issue 3

october 2015

issue 3 - october 2015

Still life with beer and a karl maughan painting - Mark Anthony Houlahan

I’ve never met karl maughan but I chaired a session his wife the writer emily perkins spoke at once. She might have thought I was a husband stalker because I talked a lot about karl maughan at lunch and hardly anything about emily perkins. I loved her first book of short stories not her real name which sat up right and said hello the way good stories should. Now that I think of it I can’t find my copy maybe I lent it to you.

It looks like karl would be a great guy to lunch with perhaps drink a nice cold beer. He seems  friendly for a painter of course I know painters can be all shapes sizes etceteras but if you didn’t know he painted you would not guess. He wears trainers jeans t-shirt could be hallensteins sometimes even a hoodie. He hooks his thumbs in his jean pockets when he stands proud in front of his large beautiful paintings.

There are a lot of karl maughan paintings now it’s over twenty years since he was at art school. He makes the same painting again and again. This is not boring as he always finds a new way to paint the same garden and this is why a walk around a karl maughan painting is something you should do.

One glorious saturday morning at the milford gallery in dunedin the dealer showed me his backroom with dozens of karl maughan paintings small ones large ones against the wall on the wall and suspended from the ceiling in metal storage racks designed to show large canvases. I realised I would never buy a karl maughan painting as the best of them are 64,000 plus gst & I would need a new house to show them. I only now have one wall big enough in the bedroom and then I would be sleeping with a nightmare on canvas 2 metres squared.

The garden in karl maughan’s painting terrifies me but I can’t take my eyes away. There’s a worn dirt path in the middle that leads from the bottom of the painting to the top. You can always see blue sky and a soft thread like a thin string cloud of white light but never sun or moon so is it early morning or twilight I don’t know. You cannot get out to the sky as rows of fat round flowers shrubs and conical trees hem the path on both sides and make a plant wall across the whole painting.

These are english plants hyacinth hydrangea cypress trees karl maughan knows more about them than I do his mother taught botany and when he was a boy she took him to plant nurseries all over the manawatu. The painting remembers flowers over and over and over and over. Up close in galleries or in google image petals purple yellow red open wide I think they might swallow me whole like the tulips in sylvia plath’s poem. When I finally drink beer with karl maughan my first question will be karl karl karl karl karl karl karl?

If this was a Plath Poem - Mark Anthony Houlahan

it would rage with spleen. It would claw your brain with hyperbolic, mythologised imagery. But this is not a Plath poem. This is a found poem. A Plath poem seeks power within the volcano of the angry self. A found poem by consent finds language anywhere it may be lying waiting: on line on a billboard or for instance in the bottom of a three drawer office unit where I found these words: school certificate sixth form certificate university entrance a bursary [three fails in scholarship I warned my parents this would happen but they wasted the entry fee anyway], b.a. (history & english), masters (english), teacher training certificate (social studies & english), doctor of philosophy (english), a fat brown envelope of accomplishment.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, sunshine. Your teachers have some suggestions. Has difficulty with ball handling activities. Needs to … mix with others in sports before he can mature fully as a person [that was my standard three teacher we spent all of 1968 really not liking each other]. Untidy work doesn’t help [he means it is better to use a compass to draw circles than a twenty cent piece]. Crayon work fair [that was in form three]. He could have done better had he been more constant in his studies particularly   in   English.

Contributor's Note

These are interim drafts of the first poems I have written for thirty years. I hope to write more. I hope to get better.


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