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Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Santa At Holidazzle - 178/365

Santa At Holidazzle – 178/365, Archive 365, Droid Shots, December 2012, Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Christmas Day. Presents opened, eggnog half gone, phone calls East and West. Longing, joy, gratitude, loss. What to leave behind, what to keep. Emptiness. Love.

Reading Dylan Thomas aloud, Christmas Eve. The moon-buried sky over a village churchyard in Laugharne. The close and holy darkness must have haunted him. A child’s sugarplum dreams—tufted hooves flick mediæval snow off the rooftop Castle of Abercorran.

Waiting for Santa—
the frigid windless night
soothes and comforts me.



Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. –Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Laugharne is a town in Carmarthenshire, Wales on the estuary of the River Tâf, and home to Dylan Thomas from 1949 until his death in 1953. Thought to have been an inspiration for the fictional town of Llareggub in Under Milk Wood, the Township was originally known as Abercorran. The name was changed to Laugharne after the English Civil War.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

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IMG_4072 cutout

Lincoln’s Birthday, Indie bookstore window photographed with Canon Powershot & edited with PhotoShop Elements, Wayzata, Minnesota, February 16th, 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few years ago, Liz and I went to see Ronald C. White, Jr. at the Bookcase of Wayzata, an independent bookstore on Lake Minnetonka. He was there to discuss his new book, A. Lincoln: A Biography. I had heard him interviewed earlier in the morning on MPR; Liz and I decided to be spontaneous and go hear him speak. The little Indie bookstore was packed.

White talked about how Lincoln loved words. And because of that, his words were like poetry. White wrote his book for those who might be reading a Lincoln biography for the first time, or to introduce Lincoln to a younger generation. He also spoke about how Obama started to shine a light on Lincoln, and how he (White) was booked for speaking engagements in Mississippi and Alabama, and also in Europe where many think Abe Lincoln personifies the American Dream.

More than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Yet not all of his story has been told. At the end of the Civil War, between March and April 1865, Lincoln went to Northern Virginia to meet with his generals. He shook hands with thousands of Union soldiers and visited the former Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. But little is known about the last week of his life before his assassination on April 14, 1865.

Historian Noah Andre Trudeau thinks that in their rush to get to Ford’s Theater, historians have overlooked this important part of Lincoln’s life. After the Civil War, the President of the United States met Generals Grant and Sherman in Virginia to talk about the surrender of the South and its impact on our country. Lincoln visited Richmond, then considered enemy territory, as an observer. He was looking for ways a torn nation could begin to heal.

Having spent my childhood in the South, and most of my adult years in the North, I am compelled to follow literature about the Civil War. One of my ancestors was a courier for Robert E. Lee. When we moved to the North, one of the first places we visited was the Gettysburg battlefield. I am fascinated by the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan who took this photo, one half of a stereo view of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, while he sketched on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863. (See links below for the rest of the Atlantic series on photographs of the Civil War.)

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Trudeau is known for uncovering its secrets. His previous books, Bloody Roads South and Gettysburg, have unveiled information about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, and the legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now, in preparation for the book about a largely unexamined period of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, Trudeau is in search of witnesses.

He is seeking diary entries, letters or stories of people who encountered Lincoln at the time. During the NPR story, I was surprised to hear several people call in with leads to family scrapbooks and letters relating to Lincoln. (To share information, contact him at lincoln65@earthlink.net.) About his quest for truth, Trudeau states: “My one nightmare is that I’m going to do a very good job of discrediting all the good stories.” I think it’s quite the contrary. The more stories revealed, the closer we are to weaving together the textured layers of the past, and unraveling the sometimes painful chapters in American history.


Resources:

Historian Seeks Artifacts From Lincoln’s Last Days : NPR Talk Of The Nation (LINK)

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. at his Official Website (LINK)

Abraham Lincoln and Slavery | Minnesota Public Radio News (LINK) – historian Eric Foner examines Abraham Lincoln’s complex ideas about slavery and African Americans, casting fresh light on an American icon.

The Civil War, Part 1: The Places, the Atlantic – February 8th, 2012 (LINK) – First installment of amazing b&w photographs of important places in the Civil War. (Some images in the three Series are graphic.)

The Civil War, Part 2: The People, the Atlantic – February 9th, 2012 (LINK) – Second installment of b&w photographs of the Civil War. Includes a photo portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken by photographer Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865.

Traditionally called “last photograph of Lincoln from life”, this final photo in Lincoln’s last photo session was long thought to have been made on April 10, 1865, but more recent research has indicated the earlier date in February. The crack comes from the original negative, which was broken and discarded back in 1865. The entirety of the American Civil War took place while Lincoln was in office, starting a month after he was elected, and ending just days before his assassination in April of 1865.

The Civil War, Part 3: The Stereographs, the Atlantic – February 10th, 2012 (LINK) – Third installment of the Stereographs of the Civil War with the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 12th, 2012, birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Related to posts: Abraham Lincoln & Nikki Giovanni (On Poets & Presidents), Presidential Poetics — Elizabeth Alexander, President Barack Obama, Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?

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By Teri Blair



Lawrence Welk’s Boyhood Home, Strasburg, North Dakota, July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


The Lawrence Welk Show was a Saturday night staple when I was growing up. My favorite acts were Cissy and Bobby, tap-dancing Arthur Duncan, and the guy on clarinet with big glasses. I didn’t pay much attention to the show’s host, though I wondered about his accent. I had a vague sense he came from the state just west of mine, but he mainly seemed tan and Hollywood and Californian. Not like the people I knew.

I’d seen his birthplace marked on my North Dakota map for years, and then one day, just like that, my mom and I decided to go. We checked out library copies of Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk. Mom read it first and told me she couldn’t put it down. I figured that was because she still watched his reruns on public television. Then I started reading it, and I couldn’t put it down either. That’s when I found out Lawrence Welk wasn’t just a tan and smiling Hollywood face. Far from it.

We took two-lane roads to get to Strasburg, ones where you can tell where you’re heading. Mom reread the first chapter out loud to us, the one about Lawrence’s childhood in North Dakota and his passion to play music and get off the farm. We wanted everything fresh in our minds.

