Saturday, February 16, 2008

View from studio window yesterday around 5 pm. As the plane flew south, it was leaving a lambent contrail behind it in the sunset. In the 20 seconds it took to run to get my camera and scramble back, the contrail wasn't as cool as it had been. (No, I wasn't stoned.)

I was cleaning out my "study" tonight (aka my crap room) and found a few old magazines I'd stored for some obscure reason. I never keep magazines unless there is something I need in them, some story, photo, or quote. However, I don't always have the foresight to mark the item in question so--as I did tonight--I have to flip page by page through the thing hoping that I'll remember what I found so important. Sometimes I can't recall the important bit in magazine so out it goes. Or sometimes I WILL find the quote or line I wanted to remember: it will be some obtuse thing underlined and embellished with a cryptic note in jittery, subway-scrambled writing next to it like "reflect on narrative" or "is Popular Charlie!" I usually toss those out as well.

However, I occasionally save a jewel of an article. One the jewels I found tonight was an old New Yorker dated from November 2005. In it there is profile of the poet John Ashbery called Present Waking Life written by Larissa MacFarquhar. I was early into my second year of grad school when this issue came out and I was floundering. This article was very soothing for me. I connected with the way Ashbery's working process was described, particularly the manner in which he found continuity in his work. It was one of those few times where I've recognized myself in the words of another artist, and I still run some bastardized version of his sentiments through my head when I try to figure out what I'm doing.

He has an indistinct, meagre notion in his head that he thinks might work for a short poem....Or it isn't words that he has in mind but a shape, a hazy sense of the physical thing, the page or stack of pages, that his poem will become.

Or his mind is blank. He hasn't even the germ of an idea but he has to force himself to write something or he'll never get anything done. He stares at the paper in his typewriter and is reminded for the millionth time that one of the worst things about being a poet in that you're confronted by an empty page, a nothing-at-all, practically every time you sit down to write (unless you're in the middle of a long poem, which you aren't usually). He reaches for a book by one of the poets he keeps around for dehydrated moments like this one because they get his poetry going...Music also helps to get things started, which is why he always turns in on when he writes...He doesn't listen to it with his full attention, obviously, but he doesn't block it out either. He finds that the way it contains narratives and arguments without articuable terms--so that after you've listened to a symphon, say, you fell you've understood something but you can't say what it is--makes it similar to his poetry, which makes is somehow stimulating.

This is the part that makes the most sense to me regarding the drawings:

What he is trying to do (and here the metaphors get a little screwy, but these are the pictures that come to him) is jump-start a poem by lowering a bucket down into what feels like a kind of underground steam flowing through his mind--a stream of continuously flowing poetry, or perhaps poetic stuff would be a better way to put it. Whatever the bucket brings up will be his poem....Since he is always dipping the bucket into the same stream his poems will resemble one another, but because the stream varies according to climatic conditions--what's on his mind, the weather, interruptions--they will also be different.

Today: got up early but left the house late, walked to the studio, worked for a bit (forgot to take a photo of the drawing) and then stretched some paper. A big sheet, too, approximately 4' x 8' foot. Not sure I'll be able to finish a drawing of that size by the end of May. But, eh. Then I met Kara at Ruby Foo's for some not-too-shabby tourist sushi, a few beers, and a whole lot of Oprah-esque encouragement.

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