“Writing is a job, a craft, and you learn it by trying to write every day and by facing the page with humility and gall.” ~ Stephen Dobyns, Interview in The New Yorker

“Chateau Noir” (1904, oil on canvas)
by Paul Cezanne


Two for Tuesday: Stephen Dobyns

Cezanne’s Seclusion 

“I have begun to think,” he wrote in a late letter,
“that one cannot help others at all.” This
from a man who once called friendship the highest
virtue. And in another he wrote: “Will I ever
attain the end for which I have striven so long?”
His greatest aspiration was certainty
yet his doubts made him blame himself wrongly,
perceiving each painting a disaster. These swings
between boldness and mistrust, intimacy and isolation
led him to stay at home, keep himself concealed,
becoming a sort of hermit, whose passion for the world
directed every brushstroke, changed each creation
into an expression of tenderness, which he dismissed
writing: “a vague sense of apprehension persists.”

(Heard Garrison Keillor reading this one on Writer’s Almanac. Beautiful.


“The Alley at Chantilly” (1888, oil on canvas)
Paul Cezanne

Finding the Direction

It is quiet. It is a place where
the grass sleeps and I have come to it.
When it wakes, my clocks will turn twice
and discover the necessity of stopping.
Buses pass such places. Their passengers
are mostly asleep. One light in the back
and a man who has read that mystery before.
Who calls to the deaf? To cross water,
to learn knowledge of fire, I shall
move myself backwards. A crab has always
forgotten something and dies in pursuit.
Awake and moving, I know of houses where
my pockets have emptied themselves of essentials.
Backwards, I shall find them. There is
too much shouting in a forward direction.
There is no analogy in sleep. The man
reading does not experience the road,
has forgotten his family. To discover
the fence posts, then to reach the gate.
Awakened, the grass shifts, twisting
within itself, as I do, scurrying. The teeth
of some dragons are very small. Plant them
carefully. Water and watch the ground.