Issue 127, Summer 1993
Ode to Early Work
Of those who finally win notice,
of these artists it is said their early work
is either purer, more astounding,
or fainter, less filled in, too
central. Or all vision, little hand.
But I like them as I like late Auden:
home’s in the meter, the pen’s in a landscape
or a side-yard, the colored pencil shades
a written line. He could have drawn some words
in crayon (not all). Even enjambed stanzas
could be framed —in wood. Early Minnie Evans
is plump cat-faces whose ears
are humans; or sparse seedheads
of grasses from baptismal basins in a drought.
That line which comes soonest
shows the hand how blood-and-bone pristine
it is, but also proves to the dreamer
this is not a sleep plot, the hued dirt
of a line is awake for love.
Murry’s first works were on adding machine tape;
Mary T. Smith’s on corrugated roofing panels to fence the yard.
Now she paints on plywood works to sell.
One’s dawning empty backgrounds count.
Too delicate colors, nascently gutting the white,
still scratch against each other.
Nor should all early work
be viewed in the morning. It is
in the grinding maturity of lateness,
the stretches of lightlessness, that early work
can bring the tact, tensility,
one lost in propounding, even pleading for, one’s life.
Early work that commenced in
souls older than most lives,
first marks swirling toward too many lions,
or oafish compulsive scowling mugs,
or sweet roseate cheeks blotting up
a market of paper bags. Nevermind,
keep going, keep moving, as long as you include
point zero in your work, as long as there
is no eraser at your genesis.