“The book reminds me of the kind of brilliant and wacky conversations as arguments we used to have back in the day before the day at the not yet legendary Cedar Tavern. Did I call him bourgeois then...probably!”
Amiri Baraka,

Learning to Draw book cover img

“The cover (a King drawing) is the marker for the cards being dealt here. The book is a deck of cards and can be read starting at any point and it tells the same story and moves through the same landscape but changes the angle of entry and the map of the landscape.

The writing is deeply charged and musical; and fun and often funny! [He] draws with all the pure delight of a great soloist improvising and shaping and presenting the familiar in a new and charged moment.

PS: The section on the Twin Towers is just the best writing on this subject that has yet been done.”
Harry Lewis, poet, collector


“I’ve written on the work in progress in #15 of Big Bridge. Significantly King gave the task of assembling the sections to Daniel Staniforth... [The book] says ‘enter reader where you wish and read as you wish.’”
Laurie Duggan, poet, blogger


“Basil King is the agent of poetry in Art Land, and a splendid reporter of his adventures in the practice of both. Learning to Draw is a memoir, a manual, and a philosophical essay that brings out the meaning of “draw” like water from a well. It’s a hair-raising page-turner and, at the same time, a sweet and reassuring journey through the working of a mind fully engaged by the mystery of the eye, the hand, and the measure of words.

This book is also a thriller about several two-way journeys of the good ship “American and European Art” from Europe and America and back. Among the passengers are Nathaniel Tarn, D.H. Lawrence, and Martha and Basil King himself; moreover it’s a ship that travels through time with Van Gogh and Cezanne, sails up the Black Mountain in North Carolina with Joel Oppenheimer and Robert Frank, while stopping along the way for brief sallies with Jacob Lawrence, H.D., and many others.

The second half of the 20th century was that marvelous time when the marriage of art and poetry was consummated by some of the greatest lovers. Learning to Draw is a story from that wedding.”
Andrei Codrescu, poet, novelist, and commentator

excerpt from pt. 2 “Across and Back”

A female astronaut and two male astronauts are to take a six-month exploratory flight into outer space. She has decided that she is going to fuck both men. She has decided that this is the best thing to do, the only thing to do. And what of love. What will she do if she falls in love. What will she do if one of the men falls in love with her.

To her right the Lion.
To her left the Tiger.

She is a Leopard. And when it is dark she has the Lion get on top of her. The Tiger roars and the lights come on and it is quiet again. The Tiger shivers when he and the Leopard are together. When she and the Tiger are together she whispers into his ear, and the Tiger hears.

I see my Cactus brother.
I see my Arizona, my Red skin.

At the end of six months the capsule lands. She is pale, Nordic. He is Black and comes from a large family. All of his sisters and brothers and his parents are suspicious. Coffee is served...

drawing "Tangles"

Remember triangles, drawn with or without a ruler, right angles, windows, a house of concrete and brick. She types, he sleeps. He combs his hair, she brushes her teeth. Manners tilt the hat. She promotes the practical. He wants to be forthright.

A car stops and a woman gets out followed by a man. They climb the stairs and open a door. The room is bleak. The furniture old and used. The woman turns the lights on and takes off her coat, her hat, and her shoes. The man takes off his jacket and his tie. They are about to undress when they realize that they are in the wrong house.

Above: 1/12 in King's 2011 series “Tangles,” marker on paper, 26 x 40" in Learning to Draw/A History. Skylight Press 2011


“I came to Basil King the poet first… and was only casually aware of his existence as a painter…. When I came to discover his paintings, I was struck by the English folk soul pouring through his biomorphic "Green Man" series…. One quickly realizes that they are in the presence of the time-honoured painter-poet.

When Basil approached me about editing and compiling Learning to Draw/ A History in the autumn of 2010 he insisted that I re-sequence the various sections according to my own reading of the work….

In being asked to shuffle the cards in the King deck I initially felt a bit guilty of historiographic impingement, the sort of meddling or systematizing of history that Ortega y Gasset warns of. But as I read though the sections I realized that history itself is public, communal, and cooperative. As with his paintings, this loosely rendered autobiography was pliant and malleable, never misshapen as neither time nor memory is ever concrete or linear. ”
From Daniel Staniforth's Foreword


Read comments on King's other books.