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“The Letter / La Lettre”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm., 2021.

Love relationships can be difficult for us all. We often read about and follow the intimate details of celebrities’ tumultuous love lives. Such juicy exposés are popcorn for the heart and psyche.

Sometimes famous persons/artists who are personally unknown to me influence and appeal to my own artistic and socio-political development through their art and performances. One such person is the great Jacques Brel. I love some of his music — indeed; but, as with many famous artists, equating his texts with his personal life has given me even more than I would have imagined. This painting is based upon an imagined scene, where he has just received a (Dear John) letter from his mistress.

Who wouldn’t fall in love with Jacques as a young man … a bustling personality — with broad shoulders, big ears sticking too far out when his hair is cut short on the sides, a footballer’s face … a real visual wet dream. But every dream has the potential of showing its darker sides under stress — especially for young, successful, up and coming male « stars and idols », who are still emotionally insecure; and needing to be potentially « available » to all who admire them. We are all mere humans. We all make mistakes; and celebrities are often victims of their own success. The 50’s were also a special time, and I can attest to that (as a child of the 50’s myself). May the healing and forgiveness continue for us all.

“The Letter / La Lettre” is a portrait of Jacques Brel with a certain letter, from a certain Mlle. Zizou, in the background. He is devastated, and vulnerable. The stage smile is gone from his face, and he has just opened his eyes after having closed them briefly in a reflex attempt to try and block it all out — even if only for a second.

This is a sad story — whether true, or just vicious gossip (sad because it is so commonplace) … about a star, a mistress with a dog, and a love affair gone bad — but which spawned a couple of iconic songs. I have approached this portrait (based on this story about Jacques Brel) with joy, respect and dignity. Jacques was an amazing artist, and a person whose acquaintance I would like to have had. It is based upon many of his iconic features, but here they are softened and beautified to accentuate the bleak-faced vulnerability behind the almost untouchable on-stage mask that he is known for. It is him, and it is not; for in this moment he is not himself. And, yet, this is Jacques, and Jim, and Jêrome, and all men. Each one responds in the same way: This cannot be happening to him. In his mind it did not happen; or if it did then the baby could not possibly be his. He is thinking: “Ne me quitte pas …”; but who are these words for really? I have been there as well as a young man, albeit younger than Jacques was at the time. Getting a message that you may suddenly be the father of a child can put anyone through some serious changes. Here, Jacque’s left ear — the one closest to the letter — is falling apart at hearing the news … his iconic ears being a great musician’s prize phallic symbol.  

I elected to portray him using a 1950’s portraiture style, bordering on cartoonish, to match the decade of the Zizou-incident. That style seems to match the unreality of the situation — a cartoon, a passing moment in the life of a super-hero and idol.

Read more about Jacques Brel at:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Brel

puppy at french cafe in oslo

READ THE STORY BEHIND THIS PAINTING AT THIS LINK…

My own fantasy follows in this fictitious letter to Brel from his Zizou:

SATIRICAL FICTIONAL LETTER TO JACQUES BREL.

Cher Jacques,

Félicitations ! Ta chanson ” Ne me quitte pas ” est devenue un succès énorme. Tu fais sentir ta douleur … en utilisant la veine ensorcelante de Maurice Ravel, comme dans son ” Boléro “, où tu gardes le même refrain et le même ton calme, mais la colère en plus, dans tes mots. Et tu te protèges d’une manière si poignante en me demandant à plusieurs reprises de ne pas te quitter, à en devenir fou de rage. Ta chanson nous ravit, mais en même temps, elle a plongé le poignard dans le coeur de notre conte de fées. Si seulement tu n’étais pas si lâche. Pourquoi n’as-tu pas pu exprimé tes craintes et tes émotions dans la vie réelle, au lieu de me faire passer pour un citoyen banal? Comme ta stupide maîtresse, qui a voulu exploiter ta gloire et ta réputation ? Tu sais que je ne me suis jamais soucié de telles choses. Je t’ai simplement aimé. Et toi, tu … tu as seulement été amoureux du romantisme, du simple fait ” d’être amoureux “. L’annonce de notre ” enfant d’amour ” s’est avérée trop pesante pour toi. J’ai aussi eu peur. Mais tu étais un enfant, jouant à être un homme. Ma fierté ne m’a pas permis de porter les ombres que tu décrivais dans ta chanson. Et comment oses-tu inclure mon chien adoré dans ta chanson pitoyable…? ” Laisse-moi devenir l’ombre de ton ombre, l’ombre de ta main et l’ombre de ton chien. “

