Bedroom Conversation

The following is a brief email conversation about my “Bedroom in Arles” poem, initiated by Marijke Verkaik, writing from Amsterdam. Also see my “Response to Alina Kwiatowska,” about my poem.

From: Marijke Verkaik
To: Michael Dylan Welch
Sent: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 4:49 am
Subject: Why a poem on Van Gogh’s bedroom?

Dear Mr. Welch,

I have read your poem “Bedroom in Arles,” and I wondered why you decided to write a poem on this particular painting? If I am correct, you haven’t published many ekphrastic poems and I am simply curious to know why you chose this painting for your poem.

By reading your poem, I clearly feel your preference for written art instead of visual art or is this bookless sadness you describe more aimed towards Van Gogh personally?

I very much look forward to your feedback.

Best regards,

Marijke Verkaik


From: Michael Dylan Welch
To: Marijke Verkaik
Sent: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 8:13 am
Subject: Re: Why a poem on Van Gogh’s bedroom?

Thank you for your message. The poem was written in response to a challenge to write about that particular painting, as I recall, and was proposed by the editor of Quill and Parchment, in which the poem was first published. I have done quite a bit of other ekphrasitic writing (see one example), and will also be teaching a class on writing ekphrastic haiku in a few weeks at a nearby art center. The first half of the poem is about me, and the second half is about van Gogh, so it is really van Gogh who has bookless, dreamless sadness (his last words were apparently “The sadness will last forever”). I have the poem’s last stanza separate from the previous two to make it perhaps ambiguous as to whether it’s about me or about van Gogh, but the clue is that he put a bullet through his chest, so it’s really about van Gogh. Although I am a writer, not a painter, because that’s where my talents lie, I would not say I favour writing over visual art at all. My dad was very artistic (he was an architect), and taught me photography, which is as equal a passion for me as writing.

May I ask how you happened across my “Bedroom in Arles” poem? And do you live in the Netherlands and have a passion for van Gogh?

Again, thank you for writing.

Michael


From: Marijke Verkaik
To: Michael Dylan Welch
Sent: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 9:44 am
Subject: Re: Why a poem on Van Gogh’s bedroom?

Dear Mr. Welch,

Thanks for your quick response!

I’m studying literature in English at the Free University in Amsterdam and I’ve recently finished the course Visual Arts and Poetry. I’m busy writing my final essay and I was indeed attracted by Van Gogh’s painting and simply surfed the Internet to find poems on this painting.

I thought your poem was very vivid and I immediately visualized your room and could very well understand your comparison with Van Gogh’s room. In many theories on ekphrastic poetry, I’ve read about the “paragone” between visual arts and poetry. (Living in a visual century could mean marginalization of poetry, etc.)

Your description of your room, including books and a family that guide you through life, compared to the empty room (life) of Van Gogh, gave me the impression that you could be referring to visual arts in general and the paragone between visual arts and poetry. Now I know this is not the case.

I have read some other poems on this painting, and I was surprised by the overall feeling of sadness towards the painting (painter). If you look at the painting without knowing Van Gogh’s life story, I can imagine this painting can also bring more “happiness.”

Again, thanks for your quick reply and I enjoyed your website!

Best regards,

Marijke Verkaik


From: Michael Dylan Welch
To: Marijke Verkaik
Sent: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 10:53 am
Subject: Re: Why a poem on Van Gogh’s bedroom?

Dear Ms. Verkaik,

I’m flattered to think my poem might hint at the centuries-old paragone between visual art and poetry, and I suppose it does. In writing the poem, I just looked at the painting until it prompted me to write about my own room, and how I have books instead of paintings as the main form of clutter. :-) So it’s a comparison and contrast, and of course one cannot escape knowledge, if not a mention, of van Gogh’s tragic end.

It is peculiar that my poem went in a sad direction when the painting itself is so lively and colourful, and that other poems about this painting have been similarly sad. I think this is because we can hardly apprehend van Gogh’s work without knowing the context of his mental illness and loneliness, his frustration at receiving no validation and recognition, and of course how he died. If you showed this and other van Gogh paintings to children, told them nothing about the painter, and had them write poetry about his work, it would not surprise me at all if they wrote brighter and happier poems than mine. Once again, context informs art.

I think you are right that living in a visual century has contributed to the marginalization of poetry. Thank you again for your message, and I wish you well with your final paper and the completion of your degree.

Michael