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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Most questions answered, no. 3

Here's another question from those left at the "Huswifery" post and elsewhere: Why The Palace at 2:00 a.m., when your two books of children's fantasy refuse all European tropes and focus on the American South?

I conceive of The Palace at 2:00 a.m. as a secret nook in time, its name inspired from the work of Giacometti, who told of "a period of six months passed in the presence of a woman who, concentrating all ife in herself, transported my every moment into a state of enchantment. We constructed a fantastical palace in the night--a very fragile palace of matches. At the least false movement a whole section would collapse. We always began it again." According to the MOMA page on The Palace at 4:00 a.m., Giacometti told Breton that he could not make anything that did not "have something to do with her." His sculpture, The Palace at 4:00 a.m., reflects the power of a woman who can enchant the world.

So why? Here is a little bundle of matchsticks to say why:

This work meant a great deal to me when I was about 17 or 18, and when I go to MOMA, I pay it a visit. Unlike many things loved at a much earlier age, The Palace at 4:00 a.m. still rewards me.

I like the idea of a palace made out of matchsticks, ruled by some Beggar Queen. I could have named the blog Matchstick Palace. Perhaps that is its real, secret name. Or perhaps I would never share its secret name, and that one is a nickname!

As mother of three children, I have had to do a great deal of my writing in the small hours and later. The Wolf Pit was written entirely in the night. I stayed up until sometime between 1:00-4:00 a.m., and rose with my children at 7:00. I do not recommend it as a way of life unless one is mad to accomplish something you cannot do in the day. At 7:00 one feels electrocuted and shaken and unpleasantly otherworldly.

Writing at its best feels like being overtaken by another power--like reaching a place where time and place are abolished and another spirit floods in. The Giacometti piece has an odd stance that seems to partake of stepping out of normal time and space.

I have long been friends with visual artists who love words, and they have often been the people who gave me the kind of friendship in the arts that inspires, so this homage is a little nod to how important those friendships have been to me.

2:00 a.m.? I needed to move the artwork, move house, make my own place. Mine is full of characters like the Pot Boy, and it is not so still (though can be uncanny) but likes a river's rush and the power of sweep and movement.

Because the Giacometti piece belongs under the sign of love, and nothing is worthy that is made without love.

7 comments:

  1. Naturally, I was unfamiliar with Giacometti's 'The Palace at 4:00 a.m.' I looked it up and noticed that although this piece does not talk directly to me on very many levels, if asked (at any point through my adult life, I believe) I would have described the work as visual poetry.
    I find that interesting.

    Working at creative endeavors in the wee small hours of the morning is good. Complete quiet and peace, usually. No calls upon one from phone or door, and darkness outside puts one in a nicely isolated place psychologically as well.

    Mornings are often more difficult after such nights though. One wants to fall asleep JUST as dawn breaks - which is not an ideal way to live!

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  2. Naturally, I was unfamiliar with Giacometti's 'The Palace at 4:00 a.m.' I looked it up and noticed that although this piece does not talk directly to me on very many levels, if asked (at any point through my adult life, I believe) I would have described the work as visual poetry.
    I find that interesting.

    Working at creative endeavors in the wee small hours of the morning is good. Complete quiet and peace, usually. No calls upon one from phone or door, and darkness outside puts one in a nicely isolated place psychologically as well.

    Mornings are often more difficult after such nights though. One wants to fall asleep JUST as dawn breaks - which is not an ideal way to live!

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  3. Yes, I think you're right. It's pared down to essentials, and those are dreamlike.

    I think that I must have broken something in me while writing that book... I could never do it again, not that way.

    I was just replying to a fiction writer's response to this post on facebook, and shared this: Novelist Lee Smith once quizzed me on how I wrote "The Wolf Pit." After I described my night schedule, she nodded and said, "That explains it!"

    I always think it very funny and very Lee, but of course she didn't explain exactly what she meant! Which is half the fun...

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  4. I love this story of how you found your blog title, inspired by a work of art! I love Giacometti's sculpture but this piece is not one I'm familiar with - very poetic it is.

    And the night writing. As Paul said it's no way to live (this coming from an insomniac not by choice). You truly are blessed with the gift of words, Marly, I'm in awe of that. I'm not one of those visual artists with the gift of words.

    Thanks for this most inpiring glimpse into the heart of a writer.

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  5. Oh, Marja-Leena, what a sweet response! I'm glad you found it inspiring...

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  6. I also (shame on me) did not know this work of art, and never looked it up. But after seeing it, I find it appealing, rather like so many backdrops I have seen on the stage. It doesn't remind me of your work, either poetry or prose, though. Your work is fully filled out and full of detail, rather than spare and focusing only on the outlines. It may be the difference between media that accounts for this, though there are spare works of poetry and fiction, of course.
    It's good to know, and I am glad to hear that you do not have to write in the middle of the night any more.

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  7. Me too, although this has been an awfully busy time...

    One finds counterparts in strange places, sometimes. I doubt any of us are looking for influences "just like" us!

    Good cheer--

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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.