Tu exprimes ta colère et ta confusion tout en me priant de ne pas te quitter. La vérité est que tu n’étais jamais complètement là dans notre relation d’amour. J’étais un jouet pour toi, un joyau à chérir dans le secret … mais tu ne m’as jamais vraiment aimée comme un homme devrait aimer une femme. Je sais que je dois te sembler amère. En vérité, je ne le suis pas. Je me sens finalement libre de devenir la femme que je suis … libérée de cet homme immature qui me détruisait avec ses émotions toujours changeantes et extrêmes. Tant d’apitoiement sur soi-même, tant de colère et d’indifférence soudaine ! Non, notre ” enfant d’amour ” n’a aucune réalité et il n’existera jamais. J’aime ma chambre sans berceau. Pourquoi n’écrirais-tu pas une nouvelle chanson, Jacques ? ” la chanson des vieux amants … “?

Ne me quitte pas …
ne me quitte pas …
ne me quitte pas …
ne me quitte pas …
Assez !

Je ne t’ai jamais quitté … parce que je ne t’ai jamais eu.

Entendons-nous : tu ne me parles pas – et je ne te parle pas. C’est mieux comme ça. Tu peux maintenant écrire toutes les chansons que tu veux de notre amour perdu et devenir ainsi encore plus riche et plus célèbre.

Et je me contenterai d’épouser le plombier ou le charpentier.

Je pourrai alors chérir mes enfants, des enfants conçus avec amour.

J’aurais d’utiliser ce subjonctif que tu aimais tant, je regrette de ne pas y avoir pensé plus tôt!

Penses-y,
Zizou

(from my book “Entre Nous et Eux”)

 See the NB at the bottom of this page.

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This arousing and provocative book of poetry and novellas in English and French is the author’s latest approach to what he terms as “Extreme literature”. According to Powell: “‘Extreme literature’ can be philosophical, political, religious, sexually-oriented, profane, or just downright ‘dangerous’ because it rocks others’ boat(s) personally. Not all literature is ‘pretty’, and even humour can be considered provocative. Art is the ultimate expression of the process of rebellion. If an artist loses that quality, he/she ‘dies’ in a certain way. In this latest book ‘Entre Nous et Eux’ extreme literature is explored through the lens of LGBT-sexuality and personal identity, and in a multilingual and multicultural context.” Powell’s “Gaytude” – co-authored with award-winning author Albert Russo – won the 2009 National Indie Excellence Award for the category gay/lesbian nonfiction. Isagani R. Cruz called Powell’s sci-fi novel “The Tunnel at the End of Time” a new way of writing, and wrote: “The Tunnel at the End of Time is a masterful symphony of languages, religions, cultures, and literary techniques, all journeying to one inevitable destination: the individual wrestling with self.” Dr. Santosh Kumar has written: “There is no doubt that Powell, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, and Delmore Schwartz are the most talented American poets of the modern age.” — Dr. Santosh Kumar, Allahabad University, 2010, from his book entitled: “Adam Donaldson Powell: the making of a poet.” And Albert Russo has written in his foreword to “Entre Nous et Eux”: “… I urge you to read these humble lines, for you will never regret having tasted the equal of our century’s Verlaine, Rimbaud or Baudelaire. Adam Donaldson Powell’s own FLEURS DU MAL are flowers to be treasured a lifetime.”

