A letter to Frank from Will Petersen, 1967

wonderful! you have a dash in place of the date!!!

Monday, 27 Aug 67

Dear Frank,
                   a letter from you and also a good one from Walter Hamady in Madison, Wisconsin. It's good
news that even before finishing your letter I came here to sit down, correspond, eagerly. Ami and I were
having coffee when the mail came. We'd played catch, as a way to wake up, get a rhythm going. It was good.
                    Immediately after writing you I began working, and, as always happens, all sorts of little things went right and there were good "coincidences". For one, I made myself a bowl of Japanese noodles in broth (soba) ) (for the first time in the US) and watched the Japanese ALL Star Baseball game, and a letter came to me from Ami's younger brother. For me, simply, it was relating -- and the dream I had last night was good too.
                     Ami and I had a good long talk too, during the course of which she quoted you, saying:
as Frank says, poets don't belong in workshops.
                     In any case, somehow I've broken out of the not-caring, tired, what's-the-use, all's meaningless state I've been in for so long.
                     But now what? Do I want to explain? I suppose this is our modern curse.

During the game a man hit a triple and the pitcher smiled. The American broadcaster noted this and the American playing with a Japanese team commented that this was something he could never accept -- that the pitcher should be angry, that it was inconceivable that he was not, and therefore the smile was insincere, phoney, untrustworthy. It is , if one accepts the western, or American basis. As I watched and listened, I smiled - or noted myself smiling, and I was feeling good. (I'm tired of this talk of loss of face, as though American anger isn't also concern with loss of face.) Anyway I felt light. (Think of the smiles on ancient sculptures, in early Christian painting or medieval sculpture, in old oriental works. In art history it is referred to as the "archaic smile", meaning it is primitive and early on the progress & evolution value scale -- that is, those guys didn't really know how to sculpt or paint realistic expressions.
                      If it takes less muscles to smile than to frown, it would seem the smile is lighter, and more natural. Anyway, I smiled, and went back to work.

I am definitely leaving the school after this year, knowing that I cannot teach -- except for drawing (but I couldn't get a job teaching that), for teaching drawing is good seeing-exercise for me. I also knew, as I 've always known but have tried, how I 've tried, as that I can't be part of an academic community, artist's community, etc. I also know I'll never sell enough to exist by my work, and that the truer the work the less chance of gaining income from it. Whatever I sell will only partly pay for the high costs of materials.
As for the city, I've got to be near the city to be able to buy the papers, printing inks, papers, brushes, gum arabic, acids and other things I need, for I have these cumbersome stones, this heavy press....Since I do make objects I also need from time to time to be with fellow objects, to look and be nourished, to meet my friends..., as you need to meet Dante. So the painter envies the poet, who seems purer--who doesn't seem to be so saddled, doesn't seem so tied to place by need for materials. Saddest seems the sculptor, Sadder still, the architect.
I'm happy to receive your letter, and for me it is joy that my letter prompted it. I feel complete agreement with it--FEEL, because I feel "right", honest and myself; feel true. FEEL, also, because the whole of me accepts, agree, but I cannot say THINK. I am not a thinker, or, perhaps, more accurately, my thoughts form themselves more accurately in the images I make, in the colors I place, than in words. I can visualize shapes that eliminate conflict, but words return us to it. So, when you say "The conflict between you and me in this: you see the community solution (that is, it isn't the State, etc..........)....." I don't recognize myself.

That at core, at center, however one wants to put it (already I feel troubled by verbal idioms) we are not in conflict is why we have been friends for so long and continue to be, and that the friendship is not broken by oppositions. Meanwhile we wear clothes, buy shoes, earn money for food, seek solutions, choose toothpastes...and "glad to hear you had a nice trip" or any other statement can be cause for argument. (God, after all, is a word, and an English word at that. In praise of God. Yea! But no, perhaps when someone else says it. No art even existed that was not religious, I said to Ami, but then what does each person mean by religion? So I am in agreement with "God is dead" and at the same time reject it completely, utterly--absolutely out of the question, an impossibility: if God is eternal, etc., then God is dead is too ridiculous a statement to even think about--something else is dead, if anything. And if religion had nothing to do with art, or if art replaced, etc then it's not my religion.
                The difference between one bowl and another is that one is in praise of God, is religious, and the other not. All the discussion of shape, clay body, glaze, form, curve, lift, sit is finally irrelevant---and yet not.
               If one cannot speak of a bowl as religious, or of a painting of nothing but persimmons or a spray of bamboo as religious painting, then it is not what I mean by religion. If only icons or representations of saintly figures are religious, I want no part of that religion. I know you agree, even if you wrote back in argument, for your work is certainly an example. But how can I explain to someone that a poem of yours, take for example:

