Tag Archives: Poems

summer reading

Need atmosphere? Just add local wild-fires, and you've got a great excuse to stay indoors and read.

We’ve had our annual time in the woods and at the beach, and here are a few highlights from my reading:

CROCUS

For months now I am bleak and primitive.

The congregation of crows refutes

the resurrection of anything.

 

I sleep all day, drink all night.

I believe only in certainty of equations,

the curvature of space, words used merely for incantation.

 

This cold wind I sway in, this continual lent–

But wait, the first crocus

throws dirt.

–Nancy K. Pearson, Two Minutes of Light

 

ARCHITECTURE

I peer into Japanese characters

as into faraway buildings

cut from the mind’s trees.

 

In the late afternoon a small bird

shakes a branch, lets drop a white splash.

 

In the wind, in the rain,

the delicate wire cage glistens,

empty of suet.

 

Poetry’s not window-cleaning.

It breaks the glass.

–Chase Twichell, The Snow Watcher

 

Anthology

That evening I was reading an anthology.

Scarlet clouds grazed outside my window.

The spent day fled to a museum.

 

And you– who are you?

I don’t know.  I didn’t know

if I was born for gladness?

Sorrow?  Patient waiting?

 

In dusk’s pure air

I read an anthology.

Ancient poets lived in me, singing.

–Adam Zagajewski, Mysticism for Beginners

 

Don’t ask us for the word to frame

our shapeless spirit on all sides,

and proclaim it in letters of fire to shine

like a lone crocus in a dusty field.

 

Ah, the man who walks secure,

a friend to others and himself,

indifferent that high summer prints

his shadow on a peeling wall!

 

Don’t ask us for the phrase that can open worlds,

just a few gnarled syllables, dry like a branch.

This, today, is all that we can tell you:

what we are not, what we do not want.

— Eugenio Montale, Cuttlefish Bones

 

flora and fauna

dragon fly blog

wild carrot

wild carrot

sunfish blog

I’ve been spending a lot of time over in Forest Park as I continue to study our region’s edible wild plants.  We’ve managed to work in a few extra adventures, which included teaching Florence how to catch her first sunfish.  I’m not yet certain how to talk about the plant study in relation to my art-making, but it is something that I am working to clarify.  In the mean time I will pass along a poem by Louis MacNeice which I was fortunate to come across in the spring.  I shared it with my Painting Elective class as a description of their own journey from an the objectivity of an existence “above” art-making to a place down in it– the immersion of experience.

Under the Mountain

Seen from above

The foam in the curving bay is a goose-quill

That feathers… unfeathers… itself.

Seen from above

The field is a flap and the haycocks buttons

To keep it flush with the earth.

Seen from above

The house is a silent gadget whose purpose

Was long since obsolete.

But when you get down

The breakers are cold scum and the wrack

sizzles with stinking life.

When you get down

The field is a failed or a worth-while crop, the source

Of back-ache if not heartache.

And when you get down

The house is a maelstrom of loves and hates where you–

Having got down– belong.

Louis MacNeice, from Selected Poems of Louis MacNeice, Edited and with an introduction by Michael Longley

changing the windows

Now that the paintings are out of the studio, I have been taking time to clean and reorganize the space.  Over the last ten years I had allowed the windows at the east end of the studio to stay dirty, because I liked being aware of the glass while including it in a number of paintings.  But this seemed like a good time to start fresh.  Two afternoons and a bucket of muddy water later, I am again admiring a clear view of the world outside.  My precarious work on the roof reminded me of a small book of poems by Jerome Mazzaro called Changing the Windows.  I picked it up at a used book store in Bloomington, Indiana in 1997 while visiting a few other young artists there with my friend Mark Green.  Here is the poem from which the book draws its title:

CHANGING THE WINDOWS

When I am forced by circumstance and heat

to take the winter windows off the house

spotted like bass who will be stripped of lice,

I think of that old woman down the street

who got by the Depression renting rooms

to seven lonely bachelors in a row,

the last of whom fell from an open window

changing the screens one sunny afternoon.

Called Mother Witch by city columnists

who wrote how all the seven perished strangely,

each with an ample paid-up policy

made out to her, she didn’t snare one jurist

in all the headline months her trials ran–

through winter changed to summer as it must.

