Place of Mind essay by Melanie Almeder

This Tropic of Resemblances
by Melanie Almeder

There are experiences that, on the surface, seem to have nothing to do with each other. What would the troop movements in World War II have to do with the street energy of Little Havana, or with clouds, or with the words of a dying father? But when poet Richard Blanco and artist John Bailly collaborated to make this exhibition by setting their work into conversation, the maps early explorers made began to echo with the bright red “U” of the atomic bombs, to echo with the lattice of street maps and with cloud drift–even “Quantum Theory” resembles a love letter, resembles the state of exile.

 . . . nothing I’ve lost is lost.

No matter how nomadic we have been, no matter how many keys to how many different doors we have carried, we must all have a place like Richard Blanco’s Gulf Motel–a place in the mind so vivid memory brings the very smell of it back. Maybe it was our childhood home, a backyard thick with kudzu. We knew some places so absolutely that they mapped themselves into our senses. Places where, if we could return with the certainty that there
would be “nothing there” we “wouldn’t remember,” we would know that nothing we’ve “lost is lost.”

 . . . this bridge

Maybe, as in John Bailly’s bridges, we recognize a bridge we crossed once and only half-remember, a bridge like a bridge we might find in a city we have never seen. How many have traveled across such a bridge on their way to war and home again?

 . . . like an oracle

The clouds in their infinite migration might resemble a bird’s-eye view of the crowd moving on a city street. Sometimes, in the middle of a crowded street, a fragment of song or a bit of news brings home the way history insists itself into our lives. Bailly and Blanco conjure the sound and shape of experience: how history comes with its ambition and soldiers, through our yards, our cities, our dreams. Because they have given us moments of this conversation to wander among, we can ask not only what connections we find between their works, but also how their work echoes with our lives.

Melanie Almeder was raised in Atlanta, Georgia and southern Maine. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts, and Ph.D. in contemporary fiction from the University of Florida. She currently teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at Roanoke College and has been published widely.

John Bailly was born in Slough, Buckinghamshire in 1968 of a French father and American mother. He was raised in Paris, Aix-les-Bains, Long Island, Lyon, and Miami. He received his MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University in 1993, and is Fellow of The Honors College at Florida International University.

Richard Blanco was “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States,” where he was raised in Miami. A builder of bridges and poems, Blanco earned a BS in Civil Engineering and an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University. His books include City of a Hundred Fires and Directions to the Beach of the Dead.

This essay was written to accompany the Place of Mind exhibition, curated by Denise Delgado, at the Miami Dade Public Library Main Branch.