October 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
Not only was John Wood our editor for more than 15 years, he is a brilliant and established poet
from Cracked: The Art of Charles Grogg
Though I am a photographic historian and critic, I am primarily a poet; however, except for writing a few Japanese waka in homage to my friend Masao Yamamoto, I have never written poems inspired by the work of any of the photographers whose work I have written essays about. The photographs, though wonderful, never suggested subjects to me-until I encountered Charles Grogg’s work. It would be improper of me to write about the poetic aspects of my own work, but I can say something about their content as it refers to Grogg’s art.
The fence-mender of the poem “Fence” is, of course, Grogg, and fence-mending is a metaphor for his art making. The poem makes clear that it is his “chosen profession” but also makes clear that he has not chosen it but that it chose him and that his re-shaping, re-forming art is to my eye a profound expression and act of love…
The fence mender’s dilemma is
how to proceed. There’s always
such hostility on either side.
Being in between contorted faces
is distracting, as is avoiding
the flying spittle, the occasional stone.
Rain coats and shields are useful,
especially when he becomes the target,
which is more often than not.
But who would give up a chosen profession?
And for what: becoming a snail driver,
a semaphore man, a town crier,
a berry buster? Certainly not for one
whose profession had chosen him.
There is no choice in spite of rocks and spit,
the cumbersome garb he must wear. And so
he continues buying the costliest needles,
gold-tipped, of course, and iron-strong thread
spun from the silk of golden orb weavers.
His hands dance along the sad shatters
with the confidence of a cosmetic surgeon
re-forming the destines of the unloved and ugly.
Such mending mastery as his is love’s
most profound, best, and final act.
from The Symmetry of Endeavor
When we look at images as radiant as his wide Calla 3, his tall lean Calla on Black, his Sunflower Rising, which looks like the sun itself aflame, the Nile Lily Bud or his Melinthus in the Rain, as perfect a wet leaf as I have ever seen in any photograph, we see exactly how a master artist manipulates craft to the higher service of his art, how he makes craft the vehicle and servant of his art. His Luminescent Datura seduced me from the first moment I saw it. Besides being a beautiful flower datura, of course, is also a powerful drug, a sexual stimulant, and has been associated with women called witches since the Middle Ages. However, without thinking of any of those things, when I first saw this amazing image, I did not see the flower at all. I saw a lady with a slim neck in an Art Deco gown, her face cropped from the photograph, a curl from her head falling on her shoulder, her right arm bent at the elbow and resting on a piece of furniture, obviously by Ruhlmann, and her hand, though out of sight, holding either a martini or a cigarette. I saw Paris in the Twenties when I would have loved to live there. Such imaginative leaps are the leaps that art graciously allowsand which inspired the poem that follows, even thoughI am certain my lady or thoughts of Mistinguett, the great chanteuse of that time, or the famous club Le Boeuf sur le Toit was nowhere in Rondal Partridge’s mind when he made this work. His thoughts were on capturing a flower. My thoughts were on sex. But great art always transcends the intentions of the artist. That is its blessing and occasionally the artist’s curse.
LADY IN A FLORAL DRESS
A curl cascades, reclines upon her neck.
She stands against a lacquered cabinet.
One hidden hand holds her drink,
the other, a Turkish cigarette.
This Deco dame is surely French
and probably knows Mistinguett.
Would she accept a little pinch,
then smile and say with no regret,
“Was it Le Boeuf sur le Toit where we met?
We danced. You held me in a clench
and called me mon petit pet.
Men like you I never forget.”
He wondered what could be her game.
His, of course, was exactly the same.
from The Imponderable Heart of Meaning
As we approached our sixteenth year of publication, Steve had the happy idea of our doing a book together-his photographs and poems of mine inspired by them. Though I have been writing poetry for over half a century, I cannot say I know where poetry comes from, but I know it is very hard to make a poem from a work of visual art. I said I’d try and with a great box of Steve’s prints before me, I was surprised to see how words quickly started to appear and shape themselves into lines and eventually poems. In every case it was his visual magic that inspired the poem. So these poems are a real monument to our years of friendship and work together.
