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See The World Without Going Anywhere – 88/365, Archive 365, BlackBerry Shots, May 2010, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, photo © 2010-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Seen on a walk through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2010. The things that are important are sometimes invisible to the eye. Like the images that develop in the mind and heart when we read.

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ARCHIVE 365: Archive 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 7th, 2012

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Spring walk.

Spring Walk, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Let the essays compose themselves.
Two yellow finches and a strong March wind—
skywriter’s delight.






-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, March 11th, 2012

-related to post: haiku 4 (one-a-day) meets renga 52

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WI Covers auto

Sunrise Undercover, Droid Shots, original photograph edited with Paper Camera, sunrise at a writing retreat in a small town outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.







The Fallow Field


The master gardener
tithes and tills,
never forgetting to bury her dead—
broken bones rise from the fallow field
odorous compost, grist for the mill.








-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 6th, 2012, at a self-propelled silent writing retreat outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With gratitude to my writing friends. For more on composting and how we structure these small silent retreats see:  Sit, Walk, Write On Lake Michigan, I Write Because…, and Make Positive Effort For The Good.

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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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The gift of time. Rocking in a white porch chair, drinking Stash Fusion Green & White tea. My stomach is full on residual Thanksgiving, a small feast for two (plus two cats). I am grateful for those who checked in on red Ravine while I took a break. It started as a short week away from the Internet, and turned into boots on the ground living—time for Liz, for my brother’s visit to Minnesota, for Mr. StripeyPants and Kiev. I checked in with my family on Facebook once in a while, but rarely fired up the laptop during the week. It was refreshing to take time to think, to sit, to be.


Unconnected.


I stopped all my practices for a month, including red Ravine. Since 2001, I have done at least two yearly practices, one writing, one visual, each beginning in January and ending in December. Writing practice, haiku, haiga, renga, BlackBerry 365, the Great Round mandala series; I stayed true to them. I honored them. This year it felt like all I was doing was trying to keep up with the many practices I had taken on, my agreements to others, my commitment to myself to keep going for a full year. I made it January through September. It was freeing to choose to take a break rather than force myself to continue.

But I miss this place, this creative space. Something I learned when I stopped doing my practices was that a part of me went into hiding. I am not happy when I am not taking photographs, writing, painting or drawing. Last night Liz and I watched A Very Gaga Thanksgiving. Lady opened up in a short interview. She said her song, “Marry The Night” was about the moment she made a choice to give her all to music. Right or wrong, up or down, her first relationship would be with the music; she would be true to herself.  It is another form of befriending the Black Dog, the dark shadowy side that comes with deep exploration of your writing or art.

When I listened to her, I knew she was right. It takes great sacrifice to marry the night. And part of the ritual is to know when you need a break. Near the end of the silent workshops with Natalie in Taos, there is a short meeting with her in the round. We sign up on a sheet of paper taped to the zendo wall. Five or six at a time, we slow walk to the cabin at Mabel Dodge Luhan, take our shoes off, sit in a semi-circle, candles lit, in silence, and Natalie goes around and checks in with each of us. Almost every time, there is one person who says they don’t want to write anymore. Natalie inevitably responds, “Then don’t write. Take a break. See if you come back to it.”


Those words are as important to me as the day at my first workshop when she told us to plan on at least two years of Writing Practice before stopping. Oh, and don’t quit your day job.

If you are listening to your teachers, good advice sticks in your craw, and rises to the surface when you need it. The list of things Natalie has taught me over the years would fill a notebook; I bring each one out as I need it, and practice those I believe will make me a better writer, a better artist, a better person. Sometimes I fail. And that is okay, too.


At the one month mark away from my practices, I started adding them back in, one at a time. I added Writing Practice first and continue to write with my online group. I am grateful they have stuck with me. After a little over two months away, the next thing I am adding back into my practices is red Ravine. I have noticed that I am happiest combining writing and art; red Ravine is a good venue for the collaboration and synthesis that happen between the two. I want to look at restructuring, infusing the past with a burst of new life.

It is Thanksgiving weekend and I have much to be grateful for. I will take time to make my yearly gratitude list and begin work on another mandala. I have not been tossed away. The work continues. Positive effort for the good is the best practical response to a hungry world. I am grateful to be back on the page, thankful you are still here. The silence doesn’t scare me anymore; it is filled with light. The wind bristles and becomes her own wingman, sailing to the next stop. The best I can hope for is a gentle landing.


-posted on red Ravine Friday, November 25th, 2011, Thanksgiving weekend, an edited Writing Practice

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By Sandra Vallie



It’s hot, pushing 100, and I have to wait until it’s cooler to water the heat-sapped garden. Until it’s cooler, or dark, or 7 pm, the time the city allows watering – whatever measure I decide today is the tipping point where the amount of water soaking into the sand is greater than what the bone-dry overheated air is sucking up into itself. In the house, safe out of the sun, I’m anxious looking at the heat-limp plants across the yard. Corn leaves curled into points, drooping tomato plants and cucumber leaves flat against the ground. I know the plants are well-watered; some of what I see is self-protection and some a part of the taking up and giving off of water. As soon as the sun moves further toward the west and I carry water to the plants through the hose, the leaves and stems will fill with water and this limp spread of green will become plants again.


