“Nude Descending a Staircase” by X. J. Kennedy: A Famous Poem about a Famous Painting

NationalPoetryMonthLogoBy Elaine Magliaro

I enjoy reading poems that were written about works of art and literature–especially fairy tales. The following poem written by X.J. Kennedy has been a favorite of mine for decades. It was inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase.

Note: X. J. Kennedy is a man of great wit. He has written some wonderful–and humorous–poetry for children. In 2000, he was the recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

"Nude Descending a Staircase" by Marcel Duchamp

“Nude Descending a Staircase”
by Marcel Duchamp

Excerpt from Nude Descending a Staircase

Toe after toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

From NCTE:

Throughout his long and illustrious career, poet and author X. J. Kennedy has cut a wide literary swath. He has informed tens of thousands of college students about poetry and literature in his many editions of An Introduction to Poetry (1997, in its 9th edition), Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (1998), and his Bedford Reader (1999), all academic texts.His adult poetry, which includes Nude Descending a Staircase: Poems, Songs, Ballad (1995) and Dark Horses: New Poems (1992), has won many national awards including a Guggenheim fellowship. His anthologies of poetry for children and his own volumes of original poems range from realistic to nonsensical and are tempered in between by his hilarious Brats series that portrays mischievous children in many a domestic squabble. It is for the latter, his great contribution to children’s poetry, that the NCTE Selection Committee has honored him with the prestigious National Council of Teachers of English Award for Poetry for Children.

X. J. Kennedy (Poetry Foundation)

Marcel Duchamp (MOMA)


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