BOOK FOREWORD BY ALBERT RUSSO

If there is one poet who will mark this 21st century, I ask you, dear reader and lover of literature, to discover, or rediscover an artist named Adam Donaldson Powell. I use both words purposely: literature and art, because this “Esprit Universel” is a multi-talented man who excels in whatever discipline he tackles: poetry, fiction, essays, photography, painting, and goodness knows what else. He probably has other hidden secrets that will enchant the aesthete, once he pulls them out of his magic hat. By the way, he also writes in several languages. And proficiently, what’s more! 

It is much too restrictive to call Adam Donaldson Powell a gay poet, or gay whatever. And yet, he describes love, gay or not, with the most sensual, elegant, compassionate, but also at times crude, vengeful and downright poisonous words. He wears ‘no gloves’ as the French say, when it comes to telling a story – yes, his poems have themes too, which makes them reachable to the adult public, even to those who don’t care much for poetry – of abused children, scorned transvestites, sons and daughters of mixed blood, or prostitutes who are prey to the most despicable whoremongers, roaming the streets of every capital and city, large and small, of our planet. But, oh lovers of beauty and eroticism of the finest quality, delve into some of his romantic poems and you will dream that you are the hero or the heroine of these verses! It has often been my case. 

There are millions of scribblers on the Net who think they are poets. Some excellent poets do exist, but here I urge you to read these humble lines, for you will never regret having tasted the equal of our century’s Verlaine, Rimbaud or Baudelaire. Adam Donaldson Powell’s own FLEURS DU MAL are flowers to be treasured a lifetime. 

  • Albert Russo 2017

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Review of Adam Donaldson Powell’s book “Entre Nous et Eux”, by C. Richard Mathews, USA.

Adam Donaldson Powell’s new collection of works, Entre Nous et Eux, displays his multiple talents and concerns in a series of brilliant and engaging pieces. Powell is an activist, essayist, fiction writer, visual artist, poet, who writes in four languages, though English is the predominant one in this volume and an inability to read French, Norwegian or Spanish will not detract from a reader’s understanding and appreciation of any of the pieces.

The book is divided into four sections: poetry, a novella titled “Entre Nous”, a short story titled “Death Poem” and another, longer novella called “The Stalker”. While the works deal with many themes, the overriding one for this reader was the issue of how societal and political forces affect — often adversely — an individual’s development, sometimes to the point that she or he does not or cannot understand or accept who she/he is. A major factor in this, it is suggested, is the inability of others in her/his family and in greater society to respect and accept a person’s differences (the “other”).

The book begins with Powell’s great strength: his poetry. Interestingly, in the three works of fiction poems appear as well. In both the stand-alone poetry and the fiction, poems allow Powell to focus the reader’s attention immediately on his themes and concerns. The first group of poems involves children in a presumably Western European (Parisian?) context and their shock at how the world interacts with their innocence: a child playing hopscotch confronting a pedophile, a young girl taunted because she has “two mothers”, a young hijab-wearing Muslim girl also subject to jibes, problems for a child of “color”, a presumably Muslim boy’s trauma at the hands of police after talking of ISIS, the treatment of gypsies and their plight and ostracism, the shock of exploding bombs in an unnamed war zone.

Although much of the poetry deals with “social issues” in one sense or the other, there are purely lyrical moments as well, such as the poem “Jeux d’Eau”.

At a number of points the issue of suicide is introduced: the inability of the characters to accept themselves or others’ perceptions of them. Thus, in the first novella, “Entre Nous.”, a friend of one of the main characters dies of an overdose (deliberate?) days after they’ve had sex with each other. And the beautiful short story “Death Poem”, concerning two young Japanese men, involves the presumed suicide of a father over his son’s homosexuality, and the son’s own subsequent suicide himself. As noted above, the use of poetry, and references to poetry, permeate Powell’s fiction writing and in this moving story he introduces us to a specific Japanese form of poetry relevant to the taking of one’s life.

