Starting Out Late

I was talking to my friend A. at dinner last night about getting older as an artist & about the way age & reputation interact in the culture of the arts. A. is a sculptor. We started out by agreeing that in the current artistic culture, one has to "make it" at a fairly young age -- before forty -- tha have a chance for wide critical acclaim. As a contrast to the current state of affairs, I was telling her about what the painter Joan Snyder said on the radio a couple of days ago about artists getting too much attention at too young an age. Snyder has just won a MacArthur grant in her sixties, though she began to make her reputation while still fairly young. Apparently, after getting a lot of notice early, Snyder retreated to upstate New York to work in at least a partial isolation, separated from the requirements of the big-money art world. (Of course, I noted, there is no big-money poetry world, so poets don't have exactly the same problem!) Snyder said in her interview that it isn't good for young artists to get too much attention because of the pressure it puts them under; listening to her, though, it occurred to me that the biggest problem would be avoiding locking oneself into a popular or successful style for life. (Again, less a problem for poets -- at least in the sense of making art for a paying audience, since there is no paying audience.) Poets get so little recognition that this isn't quite the same for us, I said, mentioning Josh Corey's comments on the post-mainstream in American poetry -- poetry is so invisible in American culture that the making of virtually any poem is "a counter-cultural act." I find Corey's formulation comforting for personal reasons, but the notion of the poet as someone who, in American culture at least, inevitably works the margins, has undergirded & motivated my writing for going on thirty years. And my teaching, too. Still, at 57, I remain ambitious. And perhaps even envious of those who have made reputations. The artist I care about, though, especially the old ones, when you look at their lives, paid attention to their work first -- or put their ambition & envy into the work to drive it forward. Reading Peter Gay's massive Modernism last night, I was depressed to be reminded that Cezanne was virtually unknown when he died, though the year after his death he became famous. The desperate intensity of the work speaks for itself -- as it does in Van Gogh, another artist who came posthumously to recognition. Anyway, in light of Josh Corey's notion of the post-mainstream, what would even constitute recognition for a poet? The laureateship is the mainstream's form of recognition, but it would has been a kind of death to many poets, it seems to me. Talk about posthumous!

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

1 thought on “Starting Out Late”


    misinformation? i hear it as “mixedinformation”. justine jones fixel’s “sand tray”
    therapy, its development & interpretation of its use lead back to work of incorporations, assemblings, environments with miniature figures, furniture, the natural world &

    symbols, including jungian themes, household objects combined into a mixture or conglomerated arranged autobiography & family history. only so much drifts up and comes to me; maybe tomorrow, i tell my mind, which tires and yields no more today. each time something new/ old to be added—to be added & maybe subtracted, perhaps:

    accretion and attrition. i am revisioning here, looping backward on some primitive or primal vision quest, the kind that become formalized and discussed in cultural studies classes, the phenomenological journey that i will describe here/ now as JOURNEY FOR A WITNESS the name of the never published novel lawrence fixel wrote in those rome years 1960-63 that i first read in manuscript in 1971. is it a journey for a witness in a shifting landscape. this is/can be good or/& bad if it is thought of as ‘dissembling’—something justine fixel abhorred: a consciously altering what happened. depending on your point or viewing. it can be what propaganda means to us in the worst sense of public

    lying: a manipulation of truth, not just facts finally but essentially truth. so there is the disassembly or dis-assembling (‘dis’ is the lower, underworld, of disharmony, discord, associated with pluto, its god, hades), but it is also a rereading a re-visioning, a re-framing, new orchestration of old information: information, re-view, re-seen, re interpreted, an imagining the event the speech or/and physical happening from other angles, from other interlocutors’ other witnesses’. and in this journey it is the nature of witnessing and the recall of the witness, of the witnessing. here i part from ludwig wittgenstein, who said you shouldn’t speak what can’t be clearly expressed: my

    way is to experience what unfolds and to look at all of it as evidence. so my writing is a swiveling journey of weaving assessment/ reassessment. thus i don’t retreat from nor remove the record of my experience (no such soviet ‘erasures’)/ memory however faulty.
    tomorrow is another re-calling and inch by inch like a snail leaving my trail the dried

    goo of it may later appear in a moondream of my youth as a kind of diamond dust just as
    the glittery broken glass & trash did in that grungy alley behind darthmouth street in boston’s southend in 1960 when i went from denton, texas for more graduate study there. i tell what i remember & as process correct/ re-correct as each time reconnects, rebraids.
    i could call this memory/ meditation ‘bumps & dimples’ the way it recedes & comes forward in the convex & concave—hills& dales, lakes& streams, wells & springs of

    incidence & coincidence—co-inside/co-outside: the stigmata of mortality that some might consider history yet is but some scattered remains & this a civil testament of it.

    Edward Mycue 28 August 2007

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