blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


PIVOT POINTS  |  Mary Flinn

The Poets: Introduction

Musing on the nature of "pivot" and "point" my mind turned to the John Donne poem, "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," where the poet uses a simple compass as an unusual and sexy metaphor for the connection between lovers over distance. This particular pivot also seems to me to serve as an image for the relationship between poet or artist and work, or even between student and teacher. For we are talking about something that is moving on the one hand and still on the other – the word "still" as it is used here carrying the weight of its two meanings, the "still" that is yet here and the "still" that is motionless and quiet.

All art arises at the fixed point that is the poet or painter; its connection is made as it moves out. Similarly teachers stand as a fixed point in one's explorations, and what they impart moves out with the student and the work—the compass inscribing the circle.

But part of the success of Donne's image is how it implies a curious intimacy and comfort, and I believe that these qualities of the image also translate to the relationships that exist in art. Of course there is an intimacy between the artist or poet and their work; but as we examine the purposes of this exhibition, it seems to me that much of the comfort arises in the connection made by the "yet here" role of the teacher. The teacher's voice often remains in the mind with both challenge and encouragement, and in the case of the poets and artists represented here, with friendship.

In fact, I think you could say that friendship forms both legs of the compass, the fixed and the moving, as this pivoting image applies equally to creation and encouraging creation for these poets and artists: for Victor Kord, Richard Lazzaro. Reni Gower, Sally Bowring, Beth Weisgerber and Valerie Bogdan and for Dave Smith, Larry Levis, Elizabeth Morgan, Gregory Donovan, Joshua Poteat and Laura-Gray Street.

In a recent essay in the American Poetry Review, called to my attention by Gregory Donovan, Donald Revell writes:

Alone with the Alone, poetry is nevertheless ringed round by a friendship and by the
adventure of Friendship. A poem is a force for change produced by a change, bearing
witness to some new phase (or phrase) in the loving relationship between a poet's soul
and a poet's self. These friends are a solitude together, and the conversation of their
silence leaves a trace, a phosphorescence if you will. The trace is a poem.

Donovan notes in reaction to this remark that "Revell's notion of the self-obsessed friendship of the Poet with himself rather alarmingly confirms what most people suspect about poets, that they are Champion Navel-Gazers, but it actually does suggest something real about the solitude, and the loneliness, of the conversation with oneself which results in poetry. However, solitaries have a lot in common when they speak to each other, and all of these artists in the exhibition have found in their teaching, and in their being taught, a kind of important friendship that has enabled them to handle the solitude and the loneliness more successfully and productively. I've always maintained that teaching is a particular form of friendship, and this exhibition confirms that."

An extension of this friendship also develops between the artist and his or her audience and is offered to all of us through seeing these paintings and reading these poems. Thus the compass pulls readers and viewers into the circle, and we complete the ride around the pivot. To echo Larry Levis, enjoy this moment, friends.   

Mary Flinn is the Executive Director of New Virginia Review, Inc. which publishes Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts in partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University. She also serves as a aenior editor of Blackbird.

  The Painters:
   Discerning Voices    The Poets:
   Talking with
 Both Hands
 Richard Roth    Steven L. Jones    Mary Flinn    J. Randy Marshall

   Notes and Acknowledgements
   Levis Reading Loop