The bombed cathedral

One of the touchstones that I would add to those I blogged about last week is a marvellous section from The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young. If you don’t know the book, I urge you to get hold of a copy. It is by turns provocative, funny, polemical and always, as people used to say about Kenneth Koch, serious without being solemn.

In one of my favourite passages, he speaks with fond reminiscence of visiting the studio of the artist Charles Spurrier while working in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He describes the experience as akin to walking into a ‘bombed cathedral’, with Spurrier, shrouded ‘in a shower of sander sparks’ and ‘looking part cherub, part ax murderer’ at the heart of it:

The materials seemed to have a life of their own, took part in both their own creation and destruction simultaneously; the wood of a ladder verged on tearing itself apart to become tree again, metals seemed to be trying to bend and unbend themselves. I had seen him on more than one occasion take a piece and do things to it that, if I didn’t know it was his own work, I would have sworn he was committing vanalism. In fact, desecration was part of his process.

The Art of Recklessness, p.42

Like Young, I admit to envy of my visual artist friends. Here is my painting of some pears with a lemon. Here is my sculpture of a man in a decaying suit. They have the ‘opportunity to interact with the medium [of their creation] in a primal, physical way.’ This physical, primal method of creation, this disappearing into the bombed cathedral to vandalise what I have created in order to make something new, is what I have long longed for in my practice.

I think of my books of poems and I think of the pain of birthing them, not the individual poems, but the the ripping apart and stitching back together of sequences, for the first four books, with intense help from others as my small-minded control-freakery threatened to refuse to allow them what they wanted to become. Four books. By the time of the fifth, I told myself I had learned how to proceed. (I hadn’t; I almost blew it.) My favourite part of book five was realising I needed to rip it apart and start again. And, just when I thought I had rescued it, to begin yet again.

So, I say pain, but I don’t really mean it. What I mean is fun. Ripping poems apart and interrogating them till they tell me what they need to become. Ditto the books. I spent part of yesterday taking one of Spurrier’s sanders to a poem that I had previously thought of as inviolable. I have plans for others. The bombed cathedral. It’s the only place to be.

5 Comments

  1. Bravo! It takes such courage to begin again. I am still quite theoretical about that in my own poetry-writing, but will try to move on to the actual doing… discerning what is worth keeping and what I must ruthlessly discard. I’m sure greater confidence in this task grows with practice, so thanks for the encouragement!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anthony…I’m happy to be back in the fold after an unexpected absence. This post was a perfect reentry for me as I’m now doing more painting. The title of the book, let alone the quote and Spurrier’s work have jangled my juices in the best way. And I can attest that my best writing and art have come out of the recklessness. Both my jazz novel and a prize-winning poem grew out of letting go and mixing things up. The impulse has landed me in art shows up and down the west coast and I’m continuing to keep the “pulling apart and letting go” as my prime mover.
    Thanks for your good work!
    Molly now in Oregon
    I look forward to finding the book and enhancing the practice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m in there with you. Feels like the only place to be. A dearth of new poems this past year or so. Revisiting previous books with a blunt instrument and then a sharp blade feels like the only way to go. I must remember to get out of my own way first.

      Liked by 1 person

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