To celebrate National Poetry Day, we take a look at a selection of poems and word experiments from Jean-Michel Basquiat.
In 1981, Basquiat was living with his bandmate and friend Nick Taylor at 39 East 1st Street. He had been moving frequently from apartment to apartment during this time and carried his notebooks with him, sometimes leaving them behind by accident when he moved on. Basquiat populated the pages of his notebooks with poems and word experiments, almost always writing in neat capitalised lettering, as if he intended for them to be seen.
Basquiat’s idiom was shaped by a range of influences – from sports commentaries and television shows to anatomy books and bepop jazz. He often imbued phrases with poetic rhythm, such as ‘FAMOUS NEGRO ATHELETES’ – three stark words, the last deliberately misspelt to suggest a possible pronunciation. Basquiat also understood the importance of space. Text was written on the recto (right-hand) pages, creating a break between individual drawings and allowing readers to pause between each.
Two of Basquiat’s notebooks and his Untitled (Series of Poems) are on display in Basquiat: Boom for Real (until 28 Jan).
Untitled (Series of Poems), 1979–80. Private Collection, courtesy of Enrico Navarra, New York. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
Notebook 1, 1980-81. Collection of Larry Warsh. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.
Notebook 5, 1987. Collection of Larry Warsh. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.