Lawrence was born in North Dakota in 1903, one of eight children of immigrant parents. The ten of them lived in a tiny sod house, milked cows, and spoke German. Lawrence had four years of schooling before he begged his parents to let him quit. Since he knew how to read and write, they let him. A farmer wouldn’t need more than that, they figured. But Lawrence’s father had carried an accordion all the way from Europe, and that one musical box lit a fire under the third Welk son. He had an affinity for music, an insatiable appetite for chords and melodies and rhythm. He tinkered with homemade instruments, and learned everything his father would teach him about music.

Though his family assumed his future as a North Dakota farmer, Lawrence knew he had to live a different life. He didn’t know how he could, only that he must. Then when he was 11 his appendix burst. By the time his parents found someone with a car and he was driven to the hospital in Bismarck, he was almost dead. He lived on the edge of life and death while his poisoned blood was treated. Though only a child, he determined if he survived he would make his living as a musician. No matter what.

He spent the rest of his childhood hiring himself out to play accordion at every event he could find around Strasburg. Every nickel he made went to pay off the $400 accordion he bought through a mail-order catalog. A deep satisfaction stirred in him to watch the joy his playing brought to people, an intrinsic reward that would fuel him for decades.

The View From Lawrence Welk’s Bedroom, Strasburg, North Dakota,
July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When he left the farm on his 21st birthday, his father predicted his ruin as a musician. He told Lawrence he’d be back in six weeks looking for a meal. What followed were years of small gains and huge setbacks—trying to find work as a musician during The Depression wasn’t easy. Lawrence often went hungry. One time his band quit on him, embarrassed by his broken English and the way he tapped his toe to find the beat. He was naïve and trusting, taken advantage of more than once. He had to start over again and again with nothing but his accordion. But his internal compass was undeniable. His wife said years later that he was like a cork. When one plan failed, he’d be momentarily submerged before he’d pop up in a different place with a new strategy. By the time he landed the television program, he had paid his dues and then some. He had already spent 30 years on the road playing ballrooms.

After our tour of the homestead, I slow-walked around Lawrence’s childhood farm. I stood in the places he talked about in the book: the spot by the barn where he asked his dad for the $400 loan, the upstairs loft where his appendix burst, the tiny living room where he listened to polka music. I went to Mass on Sunday at the German Catholic church and sat where he had. I looked at the stained glass windows, the same ones Lawrence had looked at when he was a little German boy. He didn’t know how his story would end, but sitting there, I did.

Lawrence knew who he was, who he wasn’t, and he stuck with himself. And from that, I take great inspiration. By the time of his death in 1992, he had had the longest-running television program in history, and had helped launch the careers of dozens of musicians.

What is possible when we don’t deny our true selves?




_________________________




About Teri: Teri Blair is a writer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first piece for red Ravine, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Since then, she has written Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group, Discovering The Big Read, a piece about the largest reading program in American history, and Does Poetry Matter?, an essay about the Great American Think-Off.

Earlier this year, Teri was a writing resident at Vermont Studio Center in the heart of the Green Mountains. She finds inspiration on the road. Her writing pilgrimage to the Amherst, Massachusetts home of poet Emily Dickinson inspired the essay, Emily’s Freedom. At the end of September, Teri will be flying into Atlanta, Georgia to embark on her latest writing adventure — a two-week road trip in a compact Cruise America rolling along the Southern Literary Trail.


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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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By Teri Blair



The Poets, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2011, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On June 11, 2011, four people will stand on a stage in rural America to debate one question: Does poetry matter?


19 years ago, a man named John Davis started an amateur philosophy contest called the Great American Think-Off. He wanted to give ordinary people a chance to voice their opinions on serious issues. Each year a question is announced in January. People have three months to submit a 750-word essay speaking in favor or opposition to the topic. Four finalists are selected to debate their views before a live audience, an audience who determines the winner. Each of the four receive a $500 cash prize, travel expenses, a medal, and the winner is declared “America’s Greatest Thinker.” John’s two-decade-old idea has flourished. In 2010 (Do the rich have an obligation to the poor?) there were hundreds of entries representing nearly every state.


I was barely awake on January 1st when MPR’s Cathy Wurzer announced this year’s question. I was listening to my bedside clock radio when I heard her say Does poetry matter? My eyes opened in a shot.

I’ve spent a lot of time since that day thinking about the question. Before I started a poetry group, poems didn’t matter that much to me. I admired poets, was in awe of poetry, but it wasn’t until I started reading poetry in earnest that it began to penetrate my life in any meaningful way.

Emily Dickinson, April 2011, photo © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.

Now I see poetry everywhere: imprinted on the sidewalks of St. Paul, recited in films like Invictus, and incorporated into presidential inaugurations. Poetry distills events of our common human experience into a few words. I’m informed, assured I’m not alone, and given direction. I’ve read Bill Holm’s “Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back” dozens of times since my dad died. It gives me permission to set down the pressure to do something about death. I’ve committed May Sarton’s “Now I Become Myself” to memory, saying it over and over as I swim laps at the YWCA, continually calling myself to authenticity.

I knew the day I heard the question that I’d enter the contest. Not to win, but to document what happened in our poetry group. The words fell onto the page, and I felt closure for the group that had been so hard to disband the previous year.

On May 1st I’ll find out if I’m one of the four finalists. I hope I’m chosen, and I really hope I’m not. I want to share what my poetry group discovered, and can’t stand the thought of standing on a stage trying to think on my feet. I wasn’t on the high school debate team for good reason.


I want to hear from you: Does poetry matter? If it doesn’t, were you subjected to obscure passages in high school English class that left you with a bad taste in your mouth? Does poetry seem a lofty and inaccessible pursuit for snobs?

If poetry does matter to you, how come? Do you have a favorite poet?

Whether I’m nervous on the stage (or at ease in the audience), I plan to be at the Think-Off on June 11th. Maybe I’ll see you there.


To read more about the Great American Think-Off: www.think-off.org.



