Sunday, April 30

Little Dog's Rhapsody in the Night (Percy Three)

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I'm awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

Tell me you love me, he says.

Tell me again.

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask it.
I get to tell.

-- Mary Oliver

Saturday, April 29


Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life's foolscap.

-- Vladimir Nabokov Speak, Memory

Thursday, April 27


In traveling to us and through us, waves and rays may bring not just energy but also communicate meaning. Waves that are constant, for example as in the beam of a flashlight, cannot convey any information. But if that beam is interrupted, or if its brightness can be made to change, then it can carry a message. This is how all waveborne communications work. Patterns of energy arrive from energy sources that are high or low, loud or soft, light or dark, one color or another. In this way, sound and light rays bring us music, voices, words on a page and expressions on faces. By converting one kind of wave into another, and also by storing their energy, waves can be made to carry sounds and images around the world and far beyond it -- and to transport them through time.

-- David Macaulay The Way Things Work

Tuesday, April 25


It is surprising to me how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.

-- Georgia O'Keeffe

Sunday, April 23


I believe that the way to write a good play is to convince yourself that it is easy to do—-then go ahead and do it with ease.

Don't maul, don't suffer, don't groan—till the first draft is finished.

Then Calvary—but not until then.

Doubt—and be lost—until the first draft is finished.

A Play is a Phoenix—it dies a thousand deaths.

Usually at night—In the morning it springs up again from its ashes and crows like a happy rooster.

It is never as bad as you think.

It is never as good as you think.

It is somewhere in between and success or failure depends on which end of your emotional gamut concerning its value it actually approaches more closely.

But it is much more likely to be good if you think it is wonderful while you are writing the first draft.

An artist must believe in himself—Possibly not so passionately as Lawrence—but passionately. Your belief is contagious...

— Tennessee Williams, Notebook entry for October 5, 1941, from The Paris Review 176

Saturday, April 22

The Good Angel

The one I wanted came,
the one I called.

Not the one who sweeps away defenseless skies,
stars without homes,
moons without a country,
The kind of snows that fall from a hand,
a name,
a dream,
a face.

Not the one who tied death
to his hair.

The one I wanted.

Without scraping air,
without wounding leaves or shaking windowpanes.

The one who tied silence
to his hair.

To scoop out, without hurting me,
a shoreline of sweet light inside my chest
so that my soul could sail.

-- Rafael Alberti
Translated by Mark Strand

Friday, April 21


The golden eve is all astir,
And tides of sunset flood on us
-- Incredible, miraculous --
We look with adoration on
Beauty coming, beauty gone,
That waits not any looking on.

Thoughts will bubble up, and break,
Spilling a sea, a limpid lake,
Into the soul; and, as they go
-- Lightning visitors! we know
A lattice opened, and the mind
Poised for all that is behind
The lattice, and the poising mind.

Could the memory but hold!
-- All the sunsets, flushed with gold,
Are streaming in it!

All the store
Of all that ever was before
Is teeming in it!

All the wit
Of holy living, holy writ,

Waiting till we remember it,
Is dreaming in it!

-- James Stephens

Thursday, April 20

worlds of information

The daguerreotype provides a different, but related, experience. When first introduced to it in 1839, astonished onlookers were dumbfounded by its clarity and definition. Commentators at the time noted how, by applying a magnifying lens, one could discover worlds of information otherwise too small to be observed by the naked eye. The ramifications of this innovation were profound: the daguerreotype signified the first instance in history when a means of visual representation was devised that registered more detail than the unaided human eye could extract. Such superfluity of detail had heretofore made no logical sense with reference to handmade pictures; the daguerreotype embodied a new order of picture-making, one oblivious to the generative and receptive limitations of the eye and the brain. By implication, it dispensed with the humanist underpinnings of Renaissance art.

-- Douglas R. Nickel "Chuck Close's Glass Eye," in Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005

Monday, April 17

Flaubert's style

What seems beautiful to me, what I would like to write, is a book about nothing, a book without external links, that could hold itself up by the mere internal strength of its style, just as the world stands in the air without any support ... The most beautiful works are those with the least amount of matter ... I believe the future of art is in that direction ... That is why there are no ugly or beautiful subjects; from the perspective of pure Art, one could almost establish axiomatically that there is no subject at all, style being itself an absolute way of seeing things.

-- Gustave Flaubert Letter to Louise Colet 24 April 1852
Translated by Marina Van Zuylen

Sunday, April 16

For an Absence

When I cannot be with you
I will send my love (so much
is allowed to human lovers)
to watch over you in the dark --
a winged small presence
who never sleeps, however long
the night. Perhaps it cannot
protect or help, I do not know,
but it watches always, and so
you will sleep within my love
within the room within the dark.
And when, restless, you wake
and see the room palely lit
by that watching, you will think,
"It is only dawn," and go
quiet to sleep again.

