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Archive for the ‘Quotes’ Category

Lately I have begun to measure time by the way I savor or squander it. Yesterday, I had the day to myself. I spent many hours reading in silence. When I find my writing languishing, it is good to read the words of those willing to share the places they have stumbled and succeeded. “The Getaway Car” has traveled both paved and potholed roads.



Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.




Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, April 19th, 2014

-related to posts: The Ant & The Grasshopper – Ann Patchett & Lucy Grealy, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl”

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white fire 2 auto20111126-120440-bluewhite fire 2 auto20111126-120440-one copyfire white auto20111126-120440

Triptych: After The Blue Rain, inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue, original photograph: an early Winter Solstice Fire 2011, altered in PhotoShop Elements, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





after the blue rain

Have you walked
the barren landscape
of the chattering wire —
blue rain runs in the silence
of a white hot fire.






-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 28th, 2012, gogyohka inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue after listening to one of his last interviews before his unexpected death in 2008:  The Inner Landscape of Beauty with Krista Tippett, On Being (LINK)


When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected wealth begins to reveal itself. You come home to yourself and learn to rest within. Thoughts are our inner senses. Infused with silence and solitude, they bring out the mystery of inner landscape.” — John O’Donohue from Anam Cara (In Memoriam)


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believe


Definition: accept as true, credit with veracity, follow a credo, judge or regard
Synonyms: v. 1. maintain, assert, opine, hold, consider, regard, conceive, trust, have faith in, confide in, credit, accept, affirm, swear by, have no doubt
Quotes: ♦ In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true. — Buddha

 

♦ I believe that every person is born with talent.  — Maya Angelou

 

♦ The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just. — Abraham Lincoln

 

♦ 20. Believe in the holy contour of life — Jack Kerouac from BELIEF & TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE

Antonyms: disbelieve, distrust



I believe…



Do you believe in the Lock Ness Monster, the Man in the Moon, Santa Claus? Do you believe in finding Big Foot, flying saucers, ghosts in the machine? Do you believe this year will be better than the last? Do you believe in yourself, your visions, your dreams? The things I believe change from year to year, decade to decade. I used to believe in the tooth fairy, the Velvet Underground, peace, love and rock and roll. What do you believe?

In the 1950s, a radio program called This I Believe was hosted by journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear essays from people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Wallace Stegner, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman—anyone able to distill the guiding principles by which they lived into a few minutes. (For inspiration, you can listen to essays on broadcasts from the 1950s at This I Believe.)

What are the principles by which you live? Are they different than they were two, three, or four years ago? Do you hang around friends who share your beliefs? Or push to expose yourself to other ways of thinking. The goal of the contemporary version of This I Believe (revived on NPR in 2004) was not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs, but to encourage people to develop respect for beliefs different from their own.


Get out your fast writing pens and write the Topic I believe… at the top of your spiral notebook (or start tapping away on your computer or Smartphone).

You can write a haiku, tanka, or gogyohka  practice and post it in the comments.

Or you may be surprised at what you discover when you follow the rules of Writing Practice —- I believe…, 10 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, January 2nd, 2012

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ART 2011-06-25 19 b&w

Art Changes Everything – 27/52, BlackBerry 52 — Week 27 Jump-Off for week beginning July 4th, 2011, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Droid snapshot of the wall outside Intermedia Arts, taken Pride weekend, altered in Photoshop Elements, b&w version.


Heat index over 100, sweat soaking through clothes. Last week was one of those weeks when I was searching for inspiration. Lids heavy from the day, the eyes kept roaming, leaped over to the bookshelf, and landed on Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art Of Writing. There are books I go back to again and again—for reminders that it’s okay to struggle. For stories about moments of success, paragraphs that sum up in a few words what it means to be an artist or a writer. I don’t separate the two. For me, writing and art are connected. They collectively make up the Arts.

I ran my fingers over the worn cover, then opened Ray’s book to the Preface. That’s as far as I had to go. Maybe a few tidbits in these paragraphs will have meaning for you, too. There are hours when I stop dead in my tracks; I don’t want to write anymore. Somehow, the practice keeps going. Not perfect. Tracks. Cairns inside eroded pockets of sandstone cliffs.

I enter the Preface right after Ray’s story of the day he breathed a second life into his childhood hero, Buck Rogers:


So I collected comics, fell in love with carnivals and World’s Fairs and began to write. And what, you ask, does writing teach us?

First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

So while art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

Secondly, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.

Not to write, for many of us, is to die.

We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever it is, would melt out of shape in those few days.

But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.

I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.

     -Ray Bradbury from the Preface of Zen In The Art Of Writing: Essays On Creativity, © 1990 Ray Bradbury, original from “The Joy of Writing,” Zen & the Art of Writing, Capra Chapbook Thirteen, Capra Press, 1973.




And that is why I went to my studio and ate up the time with myself. So the world would not devour me. Time to sit and listen to music, to stare out the window, to write a few lines of poetry, to sketch at the ragged edges of the page, to find inspiration on a wall outside Intermedia Arts. Time to take up arms and fight, the smallest battle, the smallest effort to win.

Art changes everything.







Art Changes Everything (Color) Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, July 7th, 2011

-related to posts: Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, The Sketchbook Project, Under The Rainbow — Twin Cities Pride

Art Changes Everything – 27/52, BlackBerry 52 — Week 27 Jump-Off for week beginning July 4th, 2011, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Droid snapshot of the wall outside Intermedia Arts, taken Pride weekend, altered in Photoshop Elements, color version.

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Mandala For The 5th Element - 10/52

Mandala For The 5th Element – 10/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 10, March 13th,
2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Medium: Drawn by hand with a black Fine Line DecoColor Opaque Paint Marker on Canson Mix Media XL Series 98lb drawing paper. Collaged & colored with Faber Castell 6 PITT Artist Brush Pens, DecoColor Glossy Oil Base Paint Markers, Portfolio Water Soluble Oil Pastels, Caran D’Ache NeoColor II Water Soluble Wax Crayons, Sharpie Medium Point Oil-Based Opaque Paint Markers, Lineco Archival PVA Adhesive, yellow felt letters, metal fastener, archival card stock paper. Photo taken in streaming sunlight on a BlackBerry Tour.


At 6:20 CST on March 20th, 12 hours and 9 minutes of light welcomed Spring to the Midwest. Seasonal rituals are important to our spiritual health. Honoring cyclical changes in the seasons is one way to stay grounded. We delved into daily and superstitious rituals in one of the first Writing Topics on red Ravine. Animals engage in rituals to feed themselves and hibernate, to define and defend their territories; humans do, too. Rituals comfort me in times of loss and uncertainty — walking a labyrinth, creating a mandala, or celebrating the Spring Equinox.

My first response to Cityscape: Behind The Gray in the BlackBerry 52 collaboration with Lotus, was that it captured a late winter mood. The second time I viewed the photo was March 11th, after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Everything changed. I saw Every City, Every Town in her photograph — a skyline, a parking lot of white cars, minutes away from being tossed on the sea like toys. I felt helpless, sad for the collective suffering, for the families living through the devastation.

It was about that time that I learned about terma in Tibetan Buddhism — physical objects, texts, or ritual implements that are buried in the ground (Earth), hidden in a rock or crystal, secreted in an herb or tree, hidden in a lake (Water), or up in the sky (Air), elements that contain sacred teachings, accessible to all when we need them (Essence). Mandala For The 5th Element followed; the center is the symbol for Essence, also symbol for the Sun.

