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Published on January 14th, 2012 | by Newt Rayburn


“Faulkner’s Room” by Grayson Russell

Faulkner’s Room

by Grayson Russell – from The Local Voice #147

A friend saw the rooms
Of Keats and Shelley
At the lake, and saw ‘they were just
Boy’s rooms’ and was moved

By that. And indeed a poet’s room
Is a boy’s room.
And I suppose that women know it.

Perhaps the unbeautiful banker
Is exciting to a woman, a man
Not a boy gasping
For breath over a girl’s body.
-George Oppen

It is the room full of the cluster of permanence, full of the august of love, full of the light of what the kings and the prophets call the sea, of human love. It is a room full of wherever and natural nows, full of wind, full of the propitious, full of the fruit, the wind of human truth, by a strange silence. They are here, the mere images, the grace of what a soul can squander and remain itself. It is a room not without its own fragrance, a conscience that glared over the dismal walls and drifted now and then over the window, moved by its light perhaps, not unmoved, distilled, but moved by stillness to picture the fragrance of light moving over the limbs in the bower of the trees, the leaves set at such peril to his mind. Yet, born with such freedom, it would be a real fairy tale to have felt that feeling for once. So, he wrote all there was ever meant to be read, with the glass so close to the outside world.

It is a child’s room, a boy’s, but it seems to have been painted by the hand of a man, a man preoccupied with another world. Even from writing on the wall tells us something of the man, for he never kept a journal and his letters seem less revealing than Conrad’s. The words seem painfully written, painted, their freedom ecumbered. Thought for too long, or perhaps he knew the book itself would fail, that he was at the bottom of barrel, he had begun with that, with failure and the dignity of its reprisal.

It was how the human heart opened. How it received and deceived itself. How its conscience could be worn with austerity and horror, with love, with the illusion of sacrifice, with pity, with honour, with something as regal as hope.
Because it seemed after all to fail was to make things as they were, as they are and will always remain, and as they are meant to be.

It is a lion’s room, without the pleasure of the long grass, without a noble birth, and yet somehow he was still born with a peculiar aristocracy of spirit. He believed. He declined.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…Who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, and fails with his whole soul, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known either Victory or Defeat…
– Theodore Roosevelt

A writer rarely dares to face his heros, and in all truth it is a blasphemy to do so. Brancusi departed from Rodin at the pinnacle of his apprentiship, as “One cannot grow beneath trees taller than himself.” It seems by the same sketch of fate and destiny that my hero watched his own hero move about St. Germain de Pres without ever uttering word and, figuring a sign, walked to Italy merely to linger outside of the Great Poet’s studio. He never asked for a thing. He believed and he declined. He wrote. He drank, and in the same fashion we have tried to avoid him, the young hungry from pride, from arrogance, hubris. From fear that this coming home might be done better upon the page. If only because we have learned his sentiment—that an artist has perfect vanity. So I sit here, because his desk is no different than mine. I sit here because of all the Artists I have ever admired, the ghost of William Faulkner meets me at every turn. As I sit here, I imagine his curiosity fostered his strength. I imagine his sense of failure with nothing more than a great relief. As I sit here, I try to imagine the man, the lion in the garden as he is often called. I reach for my flask. Everything seems so untouched by time. I imagine a boy with such doleful eyes. I try to imagine if he could have existed today, who might have the heart to write him into history, if I have that spirit? I ask his blessing, and I wonder if he were alive would I have made this special pilgrimage.

In another room, the groundskeeper and what Faulkner would have called the proprietor discuss with a group of students who have come to investigate the paranormal. They seem to be curious whether his ghost wanders the lawn. I know better, even if I am inclined to believe this. In as much as a saint never speaks of his own faith, a writer would rather do anything than haunt his own work. This and the fact that all of his characters seem to quit the door, window sill, the stairwell, even this room.

“Someone like Faulkner could never have dreamed to be published today.”
– Nick Toches

As much as I believe this, I hesitate to make the argument. As he said in his own words…”If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Balzac, Tolstoy, Shakepeare…all of us.” It can be the purpose of any writer to deny the favors bestowed upon him. It comes that compromise is not a feeling to be well adjusted toward. It comes that Art demands the most sacrosanct of all privileges, and leads to the greatest of her lovers what they perceive to be only an intrusion of folly. In so far as artists are condemned for their talents, they are always at the betrayal of happiness, and the price of dignity, security and peace. And so I stumble, vaguely, into the room of my hero.

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About the Author

Newt Rayburn founded THE LOCAL VOICE in 2006. Previously, Newt was Editor of PROFANE EXISTENCE in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Art Director for Ole Miss' LIVING BLUES magazine. Newt won a National Magazine Award in 1999 for his SOUTHERN MUSIC ISSUE with THE OXFORD AMERICAN. A seventh-generation Lafayette County, Mississippian, Newt is perhaps best known as the leader of the Mississippi RocknRoll band THE COOTERS, but he also has the Country & Southern Rock group, HAWGWASH. Newt is a Photographer, Writer, and Civil War Enthusiast.

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