There’s a Mystery There: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

A feast, a joy, the book There’s a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak is beautiful in both content and form. Turning the thick, beautifully printed and illustrated pages is a delight in this age of screens. Author Jonathon Cott explores Sendak’s work but focuses on my personal favorite Outside Over There.

In one chapter, Cott speaks with Tony Kushner who makes a revelatory comment about imagination: “...all great artists aspire to pare away and make everything essential and make everything count, but that sort of Beckittian idea of boring down to the smallest thing and stripping everything away isn’t all there is in Maurice’s work. I can understand why he admired people who attained a maximum meaning with a minimum of means, but there’s an effusiveness in Maurice’s imagination that’s slightly at odds with that classical idea, And I think he never lost his appetite for the super abundant and excessive.” (Page 210)

For me, this juxtaposition of the essential with effusiveness is what creates the most vital art. Consider this passage about genius from The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition which expresses a related idea: “…Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare, who catch “a grace beyond the reach of art”: that ultimate inexpressible charm which converts the merely formal and regular into vital and animated beauty.” (Page 2432) 

Often, that odd thing--that character, action, or twist--that comes flourishing in from your imagination from god-knows-where and breaks the careful pattern or structure you have developed, is what makes your story or poem come alive. Be brave enough to open the door. Genius could be waiting.

What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.

D.H. Lawrence.
Song of a Man Who Has Come Through  (last five lines)


  1. This sounds intriguing. I am adding it to my To Read list. Thanks Dia.

  2. "He never lost his appetite for the super abundant and excessive." Awesome.


Post a Comment