The Story of the Ships
The City in June
I have spent most of my 67 years as a poet and professor of literature. Drawing & painting, by definition, operate outside written and spoken language, but they do share something essential with poetry: like a poem, a drawing or painting must unfold organically, “like leaves to a tree” as John Keats once asserted. When I draw or paint, I make shapes that please me with colors that please me and try to compose these colored shapes within a rectangular frame in a way that pleases me. Balance, color complementarity, judgments of volume and shape — I intuit all these things and ride with them, and if I’m successful, I’ll end up with something I enjoy looking at: a new, real pleasure in the old, real world. I am not intending to “communicate” anything verbal when I draw or paint; I do not use “symbols,” and I insist there is no paraphrasable “meaning” whatever in my work, other than the pleasure it gives to the eye. “Ut Pictura Poesis"? Yes, as far as they both preserve the imagination’s organic activity — but I have written ekphrastic poems and I have made paintings, and the two processes have nothing important in common. Filling the space of a canvas is not like filling the space of a 16-line poem, not at all… Making a drawing or a painting is like nothing else in life, a shout that remains silent, a chronology one sees all at once. It is an amazement. I owe primary credit to my beloved Celeste Goyer, who has given my mind confidence in my eye.
James Cushing, born 1953 in Palo Alto CA, holds a doctorate in English from UC Irvine. In the early 1980s, he hosted a live poetry radio program on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles which gave early exposure to Dennis Cooper, David Trinidad, Amy Gerstler, Wanda Coleman, Leland Hickman, and many others. From 1989-2020, he taught literature and creative writing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and served as the community’s Poet Laureate for 2008 – 2010. Cushing’s poems have appeared in many journals. His daughter is the New York-based poet Iris Cushing.