I maybe should have picked something more “traditional” in terms of content for Ruffo’s poems, as I feel when I was reading accompanying pieces for Norval’s artwork as opposed to stand alone pieces. The relationship between the two was so defined that they are hard to separate from the paintings.
Sacred Bear from Vision, 1959-60 – p. 19
This poem is written in prose form, telling the story of Norval Morrisseau’s spirit vision. I chose this poem as I was taught that Visions are private, only to be spoken about in elect settings with select people, and I like how the poem was introduced, how Norval insisted that it was his vision to speak about as he would. As this poem is also an interpretation of Ruffo’s reactions and his understandings of Norval’s paintings, it has multiple layers.
So we are given the back history of Norval who at the age of 12, goes with his Grandfather on his spirit quest. He is put in the treetops and told to keep his eyes closed if a spirit animal comes to him. On the third night, he feels an animal snuffling around him, and out of fear, he opens his eyes and sees a bear. He yells, scares from the treetops and looks back, wondering how a bear could get so high. His grandfather confirms that was his spirit animal, and that the Bear is a good Animal, full of strength, power and prosperity. And if he hasn’t looked, he would be blessed plenty. The end of the poem, it is Norval who is saying that he isn’t doing too bad with the success he has now.
This poem touches on themes of spirituality, the relationship between animals and humans, the responsibilities that elders/parents have to their children, and the responsibilities that people participating in traditions have.
Artist in Union with Mother Earth, 1972 – p.38
I chose this poem as it was erotic in nature, akin to the work by Kateri. The poem starts with a blunt image of an erect cock that resembles “an enormous red pine” that looks like the one every animal floated on during the great flood. The artist then lays over his subject and becomes one. They join and “are held in a touch / of pigment: earth and flesh and semen, / blood and grass and water.” Finally, they are “cracked open like an egg / hitting a sizzling / skillet.”
Again, with the poem being Ruffo’s interpretation of meaning in Norval’s work, it’s a collaboration of sorts. This may not be what Norval means, but it’s what Ruffo sees and interprets, and that structure of story changing from art to poem is reflective of how story changes from person to person.
I also like how the poem embraces and connects sexuality with nature and art – the emergence of desire coincides with the continuation of life (ark, etc). How one must be “one” with art in order to create.