I love reading Basil King’s poetic histories because they connect time and place and people in unexpected ways that I find delightful. In Basil’s new collection, There Are No Ghosts, There Are Portraits, the first piece, “Soutine, Modigliani, Chagall,” makes perfect sense because it begins at the beginning of the lives of these artists, who were nurtured by loving mothers who gave them the chutzpah to be pioneering Jews accepted into the French art world at a time rife with anti-semitism. Not only did Soutine, Modigliani, and Chagall participate, they prospered and, as Basil suggests, paved the way for others.
The next piece, “New Times A’Coming” is about Billy the Kid, Samuel Greenberg, and Isaac Rosenberg, a famous outlaw and two unknown poets, whose lives, at first glance, don’t seem connected until Basil writes:
Billy, Samuel, and Isaac
Were born into poverty
Born into a lack of access
Born into a lack of ease
Born into a lack of education
Born into a lack of security
Born into a lack of lucrative living
“New Times A’Coming,” also includes Luke Howard, a well-to-do British chemist, who named the clouds cumulus, cirrus, and nimbus before Billy, Samuel and Isaac were even born. Basil knows the details and retells them intimately connecting disparate parts into a fascinating whole. Lives, after all, are like the transitory clouds, some going on and on for awhile keeping their form, while others, like Billy, Samuel and Isaac, end almost before they begin. Life, lucky and unlucky, is always changing and, if you look, enlightening.
In late September, Basil King read “New Times A’Coming” at Five Myles Gallery on Saint John’s Place in Brooklyn. I was so happy to get there and record him. He wants people to know that his difficulty in speaking stems from a paralysis that makes the right side of his mouth unresponsive. The author should not worry. I think his passion comes through, and all I would tell you, dear reader, is to listen and enjoy.
The publication of There Are No Ghosts, There Are Portraits is a collaborative partnership between Lost & Found: The CUNY Document Initiative and Pinsapo Press. You can check it out here:
Basil and Martha King