Looking for the sublime in art, music, and words

How To Read Music

Vol.53 Issue 03

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A dot and an angosturian dash with an hermaphroditic hypodermic hyphen is all that’s needed nowadays, with maybe a word here and a blind spot there to help heavy-heads out of their frowsty mental beds. Here’s a poem, believe it or not:
— From The Readies by Bob Brown, 1930


Minna Proctor

Making art is about capturing the ineffable and articulating the unspeakable—facing the whole of everything, and selecting just those elements that will, with some combining and shaping, become something new.

In this issue, we assume all of the arts (literature, music, photography) have a common apparatus that sets them into motion… among artists, there is a creative denominator. We also assume that audiences—we readers, listeners, watchers—bring another creative impulse, a receptor denominator, to reading, listening, watching. We also assume that none of this can be taken for granted and that the making and receiving of art is a way of practicing the sublime.




Judy Rowe Michaels
the birds that night

A.P. Sullivan
Opus Contra Naturum
Sixth Epistle of the Virtual Apostle
Painted Walls of Mexico Calendar
So Dear, What Then Do You Think’s Happening in the Painting?

Nicholas Samaras
Psalm for the Song and the Singing
The Kidnapped Child Learns the Fundamental Structures of Music Theory

Dan Gutstein
For evening
One train pushes second train

Daneen Wardrop
A Walk Is a Way Not To Ask
A Balcony for Elegy
Speak to Wish

Nina Soifer
To the Writer on the Elevator

Jørgen Leth
Boredom: Seven poems around a theme
Translated by Martin Aitken

Maxine Patroni
The Problem of Describing Unrequited Love
A Poem about Wind

Peter J. Cooley
Rijksmuseum: Poem One
Caravaggio, “The Supper at Emmaus,” The National Gallery, London

Laura McCullough
Sometimes I Ache for Disambiguation
Women and the Syntactical World
God Is Queer

James Richardson
The Stars in Order Of

Robert Carnevale
Snow on Snow
Nothing To Say

Kelly Cherry
What the poet wishes to say


Percival Everett

Elena Poniatowska
Translated by George Henson

Noah Elliot Blake
How Saying Is Sometimes Saying All Is Right in This Universe
A Moment of Genius
Our Father’s Brain
You May Tell the Story of Your Aunt’s Death

Kelly Luce

Polly Buckingham
Monster Movie

Alex Stein
Blackberry Thickets: A Conversation with Josan
The Mundane, the Glorious, the Cat Familiar: A Conversation with Katy Byrd

Rachel Swearingen
Woman in Blue

John Oliver Hodges
Troutsky’s Parade

Aaron Shulman
Guide to the Boulevard of Foreseeable Museums

Marco Candida
Dream Diary
Translated by Elizabeth Harris


Alex Abramovich
Too Far Gone?

Katherine Lien Chariott
Daughters Made of Dust ‹Collateral Damage› Chip Livingston
Trashing Andy Warhol


Thomas E. Kennedy
In the Company of Angels
By Andrew McKay

Gilbert Sorrentino
The Abyss of Human Illusion
By Jeff Bursey

Alina Bronsky
Broken Glass Park
By Marion Wyce

Mary Jo Bang
The Bride of E
Louise Glück
A Village Life
By Renée Ashley

Maurya Simon
The Raindrop’s Gospel: The Trials of St. Jerome and St. Paula, A Novel in Verse
By Paul-Victor Winters

Maile Chapman
Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto
By Jody Handerson

Anne Carson
By Ted Hamilton

Tess Gallagher
The Man from Kinvara
By Abigail Deutsch



Minna Proctor
Interview with
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein



Sharon Harper
Moon Studies And Star Scratches no. 5
June–September 2004. Saratoga Springs, New York; Middlesex, Vermont; Johnson, Vermont; Eden Mills, Vermont; Greensboro, North Carolina
(© 2004 Copyright Sharon Harper. Courtesy of Galerie Stefan Röpke, Cologne and Rick Wester Fine Art, New York.)

Long exposures in harsh climates, sunbursts, even skydiving—Sharon Harper’s dogged and sometimes daring working method lies somewhere in the midst of art, astronomy, and Outward Bound. Her large-format photographs are logical, understated, and bluntly expressive of the most inarticulate, moody mind states: the oneiric limbo of racing through the European countryside on a high speed train. The unsettling awe of a foggy shore at twilight. The startling hypnosis of a slowly shifting, starry night. The exquisite omen of darkened branches against a stormy sky, cracked suddenly by lightning. All of this she aptly bundles into the category of the sublime. And for man, standing always at the foot of the sublime looking up, art is the most potent, though approximate and abstract, response.

By art here one means tools, craft, systems—not inspiration. Paradoxically, photography, perhaps the most mechanical of mediums, has a closer relationship with chance than with system. Photography has historically prized the vanishing, captured, precise moment. But Harper’s work, especially the recent projects Moon Studies and Star Scratches and One Month, Weather Permitting, is durational. It has everything to do with the passage of time, of movement and shift, and the uniquely technical aspects of traditional photography. As she has written, these images “are not available to the eye until they are fixed on some photographic material.”

Harper’s signature “star scratches” are made from the shifting patterns of the open sky as revealed over repeat exposures on subsequent nights on large-format negatives. She trains the camera’s deliberate view on nature’s elusive breadth to suggest a specific emotional experience, and by virtue of inevitable mishaps—light leaks, cloud cover, windy nights—evinces how “the sublime resists imposed structure.” Her newest series, One Month, Weather Permitting, uses long, multiple exposures to capture the stealth but distinct movement of celestial bodies over Banff, Alberta. The images reveal strong, insistent star trails and a capricious—utterly alluring—moon.

Her project log discloses a month of cold and foggy nights in Banff. The September 18 entry reads: “0 Exposure; Rain, Snow.” The next night: “50 minute exposure; 3 hour and 20 minute exposure (No Moon. Moving Clouds.)” Two good, long exposures followed on the night of the 20th and a single 45-minute one on the next. The entry concludes: “Original 4×5 silver gelatin negative.” The picture itself is one of the sparest in the series: four extremely distinct and randomly intersecting perfect lines and a dense grey backdrop cross hatched with many faint traces, like cat hairs left behind on an occasionally preferred dark seat cushion.

Two weeks later (October 5 and October 6), a combined ten-hour exposure over two moonless, overcast nights gives way to a tequila sunrise-tinted glow; the star scratches slice out of the light like shooting embers. If the scratches were less provocatively askew in their relative trajectories, the scene would look like a shot from the lurid storyboard of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The trails, Harper writes, “suggest the illusion of scratches made directly onto film.” Here is a physical language, a manifest footprint, for those miracle points of light composed of nothing more palpable than gassy explosions. She calls these “chance compositions” because they are ultimately subject to unyielding nature, but while dominated by the whims of shifting skies, what we’re actually looking at is a “strictly photographic” phenomenon. These images drag the universe down to touch us, but we’ll never see them in nature.

—Minna Proctor


(This article was commissioned by and first published in BOMB Magazine, Issue #111, Spring 2010. © Bomb Magazine, New Art Publications, and its Contributors. All rights reserved. The BOMB Archive can be viewed at www.bombsite.com.)