Oct. 25, 2005

A Small Psalm

by Catherine Wing

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Poem: "A Small Psalm" by Catherine Wing, from Enter Invisible. © Sarabande Books, Louisville, Kentucky. Reprinted with permission.

A Small Psalm

Sorrow be gone, be a goner, be forsooth un-sooth, make like a
suit and beat it, vamoose from the heavy heavy, be out from
under the night's crawlspace, call not for another stone, more
weight more weight, be extinguished, extinguish, the dark,
that which is deep and hollow, that which presses from all
sides, that which squeezes your heart into an artichoke-heart
jar and forbids it breathe, that which is measured by an
unbalanced scale, banish the broken, the unfixable, the
shattered, the cried-over, the cursed, the cursers, the curses—
curse them, the stone from the stone fruit, let it be fruit, the
pit from the pitted, the pock from the pocked, the rot from the
rotten, tarry not at the door, jam not the door's jamb, don't
look back, throw nothing over your shoulder, not a word, not
a word's edge, vowel, consonant, but run out, run out like the
end of a cold wind, end of season, and in me be replaced
with a breath of light, a jack-o'-lantern, a flood lamp or fuse
box, a simple match or I would even take a turn signal, traffic
light, if it would beat beat and flash flood like the moon at
high tide, let it, let it, let it flare like the firefly, let it spark and
flash, kindle and smoke, let it twilight and sunlight, and
sunlight and moonlight, and when it is done with its lighting
let it fly, will'-o-the-wisp, to heaven.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet John Berryman, born John Smith in Oklahoma (1914). He had published a few unnoticed collections of poetry when, one summer, he began an affair with a graduate student and fell helplessly in love with her. The first night they kissed, he wrote a sonnet about her, and he began writing sonnets obsessively, one after another, and he wrote more freely than he ever had before, expressing his thoughts and emotions in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, full of jokes and slang and plays on words.

He didn't publish the sonnets until twenty years later, as Berryman's Sonnets (1967), but they were a breakthrough for him, and the first major poem he wrote after those sonnets was Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1948), his first big success.

Berryman's masterpiece was The Dream Songs, which he began writing after he started keeping a dream journal. He considered the book a kind of surreal autobiography or diary, and he referred to himself as Henry. He published The Dream Songs in two volumes: 77 Dream Songs (1964) and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (1968). He wrote, "These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand. They are only meant to terrify and comfort."

Berryman said, "The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business."

It's the birthday of the artist Pablo Picasso, born in Malaga, Spain (1881). He was a kind of artistic chameleon. Whenever he admired another artist's work, he would imitate it, master it, and turn it into something new. Some critics called him a mere imitator, with no real style of his own. But Picasso said, "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." He also said, "When there's anything to steal, I steal."

He had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and usually spent the afternoon conversing with friends. It was at night that he did most of his work, usually in the dark, except for two spotlights shining directly on his canvas. He didn't use a palate—he just had the cans of paint sitting on the floor, and he would dip the brushes right in and then wipe the excess off on newspapers. He stood up while he painted, often for three or four hours at a time. Then once in awhile he'd take an hour off to go sit on the other end of the room in a wicker armchair and stare at his painting, analyzing his work.

Picasso became the most famous artist in the world. No artist before him had such a large mass audience in his own lifetime. And no other artist has ever dominated so many different fields. Picasso painted, drew, sculpted, worked with pottery, sheet metal printmaking, and collage. Though he's considered the father of modern art, he never once painted an abstract picture. All his works are representations of things that existed in the world.

It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Tyler, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1941). She's the author of many novels, including Searching for Caleb (1974), The Accidental Tourist (1985), and Breathing Lessons (1988), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Her parents were interested in living the simple life, so she grew up in a series of utopian Quaker communes, where she was home schooled and isolated from the modern world. She spent so much time walking around without shoes on that she could light a match on the sole of her bare foot. She first attended public school at the age of 11, and her classmates were amazed that she'd never used a phone. She said, "My upbringing made me view the normal world with a certain amount of distance...to this day I am surprised by the taste of Coca-Cola."

She has gone on to write many novels about characters who find the modern world strange and alien. She's best known for her novel The Accidental Tourist, about a man named Macon Leary who makes a living writing travel guides for people who dislike traveling and who withdraws almost completely from the world after the murder of his 12 year old son, until he meets a dog trainer named Muriel Pritchett.

Anne Tyler gave a few interviews in her early career, but after that she decided she didn't want to be a public person. She never goes on book tours or speaks on talk shows, and if she answers any questions from journalists, she only does so in writing.

Her novel Back When We Were Grownups begins, "Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. She was fifty-three years old by then—a grandmother. Wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part. Laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. A loose and colorful style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady. Give her credit. Most people her age would say it was too late to make any changes."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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