Becoming One with the Artist

Re-Post from February 2011:

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“One should never write just to avoid being silent…. I feel a writer MUST write what is in his heart, and if there is nothing there of strong content or passion, then he must LIVE and EXPERIENCE before he can truly write….writing is, after all like art, simply sharing our passion with the world.”      ~from a letter to my mother, April 2001

Today, I found an old copy of a letter written to my mother ten years ago. Reading the letter reminded me of the exuberant passion I’ve always felt toward writing as art and my sincere, consistent belief that “one should never write just to avoid being silent.”

I believe that the best writing comes from deep belief, sincere passion, and a strong connective tissue between the writer and the written. These qualities allow great writing to transcend the particular time of its creation.

A writer suffering deep loss, of a child or spouse, will put that loss into the words of a poem or story. It is an intimate loss to him, but it is also a common experience, a shared sadness among other human beings. He will articulate the loss, others will read and identify with his words, the poem or story will always be his but will also become an independent identity in many ways. It will outlive him, or keep him alive, in coming centuries depending on your view. It has its own permanence.

This permanence, or legacy, is part of arts truth, so to speak. Most people can name a few classic writers and artists without great trouble (Shakespeare,Hemingway, Van Gogh, Rembrandt), but how many could name current artists? Very few could name the current Poet Laureate or a current popular painter. Artists understand, to some degree, that their work may well have more meaning and be worth more value in the future. A writer writes now with an eye focused a decade away. An artist creates now with the understanding that his canvass is more permanent than himself.

The artist is a creator. He excavates his emotional soul and pours deep truths onto the waiting page or canvass; he dissects and maneuvers the universal realities he sees as he lives, recasting and reworking them into a timelessness that becomes art. This art becomes a flexible representation of the universal passion of humanity and endures because of that kinship. He creates a legacy, an oeuvre, for himself that will eventually be all that remains.

Art is steeped in the history of it’s time of creation to some degree, but that is more reference point than anything else. The language, dress, and backgrounds’ may change, but the faces and voices are timeless. Eyes look out hauntingly with fear or joy, action takes place with a certain tone or with laughter. The experience is universally human regardless of the time period.

Great writing, like all great art, will show us a truth we know in a way we didn’t know how to express. The combination of new insight along with recognizable, enduring truth gives us an “ah-ha” moment – a moment in which we become one with the words and the writer, one with the art and the artist.~
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Stay Away from Reckless People

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I start the day
thinking of nothing
in particular. Survival,
another day at the office
to get through — the
daily horoscope
smiles advice,
trembles warnings.

“Stay away
from reckless people – avoid
a mysterious x-love,
avoid daredevils and
those with death wishes.”

I think of you
for the first time
in weeks: lips,
whispered breath,
gentle touch
against my neck,
hands meeting your
warm hard presence
pulling me into memory.

My phone vibrates,
displays your name in bright
translucent green.

I end my day
thinking of mysterious
influences, daredevils, horoscopes,
and the cliff I once jumped from
with spectacular, reckless courage.

~May 2012

The Things We Don’t Know

Violence and Hope by Jim Coe

Violence and Hope by Jim Coe

“I think she is telling us what the great writers of the past have always wanted us to understand: that ignorance and terror are never far from possession of our hearts, and so at any time it may be over all of us, ‘like a ton of water,’ the things we don’t know.”  ~The Achievement of Gina Berriault, Richard Yates from The Tea Ceremony.

We live in a time of dead prophets. The voices speaking for Divinity, foretelling the future, advocating a better way, promoting positive change – these voices fall silent, no whispers remaining. It is a world stage filled with mediocre talent, all bit players without the charisma or talent of star players. America is mired in gridlock, players bitterly embattled, stifled by the all encompassing need for power.  The pendulum of time ticking away the days while the prophets remain silent. We are immersed in the things we don’t know, drowning in a river of partisanship, gulping the water of carnival theatrics.