Ted Kooser’s Studio, Dwight, Nebraska (pop. 259), January 2010,
all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


________________________________


About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time . In March 2010, she wrote Discovering The Big Read , a piece about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri spent February 2011 with visiting writers and artists at the Vermont Studio Center, walking, writing, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains. Her last piece for red Ravine, Emily’s Freedom, is a photo essay about what she learned on a writing pilgrimage to Amherst, Massachusetts to visit the home of poet Emily Dickinson.

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The Mirado Black Warrior - 3/52

The Mirado Black Warrior – 3/52, Week 3/BlackBerry 52, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I was at the Casket Arts Studio last night (Liz and I finally completed, scanned, and mailed our sketchbooks to New York) and saw this still life on the art desk. The Mirado Black Warrior is one of my favorite pencils. I bought about ten of them years ago when I read that author Thad Beaumont, the main character in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, wrote his books with Black Warriors. By association, I made the leap that the Black Warrior was also Stephen’s pencil of choice. (I just knew that if I used them to write, his uncanny ability to weave a story together would rub off on me.)

I am fascinated by the way ordinary objects impact our daily lives and have read about the history of pencils. Liz included the pencil on the cover of her sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project because pencils changed the world (her theme was Things That Changed Other Things). I learned at Pencil Revolution that part of what makes the Mirado Black Warrior so enticing is that it is rounded (rather than octagonal), smells like heaven because of its cedar construction, flows smoothly on the page due to the waxed-ceramic and graphite core, and has a semi-soft Pink Pearl eraser that will not burn holes through your pages.

Did you know Henry David Thoreau’s family owned and managed a pencil factory in Concord, Massachusetts? According to The Thoreau Society, “Thoreau family pencils, produced behind the family house on Main Street, were generally recognized as America’s best pencils, largely because of Henry’s research into German pencil-making techniques.” (For more on Thoreau and pencils, check out Henry Petroski’s classic account The Pencil; the thick, tall book is on my bookshelf.)

The Dark Half tops my list of books by Stephen King, along with his nonfiction work, On Writing (see 10 Tips From Stephen King On The Craft Of Writing). I even went to see him at the Fitzgerald Theater in November 2009. So when I saw the Mirado Black Warrior on the desk last night, I knew it would be Week 3′s Jump-Off in the BlackBerry 52 collaboration with Lotus. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration).


-related to posts: icicle tumbleweed (haiga) – 2/52, Best Of BlackBerry 365 — First Quarter SlideShow, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, WRITING TOPIC — TOOLS OF THE TRADE

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The Master Butcher (Revisited) - 255/365

The Master Butcher (Louis Erdrich) – 255/365, BlackBerry 365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To celebrate the World Premiere stage adaptation of The Master Butchers Singing Club at the Guthrie, Liz and I have started reading the novel aloud to each other. I savor each moment. This will be second time I have followed Fidelis from Germany with his pristine set of knives and suitcase full of sausages, walked the streets of Argus, North Dakota with Delphine and Cyprian, and sat at the clean and ordered table of Eva Waldvogel.

The first time was at least five years ago when my relationship with Liz was just getting started. We quickly discovered that we both loved art, music, writers, and books — lots of books. Liz grew up in North Dakota and Louise Erdrich was one of her favorite authors (she had gone to see her speak in the 80′s at Moorhead State). To help win me over, and in a courtship ritual I didn’t find the least bit bizarre, she checked out two library copies of The Master Butchers Singing Club on CD, handed one to me and said, “I thought we could listen to them separately in our cars and compare notes. What do you think?”

Seven years and some odd months later….we learned that Master Butchers was coming to the Guthrie and vowed to pick up tickets. A few weeks ago when we attended The Scottsboro Boys, we stopped by the ticket window and sealed the deal. Then Birchbark Books (the independent bookstore owned by Louise) announced on Facebook that it had a few signed, First Edition copies of The Masters Butchers Singing Club for sale. I returned home that evening to find the book gleaming off the coffee table. And there on the cover, in a photograph taken June 8th, 1912, in Pforzheim, Germany, was the Master Butcher himself, Louise’s grandfather, Louis Erdrich.


Can you imagine having your novel adapted for the stage in such a prestigious venue as the Guthrie Theater? If the Guthrie’s photograph of Louise and her daughter on set before the preview opening on September 11th is any indication, it is a feeling of elation and pure joy.

We’ll be attending the play in October (with several friends) and will come back and check in later this Fall. According to Minnesota Monthly, director Francesca Zambello didn’t know Louise when she frequented Kenwood Café and picked up a copy of Master Butchers at Birchbark next store. But over time, “With Erdrich’s blessing (and advice), Zambello and Pulitzer-winning playwright Marsha Norman began condensing the sprawling family saga, set in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota, between the world wars. There’s more singing and less butchering now. And that’s fine with Erdrich…”

In my humble opinion, The Master Butchers Singing Club is one of her finest. I can only imagine that Louise’s grandfather would agree. It is a book about the importance of place and culture, a universal story. There is a way that Louise’s books honor those who came before her, generations of ancestry in perfect imperfection. As above, so below. So may it be.


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The Erdrich Sisters, Heid, Lise, Louise, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Additional Resources:

MPR Midmorning: From the page to the stage - The Master Butchers Singing Club. Kerri Miller’s interview this morning with Louise Erdrich and Francesca Zambello.

Minnesota Monthly Profiles Author Louise Erdrich, September 2010 – Staging Erdrich by Michael Tortorello including 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Louise.

Play Guide, Interviews, and Ticket Info on The Master Butchers Singing Club at the Guthrie Theater.

Louise’s bookstore, Birchbark Books where you can get your own First edition, first printing, hardcover of The Master Butchers Singing Club signed by Louise Erdrich, or the newly re-issued Fishing for Myth from Heid Erdrich.

Bill Moyers interview with Louise Erdrich on Bill Moyers Journal, April 9th, 2010

Louise Erdrich on Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates Jr.


-related to posts: The Company Of Strangers (On Louise Erdrich & Flying), Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?


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By Judith Ford
 
 

You’re Invited, lang•widge, March 27, 2010, Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Maryland.




Poetry is a lot like music. Music evokes visual images; visual art can stimulate poems. Read that backwards and it’s true that way, too.

