Student copyists in the Courtauld

little pastry chef

Checking their phones, breaking off
to text or laugh or share the latest tweet
what they miss is this: the concentrated need
for work and working, the desperate fear
Soutine knows in each face, the hungry holding on
to uniform and hard-earned title.

Take The little pastry chef, his whites so large
his body barely touches this cocoon
of stiffened cotton, too large for his years.
All nerves and ears, you’d think he hardly dares
to sleep or fold inside himself; his life
a taut perfection of a fragile art,
those airy creations Soutine leaves
floating unseen between this canvas
and our inner eyes.
                                All these students see
is brushwork gawkiness and scrawny necks,
filling the time before - a latte?
cappuccino? - folders closing tight
and pencils zipped away, all easy smiles
and solid confidence. Years ahead,
how will they read this unfamiliar face,
each broken sketch of someone out of reach?

D. A. Prince

If you have any comments on this poem, D. A. Prince would be pleased to hear from you.