Cut’n’paste

Sunday October 10, 2004

A long, quiet day. We have kept in touch by phone, mostly using text messages, and we finished with another late night exchange, Graham with his head under the covers to avoid disturbing his mother in the next room and me wandering round and round the house. It’s not an easy time.

I have been touched by the many messages and comments sent to us from all over the world, and Graham was a little cheered when I told him of them. Thanks from both of us.

And, other than that, we’re keeping on keeping on. We’d both of us so much rather be together but we have our separate tasks to perform for the present. Mine is a minor burden compared to Graham’s. In normal circumstances we share our problems and pains. Just now that’s not possible.

So, between long periods of sitting silent, gazing out of the window, I’ve gone back to thinking through my painting vs. poetry question. Not that it’s a competition, nor that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Some people can carry both in their lives without conflict; some are fortunate enough to have multiple outlets, each supporting and feeding the other. Me, I’m too obsessive for that. I shall return to poetry—it is a thing that I can do. I’ve learned from Thoreau’s basket-maker, though, and I do not expect payment for my labours.

In the course of my thinking I’ve looked for support in the places I’m accustomed to find it. To books of poetry, and on poetry. The most supportive thing I’ve found is a poem I last read in May 2001, a few months before the world changed, history swerved in its track, and I, like so many people, lost my way. Reading Frank O’Hara’s poem once more, I don’t think I shall need to come back to the question again:

 

Why I am not a painter
 
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
 
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
 
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
 
Frank O’Hara (1926-1966)

 

I opened my note-book at a clean page and started putting down words about things that seem important to me now. It felt strange after such a long break but the words are still there. All I need do is find the tube of glue I mislaid when I lost my way and learn how to paste them together once more.

 

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