Archive for July, 2007

Part I:

It’s Tuesday evening. I’m not inspired. When I feel this way, I look to other writers and artists to pull me up. We’re all in this together. No need to compete. There is room for everyone. I’m a strong believer in abundance. I feel a spiritual obligation to pay it forward.

I’m thinking about last May. Me, Liz, and two of our friends met for dinner at Acadia Cafe . We were just finishing our meals, when it started to pour. We ran across Nicollet Avenue through the pounding rain (without umbrellas), and sloshed across the parking lot, dodging puddles.

When we finally slipped into a crack between two open doors, we were soaked to the bone: stringy hair, dripping palms, wringing wet. In the soggy line, we handed the smiling ushers our tickets, and stepped into an architectural dream. The place was packed, buzzing with energy. I’ve been meaning to write about that night ever since. But I just didn’t know what to say.

Sometimes things have to sit inside a while. I have to hold them tight to me. Until I know what I’ve got.

Angle, pipe organ, stained glass, inside Plymouth Congregational Church, night of Mary Oliver, May 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Angle, pipe organ, stained glass, inside Plymouth Congregational Church, night of Mary Oliver, May 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

Part II:

After a glowing introduction, and with a half-smirk that never left her face, Mary Oliver slowly walked up to the podium at Plymouth Congregational Church. Steady and sure, she had me from the first step. She was funny, witty, wise, and sometimes sarcastic. She made me laugh, something I highly value in a writer. She seemed to have lived a long, good life – a life not without sorrow.

She woke me up.

Liz took a few notes that night in a black, 8×10 sketchbook she had hidden deep in her pack. I asked her if I could take a look at it tonight, to help me unearth buried treasure. I chuckled when I saw a little thumb-sized pen and ink sketch of Mary Oliver in Liz’s notebook, near the left corner, by the spiral binding.

It’s a great reproduction of the way Mary looked that night. I wish I could scan and post it. I carry everything the poet said in my heart. But there is something about looking at handwritten lists, thin-lined sketches, and short words on a long page, that jogs the memory.

At the top of the toothy, unlined paper was a list the four of us made, things we wanted to do: go camping together again, hang with pre-Dr. Ruth (the name of one of our friends), ask questions at the end of Mary Oliver, practice pranayama (i.e. don’t forget to breathe), always carry a mint

At the bottom were shards of memory, dots connecting the thin, wispy lines of Mary Oliver to snippets of words from the past.

Part III:

  • Mary Oliver, on the many poems dedicated to the dog, Percy:
    • dogs remind us of the joy of the unexamined life
    • dogs (pets) teach us to appreciate what we’ve lost; it’s the other life we no longer have that we must cherish
  • On advice for writing students:
    • it’s all in the way you live your life
    • be disciplined
    • pay attention!
    • cultivate astonishment and tell about it
    • never use a computer
    • lose your drafts, they are only learning material
  • On poetry
    • poetry carries stories of us, community, culture, nation
    • poetry is one of the bedrocks of culture
    • poetry helps us feel
    • poetry keeps the good stories going and makes us human – from Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by Mary C. Richards
  • On being sustained in difficult times:
    • reach to be sustained
    • have faith
    • read other poems, other poets
    • remember life is a gift
    • love and work
    • embrace the natural world
  • On writing:
    • keep it simple and clear
    • accessible, no more than what you need
    • have fun cutting away
    • write fast, 30 or 40 drafts
  • On the podium:
    • “Oh, what a nice podium. How nice for the preachers.”
  • On titles:
    • “I have trouble with titles – there’s a Spring in every book.”

  • Epilogue: 

                Writer's Hands, Mary Oliver's hands, signing a copy of Thirst, May 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

               –Writer’s Hands, hands of Mary Oliver, signing a copy of Thirst,
                May 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.
                All rights reserved.

    At the end of her epic reading, we went out to the lobby to buy books for Mary Oliver to sign. I purchased a CD of Mary reading At Blackwater Pond. Liz purchased Owls and Other Fantasies. We had regretfully left Thirst at home.

    Liz walked up to the table, and opened Owls to an unconventional page for signing. Mary paused, a little taken aback. Liz was quick to recover. “I like this image,” she said.

    “Did you know it’s a photo of a feather?” Mary asked. Liz said, “Oh, no, I didn’t. That’s amazing.”

    There was a pause while Mary ran her pen across the page. I watched from the sidelines. Liz smiled and said, “My Mom’s an Oliver. I like to think we’re related.”

    Mary glowed with an impish grin, handed Liz the book, leaned forward, and I could have sworn she winked when she said, “Let’s say we are.”