I had hoped that this volume would be entitled In the Face of the Electron because that is the title of a poem I wrote for one of Steve’s most amazing and brilliant photographs-an abstract image of the most intense power, an image that allowed me to look into the face or heart of the electron… I’d hoped we would use the photograph because I love it but also because of the poem it led me to. My own work, though sometimes comic, tends to be dark, somber, occasionally even savage. But what Steve’s photograph allowed me see was something rich and affirmative…
IN THE FACE OF THE ELECTRON
In the unstopping spin and swirl
of matter’s uncertainty, it can
sometimes be caught unaware
and resting for a short fraction
just as the more common birds
are often caught, and so
the Nature artist must be quick
and snap it before it flies off
as the fastest light excels,
to snap it before the electron’s
huge and fluffy wings again
begin to beat, driving matter
mad in its motions, and before
its beak begins again to peck
at the atomic shell, and before
its maddening dance must begin
again to hold everything together,
secured in the electron’s hold,
its wide-wings’ generous, spinning embrace,
succoring with no knowledge of its doing so
the imponderable heart of meaning.
September 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
For a few titles the photographers were also the contributing poets or writers.
Sally Mann, authored entirely by Sally Mann, includes her provocative introduction, early poetry and photographs which were made prior to the many published books that follow her career. A livre d’artiste first from the 21st Editions Collection.
Measurement has become useless
there in the peak, lush summer.
The winds call out the distances
and the fast clouds sound out the heights,
dive for the great, rolling dark
of the hills, weigh with the balance
and pull of the water, condense
on the wineglass perfection of elm.
A rare look into a piece of Louisiana history. Metoyer’s poetry and photographs are autobiographical and show an unusual blend of talents by one artist. Metoyer not only conceptualized the images that reflect his history and creative mind, he too wrote the poetry and printed four different processes for this book: platinum, palladium, cyanotype, and kalitype. Celebrated in 2008 as our 10th anniversary title for 21st Editions, it was acquired and resides in 13 collecting institutions in the U.S
Augured by the planets’ gravitational whirl,
Madame Zuzuska spoke to him of omens.
She ciphered his numbers,
whispered he was born
on the cusp of a fateful day.
“Decline, my child. Anguish and decline.”
Then the blackened cloud of prophecy
loomed in the pupils of her apostle’s eyes
as Zuzuska warned of his life’s maddening gyre
and the destructive seduction
of a swelling lunar cycle.
Now, every stubbed toe,
every unanswered call,
every initial sliver
of the phosphorescent moon
transforms to premonitions
of grisly things to come.
Jamie Baldridge’s unique talent marries a short story and fictional journal entries from a character whose artistry as an image maker is unlike his peers. Authored and printed by the artist, academics and historians focused on this for their collections as a piece of great inventive literature, new technology image making, and binding made from patina’d brass.
“Sometime around noon, for I still had not the capacity for counting the Gear Shifts to tell time, I found myself hopelessly lost in the candle lit warrens below the Arcadian Convent. After what felt like hours of switchbacks and dead ends, I began to panic and surrendering to my fears fell into the first open door I found, unintentionally interrupting the work of a lovely scribe occupied with quite the longest scroll I had ever seen. I vainly attempted to salvage what was left of my pride, and after dusting myself off politely asked where I might find the Mother Superior’s offices. The girl continued to work as if I were not there. Before I could make my inquiry again, this time perhaps in a more desperate timbre, a gentle, but firm hand grasped my shoulder and a voice somewhere near my navel said, “We really shouldn’t disturb her.”
Each of the 16 artist printed silver prints in Crowd (comes as a two-book set with Shadows of the Dream) is accompanied by a poem by Latvian artist Misha Gordin. Each book in the set is bound with multiple leather in-lays that echo back to early European livre d’artiste design.
In a unity of dream and reality
From the darkest corners of the heart
Like a shadow from the murky past
Emerges a call for a lonely prayer.
August 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
John Wood in his introduction to The New City stated: “…Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. Along with Hart Crane they were the great epic rhapsodists of America and the American experience, and MacLean Gander is one with them within that same tradition.” We were fortunate to publish two great epic poems: Hart Crane’s The Bridge, with Sheila Metzner, and MacLean Gander’s The New City, with Jefferson Hayman.
Coda: The New City
BY MACLEAN GANDER
This new city is so perfectly described it ends the past,
Not like a death but like the end of a story
That you remember always, in the fondest way, without regret.
This new city holds a lantern against the moon & illuminates it.
