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Books & Poetry

Poem: Arles Blue

Books & Poetry

An iconic artist and his place have inspired this week’s Poet’s Corner contribution from Jena Woodhouse.

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Arles Blue

For Vincent van Gogh.

“In spring, say February or even sooner, I may be going to
the South of France, the land of the blue tones and gay colours.”
    – Van Gogh’s emphasis on blue in a letter to his English
painter-friend Horace Mann Livens, autumn 1886.

My rooms at Arles were different from yours.
Reached by flights of spiral stairs,
they overlooked a paved courtyard
where trees reached blindly for the sun,
whose radiance, their bare limbs sensed,
would soon draw forth coronas of new leaves.

The building’s inner walls enclosed
a marble atrium, its artefacts and greenery
pierced by morning’s gleaming darts,
for breakfast guests to muse upon,
inhaling fumes from coffee cups
arranged on spotless damask cloths,
while sloughing off their dreams.

The decor of the boudoir was in tasteful,
neutral beige and cream; the bed too wide,
the linen replaced daily by the chambermaid.
By night I’d hear the Mistral’s cohorts roughing up
the quailing trees, setting wooden shutters’
teeth on edge and causing pores to rise:
an instinctual response as ancient as Lascaux.

My suite was rented for a week – a pilgrimage
to Arles in spring, to seek out places already
familiar through your canvases; discover
if the blue you conjured with was visible,
or emanated from some source in you.

Jena Woodhouse lives in Brisbane. Following a six-month Australian-Greek Travel Award, she spent a total of 10 years living and writing in Greece. Subsequently published in Melbourne’s Greek Australian Cultural League’s anthology ‘Antipodes’ for 30 years, she was elected one of 25 Philhellenes celebrated in its 50th anniversary edition last year. She has been the recipient of a number of other international fellowships and residencies, including at the French CAMAC Centre d’Art in Marnay-sur-Seine in France, where today’s and a suite of van Gogh poems were written following a week in Arles at the time of year van Gogh arrived there. More details of Jena’s writing and publishing can be found along with a further two weeks of Poet’s Corner contributions.

Readers’ original and unpublished poems of up to 40 lines can be emailed, with postal address, to Submissions should be in the body of the email, not as attachments. A poetry book will be awarded to each accepted contributor.
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