    Mary Oliver – On Paying Attention posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

    -thanks to WomenSpirit, The Loft Literary Center, and Plymouth Congregational Church for sponsoring Mary Oliver’s visit to Minneapolis on May 7th, 2007

    -related to post, The Uses Of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries

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    By Laura Stokes

    Casa Azul, photo by Laura Stokes 2007, all rights reserved
    Casa Azul, the home where Frida Kahlo was born, lived, and died; July 2007, photo © 2007 by Laura Stokes, all rights reserved.

    Acting on dream and impulse, we found ourselves in Mexico City last weekend at the Frida Kahlo Centennial Celebration at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. I had read about the exhibit but never thought we would go until I told a friend whose passion for Frida is even larger than mine, and somehow momentum took over. So we booked a flight and arrived late on a Friday evening, very hungry after passing on an option to buy “dinner” of potato chips and Mars bars, the current American Airlines cuisine.

    Frida Kahlo Exhibit at Palacio de Bellas Artes, photo by Laura Stokes 2007, all rights reservedThe town was quiet and all the restaurants in the area were closed by 10:30. Our hotel dated from the 17th century when it served as a monastery — old, quaint and spare, as opposed to the luxurious Sheraton across the street where most Americans must have been staying, as we saw only Mexican families in The Cortez. This suited us perfectly and was consistent with our wish to melt into the life of the city. We were pleasantly surprised to see few tourists in the Zocalo, the restaurants, and the museums — selfish of us, I suppose, because I am sure the Mexican economy could use the tourist trade.

    Casa Azul Garden, photo by Laura Stokes 2007, all rights reservedI had expected to be touched and inspired by Frida’s actual work, but so much more came to the surface as I stood in the long queues of Mexicans waiting for this unique opportunity to pay homage to one of their most beloved cultural heroes and icons. The works were chosen to exhibit Frida’s life-long dedication to and use of indigenous Mexican folk traditions and popular arts in her work and lifestyle. And by the snail’s pace of the crowd of visitors as they crept along the walls devouring each word of the descriptions and studiously examining the detail and imagery of her paintings, it was obvious that Frida must have been successful in honestly evoking a genuine connection with her audience. Frida’s reverence for the indigenous people and culture permeated her work and was transmitted to those who could most recognize and appreciate it.

    Partially constructed in Frida’s garden, photo by Laura Stokes 2007, all rights reservedAgain, at Casa Azul, where Frida was born, lived and died, I continued to notice the reverence of the Mexican people for her work The same long lines of Mexicans were there as were at the museum and the same thoughtful and thorough scrutiny of the works and the memorabilia. I was struck with envy and resentment, as I have often been before, at the lack of heritage and story in my own white Anglo-Saxon protestant background, the poverty of tradition and influence and cherishing of what has passed.

    I ponder the social consequences of such a lack of understanding of the significance of belonging to a culture rooted in centuries of custom and tradition and language and how that ignorance and insensitivity is manifested in my own country.

    Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, photo by Laura Stokes 2007, all rights reserved

    Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, July 2007, all photos © 2007 by Laura Stokes, all rights reserved.

    About Laura:  Laura Stokes lives in the Rio Grande valley, outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she works with great passion on matters of peace and social justice. She is also active in her community and with her daughters and granddaughter, who she happens to presently be keeping up with in Ghost Ranch.

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    Las Dos Chicas, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
    Las Dos Chicas, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy.
    All rights reserved.

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    First Strawberry, July 28, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

    First Strawberry, out on the deck, July 28th, 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

    Liz and I like to plant our perennials in pots on the deck, then transplant them later into the gardens. It gives us the advantage of enjoying a summer full of thriving foliage, bursting blooms, and wispy green stems close to our living space. I am loving gardening like never before. It’s an endless source of pleasure and ground for me.

    It’s also something we do together that makes the humid Minnesota summers bearable (I’m a winter girl all the way). To me, it is gardening, motorcycling, and geocaching that make summer fun. This year, the thing I’ve done the most is gardening and yard work.

    I discovered the first strawberry yesterday in the pots at the top of the stairs. When I photographed it, I noticed the naked white that will soon turn to crimson.

    Saturday, July 28th, 2007

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    For writers and artists, blogs can be a curse and a blessing. A curse when you spend hours of your time clicking your way through one blog then another, all the while not getting to the essay or the canvas or the slow walking, sitting, or writing practice. A blessing when you find like-minded souls and inspiration in the works they publish.

    These two blogs have been a blessing for us at red Ravine: Walking Turcot Yards documents the author’s relationship with “the world’s largest abandoned space,” Turcot Yards in the south west of Montreal. (neath of Walking Turcot Yards also provides these photoblog links to other unusual and highly inspirational sites, including d e s o l a t e   m e t r o p o l i s.) Anuvue Studio is written by Heather, who says in one of her posts that “‘normal’ isn’t part of my vocabulary.” Normal isn’t part of her imagery, either.