I miss the prophets and the heroes, the actors who understood the significance of their performance, who recognized the crowds right to a good, fun-loving show. I miss people like JFK, who knew to keep his foibles under wrap, while extolling the valuable American virtues and respecting the realm of the otherworldly:

When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Poetry as the antidote to power, as a cleansing agent that brings clarity and truth of vision.  This perceptive recognition of the power and necessity of Other as a primary part of man’s existence and healthy development is a hallmark of the hero/leader personality. This is a thought process, a recognition lost to the people in political power. What congressman or senator has read poetry lately rather than analyzing soundbites? Has one voice found the sincerity and honesty necessary to compose a poem – could any one of our leaders write a speech or prophecy – that rang true and touched the emotions of an American readership?  How long will we be immobilized by men who lack vision, clarity, duty, and the ability to compromise?

An atmosphere of ignorance and terror hangs in the air like dense fog over the inlet swamps. Violence and rebellion simmer, the angry cry for justice and fairness grows louder across the different states and cultural boundaries. Ethnicity and income levels even out, become less important, as the strain of an inactive, reprobate government pulls at the fabric of our country. “We the people” is coming to mean something entirely different than ever before. The things we don’t know – the future we may face, the ignorance and terror that threatens to overwhelm us, the lack of action by our elected officials – the outcome we don’t know creates a fearful panic. What will it take? How can the problems be fixed? Is there an answer to the divisiveness overtaking our country? I am waiting for the Poets to tell me. I am listening.

the koan of writing

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“The significant story possesses more awareness than the writer writing it. The significant story is always greater than the writer writing it. This is the absurdity, the disorienting truth, the question that is not even a question, this is the koan of writing.”   ~Joy Williams

 

from the essay, “Uncanny Singing That Comes from Certain Husks”

Ken Burns: On Story

Ken Burns is the king of PBS – his history specials and miniseries are known throughout the US as evocative, realistic portrayals of American History. He is arguably the most well-known documentary film maker of our time. The following short documentary, Ken Burns: On Story, gives us the filmmakers insights and ideas on the craft of story.

The film originally appeared in The Atlantic as, Ken Burns on Why His Formula for a Great Story Is 1+1=3 and was also discussed  on Brainpickings.

The Note

What can you  know at thirteen
of letters of love, soft words
of declaration – pouring forth
gushing admiration for
a high-school Adonis?

I was vulnerable, feminine,
soft – everything you’d expect
from a girl-child in love.

Too sappy, sincere, honest,
she told me —
He’ll show it to everyone – No,
not this note. But…

sad-broken humor
the only way to avoid ridicule –
You MUST
play the jokester,
not the lover,
she said.  

(I acquiesced.)

Later, in dark rooms,
I re-read
the first note
that would have told you
I was enamored, in heart-felt awe,
of the boy-man you were becoming.

I thought of old stories –
how we laughed together
as children. Side-by-side,
uncommon neighbors,
toddler playmates – until
the time-memory slipped away
and We were gone.

~~~ * ~~~ * ~~~ * ~~~

Apology was the first step
those few years later – us
technically grown, adulthood –
failed marriages, our own children,
lessons learned and learning —

Living in dark places beneath
burning turmoil, we were Us
for a millisecond, a moment.
— Then, the dark night shifted
fell from place —

The Muses laughed,
threw complication
into the mix, Fate
danced through the shadows
bumping into Us
jostling Me and You — then
the time-memory slipped away
and We were gone.

~~~ * ~~~ * ~~~ * ~~~

We speak without voices —
typed-letters on a screen,
new notes
written twenty years later
in real time.

Now we are friends
as we were playmates – some
strange connective-bond built
in a sandbox —

before we could know
the game we live in,
the jokes Life plays
and the roads we would choose
to follow.

And, I am still thinking
about the note
I should have given you —

 

September 2011

 

Artwork: Chiaro di luna by Escha Van den bogerd. You may find more about the artist and other works here.

 

 

The Art of Seeing

 

 

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. ~Jonathan Swift

If I were going to select one thing that makes the difference in a poet and their poetry, or in the daily life of an average man, it would be the vision with which that person looks at himself and the world around him.

Jonathan Swift, a prolific writer, (best known for the prose masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels, and considered the foremost prose satirist in the English language*) gives a near perfect definition of (artistic-spiritual) vision when he says it is “the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

The poet’s true gift is his ability to see these invisible elements and then translate them. An excellent poet will see deeper than the average person. He will use this deeper vision, take in the essence of truth before him, and then use the medium of language to translate what he sees with intense emotion and minute detail. All great and poignant poetry is about vision, translation, and audience.