One night at the studio, while collaborating on Obsoletion Blues, an art project for Strange Attractors, I ran across an old article I had copied years ago at MCAD — The Art of Ritual. I read it, remembered the Akashic Records (akasha is a Sanskrit word meaning sky, space, or aether) — source of mystical knowledge, the collective unconscious, the history of the Cosmos. Perfectly in sync, readers began commenting on the same subjects in our daily haiku post. From annie:

I first came across termas when I read Thinley Norbu’s book ‘Magic Dance’. He describes, poetically, exotic tales of the ‘five wisdom dakinis’ (earth, air, fire, water and space/ether). These five dakinis manifest the feminine wisdom energy, bringing strength, power and transformation to our lives. They are known collectively as ‘Sky Dancers’ who dance in limitless space and are the writers of the termas, which they conceal until the time is right for them to be found. Their form of writing is ‘subtle and mysterious’ and the being who finds the terma must call on the five wisdom dakinis to help them interpret it (they also reside in the mind). I like the similarities of the elemental archetypes of Buddhism and Celtic Paganism. It brings it closer to home.



The Five Elements

______________


FIRE — SOUTH

Summer, Youth, Midday, Full Moon, Intuition

ELEMENTAL CORRESPONDENCES: Flames, Red, Point, Combustion, Energy, Passion, Desire, Inspiration, Beginning, Energy, Individual

OBJECTS:
fire, flame, candles, lamps, fireplaces, torches, matches, sparklers, fireworks, triangular shapes
Foods: hot-spiced foods, cayenne, salsa, Tabasco, curry, hot foods & drinks
Clothing: light and warm
Scents: sharp, tangy smells like cinnamon, odors from a fire

ACTIONS:
darting, rapid movements
lighting a fire or candle, burning or sacrificing

COLORS:
reds, oranges, yellows
bright, direct light, steady like the noon sun, or a flickering fire, or candle-light

SOUNDS:
arpeggios, staccato rhythms
the crackling of a fire, violins and other high-pitched strings, soprano instruments
inflaming speeches, stating an intention, invocations, appeals to the Spirit


______________


AIR (WIND) — EAST

Spring, Infancy, Dawn, Crescent Moon, Thinking

ELEMENTAL CORRESPONDENCES: Bell, Incense, Blue, Line, Gas, Mind, Communication, Study, Planning, Merging, Creation, Mental, Relationships

OBJECTS:
air, wind, round shapes, feathers, fans, incense, pinwheels, books, pens
Foods: light desserts, puff pastry, champagne, sparkling drinks
Clothing: light and free-fitting
Scents: clear and delicate scents

ACTIONS:
quick, light motions
lifting up or offering up
speaking or reading

COLORS:
sky blue, blues, whites
bright but indirect light, increasing in intensity, electric lighting
the morning sun

SOUNDS:
sound itself
clear, high-pitched tones; rapid, precise, light rhythms
the rushing wind, rustling sounds
wind chimes, flutes and woodwinds, rattles, bells or drums
speech and laughter, words that direct thoughts, appeals to reason and logic


______________


WATER — WEST

Autumn, Middle Age, Evening, Waning Moon, Feeling

ELEMENTAL CORRESPONDENCES: Cup, Silver, Plane, Liquid, Feeling Emotion, Integration, Process, Cycle, Deepening, Feeling, Family

OBJECTS: water, cups, liquid containers, crescent shapes, seashells, starfish, fish, dolphins
Foods: libations, clear broths
Clothing: smooth, flowing textures of materials such as silk
Scents: rain, sea air, water lilies

ACTIONS:
fluid, graceful, rhythmic motions
actions that denote giving and receiving aspects of water: pouring, drinking, washing
dancing, swaying

COLORS:
blues, blue-greens, silvers
filtered, indirect light, gently changing
twilight

SOUNDS:
melodious, flowing
rhythmic chanting, rushing water, waves, rain
vibraphone, harp, rhythm section, alto pitch
poetry or singing, speech that appeals to the emotions


______________


EARTH — NORTH

Winter, Old Age, Night, New Moon, Sensation

ELEMENTAL CORRESPONDENCES: Disc, Cube, Earth Tones, Solid, Body, Affection, Application, Product, Ending, Manifestation, Action, Group

OBJECTS: solid, sturdy objects of cubes, globes, squares, stones, metals, crystals, wood
Foods: breads, grains, meat, fruits, mushrooms
Clothing: coats, capes, rough mottled textures such as wool
Scents: heavy, musky odors, the smell of earth, forest floor, baking bread

ACTIONS:
stillness, slow, steady deliberate motions
lying, sitting, squatting
digging, planting harvesting
eating, ingestion, digestion
moving to each of the four quadrants of the circle

COLORS:
earth tones: browns, blacks, russets, olive greens, yellows
darkness or dim, steady light
nighttime

SOUNDS:
silence, the pause between sounds
low, deep tones; slow steady rhythms
bass instruments, drum, fiddle, oboe, tuba
speech that refers to body, the world, actions


______________


ESSENCE  — ALL AS ONE

Everything Is Connected, The Ethers, Life Force, Energy That Permeates All of Nature, Wholeness, Unity of Self, the World

ELEMENTAL CORRESPONDENCES: Circles, Mandalas, Altars, the Sun, Labyrinths, Centers, Balancing Points, the Bindu (point of origin and return)

OBJECTS: central altar, candle, lantern, lamp, cauldron, the ritual circle

ACTIONS:
standing in the center of a circle or labyrinth
holding hands in a circle, prayer chains
recognizing life force energy — prana, chi, ether, Akasha, Spirit, God, Tao (to name only a few)

COLORS:
brightness, light itself, the speed of light

SOUNDS:
sounds of pitch higher than human hearing
solitary clear soprano note, a choir’s single voice, monks chanting
instruments with a lingering echo, Tibetan bells
in speech, giving thanks for what has been received from Spirit through invocation


______________


I posted excerpts from that old MCAD library book (The Art Of Ritual) containing lists of objects, foods, actions, smells, and sounds to remind me to engage all of the senses, and in turn, each of the 5 Elements. Keep in mind that directional correlations and colors may vary from culture to culture, depending on what books you reference.

What rituals help you to heal or feel connected to the world at large? How do you integrate human suffering and pain into day-to-day life. What symbols help you to heal and grow, to come to terms with death and loss, to create balance in your life. For me, art and writing open doors to other worlds


The essence of ritual is that something done in the physical realm is related to the higher worlds. This may be a simple gesture of the hand or an elaborate ceremony. It can be working consciously in everyday life, so that quite mundane actions become full of meaning, or a carefully designed ritual acted out for a specific occasion…Ritual is the mode of formalizing action and giving it not only meaning, but creating a contact with other worlds.

—Halevi, School of Kabbalah

Mandala For The 5th Element (Detail)


-posted on red Ravine Monday, March 21st, 2011

-related to posts: Functioning Ego — August Mandalas (Goethe & Color), Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain

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self mandala auto

Alter-Ego Mandala: Dreaming Of The Albatross – 8/52 (Gogyohka), 8/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 8, February 27th 2011, scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Medium: Drawn by hand with a black Ultra Fine Point Sharpie & Sharpie Peel-Off China Marker on Canson Mix Media XL Series 98lb drawing paper. Colored with Faber Castell 6 PITT Artist Brush Pens, DecoColor Glossy Oil Base Paint Markers, Portfolio Water Soluble Oil Pastels, Caran D’Ache NeoColor II Water Soluble Wax Crayons, Sharpie Medium Point Oil-Based Opaque Paint Markers.



alter-ego
1530s, from Latin phrase (used by Cicero), “a second self, a trusted friend” (cf. Gk. allos ego); see alter and ego.



