Sunday, August 4, 2013

Back to the Blackboards

Poetry, light or long, narrative or nonsense, all of it at least until the moderns was always meant to be read aloud.  I make that claim based on nothing much but instinct and my own rather spotty reading of both poetry and something of the history thereof.  Tell me I'm wrong.  Just because I may well be. I'd be willing to argue the point.  Still, that's what I've come to believe and more importantly that's been my way back in to much of the literature from which my background, education and insecurities once seemed to exclude me.  For me, the medium required what turns out to be an older method.  (Think, Homer at the ol' campfire, Dryden at the coffee house, etc.)  Maybe what was actually required was just grey hair.  Anyway, now I read poetry, and poetry aloud with something of the hobbyist's enthusiasm, though hopefully without requiring of my friends all the grim forbearance of the fellow sitting next to, say, a collector of antique bus schedules at a dinner party.  (Everyone at work has been, I must say, very kind when I've cracked open yet another Oxford Anthology at the Information Desk and started to quietly vibrate.   Not long ago, seeing me hovering with an open volume at her elbow, a coworker not known for her love of poesy said, "Oh, go ahead, Brad.  You know you want to.")

Bookstores, in my long experience are very tolerant of eccentricities.  There's a lady where I now work, will tell you everything you need to know to survive a week alone in the Senora desert.  There's someone who's pickling plums.  Let's face it, bookstores are feed-lots for hobbyhorses.  Perfectly harmless, most of us.

Bookstores are also always in the way of finding new ways, or more recently employing old ways to share our enthusiasms with the otherwise unsuspecting public.  Here then yet another bit of recycled media: blackboards are trending.

Long established as something of a fixture in the new wave of coffee and bubble-tea now awash across college-towns and the more upscale or dowtownish of neighbourhoods, what are now called "wet erase boards", I've only just learned, would seem to be all the rage.  Many a saucy barista, having invented some elaborate new combo of espresso shots, soy-milk and anisette, now announces the concoction of the day on a blackboard in the window and or on a sandwich board out front.  Bookstores are now on-board, including the one where I now work.  I think the idea a splendid one.  We've progressed from one or two discreet little boards describing the week's new arrivals and upcoming events to a couple of great big numbers, nearly the size I remember from the front of my elementary school classrooms.

We're quite lucky to have an artist in residence, dear M., who not only "letters" beautifully -- to use a verb likewise from my childhood -- but who has something of a genius for reproducing the covers of forthcoming titles in a beautiful and immediately recognizable way.  Not only are his drawings clear and quite charming, he also does a pretty mean free-hand rectangle.  No mean feat, that.

I was asked if I would draw dear Ogden Nash for the other board, to announce our upcoming evening of the same.  Seemed to me a capital idea.  Dear M. agreed to letter it for me, as nobody wants to see my primitive scrawl a foot high.  Size wouldn't help my legibility much anyway.  Two things I hadn't considered: first, I very rarely have drawn anything on such a scale, and secondly I almost never draw in ink, let alone the weirdly fluid markers used with these wet-erase-boards.  I draw, I see you might almost say, in number two pencils.  I've been know to make finished drawings in ink, as required, but really I'm a doodler by nature and practice and that means stubby pencils and scratch-paper often as not.  I almost never use color, for which I have no eye, and anything like paint seems to require a kind of manual dexterity wholly other from whatever it is I have.  Oh dear.

Also, turns out the "wet-erase" thing means dampening a rag and then rubbing and smudging until finally clearing the whole damned thing and starting over.  This I did no less than three times.  (By the time I was done with it, my "eraser" looked like a clown's dinner-napkin at a fish-fry.)  I learned that hesitations with the marker still in contact with the board means making a puddle.  I learned that blue works better for glasses and the tie and purple looks better for the pomaded noggin of the poet.  I'd made a little preliminary pencil sketch -- natch -- but I realized on my third attempt to reproduce it on the blackboard that I had to rethink a bit.  I remembered my high school art teacher and mentor, Griff.  I remembered him telling me, when I was trying to do something, anything, with watercolors, first that I was "still thinking with a pencil" and then, shaking my grip on the paintbrush until it loosened a bit,

"You're fightin' the paint, man, stop fightin' the paint."

New medium, new ways in.  Anyway, I tried.  Once M. had lettered the thing, I didn't think it looked half bad.  Perhaps not my finest hour, but, hey, I tried something new, me who doesn't do that sort of thing.

And it's all for the good of poetry, man.  Check it out.

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