Poetic Eyes

Imagine yourself as a child opening a birthday gift – you tear the paper off the box and find a large magnifying glass inside.  The very first thing you do is go look at all the things you’re interested in with your new glass. You will see everything as before – but then, in a new way as the tiny elements of these things grow larger and clearer under magnification.

Now, imagine the poet, looking at everything in his world through a magnifying glass. He is already looking at the world around him, but he learns to tune his vision in such a way as to see deeper – as if he were holding a magnifying glass up in front of everything that catches his attention. This is how the poet “sees the invisible.”

Here is an example of detail from the poem, Death in Leamington, by John Betjeman:

She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the evening star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa.

Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have worked it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high’ mid the stands and chairs —
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs./ …..

Betjeman uses a variety of poetic techniques in this excerpt, but pay special attention to his translation into imagery with meaning.

The death in Betjeman’s poem is recorded in slow-motion, each detail carefully carved in the readers mind, each small thing translated to perfection. We see the scene as the poet sees it – with the shared depth of sadness the poet experiences. He brings the moment to life in a vibrant, deep way which changes us, the reader, as we move through this episode with him. We see through his eyes.

Poetic Translation

The following poem is an example of a poet’s ability to use the smallest details, along with connotation, to create a vivid picture and joined experience with the reader. Robert Hayden is a master of experience translation in Those Winter Sundays:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Hayden sees the past with his father in the new light of his own maturity. The poem explores the coldness (ingratitude) felt as a child and creates a mirroring effect with the coldness of the house.

The reader sees and feels the sadness, the understanding and regret, as the poet drills-down to the simple weekly experience. The poet is, at once, both child and adult speaking to us, telling us his story in a way that brings us inside of it with him. The words are translated into an experience for the reader.

Poetic Audience

A poet writes for himself to large degree. However, he writes in a fixed time and place – each decade belongs to the lingering poetic voices which have named it. This means that a poet must always be conscious of Audience.

The poem cannot exist away and aside from audience. It speaks from a place and time where others live, where history occurs, and the future becomes the past. In thinking of audience, we must bring time and place to the table, and also class, status, country, and world-view.

Audience, in the larger sense, is demonstrated perfectly by Allen Ginsberg in this excerpt from the poem, America:

America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.

Ginsberg is speaking in and from a particular time in American history. His poems resonate strongly with people of that generation sharing similar experiences. They resonate now in a more general sense or as an example of defiance and rebellion to the status quo for people of a different culture or time.

Culture is a part of poem and audience alike. The following excerpts, by Gwendolyn Brooks and Sterling A. Brown speak with a strong voice that is both living in and speaking from a particular culture:

We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

We Real Cool
The Pool Players
Seven at the Golden Shovel

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk Late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Excerpt from Riverbank Blues by Sterling A. Brown

A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin’, no need for doin’,
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary’s, Big Mary’s, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man’s roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak./…../

Brown’s poem about the Mississippi River speaks of a local, rural culture that lives with the good and the bad of the river. His poem tolls a warning while speaking generally of danger and oppression, yet deals specifically with the danger and oppression locally in relation to the River.

A “good” poem is hard to define. There are variances, personal preferences, and socio-political elements that make definition impossible. However, we can see that the hallmark of good poetry – poetry that lasts and brings a voice to it’s people, culture, and generation – is a combination of poetic vision, translation, and audience. The poet writing with strong abilities in these areas will be heard. ~

 “A culture is made – or destroyed – by its articulate voices.”   ~Ayn Rand

 

Art Prints

ARTWORK: Red Rose by Karen M. Scovill, courtesy of www.fineartamerica.com. You can find out more about the artist and view other works here.

*from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

Gleaned from Ink


Gleaned from Ink

~from the Collection, Odes to Plath

It is never a shock that you died.
(You announced deaths’ presence often
enough, explained your acquaintance
with his cold, familiar person.)

