Saturday, March 22, 2008

Annie Liebowitz, Ron Padgett, Billy Collins and Me

Ron Padgett loved and revered his friend, the late poet Joe Brainard. Of him Ron wrote:

"I Remember Lost Things

I remember getting letters addressed to me with my name and street address, followed on the next line by the word City. Which meant the same city in which they had been mailed. Could life have been that simple?

I remember the first time I heard Joe read from his I Remember. The shock of pleasure was quickly replaced by envy and the question, Why didn’t I think of that? Aesthetic pleasure comes in many forms and degrees, but envy comes only when you wholeheartedly admire someone else’s new work. Envying the talent of a person you love is particularly beautiful and invigorating. And you don’t even have to answer the question."

I was reminded of the above morsel by Ron Padgett this morning when I opened The Writer's Almanac and read this poem by Billy Collins.

Fishing On The Susquehanna In July

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.
Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure — if it is a pleasure —
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one —
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table —
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana

sitting in a small green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

"Fishing On The Susquehanna In July" by Billy Collins, from Picnic, Lightning. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.

Reading Billy Collin's reminds me of the work of Annie Liebowitz. Chris and I went to see her retrospective at the Corcoran last year. It was the last day of the exhibit and the gallery was crowded, hordes of us, shoulder to shoulder, each experiencing her photos in our own way - feeling, among other things, recognition, pain, joy, memories, love, loss, and, in my case, envy - Ron Padgett kind of "Why didn't I think of that?" envy.

Although I don't know Ron Padgett, or Billy Collins or Annie Liebowitz, I envy their talent as I would that of a loved one. Their work reminds me of the work of others who are brilliant at what they do - the athlete that makes it look easy; the oboist whose melody takes your breath away; the mother who holds the infant and knows just what to do.

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