Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The poet and the architect

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Drawing by Louis I. Kahn

My first model as a poet wasn’t even a poet, but an architect, Louis Kahn. I met Kahn just as he was becoming famous. My closest friend was a student of his, and he brought me to Kahn’s office, a marvelously strewn muddle of rooms over a luncheonette. I liked Kahn and spent a few years in his circle. I think he enjoyed having a young poet in his entourage; he may also have liked having someone around who occasionally disagreed with him—his disciples never did—but I can’t say that I studied with Kahn so much as that I studied him. I was fascinated to begin with by his notoriety: architects and critics were making pilgrimages to Philadelphia to see his buildings and to meet him. More to my real advantage, though, he thought aloud. He was a compulsive theorizer and lecturer, and it was an unusual opportunity to see how a mature artist approached his work….

It was Kahn who without my quite remarking it formed most of my attitudes about art and the artist’s task. He worked constantly, day and night. I was awed by that. Even more than his industry, though, it was what informed it that impressed me: the astonishing patience with which he confronted his work, the numbers of attempts he demanded of himself before he found a solution he would trust. He demanded a complexity in defining a problem, so that its necessities would always be as demanding as possible; the solution then was a purification, a refining to essentials, and his work always achieved a simplicity that belied what had gone into it.

C.K. Williams

Written by nevalalee

September 24, 2015 at 8:00 am

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