For a Reading on April 12, 2005 at The Drawing Center in NYC in conjunction with the show called 3Xabstraction which consisted of drawing and Paintings by Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz.
This piece is about 2 printed pages long.
Two weeks ago I came to the Drawing Center to see 3 x Abstraction, because I knew I would be reading poems in conjunction with the show and wondered what work of mine would fit. Agnes Martin’s drawings and paintings gathered here, particularly ones from the 1960s and 70s, with their delicately controlled graphite, ink, or pencil lines drawn across thin washes of color, often with titles that serve as landscape references, have been an inspiration for all my writing life, so I looked forward to seeing them together again. I was not prepared for the deep aesthetic revelation I can only call mystical, of viewing her work, with its echoes of Taoism and American Transcendental thought, in relation to the non-objective geometric drawings and watercolors of Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz with their links to early twentieth century mathematic, scientific, and linguistic theories via spiritualism, automatic drawing, telepathy and Theosophy. 164 years ago, in his essay “The Poet” Emerson wrote: “All form is an effect of character. . . . The beautiful rests on the foundations of the necessary. . . . Here we find ourselves, suddenly, not in a critical speculation, but in a holy place, and should go very warily and reverently. We stand before the secret of the world, there where Being passes into Appearance, and Unity into Variety.” On the afternoon of March 29, 2005, viewing these abstract drawings, watercolors, oil paintings, and notebooks, so sensitively co-curated by Catherine de Zegher and Hendel Teicher, and so perfectly right for this particular architectual space, it is no exaggeration to say that I experienced Emerson’s “perception of the instant dependence of form upon soul.”
On Wednesday morning, March 30, my long-time friend, teaching colleague, and fellow poet, Robert Creeley died at sunrise in the small desert city of Odessa, Texas.
The poet Robert Duncan, whose sense of the world Creeley looked to and shared, would have seen the deep symbiosis of these two events. “Poems,” Creeley once said, “are a complex, and exist by virtue of many things.” A poem—that place Duncan calls a “meadow,” occurs in a precinct of relations, recognitions, parallels, mirrors, doublings. The creative imagination, local and universal in its singularity and range, is the “eternal pasture folded in all thought” a poet wanders from, and is permitted to return to. Creeley emphasized the passive verb form. The creative imagination, while constantly maintaining the specific, thinks itself through pencilled grids, points, abstract geometric lines, color field washes Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint, and Emma Kunz are variously given to use. The creative imagination thinks itself through the continuous difficulty of ‘the one and the many’ with discipline and delight. Agnes Martin: “When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then this grid came into my mind and I thought of represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it, and then I was satisfied. I thought this is my vision.” When she tells us: “People think that painting is about color. It’s mostly composition. It’s composition that’s the whole thing.” When Robert Creeley marvels at William Carlos Williams’ revelation in his preface to The Wedge that “It isn’t what [a poet] says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity.” They are reaching across fields of experience towards Emerson’s “secret of the world.”
In 1953 Robert Creeley first saw the work of Jackson Pollock in Paris. “I was attracted,” he later wrote, “to the fact that this painting was not verbal, that it’s a whole way of apprehending or stating the so-called world without using words as an initiation. However one feels about it is either prior to words or contingent with words. It’s a way of stating what one feels without describing it.” In 1973 Agnes Martin put it this way: “I do not paint scientific discoveries or philosophies. Art is not ethical, moral, or even rational and not automatic. I paint aesthetic analogies belonging and sharing with everything. I paint to make friends and I hope I will have as many as Mozart.”
Richard Tuttle says of Martin “I remember asking myself what the difference was between graph paper and Agnes’ grids —I decided it had to do with the difference between the loved line and the unloved line. Agnes’ line is extremely sensitive to the actual event of making the line.” I can’t think of another contemporary poet whose acute sensitivity to the actual event of making (and in poetry making includes breaking) each written line, is as fine-tuned as Creeley’s.
Agnes Martin and Robert Creeley show us through their working practice that obsession is the experimental imperative. Certain ideas are in the air—flashes of awareness. She said in “Reflections;” “A work of art is successful when there is a hint of perfection present—at the slightest hint… the work is alive.” “Simplicity,” she also pointed out, “is never simple. It’s the hardest thing to achieve.” I’ll give Creeley the last word or words in the poem he titled