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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cid Corman’s Poetic Tribute to Beauford

Cid Corman (1924-2004) was a prolific poet, and founder of the journal Origin and Origin Press. He began improvising poetry in 1954 on his first trip to France as a Fulbright scholar, and is now considered by many to be the father of oral poetry. In a 2003 interview, he stated that “oral poetry is so completely different from written work that you can't write it down on the page. And it's not a performance - it's speaking to somebody from heart to heart, from the deepest part of my being to the deepest part of someone else's. So what I write now is very close to that work. This is always my orientation, poetry that comes out of speaking language, not writing language.”

Corman met Beauford in Paris in October 1954. They became friends, and Corman wrote a number of poems about Beauford at this time. The two continued to correspond when Corman moved to Japan in 1958.

Corman would meet French gallery owner and publisher Philippe Briet in Japan. In 1995, these men, along with American curator and publisher Richard Milazzo, created a book of poetry dedicated to Beauford. Entitled Tributary (Edgewise Press, 1999); it contains fifty poems and five color reproductions* of Beauford’s paintings. Many of these poems are untitled – all of them are powerful. Corman wrote most of them in 1995.


Photo of cover of Tributary
Courtesy of Sylvain Briet

*The paintings that are reproduced in Tributary are The Burning Bush (1941), Self-Portrait (1944), Chartres (1954), Untitled (c. 1961), and Yellow Cypress (c. 1972).

Corman’s dedication of Tributary to Beauford reads as follows:
For

Beauford

these poems respond to the life of a
friend whose art was that of a life
given to life instinctively with all
the resources given him

they are meant to feed back some of the spiritual
and spirited heartbeat of his color
Many of the Tributary poems refer to color – in “Pastel”, Corman writes of “the vibrant soft reds through the blues to let Jimmy see to through”; and in “Abstract Exact,” he talks of “working the yellow, yellow, yellow out of the green green and red.” Others are poetic references to specific Delaney paintings, such as Beauford’s Greene Street, Chartres, and Still Life with Pears. (“Pastel” may be a reference to Beauford’s portrait of James Baldwin entitled The Sage Black, though this painting was done using oils.) Still others refer to Paris, or more specifically, to Montparnasse.

What appeals to me most in the book are the poems that mention “the eye,” the organ that allows us to view the world, and that allowed Beauford to create such extraordinary works. In one untitled poem, Corman writes “So much in the eye – color weaving sky and river – bird and butterfly…the brush drawing every thing into the paint.” The poem “All” invokes “The sculpture of yellow investing a space engaging an eye”.
 
In looking at his numerous self-portraits, one can see that Beauford frequently painted his eyes asymmetrically and with different colors. His friend Burt Reinfrank told me that he wondered if this was Beauford’s way of portraying one eye looking outward toward the world and the other looking inward toward himself.
 
 
 
Beauford Delaney
Self-portrait
Oil on canvas (1944)
Art Institute of Chicago

Corman seemed to have had a similar sense of Beauford’s unique vision. He expressed it in this Tributary poem:

The archetypal


immediate and
eternal black man

shaman artist all

eye and holding light
to its presence en-

cushioned and enthroned.

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