A second self, a trusted friend. Or a dark half that emerges when we least expect it — in art, writing, and poetry. When I viewed Never (Found Poem) from Lotus, inspired by Charles Bukowski’s work The Continual Condition, these were the lines that resonated for me:


Our problem is
that we divorce ourselves
from ourselves


howling
and scratching their bellies,
and dreaming of the albatross.


I looked in the mirror. I started drawing. An outline emerged, a person I vaguely recognized. The longer I drew, the more familiar the image, the less it looked like me. An alter-ego. I went to the studio, pulled out the Royal typewriter Liz bought for me at a garage sale (turns out, it’s French), and while Jimi Hendrix’s Rainbow Bridge played on the stereo turntable, wrote a gogyohka:


self poem

Rock, Paper, Scissors – 8/52 (Gogyohka), 8/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 8, February 27th 2011, scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Medium: typed on Crane paper stock with vintage Royal typewriter. Scanned as TIF, saved as JPEG.


I’ve long been a fan of Charles Bukowski’s work. He was the kind of poet that didn’t pull any punches. He was born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany, lived hard, knew how he would die, wrote about the veneer that crumbles over the steely hardness. He wrote to the end, died of leukemia on March 9th, 1994 and is buried at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, near his home in San Pedro, California.

It is the honesty in his work I am drawn to. After I read Never (Found Poem), I saw that a reader had left a link to all things Bukowski. I was surprised to find a whole page of his artwork, dotted with self-portraits. Bukowski’s portrait paintings and Never (Found Poem) from Lotus sparked the mandala. The quote stoked the fire:


The difference between life and art is art is more bearable.
– Charles Bukowski




Typewriter Revisited - 8/52



-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 5th, 2011

-related to posts: Best Of BlackBerry 365 — First Quarter SlideShow, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Searching For Stillness, icicle tumbleweed (haiga) — 2/52, The Mirado Black Warrior, Waning Moon (Haiga), The Void — January Mandalas, ybonesy’s self portrait (part of her Farewell To red Ravine)

Lotus and I will continue our call and response by posting a BlackBerry photo for the 52 weeks of 2011. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration).

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IMG01736-20110211-1717 texas white

A Warm Game Of Texas Hold ‘Em (Haiga) – 6/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 6, Golden Valley, Minnesota, February 11th 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Digital BlackBerry photograph altered in Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, Font: Myriad Pro.


After reading the Lunar New Year postcard from Lotus (her BlackBerry52 Jump-Off for Week 6), I started to think about how we don’t know each other in person. We are vulnerable only through our poetry, writing, artwork, the years of conversation that have taken place in this quiet space. There is a long stretch of road, I-35, that connects the landscape between us. Part of her knows this place; her mother once lived in Minnesota. We stare at the same moon, sun, planets and stars.

I was scraping ice dams off the roof last week, and happened to look up behind the blade I was wielding. There between the brilliant blue branches of the oak and ash peered the Bone Moon. The Ancients sometimes called February’s moon the Snow Moon. I reached into my pocket, grabbed the BlackBerry, and snapped off a shot of the sky. It became the backdrop for a haiga, an unbroken expanse of words extending all the way to Texas.

The blue? For Valentine’s Day, Liz asked me on a date to the Walker to see the work of neo-Dada painter Yves Klein — With the Void, Full Powers. I was moved by the architecture of air, the fire paintings, his relationship to the elements, the Anthropométries (human paintbrushes), and the Ex-Voto dedicated to Rita, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. I walked slowly through a white-walled room of blue monochromes, Klein’s Blue Period. I’ve never seen blue look so beautiful. Blue for the skies of Winter. Blue for communication and expression. Blue for the Blues.


Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions, while the other colors have some. These are the psychological spaces. Red, for example, presupposes a hearth giving off heat. All colors bring forth associations of concrete, material, and tangible ideas, while blue evokes all the more the sea and sky, which are what is most abstract in tangible and visible nature.

–Yves Klein (1928 – 1962)

Through color I feel the sentiment of complete identification with space; I am truly liberated.

–Yves Klein (1928 – 1962)

_______________


Lotus and I will continue our call and response by posting a BlackBerry photo for the 52 weeks of 2011. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration). To read more about Lotus, visit her at alotus_poetry on Twitter (where she writes poetry every day in community with other Twitter poets), at Poetry By Lotus, and on her Flickr account.


-related to posts: Best Of BlackBerry 365 — First Quarter SlideShow, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Searching For Stillness, icicle tumbleweed (haiga) — 2/52, The Mirado Black Warrior, The Dying Art Of Letterwriting (Postcards From The Edge)

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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I discovered my passion very early. I just love doing it. My mother claims that I was writing when I was crawling — with a twig in the sand, or on the margins of books. But I think just growing up in the South and having a somewhat difficult time, you know, really helped me to look to creativity as a way to cope, really, with life.

Art requires us to really see, to look at things with understanding. And I think because things were difficult –  for instance, you had one pair of shoes that had to last the entire year. So if you sort of wore them out, what were you going to do? Well, you had to really think hard about how people managed to clothe you, and how they managed to feed you.

The advice I would give to anyone, but especially to the young — find some quiet space around yourself and maintain it. And don’t fill your outer space or your interior space with other people’s anything. Keep a space for you. Because it’s the only way you can grow into being who you were meant to be.

–Alice Walker speaking this morning on We Have a Dream: Inspirational and Motivational Black Americans on 5 KSTP




-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

-related to post on practice, mentors, and Alice Walker on labyrinths: Labyrinth

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Question Mark, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few weeks ago, I watched an interview on Bill Moyers Journal and was mesmerized by the work of Anna Deavere Smith. It is tough work. She takes on controversial subjects most would not touch in our sanitized, politically correct language of the day. Her 1992 one-woman performance Fires in the Mirror explored the violence between Jews and Blacks after an August 1991 civic disturbance in the New York neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Her solo performance in Twilight: Los Angeles dramatized the 1992 riots that broke out in L.A. following the first Rodney King trial.

For her current one-woman play Let Me Down Easy, Anna Deavere Smith interviewed Americans from all walks of life about healthcare, medical, and end of life issues. After 9 years and 300 plus interviews, she chose 20 people; through their words, body language and speech, she transforms on stage into each one. I’ve only seen snippets of her 90 minute performance on TV. And from bullrider to politician to Buddhist monk, I could hear the voice of all America inserted into the healthcare debate, leaving little room for doubt — something has to change.

We are trying to bring disparate worlds together, not so that we can all get along, but so we can see out of the ‘me’ into ‘us.’

– Anna Deavere Smith

__________________________________________


Highlights


Below are few notes I jotted down while listening to her conversation with Bill Moyers. A few may seem cryptic, but will make more sense when you watch the interview:

  • The title Let Me Down Easy came to her almost out of a dream. There are two songs with the name. Of the title, James H. Cone of the Union Theological Seminary said they are the words of a broken heart and can be interpreted as broken love. “Don’t do it harshly. Not too mean. Let it be easy.”
  • Let Me Down Easy is a call about grace and kindness in a world that lacks that often –  in a winner take all world.
  • Death is the ultimate form of loss, the ultimate form of abandonment
  • It broke her heart to know that we, with all of our money and technology, believe that we can afford to leave people so alone
  • Are we afraid of being poor, afraid of losing, afraid of being sick? Is that why we distance ourselves from that reality all around us?
  • She chose these 20 particular people because they are very connected to the life cycle – death and life
  • The most important thing you can do is be with someone when they die
  • Art comes in when the official language falls apart. When things fall apart, you can see more and you can even be part of indicating new ways that things can be put together.


