picasso's poetry


I have abandoned sculpture engraving and painting to dedicate myself entirely to song.

— Picasso to Jaime Sabartés April 1936


It was in early 1935 that Picasso (then fifty-four years old) began to write poetry—a writing that continued, sometimes as a daily offering, until the summer of 1959. In the now standard Picasso myth, the onset of the poetry is said to have coincided with a devastating marital crisis (a financially risky divorce, to be more exact), because of which his output as a painter halted for the first time in his life.

Throughout 1935 and 1936, Picasso largely ignored paint and canvas and immersed himself in written expression.

The result was a series of notebooks, sketchbooks, journals, even napkins filled with poetry that, like his paintings, are dense in imagery, relentlessly energetic, and frequently enigmatic.

Poetry became his alternative outlet. The flow of words begins abruptly (“privately” his biographer Patrick O’Brian tells us) on April 18 1935 while in retreat at Boisgeloup. (He would lose the country place the next year in a legal settlement.) The pace is rapid, violent, pushing and twisting from one image to another, not bothering with punctuation, often defying syntax, expressive of a way of writing that he had never tried before.

In all of this—surrounded by writers from Apollinaire and Stein to Breton and Paul Eluard—Picasso was fully aware of the poetry in his life, and when he first took pen to paper in April 1935, it wasn’t as an isolated or naive voice but as a participant in what was then a verbal art in transformation. The poetry through much of 1936 was probably his dominant activity (the painting by most accounts had then been put aside), and he would pursue it on an almost daily basis. When Gertrude Stein dismissed the poems he read to her, it probably marked the low point of a friendship which by then was almost over.

“The egotism of a painter,” she would later write in her 1938 book Picasso, “is an entirely different egotism than the egotism of a writer.” And again: “This was his life for two years, of course he who could write, write so well with drawings and with colours, knew very well that to write with words was, for him, not to write at all.”

By contrast the response of the younger French poets was immediate and strongly in Picasso’s favor. Like Stein they recognized in Picasso’s art a mode akin to writing, but where she would draw a line between the genres, they were enthusiastic to his crossing over into poetry.

Because of that the first publication of his poems came shortly after he started writing—still a curiosity today, since, for all his reputation, he would never publish them again. Andre Breton had arranged in 1936 a special issue of Cahiers d’art, with a number of Picasso’s poems translated into French, accompanied by Breton’s own introduction (“Picasso poète”) and shorter pieces by Eluard and Georges Hugnet.

Over the next two decades, he often returned to writing, producing three plays in addition to the 300-plus texts.



e e cummings   (1925)


you give us Things
bulge:grunting lungs pumped full of sharp

thick mind

you make us shrill
presents always
shut in the sumptuous screech of

(out of the
black unbunged
Something gushes vaguely a squeak of planes

between squeals of
Nothing grabbed with circular shrieking tightness
solid screams whisper.)
Lumberman of The Distinct

your brain's
axe only chops hugest inherent
Trees of Ego,from
whose living and biggest

bodies lopped
of every

you hew form truly






night moves


in a wine glass

sleeves of a sleeveless dress


around its stem

and a bull’s head sleeping, breathless


in the scent of pearl and warm flesh

standing on a drumbeat


by a prism’s deceptive stammer


6 june xxxvi







the morning of the world


i have a face cut from ice

a heart pierced in a thousand places

so to remember

always the same voice

the same gestures

and my laughter


as a wall

between you and me


the ones who are most alive

seem the most still


behind the milky way

a shadow dances


our gaze climbs toward the stars








red nude


you swept the ashes of winter

lit red and nude

drawn naked with smoke

and coal

still glowing

in the shadow of paper flowers

pressed to walls of plaster

and stone 










the shiver of hands

blind without memory

and so,

friendly still

yet sweet like the words


to the tremble of lips



there are no surprises here

rest your eyelids

until they become stone

rest your heart

until it stops


(it beats now only for itself

in some secret place)








the artist & his model


turn your back

but stay in view at the same time

(now look away,

anything else confuses)


stand still without saying a word


you can’t see but this is how

i separate day from night


and the starless sky

from the empty heart









when he stopped writing her


the letter always bled for her for her eyes (brown as those old bottles in the medicine cabinet) bleeding words like teardrops yet without spilling onto the green tile floor those words always pure only staining the paper glossy black ink blood like muslin stuck to an old wound those words always strong yet blurred, obscure words only a scholar would find obscene


happy are those who die because they have returned to those first crumbs of dirt that fed us to that first hole to that soft black and smell of coal









night train to horta


she wants head

male bonding

siamese twins

tango 69



i travel by images


corporal landscapes

the mouth is the tunnel

quick, now

the tongue the train


windows on the world




same refrain

we will meet

we will meet

somewhere again


end of the line



the power of torso

speed of the memento

lost and then





the blood engine



steaming its blush

on the cheek of night











dogs eat at the night

buried in the yard

they chase the moon in a pack

the white of their teeth

compared to stars


the windows close against them

iron bars in transparency


life closes against them


the morning will crush them to dust

with only the wind left

to stir them up











the palms keep vigil over the tired countryside. orange trees bear clusters of golden sun ripened in the red noon. cypress clean clouds from the azure where insects glimmer, sparks born of incandescent sunlight. i listen to the rhythm of silence scented by fabulous blossoms. and my spirit is drawn towards these heavy desires that haunt the coolness of shade.










