For my last semester in college, in an effort to be practical, I signed up for a graduate humanities course called “How to Live.” On the first day, the professor discussed the syllabus at length, then asked us to introduce ourselves. The air had drained from the room, and as I waited for my turn I could already tell there was a problem.
The artists I know are perfectionists, heartlessly so, because that is required. They will paint right over a failed canvas; they will rip out every stitch and start anew. The artist comes to her material with an mix of control and surrender, and her success seems to rely on her ability to grasp a material’s specific demands, while reconciling those with her own vision. There is something there, in the material, that works against you—which requires rigor, but might bring relief.
“Our American culture has no poetry written into its origin. We inherited our poetry—mostly hymns and heroic couplets—from England, and we’ve tended, since the onset of the Industrial Age, to regard the medium itself as superfluous or frivolous, if not dangerous.”
A few years ago, a woman in Spain attempted to restore a nineteenth-century church fresco, but in doing so ruined it completely. The result is less Savior than surreal simian, the delicate portrait painted over with a crude, monstrous “face.” Since the election it has been hard to shake the feeling that reality has been made worse, unrecognizable, in precisely this way.
“I’m not sure that Burn Lyrics is, strictly speaking, ‘in conversation with’ either Carson or Sappho. The model I have in mind is more like concomitant dimensions. I hope that a reader might experience a frisson of recognition, an emotional yet perhaps unplaceable feeling, when those dimensions overlap or communicate with one another.”