Nail Chiodo

Lucus Feroniae II


I am greatly indebted to both of those men
for the helping hands they extended to me
at critical moments in my writing career
which, not least thanks to them,
has not been untrue to my initial intent.

To become a writer had not been my original bent,
the physically more tangible realm of the visual arts
having captured my fancy since the time
when, as a six-year-old boy, I
had had the good luck to take part
in a game for kids at the St. Louis Art Museum.
Displaying art works won’t make children see them:
one must find ways to open their eyes
to what lies right before them by steering
their minds toward the objects, without interfering
with reactions, spoiling the surprise.
The game in question accomplished the task
by allowing the cubs to walk (not run!) as fast
as they could through countless vast halls
and rooms of the great Beaux-Arts palace
with postcards of paintings handed out at the entrance,
to locate the originals hung on the walls.
While all caught up in the race to finish first,
how intimate one became with some of those works!

By age ten, I could recognise at a glance
the styles of dozens of artists past and present,
and had even begun my personal descent
into Plagiarists’ Hell—as a maturing artist can—
by stealing from a peer an idea I deemed peerless.
I give it back now—that perfectly seamless,
ideal monster at once frightful and friendly—
to its creator wherever he may be,
whatever may have become of him, finally,
after a span of almost half a century,
in this form to be felt rather than seen:
may it help cover my debt and his credit redeem.

No doubt, it is because the bases of one’s aesthetics
are set by forms one learns to love when one is young
that later discoveries most often fail to come
anywhere near to moving one to the same extent.
An artist needs also not to become too influenced
by others in order to preserve, in what she or he has been through,
some measure of originality. Hence the importance,
especially for my own and subsequent generations
of artists who have grown up in times when information
is superabundant, of a healthy dose of ignorance
about the world around them, though what that might be
should be established before everyone OD’s.

Let us say, therefore, that it was ignorance of the merits
of the Contemporary Art of the day—Pop, Op, Over-the-top,
we’re talking late sixties by the Midwestern clock—
and not any stance that could fuel a polemic
(De gustibus non disputandum est)
that caused me to put brushes and easel to rest.
At the time, I was still far from imagining myself
becoming a writer of anything other than film scripts,
to write which one can be almost illiterate;
I began to suspect I may have needed help
with basic spelling grammar and syntax
only two decades later, after a relaxed
silence on the part of readers had greeted
my first manuscript: ten pages worked at
in private for almost as many years, that
represented the kernel of my highest-seeded
poetico-philosophic contentions.
It was like “He’s got good intentions!”?

Fortunately, Michael, who is as fine a fabbro
as they come, the best master craftsman
a novice could hope to have his first drafts
put to the anvil by, proved a real bro,
in no time hammered the doggerel into verse.
Aldo wrote comments to it and later work
which showed that he, at least, understood
what I was up to—by far and above
the most redemptive act of kindness and love
I shall ever have need of, knock on wood.
Thanks not least to these two faithful friends,
I have been able to pursue my attempt
to provide a poetico-philosophical framework
within which the lone voices of scattered effectives
in the standing army of singing detectives
may again harmonise as when their mothers gave birth.

I am joking, of course, though only in part.
Interaction between the practitioners of poetic art
and philosophers, between the makers
of those uniquely significant linguistic objects
known as poems and the lovers of knowledge,
has produced many offerings but few takers.
Aldo says what I have done is lay a trap
readers step into unawares: think it’s crap
and you’ll find it caked on your shoes.
Although it has never been my aim to ensnare
anyone in anything less tender than loving care,
he is right to warn them that their usual ruse
might pull off its own mask in a moment
if comfortable doubts turn into opponents.

To add prosodic constraints to the rhythm of prose,
as I have been doing, increases the pressure
in the combustion chamber of creative expression
to such a degree that only propositions in the throes
of both logical and empirical truth are free
to escape, in a form that fuses poetry
and philosophy into a homogeneous plasm.
The structure is “self-extending,” as Rorty would say,
could comprise a whole singing school someday
whose songs sound across once-inviolable chasms.

You will sustain that only the most unbridled fantasy
would confuse such a conceit with reality;
yet the discourse seems endowed with a “tracking device”
that enables it to zero in on its target object,
to directly address people and tackle subjects
in much the same way a harangue might,
all the while maintaining a lofty perspective
which keeps it from falling into vulgar invective.
In this sense it appears exquisitely suited
for touching upon the touchiest topics
ever so lightly, as birds alight upon the tree tops,
and being consigned to paper in ambassadorial red.