litany to the moon


the moon with its lunatic face dog’s grin i throw shouts at it in the night and it hides scudding behind clouds

the world is mad and i run after birds


like a kid in the park

trying to spit on them


give me a gun and i’ll blow off my head

one tight squeeze like on a breast on a whores tit until it hurts saying ouch it hurts to cut a hole through your skull until everything hurts, even a quick kiss


cold eyes in the night see nothing and the moon is silent on the topic yet rising from the low bough of some hedge beneath the bush of some garden come words, mumbled love copulating briefly on black air into silence then two shadows of each sex rushing away with their disturbed laughter a fading night breeze toward dawn









christ in the desert



false as a beach


a pearl on the lip


the blackness of a tear





(wet leaves in a book will not dry)




the memory dies



a plate held before each face

saying who am i


the moon


(the moon after all)











fresh feet

in sawdust


before noon









a personal


mature man

holding his nose

to life

desires young woman


is indifferent to


and longs for those


before umbrellas









colors without danger


careless grass of our sins

as if by luck on the number


a prism you capture a rainbow

while you finish your days in prison


insensible to the shimmer of your

crimes ice cream proves

the ingenuity of our suppers







angel hair


some balding angels weave together the soldiers

of god the work of a spider the star of despair

local insects, tennis players in

spite of the nets in spite of

the insolent blue which limits us

which nonetheless continues to charm the readers

of english magazines












in short-shorts

one evening in joinville

venus the slut

put the bite on me


her pretty knot of hair

an illuminated manuscript

made me stiffen

like a cuirassier


we had a good time

her hole and my stick

waiting for the bus

headed toward paris










cold of the wolf


a hand puppet

unable to put up a fight

the hand goes crazy –

excuse me if i’m clumsy


remember the other months

a december that closed its mouth

cleverness (that’s what moves me)


we new ones are out in the cold


lint resembles snow to me

clinging to your eyelash why haven’t i

been able to see which of us is right


let’s repeat it before i forget

that people die in every season


watch the roses fade











a 10 kilowatt




the smell

of soap

that same


calling into



without flesh


the vibration

of blood











parallel to eye

without razor




wet leaves

pressed in

a book

will not






do not






for another





when in doubt

quote rimbaud

no verbs

no more


choosing the vowel “o”



i’m not

going to









séance without a ghost



exhausted piano teeth mozart pere

gnashing slashing sound barrier

stretching zoology beyond the bird

cannibals in the a-z azimuth



mirage of red awnings all-night resort

cannibals in the azimuth stairwell décor



cold as leprosy embraced

yet somehow curled



frail departure voice to kill

height hair duck drake

cold as geology young rocks flame

(hidden within the blink of eye)







oranges from the south of spain


stars hang out at night

linen left to dry


red geraniums along the balconies

nodding, nodding

willing to agree to anything

just to keep their color


a gang of kids running through the streets

faceless pranksters

the moon a plate held before each face

who am i? saying who am i

running through the streets saying who am i


the shadows of the buildings

becoming cats that move away

the trees immobilized

left to stand alone in the dark

rubbing their bark from regret

like cicadas


oranges have more delicacy

softly falling, falling

in the groves

on the hills

softly eaten, eaten

by the earth

swallowed whole

as if by a snake

not earth

as if by millions

slithering in the groves at night


stalking the oranges that fall softly

softly to the earth


hunting there in the groves

that form a ring around each town







primary colors


navigator’s balcony cocktail hour

rocket orbit ocean liner rising

clenched no teeth no guernica no bam bam bam

correspondent notary republic

address book dial figure 8

charred with a thousand jigsaw pieces

false as a beach chiaroscuro black

on black graveyard womb naked milk glass lit

footprint tourism by candlelight and flare

vaccination fatigue puke fingernail fish

moving a bandaged echo kill him kill her

familiar bell music kill them both kill them all

stretched shirtsleeves spanish toffee slashed tires

(failure as a painter he shaved his wife’s fur coat)

bust your balls Barcelona red alert

knock-kneed broken squeezebox no hands

standing room only ladies first (please)

unbuttoned interrogation coffee rolls (stop)

marine’s vegetation (stop) early morning tea (stop)

armless menus (stop) pink cathedral fingers (stop)


