HAVENT TOWNSEND

I lived and worked with Havent in the middle of nowhere in Michigan last year for three weeks. We harvested reed in the biting rust-belt winds, drank countless cups of tea, sheared the shit (no pun intended) out of wool, prepared strange feasts, sat through tiresome hours-long morning meetings, drove an old pick-up down bumpy dusty paths in search of apple trees, bicycled to the closest coffee shop along a gravel path, etc. And the varying tasks required of us she seemed to do effortlessly, all with a graceful flick of the wrist, perhaps. She told some questionably terrific stories during those three weeks, and, as I gather, they are her own. She has a mysterious charm, as well as an ideal, dreamy perspective, which still manifests, somehow, a show for realism. I afford some vagueness because I am describing, after all, someone who calls herself Havent.

She told me earlier this year:

My favorite writers of the moment are Marilynne Robinson, an essayist and novelist, Larry Levis, a midwestern poet, and Barry Lopez, who will speak to your soul. I’ve also been reading a lot of St. Theresa of Avila for a term paper I am working on, so forgive me for including a quote by her.

  • “You have to have a certain detachment in order to see beauty for yourself rather than something that has been put in quotation makes to be understood as ‘beauty.’ Think about Dutch painting, where sunlight is falling on a basin of water and a woman is standing there in the clothes that she would wear when she wakes up in the morning–that beauty is a casual glimpse of something very ordinary. Or a painting like Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef, where a simple piece of meat caught his eye because there was something mysterious about it. You also get that in Edward Hopper: Look at the sunlight! or Look at the human being! These are instances of genius. Cultures cherish artists because they are people who can say, Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.
    At the same time, there has always been a basic human tendency toward a dubious notion of
    beauty. Think about cultures that rarify themselves into courts in which people paint themselves with lead paint and get dumber by the day, or women have ribs removed to have their waists cinched together. There’s no question that we have our versions of that now. The most destructive thing we can do is act as though this is some sign of cultural, spiritual decay rather than humans just acting human, which is what we’re doing most of the time.” –Marilynne Robinson
  • “But dandelions were what she chiefly saw.  Yellow jewels for the everyday, studding the patched green dress of her back yard.  She liked their demure prettiness second to their everydayness; for in the latter quality she thought she saw a picture of herself, and it was comforting to find that what was common could also be a flower.”  –Gwendolyn Brooks
  • “I am only anxious to explain that the soul is not thought, nor is the will controlled by thought– it would be a great misfortune if it were. The soul’s profit, then, consists not in thinking much but in loving much.” –St. Theresa of Avila
  • “When another night came the columns, changed to purple streaks, filed across two pontoon bridges. A glaring fire wine-tinted the waters of the river. Its rays, shining upon the moving masses of troops, brought forth here and there sudden gleams of silver or gold. Upon the other shore a dark and mysterious range of hills was curved against the sky. The insect voices of night sang solemnly.” — Stephen Crane
  • “Here is Carlton several months before his death, in an hour so alive with snow that the earth and sky are identically white.” –from White Angel, by Michael Cunningham
  • “What’s wicked in the mind is beauty all over for the heart.” –Dostoevsky
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