I’m from Michigan and this is my first year trying to grow vegetables in New Mexico. I pretty much planted the garden twice because I hadn’t learned that we can still have below-freezing nights even when the temperature in the day is 80 degrees. How much water is too much and what is enough. Why, when I asked the woman at the nursery about gardening in New Mexico, she told me to not even try. Half the plants I put in my son’s yard last fall didn’t make it through the winter, falling to the cold and what I haven’t learned yet.


For 20 years, I watched peonies, lilacs, tulips, hosta, coneflowers, azalea, iris, daylilies and butterfly bushes grow tall, wide, and fragrant. Lush. Luxuriant and juicy. Moisture in the air reflected the hundred greens growing around the yard and the air glowed. Lettuces, green, red and purple, came in the spring, followed by peas and beans that reached across the raised beds to share the poles supporting plants and pods. Tomatoes grew so fast and heavy they kicked away their cages. Cucumbers ran across the garden to the corn and climbed high enough I could pick the fruit without bending over.


I exaggerate. A little. Lush it was, very different from my yard here, each plant holding to its own space, as if each one feels it deserves only so much water and so many nutrients from the spare soil. I’ve never seen plants grow so slowly; at first it’s almost as if each morning they decide whether or not to push up, out, forward, just one little bit. As if they know that growing higher will put them closer to the sun and they’ll be hotter. My plants in Albuquerque work harder than plants in Michigan. In this place where there is so much space, where I finally feel I can be as big as I am, exuberant, joyful, expansive and – well – lush, my vegetables appear so tentative and afraid.


Cactus spread, although I don’t know that I’ll ever call them lush. There are several in the neighborhood I’m drawn to, even a couple I’m lusting after for their deep, almost hallucinatory red-purple blooms or their improbable flowers, yellow and ten feet above the plant their stalk grew from. Cactus, though, and weeds like the silverleaf nightshade, the most prolific plant in my landscape cloth- and gravel-covered yard, are what led me to write a few years ago after a visit: “Everything green here bites.” I know I’m never going to embrace a cactus or walk barefoot across the goatheads and foxtails to get to them. I yearn to load my arms with heavy-headed peonies and stargazer lilies that are deep enough to serve soup in, although I’m afraid I’d have to drain the remaining water out of the Rio Grande to do it. Before I moved here I asked a friend if I could grow roses in Albuquerque. “You can grow anything you want in Albuquerque as long as you can afford the water.”


The roots of my grandmother’s peonies I carried south are in pots out back, not growing. Soon, not yet, I’ll have to admit what I know and stop watering. I didn’t have time before we moved last fall to lift lilies or divide a few coneflowers. The rose bush by my bedroom window, though, is the same as the one that died in my Michigan garden a couple of years ago, my grandmother’s favorite. There are green tomatoes on the plants and sooner than I know they’ll be full and red enough for dinner. Lush is changing, from the huge bushes and plants that grew in the Michigan rain to the sound of water rushing through the garden hose, the sight of it spreading around the watermelon plants and at the feet of the raspberries, the corn leaves unfolding as the still skinny stalks draw up water from the soil, and the gratitude I feel that I have water to grow food with. The air may not be green from the plants, but the sky is crystal blue. While I’ve written this, it has become late enough to head outside to water and the first flowers on the cucumber plants have opened today in the heat.




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About Sandra:  My fairly recent move from my job and life in Michigan to Albuquerque, New Mexico, has opened up the opportunity (for which I’m gut-wrenchingly grateful) to write in spans of hours instead of stolen minutes. Although I’ve written mostly poetry in the past few months, I’m enjoying the process of exploring different forms for different subjects. I’ve been fortunate to have a community of encouraging and creative writers in the Albuquerque Ink Slingers, a local Meetup group, and my husband’s graceful willingness to live and work in 100 degree temperatures.


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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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Celebrate Peace - 18/52

Celebrate Peace – 18/52, BlackBerry 52, Golden Valley, Minnesota, May 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s Memorial Day 2011. The skies over Golden Valley are green and gray. Rain pelts the freshly splashed grass seed. The lawn has been mowed. The cedar branches that bent to the ground in the last snowstorm are trimmed. I’m cleaning the rust off my writing pen. Where to start?

I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site and left Uncle James a message. He is not forgotten. One day I will take the time to go back through my film archives and locate the negatives from the day I photographed the Wall in 1984. It was an unplanned visit, a stop on a road trip back East after I moved from Montana to the Twin Cities. Unknown to me, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being dedicated that same year. Veterans dotted the landscape of Washington D.C.; I found my uncle’s name and did a rubbing on a thin strip of paper.

A few years ago, I reconnected with my aunt, his widow, and told her I had never forgotten James. She told me that the day he died, he visited her and asked about the baby, his son. The baby was not yet born. He never met him. She swears he was there with her, standing in the same room. She would not get the official word until the next day—he had been killed in war. I feel somber inside, remembering. But it’s not like me to forget. Some think I live in the past. Sometimes the moment is the past. The same way it is the future. To understand war, I try to celebrate peace.

It feels good to be writing again. Art-A-Whirl was a big success. The Casket Arts Studio space was my home for the last month. The Writers Hands Series is up on the wall. The cards and postcards are selling well. Liz has her Found Frame Series up; her Landmark Series makes beautiful postcards. Thank you to all who visited during the crazy rain and tornado skies of Art-A-Whirl. It means a lot to us.