and (begin again) move


we move


moving inside an eye this eye

that advances step

by step









odalisque in aspic




visionary dwarf

snatch level

too much too much

pussy panorama

cut the crap

lay on your back

change of venue

blue blue

dark clouds too

snatch of black cotton

100% virgin

feminine products need not apply


but wait

no more shit

but where’s our precious depths

lost our thoughts

consciousness raised

to new depths

then lost

as if fucking weren’t enough

but hey


just drop it

no asking for a hand now the clap is extinct

vagina fungus a dinosaur

what we’ve all been working for, right

the liberated cunt

without love

without guilt


sure, but meantime it’ll kill you

homicidal inundation

or better yet

you’ll go blind looking for it








landscape without a window



of a fountain




to heaven

without understanding



false as a beach


a pearl on the lip


the blackness of a tear



the memory dies


a plate

held before each face

saying who am i


the moon


(fresh feet

in sawdust

rust before



the moon after all









a view of the sea


the sun slumbers

on the rim of a straw hat


same initials


i don’t have the time

to wait for dawn


who’s promised to meet me

address unknown


life in the open air


i’m listening to another sea

at the depth of shellfish


you play with the ball without doubting it



the sun goes down not far

from the shore








christ in the desert no.40


rapist with a radio

playing schumann to dilate







christ in the desert no.45


a memory


but after


atomic foreskins

pink and fresh


but no

no dream rocoque

no krupp haloes

no religious artifacts

made of lampshade skin


a million kilowatt moon

no anticipating geometry

the smell of soap

nor calling into question

human sexuality

without flesh

nor the vibration of blood

that angry lobe

hammering overhead

that echo bite


and again


no teeth

no Hiroshima

no again again

black graveyard womb

milk-glass lit

bandaged echo

kill him kill them

familiar bell music

kill them all (with)








the stenographer’s notebook no.1


first line lips are false as a beach next mcarthur’s in chicago next the big blond takes the elevator down next pearl on the lip next shalimar stirs the canine cock all right I like that let’s start a new one do it what what do you have don’t fuck up wheres the apostrophe goddamn you’re cruel now back now whack it again whack it again I want it to go back whack it press it whack it okay new line


i want elevator i want uh i want don’t ask the bellboy for the time just take the elevator to what? to notions? to the lingerie shop? ah fuck you grandma new line


all right one more time okay suck the gin-socked tongue that’s “soaked” period once again the elevator down paint the pretty tie (cough cough) thai next big buick big ass like fish put a ? after fish take it back take it back you bitch okay that’s not bad you do all right ah fuck song of india in the desert at night put “” marks around song of india & desert song in capital letters hit shalimar then cadillac red lips then cunt like a seashell with a gin-soaked tongue start new line


all right does mcarthur stick his socks in the bathtune at night that’s bathtub the dog howls at the moon buries it in the backyard snakes lose their skin cocoa butter slick water on the brain of the big dark blond song of india clit clit clit big fish ass big v8 you bitch keep up with me painted rocks like a pretty tie fast car long legs and a broken heel now dead no not dead yet um estee lauder goes down on price-waterhouse in a swedish bath bellboy watching this is his reflection in the mirror no silver one-sided next line


big blond trampled by elephants with wrinkled knees starch is not chic all gone shalimar stirs the k-9 cock sequined ass in the moonlight cadillac red lips hungry dog eats tail becomes himself bad dog play dead okay what do you suggest bad doggie bad comma bad comma hungry dog go for the tongue you dumb bitch keep going new line


what do cactuses(i) have??? fronds fur what are their things called new line


dog hates gin go for the breast stupid bitch good dog dry dog poor dog pour blond water of life piss yellow a thai like painted rocks period next


i want head down legs up i want sequined ass only snatch level damp dampened dampest pussy panorama clit clit clit blue blue down there feminine azure with clouds too got it odalisque in blue period have mercy on me no no new fucking line what are you filling that thing up with okay stop it for now






the stenographer’s notebook no.2


poor buick good dog we’re almost done bad moon bellyful of big dumb blond last line i want uh a memory yes before yes atomic foreskins pink & fresh yes hunger for the womb clit clit clit sex junk food rapist with a walkman playing schumann to dilate woman oranges have more delicacy oranges orages oral fruit caught in the act the memory here it is a certain man crippled since birth caught in the act sex without hands his only defense: today today is only the beginning this is only the beginning a sick man’s argument okay last line


while in the street already leaves are falling









man in the hat


man who wears a hat sits still near the back unmoved by the world or the exposed breast of a statue (brain waves do not discharge through a fedora)


tag attached: bald is sanitary


oranges have more delicacy raw smelly and afterward singing allons enfants de patrie ding dang dong like that, all frog-ese so we don’t understand chanteused stiff basso profundo to excite to let us see with the clarity of a dream curled with hate set firm, firmer in the arms of a sleeveless girl then slung to sea level white as a leopard’s eye


remember its peroxide bathed, bleached inclined on the pillow just at the angle of expectancy without a hat sideward glance and the crippled heels of angels sparking down the hall


bulletin: young man willing to wear false beard to ease the pain for all


or trumpet blues broken played horizontal touched by seaweed hands in the light of boats (unfurled)




and the memory dies slowly half-forgotten, half-remembered


halved again





to begin



grim molecules of love