Mon plus cher maitre -
I wish I could be here in person to talk to you, and wish you a happy 100th birthday, but Barry Lowe is acting as proxy. Like you, he’s a writer. You’d love his work! Also like you, his work tends to piss off a lot of people and writing that, I can hear you laughing, wherever you are, saying how glad you are that he’s visiting you. Had I known him when he was in Paris, my friend, John Douglas, would’ve come to visit too. John has REALLY pissed people off and you would’ve gotten along well with him too. He makes beautiful images, powerful and astonishing. I’ve thought that you and he share a very similar intense and beautiful use of colour. As well as very similar senses of humour!! I feel embarrassed to say that I have a book of yours to give him, but haven’t sent it yet. I know he’ll love it. JD’s sense of humour would appeal to you too. You both create very strong and potent images, and so very alive. Although we haven’t known each other long, I love him dearly and he’s such a close friend. His work and ideas have been a huge influence on me and that will only get stronger in the future. I’m telling you about him for several reasons, mostly to say that had he read your work by now, he’d want me to give you his best regards. Also I wanted to introduce him to you. And if you saw his work, you’d LOVE it! He’s able to use highly concentrated aspects of reality – intense beauty. So, wanted to remember him to you.
The last time I was here, I was so sad. I think that I came here to Batignolles to get advice.
I want to tell you ‘the story’ again : In 1988 I’d quit school and moved away from home, just like you. Away from the small town I grew up in, there I was, learning all these great new things. Wish I could remember how I first heard your name. Most likely it was in a book about the Surrealists, cos I remember reading about how you were the ‘most pure, true, beautiful and extreme,’ of the movement. Always loving extremes and beauty, that was why I decided to learn more about you and read all I could. First I read you in English in that Atlas anthology, Death to the Pigs and from the first page of the introduction, I knew I’d found my master.
Reading some of your poems the other day, 11 years later, your writing still, always astonishes and amazes me. And I couldn’t help thinking of Breton’s poem, with the refrain, ‘Always for the first time.’ I fell so in love with your writing in 1988, that for months, I was totally unable to read anything else. You are my most dear literary companion. You’ve been with me since that very first day. You showed me that there will always be uncharted territory to explore and that I can do new things. That artists should feel the need to create as well as destroy, often at the same time.
Looking at some of your poems just now, I couldn’t think of just one quote to add. So, I picked a line from one: ‘Our enemies overhear us / Let us rejoice.’ And then your Salut:
My plane in flames my castle flooded with Rhine wine
my ghetto of black irises my crystal ear
my boulder tumbling over the cliff to crush the local cop
my opal snail my mosquito made out of air
my bird of paradise comforter my head of black foam hair
my exploding grave my rain of red grasshoppers
my flying island my turquoise grape
my collision of reckless and cautious autos my wild flower bed
my dandelion pistil hurled into my eye
my tulip bulb in my brain
my gazelle gone astray in a cinema off the boulevards
my cashbox of sunrise my volcano fruit
my laugh of a hidden pond where the absentminded prophets drown themselves
my deluge of black currants my morel butterfly
my waterfall blue as a tidal wave which brings on spring
my coral revolver whose mouth attracts me like the eye of a well sparkling
frozen like the mirror in which you contemplate the flight of hummingbirds of your glance
lost in a white sale bordered by mummies
I love you
John Cage once said that the best teachers reveal you to yourself, giving you permission to be yourself.
With that, you’ve been the ideal teacher for me. You’re with me every day. And as days pass, your place in my life strengthens more and more. The last time I was here, I held your grave and greeted you as my lost father. Today I thank you for existing. For being my master. For everyday revealing me to myself. I hear you say that an artist never needs permission to do anything. That he must always strike like velvet and iron at the same time. Administering blows with the mind and senses. That there are no shrines. I am proud to write that I love you and that tears well up in my eyes as I write this line. Then I hear you say to take my tears and spit on the grave of the master. That it’s necessary. I do that mon maitre, and promise to always think of you, always and forever as if the first time.
Ton eleve, disciple et admirateur, (pas cent ans, mais une eternite)