A haunting aspect of art and writing is that you have to burn the candle at both ends to see projects through. I was sick during Art-A-Whirl week but just had to keep going. Once I got to the studio, the energy of art and the people who love it carried the day. But I had to give up time in other areas, like the unplanned hiatus from red Ravine. I appreciate you, the readers, who keep coming back. I checked in but did not have the energy to write and prepare for the long hours of Art-A-Whirl. Something had to give. I missed the community.

The photograph of the PEACE sign (part of the BlackBerry 52 Series with Lotus) is made of seashells sent to me by Heather, a friend I met through red Ravine. She often tweets about her life by the California shoreline. One day, she asked if we wanted her to send a little of the ocean our way. In a landlocked Cancer stupor, I said, “Yes!” She mailed a box of shells the next day. When they got here, they were filled with sand and smelled like salt air, crab, and clam. I laid them out on the deck table under Minnesota skies to air out. Peace flowed from the backs of ocean creatures. Thank you, Heather.

And thank you for listening. I am off to Studio 318 to work on a piece about May Sarton. It’s time to get back to my practices. It’s time to write again. It’s time to post on red Ravine, to journal and print more photographs. This week is First Thursdays. Stop by and see us! What I really want to say is that I appreciate the community that visits here. Art and writing are not created out of a vacuum. We are all in this together.



-posted on red Ravine, Memorial Day, Monday, May 30th, 2011

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.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING, PRACTICE – Memorial Day – 10min, PRACTICE: Memorial Day — 10min, May Day Self-Portrait: Searching For Spring, The Yogi (Cover Page) — 14/52, Nesting & Resting, Pulling Out The Sun (By Day, By Night), 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), Alter-Ego Mandala: Dreaming Of The Albatross (For Bukowski), EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise

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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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Happy 4th Birthday red Ravine!


In Gratitude for another year of red Ravine, with much appreciation to our readers and guests. You keep the community going strong and inspire me every day with your courage, grace, and humor. red Ravine was conceived in Taos, New Mexico, born on November 3rd, 2006, and launched as an Aries, April 7th, 2007. It seems important to mark the passing of time, to reflect and remember how far we have come.

On the first anniversary in 2008, we were living dangerously. The second year, we celebrated poetry with a Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month. Year three explored the range of horoscopes of our readers. Here we are at the end of year four. I saw my first butterfly this afternoon signaling the birth of Spring. It held all the promise of a passionate year five. Thank you for all you have given!


-posted on red Ravine, in celebration of her 4th Birthday & Blogiversary, Thursday, April 7th, 2011

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Web & Dew: The Space Between, BlackBerry Shots, July 2010, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Over 90 inches of snow have disappeared from our lawn in temperatures that reach the 50′s by day, drop down to freezing at night. Winter is dying a slow death. Seasons change, transitions in temperament and landscape. The snowmelt runs into rivers and streams, the salt leaves potholes. But soon, tiny shoots of emerald will erupt through the dank, dead, chestnut grass. Winter must die to usher in Spring.

There is power in recognizing impending death. I remember the year my mother told me that when her time came, she was ready to die. We were visiting the South, walking down the cemetery hill from my grandmother’s grave in Georgia. I burst out crying; she hugged me and held me close. I thought the tears inside would never stop. “Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Frankenbelly 3's Birthday - 321/365 Last year, my brother nearly died, before receiving a liver transplant at the 11th hour. It’s an experience that pulled our family together, one we share with countless others. If a person who loses their spouse is a widow, what’s the name for a child who loses a parent? Or a parent who loses a child? There should be a formal naming. For children, it should not be the word “orphan.” That implies that you never held the person close, lived with or loved your parent. There should be another word.

I think of what it must be like to be the one left behind. When I saw writer Joyce Carol Oates in Minneapolis at Talk of the Stacks last week, I bought her new memoir, A Widow’s Story. Her husband Raymond died unexpectedly late one winter night in 2008; the next morning Joyce was supposed to have gone to the hospital, picked him up, and brought him home to recover. It’s the story of loss, grief, and pain; of giant gift baskets, grieving cats, and mounds of trash; of how no one really understood. Yet in the end, she realized that everyone understood. Because Death is a universal experience. It’s just that we don’t talk about it anymore or know how to incorporate it into our lives.

Porkys Since 1953 There is more to Death than the loss of loved ones. Sometimes whole cultures die, like the Anasazi who inhabited the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, and then disappeared. Cultural traditions die, too, like Porky’s Drive-In in St. Paul. It was owned by the same family since 1953, and closed its doors last Sunday, April 3rd, 2011. Animals die, and it is certain that we will probably outlive many of our beloved pets (our cat Chaco died a few years ago, June 25th, 2009).

Groups we are in community with have life spans, too. Circles of intimacy change and grow; sometimes we end up leaving people behind. Or they leave us. During one session of a year-long Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, one of the participants was killed in a car crash. The group was stunned. These were people we thought we would sit and write with for an entire year. It was not to be. I remember we chanted the Heart Sutra. I remember finding comfort in the ritual.

