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Mother of pearl, there is an Olmec head
In my back yard and it doesn't stop talking
It says if your mother loves you
Does this mean
Before we began to walk
Out of Africa
There was solitude
Mark your forehead
Your torso erects
The structure
Before we began to walk
Out of Africa
There was no language
There was solitude

From "Red Square," page 64, in History Now, Marsh Hawk Press, 2017

The father woke up, he was holding the Green Man in his arms. He was telling the Green Man I know we do not have the same father but we are brothers. And dear brother like my son you have become part of me. You told Grunewald and Soutine not to be afraid of distortion. Sit in this chair cross your legs and perpetuate your foliage, Green is an ancient color. TheGreen Man takes off his Green hat and his Green hair falls onto his Green shoulders, he smiles and I ask myself, "Do we have our own Green Man a space that isn't me."

From "Looking for the Green Man," page 66, in The Spoken Word/The Painted Hand, Marsh Hawk Press, 2014

Each time I fill a full house
I am called to an album of family photos
Wild Cards
The towering Ace
Black Jack
Don’t call the accountants
Its too early people are moving
New structures are being built
Give me the egg
You keep the chicken
Each time the hand
Finds three of kind
Space equals the information
Not everything can go into
One painting one poem
Not everything can go into
One painting one poem

From "Wild Cards," page 198, in Learning to Draw/A History, Skylight Press, 2011; also in Wild Cards Cy Gist chapbook, o.p.

On my wife's ass we see the beauty of God's universe turning milk to butter The blue box defeats the monster who wants nature for himself.

From “William Blake: Two Watercolors,” page 58, in 77 Beasts: Basil King's Beastiary, March Hawk Press, 2007

About Basil King Writing


On The Spoken Word/The Painted Hand ...

A new installment from Learning to Draw is always a welcome treat, and this one pleases on all levels. Basil King’s…mashups of art, culture, and lived experience, both minute and momentous challenge the reader out of conventional notions of art history, by a continuous attention to detail.


 …King takes us along to examine how widely variant strains of data reverberate and pummel, as Lana Turner weeping, out of control, hurtling through a colossal rainstorm in Beverly Hills, crashes through the formal jigsaw of Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful and wakes us to life.
—Kevin Killian


 I think it’s the most elegant in its structure of any of [King’s] books…a montage, yes, of memoir, history, art history, art criticism, philosophy, poetry.  And by elegant, or cool, I mean the proximity of all the reflections is beautifully paced, not only by the ‘pauses’ but by the paragraph breaks, never jarring.  And the writing is flawless.
—George Stanley


 In his essay on why the miniature is as important as the mural King insists that light abstracts the smallest thing. …The impact is cumulative and thoughtful, allowing a larger picture and frame of reference to emerge and yet still allowing for the smallest of details to have impact.
—David Caddy, Tears in the Fence


 This artist’s word ‘perspective’ is what King brings to his vivid, hybrid writing. It is the perspective of someone who has been trained not just to look but to SEE, and not miss anything in his field of vision. Full of jump cuts and precise depiction, King’s work here always yields what his old now departed friend Amiri Baraka called emotional validity.
—Ammiel Alcalay

On Mirage ...

As a long poem, Basil King’s Mirage never flags… [He] recounts amazing stories contained in prose passages that break into the poetry like bedrock beneath a mountain stream. The title, Mirage, perhaps refers to the elusiveness of truth as time overwhelms our personal and public histories. Any reader with an interest in recent American literature and painting will be especially enamored with this work.
—M. L. Weber, American Book Review


 A great pleasure and adventure to read, from Blitz to art to spirit.
—Ron Padgett

Essential symmetry of experience which has gone against both the metronome and arrhythmia and beyond the ornamentation of inessentials in so much present writing. It helps to have had one’s hands covered with paint. Someone, after a long life, is standing at the door of some facet of wisdom.
—Nathaniel Tarn

It is a remarkable work/weave…with the sure touch of one who knows what he is talking about.
—Ted Enslin


I’m awed by the simplicity and strength. [Basil King] does write like a painter, not simply with colors, but strong strokes here and refrains of blue there.
—Lucia Berlin


He would have us believe that fact can be sufficient poetry — a claim that underlies much of our best poetry… but King adds that if the fact is not already in the world it is the artist’s option (prerogative?) to place it there… It is the imagination, not merely a theory of the imagination, that is in charge here.
—John O’Connor, Talisman

Mirage will leave the reader with a greater understanding and appreciation of the visual arts of our time.
—Jason R. Macey

Having meditated on pigment all his life seems to have given King an in on the use of words that transcends the vision of people who’ve spent all their time wrestling with words alone.
—Dora Fitzgerald

On Learning to Draw ...

What enchanted me was the fact that the work was such a free-flowing & compendious meditation on aesthetics & history, moving as the mind does, from Stieglitz to Leonardo to Pound to Black Mountain to Kline to Lindbergh to Breughel to Whitman to Gertrude Stein to Walker Evans and so on.
—Colin Still, filmmaker and principal of Optic Nerve.

On Warp Spasm, and 77 Beasts ...

How to describe Basil King’s life’s work? Poetry? Fiction? History? Autobiography? And what of the intersections with his fascinating drawings? Warp Spasm continues this unprejudiced investigation — a weave of signs in a field, ever flexing to accommodate observations drawn from many times, voices & lives variously lived. In an era of rabid imperialism & cultural banality, this is the work of a man whose appetite for the fabulous life of the arts remains ablaze.
—Michael Hrebeniak, editor Radical Poetics, U.K.

Its rich detail doesn’t stale on rereading but underlines King’s skill as a writer in matching technique to what he has to convey, or with local detail dovetailing connections between one painter and another. It’s a book too immediately attractive to deserve having its strength and subtleties explained in advance.
—Andrew Crozier, from his Introduction to 77 Beasts