I was given three books of poetry while I was in Los Angeles. I started reading the books today while drinking my morning coffee and smoking a cigarette. I wish I didn’t smoke, I am happy that I drink coffee. I like smoking in the morning, with an Ernest Tubbs album playing and a cup of coffee, I love sitting down and reading a book and letting my mind wander with the book for awhile. I have my studio in my apartment and I like to sit in the sun and listen to music and wait for the fog of sleep to clear before I start making my work. I have found that tobacco and coffee are tools to open up my senses and get me to working in the morning. I need to develop better habits to create.
The cigarette addict lies to themselves in much the same way the drunkard is a liar to themselves about their constant drinking. Part of me knows that smoking represents death, and I love that about smoking. There is a fine line between smoking and suicide. There is also a fine line between driving down the interstate and suicide. Smoking is far more deadly, each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. While 40,000 people die in the US from car accidents. Yet I still smoke, knowing full well the dangers of smoking.
Smoking for me is sublime, as in Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. “Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that … it anticipates our reasoning’s, and hurries us on by an irresistible force.” Smoking has a way of opening doorways of creation out of me. Burke also writes “But the pleasure of any particular social enjoyment outweighs very considerably the uneasiness caused by the want of that particular enjoyment; so that the strongest sensations relative to the habitudes of particular society are sensations of pleasure” We know smoking is bad, we know it is a bad habit, the very fact that it is a taboo that it wrestles the smoker with death is one of the reasons the poet or the artists smokes. It is not so much that the artist or poet has a death wish, in as much as the smoker seeks the poetics of death perfected in the inhale.
This morning while reading Elena Karina Bryne’s book, Masque, I could not help but think about the masks that we wear in our day to day life, the excuses that we make for our unruly and bad behavior, the excuses we make for our good behavior. Byrne has an exquisite line, which I will paraphrase here “ But nothing can be done to swoon the universe slipping from our sides, nothing as simple as desire. We shall dream we are flying the snowdrift praise to heavens downdraft”. Nothing can be done to undo the drifting and changing of the universe or the seas or the heavens or life and death, as Whitman said “All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
I should quit smoking, it is a horrible habit, make my dreams like that of an infant chasing immortality. Make them fanciful and idyllic dreams of having a perfect body that will be maintained well into my 100’s, I should drop the façade, kill the mask, that somehow being healthy will lead to me creating uninspired art. Like most artists, I am a man of obsessions, I can turn my obsession of cigarettes into hours at the gym, sore aching muscles and being fanatical about my diet. I can feel the burn of exercise; learn to gaze at myself even more so in the mirror and marvel at my bodies changes. I know like anything I put myself to, I end up taking it to the extreme, it is never enough to engage in an activity lightly. If I got into exercise, I would have to learn the ins and outs of it, the history, the heroes, the villains of exercise, all about the equipment, how the body changes from exercise. I could not just attend the gym and be content with the process of exercise.
The body is not timeless, art is not timeless, poetry is not timeless, it will eventually fade and be consumed by our sun as it grows to envelop our entire solar system. I spent some time reading Maureen Alsop’s book Apparition Wren , this morning as well, and to paraphrase a section of one of her poems “And so I cross in consolable into a darkness your body cannot follow” . You can’t take it with you, or as friend years ago said to me, no matter how much you love someone they can never take away your pain, or even more to the point, love is the grand illusion that we are not alone. Maureen’s book like life is heart breaking beautiful, it takes having that openness to the poetic sadness of life to really appreciate this sadness. We tend to run from that, to put on masks, to smoke and drink and cover our anxiety about being human however and whenever we can. To really allow ourselves to encounter the rawness takes a tremendous amount of courage, courage that sadly most of us our deeply afraid of. How can we remove these masks? How can we face life honestly day by day, moment by moment?