Cemetery Fog At Workmens Circle - 70/365 Ah, I feel a heaviness this Spring. But it’s a collective heaviness. Like something is shifting in the Universe. There’s too much going on in the world, too many catastrophes, too many unexpected deaths, too many aging and dying people, too many widows and widowers, for there not to be something going on at the Spiritual level. But that’s just my belief. I know there are people who say this occurred at every period in history. But there are certain paradigm shifts that happen and change the planet as a whole. We can either learn our lessons and get on board the train that moves forward. Or stay stuck in the past, not doing the work that’s required of us.

It’s the New Moon. New beginnings. There is value in what has come before, in the history we have with other people we were close to at one time. It’s good to honor and remember. All of that follows us, and I believe we transform it. All energy is creative energy. Even the energy of Death. It cycles back around into new life. Death can be a release of suffering. It also creates a giant abyss of loss. Maybe we’d be wise to befriend the Grim Reaper. Maybe it is others who are dying or have passed over who teach us the courage and strength to face our own death. Maybe the space between death and dying…is life.


_______________________


Transitions - Catch & Release Though many of our ancestors accepted and honored the process of Death through rituals, sitting, slowing down, it feels like our fast-paced modern world doesn’t know how to stop moving, how to have a conversation about death and dying, or where to put it in the flow of our day-to-day lives. It makes for a good Writing Topic, a good topic for discussion on red Ravine. Why can’t we talk face to face about death? Maybe it’s easier to write about it.

Take out a fast writing pen and notebook, or fire up your computer and write Death & Dying at the top of your page. Then 15 minutes, Go! Or do a Writing Practice on everything you know about any aspect of death and dying. Please feel free to share any insights in the comments below.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011. Parts of the piece were taken from several Writing Practices written last weekend, April 2nd & 3rd.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS, Reflection — Through The Looking Glass, Make Positive Effort For The Good, The Uses Of Sorrow — What Is It About Obituaries?, Reading The Obits, and a great interview with Joyce Carol Oates on MPR Midmorning with Kerri Miller – A Widow’s Story — The Story Of Joyce Carol Oates

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by Teri Blair



Home of Emily Dickinson, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On October 30th, 2010, I stood in a room I had wanted to be in for years. It had a bed, a desk, a dresser, a lantern, a basket, and huge windows. From this second story perch Emily Dickinson composed her wonderful, strange, profound poetry.

IMG_0656 window

Emily was born in the same house where she died. And with the exception of a few trips and a little schooling, she never ventured from her hometown. Ever. She lived for 55 years, becoming increasingly reclusive the older she got. She published seven poems under pseudonyms while she was alive, poetry that went practically unnoticed. It wasn’t until she died that the big discovery was made. Emily’s sister was cleaning out her bedroom dresser and found nearly 1800 poems in the bottom drawer. They were written in handmade booklets and on scraps of paper.

Four years after her death, Emily’s first volume of poetry came out and she was famous. Now, 124 years later, she is considered one of the most influential American poets; her work has never been out of print.


IMG_0658 ANNA

I drove to Amherst, Massachusetts with my niece, Anna. We pulled up to Emily’s house on Main Street, an impressive yellow brick surrounded on two sides by massive gardens. The moment we stepped onto this National Historic Site, I was looking for clues of how Emily did it. Was she simply brilliant, or was there some evidence of influence? Our tour guide told us that as soon as Emily’s first book came out, speculation about her largely private life began, speculation that has never stopped.

They honor Emily by sticking with the facts, only the things that are authenticated. I am compelled to do the same, simply observing some habits that made up part of her writing life.





A Period of Woolgathering


When Emily was 10, her family moved temporarily to a different house in Amherst. Her bedroom faced the town graveyard, and during those next impressionable years, she watched hundreds of horse-drawn funeral processions.

When she was 19, her father gave her a puppy she named Carlo. For the sixteen years of her dog’s life, they explored the woods and fields of Amherst together. Emily made extensive collections from what she found outside on these long hikes.

Contemplating death and observations of nature run heavily through Emily’s poetry.


IMG_0651 porch


Writing Practices


Emily was a voracious reader. Her family received daily newspapers and several magazines, all of which Emily read cover-to-cover. She read poets; Keats and Browning were two of her favorites.

She wrote at night by lamplight. Moonlight walkers consistently saw a light burning in Emily’s window. They didn’t know what she was doing. Though there were virtually no external rewards for her work, she kept writing. An internal force propelled her.


Simplicity


Emily’s life was very simple; there were few distractions.

She had only a handful of family and friends, and kept in touch with most of them through letter writing.

She baked. She read. She wandered through her gardens. She lowered baskets of gingerbread to her nephews and niece from her window. And at night…she wrote in her bedroom by lamplight.


♦     ♦     ♦


After the 90-minute tour, we were allowed to wander through the house alone at our own pace. Anna and I both gravitated back to Emily’s room. We sat on the floor, stood by the windows; we looked at each other across the room.

Can you believe we’re standing here, I asked Anna. She smiled and shook her head no. We kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads because we knew. There was nothing more to say; and we could both feel the pulse of what had happened within those four walls.


IMG_0654 From The Garden Large

View of Emily’s From The Garden, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When Emily died, the funeral was held in the library of her house. At her request, six Irish immigrants carried her casket from the house to her grave. She asked her sister to burn the thousands of letters she had amassed.

But she didn’t say a word about the poems in the bottom drawer.

