All posts by Sharon Dolin

Chromophilia, or Color-love

I just finished reading a terrific little book. Actually, I’m embarked upon reading it a second time because it so perfectly captures one woman’s obsession with the color blue as a way to read her world. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets  is written in the form of numbered  “propositions,” a la Wittgenstein, but they are as lyrical and as far-reaching in style and subject matter as possible: from disquisitions on fucking: “There is a color inside of the fucking, but it is not blue” to discussions of Platonic, Newtonian, even celestial optics, as well as questions of God as light or darkness: where abstruse topics such as “the idea of agnosia, or unknowing, which is what one ideally finds, or undergoes, or achieves, within this Divine Darkness.” And, of course, there are nods to William Gass, Goethe: “We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances us, but because it draws us after it.”

And threaded throughout—yes, with a cobalt blue thread—is the lover’s despair, not unlike Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, though this thread is subtler, less central though perhaps the initiating emotion.

Color. She rejects yellow—as being the least pleasing of colors when alone (is that why Jews were associated with yellow?) and green.

Poets who are drawn to color—though what poet isn’t? Mallarmé, for one. And Rimbaud. And of course Lorca: “Green, green, I want you green.” And Kim Addonizio, whose poem “What Do Women Want?” opens “I want a red dress.”

What does your poetry do?—I guess it gives a kind of blue rinse to the language” (John Ashbery).

Several, actually nearly 10 years ago, I published a book of ekphrastic poems called Serious Pink it is mostly documents my love affair with painting, there’s also a long collage of a poem called “Ode to Color.” Most of what’s there is what others have said about color, not because I have nothing to say, but because I wanted to make a patchwork quilt, a coat of many colors, about color.

I’ll leave you with a poem about red that’s inside that larger poem—red being a color to counteract all this blue, red being a color that has duende in it, red being the color, according to a study, that if a woman wears it on a first date, is a sign she will sleep with the man right away. I’m not convinced by that reading of red, but I do know I was told, if you wear red for a poetry reading, you won’t trip up on your lines. And that I have found to be true:


A man in a red GEORGIA baseball cap wearing
      a sweatshirt with a red bulldog over his heart,
     sitting in a subway car, the smell of his poverty much too strong

but I stay out of weakness and pity:
    his dark skin has gone through fire
and his hands and arms and who knows how much more of him
wear the ropy scars: I watch him, not wanting to stare,

as he draws out of a pocket dangling from a long rope at his waist
    a red-plastic compact he opens: inside, a red plastic brush

on its obverse the mercury pool he dips and dips his face towards
    as though to stanch the fire (who knows what he sees)
  he shuts it opens it shuts it then like a black Narcissus he has to re-open

and stares. Maybe it solidifies him, all I know is I'm mesmerized too and steeped
       in my own pool, trying to think only of color, see this portrait in red.

Writer’s block or why it’s okay to be a mess at all times

At a recent book party, someone asked me what I was working on and I said that I hadn’t been writing much for the last year and a half. I guess that’s what others would call writer’s block. But, of course, that’s not entirely true. If I look at my notebook, at least my main poetry notebook (and yes, I do write by hand, preferably with a fountain pen in a physical notebook), I might find very little there. And yet, there are now all these other little notebooks I carry around (usually 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″) in bright colors or patterns, as in the photo of some I bought at MOMA (I started buying Moleskin once they started doing something other than basic black). There I scratch away, particularly when in transit, in fact, mostly when in transit so that for the last several years, I have found myself writing by not writing sequences of aphorisms (prose poems?) connected to place.

The most comical aspect of this project is that I’ve been getting these aphoristic sequences published as creative nonfiction. As someone who has always only written poetry, I feel like I’m a prose writer-in-drag, that is, a poet tricked up as a writer of creative nonfiction. In fact, my New York Aphorisms will be published later this year from Fourth Genre, which only publishes nonfiction. You could another sequence here:

So perhaps that is the secret to writing without writing: to write with the left hand (if you’re a righty), to write someplace else all the time believing that you’re not writing at all. And I’ve had this experience before: the sensation that I’m not really writing, and apparently, it’s not a unique one. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz, author of Other Desert Cities, was recently interviewed by Alec Baldwin on his radio podcast Here’s the Thing . At the very end of the show, Baldwin asks him if he’s working on anything new. Baitz balks at an answer and Baldwin persists, “You’re scribbling . . .” And Baitz, “Yeah, I’m supposed to be doing things. I’m a mess at all times.”

