Neil Welliver, and how poet Mark Strand turned to writing

This arresting Neil Welliver woodcut hangs on the wall in my friend Terry‘s apartment. I’d like to camp out under that sky, next to that mountain, for the rest of the summer. By myself.
 

I wish I could express my response to visual art in a meaningful way. Whenever I praise a painting, I hear echoes of my Mississippi grandmother admiring a dress. (“It’s stunning. Just look at the lines! And the detail! And all those little sequins stitched along the bustline!”) Bleagh.

Last night I did some research on Welliver and discovered he was friends with Mark Strand, a very visual poet who studied art until he blundered upon one of Welliver’s paintings and “‘wondered instantly if … I’d made a mistake by pursuing painting. Well, I had.’”

“‘Looking at that Welliver painting had a lot to do with my becoming a poet,’ Strand said. ‘So thank you, Neil. If you were a worse painter, I would be painting still.’”
 

Here, to make up for my own inarticulacy, are some lines from a poem in Blizzard of One that Strand dedicated to Welliver:

I no longer wait in front of the blistered, antique mirror,
Hoping a shape or a self will rise, and step
From that misted surface and say: You there,
Come with me into the world of light and be whole,
For the love you thought had been dead a thousand years
Is back in town and asking for you. Oh no.
I say, I’m done with my kind. I live alone
On Walnut Lane, and will until the day I die.

 


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