Last March, while visiting a friend in DC, I had the opportunity to experience all three — music, my friend’s paintings, and a spontaneous poetry happening — mixed together for one entertaining evening. The event: lang•widge. The setting: Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Maryland.

My friend, artist Freya Grand, paints landscapes. Not your ordinary landscapes. Landscapes filtered through Freya’s vision and open to interaction with the viewer. In Freya’s words, “Painting landscape begins as an internal process. As in abstraction, forms transmit a mysterious secret life, exert a presence.”

Presence was abundant on March 27 at Gallery Neptune, even before the rest of the evening’s events unfolded.  I’ve always had my own strong responses to Freya’s work, partly because I’ve traveled with her to some of the locations she later painted. More because her work is emotional, full of motion and light. Like me, the lang•widge participants responded in their own unique ways.

So here’s how it went: A few weeks before lang•widge, Freya and gallery owner Elyse Harrison asked jazz musician Steven Rogers to preview the paintings and compose short pieces of music in response. Once everyone had had a chance to walk around and see all the paintings (munch on cheese and crackers, drink wine), we were asked to gather in front of a podium and listen to a short poetry reading by Charlie Jensen, poet and director of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and the poet, Reb Livingston.








            



                            



                                       


Works by Freya Grand, Rock at Low Tide, 48″ x 60″, 2008, Burning Fields, 30″ x 30″, 2009, Cotopaxi, 48″ x 60″, 2006, and Fog, Benbulben, 30″ x30″, 2010, paintings © 2006-2010 by Freya Grand. All rights reserved.




Suitably warmed-up, we were each given a clipboard, a few sheets of paper, and a pencil. As Steven Rogers’ techno-jazz music played, we looked at the paintings again and quickly jotted down short lines. Whatever came to mind.

I was surprised by how much I liked the music. I am not a big jazz fan, but looking at Freya’s work and listening to this weird contemporary music, I found myself enjoying the way the visual and musical bits blended together. Whatever it was I wrote in response — I didn’t preserve any of it —  was full of the light and movement I’ve always seen in my friend’s work.  Hope, change, powerful natural forces, awe, wonder. 

When the four short pieces of music had finished, we reassembled in front of the podium. Volunteers did most of the reading, but first Charlie Jensen and Reb Livingston demonstrated the technique. They chose two from a diverse collection of colored dice. The number rolled determined the number of pieces of paper to be read together to create a spontaneous poem.

The results were surprising, to say the least. Where I had seen light and life, others had seen darkness and death, despair and violence. Sexuality. New life forms. Being lost, being found. Memories of blankets, clouds, and chaos.


 
 

During lang•widge, poets Charles Jensen and Reb Livingston explain the process, draw poem pieces, then read the resulting poetry, photos © 2010 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.



Here are some of my favorite lines:

smiley in foam, red glee

his daughter in a box, pushed out to sea

I’ve made a mistake coming here

I’ll never eat butter cream frosting again




When my husband, Chris, who loves to perform for an audience, volunteered, things got even stranger. He happened to pick a very long series of lines that were written in five different languages. Chris speaks nothing but English. His courageous attempts to pronounce Spanish, Italian, French, German, and, I think, Swedish, were sidesplitting.

Afterward Chris sought out the writer of those lines, and, yes, she did speak all those languages. She told Chris he’d done a pretty good job at guessing the pronunciations.

I sought out Freya. “Did you realize how much pain and despair was hiding in your paintings?” I asked. Freya is not prone to darkness or despair. She told me she was actually more surprised by the butter cream frosting than the pain. She said something like, “People project into my work whatever is up for them at the present moment.”

Not sure about that butter cream.



Freya Grand and Chris Ford, photo ©
2010 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.




So here’s an idea:  How about trying a little mini da-da poetry writing sans Steven Rogers’ music? Take a look at any of the Freya Grand paintings in this post (or visit her website). Pick out a piece of music you currently like a lot. While the music plays, quickly, without much thought, jot down five (or so) lines or phrases.

Email them to me at pinkeggs@gmail.com.  After two weeks or so (about August 9) I’ll randomly pick out lines, type them in the order I’ve picked, and post them here in the comments section. Let’s see what we come up with.

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Here are two poems created during the lang•widge event; these are also posted on The Writer’s Center website.




1.



this is reversal

clouds coming up through earth’s crust

all my orange drizzles around in dust

I fly over this, I needn’t touch down

Earth is melting

manna comes down

my wings are lifted by

heat from the ground

Lift off!

Earth Burnt and Fractured

Evaporated Anger

Unexpressed Blindness

earth’s breath

greeny pastures of ooze

trudging uphill I see my shadow and a whale

I’m near a synthetic ocean

one that’s flat and even dry

cured epoxy cement

fake lily sky

but here’s where I swim

and here’s where I’ll die

your piano carries me anywhere

you play

standing stones

scottish shore

volcanic mist

walk to the top edge

as above, so below

coolness rising

You and me

never the same

mountain ranges between us

ocean depths……storms

air that we breathe

the only media

that unites

I lived there so long the ocean was like a person to me.

A giant meatball rolling towards its destiny.





2.



East coast sunsets

are less brilliant

but the sand between my toes

feels more like home.

Scary golf course littered laced

and smoking with traps sandy

silken tofu nowhere is there a

flag or a hole to crawl into

Dark fog charcoal wall

surrounding me give me grass

but it wriggles this grass

maybe the rocks will protect me

marshmallow antlers and steamy pea soup

There’s a smiley

in the foam

red glee

misty canyon aerie wheat

volcanic atmosphere rock strewn beach

geyser rivulets

yves tanguy

shadows

cliff hanger

steam

heat

his daughter in a box, pushed out to sea

wash of creation

thrum

pure thin air

Moses parts a red and vanillas sea

A single, persistent surfer.

I’d made a mistake coming here.

bleed





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Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min.

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By Teri Blair



The Big Read, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





Have you heard of The Big Read?


I found out about it completely by accident. I was perusing the CDs at my library, and saw one entitled The Big Read: An Introduction to My Antonia by Willa Cather. I took it home, and was enraptured by the 25-minute program. Ted Kooser talked about the significance of Cather to Nebraska, Garrison Keillor read excerpts from her book, and Colin Powell talked about the immigrant experience. What was this? The Big Read?


