheim
        on that magical trip to Venice
: there there were the de Koonings
        that we both admired

The heiress Peggy Guggenheim
        who collected
writers and artists
and artworks
of all kinds : and we
        who created our own
intimate collection
of words to describe who we were
        such as walkers and talkers
and so much more
So I always know
        for certain precisely where we once
were but
today I really don’t know
        where exactly you are now

John Lyons


Seen on the radio

Summer Couch
Willem de Kooning, Summer Couch, 1943

You get the picture
it’s a shut-in weekend
pale drizzle out on the streets
and Frank is home relaxing

after a hard few days
at the museum office
and he’s listening
to Grieg and to Prokofiev

to relieve those feeling-
sorry-for-oneself feelings
and he’s dreaming
of the painting

Dutch Willem de Kooning
has promised him
and because he’s Dutch
it has an orange bed in it
and Frank muses that it’s
more than the ear can hold

John Lyons

How angels descend

angel descending
                     Angel descending, John Lyons (50 x 70 cm, oil on canvas)

This is how angels descend
       out of the blue into the pink
when least expected
       free-falling through the universe
time and distance no object
       space an illusion at best
at worst a failure
       of the imagination

I defy you to say
       that your life is complete
that there are no ragged edges
       no moves you wish
you’d never made :
       art affirms all things
it can declare love
       and it can express regret
for a love that has
       slipped away

art is a way of life
       just as poetry is
and just as love is
       hence the shoulder
on which we bear
       all things
all our joys
       and all our sufferings
and art brings colour
       and warm words
and delight in the beauty
       of shapes that take on
a new energy
       when placed on canvas
or within the perimeters
       of a poem : angels descend
when we are willing
       to celebrate the rough patches
the incomplete journey
       never the end

John Lyons

Faith in my hands


                       Simplified, John Lyons (40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas)

My hands tanned
       mottled and freckled
have aged but not grown old
       an absurdity I know
but it is as if
       for reasons unknown
they have been spared
       the ravages of time

I observe them
       this way and that
hold them up
       to the light
relieved that they are
       still fit for purpose
secure too in the knowledge
       that neither the right
nor the left one
       will ever betray me

John Lyons

Out of Eden

             Out of Eden, John Lyons (40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas)

Out of Eden
       there flowed two rivers
through fields of corn
       and barley and rye
and people gathered on the banks
       their eyes fixed upon
the shifting waters
       and the sunlight
that danced on the surface
       : this is where
our ancestors learned
       the shape of love
and where they chose
       their colours

John Lyons

Love’s last look

detail 2

                Detail 2, John Lyons (oil on canvas)

Whichever way
you look at it
it’s words
there’s no escape

the absence of speech
but not necessarily
of thought

Viewed from this angle
what does this canvas
convey ?
Shapes and colours

are the same
but a shift in orientation
is a shift in perception
just as love

observed from a distance
is simply not the same
her face her eyes
caught in a new light

a composition of the mind
a flurry of questions
where is this all going
and where will it end ?

John Lyons

Love’s refusal


                                Detail, John Lyons (oil on canvas)

Dark lashes
       eyes abashed
reticent lips
       gentle wind
sifting the hair
       a vulnerable beauty
built of taut flesh
       and supple bone
that must step out
       into the world

Sometimes words
       get the better of her
and she turns in
       upon herself
no mirror can
       hold her for long
nor any man’s arms
       nor moon her night
she is a truth
       waiting to be told

John Lyons

The doors of perception


                            Door, John Lyons (oil on canvas)

“If the doors of perception
were cleansed
every thing would appear to man
as it is, Infinite.

For man has closed himself up,
till he sees all things
thro’ narrow chinks
of his cavern.”

William Blake
from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93)

The painting illustrating today’s text is a reading of Willem de Kooning’s A door to the sea, held at the Whitney Museum in New York. It is perfectly legitimate for one painter to base a painting on an existing work by another artist. Think of the plethora of nativity or crucifixion scenes in Renaissance art. In its own way, a door may represent a nativity or a crucifixion.

I sometimes paint

I sometimes paint

I’m a poet and a patriot
            but I sometimes paint
though I make no claims
            for my artistic skills
I simply try to lay down
            the colours and shapes
of the words I carry around
            in my head along with
whatever energies
            I can bring to bear

If I was a painter
            I would strive to be
a de Kooning or
            a Jackson Pollock
or wherever the action is
            but there’s no hope
of that so relax
            it’s Saturday
and my mind’s on
            the walk we are about
to take over the river to Spitalfields
            to try a Philadelphia
cheese steak sandwich
            and on Sunday
I will be watching the Superbowl
            and cheering on the Eagles
even though I have
            only the vaguest
understanding of the game :
            it’s just not my game

John Lyons