Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chromophilia, or Color-love

I just finished reading a terrific little book. Actually, I'm embarked upon reading it a second time because it so perfectly captures one woman's obsession with the color blue as a way to read her world. Maggie Nelson's Bluets  is written in the form of numbered  "propositions," a la Wittgenstein, but they are as lyrical and as far-reaching in style and subject matter as possible: from disquisitions on fucking: "There is a color inside of the fucking, but it is not blue" to discussions of Platonic, Newtonian, even celestial optics, as well as questions of God as light or darkness: where abstruse topics such as "the idea of agnosia, or unknowing, which is what one ideally finds, or undergoes, or achieves, within this Divine Darkness." And, of course, there are nods to William Gass, Goethe: "We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances us, but because it draws us after it."

And threaded throughout—yes, with a cobalt blue thread—is the lover's despair, not unlike Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband, though this thread is subtler, less central though perhaps the initiating emotion.

Color. She rejects yellow—as being the least pleasing of colors when alone (is that why Jews were associated with yellow?) and green.

Poets who are drawn to color—though what poet isn't? Mallarmé, for one. And Rimbaud. And of course Lorca: "Green, green, I want you green." And Kim Addonizio, whose poem "What Do Women Want?" opens "I want a red dress."

"What does your poetry do?—I guess it gives a kind of blue rinse to the language" (John Ashbery).

Several, actually nearly 10 years ago, I published a book of ekphrastic poems called Serious Pink While it is mostly documents my love affair with painting, there's also a long collage of a poem called "Ode to Color." Most of what's there is what others have said about color, not because I have nothing to say, but because I wanted to make a patchwork quilt, a coat of many colors, about color.

I'll leave you with a poem about red that's inside that larger poem—red being a color to counteract all this blue, red being a color that has duende in it, red being the color, according to a study, that if a woman wears it on a first date, is a sign she will sleep with the man right away. I'm not convinced by that reading of red, but I do know I was told, if you wear red for a poetry reading, you won't trip up on your lines. And that I have found to be true:


A man in a red GEORGIA baseball cap wearing 
       a sweatshirt with a red bulldog over his heart,
       sitting in a subway car, the smell of his poverty much too strong

but I stay out of weakness and pity: 
       his dark skin has gone through fire
       and his hands and arms and who knows how much more of him

wear the ropy scars: I watch him, not wanting to stare,
       as he draws out of a pocket dangling from a long rope at his waist
       a red-plastic compact he opens: inside, a red plastic brush

on its obverse the mercury pool he dips and dips his face towards
       as though to stanch the fire (who knows what he sees)
       he shuts it opens it shuts it then like a black Narcissus he has to re-open

and stares. Maybe it solidifies him, all I know is I'm mesmerized too and steeped
       in my own pool, trying to think only of color, see this portrait in red.                     


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