What seems to be important to Anna Deavere Smith is the art of listening. And letting what she hears soak into each cell of her body. Words matter. People matter. She believes something she learned from her grandfather (who was also the inspiration for her method of theater) — if you say a word often enough, it becomes you. In a New York Times article Through 1 Woman, 20 Views of Life’s End she says, “I try to embody America by embodying its words.”

Near the end of the interview, Bill Moyers asked, “When did you begin to listen to people so acutely?” Anna said when she was young, she lived next to a woman who weighed 400 pounds. The neighbor would ask her to go to the store to buy her fatback and she’d love to sit on her porch and listen to her stories –  that’s when she started really listening.

__________________________________________


Writing Topic — 3 Questions


How do we teach ourselves to listen? How do we get people to talk about what has meaning for them, moving beyond repetition or sound bites? In Anna’s words, “I say their words over and over. I listen and I wear the words.”

She said she also taught herself to listen by breaking up certain rhythmic speech patterns. She met a linguist at a cocktail party in 1979 who said she would give her 3 questions that were guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves:

Have you ever come close to death?

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?

Do you know the circumstances of your birth?


And that’s the inspiration for this Writing Topic — 3 Questions.

Choose one of the 3 questions above. Write it down at the top of your paper. Take out a fast writing pen and do a timed 15 minute Writing Practice.

Maybe 3 questions, combined with the wild mind of Writing Practice, will break patterns in our writing and lead us to listen more closely to our own voices.

__________________________________________


Epilogue


Anna Deavere Smith is on fire. In pursuit of her mission to translate art into social commentary about race, poverty, and injustice, she’s won two Obie Awards, been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and two Tonys, and is a recipient of the prized MacArthur fellowship. (Not to mention her role in NBC’s The West Wing, as National Security Advisor Nancy McNally.) You can read more about Anna Deavere Smith at Bill Moyers Journal. Or watch the full interview with Anna Deavere Smith and Bill Moyers at this link.

In November, the Moth Storytelling Awards in New York honored her as their 2009 recipient at the Annual Moth Ball. The Wall Street Journal blog Speakeasy covered the event which was also attended by writer Garrison Keillor. On the subject of healthcare, the blog references a compelling verbal account from Keillor that night about his stroke in September. He had the stroke while on a massage table, eventually drove himself to the ER, and waited 15 minutes in line before he was able to tell anyone he was having a stroke. Read the full story at Speakeasy: Jonathan Ames, Garrison Keillor and Anna Deavere Smith Headline Annual Moth Ball.


In some ways the most effective politicians are the ones who have the best verbal clothes that they manipulate the best way. And there is a gap between that type of clothing and where people walk and where people live.

Whitman was doing another kind of work for the country at that time. Speaking a different song. And I think the politicians can sing to us but I respect, in a way, the limitation of their language. I mean I guess it’s a part of our culture that goes back as far as Jefferson, that they have to be so careful about what they say. My only desire would then be that we would find other places in our culture to work out our differences.

– Anna Deavere Smith from Bill Moyers Journal, November 2009


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 29th, 2009

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patrick dougherty masks (one)

Here’s Looking at You, Patrick Dougherty installation at Bosque School,
Albuquerque, October 2009, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
One evening last week I went to see North Carolina artist Patrick Dougherty give a talk to an audience of parents, students, faculty and staff of Bosque School, plus a few members of the broader Albuquerque community. The turnout was solid. All seats were filled, yet I couldn’t help but lament how tucked away this globally recognized, soft-spoken artist was—how very hidden his presence in our city was to the public at large. And just how much they were missing by not being here.
 
Dougherty was guest artist at the independent Bosque School (grades 6-12) from October 5-23. According to the multi-arts organization collaborative LAND/ART, which sponsored the sculptor, Dougherty was here to create “a site-specific work on the grounds of the school adjoining the Rio Grande Valley State Park, using willow saplings harvested from the site and involving the students and teachers in the process.” (Bosque School is known for the way it incorporates study of the adjacent cottonwood forest—also known as “the bosque“—and river into its Science curriculum.)
 
This was Dougherty’s first time working with students this age. He’s done installations at museums, university and college campuses, and on sites of all types, from Ireland to France, Connecticut to California—over 200 works in the US, Asia, and Europe over the past two-plus decades.

He wasn’t in New Mexico to create art in a highly visible public space. His primary job was to work with students and teachers. The installation was open to the public most days and weekends during his stay, and many people took advantage of visiting hours. But still, hearing him speak on a late afternoon in October was like stumbling upon the city’s best kept art secret.
 
 
 
 
 

patrick dougherty (the man)        patrick dougherty land art 3

Patrick Dougherty poses for a shot after his talk (left), building the installation
required scaffolding (right), which visitors were sometimes allowed to climb,
October 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
Drawing with sticks
 
Dougherty began his talk by walking the audience through a slideshow, starting with images of the log cabin home he built by hand, then moving to samples of his installations. He was funny and charming and deep in an unassuming way. He told us that he thinks about sticks as drawing material. “Consider the stick as a line,” he suggested, talking to us as if we were fellow artists.

His favorite piece, which he said he liked precisely because of its good lines, was “Tension Zones,” installed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1995 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. (Unfortunately, the only image I found was in a hard-to-read archived article from the Milwaukee Sentinel.)
 
He went on to talk about his work in three ways, showing examples of each:

  1. Architecture: Many of his installations have an interplay with buildings. Stick sculptures climb walls, cap towers, or lean into buildings.
  2. Trees: Dougherty often uses trees as “a matrix.” He might make use of the limbs, trunks, or the canopy of the tree, building his installation in relation to one or all of those parts. He showed us pieces that seemed to sprout leaves in spring and shed them in winter.
  3. No thing: Many of his installations, he said, were built in “just space,” indoors or outdoors. 
     

After the talk, members of the audience had many questions. “How did the students catch on?” someone asked. “Great,” Dougherty said, “we know all about sticks; it’s the Hunter-Gatherer in our blood.” He reminded us that the stick is a universal play thing for all children. They use sticks to draw in the dirt, as instruments, building material, weapons, and utensils.
 
 
 
 
 

drawing with sticks (two)    drawing with sticks (one)

Drawing-with-sticks details from the Bosque School installation,
October 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
Two Years and Three Weeks
 
Dougherty’s pieces generally have the same lifespan as that of a stick, which is about two years. After two years, most installations come down.

In an interview (date unknown) on Don’t Panic Online, Dougherty talked about the temporary nature of his work:
 
 

I think that part of my work’s allure is its impermanence, the life cycle that is built into the growth and decay of saplings. My focus has always been the process of building a work and allowing those who pass to enjoy the daily changes or drama of building a sculpture as well as the final product. However, the line between trash and treasure is thin, and the sculptures, like the sticks they are made from, begin to fade after two years.  Often the public imagines that a work of art should be made to last, but I believe that a sculpture, like a good flower bed, has its season.

 
Other highlights from Dougherty’s talk include (italics direct quotes; the rest paraphrased):
 

  • On Art and Being an Artist: The art world is not a wall; it’s a loose-knit group of people. Artists are just normal people who are looking for their place in the world.
  •  

  • On finding that Place in the world: Hysteria rides on the shoulder of every creative person.
  •  

  • On building his own house, a log cabin: He wanted to build a house that was functional, with no maintenance once it was done. That way he could live and work there when the money wasn’t rolling in.
  •  

  • On living in North Carolina: Lots of maples in North Carolina, and the stones there have color. Some places have a lot of stones, but they’re not different colors like they are in North Carolina.
  •  

  • On using willows to build art: Every time you cut the base of the willow, you get twice as many sticks that grow back. (Which was good to hear, given that my daughter was worried that nature was being sacrified for art. It wasn’t.)
  •  

  • On how long it takes: Dougherty stays for about three weeks in each locale, which, he joked, is about the maximum amount of time before his hosts get sick of him.
  •  

  • On climbing the pieces: Please don’t. Even though the structures are solid due to the layers and layers of sticks, as well as the stick foundations that gird them, climbing tends to destroy the surface over time. However, people (drunk adults, especially!) love to climb the sculptures.
  • On whether the students liked it: They loved it, although they felt at times constrained by doing things the way Dougherty wanted. In order to give the kids some freedom, there were three experimental installations where the students could do whatever they wanted.


