All the Paintings of Giorgione by Elizabeth Willis
(Belladonna Books, Brooklyn, 2006)
There is a sense of the excessive and the exhaustive in Elizabeth Willis’ All the Paintings of Giorgione; a sense that is at once triggered by the promise of inclusiveness by the word “All”. But informed of the circumstances surrounding Giorgione’s paintings, we are faced with an “All” that is dynamic and uncertain rather than presupposed:
The birth of Paris
The savior as a boy, playing with a ball, attributed to Andrea del Sarto, thought by Oscar Wilde to be Paris with the golden apple
Homage to a Poet, sold under the title Solomon and his Servants
Gypsy and Soldier, formerly known as Mercury and Isis
Under the soldier’s figure x-rays reveal an earlier outline of a bathing woman
The Madonna, reading
The Three Philosophers, later identified as Three Wise Men, in the possession of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm
Portrait of a Lady, formerly the property of Prince Liehnowsky at Kuchelna and Later Lord Melchett at Romsey
The mosaic of the ground against the mosaic of her arm
The difficulty of attribution, the re-paintings, the focus on landscape, and the resistance to be representational that are characteristic of Giorgione’s paintings or supposed paintings are brought to the fore one by one through a list/chant that becomes the poem’s sense/sound structure; a list that, at least structurally, seems to try to frame the excessive, and the uncertain through each of its items; a list that echoes Willis’ classic concerns of referentiality through the problems of attribution in a Giorgione; a chanting that aurally mounts through individual and clustered re-utterances of “(lost)”:
Nude woman and shepherd with pipe (lost)
The doctoring of cats (lost)
Twelve pictures portraying the story of Psyche (lost)
Large head of Poliphemus wearing a hat (lost)
Episode of the Emperor Friedrich kissing the foot of Pope Alexander III (lost)
Further in the poem an interesting gesture happens when, after painting after painting, event after event, the speaker intercedes, this time much more consciously, to tell us that “At this point in our story, relief disappears” -- a story it is indeed, although one that is not constituted through plot, but by a coming together of fragments, events, uncertainties. This more conscious interceding of the speaker, which occurs more frequently at latter parts, also comes to acknowledge an almost absolute subjectivity, “And so one may speak of “my Giorgione” and not another’s”. But there are instances in the poem when this intercession are rather intrusive and redundant, for instance, the line that says “This is the moment a painting becomes a painting”, we may ask, what compelled the speaker to say something that we could very well deduce from the study of Giorgione’s paintings, from a recognition of his paintings’ resistance to represent known events/stories and hence become free from representation?
The descriptive and depictive manner of All the Paintings of Giorgione is musically and semantically unlike the torque, the more complex shifts and depictions found in some of the poems in Turneresque and Meteoric Flowers. I cannot say that All the Paintings of Giorgione ranks among my favorite Willis’ poems, but it is, for its ambition and its instances of exquisite language, “So matter is intended toward its perfect prose”, worthy of attention.
Raymond John A. de Borja works as a technology consultant in an IT consulting company. He graduated with a BS in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of the Philippines Diliman. He was a Fellow for Poetry in the 6th UST and the 45TH UP National Writer’s Workshop, and has won in the poetry category of the Amelia Lapena Bonifacio Awards for Literature and the Manining Miclat Poetry Awards. He is a member of Pinoypoets.