Notes on "Ullage" from issue 301.2

Edward Mayes

I began “Ullage” one morning—almost all of my poems are written between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.—in a darkened room, in a 250-page notebook I bought (one of several) at a paper store in Florence called Tassotti (sadly no longer there), a company founded by Giorgio Tassotti in Bassano del Grappa (Northern Italy) in 1957, having taken over the business from a firm called Remondini (flourished from 1657 to 1861). I had charged myself each morning to write, and if a poem appeared on the page at the end of the morning, I would type it and email it to my good friend, Alberto Alfonso, a Cuban-born, Tampa-based architect and artist. He in turn would paint a 4-inch by 4-inch watercolor in his studio the following morning, early, before he started work at his architectural firm, Alfonso Architects. He would take a photo of the watercolor and email it to me. We had started this exchange just a few months before and continued it until a few months ago, when we both needed a rest from it, but vowed to take it up again when we both agreed. We’ve hundreds of these collaborations—should I say they’re the opposite of ekphrasis, a poem based on a painting or other work of art, since all except one is a painting based on a poem.

Here’s a photo of the Tassotti notebook pages: on the left, a series of notes, until I found the first line, and on the right, the poem, nearly finished on that page, but a few lines migrate to the left. I’ve nearly always approached the page as a canvas, and the poem is “over” when I’ve finished the space.

The notes, I’ve discovered, have become an integral part of the poem for me, so I’ve taken to including them at the bottom of the page.

notebookHere’s also a photo of the watercolor, both the architect and artist in perfect harmony, its beauty seen without any reference at all to the poem, but perhaps the poem and the painting together become a third kind of art.                                                                watercolor

Edward Mayes

Edward Mayes’s five books of poetry include First Language (Juniper Prize, University of Massachusetts Press) and Works & Days (Associated Writing Programs—AWP—Prize in Poetry, University of Pittsburgh Press). He has published poems in The Southern Review, Poetry, The New Yorker, APR, and The Best American Poetry, with recent poems in The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, AGNI, Colorado Review, Southwest Review, Harvard Review, Blackbird, and Crazyhorse. He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina and Cortona, Italy with his wife, the writer, Frances Mayes. Their latest collaboration is The Tuscan Sun Cookbook (Random House/Clarkson Potter).