Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Burns High



I just hung an etching on my wall—a little one by Nancy Dahlstrom, “One Burns High.” It’s a darkish print with trees barely visible in the background, and in the center is a burning stand of pampas grass.  Last summer I was at Nancy’s home studio and had a hard time picking out a piece; I chose this one at the time because it seemed both simple and to possess a kind of mythic power.

So long as Western culture endures, a burning bush alone in a wilderness will always have built-in power.  It will speak to us.

But I also think that I had some kind of sympathy with those burning grasses.  To burn, all alone, even if no one ever notices (i. e. even if only three people buy my book) is beautiful.  Even though I am gregarious and have a great love for people, I do not wish to “fit in.”  What I go on wanting is to do work that matters.  To stand for something worthy:  to become worthy.

I work alone and do my best speaking in silence and when I burn.




17 comments:

  1. It's nice how it lights up everything around it. That makes me think of you.

    And the picture itself and your having it (and why) and your hanging it makes me think how sad mass production can be when it tries to make a house home. A bare home with just this picture would be more full than a Pottery Barn masterpiece.

    I love that piece. Beautiful.

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  2. I took some other pictures of it, but for some reason they evaporated from "my pictures." Computers always think of some new way to mess up my world!

    Robin,

    That is a very sweet remark. Thanks. For some reason I seem to have a lot of painters in my life... And I have a lot of pictures. I love living with paintings. And I think it's a real test of a picture, whether you can live with it on and on and still see it.

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  3. Lovely piece and lovely thoughts on the 'burning' and making work that matters regardless of 'fitting in' (though I doubt that is a problem for you). You win my heart knowing that you have original art in your home, as so few seem to have.

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  4. marja-leena,

    I am afraid that I have quite a lot of art of all kinds! But I am on hiatus at the moment with two children in college at once. I have pieces by friends and strangers and pieces by artists who did jackets for my books (I've been lucky enough to have artists give me the jacket image several times) and even some pieces by my uncle who had talent but never had training (and so his paintings are odd, definitely, but have charm.)

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  5. Perhaps it would make a good cover for one of your books. I know what you mean by living with a piece of art. I have some I love. I wouldn't be home if they were not hanging on my walls.

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  6. Robbi,

    It would make an interesting jacket, no doubt!

    I am not a punster, usually, but: Home is where the art is.

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  7. I like that print. A blazing firework in the dark. Dead pampas does burn wonderfully, and we burn our own untidy clumps sometime, to clear the old dead leaves and to promote new growth the next season.

    Books I guess are like paintings. You never know when they will find the people who will love them. Except of course with books you need to find many who love, whereas a painting requires only one purchaser.

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  8. wow, what a beautiful post MArly, in all respects.

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  9. Clive,

    Many people still like the idea of paintings. Many people still like the idea of books. Few people like the idea of poetry books!

    But that's okay. I don't like the idea of reading an electronics manual or a psychology text.

    I would like to see your garden with the pampas grass burning!

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  10. I am delighted by so many things here, including the possibility of a conflagration of pampas grass. We have none of this, but do have some other grassy monsters which might benefit from such treatments...

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  11. Evidently that is the way to treat those thick-packed grasses... You could burn them after a festive dinner party in lieu of fireworks.

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  12. I have video of us burning ours! It was wild

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  13. I too enjoy this work.

    Art has always had a place in my home. Even as a child I would post images of people's art up and enjoy those.
    These days, art moves around the house (in and out and back in again) at an alarming rate, but I like that it changes with the season and our moods here.
    We have too much. We have 'Winter art' and 'Summer art' and switch things around seasonally.

    Creating art is something one does for oneself (whether writing, painting, music making or... anything!) If one communicates to oneself well enough to give oneself pleasure - then it is time to share that with others.
    Those who create art with the express desire to please others practice a very resectable craft.
    But I believe that is craftsmanship, more than art.

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  14. It is a good job that I am not a writer.
    (Good grief!)

    And how!

    Get a load of those spelling mistakes and typos!

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  15. Paul,

    By one definition, a writer is a person writing... Watch out!

    Artwork become invisible very easily in a house. It's good to move pictures around because they suddenly become visible again. Also, I have artwork over mantlepieces but take it down in the winter because of smoke and residue.

    That is an interesting way of defining a difference between "crafts" and "art."

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.