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Dear Jack

Stephen Vincent

Re "Language" (the book) and Graham, that typographer, it was something that I meant to say, perhaps, because nobody says it, nobody recognizes it anymore. The purity of the original poem. It gets all washed over in bad type, bad re-design jobs, bad reprints. Which is say, going back there to Nigeria, the way the poems looked on the page - no matter that I could not understand so many of them - I was hypnotized by their typographic construct. The poems seemed to stand still while, simultaneously, walk across the page. It was something in the typeface, the point size, and, equally significant, the spacing between the lines. And the singularity of one poem to a page.
 
How ­ at the same time - do you make a poem both stand like a sculpture and provide it with motion? You and Graham must have been plugged into the same music. Was it Charlie Parker? The way Parker throws up those constructs ­ flashing the composition as complex as the foliage - the breeze- torn, thick clusters of luminescent leaves ­ as if of a tree once immaculately drawn by Claude Lorraine. Now that's a leap. You like leaps. The arrow through John F. Kennedy's back.
 
Graham was ever so sad when you left the premises. No matter how hard he tried to keep his shop going, it collapsed. He went to Santa Barbara. It had to be a "Saint", right? In 1976 ­ 11 years after your death ­ I went down there once to get him to do some typesetting for a book of poems. I had the notion that Graham could still provide the magic. He did, Jack! Not on the book. He was too wasted, too drunk for that. We found him in a bar playing pool. His two front teeth were missing. "I was on the wrong end of somebody's boot," he said. He took us to his apartment, what he called his "mis-en-scene."
 
Except for the light of a small, Victorian lamp near a chair, the one room and kitchen were dark. As if he wanted to offer us something to drink, he opened the refrigerator door. There was nothing there. Except on the second shelf. There was one white saucer. Illuminated by the fridge bulb, situated precisely in the saucer¹s middle, there was an absolutely singular, dark, half-slanted purple grape. Mis-en-scene! The whole construct was as singular and powerfully composed as one of your poems fit to a page.
 
He missed you, Jack, way bad.
 
There is nothing to say that poetry won't drive you to squalor. Or a big love gone way sad. The last big joke on the makers is that those silly, enormous things (the poems) go way beyond whatever was us. Eternity ­ those poems ­ have nothing of you in them. The rearview mirror is a joke. The clarity of what was left behind is mere gossip. The mirror is covered with tinfoil.
 
Only, as you say, Jack, do poems talk to poems.
 
Or, I might mention, the way Claude Lorraine composed those trees with a concave mirror ­ and so precisely. As Graham and you, too.