Marjorie Perloff at the Times Literary Supplement:
The later twentieth century can boast of many avant-garde poets and visual artists – think of Augusto de Campos or Ian Hamilton Finlay or Carl Andre – who really do treat linguistic signs as figural elements, who fuse the verbal and the visual. But Twombly isn’t one of them. He mines the poetry in his library – poetry whose aesthetic, as in the case of Rilke or Seferis, seems far removed from his own syncretic collage composition – for thematic material. And in responding to this process, Jacobus inevitably engages in what is traditional source study. She assesses with great acumen what Twombly’s aims were, and shows brilliantly how he combines the various poetic motifs in his painting. But the question remains, to paraphrase Clark, whether the inclusion of handwritten copies of specific poetic passages does anything to the normal art-ness of picture space. Since, for that matter, the poetic material is almost invisible – we have to take the critic’s word for its presence as well as for the further citations with which she often enhances her material – how much does its existence actually affect the space, structure, and scale of a given painting?
Jacobus makes much of the “O” of Rilke’s “Once”, relating it to those other Os that meant so much to Twombly, including the O ofOrpheus. But “Once” is of course not Rilke’s word; his is “ein Mal”, which gets two stresses rather than the one of “Once” and has its own connotations of “once upon a time” fairy tale. But then for Barthes, words, when they are fully visible, as in the case of VIRGIL, function not as pointers but as semi-parodic signs of displacement. VIRGIL, as Barthes pointed out, has its own set of witty references, but surely Virgil’s poetry is not among them.