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The Noise of the Rain

Sarah Plimpton
The Noise of the Rain: Poems, Drawings & Illustrations
(Sheep Meadow Press, 2016)

It has always been the case, as long as I have—or anyone I know has—been reading the poems of Sarah Plimpton and looking at the (apparently) drastically simple forms of the drawings she constructs that are so instantly recognizable. Black and white, a perhaps curved line here and a circular shape there. We write or say “Ah, a sort of square, a streak or two here and/or there,” and then we question whether we really see or mean “perhaps” and “sort of” and “here and/or there”:—for we know or sense and see that underlying what we say and surely what we see, is something far firmer than those too-vague, not concrete-enough words we might at first deem appropriate.

Is it that the poems themselves feel condensed in their intensity, not reduced or abbreviated (again, the wrong words, not exactly aiming right) are seen differently? It seems somehow not simpler, but more possibly exact, to speak/write of her poems, first or only, reserving our inner space and time for those drawings.

Now of course the “illustration” might seem to want to be seen alongside the poems, and the “drawings” distinct in themselves. This reminds me—how not?—of the surrealizing title of the very great novel of Robert Desnos La Liberté ou l’amour! That is, either one or the other or both, freedom and love, no choice necessary. The exclamation mark says it all about saying it all: Freedom or love! They are the same and different, all the same. I love the ampersand between those terms of Plimpton’s title Drawings & Illustrations, the same way in which I love that exclamation point Desnos gives us. It says: you don’t have to notice these joined items, the bridge itself is silent, it doesn’t say “and.” So these poems, these drawings, and these illustrations are, like the noise of the rain, here and not here, together and not. Here is what we could not do, we could not put an exclamation point, about this lovely-looking book: The Noise of the Rain!

Let me take just one poem, whose title itself shows, bridges, Plimpton’s own interest in the scientific and the poetic: “Dark Matter.”

Dark Matter

one light out

and the stairs

are black

the night sky


the wind is down

a door

is cut to fit

the one step out

is beyond

your reach

It is the fittingness that cuts into us, even before we notice that the poet’s reach, her reach as she speaks to herself—who is walking up those back stairs?—is also our reach, as the poem & poet reach out and up. And we cannot fail to notice that the cut of the door—what a poetic costume!—is both cut to fit, and, in the next reading, fits the step beyond and out. It too is either/or or or/both. This is cubist poetry at its best, in which a line cuts, yes, cuts both ways, to the verse before it and the one just after. It cuts and joins.

Poetry at its best, I would say. And would signal the air standing to one side in the “Field Flowers.” Because I want to point out how her poetry permits you/us to stand to one side, not both sides, to one side. So it is not a case of squishy either/or ness, no, it is as pungent as Desnos, as sharp as Kierkegaard’s “Either Or.”

And in the poem “Walking,”

the flowers you like are on the side of the road which then turns until it is “straight uphill.” 

How grand, as is the forgetting

that walking

takes such time

That is time well spent, whichever way the road might turn. Or us, with it.

Another extraordinary poem along the lines of black and white is “Ivory Black,” which has the poet coloring the sky black, and then, as the sun or/and the poet is “tearing down the road,” finding it impossible to

....double back

to see

the day


the paint had dried

before the end

What a conception: the paint is the art is the poem is the road. It is all there, no choice. And we don’t have to reach the end: it may be “beyond your reach.” 


Mary Ann Caws

Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her many areas of interest in 20th-century avant-garde literature and art include Surrealism, poets René Char and André Breton, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, and artists Robert Motherwell, Joseph Cornell, and Pablo Picasso. Conceptually, one of her primary themes has been the relationship between image and text.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2017

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