On Spacing Place
I’ve never truly drawn Richard Hugo. Admittedly, on the front of the Team Demo Hugo website, there’s a picture of Richard Hugo, sketched by me. The basic elements—arm, head, paper, jacket, balding crown—mirror the original photograph. Yet the soft-form pudginess of the sketch feels entirely different than the actual photo. Photographed Hugo coils into the sheet of paper he traces, actively brooding. Sketched Hugo is static, morphed into a pudgy, mulling academic. Hugo, the writer, the poet, is somehow lost in the margins of the glancing lines.
Perhaps this disconnect between the seen and the seer is what Hugo marks when he croons, “All memory resolves itself in gaze…” in "Degrees of Grey in Phillipsburg." Resolve is a deceiver in this line. Gazing out on what once was seems to beckon peace, but our narrator is not prepared for any kind of acceptance. Instead, this is the resolve of music, a dissonant chord emerging only to be crease-smoothed into consonance. The visual melee of change is cloaked in nostalgia, as to see what is seen, instead of what is there, is to see how place is made.
Ethical dilemmas within visual representation are taxing considerations in the content-based production of media. Someone needs an image to capture the eye-attention, to will the cursor to move and click. If you can draw, you are competent to join the war. But how is the image made? And when drawing poems, people, places, what space, in conjunction, in tension, do these images make?
To say I’ve never drawn Hugo--- or even in fact any of his poems—is to say I feel as if I haven’t placed them. When I first drew the photo, I was new to Team Demo Hugo and new to Richard Hugo. I had never read any of his poems. I drew the notches in his forehead and left the paper light in contrast to the dark form, looping photographic mimicry in my lines. I now think of these images as sloppily unformed, guided only by my pen instead of thought, memory.
As I’ve come to know Hugo, the way I’ve approached drawing his work, and other Team Demo Hugo projects, has changed. To illustrate Hugo is to ask how he shows the creation of place and then to ask how this place is situated, spaced, in the minds of myself and others. Sketching for Jack Chelgren’s earlier post, “Where the Poem Was,” meant going back to Hugo’s poem, “Where the House Was,” reading Hugo’s place in conjunction with where Jack’s writing placed Hugo’s house. Jack characterizes the “memorable, weird imagery” existent in the poem that acts both as remembrances of “people, places, and lives” as well as a restoration of the validity poetry gives these moments, how “poetry gives us life.” Hugo explicitly writes how we see these remembrances: “You close your eyes and you see them”....”You remember.” Illustrating this piece was then an act of remembering Jack’s scissored imagery—a pear, the dogwood trees, the gopher, a purple left hand—and then closing my eyes. Spacing these images into a place was drawing how they arranged themselves in my mind, silting together into a dissolution of form and content. The marked iconography intertwines meaningfully but somehow separate; the purple left hand, the poem, both viscerally grasps at other iconography and yet is composed/decomposed of the memories it attempts to hold.
What this is grasping at is attempting to catch the layers embodied within a conversation, a physical and mental space, composed of overlapping memories and experiences. My drawings are only a part of a long litany. Even this placing is still uncertain in my mind and my pen as I slowly compose my artistic identity through this project. Part of Team Demo Hugo is a collection of artists already formed, while the other part is a cohort of creators learning their space. We situate Hugo in Hugo House, Hugo House in Seattle, and Seattle in the larger scale of gentrification. As, if not more, importantly, we look at how these places are situated in our memories.
Perhaps how we space place matters beyond my musings and growing pains when thinking about the shifting shape of Seattle. Cranes lance across the landscape, backbones to the buildings they will become; progress blots our skies. As we verge on the cusp of becoming, the act of remembrance feels more desperate, an active battle, if you will, against a technocratic dissolution of the Seattle identity. Yet desperation is a color that tinges remembrance and representation and changes the way we construct Seattle in future tense. How we gaze now is how we form Seattle. When we document the past that has occurred and the present emotions we feel in different mediums, perhaps the question of what space we are constructing matters most. Who constructed this place? who has added to its construction? and how does our own view position this collective memory in a place that both is and is not our own?
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