Posted in Glit Lit

Tagging the Dark: On Light-Graffiti and Poems That Glow



Light graffiti by Michael Bosanko, South Wales

Everybody has their own idea of what’s a poet. Robert Frost, President Johnson, T. S. Eliot, Rudolf Valentino—they’re all poets. I like to think of myself as the one who carries the light bulb.

–Bob Dylan

In 1949, southeastern France, Pablo Picasso brandished a small flashlight in a dark room and created light drawings that disappeared in a matter of seconds, captured only by photographer Gjon Mili’s eye and camera.

(Don’t think. Get ready. Scribble on air: Voilà!)

Picasso paints with light. Photo: Gjon Mili

I’m a voilà kind of girl myself. Hand me an LED and I’ll graffiti thin air with the rest of them. I wasn’t always like this. I used to put great store in the diagrammed and strategized. I don’t mean to put planning down. I’m simply motioning for alternatives: the spontaneous, the random, the devil-may-care. Or maybe I’m afraid, now that it’s winter, that if I think too long in front of my sketchbook or computer, I’ll freeze to death. (The opposite of voilà.)

Which reminds me of those fraternal mood-setters, Light and Dark, the way they loom this time of year (chilblained), and we think and talk about them like they’re an old couple we all know, one with butterscotch in his pocket, the other a total bear. How they accost our souls with their polarity, their separate sets of instructions. Too much dark makes the baby go bonkers, it’s true, but Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Even if it’s all about balance, as everything seems to be in the end, balance doesn’t arrive until March (Equinox), so what are we supposed to do until then?


Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

(Ezra Pound’s parody, “Ancient Music.”)


Here is my Light self outside in the dark like a nighthawk, streaming light behind me along the boardwalk, around the lifeguard stand, the lamppost, haloing my partner’s head. And here is my Dark self inside, bundled in fleece, tapping out another goddamn winter poem. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I’m actually enjoying a tuna sandwich with cranberries and watching a rerun of Northern Exposure, the one where Chris steals stuff to construct his own Northern Lights. Oh, and I’m not even in a cold climate, don’t forget—although we’re hitting some real lows in Florida this year.

I do have friends in Chicago, however, and it’s crazy cold there right now and kind of dreary too, so I want to bring them a little light. I want to be Dylan’s light bulb—warmer—I want to be a fire.


in which my greater self
rose up before me
accusing me of my life
with her extra finger
whirling in a gyre of rage
of what my days had come to.
i pleaded with her, could i do
oh what could i have done?
and she twisted her wild hair
and sparkled her wild eyes
and screamed as long as
i could hear her
This. This. This.

(Lucille Clifton, “it was a dream,” The Book of Light)

I want to bring them this image:

“Ball of Light,” by Denis Smith, Australia
“Ball of Light,” by Denis Smith, Australia

And then some light that moves:

And, finally, I’d bring my friends in Chicago (and New York and Wisconsin and Vermont) another poem I love, knowing they’re warmer now, thawed and ready, able to sit with something quiet in the dark. The immense, shifting, goddamn glittering dark.



Various stars. Various kings.
Various sunsets, signs, cursory insights.
Many minute attentions, many knowledgeable watchers,
Much cold, much overbearing darkness.

Various long midwinter Glooms.
Various Solitary and Terrible Stars.
Many Frosty Nights, many previously Unseen Sky-flowers.
Many people setting out (some of them kings) all clutching at stars.

More than one North Star, more than one South Star.
Several billion elliptical galaxies, bubble nebulae, binary systems.
Various dust lanes, various routes through varying thickness of Dark,
Many tunnels into deep space, minds going back and forth.

Many visions, many digitally enhanced heavens,
All kinds of glistenings being gathered into telescopes:
Fireworks, gasworks, white-streaked works of Dusk,
Works of wonder and or water, snowflakes, stars of frost …

Various dazed astronomers dilating their eyes,
Various astronauts setting out into laughterless earthlessness,
Various 5,000-year-old moon maps,
Various blindmen feeling across the heavens in braille.

Various gods making beautiful works in bronze,
Brooches, crowns, triangles, cups and chains,
And all sorts of drystone stars put together without mortar.
Many Wisemen remarking the irregular weather.

Many exile energies, many low-voiced followers,
Watchers of wisps of various glowing spindles,
Soothsayers, hunters in the High Country of the Zodiac,
Seafarers tossing, tied to a star…

Various people coming home (some of them kings). Various headlights.
Two or three children standing or sitting on the low wall.
Various winds, the Sea Wind, the sound-laden Winds of Evening
Blowing the stars towards them, bringing snow.

–Alice Oswald, Woods Etc., Faber & Faber


Happy Solstice!

Artist Unknown

More light links:

Kyle Saxton, “Light Graffiti 2009,” 5 minutes

Pika Pika, Lightning Doodle Project, 5 minutes

Lichaktor, “Star Wars vs. Star Trek,” 2 minutes

Northern Exposure, 4-19, “Northern Lights”, 3 minutes

–Maureen Seaton, 12/21/10

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