Both novellas involve casts of characters that are followed through some years of their lives. “Entre Nous.” is presented partially in an epistolary form. The story involves the interaction of several gay friends and various sexual escapades in a number of Western cities — Paris, London, New York — that the author is obviously familiar with. As in some of the poetry, especially the collection of interlocking erotic poems “tu sais je vais….t’enculer (love letters)”, the writing about sex is explicitly detailed, a means for the author to “épater la bourgeoisie” in the mode of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Genet and other French writers. Their cumulative effect is, ultimately, powerful and meaningful. These passages are part of his subtle analysis throughout of various types of love and physical and emotional attraction.

The second, longer novella, “The Stalker”, concerns a young woman and her lover, a transgender man who, at one point discovers that he may be “a lesbian in a man’s body” (294). The overriding theme is one of identity — despite society’s pressures, finding it or creating it and then having the flexibility to change it or allow it to modulate as circumstances and feelings may urge or dictate.

The reader should not miss the great amount of humor and wit, and pure literary pleasure, in Powell’s writing which, as in Proust, may be overlooked if one focuses merely on “the story line” or themes. Be ready for a wonderful turn-of-phrase, or the startling juxtaposition of images. For example, in “Une Lettre d’Une Prostitue…” the letter writer states, “J’aimerais parfois me mettre dans le peau de quelqun d’autre…” Or, “mots doux et traitres a la fois…” (37). Or: “lips part revealing your lizard tongue” (63). Or: “blood-red sugary tension of domestic rape” (55). Or: “the relentless fantasy is more than the sum of reality’s individual parts”. (78)

Especially delightful are the “echoes” one finds between different parts of the works through the use of literary devices similar to Wagner’s leitmotifs. Thus, there is a reference early in “Entre Nous.” to Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe singing “a man chases a girl (until she catches him)” and then much later the reader comes upon a scene of Karol/Mariusz showing his poetry to a closeted priest in which he has written “I delight in chasing straight boys until they catch me” (172).

It should be noted that in both his poetry and fiction Powell’s writing style is clear and precise without being pedestrian or boring. It is a style that is able to draw in and engage the reader quietly and without showiness, leaving one with a sense of pleasure, even when the subjects at hand are very serious ones.

Powell’s book is highly recommended for its many pure literary pleasures but also for its profound insights into aspects of modern life that are often obfuscated or ignored by other writers and media in our contemporary world oversaturated with often meaningless written and visual distractions.

C. Richard Mathews
New York-based art historian, writer and attorney

Recension du recueil ‘Entre Nous et Eux’ de Adam Donaldson Powell,

Le nouveau recueil de Adam Donaldson Powell intitulé Entre Nous et Eux reflète les talents multiples de l’auteur et comprend une série de textes aussi brillants que jubilatoires. Powell, l’activiste, est à la fois écrivain, poète, essayiste, peintre et photographe.  En outre, il écrit en anglais, sa langue maternelle, mais également en français, en norvégien et en espagnol.  Le lecteur découvrira dans ce volume des textes dans ces quatre langues, ce qui, dans notre monde hyper-connecté est encore une rareté, mais en même temps une grande richesse.

Ce volume est divisé en quatre parties: Poésie, une nouvelle intitulée “Death Poem”, et deux courts romans portant les titres suivants: “Entre Nous” et “The Stalker”.

Alors que ces textes évoquent de nombreux thèmes, le fil conducteur est celui des effets de la société et de la politique sur le développement de l’individu, au point où celui-ci ne comprend plus ou n’accepte tout simplement pas qui il est ou ce qu’il risque de devenir.  L’auteur suggère que les autres, c’est-à-dire, sa famille ou la société dans laquelle il évolue, est inapte à respecter, voire à accepter sa différence.

