Several months ago, I selected a number of his works, saved them into a manuscript, and began to meditate on them with a view to writing some poems out of them. My approach was to make this an intuitive response to his work. I wouldn't approach it with preconceptions; I wouldn't plan any formal structures; I would allow the work to speak to my own innards, and bring out of me what it would, in content and form. I selected seven pieces. A I meditated on the work, I found marvellous correspondences between it and the work of the Kamau Brathwaite of Masks. You have my word that only later did I remember that Gary's most recent exhibition was titled Mask Parade (2011). So the poems counterpointed lines from Kamau in epigraphs, in a kind of jazz improvisation, as I played my riffs against Kamau and Gary.
Anyway, I've recently completed the poems after many months, and offer the first poem here. The titles were those Gary gave to his work.
After Gary Butte
“So crossing the river
and walking the path
we came at last to Kumasi.” – Kamau Brathwaite
Prologue: The merchant
Did he arrive at sunset’s orange hour
or with the anonymous midday bustle
markets busy before Sabbath—
and evening or noon height, him,
stranger with strange wares
looking for a berth
in the fabled city.
Who wants cantos from placards of bewildered widows?
Totems to soft bones of decimated embryos?
Androgynous puppets parading obscenely behind certain jars?
Any credit for dark sayings of Babylon, Bhutan or islands of the sea?
Fifth Avenue needs no merchandise of prophets—
with their Greek vases
their silicon tablets
their first editions
high speed subways and twin towers—
won’t spare a dime for this third world primitive
his ark of Mesopotamian innocence
his naive style.
(c) Gary Butte
(c) Kamau Brathwaite
(c) John Robert Lee 2013