Thursday, January 23, 2014

winter's cycle, bitter rain and wind

something like snowfall and secrets blue in twilight indigo shadow
hoofprints in fresh drifts under a tree red with bitter gall cherries
red glow of eye and breath steam along woods trail hidden in thickets
too cold to feel beyond this circle of candle lantern light
blue beyond the script table edge where words fail and music begins
feet cold sore fire to fire their warmth restored
no place between there and here no way to fathom the gulf
abyss of contradiction valley of shadow and remembrance
clamshell of dreams made secure in illusion
no way this horse can step on the same red anthill twice
a rose called betrayal but bittersweet and wine red in the heart
there are six hours of circles in this beaten grass a haystack religion
in the prairie rain closest under the eaves of bluff and front range
rain on sandstone fat snowflakes sticking melting not quite safe

and then there's no winter but red rose turns to white
simmer and shimmer of sign on wood stone sky cloud earth
come rising prophet come rise and see this promised land
sunflowers in the lee of storm hill and treason gulch
burn green fire in blue wolf and sun cry
circumnavigate this braised suspicion
it's all words only words and hung upon the night's edge of a fabric shroud
and into something like snowfall and secrets blue in twilight indigo shadow

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New Short Film: "Brush on Wood"

"Brush on Wood"
AD, images, words, and music
©2014 AP Durkee. All RIghts Reserved.

The brush poems and painted segments in this short film were calligraphed by hand on iPad.

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Winter NIght

it's so silent
as I go to sleep
there has been music
in my mind for days
now still and quiet

in the bitter silence
past frost-laced windows
an antlered god plows
moon white meadows
huffed breath wind-muffled

some still breath fogged
with snow makes white mist
on white fields, and I, waiting
sleepless, start at every sound
the house ticking in night's cold

an owl at the window calls
the brow horned dark velvet
lifts eyes and waits unmoving
silence deepens, becomes all
this unlined roads blues into

a greater, colder Road

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cabaret 2014 Banner

Just finished designing and illustrating the poster and web banner for the next musical event that I will be part of: Cabaret.

This began with a photo shoot with members of Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus, I then used several different digital painting methods in combination, to make the main illustration. The titling were made in Illustrator, where I usually do logos, or titling that needs special effects work.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Day Gratitudes 2013

Almost ten years ago I began writing Gratitudes instead of New Year's Resolutions. I find New Year's Resolutions to be incredibly toxic, since most people habitually set up unreasonable expectations and goals for themselves, which they can never meet, then beat themselves up when they don't live up to them. It can all seem rather masochistic. There are a few things in life which I am most definitely not: sentimental; nostalgic; masochistic. What I definitely value is honesty, and clarity, and accuracy.

I was asked by some friends, some of whom have now taken up the practice of Gratitudes themselves, to write down how it works. So here's a little "how to" essay I wrote to answer that request: Writing Gratitudes.

Now here we are near the end of another calendar year. Northern hemisphere Winter is creeping up to slap us down again. There's snow on the ground, I've just spent Thanksgiving Day alone at home, mostly resting after overdoing it for the past few weeks, and so I watched a bit of a movie marathon (I do not give a tinker's damn about televised sports events). I am sitting in a mostly darkened home, candles burning here and there, a fire in the fireplace, sipping another mug of good hot tea. I'm enjoying the near silence of a cold winter late night. The fireplace makes a dance of light and soft sounds.

I'm genuinely happy for all my friends who had big joyous wonderful family dinner reunion feasts for Thanksgiving Day. Bless all of you, and best wishes to you.

And my own head is in a different place, this year. I spent Thanksgiving Day alone today. That was mostly by my own choice. No one (well, almost no one) invited me to celebrate with them today, to join their family or family-of-friends feasts. I chose not to reach out and ask to join anyone for the day, as if you have to ask you can never be certain that an invitation is sincere or made out of guilt. I am not unhappy about that, nor do I feel lonely or whatever. I realized a few days ago that I've been burning the candle at both ends for awhile, and I've been feeling overstimulated, and wasn't sure that I had the strength to spend the day with a wonderfully loud group of fantastically convivial friends—in other words, to be even more overstimulated. We introverts need our silence and solitary times with which to recharge. I would have liked to spend the day with a small group of two or three friends, that would have been fun, but it didn't work out that way, and I don't mind. And most of the people I would have chosen to spend the day with are all at least an hour's drive away from me, if not clear across the country. No regrets.