The Big Read began in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the largest reading program in American history. Their mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture. Communities all over the country can apply for grants to explore one of the 31 Big Read titles. In addition to reading the book, related events are planned to last approximately one month.







When I plugged my zip code into The Big Read’s website, I was happy to find there was an event within an hour of where I live. On a Saturday in February my friends and I jumped in my Subaru and headed east to the small river town of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. As Thornton Wilder was from the Badger State, this community had chosen Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey. We walked into a packed house at the Scenic Riverway Park building. The local organizers of the program spoke, a representative from the National Endowment talked about what is happening with The Big Read across the country, and we heard from Wisconsin author David Rhodes. He read excerpts from his book Driftless, talked about Thornton Wilder’s writing, and led a group discussion about what Wilder accomplished in his work. At the end of the program, we were all given two new books, a CD audio guide (just like the one I had found at the library), bookmarks, and a reader’s guide.


We were invited to join book discussion groups, and to come back for follow-up events. Wisconsin Public Radio will be performing a reader’s theater, and the local community playhouse will present Our Town.


I love to read, but like most readers, I get worried about the future of books and people to enjoy them. A faster and faster world makes a luxurious afternoon with a good book harder to claim. I am happy to support a program that is doing something tangible…something to bring reading back to the people.


To find out more about The Big Read (and to plug in your own zip code) go to:

http://www.neabigread.org.


Thornton Wilder, David Rhodes, From The Big Read Series, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.




About Teri Blair: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri has written many posts on red Ravine. Her first guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb early this year and wrote a follow-up piece published on red Ravine in March, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time.

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In honor of Women’s History Month, the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM, in partnership with local arts organizations, artists, writers, and businesses has organized a month-long celebration: Women & Creativity 2010. All over the city, you can attend workshops, exhibits, panels, and many other fun activities. Case in point:




creativity + the artist

Seeds: The Spirit of Women Writers



6 p.m. March 11 at National Hispanic Cultural Center
1701 Fourth St. SW, Salon Ortega

A featured event in the Women & Creativity series





Join us for an invigorating evening of readings from women writers featuring poet Kathleen Driskell, whose collection of poems, Seed Across Snow, was on the Poetry Foundation’s best seller list twice in 2009; Lisa Lenard-Cook, author of Dissonance and Coyote Morning, as well as The Mind of Your Story; Carolyn Flynn, award-winning literary fiction and creative nonfiction writer, as well as author of numerous books and editor of the Albuquerque Journal’s SAGE magazine; and yours truly (aka ybonesy, Roma Arellano), writer, artist and co-founder of this wonderful writing and art community blog.

Santa Fe poet laureate and organizer of Women & Creativity, Valerie Martinez, will kick off the evening with an introduction and reading.

The theme of the panel will be the interrelatedness of the arts — other forms of art as inspiration for writing. Admission is free.


If you are in Albuquerque or the surrounding area, please join us!

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Can I be frank? I’m not fond of rules.

I loved the badges they handed out in Girl Scouts for doing things like embroidering (they looked so cool on your sash) but I hated embroidering. In places like Oregon, I admire how the traffic flows so well with those red-light-green-light on-ramps, but I reject the notion that I have to be told when to merge onto the freeway. (You should see me hoot and holler and sing “Oh Fair New Mexico!” when I run those on-ramp lights.)

And I absolutely cherish receiving blogging awards, but I struggle with the requirement that we link back to the person who thought up the award to begin with (who, in this case, we don’t even know) and then dole out exactly five awards to other bloggers.

So, I am going to rejoice in the fact that QuoinMonkey and I recently received The Superior Scribbler award from Sharon Lippincott (aka ritergal) over at The Heart and Craft of Life Writing—who, by the way, we’ve been following for over two years and who we enjoy immensely—but I’m not going to re-post the rules of the award nor do the linky-link thing nor bestow the award (I hate bestowing anything, unless it is a wart) to five bloggy friends.

(I sure hope this doesn’t land me in Blogger Award Jail, or worse, Blogger Award Solitary Confinement, where no awards are ever bestowed on me again, because, by golly, I’m a poor winner. Dang.)
 
But in the spirit of doing awards ybonesy-style with a big heap of QM thrown in, we’d like to take this opportunity to highlight fellow bloggers who scribble awfully well and photograph like the dickens and make us laugh and are just plain nice people:

  • First, Sharon-slash-ritergal is a Superior Scribbler. She wrote and published the story of her early life in New Mexico (you gotta love that!) and gave a blow-by-blow of how she did the publishing part. And at the end of almost every post, she includes a “Write Now” prompt, motivating readers to not just read her stuff but write their own.
  • Bo over at Seeded Earth has inspired us for a couple of years with her photographs, not to mention I got to meet her and Mr. Bo in person (and they are lovely people), but Bo recently redesigned her website, and man, she is rockin’. Role model, friend, fellow lover of nature, all-around wise soul.
  • Another photographer, Stevo at Asian Ramblings, wows us with the way he documents his life living as an expat in China, plus he’s a friend on Facebook, which means I get to hear what’s really going on in his head. Kidding.
  • If you’ve never visited Jules over at Thinking About…, you have missed some great book and film reviews and a most excellent chicken parmigiana recipe, which, by the way Jules, I made last week and had my family believing that I had been returned from an alien abduction with superior cooking skills. I have since shattered their dream.
  • Corina at Wasted Days and Wasted Nights is another person you must visit if you haven’t already. Her posts are often based on memoir, and what memories she has, not to mention she’s about to become a grandmother. And given that I grew up on Freddy Fender, I was hooked the moment I saw her blog title.
  • You’ll notice we’re drawn to photographers, which leads us to Robin at Life in the Bogs. Excellent photographer and finder of the perfect quote to go with the photograph (although that’s her other blog–Bountiful Healing) and on Bogs we get to share in Robin’s life and her love of nature, especially her ever-changing pond.
  • Heather, Heather, Heather. What can we say about Heather, except, my God, that is one freakin’ funny woman. And she is entering her hour, which is to say, she is the Queen of Hallo-Ween. So if you keep an eye on Anuvue Studio during the month of October, chances are you will see the transformation of her home into a full-blown folks-otta-be-paying-for-this-but-Heather-would-never-make-’em event. Oh, another stellar photographer to boot.

