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April 28th Letter No. Six (Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1796)

PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, April 18, 1811

Why is it, that the moment we two are separated, I can scarcely set bounds to my hatred of intolerance; is it feeling? is it passion? I would willingly persuade myself that it is neither; willingly would I persuade myself that all that is amiable, all that is good, falls by its prevalence, and that I ought unceasingly to attempt its destruction. Yet, you say that millions of bad are necessary for the existence of a few pre-eminent in excellence. Is not this a despotism of virtue, which is inconsistent with its nature? Is it not the Asiatic tyrant who renders his territory wretched to fill his seraglio? the shark, who must glut his maw with millions of fish, in order that he may exist? I have often said that I doubted your divinities, and if this interference follows the established hypothesis of their existence, I do not merely doubt, but hope that my doubts are founded on truth.

Your affectionate friend,

P.B.S.

Tucson House Visit No. Seven (Dot Devota)

Dot Devota has been thinking a lot about Camille Claudel. She loves her but cannot help but be upset by her. She’s upset that Camille destroyed so much of her work, and in reaction to the times in which she lived; she’s upset Camille was not able to see beyond her times. It is a question of faith, though also some part of the insurmountable present we are constantly flooding with and away from. Dot has been thinking also with great love and wonder about Grace Hartigan, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Werner Herzog, and her nephews, Sam and Luke. She visited her nephews recently in Michigan, where they live on a small lake. Siblings do occasionally know a joy such as this:

A couple years ago, Dot lived in a field in central Missouri. The field was fields, woods, wildflowers, wild turkeys and a pond. There is a stream bed with quicksand. The stream runs through a field of corn down to the Missouri River. It is to this land she partially traces her roots and where, in a sense, Dot Devota was born. Dot Devota is a poet. She is writing a book titled MW: A FIELD GUIDE TO THE MIDWEST. It is composed of essays, letters and notes. Through it she has been re-enacting the past. It can be excruciating. She composes by hand. Wild leaves find their way into the script.

During her time in the field in central Missouri, Dot went on long walks, gathered walnuts and wild plants. She found a persimmon tree and shook it. Persimmons rained to the earth. Dot’s ancestors once lived in this field. Still do, don’t they? Dot once walked for twenty miles on a single day throughout the city of Kyoto, Japan. Near the end of the twenty miles she found a closet-sized bookstore where she bought a small book of paintings of women by the poet and painter Yumeji Takehisa. Here are the shoes Dot wore walking twenty miles in Kyoto:

One of Dot’s poems—THE ETERNAL WALL—was published as a chapbook by Katy and Matt Henriksen’s Cannibal Books. The titles of two of Dot’s other books of poems are AND THE GIRLS WORRIED TERRIBLY and BLACK WRITING, a few poems from which were published by Christian Peet for Tarpaulin Sky’s Chronic Content series. She is returning to Japan this summer. Hopefully to Kyoto. She has been thinking about spending time at a temple there. Her nephews make paintings together:

Dot plans also to return to the field in central Missouri, to make some part of her life there more steady, for and from where it has been partially made. It is important to sit and stare. It might not take as long as imagined to reach through to the depth of a thought. There are black walnut trees on the land. Beneath the persimmon tree is an old, broken tractor, grown over with cane and weeds. Someone once rode it. The seat is still warm.

April 28th Letter No. Five (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1796)

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE to John Thelwall, late April 1796

Dear Thelwall,

I beg your acceptance of my Poems—you will find much to blame in them—much effeminacy of sentiment, much faulty glitter of expression. I build all my poetic pretensions on the Religious Musins—which you will read with a POET’S EYE, with the same unprejudicedness, I wish, I could add, the same pleasure, with which the atheistic Poem of Lucretius. A Necessitarian, I cannot possibly disesteem a man for his religious or anti-religious Opinions—and as an Optimist, I feel diminished concern.—I have studied the subject deeply & widely—I cannot say, without prejudice: for when I commenced the Examination, I was an Infidel.

With esteem | I am | Your’s &c

S.T. Coleridge

Tucson House Visit No. Six (Annie Guthrie)

This is Annie Guthrie and her family. Which one is Annie? Her sister is two years younger. Her brother is five years older. Her mother lives also in Tucson. Her father passed away in 1988. What was the occasion for this picture being taken? Annie is in the other room. I don’t feel like asking. Bonnie Prince Billy’s WOLFROY GOES TO TOWN is playing on the record player. Here again is Annie’s father:

In which picture is he older? And what’s that body of water behind him? Annie doesn’t know. I say to Annie, It’s just as good not to know as it is to know, and she says, I just said that to someone. Annie is a poet. She is currently teaching a class on oracular poetry at the Poetry Center, where she also works. That’s where I first met her. I gave a reading at the Poetry Center with Philip Jenks and Akilah Oliver. Annie was in the audience. She is deeply inquisitive with a supreme and patient calm in letting it open, even as it might evade, or turn into a veil of some trouble.

