Jim Dine : Poems to Work On: The Collected Poems of Jim Dine
I swore I would never write another blurb, but Jim Dine’s Collected Poems has pulled me temporarily out of blurb retirement. The same verve that drives his paintings drives these poems, and added to it are a wonderfully goofy playfulness and a no-holds-barred, slightly scary exhilaration. Arp, Schwitters, and Picabia, move over.
In the flutter of blue alcohol flame a figure enters its shadow asking where do you keep all the things / that don’t fit in your mind? Characters appear, vanish, reappear in the darkness but there is no space behind language. A mountain opens and red is registered. I’ve carried Jim Dine’s first book Welcome Home, Lovebirds through many moves since 1969. Now almost half a century later I have the delight of being again in that mind. The poems are as direct as brush-strokes, as casual as conversation, as passionate as loss. The background shifts. “The Short History of New York” beautifully nails that. London in the 1960s is palpable; Paris, Rome, flicker. Friends share the space. “Portrait” is a concisely brilliant one of Robert Creeley. Kenneth Koch, a hometown boy, makes occasional appearances. But all these are tones, not the foreground that is the restlessness, the questioning, the observation inhabited by the reader. For me a particular pleasure of these poems has been the privilege of at times perceiving the world as a painter — Jim Dine made my eyes feel. Poems To Work On is not only “NIGHT’S / FRIABLE / RAGE, but making life / without reason /is the reason/ for a /common dream.” Writing well worth reading.
Hardcover. 290 pages. Edited, with a foreword, by Vincent Katz.
Includes color illustrations by the author.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I was born in 1935. The real story is that I didn’t meet poetry till I was 19 when my sculpture professor, Dave Hosteller, at Ohio University, played Dylan Thomas reading his poems an a Caedmon “LP” record. He also gave me Under Milk Wood (Thomas’s radio play) to listen to.
During my early 20s, I made performances in New York with colleagues in the “downtown” art world. My most elaborate work, called Car Crash, was a cacophony of sounds and words spoken by a great white Venus with animal grunts and howls by me. Five years later, I illustrated Ron Padgett’s translation of Apollinaire’s The Poet Assassinated. Meeting Ron introduced me to his work and the works of other poets he admired. At the same time, I met and fell in love with Robert Creeley. His was, to me, all about poetry. He was generous with his thoughts, but it was his Massachusetts-accented voice that was the poetry. I read Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets. It was 1966, and I started to write poetry full force around then.
I went to England in 1967 and met the poet-printers Asa Benveniste and Tom Raworth. Asa wanted to publish my poems. He did. The book was called Welcome Home Lovebirds. There were a lot of letters and postcards written between me and U.S. poets. In London, there was much talk around Asa about poetry and Asa’s history as a poet and publisher of poets. He was, I guess, 10 years older than me.
I started to write every day and continued till about 1972 when I stopped. I’m not clear why, but I began again around 1990 when I met Diana Michener. She is a very inspirational character, and her eccentric big soul understands all I’ve written since. We have read together in public over the past 12 years with the New York poet, Vincent Katz, who has befriended my poems. I have learned from his personal vision.
Many of my poems are written first on long sheets of paper tacked to the wall. Some are 8 or 9 feet long, and I write in charcoal or crayon and then “white out” when I want to change a word, with a mixture of white pigment mixed with shellac. I also can cut out a line with a box cutter and lose it or use it in another place in the poem by glueing it or stapling it to the paper on the wall. This technique is a lot like the way I draw. Correcting and erasing are important tools, for my poems and my drawings.
— Jim Dine, 2014