I began the practice of Gratitudes several years ago, and it has been a good practice. And I'm really struggling with it right now. I'm not feeling very grateful, or thankful. And I'm not going to pretend to be what I'm not, just to please others. I know I keep talking about how almost dying a couple of times really has changed my perspective on many things in life, and that's really true: life is just too short to waste time and energy on things that don't matter. One of those things that doesn't matter anymore is editing myself to please you: you can count on me for continuous honesty from here on out. Not that I've ever been known for anything but blunt honesty. It's true that I value honesty and openness more than almost anything else, now more than ever. And I am actually very good at diplomacy and tact; I just prefer to use them when it's appropriate, rather than by default.

I know I have many things to be grateful for, and I am genuinely grateful for them. A small circle of best friends, who are equally honest with me. A larger circle of friends who are not as close to me, perhaps, as my inner circle, and who I nevertheless am very glad are in my life. I have a roof over my head for now, enough food to eat, and enough money to pay most of my bills. I'm not afraid of the same things that many others are, because life has taught me that I can survive those, because in many cases I already have.

And yet I am still struggling with Gratitudes this year.

Because, to be honest, I feel really dumped. The past ten years have been a continuous saga of feeling like I've been ratfuck pissass bullshit orogenically dumped on by the Powers That Be. I've been homeless in the desert, I've lost both parents, I've lost more than one close friend, I've been through some medical hell including almost dying twice, I am now apparently permanently disabled, and I remain under the threat of losing everything I own and spending all of my remaining savings on paying off medical bills. It just keeps going on and going on, and even though there have been amazing wonderful awesome great positive moments in all of this shitstorm, it's really wearing me down.

The fact is, I'm tired. It's been an uphill struggle for a very long time now, and I still am nowhere near the end of it. I've been hard on the "positive thinkers" lately, even when I agree with their basic message, which I often do, because what I need now isn't cheerful platitudes but genuine support. I still need help with getting through all of this, but it seems I still have to get through all of it on my own. Which is an exhausting thought when I've been working hard to overcome it for so long, battling uphill into a headwind, when I've been dealing with surviving a chronic illness that stole all of my endurance, strength, and stamina, and that may never all come back. I'm doing better, but I'm not well yet, I'm not healed yet, and I'm still exhausted easily. It just gets overwhelming. Everything still takes me much longer to get accomplished than anyone imagines. It can take me four days to have enough energy to get finished tasks that those have never been sick think nothing of getting done in a single afternoon. I still have to rest more than exert, most days. I do have good days, when I have almost the same energy available to me as is daily available to someone of my age who has never been chronically ill. I can even have two or three of those kinds of days in a row now—but then I have to rest almost as many days afterwards.

And yet I can't really talk to most people about it any more. They don't want to hear it, they can't deal with it, and they don't know what to do about it. I don't blame them for that. Well, actually, sometimes I do, a little, although I tend to squash that impulse and not tell anyone about it—expect that I promised to be honest herein. It's all too easy to feel like no one really gives a shit. After awhile you stop asking for help.

And after enough of this endless cycle of feeling held back every time you make even a little bit of forward progress, your sense of being grateful can get lost in the overall static. There's a lot of noise covering the signal. (If you think I'm so unaware of my own self that i don't know that the source of most of the noise is internal, you're wrong.)

i get really pissed off, sometimes, at the shallowness of some people, who seem to think that platitudes alone will cheer me up enough, or that somehow all it takes to fix everything and overcome all your problems is an act of sufficient willpower. Two problems with that: one, if all it ever took was an act of will, no one would ever get stuck, but we all do, so clearly willpower alone is not sufficient; and two, what makes you think that sufficient strength of will can be generated by someone who was sick for twenty-five with an illness whose main effect was chronic exhaustion and a depressed immune system? What's offensive is how clueless people can be about that very thing. Well, I don't take it personally anymore, and neither do I feel any need to tolerate it patiently. Recently, I've run into numerous examples of people who seem to think that, because I'm no longer being dragged further down the drain by an ongoing illness, I am suddenly "all better now" and available to take care of their needs as well as my own. Seriously. Is it that they don't understand, or don't want to? The fact of the matter is, I have a strong, very well-trained, very determined will—and it still wasn't enough.

