The Limits of Artistry

Jet trails scratch pink clouds

brushed across pale blue canvas,

slashed with palette knife,

the artist in frustration,

unable to paint the sky.


Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Unrealized Potential

After L’Arlesienne by Van Gogh


The crumpled pages of the open book seem

ready to take flight from the mossy table

like a paper kite from a meadow,

but the brown-skinned woman,

not old, but old enough to know,

whose tired but sensitive hands

have thumbed them into perpetual

memory, does not look down

at the familiar pages, but off

into mustard-lit space, not

at the kite skipping along the ground,

but at the sky it’s aimed for,

not at the inadequate words

but at the ideas they might

have expressed, were such

things possible at all. Her

other book, the red one,

lies there closed; of it,

she’s had enough already,

its story ignoring hers.


Note: My result from a workshop session on ekphrastic poetry led by Mark Wagenaar and Mary Moore.

Copyright 2017

T. Allen Culpepper

Bird of Paradise

Not what you would expect

from a Scottish painter,

this vibrant tropical scene

featuring a beautifully bronzed

nude woman, the geometry

of her oddly set eyes beguiling

the viewer with their direct

but somewhat star-crossed gaze;

and in her hair, the painting’s

namesake flower, a silently

exploding firework of colour,

her portrait’s frame the azure sky

and French-blue water–except

that it’s not a a simple, static

portrait because vague symbols

graze the margins like an arrow

shot from an unseen bow; and

there’s another figure, its visage

sharply triangular, which I perceive

as male without being quite sure why,

the head mounted on a body

with the stripes of a tiger but

a man’s cravat, these eyes also

watching, aimed toward the space

between the viewer and the woman,

through what they see or seek

within that space remains as

mysterious as the woman herself.

Note: This poem responds to Bird of Paradise, a painting (apparently part of a serious on this general theme, by the the Scottish painter John Bellany (1942-2013).  It is my favourite painting from the exhibit The Figure Examined: Masterworks from the Kasser Mockery Art Foundation, currently on display at The Philbrook Museum of Art.

Copyright 2015

T. Allen Culpepper

Painted on the Seine

Unreal city rising from the river and veiled in mist,

not Eliot’s grey and sickly-yellow urban desolation

rendered in sharp, black mechanically-struck words,

not Eliot’s vast, impersonal Thames-banked London at all,

but Monet’s Vetheuil, a village of pink, peach, and lavender

perched above a Seine of dappled blues and greens,

the town’s structures clustered as if drawn together

and upward by the tower of its church, the scene

not really even drawn but somehow brushed into being

without outline by human hand deftly dabbing paint,

reflection in the water no fainter than the upright

image that it mirrors with perfect imperfection,

a fairy city that might not be there at all.



Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper


In the South of France

In a painting by Raoul Dufy,

one depicting the bay at Nice,

two slender palms tower over the scene

infused with variant blues, sand

in front, red-tiled houses on hills

behind; dinghies drawn up to the right.

The bay itself fills most of the picture,

some sort of pleasure palace rising

from it in pale yellows and greens;

a railing curves across from left

to right, and in the foreground a woman

in a yellow dress with washed-out

red parasol walks alone,

the only figure in the painting.

Who is she, and where’s she going?

Why is she unescorted,

in this place with no companion?

Has she chosen solitude,

or asserted independence?

Has she broken with a lover,

or been let down by a no-show?

One wants to ask her, “Will you lunch?

Or join me perhaps for a glass of wine?”


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper

A Second Look

Vincent van Gogh - Boats at Saintes-Marie wate...

Vincent van Gogh – Boats at Saintes-Marie watercolour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Boats at Saintes-Marie

by Vincent Van Gogh:

I’ve always liked it,

multi-colored boats,

white sand, blue water–

summer day at beach,

joy of sun and surf.


Viewing it again,

though, I’m struck by how

lonely the scene seems–

sun, sea, boats, but not

a single human

to enjoy the view.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper