An imaginary dialogue between
BETYE IRENE SAAR and WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
Paterson New Jersey and Los Angeles California
Note from the editor, Rosanna Albertini. This dialogue is based on my impression that her visual poems made with found objects and his poems made with words -we find them as well around us, since the time our ears could grasp them- are nothing but small machines endowed with an “intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.” (W.C.W.) Not only they are not sentimental, their subject is not their point. As works of art Saar’s visual poems are made as islands of perception, imaginary cages for human stories touched with gentleness, not to break their skin or alter their movable presence in her mind.
The price she pays to shape her land of wonder is distance: objects coming from other lives, and fragmented images that were probably lost or hidden in her brain if she needs to add stitches to drawings and glue as if preventing them from vanishing, pinning them down. Time, in her art, seems to struggle against the eternal present of the art work when it’s finished, and becomes a still, impenetrable combination of feelings about all the things that stir our lives and do not have the same clarity of words. Directions, orientation, destiny, chance? They are cages for feelings before they solidify in concepts. Collages on paper, three-dimensional assemblages are simply things living their own life.
They declare nothing. It is the hidden sparkle they surround with beauty that pulls our hair.
Their eyes look at us forcing us to wonder about what we do not, we can not see. The poet writes:
So let us love
confident as is the light
in its struggle with darkness
and the visual artist takes the wind in the same direction, through darkness and light. Darkness is time painted by history, and caged in words, but for her as an artist darkness is a fact that patiently, stubbornly, she brings back to light. Game of chance, or game of destiny: she is standing in the shadow of love. Which is the real step out of darkness, and makes each piece of her art a strong physical metaphor, a cage for magic, and a house for ideas.
(The poem is the second part of Shadows, in William Carlos Williams Selected Poems, (selected by dr. Williams himself), first published in 1949, New York, New Directions Books.
The images are from Betye Saar’s double exhibition: Blend and Black White at Roberts & Tilton Culver City, CA Oct.-Dec. 2016)
Ripped from the concept of our our lives
and from all concept
somehow, and plainly,
the sun will come up
and sink again.
So that we experience
one of which we share with the
rose in bloom
by far the greater,
with the past, the world of memory,
the silly world of history,
of the imagination.
Which leaves only the beasts and trees,
with their refractive
and rotting things
to stir our wonder.
Save for the little
of the eye itself
we dare not stare too hard
or we are lost.
trivial as it is
is all we have
things the imagination feeds upon, the scent of the rose,
startle us anew.