Mechanics of a Gaze. Branka Petrovic. Mansfield Press. Toronto, Ontario. 2017.
Postcard No. 50
Severely hung over—
but hopefully it will be beneficial
Today's book of poetry has long admired the work of Gustav Klimt, but we've never seen him or his work from quite this delightful perspective. Branka Petrovic's Mechanics of a Gaze does that improbable thing, she makes her writing about the great man's paintings and life as beautiful and interesting as the real thing.
Petrovic moves beyond inhabiting the gaze to directing it's focus.
Egon Schiele, Kneeling Girl in Orange Dress (Gertrude Schiele), 1910.
Black chalk and gouache on paper.
Disabled sex: molluscs attempting
their shells. Girls in orange dresses
whose hands coil
into rotten cauliflowers;
from their vulvas.
A circus of cerise boots
& taboo missionary positions.
with the help of a sex toy,
pumped, then washed
by special friends;
never talked about
with nurses. Limbs looping
in a wheelchair. Lift
your thigh higher; put your toe
into my mouth; pull
your depression out. Kiss
social constructs goodbye.
My ankle. Press
the inside of my thumb; rub
my left shoulder a little
harder. Yes oh yes
Make sex furniture for me:
enhance this rail,
tantric clamp. Adjust
the mechanics of masculinity;
my right to fuck.
Anxiety that sterilizes
& distorts my thoughts
about myself: a sexy blob-fish
in a sea of deep disgrace.
Revise your kinked
thoughts about me:
a debilitated brute; enable
orgasmic dust, devotism to sparkle.
Talk dirty to me too.
Branka Petrovic has come correct. She knows the paintings and sketches, the art work of Klimt and his friends and contemporaries. When Petrovic describes a painting to us it grows in every dimension, we see more than Klimt, more than the model, we see Klimt's city, his time, his vision.
Cardinal and Nun
A painting by Egon Schiele, 1912.
Oil on canvas.
"Just as a horse in full gallop, blinded by the energy of his own speed,
pays no attention to any post or hole or ditch on the path, so two lovers,
blinded by passion, in the friction of sexual battle, are caught up in
their fierce energy and pay no attention to danger."
—The Kama Sutra (2.7.33)
His red cassock scoffs at the space, unties
like a vulva before us. His cock
knocks against her knee.
The onlooker caught
in a corrupt act.
The pact between God
and man, wrecked in an instant
of scarlet fascia, pectoral crosses,
and a scarlet zucchetto.
Karate hands; punches
we're not sure are him or her, or
the Holy Father. Oops.
The nun's manic glance.
The Cardinal's bare, muscular legs.
This rock-solid burst.
Unearthed erogenous zones; yes, oh
yes; oh no. Not now, not ever.
Paraphrase of Klimt's Kiss?
A reworking of everything mystical
into morbid patches,
black sin. Sunk in sexual gloom.
Schiele called the painting Liebkosung,
or The Caress.
It has been noted that self-portraits by Schiele from the same peri-
od, match the nun's face. Her beefy legs tip-off a "double-goer," evil
Marie Antoinette's husband, King Louis XVI's penis is
"no bigger than a straw
always limp and always curved
he has no prick, except in his pocket
instead of fucking, he is fucked."
—Les Amours de Charlot et Toinette (1779)
Nymphomaniacal Antoinette sought sexual favours
from her brother-in-law
from various court nobles,
even from her own children.
"The Austrian bitch and her Friends in the Royal Orgy" suggests
Antoinette had a string of lovers, including
the Duchess of Polignac and the Count of Artois,
who was also the true father of her children.
The National Enquirer's latest finds:
Catwoman Caged For Clawing at Boy Toy
Carrie Royale's royal insight that Harry's crown jewels
but he's a grower, not a shower!"
Margaret Trudeau spent her sixth wedding anniversary
partying with the Rolling Stones
at a Toronto nightclub
and in Mick Jagger's limousine.
Petrovic wants us to see a more complete picture than simply the amour, the scalding of promise in the paintings, Petrovic wants us to understand more about the man.