 
 
 
 

patrick dougherty land art 4   experimentation with patrick dougherty

Long view of the installation (left), and looking out from inside an experimental
sculpture, October 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





Brown meets Green

After the talk we were invited to go outside to see the installation and walk around and inside of it. The piece is made up of three two-sided heads, like masks with eyes and noses, which, according to Dougherty, are a combination kachina and Green Man, who often can be seen adorning ancient cathedrals.

The masks were much larger than I had expected. I’d seen them just a few days before during an admissions open house at the school, but my viewing was brief plus I was distracted by the other goings-on. In my mind’s eye, the sculptures were about twice as large as a person. Wrong! They are many times taller than the average person, as you can see by the photo below, which shows someone standing in the doorway/mouth of one of the masks.

The best part of the event was watching people of all ages marvel at the creations. Inside, outside, peeking around corners. A father dressed in a suit and tie (he must have come straight from work) played a sort of hide-and-seek tag with his two daughters, running in and out of each structure. I walked slowly into the giant heads, looking at elegant lines of the willows and taking in the most wondrous fragrance of sage and willow. One woman turned to me and exclaimed, “If only we could bottle that smell!”

The sun was sinking as the visitors scattered. I went over to the experimental installations. The sticks were not nearly as tightly layered as in the giant masks, but they had shape and structure. What an opportunity to learn with a master. Art in the Schools like it’s never been done before.




patrick dougherty masks (three)







More information on Patrick Dougherty


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the desert is no lady, C-41 print film, driving across
New Mexico, January 2003, photo © 2003-2009 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Yesterday our blog friend from Seeded Earth was reading her journal from last October and posting snippets on Twitter. One journal entry caught Liz’s eye:

 

Is a wash different from an arroyo, or a gully, or a gulch? We drove over a wash (looks like a dry creek bed) called Car Wash. Really. True.

The entry reminded Liz of last May when we went to see Patricia Hampl and purchased the book Home Ground – Language for an American Landscape. She tweeted back to Bo that she would look up the words arroyo, gully, gulch and wash.

This morning when I got up, Liz was placing Post-it notes on those sections of the book before driving off to work. Curious, I thumbed through the bookmarks and started reading. Our Word Of The Day multiplied to four. I was so fascinated by the subtle differences that I was inspired to post excerpts from the Home Ground definitions on red Ravine.

 
So is a wash different from an arroyo, or a gully, or a gulch? Before you read the answer, what are your definitions? They are powerful, visual words that might even make good Writing Practices. Write one of the words at the top of your page — 10 minutes, Go!

 
_________________________________________________________________

 

arroyo

The Spanish word arroyo means “large creek.” Often steep-walled, an arroyo may be flat-bottomed sand or laden with boulders and gravel. Arroyuelo and arroyito are the diminutive forms and mean “rill” or “brook.” Arroyos are ephemeral streams, carrying water only briefly during such events as spring runoff of the summer monsoons. In the American Southwest the words arroyo and wash are sometimes used interchangeably, as are arroyo seco (meaning “dry”) and dry wash — though the English terms often describe shorter or abbreviated water courses stretching less than a mile and not necessarily part of a specific arroyo.

 -Arturo Longoria from his home ground, The Texas brushlands, Zapata County, Starr County, Texas

 
 
gulch

In the western United States, gulch is a word for a small ravine. Deeper than a gully, generally narrow and steep sided, shallower than a canyon. Miners often found gold or other minerals concentrated in a gulch’s swash channel. The Blue Cloud Gulch and the Old Dominion Gulch in Montana each yielded gold, silver, and copper for many years. Artifacts of ancient civilizations are also sometimes exposed in a gulch. In Grand Gulch, Utah, for instance, the Anasazi left their mark in red sandstone. In the profusion of gifts offered by gulches, none was more spectacular than the one discovered by a miner in New Mexico in 1987. He saw the tip of tusk in a gulch; the remains were later identified as those of a Columbian mammoth. Public and scientific interest brought about a full excavation of this site, now known as the Dry Gulch Mammoth Site, exposing a grail of bones.

 -Elizabeth Cox from her home ground, Chattanooga, Tennessee

 
 
gully

A channel worn in the earth by a torrent of water carving out a deep ditch is called a gully. Gully erosion happens after a rill, a high-velocity rush of water, has moved large amounts of soil along a depression or drainage line. As water wears away the land, the rill — the geomorphic feature — becomes a gully; cutting farther down, the headlong water makes a gulch, until the cellar doors open into a canyon. Geographers distinguish between gullies, washes, and arroyos on the one hand, and cañadas on the other, according to the materials involved. Cañadas — like cañoncitos — slice through bedrock. Arroyos and washes cut through flat layers of valley deposits; and gullies and gulches erode hill-slope materials.

 -Elizabeth Cox from her home ground, Chattanooga, Tennessee 

 
 
wash

The word wash is used to describe areas where subtle contours allow water to flow, or “wash,” from elevated sites to lower zones, like the bottoms of canyons or along gullies or next to ponds. Carrizo Wash in Arizona and Hunters Wash in New Mexico are examples of washes that run for many miles. A dry streambed or creek is often called a dry wash. In some areas of the American Southwest the words arroyo and arroyo seco are used interchangeably with wash and dry wash. In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey writes: “Streambeds are usually dry. The dry wash, dry gulch, arroyo seco. Only after a storm do they carry water and then briefly–a few minutes, a couple of hours.”

 -Arturo Longoria from his home ground, The Texas brushlands, Zapata County, Starr County, Texas

 

-partial excerpts from Home Ground — Language for an American Landscape, published by Trinity University Press

 
_______________________________________________________________

 
-For more information on the Home Ground Project or to purchase your copy of Home Ground — Language for an American Landscape, important links can be found in the post and Comment conversation at Home Ground — Back In The Saddle. 

Gratitude to the writers of Home Ground, to Bo from Seeded Earth for asking the question, and to Liz for responding. Together they became the inspiration for this Writing Topic.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

-related to post: Midwest Poets & Writers — When Can You Call A Place Home?

 

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Insomnia, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2009, photo © 2009 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

every waking moment
fitful bursts of sleeplessness
posing as dreams

 
 
 
 
 
 

Couldn’t sleep last night; so many scattered thoughts rolling around in my head. They say you wake up at 3 a.m. for anxiety, 4 a.m. for depression. I must be feeling anxious. At a few minutes before 3 a.m. (Dead Time), I was wide awake. So wide awake, I even broke the 5-7-5 structure on the Sleeplessness senryu (not typical of my haiku).

I did keep the 17 syllables. After a few years of haiku, they must be hardwired into me. Sometimes I’ll dream about writing and counting haiku in my sleep. I once read about a Japanese poet, Shuson Kato (born Takeo Kato but referred to by his pen-name, Shuson), who counted syllables on his fingers while he lay unconscious a few weeks before his death.

