Friday, February 23, 2007

Drawings: Strand, Kazin, Weheliye

Since I haven't really had any time for entries of late, I thought I'd post a few drawings. The first two originally appeared on my old NYU website (which disappeared back in 2001).

The other day, at lunch with visiting poet-in-residence Heather McHugh and my colleague Brian Bouldrey, we were talking about the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (as the earliest readers of this blog know, he was the second or third poet I mentioned, after Jay Wright). The discussion of Rilke jogged my memory about Mark Strand, and more specifically led me to tell about how, some years ago (1994 to be exact), I heard Strand read from his work down at U.Va. I'd been reading Sleeping with One Eye Open, Reasons for Moving, and Darker, which was my favorite poetry book for about a hot month, partially because of its style, which seemed so mysterious and fresh at the time (and these books were his three earliest, from the late 1960s and early 1970s, and thus superannuated by the time I'd come across them), and because he'd spent time in Brazil and was translating one of that country's major poets, the late João Cabral do Melo Neto, a poet of soil and stones if there ever was one.

Strand was at U.Va. that spring I believe as one of their distinguished Rea Lecturers, and he'd published his collection Dark Harbor and won the Bollingen Prize the year before, so his visit was a big deal. In his comments to one of the students, he dismissed Rilke by noting that great poet's emotional immaturity, and pointing out that mainly adolescents were likely to get worked about Rilke, or something to that effect; I don't believe I protested vocally, though the peremptory tone soured me a bit on him as did his first comment upon seeing my drawing, which was that I'd drawn the shoulders too narrow (though he was right, they are). Nevertheless, he did sign the drawing with an arrow. He also actually uttered the comment I penned in below the image, though not merely to me, but to everyone present. It was pretty funny.

"I am developing a cold while I stand here. I might die." Charlottesville, though a wonderful town in many ways, can have that effect on some.

To the right, I see now, I was taking notes on Black visual artists of the 1960s and 1970s, as part of my "investigations." One I noted was Paul Keene, of Philadelphia. We unfortunately have never met. (And then there's a recipe just below that, for South African curried chicken....)

I didn't remember drawing this picture of Alfred Kazin, who I do recall, however, giving a reading down at the University of Virginia. He was reading from Writing Was Everything, which had only just appeared. I'd heard much mention of Kazin's greatness in several of my undergraduate American literature classes (in my freshman year I conned my way into a course on Modernism taught by Joel Porte, and the shock of the new--as well as the burden of the reading and paperwriting--was all mine) as well as in essays on the mid-20th century flowering of the (in)famous New York intellectuals, so I was determined to hear him read. At some point I began sketching, and thus the drawing. It wasn't the most interesting lecture I heard during my time down there (there were many, but two come immediately to mind; one by Charles Bernstein, and I'll post the image tomorrow, the other by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, whom I did not draw, as I sat there both spellbound and confused, trying hard to follow the train of her argument--"the subalternity of the subaltern," a concept I'm now quite familiar with), but Kazin did give me a little blast of New York City long passed and past, leading me to read a few chapters of his book, as well as his earlier Walker in the City.

This is one of the most recent drawings I've done (2007); it's of my colleague Alex Weheliye, who, as I noted a few posts ago, read a few weeks ago at the university from his book Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke UP, 2005), through the Center for Writing Arts, which another colleague, the amazing Reg Gibbons, administers these days. Alex is ferociously brilliant, and his book has interesting insights in pretty much every sentence, so as with my sketches of Duriel Harris, Ronaldo Wilson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and a few other people thinking on a higher plane, I both took notes--which start below the line barely visible at the bottom of the drawing--and allowed some of Alex's words to hover around him. I don't think I could find a black pen that afternoon, so I went with blue, but it turned out okay. And the shoulders aren't too narrow....

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