There is no greater loss than that of a child. Today's book of poetry has never had children but we've seen that sort of calamity up close. There is no amount of glamour that will shield you from the big hurt. Klimt was voracious in his appetites and fathered many children but Petrovic narrows his gaze and hers to Klimt's sorrow at the death of his son Otto.
Portrait of the Dead Otto
Portrait of the Dead Otto Simmerman, 1902.
Chalk on paper.
When death is your baby boy,
his pouted lips, parted hair;
the rest of him; bleached shawl,
bland face; your backdrop is:
a flat beige. The tiny dash of gold
in his hair a hint of life
you wish you saw when you first heard the news, dropped
everything, came running.
Held his lifeless body
tight for the rest of the night.
Two months is too little
to get to know someone. Starting
to bond, only to hold
transience in your hands. The crib,
a temporary casket, until they come,
take him away. Of all the shades
of death, his
is an especially difficult one
to blend: what colour his tiny cheeks,
minute chin, your blues.
short-lived as unbleached silk,
desert sand, ecru.
The universe could have been:
astronomer almond, skyivory,
univeige, cosmic khaki, new-
fangled big bang buff or blush.
They voted for cosmic latte in the end.
A study revealed that
the overwhelming majority of stars
formed about 5 billion years ago.
Since these stars would have been
"brighter" in the past
the colour of the universe changes over time,
shifting from blue to red
as more blue stars change to yellow,
red giants. As light from distant galaxies
reaches the Earth, the average 'colour of the universe'
(as seen from Earth) marginally increases
towards pure white, due to the light
coming from the stars
when they were
much younger and bluer.
Much younger and rosy-cheeked,
your baby boy is now
Navajo white. The stars lit in him,
then out. The universe,
a buildup of extraordinary
matter, then ether.
Grief is an anti-white flash decanted
from antique white. It's
splashed white, peach puff.
A hint of ivory. Eggshell.
Papaya whipped with
white smoke, ghost white.
It's all the shades of white
you never thought you'd see, wish
you could forget.
Today's book of poetry would like to dedicate the last poem to the late Arlen Maxwell Kierkegaard.
Branka Petrovic wrings every emotion you have out of you before you get to the end of Mechanics of a Gaze. These poems put you in Vienna, but they also get inside of your internal geography and bang things around. The cobbled streets and secret societies of Vienna become real and breathing. The poems start to feel a little like paintings, exact, and starring back at us.
Petrovic has some serious burn.
ABOUT THE AUTHORBranka Petrovic completed an M.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing at Concordia University. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from McGill University. She was co-Editor-in-Chief of Headlight Anthology and her poetry has appeared in Branch, Arc Poetry Magazine, Contemporary Verse 2, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review, and The New Quarterly, among others. Her work was long-listed for the 2012 and 2015 CBC Poetry Prize and the 2016-2017 Ralph Gustafson Prize for the Best Poem. It was also shortlisted for the 2013 Gwendolyn MacEwen Poetry Competition. In 2016, she won second prize at the Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest. Born in Belgrade, she lives and writes in Montreal.
BLURBSBranka Petrovic gets Klimt—she gets inside the gorgeous horror, the lavish violence of his paintings. That she embodies his work and his era in a poetry as ornate, as startling, as boldly sexual, as his art, impresses. That she does so through interrogation, even judgement—particularly of the male gaze—makes this a remarkable, and remarkably mature, first book. Provocative, elegant, and unsettling, Mechanics of a Gaze will leave no reader untouched.
—Stephanie Bolster, author of A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth.
Rich in imagery and sound, Branka Petrovic’s Mechanics of a Gaze is a lush, layered, and carefully-curated collection of poems about Gustav Klimt. Animating found material and showing careful attention to the material culture of the Secessionist period in Vienna, Petrovic has written a collection steeped in history and aesthetics, one sharpened by a contemporary, deliciously-ambivalent gaze. Intertwining threads of art, sex, fashion, scandal, and looted works, Branka Petrovic’s Mechanics of a Gaze “blooms / bravura.”
—Susan Elmslie—author of Museum of Kindness
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