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  • Repetition, and: Complaint, and: Failed Sketch
  • Charlie Clark (bio)

“While I was writing these poems, I was thinking about the things with which we choose to surround ourselves every day. These poems explore how encounters with objects and ideas—whether art objects, myths or paint swatches—become valuable to us. I’m intrigued by the way we assemble assorted fragments from the general culture and absorb them into our thoughts, and how they affect not only how we interpret events but also the ways we experience events and ideas while they are happening. Similarly, I wanted to explore the limits of what art can do and, inevitably, the limits of what these poems themselves are capable of; that filtering of experience through the lens of cultural detritus can only provide a finite (though undoubtedly pleasing) amount of insight or consolation.” [End Page 101]

  • Repetition
  • Charlie Clark

I’m not sure if it’s the mosquito refueling on my leg for the third time since I lay down tonight

or the record I’m listening to, with its ten tracks of the same treacly piano part played over

a shifting background of drums, that I find more irritating. With the music, I get the obsessive

gesture, an idea reiterating itself, variation within form, a way to reveal how perspective, time,

and chance can alter a thing, or not, as they do not here, and do not dully, do not with the same limited vision

I once applied, listening for weeks to a single song as a way to get over a woman whose face I once filled

a sketchbook with images of. Just one image broke from the guileless and faithful ideas of representation

that sink so much amateur portraiture. In it, the shadow of a man loomed over her shoulder in what

I thought gave the scene an air of mystery, though remembering it now the man sketched behind her [End Page 102]

seems a poorly executed contrivance, less the embodiment of mystery than a note jotted onto the picture

reading “imply mystery here.” That’s harsh, given I was young when I drew it, and had at most

five ideas about the world and all were about women or orbited the subject

like lunar bodies around a planet, beholden to the subject’s gravity. I’ve managed to branch out

my thinking in the years since, accumulate another string of ideas that have nothing to do

with women if not lingered on too long. For instance: I prefer specificity in art, as well as digressions

that expand on a work’s established patterns, like this: that woman had on her shoulder blade

a nickel-sized blue-brown mole. I used to want to gnaw it off. Somehow she never knew

about the mole, because years after we’d ruined things, she called me to ask if I remembered it. [End Page 103]

Her doctor discovered the growth and thought the thing mysterious enough to look into. I asked

how many people she’d had to call before she got to me, falling back into the worst,

last patterns we’d established. Apparently, I like an occasional bit of cruelty in art. And no

small amount of invention, given I told her the man in that sketch I drew was meant to

represent the mole. But I don’t want to linger on this subject, because it’s disconcerting to me, and anyway

it goes nowhere, and art should propel itself forward, even when it lingers. Also, art should return to subjects

from which it’s strayed. That mosquito, say, the one that got me going on this line of thought. It’s come back again.

Because I prefer that art persist beyond the experience of it, like any arresting interaction,

the way the memory of that woman’s face still seizes up in me and can dictate the mood of a day, [End Page 104]

that mosquito will become a totem ghost of mine. For hours after we part ways, I’ll shiver, suddenly,

at the sense of it glancing off me, and slap myself wherever I feel the itch of apparition. [End Page 105]


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