 
Here is an excerpt from his 1993 obituary in the Independent – Shuson Kato, poet and scholar: born Tokyo 26 May 1905; died Tokyo 3 July 1993:

In April this year, he fell sick, but again recovered and started the arduous task of choosing the weekly poems for the Asahi. Alas, on 20 June he lost consciousness: the 11 July issue of the Asahi poetry page was his last. It was said that even while he lay unconscious he was moving his fingers in the typical syllable-counting fashion of every haiku poet, bending the fingers inwards towards the palm, then releasing them again one by one.

Shuson believed in the healing powers of poetry. Again from his obituary:

In 1957, Kadokawa Shoten issued a first collected edition of Shuson’s works. But the poet fell ill in 1960 and underwent chest operations, presumably for tuberculosis. Yet he continued writing haiku. As he said: ‘Without my haiku I am nothing. It is only haiku I live for, and only haiku that keep me alive.’

His faith in the healing power of poetry was such that he gradually recovered. It was in the Sixties that Shuson became identified in the popular mind as a poet who wrote in order to explore ‘how human beings should live’.

Powerful testament to the value of poetry, an art form whose readership is dropping. I find the ancient haiku poets inspiring. It is customary for haiku poets to compose a death haiku just before dying, an epitaph that lives on. Perhaps you’d like to leave your own haiku or senryu in the Comments to honor the recent July 3rd anniversary of Shuson’s death.

 

Blue (If I Knew Then, What I Know Now),
Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2009, photo ©
2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

_______________________________________________________

Epilogue: At 6 a.m. when Liz’s alarm was about to go off, I was heading to bed and a Version 2 of the Sleeplessness haiku popped into my head. I don’t know if Versions 1 and 2 are opposites, or complements like red/green or orange/blue.

 

every sleeping moment
fitful bursts of wakefulness
posing as dreams

 

Below are a few other Night Owl posts from over the years. I am most creative in the middle of the night or very early in the morning in that space between dark and light. I wonder if there are other Night Owls out there who write poetry in their sleep. Or if the Early Bird still catches the worm. 
 

 

-posted on red Ravine in the space between Tuesday morning, July 14th, 2009 and Monday night, July 13th

-related to these obituary posts on red Ravine: The Uses of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries?, Reading The Obits, Halloween Short List: (#2) Build Your Own Casket

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River Painting, dusk along the Mississippi River, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

River Painting, drive-by shooting of dusk along the Mississippi River after a walk with two Midwest writers, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

Last week I finished reading writer Patricia Hampl’s memoir The Florist’s Daughter. It is set in her hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. The landmarks are familiar to me, and I identify with her descriptions of “middledom” — the ordered streets, the litterless greenways and lakes, the pressure to conform that naturally seeps into the psyche when one lives in the Midwest.

But I was telling a friend, after 25 years of living in the Twin Cities (and I do love it here), I am still a transplant. My roots are steeped in memories of Southern dialect, and the writing and letters of writers like Flannery O’Connor, Alice Walker, and Carson McCullers. I feel an intense connection to the land and culture in the South. The years in Georgia (birth to 12), less than half the time I have lived in Minnesota, shaped me.

I am from the Midwest but not of it.

 

The Midwest. The flyover, where even the towns have fled to the margins, groceries warehoused in Wal-Marts hugging the freeways, the red barns of family farms sagging, dismantled and sold as “distressed” wood for McMansion kitchens, the feedlots of agribusiness crouched low to the prairie ground. Of all the American regions, the Midwest remains the most imaginary, ahistorical but fiercely emblematic. It’s Nowheresville. But it’s also the Heartland. That weight again: the innocent middle. Though it isn’t innocent. It’s where the American imagination has decided to archive innocence.

   -excerpt from The Florist’s Daughter, by Patricia Hampl

 

Patrician Hampl is a poet and a writer. She has written four memoirs and two collections of poetry. And maybe because it’s National Poetry Month, I was drawn to the way she weaves poetry into memoir when describing the differences in her relationship with her mother and father. One wanted her to be a poet; the other, a writer:

 
He could accept the notion of my being “a poet” better than my mother’s idea that I was “a writer.” Poets are innocents, they belong to the ether and the earth. They don’t narrow their eyes and tell tales as “writers” do, proving in their mean-spirited way that the earthlings are filled with greed and envy, that the world is a spiral of small-minded gestures. Poets, at least, don’t tell tales on other people. They celebrate beauty. They make much of the little. Flowers, birds, the names of things are important to them. So being a poet was all right, though hopeless.

There was, even in “tragic” poetry, a note of optimism, of hope, the lyric lilt of meaning and significance. And he was determined to be cheerful all his life.

 

___________________________________________

 

But for the most part he was silent, absolutely without affect. Finally let down his guard. I would chatter, ask him things, I got nothing—nothing—back. He just sat there, staring. Natter, natter, natter, my voice doing all the cheerfulness, his voice fallen silent as the midsummer fronds of wild rice made low hissing sounds in the wind. His real being, bleached to virtual absence by sun and water, descended to the soundless fish world where you didn’t need to say a thing.

Something about silence, something of silence was at the resistant core of poetry. Silence had to do with honesty. Just sit in the boat and stare at the lake’s troubled surface. No opinions, no judgments. No Leo the Lion—she almost never went out in the boat.

   -excerpts from The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl
 

♦       ♦       ♦       ♦       ♦

 

A few days ago, a Bill Holm poem rolled into my inbox; it was sent by Ted Kooser on behalf of American Life in Poetry. Two more Midwest poets. We had been speaking of Bill Holm in the comments on several posts after he died unexpectedly a few months ago. He spent much of his time near his roots in Iceland, and I got to thinking, what is a regional writer?

What if you were born and spent your formative years in Virginia, your teenage and college years in Nebraska, then moved to Pittsburgh and New York like Willa Cather. Or were born and raised in Iowa but lived most of your adult life in Nebraska like Ted Kooser. Where are you from? What if you lived in Georgia as a child, Pennsylvania as a teenager, Montana in your twenties, and Minnesota for the rest of your life. Are you a Midwest, Northeast, or Southern writer?

Is it personal preference? The place you were born and raised. The town where you spent most of your life. Do you choose the place. Or does the place choose you? When have you lived in a place long enough to say “I’m from….” When can you call a place “home?”

 

___________________________________________

 

American Life in Poetry: Column 213

By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006

 

Bill Holm, one of the most intelligent and engaging writers of our northern plains, died on February 25th. He will be greatly missed. He and I were of the same generation and we shared the same sense of wonder, amusement, and skepticism about the course of technology. I don’t yet own an Earbud, but I won’t need to, now that we have Bill’s poem.

 

Earbud

Earbud–a tiny marble sheathed in foam
to wear like an interior earring so you
can enjoy private noises wherever you go,
protected from any sudden silence.
Only check your batteries, then copy
a thousand secret songs and stories
on the tiny pod you carry in your pocket.
You are safe now from other noises made
by other people, other machines, by chance,
noises you have not chosen as your own.
To get your attention, I touch your arm
to show you the tornado or the polar bear.
Sometimes I catch you humming or talking to the air
as if to a shrunken lover waiting in your ear.

 

___________________________________________

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2008 by Bill Holm, whose most recent book of poems is “Playing the Black Piano,” Milkweed Editions, 2004. Poem reprinted by permission of Bill Holm. Introduction copyright (c)2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.



 
-posted on red Ravine from the Midwest, salt of the Earth country, on April 22nd, Earth Day, 2009

-related to posts:  Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day)Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?, Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group, WRITING TOPIC – A PLACE TO STAND

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Mississippi Drive-By, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mississippi Drive-By, sunset on the Mississippi, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








Spring thaw spills over
Mississippi’s swollen banks;
Red River rages










I’ve been thinking about rivers this week as the Red River border between Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota spreads out over the land. Happy for Spring, this mighty south to north flowing river is swelled and overreaching her banks, leaving human devastation in her wake. The Red River stood at 40.71 feet shortly after 8:15 a.m., down a bit from the 40.8 feet at the stroke of midnight. That’s nearly a foot higher than the Red River has ever before reached in recorded history.

