Dear Friends and Readers,by Phong Bui
Give me, for my life,
give me all the pain
I’m going to turn it into hope.
all the joys,
even the most secret,
how will these things be known?
I have to tell them,
for that’s what I sing
–Pablo Neruda (translated by Alastair Reid)
Imagine the world without poetry. Imagine a world where language is merely functional and transactional. Imagine a day when mankind is intimidated by poetry and hence terrified of his or her imagination? Just think of those who have never read a book of poetry or attended a reading, and in a thirst for power end up deciding what’s good for our wellbeing? Scary thought. One can lose sight of such simple pleasures as reading a poem and attending a reading, or even gaining the insight discovered from being alone.
In reading the new and first English translation of Pablo Neruda’s book of poetry, Grapes and the Wind (Las Uvas y el Viento), translated by Michael Straus with a thoughtful and informative introduction by Dr. Helene Jf de Aguilar, I feel compelled to share two quotes Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in his landmark essay “A Defense of Poetry.” The first is an urgent reminder, “[P]oets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion.”
The second, I believe, we all should remember, “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds.” I think of the poignant remark by Rainer Maria Rilke upon seeing Cézanne’s Self Portrait, Rose Ground in the 1907 memorial exhibit of his work (at the Paris Salon d’Automne): “Without even remotely interpreting his expression or presuming himself superior to it, he reproduced himself with humble objectivity, with the unquestioning, matter-of-fact interest of a dog who sees himself in a mirror and thinks: there’s another dog.” Without having been a poet, one can’t imagine Rilke writing such words. Similarly, when Simonides declared, “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks,” and the Song Dynasty poet Su Shih in praise of Wang Wei said, “In his poetry there is painting and in his painting there is poetry,” we at the Rail feel the need to amplify the importance of poetry in our community.
Under the editorship of the remarkable poet Anselm Berrigan we publish original works in a full-page spread like objects of art, not filling in-between space with ads or articles, like how they usually are treated in other magazines and journals. The choice implies our urgency to respond to events of our immediate surroundings with greater spontaneity and commitment. (Often spontaneity is avoided partly because our nature to conform is constantly exploited by those who are conscious of inventing desires to feed our habits of consumption.) Our new friend Choghakate Kazarian—former curator at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris where she curated the landmark retrospective of Lucio Fontana and a memorable exhibit on Henry Darger, among others—paid a visit to the Rail HQ soon after she moved to NYC from Paris. While sharing our life stories and interests, she confessed her admiration for works of artists that have been neglected, underappreciated by institutions and the general public alike, and we spontaneously invited Choghakate to undertake a critics page for this issue. Her subject, Artists For Artists, features fourteen artists in the following order: Stefan Banz on Louis Michel Eilshemius, Carl Watson on Henry Darger, Chris Martin on Ralph Albert Blakelock, Nathlie Provosty on Myron Stout, James HD Brown on Cosimo Tura, Lisa Beck on Agnes Pelton, Joel Shapiro on Bob Thompson, Kyle Staver on Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Brandt Junceau on Marino Marini, Lawrence Carroll on Antonio López García, Marie Cool and Fabio Balducci on Carmelo Bene, Margrit Lewczuk on Hilma af Klint, Olivier Mosset on Duane Zaloudek, and Bill Jensen on the art of Tao (after his long-time obsession with Albert Pinkham Ryder and the dark side of American Romantic painting). We at the Rail take to heart what Leonard Bernstein said: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”
Onward and upward, Phong Bui
P.S. We’d like to send our deep thanks to the monumental contributions of our Artseen Associate Editor Chloe Wyma; Subscriptions and Rail Editions manager Connie Kang; two Production Assistants Deena ElGenaidi and Richard McDonough whose batons will be passed to Hannah Stamler as our new Associate Artseen Editor, and two new Production Assistants, Devin Goldring and Erin Carden. We wish them well in their new journeys, as they will forever remain part of our family of mind. We also would like to send our gargantuan congratulations to Diego Gerald and Lucía Hinojosa on their recent marriage in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, our belated best birthday wishes to Lawrence Benenson, our salutations to Christopher Felver on his book Tending the Fire: Native Voices & Portraits, which won the 2018 Gold Medal on photography from Independent Publisher Book Awards, and lastly to Jonas Mekas and Kevin Bone on receiving the 2018 Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Award for Anthology Film Archives.
PHONG BUI is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.