These, I suppose, two Candadians, have been watching me for many years. They're in a painting James Tate and I found on a trans-Canadian road trip. We don't know who they are, or why they're sitting in a field in their business outfits or what the painting might commemorate or what the hat's are about; nor do we know who painted the picture. But these two men have served many purposes over the years.
At first they constituted an exciting discovery, up on a barn's interior wall that served as a repository for an antique dealer's stash. When we learned we could have these men, and their mysterious, unknown, unknowable company, we were very happy. So, we took them with us back home to Amherst, Massachusetts. Over the years they've watched me work, write, read, think, talk and live. I've often thought I should please them. I've often been amused by their situation. I've sometimes made up somethings about who they are. I've sometimes let them stare at me. I grew to love these two strangers in a strange situation, a strange feeling that feels very familiar.
This particular Cry Room is in Missoula, Montana. For some reason, I'd never seen a Cry Room before or known that they are fairly commonly found in churches across the country. My friend and I had been talking about how various people handle or have sudden bouts of crying, and we were about to head into a wedding where one expects a little bit of a certain kind of crying to go on, when I saw the door marked CRY ROOM. I pointed toward it in such a way as to say without saying it, look, there's where crying gets done, it has its own room.
Recently I typed into a document John Ashbery's early poem, "The Instruction Manual." This gave me no need of any kind of CRY ROOM of any kind. This rewarded me with considerable layers of pleasures. I was typing it so that it could be shown via computer to an honor's poetry seminar I'm meeting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I typed from The Library of America's gorgeously produced, well-edited (by Mark Ford) 2008 volume Ashbery/Collected Poems 1956-1987.
Word by word the poem is such an amazing tribute to poetry, to imagination's desire, imagination's ability to save us or save something of us, or for us or in us. The poem treats invention's and sight's methodical rendering as a creative force equal in significance to that of the Big Bang's. The poem enacts how invention advances by careful degrees and attention, how taking time to build something (make up something) gives us such a time of potential beauty. Formally we get to experience an imagination within an imagination, a view of Guadalajara within the poem, Guadalajara's people in their town, in Guadalajara's square, in and around its bandstand, the neighborhoods around the square, a patio within a house, and love appears in most all of its phases and stages, ah, the poem does it all perfectly......and color, how the poem says: you're seeing by means of words what isn't exactly here, believe this with me now, here it is, such a generous gesture, here is this and this leads to that and that leads to there and over here we have, ah the precisely imagined and managed colors and then finally how the poem glides away from itself so perfectly...I love this poem (of course I love many other Ashbery poems as well)......and so cool that Shahrazad (the one in the book) is in Scheherazade (the music mentioned in the poem) and is one of our ultimately successful model tellers of all time (......these are the tales that saved the life of Shahrazad....) (The Modern Library Classic of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS has commentary or blurbs from: Robert Louis Stevenson, John Addington Symonds, Agernon Charles Swinburne, and Lady Isabel Bishop, it's translated by Sir Richard F. Burton. What a crew!
I was talking with a friend yesterday about collaborations, not how we do them, but how what we know about them causes us to feel as we receive them. And how when one is told that something is a collaboration, suddenly, everything about how one receives it is different from how we receive something from a single author or artist. Maybe almost everything about collaboration has to do with how we receive it almost as much as how it gets made. Fictional collaborative efforts seem exceptionally aware of this.
I love the little Russian dolls hiding inside one another for their persistence, the Morton Salt Girl on her box for her flair (I haven't seen her for a while), anything almost that is something within something within something. I like a frame on a picture. I like a picture in a picture. I like a geode. I like time lapse photography. I like stop action action. I used to not like poems about poems, these made me very nervous for a while, and then one day, in an antique store in Deerfield, Massachusetts, I came upon something that dropped that particular veil from my eyes.........walking in the door, my eyes directly were directed to a piece of calligraphy.........I walked closer........I looked more.........(never had calligraphy been anything I'd have thought too much about, all due respect to calligraphers, of course)......I saw there....something I'd never seen before........layers and layers of something written, graphed, laid on a page, words that were drawing me in by their design (like a vortex this is) (like a real reverie) and when I got close enough to see what finally (or perhaps firstly) (who knows which way this was made, at least in its illusion, one can't (and shouldn't) be able to tell which came first) I was caught up short, under a spell, ready to see what I could finally read: executed with a pen. Way down deep in the almost perspectively vanished end of its existence.
It's a good thing when one is stripped of a prejudice of any kind.
That piece of calligraphy freed me from a prejudice I'd been longing to drop. I wish I could show it to you here.
(ed note: this post first appeared on 9/28/2009)