By the late 1930s, the surrealist painters had well established norms–that is, if you can call anything about their work normal. Using free associations, awkward juxtapositions, and dream-like presentations, the surrealists painted ethereal scenes that re-imagined the assumptions of the society of the day. To the surrealist, nothing was off-limits. Sexuality, religion, the nature of art itself–these were the common subjects of the surrealist painters.
By the late 1930s, Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali was one of the most notable painters of the movement. Having shown the masterful ability to capture the essence of the unconscious, Dali had garnered a world-wide following, in no small part due to his famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory.” But by the close of the 30s, the days were coming darker amidst the building Nazi threat, and the images of molten pocket-watches likely failed to capture the collective consciousness of the day. So, in 1940, Dali set out to capture “The Face of War.”
The work depicts a head, free-floating in a post-apocalyptic desert. Wearing an expression eerily reminiscent of the figure in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” the eyes and mouth contain other free floating heads, these more skeletonized than the first. Dali gives the illusion that the heads exist in infinity, the eyes and mouths of each successive head filled with others just like it. The shadows of the head point west as the rising sun exposes a new, horrific reality.
In its day, the painting was certainly shocking, a visceral portent of the coming conflict. But with the benefit of hindsight, one wonders whether Dali was more than a participant in the surrealist movement. One wonders whether he had become a prophet of sorts, whether he saw the fall of Hiroshima in 1945, and with it, the rise of a nuclear world where great civilizations could be laid to ruin in the span of an afternoon.
Salvador Dali was an eccentric fellow, some might say. But I might argue that he was something more. I might argue that Dali came to embody the surrealist exploration of the human unconsciousness, and in so doing, his prophetic vision was the most perfect of the surrealist works.
Dali once claimed, “I myself am surrealism.” I, for one, think Dali was spot-on.
Today’s Poetry Prompt: Building on the tradition of Dali’s “The Faces of War,” can you re-imagine the coming world? Feel free to explore themes other than war, too. Religion, humanity, government, love, these are all themes that are up for grabs. This might be the most challenging surrealism prompt yet. Are you up to it?
Tweetspeak’s November Surrealism Poetry Prompt:
This month’s poetry theme at Tweetspeak is surrealism, and we’re composing poems that play with the theme. Let’s create some surrealist poetry by playing with juxtapositions and free associations. Perhaps you can gain a bit of inspiration from this month’s playlist or from other source. We’d love you to join with us, even use a Dali or Picasso as your writing prompt. How do you participate?
1. Study up a bit on the history of surrealism, on both the artistic and philosophical underpinnings of the movement. Listen to the Tweetspeak monthly playlist.
2. Compose a poem using surrealist concepts, juxtapositions, or associations.
3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #TSSurreal hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
4. If you aren’t a twitter user, leave your found poem here in the comment box.
5. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and ask the winner to record his or her poem to be featured in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
And speaking of winners, last week, Maureen Doallas wrote “Dressed to Kill.” In it,
The raven laps a blood-spill of ink
from night’s mouth;
the sky slips
into its black silk feathers.
The bird in flight spells the stars’
Twigged limbs ride point
high on these lovers’ bared backs,
thorn-thick beak stripping
bone to marrow.
This is a frightful, beautiful, surreal piece. Thank you Maureen for sharing.
Now, let’s create some more surreal poetry; let’s re-imagine the world. Who’s first?
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $2.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In November we’re exploring the theme Surrealism.