I am not rehearsing grievances by going over this once again. I am not a victim, amateur or professional. All I am doing is laying how difficult things remain for me. There are still many challenges. It could all still fall apart again. And so I find it hard, in all of this, to find Gratitudes.

So here I am.

On a holiday of giving thanks, when everyone is supposed to gather in family groups and have a feast of gratitude and convivial argument over cultural affairs, I find myself confronted with not wanting to do any of that. I actually chose, by default, and by not being asked to join anyone else's celebrations, to spend this holiday alone. In part to rest, because I needed to, and in part because when I am this tired I find big groups even more exhausting than usual. So call it self-defense.

And there's more. I'm finding it hard to be grateful, when what I see all around me as thanks-giving seems somehow phony. I mean no offense to anyone who might read this. it's just that, once again because almost dying changed my perspectives, I have become allergic to expectations about what we are "supposed" to do on holidays, especially when the rituals and expectations actively distract us from the original, deep meaning and purpose of the holiday. We have accrued all this baggage around the holiday, and I feel that many of us have lost our way towards genuine gratitude.

It's supposed to profound. It's supposed to come from deep within the self and soul. It's originally meant to be simple, and plain, and honest.

It's easy to be grateful when you're at a feast. Yet if you can find something to be grateful for when there's a famine instead of a feast, that's when it really counts, and counts for something more. I am scrounging for things to be thankful for, right now, because I know that if I can come up with even one or two, they do count. It's hard work, and I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job.

I don't want to set aside just one designated day to be grateful, and have that be an excuse to forget about it the rest of the year.

I am struggling with Gratitude in general right now. It's not that I have nothing to be thankful for, it's that it can be overwhelmed by not having time to reflect.

I've been living from crisis to crisis (some of them literally life-threatening) for far too long, and it has worn me down. I wanted to take this holiday of giving thanks to reflect, mostly on my own rather than in a big room full of terrific yet loud people. I want to recapture recall what it is that I am genuinely grateful for. This holiday is a chance to rediscover the real purpose of Gratitudes, and not be easy, superficial, or "supposed to" about any of it.

Infinite gratitudes for the small group of friends and family who never left my side during this long descent into near-death and the long return, and who never pushed me away, or took themselves away, because they could not deal with it anymore. I know I'm not the only one who got burned out by these past ten years of actual continuous crises. Some of my friends still have no real idea. I am grateful that some of them will never have to know any more than the little I've told them.

Infinite gratitudes for the tears that cleanse, for the release and healing of weeping, when I can't go on any more, i can't cope even one more day, and I just can't see any end to any of this. I have been scrapped raw of most of the armor one acquires during a lifetime of learning to cope with a sometimes-hostile world and not become too wounded or jaded. My emotions are if anything more free-flowing and available than ever before. So I do sometimes let myself weep over a stupid feel-good movie, even one with a predictable cathartic plotline I saw coming by the second act, just because the release is good.

Infinite gratitudes even for the shitty days. This is bottom-basement lowest-level gratitude, it's nothing remotely worth being proud of oneself for. Because it looks like this: even on my worst days now, I am still grateful to be alive rather than dead. Even when it sucks to be alive, I'm grateful for it. (Why don't more people get this one? It's so incredibly clear. Well, maybe you have to come close to death to learn how to really value your life.) I did almost die. I have a powerful and unignorable awareness of my own personal mortality now. I have an incredible amount of things I still want to do in this lifetime, and I know better than anyone that our time here is limited. So even on the days I wake up feeling shitty, and sick, and weak, and not at all like I can cope with even one more thing, I still somehow manage to be grateful that I woke up at all.

