John Sloan, 1871–1951
(Photograph by Arnold Newman)
(Photograph by Arnold Newman)
Back across the rain-bothered stretches of Pennsylvania, across the cloud-tamped flats of Ohio, the fling of percept lulled by the wheel. John Sloan: “Study cloud formations. Don’t be satisfied with rococo, Spencerian clouds. Observe the flat bottoms of heavy rain clouds, the fine patterns of mackerel skies.” Too few hawks.
A cumulus of notes (or a ragout):
Sharp-shinned hawk dead on the bridle path in Pelham Bay Park. Siwanoy Trail: Flocks of yellow-rumped warblers, double-crested cormorants and herring gulls spotting the lagoon, northern mockingbird, song sparrows. Brown creeper working a tree trunk near the Bartow-Pell.And, out of a paucity of reading, Thomas De Quincey’s remark—originally in an 1839 piece called “Lake Reminiscences, from 1807 to 1830: No. 1. William Wordsworth” written for Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine:
John Sloan (off a placard at the Parrish Art Museum): “Instead of imitating the colors in nature, I decided on some quality of color that interested me and set a limited palette.”
Montauk: Palm warblers in the grass, great black-backed gull, white-throated sparrow, dark-eyed juncos, Solitary seal bobbing.
Hudson River overlook near Bear Mountain: a pileated woodpecker knifing into the rust-colored canopy below. “Order quiets the mind.”
Pelham Bay Park, Kazimiroff Trail: Fifty or so brant in the lagoon. Oak woods mad with hermit thrushes. Tiny flock of ruby-crowned kinglets (“an arm’s reach away”). Others (“the concordaunt ease of variaunt things”): double-crested cormorant, great egret, mallard, herring gull, ring-billed gull, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jay, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin, European starling, yellow-rumped warbler, palm warbler, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, swamp sparrow, American goldfinch.
Rusty blackbird on a telephone wire.
I resembled Wordsworth—namely, that in early youth I laboured under a peculiar embarrassment and penury of words, when I sought to convey my thoughts adequately upon interesting subjects: neither was it words only that I wanted; but I could not unravel, I could not even make perfectly conscious to myself, the subsidiary thoughts into which one leading thought often radiates; or, at least, I could not do this with anything like the rapidity requisite for conversation . . . and thus partly—partly also from my invincible habit of reverie—at that era of my life, I had a most distinguished talent ‘pour le silence.’” Adding that Wordsworth, suffered “pretty much the same infirmity.How many writers (believe, rightly in some cases, they) cannot talk. (I think of Nabokov who, in the “Foreword” to the book of interviews, Strong Opinions (1973), writes: “I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child. . . . At parties, if I attempt to entertain people with a good story, I have to go back to every other sentence for oral erasures and inserts.”) How odd, hence, that Wordsworth ought so famously to call for a poetry of “a man speaking to men.” And that that ought to become a mark of writerly authenticity (see William Carlos Williams, in “Excerpts from a Critical Sketch”):
We seek a language which will not be at least a deformation of speech as we know it—but will embody all the advantageous jumps, swiftnesses, colors, movements of the day—Humph. Suppose the “advantageous jumps, swiftnesses, colors, movements” occur but rarely under the barking regime of repartee, and never amongst the watchdog tutelage of études conversationnelles? Suppose language’s very recklessness and fluidity is at the behest of the silent page?
—that will, at least, not exclude language as spoken—all language (present) as spoken.