John Armstrong

by Jill Battson

Rose Detail in Green Daylight

A thumbtack of thickened paint here
shiny, almost wet
the mouths of wartime women
a rose in its attitude of the tribal
paint layer upon layer
by knocking the edge of raw pastry with a blunt knife
we make it flaky, tectonic
as oil paint worked on glass
opacity of the ages
my mother built lipsticks
in the warm blue kitchen of our 50's childhood
from the necessity of making ends meet
circular housekeeping
scraping out the unswivelable ends from their metal casings
melting together the crimson wax slowly
like liquid chocolate to sculpt Valentine day roses
mother's mouth smell of red, of gloss
a kissable melt in a white porcelain bowl over boiling water
blood and roses, life and death
and pouring it back into a solitary tube
on cooling the lipstick, twirled up, is the geographic complexity
of smooshed lava, contained clay
or red oil paint
layered by knife onto a surface that gives good structure
hers is the frugality of economy
a thin layer of red accentuating the cushiony sensual
the paint, a gesture of abundance
endless metal tube of pigmented oil
extravagance built up onto the surface
closeted acid wax aroma tang
offerings that are both gorgeous and spiteful.

Floral Tribute

and the French create porcelain roses for their graves
beauty into eternity
in the crowded stone cemeteries of Pere-Lachaise and Montparnasse
among celebrity dead and common folk
angels and naked women soar to the grey Parisian heavens
let us in, let us in
cherubs weep on marble sarcophagi
draped figures peek from doorways
girls in Grecian gowns throw themselves face down on tombs
there is a chaos of suffering sculpted here
monuments reaching up in a rush to a sky
which drops acid rain and soot as penance
boweries of ancient trees shade
white gravel bordering slivers of green and grey stone
and between the carved shadows serene porcelain flowers glow
with lifelike colour and glaze
a special hope in the canyons of eternal repose.


And the way it enters the body
a dull puncture into the surprise of flesh
and never feeling the insert in adrenaline overdrive
blackness rushing in
I will never know what happened to part of my life
that early morning
popular time for exits
that morning when I lost the beginning of me
the humours are substances that leave the body
first it is blood
a trickle, a spurt, a pooling, a pulse
or when in trauma
globules of a person's essential fluid
explode on impact, even the smallest of drops
and rush out in a small soaking of fabric
touching all people in the vicinity
a doctor sluices it off his gloves
whirlpool crimson of life into the drain
from body to sink in three minutes
a nurse looks into her bathroom mirror on returning home
hours later
scratches a flea-sized spot of blood from her cheek
and parts of my beginning travel abroad, separately
at different times, in various forms
or dull to brown, cooling, coagulating
but all is lost.

Because we are usually placed on our backs
when we die
the body relaxes itself to gravity
shifting, settling
a million revolutions to the centre of the earth
o planet
and when she sees the corpse later in the afternoon
of that same day
seemingly months have rolled out in seconds
a heartbeat that changes all time
the future and her place in it
altered in ways which will never be clear
there is still a trauma in the expression of the face
etched but softening
falling, falling, shifting and settling
lifesaving measures, a civilized oddity
puncture in the neck
pulling open like a small, second vulva
purple and bloody within its fold.

Bronzing with Michael

It's a gold crazy kind of love we have
standing beside you this frigid January afternoon
hands stuffed in the pockets of our tweed coats
looking like Paris 1934, the buried retro-ness of you
in the misty winter afternoon twilight of the barn interior
sharp smell of fire, the heated kiss, water on hot metal hiss
there is a lightness inside of me when I think of you
like long parted lovers
we hold each other by the arm
walking like conspirators against the ordinary
three men tamping down sand in oil drums
the containment for molten metal
arms semaphore arc as biceps ripple down
a thin metal pole in each hand
breath frozen on the air, shifting crystalline cloud
raw the way manual labour is
I follow your gaze along the lines of their bodies
resting on noses that are large and defined
European ancestry shows in each face
six short plaster columns enclose a bounty
they have baked for days
standing stones in a brick kiln enclosure
awaiting their centuries
the sculpted wax has melted within the plaster
leaving a impression of a rose, the leaves and thorns
while the moon rises and falls, three times
there is suspension in the air
a shallow breath excitement
we huddle in our coats, brush away the white plaster dust
silicone that stands on the point of each wool thread
a dew drop for the invisible
packed blue snow nuggets outside the open barn door
the crucible of molten bronze burning green in the pit
six drums and their precious inhabitants
wait cradled in the mounds of sand
the crucible inching its way on ceiling high metal runners
through soft, chill air
and pours into each plaster cast a ribboned shot of boiling metal
orange liquid sun plummets down and then bubbling
shoots out in a tangerine globule
and introverts
slowly blackens like cooling amber
viscous, then opaque
it is a compelling desire to place one's finger in the shiny sun
into your soul
the torture of cauterizing a tongue with hot metal
and then the artist, his pickax thudding into the supine column
rakes over the plaster, still radiating heat
to pick out the chicken wire frame
inside, the bronze born, still singing, still malleable, and black
folds itself out, clinging to its conception of wax
each rose stem hosed down in the snow
hissing of water, steam dragging ragged into the air
the evolution of sculpture
we take our leave of the bronzing barn
light fingertips as you brush the thin white powder from me
my cheek, my hair
this gold crazy love spinning out from us
reddening winter sky, smell of metal and heated bodies
this laughing inside to hysteria
calmness of blood surging through bodies
we kiss each other on the cheeks like Parisians
and drive away for another month.


pau pupping bag hits surface, blue dust wafts soulful
ice-blue laundry trick for whiter than whites in summer sparkle
tracing non-repro blue
bristles spread out when paint load is depressed
curve steady with hand dexterity
sweeping lick the brush loads through letters
the humours sweeping onto white corrugated board
yellow, green, red, black
four fonts spread words over oval
overlapping ascenders and decenders
the f tail trailing into t's stalk

When John asked me to write some poems for this catalogue I decided I wanted to experience the process of making the artworks and create my art at the same time, and so in the year that passed I spent time in his studio as well as in a freezing cold barn in southern Ontario watching him work. We had often discussed that poets and painters hardly ever collaborate as in earlier times and so I wanted to try and create at the same time he was and using some of the same source ideas as John. Early on I knew I wanted the poems to form in several ways. 1) How I viewed the art making process, 2) How the art impacted me and 3) What emotional issues the paintings brought up for me. Both my parents had died several months before I started work on these poems and I was experiencing a creative drought, dreading the thought of having to process that grief on other levels and coming to terms with their deaths. Because of my personal circumstances what the paintings stirred in me was really thoughts and rememberances about my mother; growing up, like John, in the aftermath of the fifties as well as some of the themes he was working with. What is presented here, then, is the fruition of that process.
Jill Battson is an internationally published poet who has performed all over the world. Since 1993 her many projects using theatre, video, music and traditional book format have promoted her writing and other contemporary poets in a way that challenges the acceptable norm. Her use of pop culture icons like MuchMusic and Lollapalooza, theatre festivals, the Toronto Fringe Festival and First Night as unique venues to bring the spoken word to different and diverse audiences has successfully continued the interest in contemporary poetry. Her latest book of poems, Hard Candy, was published by Insomniac Press in 1997.