Jackson Pollock : Memories Arrested in Space

Jackson Pollock : Memories Arrested in Space
Martin Gray
January 2004

Jackson Pollock: Memories Arrested in Space is Martin Gray’s remarkable biographical poem on the life of the dynamic and controversial American painter. The narrative chronicles the reckless, adventurous, and often desperate life of the twentieth century’s most pivotal American artist, from his beginnings in the American northwest through his pioneering of a revolutionary new painting technique that came to be known as Abstract Expressionism to his death at the wheel of a car on Long Island when he was only 44 years old.Written entirely in iambic trimeter (the same meter that Gray used to write about Charlie Parker’s life and work in his internationally acclaimed Blues for Bird), Gray’s biographical poem runs more than 3,000 lines.

In Jackson Pollock: Memories Arrested in Space, Gray captures the essence of the brilliant yet tortured artist in language that reflects a Pollock painting: spontaneous, beautiful, and haunting, with bursts of energy that touch the soul and make it soar. Art and poetry lovers alike will rejoice in Gray’s homage to a true American icon.

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Read Excerpt


‘The Project’ was devised
as part of the New Deal
where artists were employed
by hiring them to paint
pictures for offices
and cleaning monuments.
The regulations were
as if for working men.
All needed to clock in
bright sharp at nine a.m.
clocking off at five
but one cold day a friend
saw Jack pyjama-clad
with work beneath his arm
who ran to beat the clock
with only seconds left.


At a dollar seventy-five
(his hourly rate to start)
Jack cleaned up monuments.
Soon his wage reduced
to only eighty cents.
Why was the drop in pay ?
When working on a horse
(its rider Sheridan
the Union general)
Jack shone its phallus up
until the scrotum shone
and from the gaping crowd
who watched him at his work
occasioning guffaws.


Once ‘The Project’ closed
then all the canvases
were from their stretchers pulled
and slated to be sold
like broccoli or sprouts
by the gross or by the pound.
A plumber bought the lot
to insulate his pipes
but when the pipes got warm
the linseed oil smelled foul
so sold them all as junk
and the dealer purchasing
troubled by the smell
sold them once again.
The whole thing ended up
with the owner of a shop
who sold old battered books.
There they were displayed
and piled on tables till
acquired by Benevy
a dealer in art junk
who paid per oil three bucks
and that’s how he acquired
named art extremely cheap:
Joseph Solman Alice Neel
Mark Rothko Jackson Pollock
and Milton Avery.
He managed to acquire
two Pollocks for six bucks
while now a minor one
is fifty grand at least.


At Axel Horn’s one day
Jack unrolled some cloth
and laid it on the floor
dripping paint on it
so keen to duplicate
Siqueiros’ bold technique
but at a farewell meal
for that fine muralist
next day bound for Spain
to fight the fascist threat
just at the point where guests
had raised their drinks to toast
Siqueiros on his way
they saw that he had gone.
Jack too had disappeared.


There was a short delay
when both were found beneath
a table wrestling hard.
What words had passed between
the master muralist
and his erstwhile friend
nobody could say.
The wrestling only ceased
when Sande intervened
with a deft right to the jaw
knocking Jackson out
soon carried out by guests
into his Model A
then Sande drove him home.

© 2003 Martin Gray

Author Information
Martin Gray

The author of Jackson Pollock: Memories Arrested in Space and Blues for Bird is also one of the world’s foremost scholars of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry and the editor of the Penguin Classic annotated edition of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. In addition to his works on Jackson Pollock and Charlie Parker, Gray has published poems on Gilles Villeneuve and Amedeo Modigliani, and has taught at several major universities across Canada. He lives in Victoria, British Columbia.


“This is a work of pure genius-for even to imagine writing an entire biography on such a difficult subject’s life as Jackson Pollock is rather a daunting venture. But Martin Gray, already critically extolled for his book on Charlie Parker (Blues for Bird), has a knack for couching biographies about American artists in a stimulating, unique fashion. . . . Combining poetry and art in biographical epics using iambic trimeter is an ambitious literary device woven brilliantly by Martin Gray. I highly recommend this valuable volume.”
Penny Lynn Dunn, Editor, Tacenda

“Martin Gray, the celebrated author of Blues for Bird, an informed and detailed biographical account of the life, aspirations and achievement of Charlie Parker, has written another monumental work. . . . With consummate skill and clear-minded depth of understanding, Gray has interwoven a veritable backcloth of the moods, whims and characteristic yearnings of the American artists Jackson Pollock with poetry that is the seeming accompaniment of the very brushstrokes and expressive daubings of those wild and wonderful paintings. . . . Martin Gray is a remarkable talent who combines scholarship of informed research with inspired analysis, while constantly evincing an engaging flair for narrative. A truly brilliant study!”
Bernard M. Jackson, Reach

“This is the antithesis of poetic self-indulgence. Martin Gray keeps to the self-imposed discipline of translating all findings into free verse iambic trimeters . . . I was provoked. In many ways. This is a provocative book. And all the better for it.”
The Journal

The retelling of the biography in poetic form is certainly unique. At various points, particularly in the description of the events at Mrs. Guggenheim’s soiree, the poem approaches literary brilliance in approximating the mock-heroism of an Alexander Pope. Indeed, while the witty, if not brilliant, Martin Gray affects a preference for Tennyson in his function as editor of the Penguin classic edition of Idylls of the King, we hear more of the cheerful playfulness of Alexander Pope in Gray’s verse than the steady drumbeat of dear Lord Tennyson.
The Fullosia

“Like his previous work, Blues for Bird, a verse biography of Charlie Parker, this book demonstrates extensive research into Pollock’s life. Throughout the book, Gray presents a number of anecdotes which illustrate Pollock’s personality and his relationship to art. . . .As with Blues for Bird, I would recommend this book as an entertaining overview of the life of one of modern art’s legends.”
Wild Violet