Infinite gratitudes for the lessons learned about human nature that have come from this entire experience of high medical drama in my life over the past ten years. I include what I learned from my parents dying, from being their live-in caregiver, and then from myself being diagnosed with a chronic illness that had been there a long time, unknown and unlabeled.

Infinite gratitudes for the eventual diagnosis of my chronic illness, and the post-surgical confirmation of it being ulcerative colitis. Because for the first time in over 25 years I could comprehend that my life wasn't all my own fault; that I wasn't just a lazy slacker who lacked ambition; that I wasn't an aimless wanderer through life; that in fact many of the problems I'd had in not being able to sustain a career over recent years was not because I was incompetent, but because I was sick. I was SICK, you sons of bitches. Father, you never thought I was competent to handle finances or deal with life, you always thought I was weak and lazy and fucked up—but in fact, father, I was SICK. Getting the diagnosis of my long-term illness took an enormous weight off my back: a weight of guilt, of self-doubt, of poor self-esteem and confusion and suffering. I am still recovering from the psychological impact of years of being labeled a failure, even though I know that it wasn't all my fault, I really was SICK all that time. So fuck you if you still want to blame me for any of that.

Infinite gratitudes for finally being forced by illness and recovery to sort through all the mental drama and psychological bullshit, so that I could realize anew what I had known as a child, but which I let my birth-tribe's anxieties and neuroses about survival beat out of me: that, in fact, the reason I was put here in this lifetime is to make art. To be an artist. To Make, in all the creative modes that I know how to do, and in those modes new to me that I keep discovering and trying out. I was put here to be creative, to be an explosion of creativity. Everything else is secondary. Making art is what I am best at doing, and it's what I'm FOR. The Goddess made me for this. I regret spending so many years believing otherwise. And I do my best to let go of that regret as quickly as it arises.

Infinite gratitudes for also finally understanding that making art is what I'm best at doing, and I'm really not very good at doing anything else. I'm a good composer of good music. I no longer doubt my purpose in life, and I no longer lack self-confidence about it. I know I can do good work, sometimes even great work. It's what I'm good at, and it's what I'm for. And I'm really not very good at doing anything. And that's good enough. That's okay.

Infinite gratitudes for the soul-deepening and self-expanding that these years of hard pain and suffering have made happen in my Self. It has often sucked, and sometimes it still hurts, and a shallow person I am not. I'm still working on being patient and tolerant with shallowness and stupidity when i encounter it—but I'm not working that hard on being patient, because sometimes what people really need is a kick and a slap. This is why the Zen master slaps you with the stick when you start to fall off your meditation cushion.

Infinite gratitudes for that truth that, having been myself through the crucible, the refiner's fire, the forge of making, I can recognize it when I see it in others, and know what to say to them when they need encouragement or direction, should they come to me for that. I am grateful for the insights into people that have been given me, learned the hard way, by going through all that myself—even though sometimes people are afraid of me, or intimidated by my being able to see right through their bullshit to their truest selves.

Infinite gratitudes for somehow having received a push to force myself to do this writing, tonight, when it would have been so much not to. Procrastination, thy name is avoidance. I know it goes on and on, I'm just dumping it all out because I promised to be honest, and clear, and accurate.

Infinite gratitudes for wine and sex and song. Not to be indulged in to the limits of dissipation, but as the things in life that bring us together and make us feel alive and give us reason to go on.

Infinite gratitudes to Perfect harmony Men's Chorus for singing all of the music that has been pouring out of me and written down over the past few years. I am incredibly lucky to be "playing in a band" again where I get to write new music, and hear it performed. Music is the core of my life. Destroy everything else, and there remains an unkillable song. A melody that rises out of the Void, unquenchable, unending, as fluid and continuous a line of music as the vines that grow from the Greening each spring. Where such music is rooted in the Greening of veriditas, it is undying, endless, renewed.