    One theme that stands out in both blogs is “abandoned.” Abandoned buildings, playgrounds, homes. Abandoned industrial areas and overpasses. The photos evoke dreams of yellow-lit tunnels, desolate desert, wind whistling through broken glass. Being abandoned — such a dreadful thought. And yet, here are these left-for-good places, living on while the rest of us think they’re dead.

    What does the word “abandoned” mean to you? What feelings does it bring up? Take a tour through these six images. As soon as you’re done, write a ten-minute practice on Abandoned is…


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    When I look at the photograph of Remington’s studio, I don’t see clutter. I see inspiration. I imagine that every object held meaning for him and inspired him to paint. And write. He was a prolific writer and artist.

    Objects have power. Energy. Drive. Objects evoke memories. Memories connect to the heart. The heart stirs passion.

    When I had a studio in the Ford Building in the heart of the warehouse district, then in Northrup-King in Northeast, it had the same kind of feel; I surrounded myself with sensual objects.

    At any one time in my art studio you could find:

    • rusty wheel hubs to photograph (decay is inspiring)
    • bags of cattail leaves and day lilies (to beat into handmade paper)
    • hanging replicas of human spines bought from a specialty store at the Mall of America (to study and create my own clay models of backbones)
    • clear, rectangular, plastic bags of red clay from Minnesota Clay
    • rolling pins, camel’s hair brushes, lime plastic triangles, heavy wooden rulers, every size
    • butterfly & moth wings gathered from their dead corpses, a lynx tail from a fur trapper given to me by a friend, a tawny snapping turtle shell the size of two breadbaskets
    • photographs of sandhill cranes flying in formation over the Platte River in Nebraska
    • an easel, a life-size black & white mural print of me & my art classmates taken by a locally famous photographer
    • brown suitcase from the 50’s with brass hardware filled with old magazines (images for inspiration)
    • candles, a Taos drum and rattle I bought at the pueblo in the 80’s
    • fine-lined Staedtler ink pens, two shoeboxes full of Grumbacher acrylic paint tubes, a black leather portfolio of black & white photographs
    • sandpaper in all grains, Craftsman screwdrivers, a small metal hammer, brass nails, steel tacks, a hand-rivet fastener, odorless paint thinner, miscellaneous cans of spray paint, cardboard stencil set, hanging lines of tiny beads from Bearhawk Indian Store, a small red sewing kit containing thread, scissors, buttons, needles, that my ex-partner’s parents brought me from a trip to China
    • rusty woodstove parts from a half-buried, half-exposed land dump (everyone did this on farms back then) on the land of an artist friend’s grandmother in Thief River Falls
    • rolled and stained, off-white canvas with ragged edges (used to roll out clay tiles)
    • stretched canvas for painting, erasers of every type, size, texture
    • red framed metal shelves, loaded with art books, giant hooks and pulleys, top shelf full of antique cameras, bottom shelf with a plaster mold of the snapping turtle shell that I used to make a papermaking sculpture (that mold is the coolest; I still have it)
    • plaster mold of my face (at 39) when I still had the 2 moles on my cheeks, fewer wrinkles, and more time ahead of me
    • 1 bees wax & 1 red clay cast of my face from that same plaster mold

    The list could go on and on and on. But I’m running out of time. What I want to say about Remington’s studio is that the objects I am drawn to are his easel with the half finished painting, the round drum on the square wooden stand, the leather chaps lined up in a row on the wall, and the round-edged hat hanging almost smack dab in the center.

    I imagine that hat on his head when he had lunch with Teddy Roosevelt. And I get a hunger to visit the Badlands.

    Thursday, July 26th, 2007

    -10 minute practice on Topic post, Remington’s Studio

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    Rein Nomm is an artist who works with water-soluble dyes and raw egg to create a visual feast of color. I saw a poster on his Flickr site for an upcoming show in Plymouth, Michigan. You can check out his Flickr profile at nomm de photo.

    His photographs are best viewed in their original size. And be sure to stop by the Plymouth Community Arts Council Gallery if you are going to be in Michigan over the next month.

    If Michigan doesn’t fall into the geographic latitude/longitude of your part of the world, Flickr might be the next best thing to being there.

    Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

    Fluid Moments Show

    Image originally uploaded by nomm de photo

    Links to three of my favorites:   Out of the Blue, Primal Fire, Overwhelmed

    note:  first viewed Rein Nomm’s work in the Flickr group Art is Art

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