Not your dying, but the final distorted picture —
Isolated, alone, invisible gas, babies in the next room.
That stunning portrait shock-ripples our consciousness.
The proximity of life and death
so closely knitted together —
touching threads aligned
evenly in your created tapestry.

Your destiny was to become a great poet,
immortality gleaned from ink
flowing across a contrast-white background,
the dark-lined letters of your life
a glistening hue.

~composed September 2010.

ARTWORK CREDIT: The Scribe and the Scroll…, by Jon Gemma. Original and other artwork here.
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This is How We Dance

 

In circles that flow
during dream-time,
a step to the side.
A whisper to the left.
Two-step toward possibility.
Your voice in my ear
hushed tones of my name
spoken a thousand miles away.
There you are – living normally
where you are – I live normally
too, except for that vast space
of empty, during dream-time.
A whisper to the left,
A step to the side, two-step
in circles that flow. This
is how we dance.

For the Love of Art and Artists

Photography Prints

I’ve always been a fan of art and artists. Even to the point of marrying one! But, long before meeting my husband, art was firmly rooted in my mind as a flowering garden I would always admire. My first two memories of art as a child revolve around Crayola Crayons and the picture of a horse painted by my mother.

First memory: my Crayola Crayons. I still recall them with great joy (you know, the sixty-four pack with the sharpener in the back)! Unusual names like Sienna, Thistle, Raw Umber, and Magenta conjured up images of a wild, exotic land far away from the rural, humdrum farmhouse of my childhood. I loved coloring as a child, but I could never master drawing.

Eventually, getting bored with coloring and being unable to draw, I went through a spell of melting the various individual crayons and pouring them together in molds to create new color choices. All this under my grandparents watchful eyes, of course, and to the chagrin of my mother and other adults. They would stop by and find me in the dining room with an old cooking pot (donated by my grandmother for the effort) filled with melting crayons on top of the wood stove, the smell of hot wax drifting through the rooms. My grandparents would shush the naysayers with, “she’s just a child.”

“It’s okay. She’s not hurting anything,” was the mantra as they sat watching me stir various colors into tin cans, saucers, and any other makeshift molds I could find. (Just for the record, my grandparents were so darn cool to let me do that!)

Second memory: that cute little brown horse standing in a bright green pasture. I’m not sure the exact age that I noticed the painted pony, but I was young and it was before I started school. It was vivid. I remember asking my grandmother about it. There was a tone of pride in her voice as she explained that my mother had painted it.

My mother had me very young. As a child, I adored her and believed she was the most beautiful creature on the planet. The fact that she had painted this, that she was an artist, made her suddenly mysterious and talented too. I studied the picture often, picturing my mother as she painted; begging to see the picture up close. A request my grandmother often indulged. I would hold it in my hands, staring at each stroke of paint, at the way in which the lines met to create the picture in full.

The picture held great significance because it was the only painting in my grandmother’s house. There were doilies, ceramic plates from various places, trinkets and family photographs on the fireplaces and side tables, but there were no other pieces of art anywhere in the house.

I grew up watching the little horse, trying to draw something that even slightly resembled the horse, or anything “real,” to no avail. The more obvious my inability as an artist became (I couldn’t even manage to get the paint-by-numbers pictures done correctly) the more I admired my mother’s artistic talent. I eventually turned to writing as a way of drawing pictures with words. And words remain the closest I can come to artistry. I am unable to paint with colored pencils, pastels and the like, but I learned to paint pictures with words. And, to a great extent, most of my poems and short-stories and heavy on imagery. I want the reader to see it.

So, loving art and artists as I do, I want to introduce you to a wonderful site: Fine Art America. They have numerous artists with art available in any medium imaginable, as well as offering the ability to purchase original canvas, framed pictures, notecards, etc. They also provide art images with a link for use on blogs that allow you to use the lovely work while correctly crediting the artist. Their mission, per the website says: “FineArtAmerica.com is a social network and e-commerce marketplace for photographers, visual artists, art galleries, and fine art collectors.  Visitors to FineArtAmerica.com can choose from over 1.5 million pieces of original artwork including paintings, sculptures, drawings, mixed media, jewelry, and more!” If you get a chance, please check them out at http://www.fineartamerica.com.

 

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