Infinite gratitude for the exaltation and ekstasis of kenosis, kronos, and kairos. The process of emptying that leaves a void in you which can only be filled by the One. "If the only prayer you ever said in your life was "Thank You," that would suffice." —Meister Eckhart

Infinite endless gratitude for this unending creative force that flows through my life like an underground river of sparkling black water that rises up to endlessly fill and overflow the wells and springs of my life with music, art, poetry, and every blend and mix and remix of creativity that is, as I have remembered, my purpose in this life. The black water that fills me, that sustains me, that is the power under life, that which holds me up and gives me reason to go on, always. To go on, even when I don't want to, when I'm exhausted and unable and want only to sleep the long sleep, to go on anyway. "I can't go on, I must go on, I'll go on." —Beckett

And so it goes. We begin in despair, and somehow we work our way around to ecstasy, to remembered joy. Because life is nothing if not the quest to remember the joy and light from before we were born, and to which we must all someday return.

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Lessons from Having Been Bullied 5: the Dark Night

It's entirely possible to be someone who has gone through the dark night of the soul and at the same time do one's best to be a positive thinker. To wish to live in the light, and to share the values of most of the positive thinkers.

It is, however, not possible to have survived the dark night of the soul and still believe that positive thinking alone is enough, by itself, to get you through. It's not possible to be a Pollyanna wishful thinker. It's no longer possible to ignore that bad things do happen to good people.

It's no longer possible to pursue the light in denial or rejection of the dark, because you know the dark personally. You've become good friends. You've even moved in together and been roommates for awhile.

Sometimes it feels like at least some of the positive thinkers are infected with some kind of willful denial, a rejection. It just doesn't seem realistic.

Maybe it's because I've been through the dark night, or maybe it's because I was bullied a lot when young—one of the key lessons of that being that you know how people often conceal things even from themselves—and I cannot help but feel, sometimes, that some positive thinkers I've met are hiding something from themselves (or us), or suppressing it or denying. Or perhaps it's that people who have not survived the dark night—and I have met many just like this—really just have no comprehension of the more shadowy sides of life's colorful palette. They just don't get it, because they haven't experienced it. I don't know. I just wonder sometimes.

I've told my story of being bullied (for being gay, for being smart, for having grown up overseas, for just being different) to some of my friends who are dedicated to being positive in all aspects of their lives, and some of them just don't seem to get it. They're politely accepting, but you see it in their eyes, in how they won't look at you with real focus or conviction, like they really don't believe you, or maybe just don't want to.

This is not a criticism of any of my friends. It's just something you notice from time to time.

And when you tell someone you've been bullied, and they clearly don't believe you, even if they are polite about it, what are you supposed to do with that? It's looks too much like the people who didn't believe you when you were being bullied as a kid, and who did nothing to stop it, and often were in complete denial about it. When you've been bullied, one of the lasting effects is a distrust of figures of authority, because they were either clueless or powerless to stop the bullying, back then. When people deny that this happened to you, they sound a lot like the bullies themselves, who are really good at denying to the authority figures that they've done anything wrong, even when they're caught doing it. It creates substantial cognitive dissonance.

This all comes to mind because one sees the media talking heads right now asking how a big tough rookie football player in Miami could possibly have been bullied by his teammates. Neglecting to mention that they're just as big or bigger than he is. Or that rookies always get extra shit from the rest of the team. And then of course there are the comments that it's just boys being boys, roughhousing, hazing, all that stuff that serves as the usual excuses not to believe that bullying is going on, or to stop it. It's all just fun and games and you shouldn't take it seriously.

But that's the denial line. That's the rejection line. It's very odd to hear that line coming from someone who declares themselves to be a positive thinker. It makes you wonder if there's a man behind the curtain. It makes you wonder if there's denial.

One thing you learn from the dark night is just how common denial is. You don't learn this from the dark night itself, because what the dark night does is strip away illusions and denials and suppressions, leaving you naked and alone in the desert of your spirit. You learn about the commonness of denial when you return to and re-enter everyday life, when your experience has changed you and given you insight into what people do and say, most of which no longer seems real or substantial to you, after the dark night, but itself illusory. And then you try to articulate what you've been through, and no one wants to hear it. It's politely rejected, and denied, and ignored. Probably it makes most people uncomfortable. Which is all fine and good, until the moment their discomfort leads them to try to deny your experience. Incomprehension, cognitive dissonance, denial.

So, there are no answers here, just some observed realities, some speculations.

