My in-laws had a print of “The Kermess” in their cottage. I used to look at it quite a bit, but I didn’t know it was depicting a particular dance until I read William Carlos William’s poem about the painting, titled, “The Dance.”
In the poem Williams focuses on the dancers’ bodies–their bellies and shanks in particular, and how strong the dancers must have been to prance about so lightly with such large frames.
I like how Brueghel painted common folk, people who carried their own wooden spoon with them in their back pockets so they would always have a handy utensil for dining. There’s a lot to imagine in the painting, and I can see why Williams wanted to write about it.
Williams often wrote about the poor, even though he was a doctor and highly educated. There’s a certain kind of mythologizing present, almost a sort of nostalgia, when someone who is not poor writes or depicts the stories or the misfortunes of others. I know many painters, filmmakers, and writers do just that.
In my own poems I think of writing about social problems, but I want to be careful about not appropriating someone else’s story as my own. To avoid this spurious representation of myself as the other, I need to do what Williams did–show how I am observing and recording my thoughts and impressions. In this way there is still a need for the first person singular.
Not to get too theoretical, since all I know about literary theory is what I’ve heard from grad students and the bits I’ve read on Wikipedia. There’s also an eerie documentary about Derrida that gave me a few hints.