LYRIC PERFORMANCE Penelope Shuttle “the colour rain in the lavender”

I’m past thinking/but I think about colors all the time / how each one / has its everyday name / red blue green/ but also its underground name/red is a first edition of Pushkin/blue is chief mourner of the sky/ green is the reading age of the forest/ these s3cret names/ are known only to the dead/ in their flipside world/of long ago and not-now/not to us the living know very little about colors or the rain

from FATHER LEAR (Poetry Salzburg 2020)

FIELD OF REFERENCE If the dualism of imitation and self-creation does not work, the matter is also not one of dialectical subsumption of one into the other, since such would make it a higher form of self-mediation, self-creation. It is metaxological: it is a between that is beyond the universal and particular. There is a sense in which these two terms lose any fixity they seem to posses since it is just in the passage that this metaxu comes to articulation. The passage shares in both the intimate and the universal. This passage as metaxological shows the doubleness of self-relation and other-relation. Art is especially rich in sensuous communication. WILLIAM DESMOND, THE INTIMATE UNIVERSAL (2016)

An exemplary lyric! Lots of negative thinking— I mean NO punctuation, NO capitals, NO stanza breaks, NO rhymes!

But one feels the pull of something, call it barbarously the “argument,” the pull of grammar, through the situation named at the outset: I’m past thinking.

So in place of Cartesian certainty the equivocity of language will have to do. As opposed to thinking there is thinking all the time. This distinction depends on a radical shift in point of view. Can you conceive of the other to thinking AS thinking all the time?

No? What about color?

To think about color one must consider its doubleness, a color has a place in the color wheel—red blue green—and also its association with things in your life.

So the poem turns from semantic dialectics to little stories, the ancient grammarians (shoutout!) called them “exempla.“ In poems they ranged from a few words to a major narrative. The exemplum is related to the figure of figures, analogy.

Notice how Shuttle uses the so-called linking verb “is” to set up her exempla: red is a first edition of Pushkin. The “mind”: NO IT’S NOT!

And yet “it is!” Thinking about “red” what comes to (my) mind is a first edition of Pushkin. And so on, blue and green are exempla too.

Examples of what? They are “secret.” How secret? Now we face the abyss towards which the poem has been “unconsciously” leading us (it’s what lyrics do, they finish the passage more-or-less without us) to the other world, the land of the dead.

It’s a glorious extended (that’s relative) narrative of the most ancient story, passage to the other—“flipside” Shuttle happily says)—world. I love the lyrical “nots”: of long ago and not-now/not to us.

Now the music of now, not, and know blends into something rich and strange. A radical distinction upon which the meditation and the exempla depend, breathlessly. An assertion, a fragment, a proposition, a memoir of our passage from black& white abstractions to the world of color. The living know very little/about colours or the rain.


One of the secrets of lyric eternal life is repetition with a difference. Lyrics always desire another reading. The ontology of “more.” So we start from the top. This poem, it may be, started in Shuttle’s wonder about the mysterious color of rain in the lavender.

As Desmond says (see FIELD OF REFERENCE): “Art is especially rich in sensuous communication.”

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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