Jim Newcombe 




I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours,
and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did.”
(J.M.W. Turner, on painting ‘Snowstorm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth’)

Under spittled, blown, obliterated foam
he was trussed to the mast so he could witness
stormy kaleidoscopes of hackle and plume
at his own bidding, to paint and encompass
oceanic visions. Picture him there
in the dance of the lurching tide, buffeted
and scuffed by snow-laced lashes of swept air,
his gibbet the crossbar of the masthead,
the tilting steamboat like a toy ship tossed       
on whale-heavy waves, the painter’s wincing limbs
fastened there like Odysseus to the mast
before the fatal persuasion of the sirens.
How did the mind then compress, translate, transfuse
the sun-thrilled seething of the wuthering flakes,
the husky clamour of tunnelweb waves
wefting in guffs?  How did the hand remake
the unassailable riot, framing the flux
of water-pelt, wind-flex, the flinch and blanch
of weathered flesh, the sail in the focal vortex
reflecting the nuclear sun?  The avalanche
of glassy shatterings, the whole world’s form,
spun from the mazy hollows of a seashell,
is a mere drop of water in a storm
that smoulders in the furnace of his will.
The sun enflames the tidal concertina.
Luminous fumes, glacial exhalations,
seraphic in the nebulous atmosphere,
exalt the common man. Great affirmations
of the spirit hoisted high. Chaos seems serene
as if pigment smeared on canvas could suffice
to make the cosmic order reconvene.
The sun’s holocaust upon the ice
a blinding clarity of disbodied nature
where all things that come into his sight
entranced in each obliterated feature,
nettled with hail, lacquered with burning light.
Say then the true bearing of the artist’s mind
is a reflex to rouse and contradict
as a cyclone that runs contrary to the wind,
eliding concepts of scale and impact
in a brushstroke, the bright invincible
energy of life brought to light again
with palette knife impasto, welter of scumble,
the bristle-flick of spindrift like spat phlegm,
the volcanic will erupting and collapsing
in art of intense resistance that receives,
with immense vigour and panache, the gathering
crescendo of the warring, lawless waves.