My second day at Civitella Ranieri, as a walked across the shady grounds in the late afternoon, it struck me that I was a very lucky Fellow. Here I was in a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by gorgeous landscape and a short drive not only from great art but also great ice cream. My wife and I were being lodged in spacious rooms in what had been the castle’s granary, we were having lunch and dinner in the open air with a highly agreeable and diverse group of other writers, artists, and composers, and I had the use of a computer that was virtually identical to the one I use at home.
Then things got better. I soon found that although the Civitella Ranieri Foundation staff had gone to considerable effort and expense to bring me to the castle for the express purpose of producing new work, I was able to do just that, in the form of two projects. The first consisted of notes on the relationship between the landscapes in Perugino’s work—the little vistas in the distance behind the principal figures—and the actual Umbrian landscape. This project involved seeing as much of Perugino’s work as possible and of looking around on my way to and from it. The second project, if I may call it that, involved my continuing attempt to sit down and write poems without having any preconceptions about what I was going to say or how I was going to say it. What made this pursuit different at Civitella was that I was free from the tempting distractions that I veer toward so easily at home. More importantly, at Civitella I found myself writing at atypical times of day and night, sometimes when I didn’t feel like doing it, and letting myself explore new syntactical and rhythmical moves. On an even broader front, at Civitella it was an unexpected relief to find refuge, even a temporary one, from the foreboding that attends the moral and political weight of being an American these days.
I wonder what Clive van den Berg
is doing right now. I’ll bet he’s surmising
as he peers perceptively at his new drawings
though in the back of his head there
is a drawing of lunch outdoors in the shade
at a table spread with the finest little things
all tasty and symmetrical, so he adds
some shading and pepper and the outlines
of Zoë and Ingrid as a breeze rises
and falls like the edge of the tablecloth
that suggests heaven and then settles
back down into tabelclothness, which is heaven
for the tabelcloth and those of us who are us.
Civitella Ranieri, 6 July 2003