The Friday Poem on 25/11/22
We chose ‘Art on the Walls’ by Nicholas McGaughey to be our Friday Poem because we love its control of tone and its spirit of enquiry. The tone is contemplative, questioning, rather wistful, and the question it poses is one that concerns us all — where does the urge to make art come from, and how do we attach value to what is produced? So it’s also, of course, a poem about writing poetry. McGaughey ends with a lovely play on worthless / priceless. Clever, careful, and honest — we like this poem a lot.
Art on the Walls
At some point someone was moved to
put on canvas something that moved
them towards the easel. These reveries
colour and haunt our walls: some bought,
most bequeathed by the discerning dead
who thought they caught a moment
they believed to be special once.
Removed, they leave white templates in the grime.
What do they remember these pasts
creamed in oils, daubed in watercolours
powdered in pastels behind thin glass?
These blade and brushed depictions
of fruit-bowls/ petulant teenagers/
crags of slate or a scything yacht?
And why preserve them:
these windows on the inside?
I would rather gaze into their light-fall
than at the dusk muscling over the hill
like a bailiff. This gallery of a life spent
watching, I return to, seeing in the familiar
something new, the tip of each tale.
When I leave them, will you read
and greet them as you pass to work?
Unpick their puzzles as you dust the frame
and glide through the spring-cleaning?
Or sell them to a gazer for a song?
They are worthless if you have no love
for their stories. Priceless if you do.