the street the reflection
the window
the waking
the backyard

                  is religious (and not a "landscape" poem, or a "still life" or "a slice of life" or a "scene" or a "decoration" or a "mood" or whatever) while so-and-so's full of Christ, God, love, Heaven, soul and other words is not at all religious? I can't. One either sees or doesn't. As fa as I'm concerned. I 'm not a teacher or missionary. Though I wish I could get people to see.
                   My sister once said to me, why do you sing sad songs (not unlike Zukofsky advising you to stop writing sad poems and to write happy poems)--but I was not sad, nor was I joyful, unless we redefine both words. So Hasegawa always said I'm sad-happy or happy-sad when asked how he felt. Maybe joyful-sorrowing or sorrowing-joyful would have been better, but English was not his language, and not being a poet I translate these words. As I suppose you, working with words and concerned with their precision, cannot, or would not. Likewise, looking at a visual equivalent of the above, I, concerned with just the right shape, color, form would not, could not, alter what I saw, but would reject. But Hasegawa tried his way to get away from the everyday dualisms. So, there is sorrow and sorrow, joy and joy. Or, as you put it to me:
"Your notion of joy is therefore to me a middle class sentiment." You underline notion, so I suppose you would disagree with the above and say, no, Will, there isn't joy and you, but only joy, an absolute, a single definition, but there are false notions and middle class etc distortuons--I suppose you would say that, and I suppose agreement again.
                    So, "don't write sad poems, write happy poems" is really irrelevant. A smile when the opposition hits a triple of of you may be a social smile, may be a false smile, may be deceitful, but it may also be true--it may be religious.
                     But when the work goes (or comes), how good, how true, how right. And the truest test is perhaps when I sit down, look at it (someone else looking at it might find it depressing, sorrowful, sad or whatever) feel quiet joy, feel true--if it is in praise of , what else can one feel? I've had those times, and always I've found myself feeling:now I can die.
                   Or, maybe if one put it: now I can meet my Maker--maybe that would be better, a better way to put it.
                   At that moment all is true, I'm physically alone, but feel isolated, alone, lonely, sad--nor is it what we usually call happy, joyous. It is joy, yes, and sorrow, yes. But not heel-kicking Eureka, not "Boy o Boy! I've got to show this to somebody", not "Boy am I good"--joy, but now of that. Maybe not even smile.
                 I suppose the archaic smile seems "primitive" because art critics and historians dislike the ambiguity, neither happy nor sad smile, so it must be the artist's inability to accurately portray emotion and expression. No one considers that the artist did succeed in doing just what he intended doing.
                  At the same time, Hasegawa's work was never as good as he was--I was at his deathbed and know the spirit of the man. I know Murray Jones died an awakened, a saved, man--meanwhile, there's his widow, his children, meanwhile there's his beautiful work which is stacked up unwanted...At the same time there's the dirty man, the ugly man, the conniving man, who does beautiful, does pure work---because there's that purity in him, but here we are with masks, clothes, layers, overgrowth, undergrowth, parasitic growth (even inside us) and all is very complex, and the language we use if full of "kill" words and "pay load" and "pays off"....
                So, we'll argue from time to time, which is okay. We'll do another portfolio--I don't know when. Right now I've got to keep on with solving, or trying to solve, the color work, the large prints, I working on--and the work is full of contradictions. "Thinking" blocks me. I falter when I try to figure it all out or plan it first or justify it it or think in any way--I've got to go ahead, bumble my way through, error after error, and then when I'm done sit and look at the result in amazement, because it is incredibly complex in the way it works out--and after it's done I can find the most complex mathematical, for example, relations, and it seems inconceivable that is "wasn't planned" or thought out. In any case our ways differ, are complementary. Opposite poles.

I'd better go down to work. (Speaking of place, I do need daylight. Going down into the dark basement, working by artificial light, is no good.) Final word: Whenever I am positive I'm leaving Columbus and the school, that's exactly the time I can stay--or stay or go, all the same. Then I return to that state I was in in Oakland when I said: "I've got to get to Japan, I have to. It's the most important thing in my life. But, if I don't go, that's okay." And everyone looked at me thinking I made no sense.

Yours ever,
(good to get a good letter from you!)

Will Petersen and Frank Samperi letters would make a great book.


  1. Will:

    makes/made Perfect Sense to me ...


    Wherever I go
    There I am

    (I almost went to see/visit
    when y'all were in
    West Virginia...


    I almost did many things
    otherwise than what was I doing.

    it s ALL in the right-now and
    anyway .... again?

  2. Will Petersen and Frank Samperi letters WOULD make a great book!

  3. Hi Bill,
    Yes, you bet they would. I am working on it.
    Hopefully in the future we can make that happen.
    Will P letters are amazing and he was such an intense artist who shared his ideas and feelings with my father.
    Thank you for responding. Claudia

  4. HI Claudia, This is Will's son Sei. Thanks for the letter! I'll forward to Ami.

  5. Hi Sei,
    Please have Ami write to me.
    my email is samperinyc@gmail.com.
    I would love to speak with her about the letters between Frank and Will.
    Thank you so much for contacting me.

  6. Hi Sei,
    Please have Ami write me. I would like to get a hold of Frank's letters to Will.
    Are they at a Univ. and where.
    Send me Ami's address and I can write her.

    Thank you,

  7. HI Claudia, may be best to contact Cynthia Archer via Will's tribute page on Facebook.

    I'll also try and get Ami to contact you. She's not so hot on the whole computer thing.

  8. Thank you Sei,
    I will try to contact Cynthia and see where that gets me.
    I can also write Ami a letter via mail if that is better.
    Just email me her address.

  9. HI Claudia, can't find your email. Can you call Ami again? She was visiting me when you called and couldn't understand your phone # via your message. Thanks! Sei


Post a Comment

Popular Posts