National Poetry Month Day 30: “A Wordless Poem, Family: My Father’s Near-death Experience” by Paul JJ Payack


Artist’s Statement by Paul JJ Payack:

After 10 years or so of writing (in the early ’80s), I begun to encapsulate ideas in fewer and fewer words, becoming ever more precise, ever more succinct, until the words, themselves,  began to disappear, until there were no words, only images.  Thus began my exploration into what I later labeled  ‘the collage narrative’.  Collage narratives work (and behave) the same as any other form of writing  with one minor exception:  there are no words.

Working in the genre, I began to use pre-20th century sources of black-and-white line art:  etchings, drawings, illustrations, wood-cuts and engravings, and the like, collected from the world over.   Any source is fair game or, perhaps,  game fare.  (For example, I happened upon the basic elements for  one series at the Grand Place in Brussels; another I completed in Tokyo, still another in Lewisburg while visiting my daughter, Bekka ’01.)  Only certain images would and will do.  No color. No photography. No Twentieth Century, (though I later modified this a bit).

I also came upon the notion that  you could  create a collage with as few as two elements.  This was key.  There was now no room for error.  It was just like the experience of writing poetry.  Everything extraneous was stripped away, and until all that remained was the essence, the essential, and the elemental.

To fully exploit an art form, it must be bounded.  Without boundaries, you can’t get to the boundless.  Only bounding enables the full exploration  of  the form.  Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, setting these simple rules, allowed me to push the boundaries of my collages out into the form of critical essay, non-fiction and fiction.

Anatomical Plates is a biographical ‘sketch’ of my father, Peter P. Payack, in nineteen collages. My Father, Madonna & Child: the collage labeled  “Table XVII”,  recounts a near-death experience in which he witnesses the Virgin Mary, the Christ Child and countless previous departed relations.  His eyewitness report:  “They were laughing and singing and having a helluva time!”

My father died one year to-the-day after his ‘successful’ surgery to remove a cancerous growth.  During that time he appeared to age at an agonizingly accelerating pace:  at the rate of one year a month, then one year per week, and, finally, a year per day.  I could find no words to describe this scenario; however, a group of Renaissance anatomical plates were to provide the proper backdrop.  The said plates, Tabulae anatomicae, are those of Pietro da Cortona, the 17th century Italian artist.




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