The walkways share a fragrance of undiscovered flowers,
Children carry balloons like talismans as they play their games,
Invented & forgotten each day, like rumors of forgiveness.
This new city is a firefly—one of the fireflies that return each summer
So that fireflies come back even though each one dies.
This new city is a place without you, a place where I knew you
But now you are gone. My hands hold a river. If you were water
I would drink you so deeply my thirst would be endless, to drink you.
In this new city we watch the sun rise & set, golden claims
On the sky, indifferent to anything but its endlessness & perfection.
BY HART CRANE
As John Wood wrote in his introduction: We look at the gothic arch, that high window of the American cathedral, at those steel, harp-string cable wires, and we see the spiritual side of the vision that Crane addressed in “To Brooklyn Bridge,” the opening poem of his epic. Here the altar of heaven and the music of angels are conjoined:
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
. . . we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
April 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
As John Wood writes in his introduction: John Metoyer is one of the great photographic geniuses of our time and one of those exceptionally rare artists of the last few centuries who can genuinely be considered a master of more than one art–in his case, photography and poetry….This book celebrates his work in both arts, two arts which for Metoyer are completely separate and have nothing in common but their creator. His photographs do not illustrate his poems nor is his poetry a commentary on his photography. They are merely separate manifestations of a similar genius.
Metoyer was born in Chicago in 1966 and grew up there; however, his roots were in Creole Louisiana. Since the mid-eighteenth century his family lived in and around Yucca (later renamed Melrose), their ancestral plantation, and many of his relatives still live there. Of all the plantations of Louisiana, Melrose is perhaps the most fascinating and most atypical because it was not the product of a white patriarchy but of a Black matriarchy. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 1, 2012 § 1 Comment
May 2011 There was much more, of which I can only recall bits now. It became too exhausting to keep such a pace and then write it all up at the end of the day. I do remember that the next day Allen, Peter, Jim, Frank, Jack and Lynnice Butler, andSandy and I all went to Eureka Springs to see The Christ of the Ozarks, a tasteless monstrosity built by Gerald L. K. Smith, the anti-Semite. A brochure given out at the statue remarked how it could support two Volkswagen busses from each arm and withstand certain high mile an hour winds. Smith also owned an “art gallery” in Eureka called The Christ Only Art Gallery; however, the first painting you saw when you entered was a painting of Smith. I remember that Allen made a comment to whomever we paid the entry fee that he had a beard just like Jesus had. I also recall that on the drive to Eureka we saw a large Pileated Woodpecker and Frank told us about local woodpeckers. All day Allen had talked about wanting to go to Gabilee, but none of us thought that was a good idea. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
Saturday, May 3, 1969—Allen had lunch with his old roommate and met all of the poets in Old Main at 1:30 for a workshop, criticism on the poems, etc.—didn’t get to everybody. I got him off the subject on Lamantia. And then Jim did on Neal Cassidy, which was wonderfully interesting. Allen said he was the only man to ever make it with Cassidy and talked of his gentleness, turning everybody on, his life, death, etc.
About 3:30 we went over to the Student Union for about 30 minutes for cokes and Allen got a sandwich—talked about this and that—just being with him was moving—so beautiful a man. John Clellon Holmes had told me Allen was the only “great” man he had ever met. It’s true, I think—never have I met anyone so humble and so honestly modest. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
Friday, May 2, 1969—Rick Ryan, another one of the poets in the Program, Larry, and I picked up Allen and Peter at the hotel at 10:30. We took them to the Student Union to get breakfast. On the way we looked at Steve Pollard’s tree, which was now blocked off because grass (which could never grow under it because of the shade) was being planted there. [Note: Pollard’s tree had been a cause célèbre. Pollard, a U of A student, had climbed the tree to protest the Vietnam war. Threats were made on his life, and students and faculty rallied in support and kept a day and night vigil around the tree for days. I don’t recall now, these 42 years later, what caused him to come down. I assume the grass planting was done to suggest that Pollard’s protectors had ruined the area under the tree.
