“The romantic goes to SoHo and tries to participate in artistic modalities that were trivialized years ago in Europe. The realist finds all he needs where he is.”
Guy Davenport’s offhand dismissal of artistic poseurs, the shaved-head-and-ugly-glasses crowd, is also a defense of his own artistic strategy. Born in South Carolina, he lived the final forty years of his life in Lexington, Ky., far from the camp followers of a moribund avant-garde, and became one of the essential American writers of his time.
I met him once, twenty years ago at his house on Sayre Avenue. He was neat, well-groomed and dressed as conservatively (and tastefully) as a Methodist minister. His house, despite the presence of thousands of books and paintings, was clean and orderly but not oppressively so – and no hint of bohemian squalor. “The Shakers invented space, beautifully long empty rooms full of light,” he wrote, and it reminds me of the second-floor room where he had me sit to look at his paintings.
The second sentence above, the last one in “Lenard Moore” (The Hunter Gracchus, 1996), is more interesting. In nine words he distils the artist’s situation. Writing is best treated as a sober realist’s enterprise. In his study of Stephen Crane, John Berryman says literature is a man alone in a room with the language. No special clothing, body adornments, politics or geography are required. Just look out the window – anywhere, in fact, but the mirror.
Davenport’s review of Moore’s Forever Home, a poetry collection published in 1992, addresses the poet’s rootedness in North Carolina’s tobacco country and his devotion to the poems of the Japanese master Matsuo Bashō. (“And yet art comes from art, as it is a thing made with skill.”) In the sentences preceding those quoted at the top of this post, Davenport writes:
“What Moore finds in his past is an education of the senses, a validation of his world. This may be the most valuable act we can perform: to make peace with the only fate reality has given us. The power of poetry is demonstrated by Lenard Moore’s learning from Bashō that the smell of honeysuckle and the prudent departure of quail from a field are experiences as charming, and as absolute, in Onslow County as in the prefecture of Kyoto.”