Rivers have minds of their own. And the Red River is a rebel. I remember a 1970′s flooding of the Susquehanna River when I was in college in Pennsylvania. Everyone was evacuated to higher ground; we were out of school for a week. My hometown hosts the mighty Mississippi, a river that writer Mark Twain knew intimately. He wrote about her history and human habitation in Life on the Mississippi. He also had this to say about trying to tame her:


The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…

       – Mark Twain in Eruption

The same appears to be true of the Red River. This week, citizens of the area have lost homes and businesses swallowed up by the river. Thousands of Midwesterners in the Great White North rose to the occasion, sandbagging between the echoing dribbles of basketball’s March Madness. Cheering for the home team kept their minds from spinning, a kind of in-the-moment relief.

But yesterday, officials in the flood-plagued Minnesota community of Moorhead asked about one-third of their households to evacuate ahead of the rising river. Moorhead along with neighboring Fargo, North Dakota, a city of more than 90,000, are preparing for further evacuations. The river is not expected to crest until Sunday afternoon, an all-time high of 42 feet. Thank goodness the cold weather this week left the Red frozen to the bone, unable to push the higher limits that were predicted.

Our prayers are with our communities to the North, though the odds may not be. It has always been this way with rivers; and so it shall always be. And if it’s true what Twain says that “we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us,” then Midwesterners will always go down as a people who show up for each other when the chips are down. Middle of the country. Middle America. High regard for the land, the rivers, the habitat, and the people who commingle there.



It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages–everything one could desire to amuse the children.

Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens, Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who ‘wrote up’ the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi.

 - Interview in Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886, from Mark Twain Quotations


- For up to the minute coverage, photographs, and history, read about the Red River Floods of March 2009 at these links:


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 28th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), susquehanna haiku, savannah river haiku

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Grandmama Elise On Washington Road, Augusta, Georgia, August 23rd, 1958, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Grandmama Elise On Washington Road, Augusta, Georgia, August 23rd, 1958, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



What do you remember most about your grandmother? Was she tall, thin, short, heavy? Or maybe she changed shape over the course of your lifetime. Do you remember what she smelled like, or the color of her hair? Is your grandmother living? Or has she passed on after a life well-lived. Out of all the relatives that come to mind, grandmothers wield tremendous power and are often respected by the entire family.

Grandmothers are the Elders, the Wise Ones, the Matriarchs, the glue that holds a family’s odd misshapen tree together. Many writers and artists are influenced by their grandmothers. Frank Gehry’s grandmother was the inspiration for his personal symbol, the fish. He includes fish in his architectural drawings, makes fish lamps, and has even designed buildings shaped like fish.

One of his most famous fish sculptures is the Standing Glass Fish commissioned by the Walker Art Center. Its first home was the lobby concourse between the Walker and the old Guthrie, where it was built scale by scale and exhibited as part of The Architecture of Frank Gehry Exhibition, September 21-November 30, 1986.

After two years in the Walker concourse, the 22-foot sculpture (constructed of glass and silicone and supported by a wooden armature with steel rods) was taken apart in five sections and reassembled at its second and permanent home in the central gallery of the Cowles Conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Gehry made a number of plexiglass models to study the flip of the fish’s tail, the characteristics of its eyes, and the shape of the scales.

The brass plaque on the edge of the pond nearby, calls to mind Gehry’s fond remembrance of his grandmother’s fish:


In Toronto, when I was very young, my grandmother and I used to go to Kensington, a Jewish market, on Thursday morning. She would buy a carp for gefilte fish. She’d put it in the bathtub, fill the bathtub with water, and this big black carp–two or three feet long–would swim around in the bathtub and I would play with it. I would stand up there and watch it turn and twist . . . and then she’d kill it and make gefilte fish and that was always sad and awful and ugly.

        —Frank Gehry



Glass Fish Scales, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Standing Glass Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Liz. All rights reserved.Flying Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Liz. All rights reserved.

Glass Fish Scales, Standing Glass Fish, Flying Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photos © 2008-2009 by Liz & QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In dire circumstances, when money is tight or family tensions rise, grandmothers often step up and help raise their children’s children. Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1943 and, though she moved to Cincinnati as a child, she returned in 1958 to spend her summers in Knoxville with her grandparents, John and Louvenia Watson. With explosive tensions between her parents difficult for Giovanni to handle, she chose to live in Knoxville for a time and attended Austin High School where her grandfather taught Latin.

It’s at this time that her grandmother’s influence profoundly shapes her life. According to her biography:


Her grandmother, who is involved in numerous charitable and political endeavors, becomes an increasingly important influence on her (Giovanni), teaching her the importance of helping others and of fighting injustice. When a demonstration is planned to protest segregated dining facilities at downtown Rich’s department store, her grandmother Louvenia cheerfully volunteers her granddaughter Nikki. In high school, Giovanni has two influential teachers: her French teacher, Mrs. Emma Stokes, and her English teacher, Miss Alfredda Delaney.


Her grandparents’ home stood at 400 Mulvaney Street in a neighborhood that’s long since been demolished, a casualty of urban renewal. In 1964, Giovanni’s grandmother Louvenia must move from her home at 400 Mulvaney Street; Nikki’s biography recalls the impact: Although her new house on Linden Avenue is nice, it lacks the accumulated memories of the home on Mulvaney, which Giovanni has also come to regard as her own home.

Nikki Giovanni often mentioned her grandmother when we saw her at the Fitzgerald Theater in January. She had returned to Knoxville on April 29th, 2008 when Mayor Haslam unveiled of a historical marker honoring Giovanni and the old neighborhood where her grandmother lived. It is now Hall of Fame Drive across the street from the Cal Johnson Recreation Center. It was on that childhood ground that Nikki Giovanni stood and recited her poem, “Tennessee By Birth.”


  Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940′s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


My maternal grandmother (lead photograph) is standing on the dirt of what used to be Washington Road in Augusta, Georgia. Her neighborhood, too, has been long gone, sacrificed to the growth of suburbs and cities. She was a hairdresser in her 30′s when I was born. My father was “allergic” to work and could not (or would not) support our family. My mother left him at 18, a few years after their marriage, and went to work. During that time, I stayed at my grandmother’s home. When I was a child, we were always close.

I remember the smell of her talcum powder, the imprint mark she would leave when she dabbed her lips after putting on her lipstick, the sound of her laughter in the evenings, her snoring at night.


*     *     *     *     *

When you say the words “my grandmother,” who comes to mind? (Most of us have at least two.) Who was your grandmother? Was she the matriarch, a dowager, estranged from the family? What was her name? Did you call her Grandmother, Granny, Grandma, or Grandmama. Did she spoil you, was she strict, how often did you see her, what kind of house did she live in? Does she ever sneak into your dreams?

Get out a fast writing pen and write the words “My Grandmother.” If you have any family photographs of your grandmother, it’s fun to pull them from the archives. Then set your timer for a 15 minute Writing Practice and Go!


Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

For Della Elise, I Miss You, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950′s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



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-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 19th, 2009

-related to posts: Art & Architecture – 2 Reasons, WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, The Dying Art Of Letter Writing (Postcards From The Edge), You Can’t Go Back, Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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Sage & John Cowles Convervatory, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sage & John Cowles Convervatory, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In keeping with last week’s Writing Topic, hundreds of windows turn Winter inside out at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden adjacent to the Walker Art Center. Established in 1927, the Walker began as the Upper Midwest’s first public art gallery. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which opened in 1988, is one of the nation’s largest urban sculpture parks and visitors to the Twin Cities don’t often leave without walking the 11-acre home to more than 40 works of art.