I'll say it again, just to be clear: I think positive thinking is great. It's just that it doesn't always ring true. If it's in denial of the darker shades of experience, it becomes shallow and one-sided to be believable. You can't really see Heaven till you've been standing in Hell. And that's how the dark night deepens the light side of experience. It gives it dimensionality. It gives it depth. And that matters, if you want to be whole.

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Monday, November 04, 2013

Thin Waters

Yeats, the bardic lord, foretold the condition
of modern poetry when he said, "Things fall apart,
the center cannot hold." He was foretelling the breakdown
of the centers of civilization, but it was really
as always about poetry. I've read enough
Gertrude Stein now to realize that she was right
in her self-assessment that she was shallow actually.
Words glorious words about nothing much at all.
If you get under the surface of her plays, they're parlor
plays with little drama. Still, a good pun is a good pun.
A phrase well-turned, she is the darling of the language
that that nothing poetic to say except about itself.
There's a golden maple outside my window, blown
in bleak gusts, half its leaves on the ground
shed like words or worlds, its branches still
half-leaved. It's not that shallowness is bad, unless
there's no center to hold, but that these word players
glory in their inanity. They don't even want more meat.
Robert Duncan, whose word tangles were at least as
exotic never lost the center of his purpose, which
was bardic. Bards, skalds, tellers of the insistent news
of other lands, travelers between small kingdoms
more cultural than geographic, small minds in large halls
firelit with retellings of the oldest Anglo-Saxon epics,
lust and battle and pointless deaths albeit monstrous.
Put that in your meerschaum and scribe it. I wish,
as everyone probably does, that life had some kind of
meaning or purpose, even an invented tradition rife
with accumulated verbal fossils. These vintage lake beds
are very shallow, many layers but all very thin. Not enough
time to compress them to solidity. Word-play is no bad thing.
It's just that like Duncan meaning lurks below the scintillation
of the surface tension. To glory in one's tepid ordinary,
no mass, seems shale. I keep looking for the dark matter
hidden behind the facade of words, but telescope not
wit nor jot. A list-poem of fashionable name-checks even Whitman
would reject. I ramble incoherent, here myself at play with words.
More leaves fall like words in the wind. Apples and maples all fall.
I find I cannot go along with embracing pointlessness as being
the point. Some part of me yearns for dragon's teeth in the warp
and weft, handspun yarn uneven and clumped, not perfect
but dangling with threads of connection. Go to, young language.
You can be small-scale, explore domestic mysteries, or overblown,
making a life mythic because resonant with archetypes. What else
is "Beowulf" but a cautionary tale of hubris and self-deceit?
If I name-check other poets it's to weave them not deceive them.
My own word-hoard is darker than you think.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Narrows

Here's a load of tripe, committed to destiny
rather than memory, a burden of a round
that goes to ground, unsung, unsingable.
No one wants to hear it now. A solo
for late night wineglass and solipsist.
Resources running low, worries running high,
disappearing starts to appeal. Just run away
from everything, become unknown, become
nobody anyone wants to know. Out there's
a desert not only of conception, but fact.
Sunflowers glazed in heat shimmer. Black rocks.
It's worse on darker days with no visible sun.
Heliotropes, confused, don't know who to follow.
Here's an intruding message from the mail,
reminder that no one gets away with anything.
You pack up all your worries with you. No motor
fast enough to outrun shades you don't want
to look at that lurk in the angles of any room.
The dead use a different kind of geometry.
They can ignore most walls, they run in circles,
although the worst of them, become demonic,
can only move in straight lines, and have to back
up, unwieldy tractors, to truck new angles
at the temple door, again and again. It's alright.
The sacred precincts are all out in the wilds,
all god's buildings erect by men are just decoys.
Nothing in there but field recordings. You can't expect
your weaker congregants to climb that mountain
every time. Little revelations come from littler gods.
It takes a real mountain to make a restless soul
into a rooted, deeply sourced well. Eventually
you run out of metaphors, left with just the facts
of change and worry. Don't expect to unpack
those bags too soon. What's learned can be
unlearned, but hangovers outlast a binge.
My scars remember every wound I'd forget,
if I could. Can't run too far on legs that limp,
muscles cramped and clenched on the past.
Time's required to undo each knot, time first
to crawl before you fly. Down in the arroyo,
long narrow passage dark before a waterfall,
shoulders curve under time's old weight, but
the rocks themselves support you, little gods
made of sand and time. The passage is too narrow
to allow for slouch. Stand tall or get stuck.
Even if you want exhaustion's weep,
there's no room. The geometry of surrender
is all upright. Then you're released, on your
knees again, but the air's fresh, wet and bracing,
here's a waterfall, let it do your weeping.
I don't know how to end this round, it's all
a circling intensity, a spiral labyrinth,
light and shade spun in a textured mist.
Go to ground, begin again. Silent song,
secret song, snow and stone, sung around.

