Milton Resnick 1917 – 2004: Three poems recovered

[Milton Resnick was a very visible & dynamic artist when we met him in the early 1960s, but beyond that he was also a persistent practitioner of poetry, less in a public sense than as a release for ideas & feelings that were a necessary supplement to his life’s work as a painter. I have written elsewhere of what he meant to me then & now, but I would like to stress here what he brought home to me about the need for poetry in the life & practice of a wide range of artists from his time & from before & after. I later was able to complete, along with Pierre Joris, two large books of selections from the poetry of Picasso & Schwitters, & to publish translations of my own from Arp & Picabia among a number of Dada & Surrealist forerunners. When Milton committed suicide in 2004, he left behind at least 16 envelopes of unpublished, often handwritten poetry with some 40 poems in each. The poems that follow were written in the desperation of his later years, when the overall brightness of his earlier abstractions had changed to figurative depictions of what I would take, rightly or wrongly, as the terror (still luminous) within. Yet even where he turned his anger against life & art, as he often enough did, the work retained a sense of art as a necessary celebration or as a talisman, his only one, against the demons that would later overwhelm him. What remains, the poems & paintings both, seem of a piece to me, and I present them here as such. (J.R.)]

Milton Resnick: A Serpent on the Scene
Milton Resnick: A Serpent on the Scene


An accident on the mountain
showing the superiority of chance
I fell and thought I saw horses in the sky
the horses shiver
they don’t understand if you don’t whip
what’s more false than the horse of dream
the race, the grass, the sun
I should doubt for a painter nature is a paradox
but you don’t need me to mix colors
what one likes does not trot out of painting
dreams still function
they could be expressing the mystic
the indistinct line of nature wanted for great art
I know this anxiety
allowable in the forced loneliness of the studio
and for the god-forsaken Jew hiding as someone else
but for the god-like that explode in song and dance
the drum won’t do
and idealistic protest will not win the field
for the years deliver us of pity
yesterday for instance I stopped reading about
the earthquake in Mexico
I thought the news was getting beyond nightmare
beyond everchanging shadows lying in wait for dawn
the rosy-fingered beyond the likely
as for me I hardly recognize the day
It’s so early something in the air threatens
insects the horrors eat
they need the blood you need
they take from us that we have none
cast in hell as usual
if all that talk of sin comes to pass
the parades I shall see
new light on what I know and feel
all in a single drop is nothing
in the presence of the mountain
a mad thought —
I don’t look a thing grinning in pain 


Black hollows on the horizon
a perspective of despair too insistent for my thoughts
I come from work I am not myself
crazy from the experience of years
I dream I am brushing the secrets of life on canvas
but why does paint dry to indescribable shadows
is it moonshine or is it more serious
a picture of the world for the first time out of inspiration
my genius hand does not deliver the comprehensive
I could almost understand Plato
how philosophy evaporates the concrete
how instinct yields the unreal
will shadows save the day


poets aren’t any good
writers without a clue are a little better than
artists who don’t paint
granted whatever you do is up to you
in case you die pay for it in the next life
but here in Chinatown once the jewish center
you get the idea it’s not heaven
you need something in your pocket
a spark in your heart
until the inevitable next world
oh how existential it will be without noise
without cooking smells from next door
no spitting on the sidewalk
no tears no trembling when evil burns
and everything is art