Hello, I Love You
When I want to power up, I use my witchy voice and say,
All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter, and then
I remember what happens: a man doesn’t have big plans,
then he hears that the king of Scotland wants to spend the night
at his house, and the next thing he knows, he’s in deep shit.
Best not to get ahead of oneself. The writer has given up
stories, says Camus, and creates his universe. That’s what
you’re doing. That’s you. And look, you have every tool
in the toolbox at your disposal, though that doesn’t mean
your toolbox is full. Far from it! Why, if we had to have every tool
we needed before we started creating our universe, we’d never
get started. One thing you learn when you look at the works of these
pre-Renaissance Tuscan masters is that if you don’t know something,
you don’t know it. Cimabue, Giotto, Duccio di Buoninsegna:
if they weren’t painting the way Raphael and Botticelli would
later, that’s because they couldn’t. Yet. Don’t you think they would
have filled their masterpieces with perspective and depth of field
and more lifelike facial expressions and clothes that look like clothes
instead of somebody’s living-room curtains if they’d known how
to do it? Yet one thing leads to another: no Duccio, no Botticelli.
I know, let’s forget Macbeth. Think instead of Leonardo da Vinci,
an engineer as well as an artist, though his options went well
beyond these two choices: on the one hand, his paymasters
often asked him to make such simple devices as locks, tongs,
bootjacks, and candlesticks, and, on the other, to stage such spectacles
as a celebration of the wedding of Gian Galeazzo Sforza to Isabella
of Aragon that featured a representation of the mobile heavens
complete with luminous stars. Leonardo is famous for not finishing
things, but he had so many things to finish. And he may have
dragged his feet deliberately: like business people of every era,
the nobility of his day often tried to pay as little and as late as possible
and still get the product they desired. Oscar Wilde says, A writer
is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave. So, yeah, sure,
dump all your tools on your workbench and figure out what you need,
and then do as the Doors did and break on through to the other side.
But no seedy clubs, no heroin. Don’t hurt anybody. Don’t hurt yourself.
David Kirby teaches at Florida State University. His collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for both the National Book Award and Canada’s Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense” and which was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 Black History Non-Fiction Books of 2010. His latest books are a collection, Help Me, Information, and a textbook entitled The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them.