The Color Master blends psychological realism and fairytale fabulism in the balance she is known for: Women marry child-eating ogres, tigers have their stripes sewn on, girls learn to make dye just the color of the moon. Aimee Bender teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. She spoke to me by phone from her home in Los Angeles.
Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.
This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:
Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.
Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.
Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one...
How high that highest candle lights the dark.
Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.
Aimee Bender: I first heard “The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” at a funeral. A large funeral, and a very sad one. A poet read it to the people gathered, and I found it moving, and helpful, but in a kind of inexplicable way. It’s something of an oblique poem. It concerns mystery, and its language is itself mysterious. Yet there was something in it that I sensed, even listening for the first time, about a community coming together to support this family and pay tribute to this life.
The poet knew Stevens’s poem very well—it was like it had metabolized in her. She’d absorbed it fully in a way that helped us absorb it, too. I felt that magical alchemy of poetry, the way it acknowledges things we can’t fully understand. I felt very sad about the death that had happened, but there a healing line from this poet to the people sitting around.
Right away, I knew I’d want to look that poem up and spend more time with it. One line—“We say God and the imagination are one”—stuck with me especially. There’s something beautifully enigmatic about that line: It contains what feels so expansive and mysterious about the imagination to me. I love the way it treats the imagination with an almost-religious reverence.
A friend of mine, the Tin House editor Cheston Knapp, wrote an essay once where he recalled memorizing a Frost poem as a younger man—he was making fun of himself, calling out the pretentiousness of this. And it’s funny, because I found myself thinking: I want to do that. Not in a showy way. I don’t want to perform a poem. I just like the idea of having the words accessible in my mind. I love poetry, and I wanted to carry Stevens’s poem with me. To live with it. I’d never been required to memorize anything before—the days of learning poems by heart in school are gone—and suddenly, I wanted to.