Emily’s brother and his family lived in the house on the far edge of her garden. One time Emily’s niece, Martha, came into her room with her, and Emily pretended to lock the door so no one could get in.  She looked around the room—at the writing desk, lamp, and paper. “Martha,” she said, “this is freedom.”



“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me.


-Emily Dickinson c. 1861 from The Pocket Emily Dickinson,
Edited by Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Publications, 2009.



IMG_0670 in memoriam



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 wrote a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Her last piece for red Ravine, Discovering The Big Read, is about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri will be spending the month of February at the Vermont Studio Center, writing, walking, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains.

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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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IMG02720-20100427-0953.jpg

Forgotten Winter Snows, BlackBerry Shots, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, April 2010, photo © 2010-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



New Beginnings, New Moon. It’s a good time to start projects and yearly practices. The tradition of haiku on red Ravine began in January 2008 with the piece haiku (one-a-day). It is a practice born from reading Clark Strand’s Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey during a year-long Writing Intensive with Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico. The response from our readers was so great, that we continued the practice with haiku 2 (one-a-day), adding the poetic forms of tanka and renga, and creating a community haiku practice that would span two years.

Thanks to our faithful readers and haiku poets, January 2011 will jump-start our 4th year of haiku practice on red Ravine. haiku 4 (one-a-day) granted me the opportunity to do further research on the history of Japanese poetry and led me to the forms of gogyohko, haibun, and haiga. This year’s challenge is to continue to co-create and build on the poems of other haiku writers with tanka and renga, while exploring the additional forms of gogyohko, haibun, and haiga. [Note: For our new readers, I am reposting information on haiku, senryu, tanka, and renga. For the three new forms, scroll down to gogyohko. Makes the post lengthy, but worthy of a whole year of poetry!]

Along with haiku practice in 2011, I’m doing two collaborations with A~Lotus, one which we call Renga 52. (The other is a BlackBerry 52 practice which I will write about later.) In Renga 52, we are going to keep one renga going in the comments on this post for the entire 52 weeks of 2011. We will each add to Renga 52 at least once a week. You are welcome to participate. Simply jump into Renga 52 in the comment section anytime you wish. Here’s to health and prosperity in the coming year!



haiku & senryu (part one)


Haiku uses simple, direct language, words that evoke a season, and usually incorporates a cutting or pivot word, so that one half of a haiku seems to speak to the other. According to Patterns In Poetry, haiku is closely tied to the Japanese aesthetic of Yugen and the spirituality of Buddhism. It is written in a 17-syllable form (usually three lines of 5-7-5) that looks deceptively simple. Yet if you read the work of the masters like Basho, Buson, and Issa, wandering poets who lived during Japan’s Edo-period (1600-1868), it becomes clear that the practice of haiku can take years to master.

Senryu is similar to haiku but strays from seasonal or nature themes. According to Simply Haiku, senryu focuses on people and portrays characteristics of human beings and foibles, and the psychology of the human mind. Senryu can express human misfortunes or the hardships of humanity, and even when they depict living things or inanimate objects, human attributes are emphasized.

What both haiku and senryu have in common is that they derive from a form of Japanese court poetry called tanka.


Characteristics of haiku:

  • 17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)
  • Simple, direct, non-metaphorical language
  • Captures a transitory insight or moment in time called satori or the aha moment
  • Contains a kigo, an image of nature that evokes a particular season
  • Contains a cutting or pivot word that turns the movement of the poem
  • Based on experience, speaks of the common, in the moment, just as it is



tanka (part two)


Tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form, was often written to explore religious or courtly themes and had a structure of five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. One person would contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the tanka, and a different author would complete the poem by composing a 7-7 section and adding a pivot point such as in this tanka from George Knox at Aha! Poetry:


in the check-out line
a worn face ahead of me
turns tentatively. . .
realities of desire
fade in final reckoning

-tanka by George Knox


Characteristics of tanka:

  • 31 syllables, 5 lines
  • Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku.
  • Another person picks up the first 3 lines and writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables.
  • Can reflect nature or lean toward senryu
  • Emotional, contemplative, imaginative, reflective, written to be chanted



renga (part three)


Renga (linked elegance) is a form of linked poetry which evolved from tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form. In renga’s 800 year history it has gone through many ideological changes. (And it was Basho who, after 500 years, snipped off the first three lines of renga to form haiku.)

In renga, one person would often contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the poetic chain and a different author would complete the chain by composing a 7-7 section. Then another author would build on the previous 7-7, with another 5-7-5 passage. This chaining of verses or renga, could sometimes add up to hundreds of linked tanka.

The first part of the poem, called hokku or “starting verse,” frequently sets the tone for the rest of the poem, and the authors of hokku often earned the respect and admiration of their fellow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.


Characteristics of renga:

  • Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku. Hand this poem to another person.
  • Second person writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables. Then the second person hands off the completed tanka to a third person.
  • Third person writes another 3 lines of (5-7-5), beginning a new tanka
  • Continue in this way until you run out of time or feel that the poem is complete.
  • Contains a bridge or pivot point that links to the emotional element
  • Don’t try to force the storyline. When writing a response to the previous poem, focus only on the last section of the tanka, not the whole poem.
  • Think of each stanza as a springboard from which you are going to jump. The important thing to watch is what happens between the links.