On a small table next to her bed is Susan Howe’s The Nonconformist’s Memorial, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and the February 2012 issue of Artforum. Nasturtiums on the side of Annie’s house are edible. Here is one of Annie’s poems in the magazine, THE DESTROYER. Two eggplants have not yet emerged from her garden. In the back corner of her refrigerator is a half-eaten melon in foil.

She lives in Tucson with her husband Tomaso. Tomaso is Italian. He is a brilliant cook. Showing me a map, Annie says, This is where I lived for many years. The map is of Firenze. She points to the street where she studied metal incising techniques with an old man named Franco. See my dirty fingernail? You have to really think of your questions because Franco doesn’t say anything.

I like that maps are called plans, Annie says. The Guthrie family is well known in Harlan County, Kentucky, where many of Annie’s ancestors were miners. It can be difficult to know where one fits into such a scheme, even as it goes, but to sit on top of a mountain in Italy surrounded in silence by eight elderly women, watching themselves and the floating rings of existence in the air before them. I’m going, Annie, I say, but then Annie says, Do you want to see my artichoke?

April 28th Letter No. Four (Walt Whitman, 1882)

WALT WHITMAN to John Burroughs, April 28, 1882

Dear friend

Just returned from a fortnight down in the Jersey woods—not feeling well this month, (a bad cold, neuralgia, other head trouble, bowel trouble &c—yet nothing serious—will blow over in a few days)—went down for a change—had bad weather & nothing propitious—but I have just come back & am already better—shall get along—

So Emerson is dead—the leading man in all Israel—If I feel able I shall go to his funeral—improbable though—

Can you help me? Can you loan me $100?

Walt Whitman

Tucson House Visit No. Five (Kristi Maxwell & Michael Rerick)

Michael made a loaf of peasant bread yesterday. He’s about to make nuts. What kind of nuts? Spicy garlic rosemary nuts. Kristi is sewing and stapling chapbooks for her friend’s wedding. Kristi has been appointed the “poet laureate” of the wedding. The wedding is next week. The photo above was taken in 2004, here in Tucson, though not where we—or they—are right now. They were then students in the MFA program at the University of Arizona. Michael Rerick is on the left. Kristi Maxwell is on the right. Michael and Kristi are both poets.

Michael says he makes bread irregularly. Not that his process is irregular or that the bread itself is, but that he doesn’t make it that often. He makes waffles more frequently. Kristi says they make waffles every two months. Michael says they make waffles every six months. I’ve eaten waffles with them. They introduced me to the possibility of dressing waffles with peanut butter. I was very happy. I have not eaten waffles since. I will show up one night, very late, at their sliding glass door.

In 2005 Michael and Kristi traveled to Prague. They drank dark beer at Sv. Norbert monastery. Michael wrote a poem about it which appears in his book, IN WAYS IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLD: “Dear Frank … here’s the Du. dwaal altar cloth draped like Christmas lights from a balcony—you always saw tits—and a dark Czech beer at Sv. Norbert monastery … dear Frank, she glows with the cold: the glass mug, 200 kc, stenciled Sv. Norbert in gold, the body barrel and dimpled.” When I first met Michael and Kristi, Kristi’s first book, REALM-SIXTY FOUR, hadn’t yet come out. They read in a house up a creek outside Missoula, Montana. Kristi read from the couch. Michael sat on the floor when he read.

This image is hanging above either Michael or Kristi’s desk. Can you guess whose desk? Above the other’s desk hangs a calendar of Hawaii. Its last year’s calendar. We’re listening to music off their television. When I first walked into their house, Madonna was singing. Then Cyndi Lauper. Madonna again. The Bangles’ Eternal Flame. Now Heart. Michael just brought a bowl of spicy garlic rosemary nuts to where I am sitting. Behind me is the chair—the perch—where Kristi and Michael’s cats sit. Right now, it is being occupied by a small duck. Kristi asks, Do you know the Sun Sphere? I don’t know the Sun Sphere. Its in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kristi grew up in eastern Tennessee. Michael grew up in Portland, Oregon and Tucson, though mostly Tucson. Michael’s birthday was seven days ago. The duck is standing on its head.

April 28th Letter No. Three (Jack Kerouac, 1957)

JACK KEROUAC to Ed White, April 28, 1957

I haven’t had chance to tell you but I’ve begun to paint, hence all the excitement about painting, started in Mexico City last October, first with pencil, then chalk, then watercolor, then paint … my first painting: God.