Le livre a pour prémices la poésie de Powell, poésie dans laquelle il excelle. Ses textes de fiction sont eux aussi parsemés de poèmes, plus ou moins longs. Les premiers poèmes traitent de l’enfance ayant pour cadre une capitale européenne, qui pourrait être Paris.  Et des conséquences, insidieuses ou cruelles, que le monde alentour peut avoir sur eux. Voyez cette gosse jouant à la marelle et qui s’éloigne précautionneusement d’un pédophile, cette autre que l’on moque parce qu’elle a ‘deux mères’, ou cette jeune musulmane malmenée à cause du hijab qu’elle porte. Que dire aussi de ce garçon basané que la police menotte dès qu’il prononce le mot Daesch, du traitement odieux que subissent les gitans, de leur ostracisme. L’auteur évoque également le choc que produisent les bombes explosant dans des zones de guerre.

Tandis que nombreux sont les poèmes traitant de problèmes de société, ils possèdent tous cette touche lyrique si propre à Powell. ‘Jeux d’Eau’ en est un parfait exemple.

La problématique du suicide apparaît ci et là: certains personnages ont du mal à s’accepter, d’autant plus lorsque leur entourage les rejette.

Ainsi, dans le premier roman, ‘Entre Nous’, l’ami de l’un des protagonistes meurt à la suite d’une overdose (peut-être délibérément), quelques jours après que les deux ont fait l’amour ensemble.

Dans la magnifique nouvelle ‘Death Poem’, qui met en scène deux jeunes hommes japonais, le père de l’un d’eux se suicide, apparemment à cause de l’homosexualité de son fils, lequel à son tour met fin à ses jours. Que ce soit dans ses textes de fiction ou dans sa poésie, Powell évoque le suicide en utilisant des éléments particuliers de la poésie japonaise. Y percevrait-on l’ombre de Mishima ?

Les deux romans mettent en scène des protagonistes sur des tranches de vie. ‘Entre Nous’ est raconté en partie sous forme épistolaire. On y parle d’amis gays, de leur interaction, de leurs expériences sexuelles vécues dans certaines grandes villes occidentales, telles que Paris, Londres ou New York, villes que l’auteur connaît bien. Powell, n’ayant pas froid aux yeux, n’hésite pas à écrire des ‘lettres d’amour’ contenant des mots crus, comme par exemple: “tu sais je vais….t’enculer”. Et cela pour ‘épater la galerie’, à l’instar de Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine – qui, à l’époque écrivaient sous des pseudonymes -, Genet, ainsi que d’autres écrivains français. Mais là, il ne s’agit pas uniquement de subterfuges, ces vers érotiques, voire pornographiques, participent de l’analyse subtile de ce qui constitue l’amour pluriel, qu’il s’agisse de la simple attraction physique et/ou des émotions qui peuvent en découler.

Le second roman, ‘The Stalker’, qui est plus long que l’autre, est l’histoire d’une jeune femme et de son amant, un homme trans-genre, qui se demande s’il peut être “une lesbienne dans le corps d’un homme”. Le thème principal ici est celui de l’identité qui, envers et contre tout, tente de s’affirmer et de trouver un équilibre.

Malgré la gravité des sujets abordés, le lecteur pourra apprécier, tout au long du volume, la veine humoristique et spirituelle de l’auteur, à l’instar d’un Proust qui se ‘moque’ gentiment de certains de ses personnages. Powell joue avec les mots et s’amuse à juxtaposer des images, comme dans ‘La lettre d’une prostituée’, où l’auteur écrit: “J’aimerais parfois me mettre dans la peau de quelqu’un d’autre…”, ou encore, “mots doux et traitres à la fois…”. D’autres  exemples me viennent à l’esprit, tels que “lips part revealing your lizard tongue” , ”blood-red sugary tension of domestic rape”, ou encore, ”the relentless fantasy is more than the sum of reality’s individual parts”.

L’on trouve des passages particulièrement jouissifs tout au long de cette oeuvre si singulière, rappelant les leitmotifs de Wagner. L’un des personnages écoute un ancien vinyle de Donald O’Connor et de Marilyn Monroe chantant “a man chases a girl (until she catches him)”. Plus loin, il y a une scène dans laquelle Karol/Mariusz montre l’un de ses poèmes à un prêtre, où il écrit: “I delight in chasing straight boys until they catch me”.

