Saturday, June 6, 2009

animal and light

Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven
actress Britney Murphy posing as the Baroness
art by Elsa
About a month ago I went down to the public library and "renewed" my library card. I haven't used it since I was 11. It was a paper card in a paper envelope covered in stickers, which I loved very much. But alas, I can't find it and my library has moved on to plastic cards.
Anyway, the first book I took out was "Holy Skirts" by Rene Steinke, a fictional account of the real Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven, a poet and model to many artists of the Dada movement.
The book caught my eye for being brightly striped, and when I read the inside cover and learned of this Elsa and her birdcage necklaces and her love of reading poetry to sailors, I knew I'd found the right book (it always just feels right when you lay your hands on the book you are meant to buy or take out of the library). 
Whenever I read books about female artists and writers, there's always so much to relate to. Even though the thoughts belong to a fictional Elsa, I imagine many were close to her real feelings and I loved the way Steinke wrote about writing in the form of "Elsa's" opinion. I especially related to Elsa's sensitivity to objects and animals, and the way she wrote her poetry - how your head comes up with a sentence on its own, kind of like in a dream, and that sentence is a string of words that maybe seem strange together, an odd combination, and just letting it lead you to beautiful places and just keep going and going. And simply watching things to get inspired. Intentional inspiration. I guess so I don't gush on and on, I'll just leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from the book.
“She would tell Franz Trove how she’d come to dislike the fussiness of most poetry – the stars and birds and flowers and their relentless prettiness. She did not like the smugness in so many poets, as if they had been given God’s podium. She liked the sense that the poet had been collecting the words for years, and by chance they had finally grown together like vines on a wall.” 
“He kissed her on the cheek and said, ‘What’s that on your face?’

            She was wearing a British postage stamp as a beauty mark. One day, watching the postman fill the boxes, she’d realized that the stamp was the perfect signal for movement- it sailed paper from one place to another with beautiful precision. And it was more original than a mole.

            ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ she said.”


“When she’d seen the bird in the window of the pet store on Patchin Place, the yellow feathers like loud singing in the morning, the sassy little beak, full of bird obscenities, she’d decided she needed him, a light to flutter in the corner of her room, a tiny beaming heartbeat. " 


“He had not loved her, yet she’d made a gift from this lack.”


“’Wayne Caldwell was right – the poems are small explosions,’ said Jane. Her accent was plain and low, as if she were flattening the words so that she could speak more rapidly.

            ‘They’re the lingerie of English,’ said Margaret. She spoke as if she were mocking bells, her high voice ringing out and then lingering. ‘Hidden close to the body. One would have to know how to unbutton in order to read them properly.’”


"For now the only way Elsa could reach Franz was her correspondence, but it consoled her to tell him everything. She resolved to be surgically precise in her dealings with him, to get rid of every duplicity that she’d harbored in herself."


“...the marching band’s shiny tuba like a bright sea creature”


"The things she wrote were like private little mirrors, phrases only she would recognize, rhythms she’d heard one day but couldn’t recall later.”  


“She was writing entire books of desire, words with colors and smells.”

(all quotes from Holy Skirts by Rene Steinke)


Kate said...

Elsa was one of the few women allowed to dance among those DaDas. She was more than a muse...I'm glad you found her!

Megan said...

Wow! This is Megan, Abby's friend; we met Saturday night. I stumbled across your blog while looking for images of the Baroness Elsa (we are publishing a book of her "poetry"). How crazy! I love your artwork; it reminds me a little of Edward Gorey only prettier and less macabre. Now I really want to see it in person! :)