Friday, March 16, 2012

Three minds

Yesterday I attended a vernissage — the showing of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, illustrated by Claudia Gómez, a friend of mine.

Many of you may recognize the title as a poem by Wallace Stevens. While I wasn't previously familiar with the poem, I was delighted to find that it is the source of lines that I do hear cited occasionally.

Claudia chose to illustrate the poem with a series of drawings in pen and ink, black and white. There is an obvious Native American influence on these, but Claudia mixes it with something that reminds me of William Morris — the kind of patterning that would lend itself well to woodcuts, textiles, wrought ironwork. The lines have a great deal of movement and something I can describe only as musicality — a lilt and a wonder.

I've heard of the blackbird in Stevens' poem as being interpreted as God (and this puts me in mind also of The Beatles' Blackbird), but there's also something very common about the bird — it's not hard to believe that the bird is just a bird, which because it is so common lends itself to being used in the formation of analogies. The blackbird is not usually associated with bad luck, but might be a sign of vigilance.

One stanza in particular of Thirteen Ways speaks to me, and I'm happy to have acquired a print of Claudia's interpretation of it.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

I don't know what it means. It's so beautifully simple.

I like this stanza because I often say I'm of three minds myself. But it also reminds me of the time the priest came to dinner after my father died, and he tried to explain the Trinity to me in terms of Kratynski the mother, Kratynski the sister, and Kratynski the little girl. I want it on the wall of my current life, where my own family trio lives.

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