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gogyohka (part four)


Gogyohka is a relatively new form of Japanese short poetry founded and pioneered by Japanese poet Enta Kusakabe. In 1957, at the age of 19, Kusakabe developed the concept of Gogyohka in order to create a freer form of verse. According to his website, The Gogyohka Society, gogyohka is pronounced go-gee-yoh-kuh (the “g”s are hard as in “good”), and literally translated means “five line poem.”

Gogyohka is five lines of free verse on any subject matter. There is no set syllable pattern or requirement for the length of its lines, but they should be short and succinct  — governed by the duration of a single breath. The goal is to practice self-reflection and contemplation by distilling an idea, observation, feeling, memory, or experience into just a few words. I am new to the form, but here is an example by Rodlyn Douglas at The Gogyohka Society:


Have you loved enough
to know the taste
of blood on the tongue
of one who has been bitten
by betrayal?

-gogyohka by Rodlyn Douglas


Characteristics of gogyohka:

  • 5 lines of free verse
  • No set syllable pattern
  • Short & succinct lines, governed by the duration of a single breath
  • Captures an idea, memory, observation or feeling in a few compelling words



haibun (part five)


Contemporary haibun is a combination of prose and haiku poetry sometimes described as a narrative of epiphany. What makes the haibun electric is the contrast between the prose and the haiku. According to The Haiku Society of America, haibun is a terse, short prose poem in the haikai style, which may include light humor as well as more serious elements. A haibun usually ends with a haiku. Most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. Longer haibun may contain haiku interspersed between sections of prose, but the connections may not be immediately obvious. The haiku may serve to deepen the tone, or take the work in a new direction.

Japanese haibun is thought to have developed from brief notes written to introduce individual haiku, but soon grew into a distinct genre. The word haibun can be applied to longer works, such as the memoirs, diaries, or travel writings of haiku poets. According to Contemporary Haibun Online, haibun is the Japanese name for 17th Century monk Basho Matsuo’s travel journals. Basho’s view of haibun was haikai no bunsho – “writing in the style of haiku.” His best-known works, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling, were poetic prose, studded with haiku. Saga Nikki (Saga Diary) documents the day-to-day activities on a summer retreat with his disciples. Here is a contemporary example of a beautiful haibun from Contemporary Haibun:


By The Bay

Dusk turns the water into a fire opal.
The fragrance of fresh earth merges
in the air with white flowers.

Waves seem to whisper through the
western windows of the cabin my grand-
father built for my grandmother.

“Love poems” she once told me.

As I hold you in the dark, I recall her
wistful sighs on the porch, rocking to
the rhythm of the sea.

summer dawn –
I rinse the sand
from the sheets

-haibun by Hortensia Anderson


Characteristics of haibun:

  • Combines prose & haiku
  • Written with the brevity & conciseness of haiku
  • Dependent on images, syntax dominated by imagery
  • Combines light humor & serious elements
  • Ranges from less than 100, up to 300 words
  • Usually ends in a haiku



haiga (part six)


Haiga (Hai means comic and Ga means painting) is a style of Japanese painting based on the aesthetics of haikai, from which haiku poetry derives. Traditionally, haiga combined a haiku poem (written in calligraphy) with a simple painting and was based on simple, but profound, observations of the everyday world. In Haiga: Haiku, Calligraphy, & Painting, Poets.org describes traditional haiga as haiku’s more visual cousin. Some of the early masters were Morikawa Kyoroku, Sakaki Hyakusen, Takebe Socho, and Yosa Buson. Contemporary haiga often adds digital imagery to haiku poetry by the juxtaposition of a photograph to a poem. Or by overlaying the poem on to the image. As we have found on red Ravine, there is a natural inclination to combine haiku poetry forms and digital photography. At Daily Haiga, you can see examples of blended poetry and photography.


Characteristics of haiga:

  • Combines haiku & a simple painting, photograph, piece of art
  • Images restrained, minimal ink strokes, light colors
  • Free flowing with no unnecessary detail
  • Light, ironic, amusing, even when subject is serious
  • Unromantic, down to earth, humorous
  • Ordinary, day-to-day subjects and objects



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haiku practice


Feel free to drop a haiku into this space anytime, day or night. Or join the word play and collaborative effort of tanka and renga. I’m excited to explore the 5-line form of gogyohka, and have already started writing haibun in my Journal 365 practice this year. I thought it would be fun to continue to explore these ancient forms of Japanese poetry, and see where the journey takes us.

Also, it’s okay to experiment, break form, and move out of the traditional structures. English syllables translate differently than onji. And according to Richard MacDonald (from his essay What is Tanka?), Japanese poetry is syllabic by nature and not metrical or rhymed, because like the French language, the Japanese language lacks stress accents.

There are different schools of thought about how rigid one should be in counting syllables. From what I have read, it is a matter of personal taste whether to stay close to the Japanese model, or stray from it for personal reasons or aesthetics in order to incorporate Western heritage into poetic work. The most important thing is to relax and have fun with it!


