March, and, dear readers, I want to take a moment to reply to those fairly many of you who wrote to express their admiration for last issue’s cover art, Peter Uka’s “Quiet Listening” and ask where I discovered it. First, a hearty thank you; obviously, I share that sentiment. And second, my answer, as with most things Plume-related, is simple: luck. For while I am fortunate to have a group of friends adept in the visual arts in one form or another, I have – as must be obvious — no formal or even informal training whatsoever in any of them, only my certificate of enrollment in the know-it-when-I-see-it school, Department of Continuing Education. Which is to say, each month as our deadline approaches, I scroll through an embarrassing number of online sources devoted to photography, painting, and sculpture until I tumble on an image that I like –although in a thousand years I couldn’t explain exactly why. Well not exactly, exactly. For example, this month’s photograph, David Crombie’s “Murmuration”, which popped up as I was reading the Irish Times. My first reaction, perhaps yours, too, was “beautiful”; “uncanny” also came to mind. Yet there was something else, frustratingly elusive — or allusive, but to what?.
Consider these few sentences from the accompanying article:
Crombie made, he thinks, about 50 trips to Lough Ennell in the past few months. “I’m usually a sports photographer, so for a while [due to the pandemic] I’ve had a bit of time to think about other things. I had an image in my head,” he explains. “I could see they were making shapes. I kept going back, to get the image I had in my head.”
Ah — poetry, yes? Indeed, all the arts: inspiration, followed (and preceded) by hard, necessary work: persistence, patience, long years spent in refining one’s craft. To be prepared for a vision. Which, let’s face it, still only rarely comes. But when it does, whether in, say, the saturated ominousness of Eggleston’s red ceiling, or Merwin’s Your absence has gone through me/Like thread though a needle — or in this fleeting coalescence of starlings become the thing-itself — when it does, pure joy, the surrealists’ “marvelous” that once apprehended remains framed forever in the mind.
Anyway, such were few of my thoughts, on choosing Combie’s work. More than you wanted to know, probably, and disappointing. (Also, familiar: i.e, the mystic, the instructor of Creative Writing.) Yet there it is — luck. But luck entirely my own, in discovering the image, assuredly not Crombie’s in producing it.
Now, then. speaking of my musings on selecting Crombie’s photograph as this month’s cover art, it is here, as subscribers to this newsletter will recognize, that I usually turn things over to Joseph Campana, and one of his essays on a poem that has caught his wide-ranging attention. Alas, Joe has taken a short rest this month; he’s a very busy man. Instead, I offer this excerpt from Karl Ove Knaursgaarde from a long-ago newsletter, which addresses so much more satisfactorily the same, or nearly the same, subject.
from Book 1, Karl Ove Knaursgaarde, My Struggle
“It was a book about Constable I had just bought. Mostly oil sketches, studies of clouds, countryside, sea.
I didn’t need to do any more than let my eyes skim over them before I was moved to tears. So great was the impression some of the pictures made on me. Others left me cold. That was my only parameter of art, the feelings it aroused. The feeling of inexhaustibility. The feeling of beauty. The feeling of presence. All compressed into such acute moments that sometimes they would be difficult to endure. And quite inexplicable. For if I studied the picture that made the greatest impression, an oil sketch of a cloud formation from September 6, 1922, there was nothing there that could explain the strength of my feelings. At the top, a patch of blue sky. Beneath, whitish mist. Then the rolling clouds, white where the sunlight struck them, pale green in the least shadowy parts, deep green and almost black where they were at their densest and the sun was farthest away. Blue, white, turquoise, greenish-black. That was all.
…I wandered around the Nationalgalleri in Stockholm or the the Nasjongalleri in Oslo, the National Gallery in London… I was always unsettled when I left them because what they [the paintings I saw] possessed, the core of their being, was [as I say] inexhaustibility and what they wrought in me was a kind of desire. I can’t explain it any better than that. A desire to be inside the inexhaustibility. That is how I felt this night as well. I sat leafing through the Constable book for almost an hour. I kept flicking back to the picture of the greenish clouds, every time it called forth the same emotions in me. It was as if two forms of reflection rose and fell in my consciousness, one with its thoughts and reasoning, the other with its feelings and impressions, which, even though they were juxtaposed, excluded each other’s insights. It was a fantastic picture, it filled me with all the fantastic feelings that fantastic pictures do, but when I had to explain why, what constituted the “fantastic,” I was at a loss to do so. The picture made my insides tremble, but for what? The picture filled me with longing, but for what?
…on the commuter train between Stockholm and Gnesta a few months earlier…the scene outside the window was a sea of white, the sky was gray and damp, we were going through an industrial area, empty railway cars, gas tanks, factories, everything was white and gray, and the sun was setting in the west, the red rays fading into the mist…and the pleasure that suffused me was so sharp and came with such intensity that it was indistinguishable from pain. What I experienced seemed to me to be of enormous significance. Enormous significance.
I recognized the feeling. It is akin to what some [other] works of art evoked in me: Rembrandt’s portrait of himself as an old man, Turner’s picture of the sunset over the sea off a port of antiquity, Caravaggio’s picture of Christ in Gethsemane. Vermeer the same, a few of Claude’s paintings, some of Ruisdael’s and the other Dutch landscape painters. I didn’t know what it was about these pictures that made such a great impression on me…there was a certain objectivity to them, by which I mean a distance between reality and the portrayal of reality, and it was doubtless in this interlying place that it “happened,” where it appeared, whatever I saw, when the world seemed to step forward from the world. When you didn’t just see the incomprehensible in it but came very close to it. Something that didn’t speak, and that no words could grasp, consequently forever out of our reach, yet within it, for not only did it surround us. we ourselves were part of it, we were ourselves of it.” [italics mine]
Anything else? Ah, yes. Plume Poetry 10. We are now looking at a late July release. A few more names you’ll find in # 10, as I still – still — hope to entice you: Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Gerry LaFemina, Garrett Hongo, Lynn Emanuel, Deborah Bogen, Michael Waters, Yona Harvey, Flávia Rocha, Tom Sleigh, Nin Andrews…
Finally, as usual, some recently published/forthcoming books from Plume contributors:
Our cover art is this month is, as noted, James Crombie’s “Murmuration” For more information on the artist, a good start might be made, also as observed, at the Irish Times, which includes a brief video of the event.