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Martin Gray

Martin Gray is the author of the internationally acclaimed Blues for Bird, an epic biographical poem on the life of jazz great Charlie Parker. He has also published Jackson Pollock: Memories Arrested in Space, a long poem on the turbulent life of the great Abstract Expressionist painter. Gray is recognized as one of the world’s foremost scholars of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry and is the editor of the Penguin Classic annotated edition of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Gray has published poems on Charlie Parker, Gilles Villeneuve, Amedeo Modigliani, Osip Mandelstam, and Caesar Vallejo, and has taught at several major universities across Canada. He lives in Victoria, British Columbia.


To introduce himself
when first he was in France
Modigliani said,
‘Hello. I am a Jew,
my birthplace Italy,
Livorno my home town.
Please call me ‘Modi’ now,
my surname is too hard
for French folk to pronounce.’
As Modi was a loner
just like his hero Dante,
‘made a party by himself’
so no school won his homage,
no movement his assent.
He drew each day to make
a skilled art of his own.
His style was beautiful
with women most in mind.


Some bad luck at the start-
As his mother came full term
the family went bankrupt
and bailiffs broached the house
to seize the furniture.
The family possessions
were piled high on her bed
to take advantage of
an ancient Roman law:
‘You cannot touch the couch
of a woman during labour.’
That morning saw the birth
of Dedo, her last child,
his birth date July 12th
in 1884.


While still a child he chalked
pictures on walls and drew
sketches in schoolbooks till
he filled up every space
in quest of forms that lurked
behind each fluid shape.
Flaminio was blind
to where his talents lay
and thought his ‘eye’ a joke,
so ‘Botticelli’ was
the epithet he used
to tease his youngest son.


His mother Eugénie
was first to note his skills
and recognized his style
with great encouragement.
She saw where this might lead.
‘Our Dedo each day does
nothing else but paint
with such a passion that
he gladdens and enchants.
It took four months and now
already he paints well,
draws very well indeed.’


From The Man Who Best Drew Women
by Martin Gray
© 2017 Martin Gray
Published by Ekstasis Editions