Option 1 – haiku

  • Drop in a haiku or senryu, 17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)

Option 2 – tanka

  • Grab another poet’s haiku, and write the 2 additional 7 syllable lines to create a tanka

Option 3 – renga

  • Grab a tanka created by 2 other poets, and, focusing on the last 2 lines, start the beginning of a new tanka (5-7-5) to be completed by the next poet

Option 4 – gogyohka

  • Write a gogyohka, 5 lines of free verse, governed by the length of a single breath, no set syllable patterns

Option 5 – haibun

  • Write a haibun, combining prose & haiku, less than 100 – 300 words, ends in haiku

Option 6 – haiga

  • Drop in a link to a haiga you created, blending or juxtaposing a haiku with painting, photo, or any form of visual art


IMG02715-20100427-0950.jpgIMG02715-20100427-0950.jpgIMG02715-20100427-0950.jpg



DEFINITIONS:


bridgeword, or words leading the reader from the nature image to the statement of emotion

cutting (kireji) Punctuation mark or word that divides a haiku into two parts. A cutting can be a hyphen, ellipses, colon or a word.

gogyohka5 lines of free verse on any subject matter, each line the length of one breath, no set syllable pattern

haibunterse, relatively short prose poem (100-300 words) in the haikai style, usually including both lightly humorous and more serious elements, ending with a haiku.

haigacombining a haiku poem (written in calligraphy) with a simple painting. Contemporary haiga combines digital imagery, photographs, other art forms with haiku.

haikaishort for haikai no renga, the popular style of Japanese linked verse originating in the 16 Century, as opposed to the earlier aristocratic renga. In both Japanese and English, the word haikai can also refer to all haiku-related literature.

hokkufirst part of a renga, hokku is a “starting verse” that frequently sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Authors of hokku earned the respect and admiration of their fellow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.

kigoA seasonal reference in haiku. Usually a kigo has accumulated resonances and associations with earlier haiku and Japanese aesthetics about time.

onji Japanese syllables. The language differences between Japanese and English are vast and complex. Converting onji to syllables may not always be a one for one process.

pivot word A word in a haiku poem that changes, or turns the direction of the poem

rengaJapanese poetic form made up of linked tanka verse; the word renga means “linked elegance”

satori A moment of insight or reflection that emerges in a Haiku poem (usually around the cutting or pivot word)

tanka Japanese poetic form that is made up of 5 lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count. Haiku derives from tanka.

yugenJapanese term for beauty that suggests mystery, depth and a tinge of sadness


RESOURCES USED IN WRITING THIS PIECE:



-posted on red Ravine at the first New Moon, Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

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letting go
Letting Go, one of the themes at the Natalie Goldberg silent retreat in Taos, December 2010,  collage made of magazine paper, wax crayons, and pen and ink in Moleskine journal, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

It was strange to find myself sitting in the zendo at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, our teacher Natalie Goldberg urging us to Let Go. I had just a few weeks before made the decision to leave red Ravine, although QuoinMonkey and I had agreed to wait until the end of the year to make the announcement. Though not intended as such, the week in Taos could be a test of how ready I was to let go of this special virtual space that had inspired and sustained me for so long.
 
mabel's houseIt was in Taos, after all, that red Ravine was born. The year—2006. QM and I, having already written together for some time, are both participating in a four-season Intensive with Natalie Goldberg. This Intensive is part of a bigger plan I have for myself, a wannabe writer-and-artist withering away inside the body of a corporate manager and breadwinner for my family of four. I am bored and unhappy. I want to write and do art, but I can’t seem to motivate myself to do much with either except to dream about it. QM and I and a couple of others hatch red Ravine over intense working sessions in Taos and through the phone lines while back at our respective homes. Setting up a blog is hard work, but it is also real. For the first time, I am motivated to do more than fantasize about writing and making art. red Ravine promises to be the impetus to actually producing. 
 
Those first two years of creating red Ravine, QM and I worked our butts off and had a blast doing it. The blog was a perfect outlet for the deep, low creative growl that the Intensive seemed to unleash within us. Some days we posted more than once, and often we had to make sure that we weren’t publishing over one another. For my part, I was making art like crazy. After years of being fearful of the lack of control inherent in a brush (as compared to a pencil), I took a workshop at Ghost Ranch and learned to paint. My corporate job changed around the same time, too. I landed an assignment that took me back and forth to Vietnam. I bought myself a slew of different colored inking pens and began using the long trips back and forth as opportunity to take on a doodling practice.

QuoinMonkey and I worked surprisingly well together. We were both committed to the idea of a creating a space where we would each be inspired and where we might inspire others. She brought to red Ravine and to me her strong values around Community and Giving Back. Her thoughtful and thorough turtle complemented my quick and often irreverent spirit. (What animal am I anyway? The brown bird, I guess.) We found ourselves in synch whenever we wanted to try something new or make a change. We pushed each other to do our best.
 
 
what I learned

 
mabel's house 2 for red ravineOne of the things I love about Taos and Mabel’s place is how they never seem to change. Here I am, early December 2010, and I’m crossing the same flagstone patio that I walked those years ago back when red Ravine was still an infant. Over the past several years, I’ve brought my daughters here, and my husband. I bring my father back each year after we clean his parents’ graves in Costilla, 42 miles north. One summer he laid some of these very flagstones,when he was about 16 and living on Morada Lane in a house with a storefront.

It doesn’t matter what I have accomplished, what roles I have taken on in the years since I’ve been back. Inside the zendo, Natalie reminds us to Let Go. For me this means letting go of my responsibilities, my ego, any self-assigned self-importance. Here, in Taos, I am zero. In my raw, stripped-down state I feel my sadness. It is deep inside me, under everything else I carry. 