 

So these are the folks we’d like to shine a light on—today. Visit them, comment, relish, noogie, Snoopy dance, high-five. You won’t be sorry.

Oh, and we will do this again, hopefully not before too long, since there are others we’d like to point out and since ya shouldn’t need an award before it dawns on you that the blogging community you’ve been hanging with for a year, two years, some going on three years now—they’re awfully talented and pretty darned special.

Blog on!

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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

 
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-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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Again Calls The Owl Sketch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

Margaret Craven worked as a journalist and didn’t publish her first novel until her late 60′s (something I find strangely hopeful). Born in Helena, Montana in 1901, she grew up in Puget Sound, Washington of meager means, worked hard to be one of the first women to attend Stanford, and graduated in 1924 with honors.

Craven’s novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name was first published in Canada in 1967. Picked up by an American publisher in 1973, the book was on the 1970′s bestseller list. It was made into a film in 1973 and shown as part of the CBS television network’s “GE Theater” series.

Near the end of her life, Craven wrote Again Calls the Owl, an autobiography in response to readers’ questions about how she came to write I Heard the Owl Call My Name. On a recent visit, Liz’s mother bought an old copy of Again Calls the Owl to read on her plane ride from Wyoming to Minnesota. She passed it on to me.

As opposed to memoir, the book is sparsely written in the autobiographical style of laying down significant chronological events that shaped the author’s life. A highpoint was Craven’s unexpected rendezvous with writer Gertrude Stein. A friend of Margaret’s had grown up in San Francisco with Alice B. Toklas and arranged a meeting when Stein came to town for a hospital visit at Mark Hopkins.

Alice B. Toklas walked Margaret into Gertrude’s room where she sat on her bed writing letters in a red velvet robe (an image not hard to imagine). Stein welcomed the young writer and they had a long chat about writing that ended with Stein’s sadness at her friend Ernest Hemingway and “the change that had come with The Sun Also Rises,” something she termed “the beginning of his egomania.” 

Again Calls the Owl is a short read, about 120 pages, and includes Craven’s pencil drawings interspersed throughout the book. I wanted to share Stein’s writing advice to Margaret during their three hour visit. She wrote down what Stein had told her on the cable car ride home:


_________________________________________________________________

 

“Every writer must have common sense. He must be sensitive and serious. But he must not grow solemn. He must not listen to himself. If he does, he might as well be under a tombstone. When he takes himself solemnly, he has no more to say. Yet he must despise nothing, not even solemn people. They are part of life and it’s his job to write about life.”

 

“Be direct. Indirectness ruins good writing. There is inner confusion in the world today and because of it people are turning back to old standards like children to their mothers. This makes indirect writing.”

 

“A writer must preserve a balance between sensitivity and vitality. Highbrow writers are sensitive but not vital. Commercial writers are vital but not sensitive. Trying to keep this balance is always hard. It is the whole job of living.”

 

“When one writes a thing — when you discover and then put it down, which is the essence of discovering it — one is done with it. What people get out of it is none of the writer’s business.”

 

“Every writer is self-conscious. It’s one reason he is a writer. And he is lonely. If you know three writers in a lifetime, that is a great many.”

 

“You do not have to write what the editors want. You can write what you want and if you develop sufficient craftsmanship, you can sell it, too. I want you to write for the Saturday Evening Post. It demands the best craftsmanship.”

 

  -Gertrude Stein from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

 

_________________________________________________________________

Though Gertrude asked Margaret to stay in touch, she never contacted Stein again. I recently learned from Bo’s blog Seeded Earth that there is a statue of Gertrude Stein in New York City’s Bryant Park. Much to my amazement, it was the first public statue of an American woman placed in the whole of New York City — it was installed in 1992. (Here’s the link to view Bo’s photograph of Gertrude at Seeded Earth and read more about the sculpture.)

I see Craven’s euphoria about her visit with Stein much the way I feel when I go and hear Nikki Giovanni, Ann Patchett, Patricia Smith, Steve Almond, or Mary Oliver talk about their work and have a chance to shake their hands when they sign my books. Or when our Poetry and Meditation Group receives a card from Billy Collins, Gary Soto, or Robert Bly.

It is the same joy I feel from the privilege of having studied with Natalie Goldberg. The things she has taught me about the practice of writing are immeasurable. There is much to be learned from the wisdom and knowledge of published writers who have already paid their dues.

At the end of Again Calls the Owl, Craven reflects on Walk Gently This Good Earth, her novel about growing up in the Cascades and her father’s life in Montana. One last quote from Craven urges writers to take heed:

A professional writer must be careful what he writes now about the past which could be used to hurt innocent people unmercifully.

I think it’s time my country does what the Indians of Kingcome are doing. We must return to our roots, our own safety and integrity, and I think this is beginning to occur. Our lives depend upon it.

-from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

_________________________________________________________________
 
Resources:

 

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 10th, 2009 with gratitude to oliverowl

-related to post: Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Coffee (Get Your  Motor Runnin), Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Coffee (Get Your Motor Runnin’), outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, a great place to write, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

It’s a rainy morning and I’m slowly waking up. It’s been a strange week. Many irons in the fire, not enough focus, distracted. I have felt like a Duncan yo-yo spinning and “sleeping” at the end of its string. Since most yo-yo tricks are based on learning to “sleep,” it’s important to master the art of spinning. What was it going to take to snap back to the wrist and safely into the palm? Back to basics: practice, structure, community.

Amid continued job hunting, gardening and yard work with Liz, meetings with ybonesy around red Ravine, I’m researching and doing the ground work for a new mandala on canvas, progress on a series that’s been in my head for a while. And after Art-a-Whirl, I was reenergized for the writers’ photo series I’m working on. But I also have a commitment to honor from the last Kansas City writing retreat, a goal to focus on writing memoir essays for print submission — half day, 3x a week, mornings.