-- Wendell Berry

Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky

Saturday, April 15

Molloy in the ditch

Not to want to say, not to know what you want to say, not to be able to say what you think you want to say, and never to stop saying, or hardly ever, that is the thing to keep in mind, even in the heat of composition. That night was not like the other night, if it had been I would have known. For when I try and think of that night, on the canal-bank, I find nothing, no night properly speaking, nothing but Molloy in the ditch, and perfect silence, and behind my closed lids the little night and its little lights, faint at first, then flaming and extinguished, now ravening, now fed, as fire ... But I find the morning, a morning, and the sun already high, and the little sleep I had then, according to my custom, and space with its sounds again, and the shepherd watching me sleep and under whose eyes I opened my eyes. Beside him a panting dog, watching me too, but less closely than his master, for from time to time he stopped watching me to gnaw at his flesh, furiously, where the ticks were in him I suppose. Did he take me for a black sheep entangled in the brambles and was he waiting for an order from his master to drag me out? I don't think so. I don't smell like a sheep, I wish I smelt like a sheep, or a buck-goat. When I wake I see the first things quite clearly, the first things that offer, and I understand them, when they are not too difficult. Then in my eyes and in my head a fine rain begins to fall, as from a rose, highly important. So I knew at once it was a shepherd and his dog I had before me, above me rather, for they had not left the path. And I identified the bleating too, without any trouble, the anxious bleating of the sheep, missing the dog at their heels. It is then too that the meaning of words is least obscure to me, so that I said, with tranquil assurance, Where are you taking them, to the fields or to the shambles? I must have completely lost my sense of direction, as if direction had anything to do with the matter. For even if he was going towards the town, what prevented him from skirting it, or from leaving it again by another gate, on his way to new pastures, and if he was going away from it that meant nothing either ...

-- Samuel Beckett Molloy
Translated by Patrick Bowles

Friday, April 14


Not wooing, no longer shall wooing, voice that has outgrown it,
be the nature of your cry; but instead, you would cry out as purely as a bird
when the quickly ascending season lifts him up, nearly forgetting
that he is a suffering creature and not just a single heart
being flung into brightness, into the intimate skies. Just like him
you would be wooing, not any less purely—, so that, still
unseen, she would sense you, the silent lover in whom a reply
slowly awakens and, as she hears you, grows warm,—
the ardent companion to your own most daring emotion.

Oh and springtime would hold it—, everywhere it would echo
the song of annunciation. First the small
questioning notes intensified all around
by the sheltering silence of a pure, affirmative day.
Then up the stairs, up the stairway of calls, to the dreamed-of
temple of the future—; and then the trill, like a fountain
which, in its rising jet, already anticipates its fall
in a game of promises....And still ahead: summer.
Not only all the dawns of summer—, not only
how they change themselves into day and shine with beginning.
Not only the days, so tender around flowers and, above,
around the patterned treetops, so strong, so intense.
Not only the reverence of all these unfolded powers,
not only the pathways, not only the meadows at sunset,
not only, after a late storm, the deep-breathing freshness,
not only approaching sleep, and a premonition...
but also the nights! But also the lofty summer
nights, and the stars as well, the stars of the earth.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke, from "The Seventh Duino Elegy"
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Thursday, April 13

remembering and forgetting

Perhaps the two most moving chords that can be struck from the human heart are contained in these four words: I remember, I forget. For the unheard anthem of our whole existence is created out of the antiphonal movements of remembering and forgetting; not only the remembering and forgetting of individuals, but of races and cultures. Perfect balance between this pair of opposites is the mark of maturity...

[I]f remembering is a vital function, so also is forgetting. To forget is essential to sanity ... Even if this were not so, the loss would be immeasurable if all things were clearly remembered. Experience would lack its chiaroscuro, and history's canvas would have the maddening facial iteration of a mammoth end-of-term school photograph ... Man owes more than he guesses to the gray waves of oblivion. Through forgetting comes much beauty into life, much richness and strangeness.

-- Alan McGlashan The Savage and Beautiful Country

Wednesday, April 12

Le Paysage

J'avais rêvé d'aimer. J'aime encor mais l'amour
Ce n'est plus ce bouquet de lilas et de roses
Chargeant de leurs parfums la forêt où repose
Une flamme à l'issue de sentiers sans détour.

J'avais rêvé d'aimer. J'aime encor mais l'amour
Ce n'est plus cet orage où l'éclair superpose
Ses bûchers aux châteaux, déroute, décompose,
Illumine en fuyant l'adieu au carrefour.

C'est le silex en feu sous mon pas dans la nuit,
Le mot qu'aucun lexique au monde n'a traduit
L'écume sur la mer, dans le ciel ce nuage.

A vieillir tout devient rigide et lumineux,
Des boulevards sans noms et des cordes sans noeuds.
Je me sens me roidir avec le paysage.

