I think the internet is over. At least creatively. Or maybe I mean Twitter and Instagram. Nothing interesting or beautiful happens there anymore. It’s the same screaming about the thing du jour. Sometime around last spring I left and dreaded coming back. But I did because at dinner one night someone reminded me, “well, you have a book coming out.” There was this pressure to “engage” or “explain.” As I was telling this to a good friend in LA who’s also a writer, I realized how ridiculous it sounded.
I don’t think the artist owes anyone any kind of engagement or explanation. I think the artist should be a paradox, if they feel up to it. They should contradict themselves as much as possible. They should be interested in their own imagination. They should feel free to fuck up, to be strange—all of the things the internet doesn’t allow in 2021, and more or less punishes. So I guess I came here, on the internet, to say: maybe we should all leave. Maybe we all deserve a kind of creative mental freedom no matter if we make art or not.
My favorite poet is Robert Lax. We share the same birthday (November 30). After he graduated from Columbia he worked at The New Yorker then became the poetry editor of Time magazine. Do you know that Ginsberg line from his poem “America”—“are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?” Lax left everything and moved to Patmos in Greece. One of the more unreachable Greek islands and also where Jesus appeared to John the Apostle, who wrote about it in the Book of Revelations. Christians make pilgrimages there but other than that it’s a quiet island. And Lax didn’t leave everything exactly. He brought his poems. He wanted to put himself “in a place where grace can flow.” A place where the only news is the imagination.
I think about that place all the time. I think about Lax’s poems when I’m meditating in my small studio, between my desk and my coffee table (because there’s literally no space to be anyone or do anything in New York, which is also why people are so good at both here, constraints being the only real freedom).
One of the things I wish for poetry is that it’s somehow useful. Like a lemon or a hair brush. Like a glass of water in the middle of the day. And to me, Lax’s poems feel useful. They offer me something that’s hard to find. A companion as close as my own breath & one who is invisible, like wind. Being inside a Lax poem is like being in a cemetery, which is a place where judgment can’t live. Like coming out of a lake and being a little stunned to sit or drink or walk on the Earth. That sort of woken up feeling you get and lose quickly. That feeling of having something quieted in you. I love that. Walking away from a party, hearing less and less voices, until suddenly, somehow, you’re under a tree in the middle of the night.
Some of the things you’ll immediately notice about Lax’s poems it that he is interested in repetition. He uses a small vocabulary pool. He is aesthetically engaged with how language looks on the page, as well as what it means. He also prefers the column to the line as a guiding principle, which is rare for a poet. His poems have a feeling of being open. Of allowing the mind to rest while not diminishing the world.
I think if there are people a hundred years from now, they’ll still feel great attachment to the words Lax uses.
sky space earth stone light dark day night
More than that, they’ll feel the cadence, the movement of those words, like weather, tilting their lives in invisible ways.
I thought very hard about titling my second book Days and Nights after Lax’s book Nights and Days. I love his titles.
Sea & Sky
A Thing That Is
If I had to recommend a place to start it would be poems (1962-1997) from Wave Books. And what if we all got off the internet and read that book every year on November 30? Or maybe sooner. Next weekend, Sunday, March 20, so you have enough time to get it. We can turn off everything and look at the poems. And I do mean look at, as well as read. They are so aesthetically beautiful. Complete objects. I can’t recommend them enough.
AD | NYC