The other week, the MA in Creative Writing students went on a visit to New Walk Museum and Gallery Leicester. The students were all asked to write Ekphrastic poems, based on paintings, artefacts or sculptures in the galleries. Rosalind Adam wrote the following poem and accompanying notes about the painting Messiah by Ernst Neuschul:
After Messiah, Ernst Neuschul, 1919
The symmetry of sunbeams
across angular mountains
that hypnotic manic stare
finger on fourth chakra
of youthful talent
before Juden war Verboten
before the daub of swastikas
before the last train out of Prague
Research Notes by Rosalind Adam
This painting is part of Leicester New Walk Museum’s German Expressionist Collection. At first glance I mistook it to be representative of Hitler Youth and the Führer’s hoped-for Aryan race. I looked up Ernst Neuschul on the Leicester Museum website and discovered that ‘an exhibition of his paintings was closed down by the Nazis. Because of his Jewish birth and radical political opinions Neuschul also lost his teaching post’ (http://germanexpressionismleicester.org/leicesters-collection/artists-and-artworks/ernst-neuschul/).
I made notes about his movements before the Second World War, his relocation from Poland during the 1st World War and on to Berlin to study at the Berlin Academy of Arts during the volatile period between the wars.
On the web page about the painting itself, it talks of Neuschul taking an interest in ‘Freudian psychoanalysis, sexual liberation, spiritualism and yoga’ (http://germanexpressionismleicester.org/leicesters-collection/artists-and-artworks/ernst-neuschul/messiah/). The reference to yoga reminded me that his finger was on a chakra point. I checked exactly which chakra this was. The 4th chakra is the heart chakra and some believe it to be the most powerful of all the chakras: ‘It’s at this chakra that we start to see the possibilities of the internal and external world…the world of spirit and form.’ (http://www.2012-spiritual-growth-prophecies.com/chakra-symbols.html). The finger on the heart chakra gave me a lead into the kind of poem that I wanted to write. That and the title that he had chosen for his self-portrait suggested that he was confident in his own talent and had plans and dreams for greater things. He did not know when he completed this painting in 1919 how disastrous things would become for anyone of Jewish birth or political views that would oppose the Naze regime.
Once I had written a rough draft I decided that, as this was about a piece of Pre-WW2 Expressionist Art and as I had begun the poem talking about symmetry, I would attempt to create a symmetrical layout of the stanzas. I removed all the punctuation from the first two stanzas but played around with putting full stops at the end of each line in the final stanza to represent full stops in his, and so many other people’s, lives. This did not work for the poem and so I finally removed all the punctuation.
The website talks about Neuschul getting the last train out of Czechoslovakia. I have always heard of this train being called the ‘last train out of Prague’ and so this is how I referred to it, especially as it has a more satisfying scan.