The Clare Spark Blog

August 14, 2012

An inside Melville joke

Clare as Isabel with Paul Metcalf’s fake guitar

The first time I visited Herman Melville’s great-grandson, the poet Paul Metalf and his wife Nancy, was probably 1987. He posed me with a guitar that he had made himself as a sly reference to “Isabel”, the dark lady of Melville’s Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), wherein “Isabel” has a mysterious guitar whose wild melodies inspire “Pierre” the hero (or antihero) of Melville’s “crazy” novel. In a nod to literary cubism, I combined two photographs and here you have me, Isabel curls and all. Paul later made a book out of our correspondence entitled Enter Isabel: The Herman Melville Correspondence of Clare Spark and Paul Metcalf (U of New Mexico P, 1990). One UCLA professor insisted that Paul Metcalf must have invented me out of thin air. What can I add except to say that Paul labored in his vegetable garden daily, and made the Adirondack chairs in which I am seated by himself. Both he and his late wife Nancy were descended from Roger Williams of New England, and Paul was a poet who loved collage, and did his own kind of history. I miss these dear faithful friends more than I can say.


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