Francis Bacon Figure with Meat 1954
Francis Bacon 'Figure with Meat' 1954

Teeth

  Blake Morrison


And here – come closer – framed so you can
See yourself in it, my Francis Bacon.
Early, yes, but far from an apprentice piece
So the experts reassure me. Those sharp eyes
And the gaoling of the figure in a boxroom
Are as typical of Bacon as the scream.


A Pope, the title says, but it's left open
To be read as anyone in pain -
A car-ace, say, burning in his Jaguar
Or a murderer in a high electric chair.
But look, don’t let me preach. Just take a pew
And relax – whisky all right for you?

Yes, worth a fortune now, but back then
In the forties, when he showed at the Redfern,
Bacon was the coming man. There was this chap
From the Gallery got one for me cheap,
No questions asked. But then Janine, my first wife,
Wouldn't give it house-room for her life.
Dear God, you'd not believe the tongue she had:
What's that when it's at home, a gibbon head?
Piss off and get our money back at once.
I'll not surround myself with skeletons.
I tried to exchange the thing but couldn't:
We fought like cats until her accident
When she lost her head over some diplomat
And sat there, smashed, on a crossing in the mouth
Of the Glasgow express. I sent Hammond
To identify the bits… but never mind.

Andrea now – you met her coming up -
She's got her head screwed on. After a decent gap
She took the picture out of storage
And gave it pride of place. It takes some courage,
Eh, not liking it herself but knowing
The pleasure her husband gets from showing
It to business friends, who come to stare
Over a large Courvoisier and cigar.
The womanly virtues! Learning to cater
For a chap's joie de vivre and raison d'être.
Oh yes, my Andrea knows a trick or two -
Watch out or she'll be playing them on you.

Same again? What's that, his later stuff? Well,
It looks to me much as before: offal
On a mattress, paralysed limbs, the green eyes
Of people who're crazy with loneliness.
Not quite my thing, between ourselves: I rather hate
How his paintings constantly exaggerate.
One has one's setbacks but where's the point
In committing one's gloominess to paint.
Oh, I'd be off my head to let go of it
But were it choice not investment Dubuffet
Might be hanging here instead, an artist
Whose disfigurings are much more to my taste.

But look, you're not here for a seminar.
Empires have fallen, whole industries come near
To collapse -  and all while we've been talking.
Outside the door my rivals are skulking
With a vengeance: I'll see their blood pizzle out
Sooner than be mastered, I'll wipe the lot.
So let's down to business in my study.
But notice, as you pass, how the steady
Eyes of that Pope seem to accuse and track
Us, as if we'd personally stretched him on that rack.
Just an artist's trick, friend – no need to get
Jumpy. We'll see that bastard roasting yet.

Francis Bacon Head Study
Francis Bacon 'Head Study'

Blake Morrison was born in Skipton, Yorkshire in 1950. He is Deputy Literary Editor of the Observer and author of The Movement (1980), Seamus Heaney (1982) and to books of poems, Dark Glasses (1984) and The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper (1987), both published by Chatto and Windus. Awards and prizes include the Eric Gregory Award (1980) Somerset Maugham Award and Dylan Thomas Prize (1985). 

Francis Bacon Seated figure 1961
Francis Bacon 'Seated figure' 1961