As we wandered into the Student Union, we immediately ran into everybody, and everyone was happy to meet Allen and Peter. They got some food and we pushed three large tables together, which weren’t enough, and we all sat down. In a few minutes Allen had met one of the undergraduate poets, Frank Stanford, whom he took a liking to and they conversed at great length about Ozark folk music. He also soon met the SSOC people [Note: Southern Student Organizing Committee, an anti-war organization similar to Students for a Democratic Society] and Steve Pollard. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
May 2011 : I had not forgotten that these pages existed, but I’d not read them since I wrote them in 1969 recording a visit of Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to give a poetry reading. I had been in correspondence with Allen for a few years. It started simply with a fan letter which he responded graciously to. The accessibility of a famous poet and cultural figure to a kid trying to write poetry at Arkansas State College in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was exhilarating. I had been reading him since I was in the tenth grade. It was the early sixties, and I, too, wanted to Howl. By the time I finally met Allen, I had discovered Wallace Stevens and Richard Wilbur and drifted from his influence. And Allen obviously thought I had become overly ornate, but he did kindly offer to write the introduction to a small limited edition of my poems called Orbs printed in 1968 by Harold Swayder, an artist who made woodcuts for each of the poems. Swayder’s woodcuts and Allen’s kind introduction are the only good things about the book, which, thankfully, was in such a small edition few people have ever seen it. In 1969 I entered the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas, which at that time was one of only thirteen MFA programs in the country. Because of my connection with Allen, the question arose of whether I might be able to get him to come for a reading. The MFA Program’s budget could not afford his fee, but it was still the beautiful sixties—so he cut the fee in half and for several electrifying days the world seemed to glow. I started keeping a careful record of them, but finally exhaustion overtook me. They were all written in the evenings after a lot of activity and a good bit of drinking, and so a word every now and then is illegible. The following does not presume to be elegant or even well-written prose, and I have not tried to improve upon it, except for deleting a few redundancies. It’s merely a diary of those intense days, a diary I think may hold some interest for others, especially as it relates to Allen and to Frank Stanford.
Thurs. May 1, 1969—Larry Johnson and I drove down from Fayetteville today to Little Rock to meet Peter and Allen as they came in from Arizona. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
Gilded Circles and Sure Trouble is the third project that brings 21st Editions together with Josephine Sacabo, one of the most talented artists working today.
Upon my visit to New Orleans earlier in 2012 Josephine escorted me to the Ogden Museum to walk me through her retrospective exhibition of photogravure and silver gelatin prints. The proposal for Gilded Circles and Sure Trouble happened there at the center of that exhibition.
This rather new format, 21st Editions emphasizes a collection of ten signed chine-collé photogravures printed at the artist’s studio with an accompanying book illustrated with 10 signed platinum prints. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
The following interview was conducted by email in late January and early February, 2011 and was published by The Asheville Poetry Review (www.ashevillepoetryreview.com).
DW: In literary circles, you are best known as a Southern poet, an Arkansas native who founded the first M.F.A. program in Louisiana. The Southern Review called you “The most engaging and lucid of the postmodern southern poets,” and when you were profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lawrence Biemiller wrote that you were “as well rooted [in Lake Charles, Louisiana] as one of the city’s live oaks.” And yet, in 2007 you left Louisiana and the South altogether, retiring to Saxton’s River, Vermont. I am wondering, first, if you still (or ever did) consider yourself to be a “Southern” poet and, second, how your move to New England has affected you as an artist. I am struck, for example, by how deeply some of the poems in your new book, The Fictions of History, engage with Puritan figures like Cotton Mather and Edward Taylor.
JW: No, I never thought of myself as a “Southern” poet, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell The Southern Review I didn’t appreciate the nice compliment. I appreciated it very much. I don’t think of myself as “postmodern” either, but again who could complain in the same sentence with “most engaging and lucid”? Of course, there are some Southern characters in my work because I lived in the midst of them—nutty, dancing preachers and hysterical women and so forth. There was a church on the end of the block I grew up on. They got very loud there. We lived at the other end of the block but on Sundays and Prayer Meeting nights you could hear them clearly, and I would sometimes go peek in one of the windows and watch the show. My mother was friends with Pastor Jimmy and Frank, the man who lived with him, a fact my mother found wonderfully amusing. She would take them extra tomatoes, okra, and so forth from the garden, as she did other neighbors. I would go with her sometimes, and though I didn’t know the word at the time, their house was a masterpiece of “camp.” Pierre and Gilles would love to have photographed it. « Read the rest of this entry »