Kent Johnson

from:_Letter from Jerome Rothenberg: Selected Post-Poems 1998-2001_

Sentimental Piscatorial

The fishing was good this morning, though
we never made it to the Mississippi. The Apple
is a lovely tributary; once I almost drowned [1]

in its green, but that was a long time ago,
and I didn't, because I guess life still
needed something there. Well,

for instance, as I said to my son Brooks,
who is starting to be a painter, many times
(as I've said many times to him, that is), if [2]

you are going to put your life into
painting, make sure you stay low, walk slow,
and lay the fly right along the velocity

changes. The sun was just starting to burn-
off the fog, and a doe walked across the riffle
right upstream and didn't startle. A heron stood

in the next pool, shimmering, "like
some kind of religious lawn ornament,
when you think about it," my son [3]

said. And so I watched my son fish,
covered in an actual gold, like his
drug-inspired painting of the man

with the burning city in his heart. I [4]
watched him fish, trying so to impress me,
his back to the sun. [5]



1. The first stanza is, perhaps over-obviously, an allusion to John
Ashbery's "Into the Dusk-Charged Air."

2. The second and third stanzas are prosodic glosses on Frank O'Hara's "Why
I Am Not a Painter." Interestingly, the following email response was
received from Hilton Kramer, editor of The New Criterion, to whom this poem
(sans footnotes) was originally submitted: "Dear Mr. Johnson, I like the
poem quite a lot; it has an easy and laconic sound breaking elegantly across
an unusual and complex meter (the ionic as base foot is idiosyncratic, to
say the least, and quite impressive). Still, I am afraid I have to pass this
time around-- Guy Davenport, who has the last word with all poems submitted
to NC, felt that the poaching, as he put it, from O'Hara in the second and
third stanzas was too cute and obvious. But I will tell you that Mr.
Davenport found the poem's ending "strangely moving," and I can tell you,
too, that he doesn't often offer up such words as "moving" in his reports to
me. Please do send us more of your poems. --HK "

3. When Brooks was a child, I would read him poems at bedtime. Wallace
Stevens (the Stevens of Harmonium) and Kenneth Koch were his favorites. I
now realize that Brooks would never have said what he did about the heron
appearing as a lawn ornament had it not been for Koch's line in that love
poem about the parts of speech, where the garbage can lid is smashed into a
likeness of the face of King George the Third.

4. This is an allusion to St. Augustine's City of God, which is the theme,
if you will, of my son's painting. In the upper corner of the canvass, in
tiny, calligraphic lettering, my son has written the following passage from
Augustine's Soliloquia, which he copies from Doubled Flowering: From the
Notebooks of Araki Yaususada, the heteronymous masterpiece of "Tosa
Motokiyu," of whose manuscripts, it is by now widely known, I am one of the

"For how could the actor I mentioned be a true tragic actor if he were not
willing to be a false Hector, a false Andromache, a false Hercules? Or how
could a picture of a horse be a true picture unless it were a false horse?
Or an image of a man in a mirror be a true image unless it were a false man?
So if the fact that they are false in one respect helps certain things to be
true in another respect, why do we fear falseness so much and seek truth as
such a great good? Will we not admit that these things make up truth itself,
that truth is so to speak put together from them?"

5. This is an allusion to an image in a poem by Whitman, where the sun
behind a man standing in the water forms a golden aura around him. But I
cannot now recall the exact poem.


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