Where do I spend my time? It’s a matter of prioritizing the structure of each day. And staying grounded. Do other writers and artists struggle in this way? Is it a block or simply fear. Is there too much on the plate? Or do I just need to settle down and get back on track.

I carry creative projects in the belly a long time. Then they spew out all at once and nearly whole. It is the way I have always worked. I hold my work close to the vest, only talking to a few trusted people. It often takes a deadline to push me to completion. This is good to know.

Another thing that grounds me is looking to writers and artists who have gone before; their sage advice is hard earned and welcome. Recently, I perused paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, the infrared photographs of Minor White, and a book of Judy Chicago’s stunning clay work in The Dinner Party. I’m inspired by the work of others; it wakes me up.

 
 

Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

I also pulled Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft off the shelf. I read it years ago, before I called myself a writer. It’s on my list of classic books on writing — books I go back to when I need to feel that it’s okay to be struggling. I’ve always been fond of the way he dealt with rejection slips early in his career. I have never forgotten it:

 

I had a desk beneath the room’s other eave, my old Royal typewriter, and a hundred or so paperback books, mostly science fiction, which I lined up along the baseboard. On my bureau was a Bible won for memorizing verses in Methodist Youth Fellowship and a Webcor phonograph with an automatic changer and a turntable covered in soft green velvet. On it I played my records, mostly 45s by Elvis, Chuck Berry, Freddy Cannon, and Fats Domino. I liked Fats; he knew how to rock, and you could tell he was having fun.

When I got the rejection slip from AHMM, I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor, wrote “Happy Stamps” on the rejection slip, and poked it onto a nail. Then I sat on my bed and listened to Fats sing “I’m Ready.” I felt pretty good, actually. When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.

By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail on my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.

  -from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, ©2000

 
His perseverance, what Natalie teaches as Continue Under All Circumstances, Don’t Be Tossed Away, has always stuck with me. Do you have books you turn to when you feel ungrounded or like your head is going to fly off the top of your spine? If you do, pull them off the shelf again when you get stuck. They will turn you around.

Below are a few tips plucked from paragraphs in On Writing. They were easy to find; they jumped out from the page in fluorescent yellow, the highlighter I used 9 years ago. Ah…..I feel better already.

 
 

10 Tips On Writing From Stephen King

     

  1. If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut….Every book has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.
  2.  

  3. There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level…there’s stuff in there that will change your life.
  4.  

  5. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do….What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.
  6.  

  7. Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot…You can only learn by doing. For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else. In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind.
  8.  

  9. I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence is the basic unit of writing—the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words. If the moment of quickening is to come, it comes at the level of the paragraph. It is a marvelous and flexible instrument that can be a single word long or run on for pages…You must learn to use it well if you are to write well. What this means is lots of practice; you have to learn the beat.
  10.  

  11. Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction. If not so, why do so many couples who start the evening at dinner wind up in bed?
  12.  

  13. A series of grammatically proper sentences can stiffen that line, make it less pliable. Purists hate to hear that and will deny it to their dying breath, but it’s true. Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes…
  14.  

  15. I predict you will succeed swimmingly…if, that is, you are honest about how your characters speak and behave. Honesty in storytelling makes up for a great many stylistic faults…but lying is the unrepairable fault.
  16.  

  17. Before beginning to write, I’ll take a moment to call up an image of the place, drawing from my memory and filling in my mind’s eye, an eye whose vision grows sharper the more it is used. I call it a mental eye because that’s the phrase with which we’re all familiar but what I actually want to do is open all my senses.
  18.  

  19. As with all other aspects of narrative art, you will improve with practice, but practice will never make you perfect. Why should it? What fun would that be? And the harder you try to be clear and simple, the more you will learn about the complexity of our American dialect. It be slippery, precious; aye, it be very slippery indeed. Practice the art, always reminding yourself that your job is to say what you see, and then to get on with your story.

 
 

Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Grounding, vintage lamp inside the vault at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Post Script — On Spinning: I wrote this a week ago Sunday and have since gotten back on track with my projects. It’s good to have resources to turn to when I feel like I’m spinning. And to believe that the tide will turn, even when I am rejecting my own process. Writing is the art of rebellion — then snapping back into place. Replace the nail with a spike, and keep on writing. One day at a time; it’s not a race. Eventually, my work will be finished.

 
Footnote — A Little About Yo-yos:  One more historical tidbit I stumbled upon while adding the links on this post. Yo-yos and Slinkys (listen to the Slinky song here!) were popular toys when I was growing up. Did you know that the slip string that lets the yo-yo “sleep” at the bottom was a Filipino innovation? And that “Reach for the Moon,” “Loop the Loop,” and many more tricks in the familiar repertoire of yo-yo virtuosos were created by a group of professional demonstrators, mostly Filipino, hired by the Duncan Yo-Yo Company during the U.S. Great Depression?

The Duncan Yo-Yo Company started in 1929 when entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan Sr. purchased the Flores Yo-Yo Company from Filipino immigrant Pedro Flores. Check out the film of 77-year-old Nemo Concepcion, one of the first yo-yo demonstrators and originator of many yo-yo tricks. The film Yoyo Man was made in 1978 by filmmaker John Melville Bishop. Here’s a link to the film guide for Yoyo Man from Documentary Educational Resources.

 
 
-posted on red Ravine, Monday, June 15th, 2009

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Home Ground, Saint Paul, Minnesota, May 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Home Ground, Saint Paul, Minnesota, May 2009, photo © 2009
by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

We’re back after a 2+ week blogcation. How time flies. On Sunday ybonesy sent me an email titled: Getting Back in the Saddle. We both agreed that the vacation from blogging was refreshing; we needed it. We also took a hiatus from electronics, with the exception of learning a bit about Twitter. It’s a whole other world that moves at lightning speed and (like blogging) has its own protocols, courtesies, and idiosyncrasies. But there are some good, smart people on Twitter including a whole slew of writers and artists.

We’ll keep using Twitter for updates, to stay in touch from the field, and to add links we find of interest or that relate to red Ravine. So keep watching our sidebar for the latest Tweets. If you see an RT, it means we picked the link up from another Twitter user and are giving them credit. Oh, and the bit.ly and tiny.url link shorteners we use are perfectly safe. We test them first and wouldn’t steer you in the wrong direction.