-- Robert Desnos

The Landscape
A Version

I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer those lilacs and roses whose breath
filled the broad woods, where the sail of a flame
lay at the end of each arrow-straight path.

I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer that storm whose white nerve sparked
the castle towers, or left the mind unrhymed,
or flared an instant, just where the road forked.

It is the star struck under my heel in the night.
It is the word no book on earth defines.
It is the foam on the wave, the cloud in the sky.

As they age, all things grow rigid and bright.
The streets fall nameless, and the knots untie.
Now, with this landscape, I fix; I shine.

-- Robert Desnos
Translated by Don Paterson

Translation from Poetry Magazine April 2006

Tuesday, April 11


Around this time Betsy said that she was amazed at the mess in my watercolor box -- "I don't know how you can work without knowing that all the tubes are in the correct place. Don't you have to know where the reds, the greens, the blues are?" I said, "Ah, but not knowing is my secret."

I like to be surprised when I pick up a tube. It makes the process more exciting, frees it. When I squeeze, I get this revelation of the color that comes out. It's accidental, but it's an accident that I take advantage of. Sometimes you can express the color of something without using the obvious color. For example, once I grabbed a tube of Chinese white when I was looking for blue. I simply found the blue and used some of the Chinese white, too. The mixture produced a quality that was unbelievable.

This is something you could never tell an art student. And it's something I do only with watercolors. You're in the lap of the gods -- almost like painting with your eyes half-closed. Sometimes I don't want to see too clearly. You build up a kind of color that is purely an interpretation of the truth. Anything to get away from the predictable. This applies to the design of a picture too. Painting is all about breaking the rules. Art is chance. It's like making love.

-- Andrew Wyeth Autobiography

Monday, April 10


Most of my time as a poet is spent listening into a luminous tumble, a sort of taut cascade. I call it "cadence." If I withdraw from immediate contact with things around me, I can sense it churning, flickering, thrumming, locating things in more shapely relation to one another. It feels continuous, though I may spend days on end without noticing it.

What I hear is initially without words. But when a poem starts to come, the words have to accord with that energy or I can't make a poem at all. (I speak of "hearing" cadence, but the sensation isn't auditory. It's more like sensing a constantly changing tremor with your body: a play of movement and stress, torsion and flex -- as with the kinaesthetic perception of the muscles.) More and more I sense this energy as presence both outside and inside myself, teeming towards words.

-- Dennis Lee Body Music

Sunday, April 9


Real spring weather -- these are the precise days when everything changes. All the trees are fast beginning to be in leaf, and the first green freshness of a new summer is all over the hills. Irreplaceable purity of these few days ...

Mixture of heavenliness and anguish. Seeing "heavenliness" suddenly for instance, in the pure white of the mature dogwood blossoms against the dark evergreens in the cloudy garden. "Heavenliness" too of the song of the unknown bird that is perhaps here only for these days, passing through, a lovely, deep, simple song. Pure -- no pathos, no statement, no desire, pure heavenly sound.

-- Thomas Merton Dancing in the Water of Life

Wednesday, April 5

stunned by spring and crazed with light

Jeremy Denk takes us from subway to jury room to Montale to The Well-Tempered Clavier in Think Denk

Tuesday, April 4


In the landscape of the mind, whatever is planted early lasts and grows through time. Reality may be a featureless-suburban street; but the mind of the fairy-tale reader holds mountains, oceans, distances, a forest that is haven, shelter, and mystery, some day to be explored, with a pathway that leads to the very edge of the world.

-- Naomi Lewis, in the Introduction to Classic Fairy Tales to Read Out Loud

Sunday, April 2


It comes to mind,
Where there is room enough, that water goes
Between tall mountains and between small toes.

Or, if I like,
When the sun rises, his first light explores
Under high clouds and underneath low doors.

Or (doing it still)
Darkness can hide beside all that it hid
Behind a nightfall and a dropped eyelid.

Why do I add
Such notions up, unless they say what's true
In ways I don't quite see, of me and you?

-- Norman MacCaig

Saturday, April 1

Walking Home on an Early Spring Evening

Every microcosm needs its crow,
something to hang around and comment,
alight on highest branches.

Who hasn't seen the gnats,
the pollen grains that coat the windshield—
who hasn't heard the tree frogs?

In the long march that takes us all our life,
in and out of sleep, sun up, sun gone,
our aging back and forth, smiling and puzzled,
there come these times: you stop and look,

and fix on something unremarkable,
a parking lot or just a patch of sumac,
but it will flare and resonate

and you'll feel part of it for once,
you'll be a goldfinch hanging on a feeder,
you'll be a river system all in silver
etched on a frosty driveway, you'll

say "Folks, I think I made it this time,
I think this is my song." The crow lifts up,
its feathers shine and whisper,

its round black eye surveys indifferently
the world we've made
and then the one we haven't.

-- David Young

Introduction to Six Modernist Moments in Poetry