The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jan 08, 2014

To have a mind of winter: Alec Soth, The New Yorker and the snow man

Posted by sschouweiler

Did you happen to catch Alec Soth’s stint on the The New Yorker’s Instagram feed last week? (On a related note, Soth and his “LBM Dispatch” partner, writer Brad Zellar, were profiled by the magazine in late December 2013. That essay is also well worth a read.) From New Year’s day through January 5, the St. Paul-based photographer filled the magazine’s feed with shots capturing the look and feel of the uncanny cold we’re weathering up here in the Twin Cities.

Schools have been closed for a couple of days; a great many shows and arts events around town have been rescheduled. Most of the parents I know have, by now, abandoned normal house rules in deference to kidly cabin fever: free-flowing snacks and unlimited cartoons rule the days. My social media feeds are filled with documentary evidence of people making the most of the “polar vortex” by running homemade science experiments in the extreme cold. (Hat-tip to Minnesota Public Radio's Marianne Combs for pointing out the video above.)

Alec Soth, "Snow Man," courtesy Little Brown Mushroom and The New Yorker on Instagram.

Like most everyone else in these parts, I’ve been holed up at home for the past several days. The weather guy says we’re in for balmy, above-zero temps later this week, and I’m as eager as the kids to get some wind in my whiskers again. Until then, I’ll leave you with this: On January 3, Soth posted an image for The New Yorker featuring a Wallace Stevens poem, typewritten on an old manual machine. The poem comes from Stevens’ debut book of poetry, “Harmonium,” and Soth’s right: It’s pitch perfect for these early days of 2014. First published in 1921, the poem is in the public domain now, and I’ve reprinted it in full below.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter To regard the frost and the boughs Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time To behold the junipers shagged with ice, The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think Of any misery in the sound of the wind, In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land Full of the same wind That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow, And, nothing himself, beholds Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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