My heart breaks open.
 
Letting Go in Taos means being able to clearly see that red Ravine was, in fact, the catalyst for change in my life. It means being grateful for everything I’ve learned as a result of opening up to others. Because of red Ravine, I’ve had a place to publish my writing, to experiment with and share my art, to meet other writers and artists. red Ravine has been Muse, sounding board, supportive audience, friend, family, mentor.

I started a fledging business because of the creativity that flowed out, thanks to red Ravine. Because of this blog I’ve learned to commit to and follow through with my practices; to make jewelery; to turn unpolished writing into finished pieces; to put my creative self out into the world. I used to think I couldn’t finish anything; it took having this blog to realize that I’m an actualizer at heart. 

Of course, there are downsides to setting and realizing intentions. Jim long ago gave up complaining when I’d spend hours socked away in my writing room. But I don’t take for granted any more, not since April of this year when he collapsed on the bed clutching his heart, that he will always be there waiting when I need to take a break. And my daughters—full-fledged teenagers! Just today I accompanied my oldest for nearly an hour while she drove us all around town, adding experience under her belt in preparation for graduating from learners permit to drivers license. I don’t have much time left to influence their lives.

 
 
letting go

 

la morada (taos)At the December retreat, we walk the dirt trail out at the morada, just down the way from Mabel’s place. Natalie often takes her students there. The day we go, boys and men from Taos Pueblo run past us in the cold air. I feel alone and sheltered in my layers of warmth, and for a moment I am homesick for family and our traditions

My parents are old now. They’ve passed from the stage of old-yet-mostly-healthy to being old-and-frighteningly-frail. I visit them every Sunday. All year long I struggle to keep up with everything I have on my plate. Some weeks it feels impossible to eke out even the simplest of posts.

QM is a rock. Her posts are—like her—consistently high-quality, thorough, and deep. I am honored to have worked with her for this long.

A good friend of mine who a few years back started up his own blog had this to say when I told him I was thinking of leaving red Ravine: “Blogging has no exit strategy.” Which is another way of saying that unless you’re getting paid to do it, blogging is a labor of love. This particular labor has born much fruit. 

It has so much more potential, so much yet to become. I’m going to be here, on the other side of the screen, cheering on QM to keep moving it forward. I know I’ll always be proud to say I was a part of creating it.

Thank you for everything you’ve done, QM. Thank you to the friends I’ve met here. So long for now. See you in Comments. 8)
 
 

 

self portrait
Self Portrait, December 2010, collage made of magazine paper, wax crayons, and pen and ink in Moleskine journal, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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View from The Gatehouse,” Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos,
December 8, 2010, photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 





Sleepwalking I arrive
but silence awakens me
to our suffering










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On this second full day of silence, something snaps. I thought I came here because: I had vacation time to kill, I wanted to give myself a gift, it had been a long time since I’d been to a silent retreat in Taos with Natalie Goldberg. Today I am reminded that this is not play. When I go into silence, pain emerges. I wake up.

A quick step out of silence to give you an update, QM. I am also reminded that I met you here, that our friendship was created in silence and through the humanity and compassion we find when we come here. I am grateful for you, for all the friends I have met through Taos, and for everything I have learned about myself through coming here.

I am not writing much since arriving. In fact, I have only thus far written in the zendo during collective Writing Practice. Outside of class, I have spent my free time in The Gatehouse, where I’m staying. I’ve read, slept, and worked on collages. After I publish this post, I might venture out for a walk. I crave the cold air in my lungs.

It is good to be here, to wake up to all of me. To be humbled again.

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-Related to posts Sitting in Silence and haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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shadow auto 2

Moon Over Taos Mountain, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, Tri-X black & white film print, photo © 2003-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


December marks a time of darkness and silent reflection leading up to the Winter Solstice. Most Decembers, Natalie holds a writing retreat around the time of December 1st through 8th. In Zen, this time is called Rohatsu Sesshin and marks the enlightenment of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. For those heading to Taos to write, it’s a time of community solitude, an opportunity to go within.

sherpa 2 auto

Slow Walking, Natalie Goldberg, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, Tri-X B&W film print, photo © 2003-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

This week ybonesy and several other writing friends will be making the jouney to Taos to sit in silence. I find comfort in knowing they will be there under Taos Mountain. When they sit, they sit for all of us. The zendo casts a wide circle. Everything is connected. We can sit and write in solidarity.

There will be long nights under Mabel’s lights and slow walks into Taos. Some will walk the morada, visit the graves of Mabel and Frieda, soak up places that Georgia walked on her first visits to New Mexico. Notebooks will be filled with Writing Practices, later to be reread.

Whatever’s at the surface will fall away. What’s important is what is underneath.  Underbelly.


Sit, Walk, Write. With Gratitude to a long lineage of mentors and teachers. For all that has come before. And all that will be.


Note: ybonesy and I met in Taos at a Writing Retreat. We’ll be forever connected by that thread. And the practice that became red Ravine. We’ve written many pieces on our time spent in Taos. To learn more about Sit, Walk, Write or our experience of studying with Natalie Goldberg at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, check out the links in this post. Or click on any of the posts under Taos. With Gratitude to our readers, those at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Natalie, and all the writers and artists who keep showing up to brave the silence. We are all in this together.


–posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 5th, 2010

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