Poetry: Signed by the Artist | clivejames.com
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Signed by the Artist

The way the bamboo leans out of the frame,
Some of its leaves cut short by the frame’s edge,
Makes room for swathes of air which you would think,
If it were sold in bolts, would drape like silk.
Below, where one pond spills from the stone ledge
Into the next, three carp as white as milk
Glow through the water near the painter’s name,
A stack of characters brushed in black ink.

The open spaces and the spare detail
Are both compressed into that signature:
He made his name part of the work of art.
Slice of crisp leaf, smooth flourish of fish fin
Are there to show you he is very sure
Of how the balance of things kept apart
Can shape a distance. On a larger scale
He still leaves out far more than he puts in.

We’re lucky that he does. What he includes,
Almost too beautiful to contemplate,
Already hurts our hearts. Were he to fill
The gaps, the mind would have no place to rest,
No peace in the collected solitudes
Of those three fish, in how each leaf is blessed
With life. Easy to underestimate
A name like his. No substance. Too much skill.

(Spectator, October 16, 2004)