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Happy Helloween from Spooksville

Happy Helloween from all the deadbeats down in Spooksville!
Just a quick vid for all the spooks on All Hallow's Eve.
Video brewed and soundscape decanted by Arthur Durkee 2013.

Just some gratuitous spooky fun. . . .

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Aubade of the Ghost of Loss

Some perilous joy, algorithm of loving,
of conscious geometry of tide and thigh and sand,
delicious salts of ecstasy,
sunlit, triple-mooned, quivering, solid,
this strand of pearl and praise, islets
adrift and melting, chocolate into ocean.

I quiver at our mutual agony, memory.
But you, you killed me, again and again,
fear creating you into what could not companion.
So lost, that room with one bed and three windows,
so lined with blind curtain and Venetians.
There was a time I wanted you or nothing.

Now this echoing re-emergence, so unfair, immaculate
resonant wipe out everything that ever happened.
We worked hard to retrieve forgiven mutuality.
It doesn't mean to work, this quiet mistrust silenced
and obscured. It means to forget, as though moving,
water like a brush on papyrus and wood, on.

Make it never happened. Make it gone. Demon lover,
I cannot let you back into my life. As though nothing.
It's the morning of a midnight just past. Dark, cold,
mysterious with spirits moving across the face of water.
How can you come back, once given and quit,
except to haunt, this night of a morning unasked.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Novels Are Not Non-Linear Enough

(This rumination was inspired by an essay by Jim Murdoch on how long it should take to write a novel.)

I love reading novels, although I think the ideal length for a novel is the novella, and most of what we get these days is pretty bloated. I read and re-read certain authors on a regular basis, and many of these are authors of novels. I'm pretty much always reading at least one or two novels at any given time. I read faster than most people, I have discovered, so I can read a lot more than many people do. I read broadly, with no loyalty to any genre of novel-length fiction except that which excites, illuminates, stimulates, and surprises.

I'm drawn to Virginia Woolf's least "narrative" novels, such as "The Waves," but also to "To the Lighthouse," one of the greatest novels ever written about the tension between the artist's temperament and the non-artist's inability to comprehend that temperament. I've read all of James Joyce, and most of Samuel Beckett. I've read all of E.M. Forster multiple times. I watch Doctor Who. I read theoretical physics, for fun, and because I'm interested in it and can understand the concepts if not all of the math. Richard Feynman is not over my head, but that's mostly because he was such a gifted teacher and thinker. I've read many of Michael Moorcock's books, including his literary criticism essays. I've read pretty much all of Nikos Kazantzakis, fiction and non-fiction alike, drawn to it because of his courageous encounters with the unknown mysteries that some call mysticism and others call existentialism. I read Peter Matthiessen's novels as well as his creative nonfiction, since he is a master of both. I read all of Jim Harrison's books, finding a voice therein that I feel kinship to out of similar experience and background, who is also different enough that I am stimulated with new ideas and directions of thought.

