NEW HOPE INTERNATIONAL REVIEW

An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
MARTIN GRAY: JACKSON POLLOCK MEMORIES ARRESTED IN SPACE
Santa Monica Press
PO Box 1076
Santa Monica
CA 90406-1076
USA
ISBN 1 891661 32 9
$14.95 [$22.95 Canada]
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MARTIN GRAY: JACKSON POLLOCK MEMORIES ARRESTED IN SPACE

Martin Gray is carving a niche for himself in writing biographies in iambic trimeter, having already done Modigliani and Charlie Parker, the latter in BLUES FOR BIRD (also Santa Monica Press). There's an almost apologetic note in Martin Gray's introduction,

Readers meeting the poem for the first time may be disappointed, or frustrated, or even resentful, because this writing defies common expectations of poetry as something multi-layered and elaborately textured. It is not that; it is simple, spare, seemingly a little naive; and yet prosodically subtle and ultimately compelling, the beat driving the reader on, insistently or implicitly, to the tragic-heroic close of the story... As a meter, trimester demands great flexibility and constant experimentation, and that is why I have used this old by novel form it my verse biographies.
Martin Gray started with Jackson Pollock breaking into the art world before picking up his childhood then discussing his work and ending with his decline and death. BOOK I: POLLOCK BREAKS THE ICE
	XIII

	From 1947
	to 1951
	Jackson Pollock's art
	achieved its highest peak:
	in 1947
	seventeen works were poured,
	the next year almost twice
	and thirty-two were formed
	and in the following year
	he finished forty works
	but 1950 was the greatest year of all
	no less than fifty-five 
	with three largest now
	each thought a masterpiece:
	One and Lavender Mist
	and Autumn Rhythm were
	strong public favorites.
This stanza is more or less the same as BOOK IV: FOUR MASTERLY YEARS 1947 - 1950 Stanza VIII, and provides a good example of the "simple, spare" narrative Martin Gray is striving for. Large numbers and trimeter aren't easy. However, the moments when Martin Gray does (or uses others to) describe Pollock's painting, the poem becomes livelier, again from BOOK I: POLLOCK BREAKS THE ICE:
	XVI

	'I watched him as he worked
	and like a dancer he 
	had canvas on the floor,
	around him cans of paint.
	In all of these were sticks
	which he would seize and swish
	and swish and swish again
	with such a subtle rhythm
	to all his liveliness.
	His compositions were
	so complex yet he stayed
	in balance all the time...'
Stanza III in BOOK II: BIRTH, CHILDHOOD, ADOLESCENCE is a let down:
	...autism snaps synapses
	and leads to a mental death 
	no hearing, speech or sight,
	no recognition of 
	a mother, father, friend,
	one's history a void
	without community and mated destiny.
	All substance is left blank,
	blank and featureless 
	and barely animal.
which is audaciously presumptive and irrelevant. Jackson Pollock has Asperger's and, as Martin Gray has already pointed out by this stage, married Lee Krasner so wasn't "without community and mated destiny". Asperger's is on the autistic spectrum but even severe autism is not a "mental death". Martin Gray's research in Pollock is faultless, but he has failed to research Asperger's or perhaps felt that would lead him into trying to explain rather than just documenting facts. Pollock was difficult to live with, prone to violent mood swings, failed to appreciate social niceties and often drunk as a form of (misguided) self-medication. Lee Krasner provided him with stability, space to work and friends to help him stop drinking. It worked, until Pollock stopped painting and got frustrated with his attempts to do so.

Like all good biographies, JACKSON POLLOCK: MEMORIES ARRESTED IN SPACE, leads you back to the subject and Pollock's art, reminding you why the biography was worth writing in the first place.

reviewer: Emma Lee.