The most private thing I’m willing to admit

The other day, while rushing into a midtown office building to keep an appointment, the security guard at the desk asked where I was going and when I told him, he raised what turned out to be a camera eye at me as I went gliding by. “Hey, did you just take a picture of me?” I asked. And he, “Yes.” Now I’m already around the corner at the elevators, “But you didn’t even ask.” And he: “I’m not supposed to.” Why does this exchange bother me? Perhaps because, along with a steady erosion of our civil rights has come a steady erosion of any sense of privacy. Now, the fact that I’m writing this on a blog would seem to indicate that I’ve tossed all sense of privacy to the wind as I go whirling along here, but that is far from the way that I see it. Ironic? A bit. But I do believe in privacy. I do I do I do.

So, as a poet, who has certainly written poems about her life, what do I mean by privacy? Privacy means I don’t have my photo taken without my permission. Privacy means I choose which words of mine are seen/read by others. Privacy means no one but the person I’m speaking to is privy to my conversation. Privacy means I don’t get frisked by the police because I am about to ride the NYC subways.

But in our era, that’s an impossibility. Every time I enter my bank and use my ATM, I am being photographed. Every time I search online for a product, I will be barraged with ads offering me similar products, at least for the next few weeks. Has my phone been tapped? I’m probably too uninteresting and unthreatening for anyone to bother. However,  I know that because I am a white woman, my chances of being frisked by NYC cops is probably nil. And my chances if I were a black or Latino man, well . . . are much much higher.

There’s a difference between the photo I choose to post and the ones that someone takes of me without my permission.

There’s a difference between what, from my private life, I choose to fashion, transform, into a poem and someone else chooses to steal and use.

It’s not only the lack of privacy; it’s the lack of much conversation about it. Or at least, not enough conversation. Whatever happened on 9/11, it has had one overwhelming effect, helped along by the medium I am using at this moment to communicate: the balance between security and privacy has shifted heavily in the direction of security. Perhaps, in this medium, it’s the balance between the marketplace (the right to sell) and privacy has also shifted in favor of the

The title of this post is taken from one of the profile questions to a popular dating site. It’s a hopeful sign that many people still balk at answering the question.

What is it about electronic readers

Someone gifted me a Kindle. It was never something I would have bought for myself. I’m trying to figure out why I resist reading from it. [Full disclosure: I am still one of those people who gets The New York Times delivered, who rides the subway with a newspaper folded in her hands. Who holds the smooth pages of The New Yorker as she reads.] A year or more ago, I bought and read Sara Bakewell’s How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. I was travelling and it seemed like a good way to read the book instead of lugging along a huge hard cover. And I did read it, but I can barely remember the book and the pencil markings, scratchings, I like to make in a physical book are, of course, not there. “Clippings,” as Kindle calls them, are a different thing altogether. What brought me to thinking about this, while walking the dog today, is why I’m reading for at least 6 months a really terrific book: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder’m engrossed in reading it when I pick it up, but then put it down for months. For some reason, because I bought it for my Kindle (pace Ann, who is the only major writer I know of who also owns a bookstore), I don’t feel compelled to enter and remain in the world as well. And a different world it is, set mostly in the Amazon jungle with characters that have enough staying power.

I also downloaded the “sample” of my own last book, Burn and Dodge, just to see what that would look like. All you get is the first 6 lines of the first poem, which is, aptly, “Regret.”


Here’s another sin you’re sunk within
owl-necked looking back
to where you might have been
or what you could have done
to deep you from the muck
you’re stuck standing in.

Okay. Okay. I liked seeing my words on a screen, despite the fact that I had to change the font size so the lineation of the poem wouldn’t change. But what I really want is for readers to hold the volume in their hands. And what I want as a reader is to feel the heft of paper, to smell the smell of new paper, to throw a pencil in to mark my place and to use to pencil in whatever notes I care to make. That said, I do intend to finish reading the book on my Kindle. And when I travel this summer, I probably imagine myself bringing the Kindle along, or else borrowing my son’s ipad.