But what should I post today? ybonesy’s back from Vietnam and has a few posts in the works; I survived Art-A-Whirl and am excited to be in the studio. I’m leaning toward something simple for our first day back. While on vacation, I didn’t do much writing, but I did go hear Patricia Hampl at the Highland Park Library in St. Paul. I had already finished The Florist’s Daughter and made the commitment to read all of her work; she is my kind of writer.

Her talk in St. Paul did not disappoint. She was there to promote the new book, Home Ground – Language for an American Landscape from Trinity University Press. The book is edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney and contains an A to Z history of words about the land written by famous writers like Terry Tempest Williams, Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Hass, and Franklin Burroughs.  Lopez gave each writer a list of words for which they wrote a definition using a combination of research and wordsmithing; the result is over 850 terms—from `a`a to zigzag rocks—defined by 45 American writers. It’s beautifully written with pen and ink illustrations by Molly O’Halloran.

Hampl explained that Barry Lopez had asked her over a glass of wine if she would be interested in participating in the project; she agreed. And after being initially uncertain about the words she received, she ended up loving the project. In addition, each writer was asked to choose the place they considered to be their “home ground.” Patricia Hampl chose the North Shore of Lake Superior, womb of the earth, a Minnesota landscape completely different from the urban setting of her home in St. Paul.

What place do you consider your “home ground?”

  
 

Home Ground, Saint Paul, Minnesota, May 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.            Home Ground, Saint Paul, Minnesota, May 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.             Home Ground, Saint Paul, Minnesota, May 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Home Ground – Language for an American Landscape is a historical map drawn by writers — word geography with cairns that weave through centuries of the American landscape. Liz and I fell in love with the book; she purchased it that evening. When I took the photograph at the top (that’s Liz’s finger holding the book up), Patricia Hampl had just walked out of the library and we chatted for a few seconds about the bloom of Spring on the Minnesota landscape and how well the book sold that night. I’m certain it will find a prominent place on our reference bookshelf.

Thanks for hanging in there with us on our red Ravine break. Thanks for reading. We’re back in the saddle and I’m going to wrap it up with a little taste of Home Ground. There is a short essay on saddle written by Conger Beasley, Jr. where he refers to the twin summits of the Spanish Peaks outside of Walsenburg, Colorado (though it’s closer to ybonesy, I did eat dinner there one evening on a drive to Taos). According to Beasley, because of their resemblance to the torso of a woman at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Spanish Peaks are called Wah-to-yah, “Breasts of the World,” by the Ute Indians and locals refer to the saddle as “the cleavage.” Conger Beasley considers the beautiful and nurturing Spanish Peaks his “home ground.”

  
Here’s a final excerpt from a word near and dear to our hearts: 
 

ravine
Ravine is French for mountain torrent, and comes from the Old French rapine, or “violent rush.” Larger than a gully or a cleft but smaller than a canyon or gorge, a ravine is a small steep-sided valley or depression, usually carved by running water. The word is most often associated with the narrow excavated valley of a mountain stream. A rarer usage denotes a stream with a slight fall between rapids. In A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird writes: “After descending about two thousand feet to avoid the ice, we got into a deep ravine with inaccessible sides, partly filled with ice and snow and partly with large and small fragments of rock which were constantly giving way, rendering the footing very insecure.”

      -Kim Barnes, from her home ground, Clearwater Country in Idaho

 

Home Ground Resources:



-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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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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Postcard From Billy Collins, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In February, we read the work of Billy Collins in our monthly Poetry & Meditation Group. Though he was the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, I had not been introduced to his body of work (with the exception of his popular poem about mothers and sons, “The Lanyard“). But after reading “Japan” and “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July” out loud, and listening in silence while others read his poetry, I became a big fan. 

As is our custom, at the end of the night, the founder of our Poetry Group passed around a card for us to sign, a token of our gratitude to the poet. Each month, she addresses, seals and stamps the envelope, then mails our card off to the poet the next day. We don’t have expectations; it’s enough to share their poetry.

But once in a while, the Universe responds in kind. When we arrived at the March Poetry & Meditation Group, here is what we found:


___________________________________________


Liu Yung By Billy Collins, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To the Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group!


Liu Yung

This poet of the Sung dynasty is so miserable.
The wind sighs around the trees,
a single swan passes overhead,
and he is alone on the water in his skiff.

If only he appreciated life
in eleventh-century China as much as I do —
no loud cartoons on television,
no music from the ice cream truck,

just the calls of elated birds
and the steady flow of the water clock.


Billy Collins


Poem reprinted with permission of the author,
Copyright 2006 Billy Collins.


___________________________________________


Billy Collins describes poetry as “the only surviving history we have of human emotion.” We were thrilled and honored to hear from him. And it seems like a great way to kick off National Poetry Month on red Ravine. I am continually surprised by the generosity of famous writers to give back to those of us who find ourselves at humble beginnings. Maybe it’s a lesson to pay attention to — that no matter our status, we are all at the beginning. Every poem, short story, essay, and blog post takes us back to Beginner’s Mind.


National Poetry Month at The Academy of American Poets

We hope you will join in the celebration during National Poetry Month. It was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets and is a month-long national celebration of poetry.

According to poets.org, the concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media — to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. The hope is to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.


The goals of National Poetry Month are to:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry


On April 16th our Poetry & Meditation Group will be reading the poems of Yusef Komunyakaa. Maybe you’ll want to start your own poetry group. Or purchase “Ballistics,” the latest from Billy Collins. Poem In Your Pocket Day is coming up on April 30th. And here are 30 more ways to honor poets and poems. Whatever you choose to do, celebrate poetry!


To The Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  USA 42 --- ALASKA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  To The Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

-related posts and links: NPR: Reading List & Interview with Billy Collins, Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day), Billy Collins Reads “The Lanyard” on YouTube , PBS Online NewsHour: Billy Collins Interview, December 10th, 2001 – the week following his inaugural reading at the Library of Congress after becoming U.S. Poet Laureate, Poetry 180 — a poem a day for american high schools

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