She sat reading a favorite Evening Post

as if no court could judge her for her sin.

Thinking, too, of her full-grown idiot son

who scavenged in our ashcans after that

feeding himself with cast-off bits of fat

until a court ruled he’d too lost his reason,

somehow I think of husbanded black widows

and savage birds who sometimes eat their young,

and wonder at the web this world becomes,

then scuttle off to unhinge all the windows.

A few of my recent paintings incorporated ideas of memorialization and the inevitable challenges of sentimentality and over-simplification.  I include one more of Mazzaro’s poems, below, as a nod to his own efforts:

DEATH WAS A TRICK

Death was a trick I taught him as a pup

like fetching till he mastered both to race

my ordered stick back clamped between his jaws,

ignoring once too soon the whir of trucks

whose chirring crushed whole worlds of growing up

and set him broken in a makeshift box.

Across blind roadways he comes running yet,

small-terriered, black-footed, slow in death.

In the midst of the reorganization of the upstairs studio, I have been keeping busy in the shop.  I’m working on another bench made from reclaimed lumber.  This one is composed of African Mahogany that had dried with crazy twists and curves.  I’ve been sorting through the deformed boards and dreaming up applications for the undulating surfaces.

16 Mar top rough blog

bench top after glue-up to the "keel" support

bottom of bench seat showing the sag and twist of the matched boards

bottom of bench seat showing the sag and twist of the matched boards

trimming the "keel" flush while begining to scoop out the bench top

trimming the "keel" flush while beginning to scoop out the bench top

I was able to match two boards with similar curves to make a seat that shifts from being relatively flat to being sharply cleft along its length.  I continue to carve, scrape, and sand out the top face in an effort to create a comfortable hollow.  I have started to think of it as a kind of “aqueduct” design, as the form reminds me of terraced troughs used move water for mills, irrigation, etc.

Found in Translation

For the past few weeks I have been working through two books of poems– So Chong-Ju’s Unforgettable Things (translated by David R. McCann) and Basho, The Complete Haiku (translated by Jane Reichhold).  By the time I figured out how wonderful they were, I could no longer remember what chain of events had led me to acquire either book.  And so it goes, that whim and circumstance succeed at inspiring me by means which remain elusive to more formal research.  In reading Unforgettable Things I found a collection of quiet, conversational poems in which So Chong-Ju reflects on his life and work as a poet, husband, and father.

My Marriage

“She was cleaning vegetables for kimch’i

there by the well.  When I looked out

from the men’s quarters, through the gaps

in the twig fence the sight of her

bending forward so purposefully as she worked

was enough. ‘We’ll do it,’ I thought,

and went right ahead with the marriage agreement.

So don’t let me hear another word;

just prepare yourself for your wedding.”

That is how Father selected my bride-to-be.

To check whether the choice was the right one,

I dealt out the hwat’u cards to see.

The four of empty mountain came out right,

as did the four of red clover.

The moon on empty mountain was my love,

while the red bush clover was the procurator.

The sign was very clear:

I should take the girl to wed.

The four chrysanthemums were the wine,

while the four in autumn leaves were my worries.

They did appear all at once,

but that king of thing is part of it too…

On my wedding day, at any rate,

as I pondered these matters seated upon a donkey’s back,

how it had turned out seemed in the end

more advanced than the scientific

or love affair route toward a marriage.

Basho, The Complete Haiku contains 1012 of the short poems.  It is also graced with articulate and insightful notes by the translator, Jane Reichhold.

562.

the first melon

shall it be cut crosswise

or into round slices?

Translation is a difficult activity and a fascinating process.  It is a supreme test of fluency which can only be administered by the fluent.  Reichhold is good enough to provide for each poem the original Japanese text, a Romanized reading, a literal translation, and explanatory notes.  This allows for the reader’s own comparison and interpretation of the translation and meaning, and illuminates the accomplishments of both the translator and Basho himself.  Of particular note is his play with and circumvention of the formal requirements of Haiku poetry.

So Chong-Ju’s Unforgettable Things seem to have been written in a more lyrical style, and the lack of formal constraints allows the translation to act more like an original.  The structure of a poem falls away in light of its meaning, and we are able to exist in the “eternal present” of the narrative.  I see these two methods as templates for creative activity, and am trying to balance them in my own studio.