I’m Letting Velázquez: A Film Poem by Stav Poleg

An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618 is widely recognised as one of Diego Velázquez’s great masterpieces. The painting’s astonishing realism and detail, complex shadowing and lifelike lighting are all the more remarkable considering it was created by the Spanish painter when he were still a teenager, being made shortly after his apprenticeship in Seville.

It entered the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland back in 1955 and went on display in the Scottish National Gallery (it’s currently on temporarily loan at the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands). The painting has become one of Scotland’s national art collection’s signature artworks, attracting admirers from all across the world, eager to see this prime example of a young Velázquez’s stunning artistic potential.

Diego Velazquez An Old Woman Cooking Eggs 1618

One such admirer is poet Stav Poleg, whose poem I’m Letting Velázquez is a response to the painting following visits to view it. Poleg is a poet, editor and teacher whose work has been published in publications including The New Yorker, Poetry London and PN Review. Her debut pamphlet Lights, Camera was published in 2017 and she recently completed the manuscript of her first full-length poetry collection.

The National Galleries of Scotland recently acquired her graphic-novel installation – created with Edinburgh artist Laura Gressani – entitled Dear Penelope: Variations on an August Morning. Poleg serves on Magma poetry magazine’s editorial board and teaches at London’s Poetry School.

I’m Letting Velázquez was published in PN Review 248, issued by Carcanet Press, which you can view here. A film poem of Poleg reading the poem aloud was commissioned by Carcanet and shot, edited and produced by Pixel Assist.

The National Galleries of Scotland have kindly received permission to reproduce both Poleg's poem and its corresponding film poem, which are below and above.

I’m Letting Velázquez

by Stav Poleg

After Velázquez, Old Woman Cooking Eggs

First published in PN Review 248

*
I’m Letting Velázquez

come up with the questions.
Does the absence of blue

resonate with the sound of imminent
rain? Is the extraordinary

yellow a tad too
rebellious for the sole illustration 

of yolk as a symbol
of how easy it is — to draw

one’s attention, to mistake
every circular shape for the chance

of a moon?
Things are holding together

quite well and are going
to break any

second— I reckon— but I’m letting
Velázquez come to terms

with the non-accidental theatrical
darkness around the impeccable

setting of spotlights —
the two central figures, the knife turning

the plate into a compass,
the spoon

almost touching the burning-clay pan,
the circle-in-circle

of the brass vessel, just
leaning under the boiling-oil centre

of drama and
light. Here’s the palm

holding an egg
as if holding the shaping in progress

of a non-elegant
thought. Here’s the boy

carrying what must be
the heaviest

moon but I know Velázquez
would say I’m going 

too far.
He’d say I forgot

to give the two characters “space" — let them
be there and

not there.
Each to their own

world of intentions and unanswered
calls,

each to their own constellations
of arbitrary objects floating

from one wall to another like an empirical
study in darkness and

play.
If you tell me

a story— he’d say —
how the glass bottle goes

with the way he’s avoiding
her eyes,

or how the red terracotta
brings the light into

action until everything falls
into places— I’m

out.
So I’m letting the sounds

own the space
for a while: the wine poured into

a goblet, the door opened and
closed like a possible

action on hold.
Then he comes back, puts his hat

on the table.
No, he says, only

kidding. It’s seriously raining
out there.

*

I’m Letting Velázquez was first published in PN Review 248

Find more about Stav Poleg at www.stavpolegpoetry.com

Film poem shot, edited and produced by Pixel Assist.

4 November 2019