Issue #292 / July 2024

What would you say is the most gratifying thing about being an artist/musician?

GIL, PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL

I went to buy “Poems” by Frederick Seidel based on your recommendation and opted instead for his latest “So What” collection because I hadn’t read him and liked the title. Always with a new poetry collection, I open to a few poems randomly before proceeding front-to-back.
[ ] To my utter amazement there was a poem called “Nick Cave”. I’m basking in the weird little joy that that moment gave me. What was that like?

SCOTT, FORT COLLINS, USA

Dear Gil and Scott,

I am tempted to say that the most gratifying part of being an artist is the work—the process of creating something or, indeed, the finished thing itself. But I’ve been writing songs for long enough to know that my relationship with my work is frustratingly unstable—today’s artistic triumphs can quickly become tomorrow’s discontents, as time’s sobering effect puts the work in its context and place.

But occasionally, if they are fortunate, something happens in an artist’s life that stands in firm defiance against all the doubts and personal misgivings that plague most self-reflecting artists—or, at least, this one. I mean that excellent and eternal gratifier—the recognition of your efforts by an artist you admire.

When I first heard Johnny Cash’s recording of ‘The Mercy Seat’, I was taken back to my childhood in a small town in Australia, watching The Johnny Cash Show on television, completely mesmerised by this darkly enigmatic singer and thinking that’s what I want to be. Now, here I was, over thirty years later, listening to my hero sing one of my songs and realising that nothing could take this away, this has happened, a fact beyond feeling. I imagined arriving at the pearly gates and Saint Peter saying, ‘You can’t come in here’, and me saying, ‘Excuse me, Johnny Cash sang The Mercy Seat’, and Saint Peter inclining his head in deference, unclipping the velvet rope and ushering me in. Because, for me, this was as good as it gets.

Frederick Seidel’s poems have been a constant source of delight since his publisher gave me his Ooga Booga collection in 2006. The first poem of Fred’s I read was ‘Kill Poem’, which begins its journey in one place only to arrive suddenly and sickeningly somewhere else entirely. I was stunned at the sheer speed we travelled, its outrageous nerve, the dangerousness of it and its complete newness, and I was left wondering how the hell the poem and I ended up where we ended up. This was the start of an enduring love affair with Fred’s poetry. Fred has said, ‘I like to hear the sound of form, and I like to hear the sound of it breaking’— and it is this, his poems with their fearless diversions, that gave me the courage to derange my own songs and free myself from the neat narrative contrivances I felt so imprisoned in at that time.

When we saw the poem ‘Nick Cave’ in Fred’s latest collection, ‘So What,’ my wife and I were deeply moved, and we read it with tears of gratitude. We saw that life was fast and light and that things come and go, running like sand through our fingers, but we also knew that nothing could take away this gift. Nothing. It was here to stay. I am printing the poem here with Fred’s permission.

 

NICK CAVE

 

Because the motorcycle is very light

Ducati called it the Superleggera

And very good-looking and vastly fast and made of light

And the factory would make only five hundred of them

And stop. Which would make it rare.

And one was lucky to have one for sixty-five thousand dollars

And that was quite some years ago and a lot of money.

Mine poses on its stand expensively unridden right there.

And the enormous beauty of the poet and singer Nick Cave

Issuing his impossibly lyrical notice of unending grief

Over the son he has lost and the love and the life.

And the superlight lifting into the light. And only art can.

I have written this poem for you, Nick,

This awkwardly unrhymed sonnet meant to not make sense.

 

Love, Nick

 

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