Pop Culture
Jun 05, 2024, 06:28AM

We Can’t Touch That With a Thousand-Foot Pole

A 2019 Art In America interview with artist Betye Saar vs. a 1963 Aardvark interview with cartoonist Shel Silverstein.

Portrait of shel silverstein in c. 1964 by jerry yulsman.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Betye Saar: The idea for the installation keeps appearing, in 2001, 2006, 2010: “Blue metal cot with blue bottles tied to springs. Blue neon wire under the bed surrounded by coal.”

Shel Silverstein: And yet, what can you do? You can only do the work that you think is right.

Saar: That’s right. But the key word is conscience.

Silverstein: No. We can’t touch that with a thousand-foot pole.

Saar: Everything is magic if you put it in the right context.


Silverstein: There was a nice typewriter, though. It was a very old typewriter, so I accepted the typewriter in lieu of twenty-five dollars.

Saar: Pasadena City College, they have a nice flea market.

Silverstein: Definitely. A big revelation there.

Saar: I’ve tried to figure out how I lost that.

Silverstein: It’s like a whole lot of things, but it’s not like a flower and it’s not like an oak tree.


Saar: I had a friend who gave me three little beads that were from a meteorite. He said, when you’re wearing this, you’re wearing a star, a piece of a star.

Silverstein: Sure. Here on the Near North Side (in Chicago), it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

Saar: The evil spirits would get tangled in the fringe.

Silverstein: You can’t run around with every book or every record and explain it to them.

Saar: I was surprised to find out that some people never dream.

—Raymond Cummings has contributed to Splice Today since 2010.


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