The Sage & John Cowles Conservatory on the western edge of the Sculpture Garden is a community contribution from philanthropists John Cowles, Jr. and his wife Jane Sage Fuller (who also had key roles in bringing the Guthrie Theater and Metrodome to Minneapolis). John Cowles Jr. was named president and CEO of Cowles Media in 1968, after beginning as a police reporter in 1953.

His father, John Cowles Sr., made the cover of TIME in 1935 when he and his brother, Gardner (Mike) Cowles Jr., bought the Minneapolis Star, then the 3rd weakest newspaper in the community. The brothers are descendants of a small-town banker, son of a Methodist elder in Iowa, who started out with little money until turning the Des Moines Register & Tribune and the Minneapolis Star Tribune into well-respected national newspapers.


According to a 1997 article in the Star Tribune:

John Sr. was president of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co. from 1935 to 1968, and chairman from 1968 to 1973. Through the influence of his newspaper and his own activities, he is credited with turning Minnesota from an isolationist state to an internationally engaged one, and leading the fight against the anti-Semitism that was openly practiced in the state when he arrived.


    RainGrate, Cowles Conservatory, January, 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.      Standing Pink, Cowles Conservatory, January, 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

RainGrate, Standing Pink, Cowles Conservatory, January, 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Sage Fuller Cowles is a dancer from Bedford Village, New York, and the stepdaughter of Cass Canfield, Sr., one-time chairman of Harper & Row. In the 1950s, she danced on Broadway and television and served as president of Planned Parenthood of Minneapolis from 1957-59. Her approach to philanthropy leans to the holistic, and our community receives the benefit:

I needed to have a new definition of philanthropy. The Greeks came to my rescue. “Love of mankind” was in the dictionary and that suited me fine. Philanthropy is not just about dollars and cents. It’s about giving time, energy, commitment to some idea or cause that we care about. We can all be philanthropists fueled by our individual passions, and we can do a better job of identifying our passions if our early experiences give us confidence to pursue them.

If we focus on educating the whole being would it make a difference to the quality of our communal life? Would we grow a different kind of citizen?

     -Sage Fuller Cowles from Getting Ahead of the Curve: Engaging Our Youngest Citizens, April 2006


We take a leisurely stroll through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden every time we head to the Walker for a show. The main section of the three-part Cowles Conservatory houses Frank Gehry’s 22-foot Standing Glass Fish that you can just make out in the photograph. It also houses palm trees, pass-throughs covered in creeping fig, and striking seasonal displays in the Regis Gardens designed by landscape architects Barbara Stauffacher Solomon and Michael Van Valkenburgh.

When we walk by Deborah Butterfield’s horse, Woodrow, we are walking on the same ground where a 1913 convention of the Society of American Florists and Ornamental Horticulture was held in Minneapolis’ old armory. It was there that Theodore Wirth designed temporary display gardens to show what could be grown in Minnesota’s wintry climate. They were such a success that they were kept in place for decades as demonstration gardens until finally becoming casualties to freeway construction.


     String Theory, Cowles Conservatory, January, 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ghostwalker, Cowles Conservatory, January, 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Palm Red, Cowles Conservatory, January, 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


But the seed had been planted. Architect of the museum, Edward Larrabee Barnes, picked up the torch and designed the original 7.5 acre Sculpture Garden. In winter months (which in Minnesota can run from October to April), the cave-like city dwellers of Minneapolis and Saint Paul bask in places like Cowles Conservatory where walls of glass allow warmth and light to penetrate the Vitamin D deprived, sun-kissed face of a long dark Winter.



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-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 14th, 2009

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Happy Birthday, Mabel Dodge, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Happy Birthday, Mabel Dodge, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007-
2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.







tombstone in winter;
knowing Mabel’s ghost lingers,
we write for our lives







I’ve felt the ghost of Mabel Dodge Luhan. She walks the adobe halls of the house at night, creaking on the steps leading down into her bedroom. It was pitch black the night of her visit. The dogs of Taos were howling in the distance. I didn’t look up from the hand-carved bed frame. The frame that I once read Dennis Hopper wanted to chainsaw into pieces and remove from the room. Someone must have stopped him.

Mabel would have turned 130 years old on this day. Those who benefit from her artistic vision sit on black cushions in silence; it’s the first week of what will be a year of study with Natalie. Whatever you think of Mabel or Tony (and you can hear an earful from the locals around Taos), together they created a pulsing creative space at the foot of Taos Mountain. One large enough to hold them both — and the rest of us, too.

Mabel’s grave is in a lonely corner of Kit Carson Memorial Cemetery. I visit there every time I am in Taos. Below is an excerpt from an article by Henry Shukman when he was hot on the trail of the ghost of D. H. Lawrence. It’s a fitting tribute to Mabel. Sometimes people are remembered most for the things they leave behind. Happy Birthday, Mabel. I hope you didn’t think we’d forgotten.



It was from the foot of Taos mountain that Mabel Dodge Luhan — heiress, patroness, columnist, early proponent (and victim) of psychoanalysis, memoirist and hostess — planned the rebirth of Western civilization. She moved to Taos from the East Coast in 1917 and fell in love not only with the place but also with Tony Lujan (later anglicized to Luhan), a chief in the nearby pueblo. She promptly left her second husband, married Tony and expanded a house on the edge of town, turning it into an adobe fantasy castle (what Dennis Hopper, who owned it in the 1970’s, would later call the Mud Palace), and began to invite scores of cultural luminaries. The idea was to expose them to the Indian culture she believed held the cure for anomic, dissociated modern humanity. After dinner, drummers and dancers from the pueblo would entertain the household.

Today her house is a museum, guesthouse and literary shrine all in one. For anyone on the trail of Lawrence, it’s the first of three essential ports of call. As I make my way up the groaning narrow stairs, the sense not just of history but of peace hits me: no TVs, no telephones. Instead, the deep quiet of an old, applianceless home. There are a bathroom with windows that Lawrence painted in colorful geometric and animal designs in 1922 to protect Mabel Luhan’s modesty, and floorboards across which Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe and Thomas Wolfe creaked. (In fact Wolfe stayed only one night. He arrived late and drunk, decided he didn’t like it and fled the next morning.)

- D.H. Lawrence’s New Mexico: The Ghosts That Grip the Soul of Bohemian Taos by Henry Shukman, from the NY Times, Cultured Traveler, October 22, 2006



Winter In Taos, Taos, New Mexico, November 2001, C-41 film print, photo © 2001-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Winter In Taos, grave of Mabel Dodge Luhan, born February 26th, 1879, died August 13th, 1962, Taos, New Mexico, November 2001, C-41 film print taken at my first Taos Writing Retreat at Mabel’s House, photo © 2001-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In a cold like this, the stars snap like distant coyotes, beyond the moon. And you’ll see the shadows of actual coyotes, going across the alfalfa field. And the pine-trees make little noises, sudden and stealthy, as if they were walking about. And the place heaves with ghosts. But when one has got used to one’s own home-ghosts, be they never so many, they are like one’s own family, but nearer than the blood. It is the ghosts one misses most, the ghosts there, of the Rocky Mountains. …because it is cold, I should have moonshine …

— D.H. Lawrence from Mornings In Mexico


-posted on red Ravine for the 130th birthday of Mabel Dodge Luhan, Thursday, February 26th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day)WRITING TOPIC — HAUNTED, The Vitality Of Place — Preserving The Legacy Of “Home” (with photos of Mabel & Tony and links to many of their contemporaries)

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