The Blue Guitar

P.K. Page

copyright ©P.K. Page, 2009

They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.’
The man replied, ‘Things as they are
are changed upon the blue guitar.’

– The Blue Guitar (Wallace Stevens)

I do my best to tell it true
a thing exceeding hard to do
or tell it slant as Emily
advises in her poetry,
and, colour blind, how can I know
if green is blue or cinnabar.
Find me a colour chart that I
can check against a summer sky.
My eye is on a distant star.
They said, ‘You have a blue guitar.’

‘I have,’ the man replied, ‘it’s true.
The instrument I strum is blue
I strum my joy, I strum my pain
I strum the sun, I strum the rain.
But tell me, what is that to you?
You see things as you think they are.
Remove the mote within your ear
then talk to me of what you hear.’
They said, ‘Go smoke a blue cigar!
You do not play things as they are.’

‘Things as they are? Above? Below?
In hell or heaven? Fast or slow …?’
They silenced him. ‘It’s not about
philosophy, so cut it out.
We want the truth and not what you
are playing on the blue guitar.
So start again and play it straight
don’t improvise, prevaricate.
Just play things as they really are.’
The man replied, ‘Things as they are

are not the same as things that were
or will be in another year.
The literal is rarely true
for truth is old and truth is new
and faceted – a metaphor
for something higher than we are.
I play the truth of Everyman
I play the truth as best I can.
The things I play are better far
when changed upon the blue guitar.’

Notes on the Poem

We've observed before with something akin to awe how in Coal and Roses, P.K. Page managed to wield the rigour of the early Renaissance glosa form to astonishing and beautiful effect. Let's marvel again at her mastery of this intricate form, one in which she mustered such discipline, but also with which she was having obvious and exuberant fun along the way. Previously, we featured "The Age of Gold" from Coal and Roses as a Poem of the Week selection. We pondered P.K. Page's special brand of sampling, a seemingly contemporary approach to creating new art from preceding forms and works that has, in fact, extensive and diverse roots and variations. This time, in "The Blue Guitar", Page takes her cue from another voice, that of Wallace Stevens in his 1936 poem The Man With the Blue Guitar", which in turns takes a cue from Pablo Picasso's painting The Old Guitarist. She establishes her own voice and from the outset, makes the commitment: "I do my best to tell it true a thing exceeding hard to do" She then manages to imbue her words with a spirit and universality that allows other voices to take it up. We regret that we never got to hear Page herself read these lively words, but they are there for the likes of Dionne Brand to lend her own interpretation to them, as she did in this distinctive and unforgettable reading.

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