Dans ce livre, qu’il s’agisse de poésie ou de prose, le style est clair, précis, et à la fois engageant, sans jamais être pompeux, même lorsque l’auteur traite de sujets graves.

Cette oeuvre mérite d’être lue pour diverses raisons. D’abord pour la belle phrase, un plaisir purement littéraire, ensuite parce que Powell aborde ici des thèmes de notre société contemporaine qui souvent sont, soit ignorés par d’autres écrivains et les média, soit négligés en raison de la quantité phénoménale de distractions vaines, aussi bien pseudo-littéraires que visuelles, que l’on nous bombarde quotidiennement.

C. Richard Mathews, historien de l’art, écrivain et avocat new yorkais

NB. Disclaimer, from the author.

Even though this relationship between Jacques and Zizou may not have existed, and if so may not have resulted in a pregnancy, the power of rumors and gossip can stretch for many decades — long after the death of said person. These juicy tidbits of loose information are ultimately solely useful as myths and archetypes that we can identify with, emulate, and from which we can learn. What I find interesting is that this story — true, or not — could have happened (and has happened) to many, and to any, of us. Mistakes and accidents do happen, and many things affect how we handle situations. In spite of greater acceptance for children born out of wedlock, and in spite of changed social mores regarding “unfaithfulness” in a marriage or long term relationship, as well as somewhat now-evolved dynamics between men and women, the wealthy and less-wealthy etc.; despite all of this, and more, the age-old Battle of the Sexes still exists today … and we still struggle in dealing with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. As aforementioned, we men can still be sexist and chauvinist, but I like to think that we have progressed since the 1950s. Perhaps, we have … or perhaps we have not. I have tried to imagine how a macho, socially elite man in Paris in the 1950s might have responded to an allegation of impregnating a woman — out of wedlock. Here is what I imagine might have been a typical attitude and response at that time (and perhaps still today for some modern caveman types):

“With all due respect, we both know that the likelihood of me being the father of your fetus is one in xx. No, I dare not give the number. According to gossip, the actual tally is impossible to confirm.

“Look: we had a good time, as long as we stuck to our agreement to just be fxxk friends. You broke the agreement, and so now the child is yours …

“I know that it is unfair that you should be stuck with this problem all alone, but these are the unspoken and unwritten rules of the Paris elite. ‘Don’t shit where you eat!’

“And by the way, I will write “La chanson des vieux amants” … but do not expect that it will be dedicated to you.

“I am not going to talk about you or your situation on the Paris social Bourse. I am not like Cocteau, who tried to destroy a woman for not wanting to conceive a child with him. (And he was living with his male lover at the time!)

“I know that you will handle this well. You have otherwise always seemed so practical and efficient.

“And please do not name the child after me. J is a common a name, but people might talk. And that would make you look very bad.”

Here, in this fictional letter in response to another fictional letter, yet a third incident from historical gossip is referred to: that Cocteau allegedly tried to ruin the renommé of a woman who refused to conceive a child by him. (See my posting on “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort”.) These myths quickly become stronger and more meaningful than the degrees of Truth or Gossip on which they are based.

Could such a letter have been written (or could such a message been given orally) in the 1950s? I would say “yes”. Could it also have been the nervous response today by a man who felt threatened? “Absolutely.” Mankind has always strived to find and to establish “the Truth”. Perhaps the only truth is that no Truths are absolute. There are always grey zones and discolorations — even in so-called historical facts. But humans need to believe in something, and to find support for our own beliefs and mores … albeit fallible and ever-changing. We also need stories and myths — true, or not. And I maintain that our interactions with these stories and myths are far more important than proving their accuracy.

What have we learned from all the centuries of such gossip, from the multitude of scandals involving the social elite, artists etc., and from all those love songs, romantic paintings and poetry? We have possibly learned that this is part of the Human Condition and our Social DNA. Let us be thankful for these stories — true, or not. And may we continue to evolve and grow.

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