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The poetic side of genius

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The writings are unlikely to remake Picasso's image into that of a poet, at least in the conventional sense. His poems are not deliberate constructions of meaning, but rather rippling Surrealist wordplay. They could just as well be called literary paintings. They unleash a dazzling, allusive torrent of sensory description and dreamlike action in such images as "wings of forgotten colors," "the sundrop falling on the tip of the knife," and "white blue white yellow and rose white of an apple green." Nearly all the writings were created as prose blocks, rarely in traditional verse lines, and dated rather than titled.

Picasso wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style, without punctuation or capitalization, following the counsel of poet André Breton in his 1924 "First Surrealist Manifesto," to "write quickly with no preconceived subject." The aim, for Breton and Picasso, was to bypass literal meaning and sweep the unconscious for unexpected riches of expression. A Picasso entry dated May 4, 1935, begins, "All the shredded shadows peel off the bodies with haste of the start of a journey and faithful to their appointment with light...."

"It's a kind of writing at top speed. The pencil does not leave the paper," explains Joris. Picasso, he ventures, may be "the most accomplished Surrealist poet. In terms of going for the absolute Surrealist process of breaking all syntactical barriers and eliminating the [intellectual] policeman who prevents you from saying things."

Surrealist writings provide insight into Picasso's art, art scholar and curator Richard Kendall observes.

"They are of interest," he explains. "Not frivolous or foolish. A lot of people don't realize how engaged Picasso became with Surrealism, what a big part the tormented, the macabre, the dreamlike, the fantastical played in his work. His writing is of a piece with that."

Picasso provided art for Surrealist journals, and was close friends with writers and artists associated with the movement. "The Surrealist strand is always there, but it comes through in the 1930s," Mr. Kendall says. He cites Picasso's great antiwar painting "Guernica" as "the picture of a nightmare." The poetry "brings something to our understanding of 'Guernica.' "

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