Poetry and Context

After reading poems that mentioned Cy Twombly and Giorgio Amgabam in relation to each other, for this week’s tangible object, I decided to research Cy Twombly and Giorgio Amgabam to look into how they relate to David Herd’s poetry in Through.

In the poem VI, “As one might say/ This first day of spring/ Now it is backed by sunlight/ Itself/ Against the crosswires/ Like Cy Twombly.” pg. 40 Herd first mentions Cy Twombly. After reading this, I later discovered that Cy Twombly was an artist who worked across multiple decades. One of the most distinctive elements of his biography was that his painting style had changed after the 1950s, which could be due to Twombly’s involvement in war during that time and how he worked as a cryptologist. After this experience, his paintings were described as a regression of his past paintings. From the terms “Crosswires” and “backed like sunlight” I assumed that Herd could be a referencing Twombly’s post-1950s paintings, many of which featured lines that could resemble crosswires.

While we can assume that Herd is using Twombly’s artwork to further expand on bleak imagery, there is another poem that places Twombly’s artwork within the context of Agamben. In the poem, VIII Herd writes, “Like Twombly articulated by Agamben/ Designated/ Falling beauty” (pg. 42).

First, we must look at who Giorgio Agamben is. Through research, I found that he is an Italian philosopher that believed that throughout time, there have been instances of governments degrading the status of people into “bare bodies” as opposed to individuals. Agamben calls this living in a state of exception, in which a nation’s authorities justify the degradation of human bodies in order to do what’s best for public safety. Amgbam considers an example of a state of exception to be the treatment of people in the Holocaust, where the nation’s authorities allowed people to be degraded to numbers.

I imagine that Agamben would comment on Twombly’s work that the paintings aren’t just bleak, but that they reflect a regression of art. By relating Twombly’s art with these poems, the narrator’s environment could be seen as a regression of what’s considered normal in life. This can go further to describe the environment of the syntax section as a whole, that in an environment that looks at syntax so closely, there may be a regression of words and their meaning. This idea of regression can be alluded to in the poem through the term, “Falling Beauty.”

I was impressed with how Herd incorporated context in his writing and that these references allowed him to build more on ideas without the expansion of an explanation. I’m curious if Herd expects readers to understand the references about Agamben and Twombly or if those references simply exist to enrich the world of the poem.

Thank you for reading this, enjoy your day!

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