Tucson House Visit No. Four (Noah Saterstrom)

Clockwise from far left: Grandfather Theo, Grandmother Margaret, Anna Saterstrom, Uncle Butch, Roger Saterstrom, Aunt Lucy, Jessica Saterstrom. The amorphous white blob in the center is Noah Saterstrom, age four, maybe. Years later, Noah Saterstrom, the painter, made this image. Look deep into the stroke of the amorphous white blob. You will find the mind of a painter. And here is the painter himself, applying it:

Noah was eleven or twelve when this picture was taken. He’s sitting on the porch of the house he grew up in in Natchez, Mississippi. He’s painting the steeple of the cathedral several blocks over. Maybe I would’ve had to make it up, he says of the steeple. Back then he wore high-tops while he painted:

I’m sitting at the counter in Noah’s kitchen. He’s sitting at the dining table behind me. We’re drinking Fresca. Noah’s paintings are faithful and intuitive renderings of people and settings—situations, I feel—expressions of what happens when people are caught in a moment of moving internally in numerous directions, though made, by some unseen—perhaps obscene—force, to stay composed. He has collaborated with numerous artists, including Kate Bernheimer, Joan Fiset, Kristen Nelson and Anne Waldman. He’s currently collaborating with the poet Laynie Browne. Here is St. Jude with his Pentecostal flame, allowing him to speak in all languages at once.

Is that what a painter does? I mean, is that what a painting is? At least an approximation of the gift—the compulsion, the compulsive burden, perhaps—of that flame, light and color and value and substance as the meeting-place of all languages, the rising out of one’s head a sequence of material atoms? Noah has also illustrated the covers of books by poets Jenny Boully, Noah Eli Gordon & Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Gordon Massman, Andrea Rexilius and Shelly Taylor. We’re listening to The Magnetic Fields. Actually, this is not The Magnetic Fields.

Here is a photograph by Dana Matthews. Noah has two fish: Septimus and Clarissa. Literary references. They live in small glass globes in Noah’s studio, which is in his backyard, across the patio there. Septimus and Clarissa are over there right now, alone, together, with Noah’s paintings, complete and in-progress. Natchez, Mississippi, used to be called West Florida. Here is a photograph of Noah standing with his mom, their arms around each other. It appears they are staring at the bricks in this small building. What are they looking at? Are they going inside?

Tucson House Visit No. Three (Kristen Nelson)

The little girl on the left is Kristen Nelson. On the right is Kristen’s grandfather Luigi Paolillo. Everyone called him Louie. He died in 2002. He drove trucks for UPS. Shortly before Kristen was born, Louie slipped on a patch of ice while making a delivery. It was winter. He went on disability. Kristen was born in May. Louie took care of Kristen while her mother was working. They spent their days together. Kristen says he was a quiet man. He didn’t talk to anyone but me, she says.

I am in Kristen’s house: Casa Libre en la Solana, which functions as a residence, classroom, reading and performance space, screening room, and in many other ways. I have eaten many meals here. Kristen is now heating a frozen pizza. I have three slices of turkey pepperoni stuffed in my cheek. She offers me a piece of her pizza. I decline. I only eat frozen pizza alone, I say, but thank you.

Kristen’s house is voluminous with art and artifacts—photos, postcards, paintings, relics, shrines set into the walls. There are innumerable mirrors. How many images of Frida Kahlo does Kristen have in her house? All but one were gifts. The one that was not is a painting Frida made after cutting off all her hair. Kristen first encountered it in a glass case in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Moving to Tucson in 2007, Frida’s image was everywhere. Kristen admires Frida’s work for being unapologetically cathartic.

On Kristen’s microwave is a photograph of when she was fourteen. It was taken at Masonic Youth camp, on day ten or eleven of a two-week stay. She had not eaten in ten or eleven days. The camp served meals cafeteria style, so no one noticed. Kristen keeps the photo on her microwave as a reminder.

A poem by Kate Greenstreet is tucked into the frame of a mirror in Kristen’s bathroom. It’s my mirror poem, Kristen says. It’s been there for four years. Kristen says she became a poet while studying with Rebecca Brown. She recently published a chapbook, WRITE, DAD. There’s an image on the cover of Kristen when she was young. The image below is not the image I am talking about. Oh, but its a life!

April 28th Letter No. Two (Osip Mandelstam, 1937)

OSIP MANDELSTAM to Nadezhda Mandelstam, April 28, 1937 

Nadik, my little one! What shall this letter say to you? Will it be delivered in the morning or will you find it in the evening? Then good morning, my angel, and good night, and I kiss you whether you’re sleepy and tired, or clean, fresh, efficient, and bustling with inspiration about your shrewd, clever, good deeds. I envy everyone that sees you. You’re my Moscow, my Rome and my little David. I know you by heart and still you are always new and I can always hear you, my joy. Ah! Nadenka!

I’ll show the handsome rooster that crows three hundred times between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. And the little Pushok that runs around all over the place. And the pussywillows are green.