I read a lot of novels. Yet I don't read many bestsellers, as I find them very predictable. I don't many thrillers, which is what we call adrenaline-inducing suspense fiction written in the very plain "no-style style" of naturalistic narrative nowadays. And I don't read much "literary fiction," the genre of "naturalistic" fiction set in the present day, usually set in The Big City, that defines itself as being the only genre of narrative fiction that is not in fact a "genre" (as opposed to those categories booksellers use to help you find the books easier on their shelves: mystery; science fiction; self-help; etc.). In most thrillers and many mystery novels I usually figure out Whodunit well before it's revealed to the reader; the only time I don't know in advance of the reveal is when the perpetrator is deliberately concealed behind a screen of distractions, as I find most Agatha Christie type of mystery novels to do. I find John D. McDonald's and Raymond Chandler's mystery novels to be far more compelling, because they are character-driven rather than puzzle-driven, wherein sometimes their plots aren't very linear, their heroes and villains neither one-dimensional nor easily predictable. In most mainstream literary fiction, I am drawn to the outliers (Matthiessen, Kazantzakis, etc.) almost because they are considered outliers, a little bit odd, not quite in the mainstream. I was originally drawn to the Beats for the combined reasons that they were literary outlaws, and because several of them were openly practicing homosexuals. We find our (literary) role models where we can.

I do like to read stylistically experimental fiction (William S. Burroughs, Samuel R. Delany, Richard Brautigan, etc.), and metafiction (Jorge Luis Borges, etc.), but not because it's obscure and difficult—indeed, if I find it to be obscure mostly for the sake of being obscure, a kind of stylistc mannerism rather than form dictated by content, I throw it away—but because experimental fiction uses language poetically, in ways that shapeshift your mind into different ways of perceiving and experiencing reality. (Which is something that science fiction written from an alien species' viewpoint does too, at its best.) I like to experience thinking from inside the alien mind, even if that alien is a human from a different culture, or from a radically different psychology. I like to be surprised, and to experience new ways of thinking, of being.

So I read a lot of speculative fiction—which is usually called science fiction, or fantasy—because it puts your inside a completely different way of thinking about life better than any other literary genre. Speculative fiction is by definition a literature of ideas. Speculative fiction at its best gets my emotions engaged, because it is still telling a human story, even those told at a distance of centuries in the future, which actually is no more alien a territory than the profoundly human stories given us by Shakespeare centuries in the past. I've heard some critics argue convincingly that some of Shakespeare actually could be called science fiction, for the same reasons that Mary Shellley's "Frankenstein" is considered by many to be the first modern science fiction novel: fabulist tales told of incredible and amazing adventures in places not quite real, either in time or space, in which human beings act out the archetypes of story which such gripping writing that we are captivated and find ourselves mirrored in those distant and strange lives. Speculative fiction engages my intellect and sense of wonder, as well, because it is the literature of ideas. Sometimes it can be literally "wow!" mind-blowing, and you finish a novel that makes you think about things in ways you never had before. It can literally "change your mind," if you're receptive and open to that.

I read a lot of "regional" fiction, stories in specific times and places, stories written by writers strongly associated with particular places on the North American continent that happen to be neither New York City nor Los Angeles, the self-involved centrifugal linear accelerators of anointed Literary Establishment mainstream linear narrative novel writing. I like to read stories in places I know well, places I have lived in, places I love; places like San Francisco (which is always a character in any movie filmed there), Wyoming, New Mexico, Chicago, Ann Arbor, the Great Lakes region including Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. Fiction set in places where you nod your head in recognition of both name-checked street names and locations, and the habits and customs of the local inhabitants. Of course, by this criterion New York City fiction is very much a regional fiction sub-genre (albeit often a very provincial one), and so is fiction set in Los Angeles. One of the things that draws me to "regional fiction" is, again, that it is marginal, not in the mainstream of the East Coast Literary Establishment. I have lived a significant portion of my life in the "flyover zone" between New York and Los Angeles, and I find that writers living and writing from within the heartlands of the continent often have much more to say to me than do writers of the New England or Southern California literary circles.

I also read a lot of shorter fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. I probably read (and write) more essay and poetry than anything else.

So I read a lot of novels.

But of all literary forms, the one I am least, LEAST interested in writing is a novel.

Some of that is because I'm not patient enough to want to write something that might years to complete. It's not that I don't work at making art, and work hard at it, and give my complete concentration and dedication to everything I write. It's that I like seeing a project completed, and another one begun. As a writer, the creative process is what engages me, more than does the artistic product.

And there is also the issue of my fundamental mindset: I simply don't think in terms of narrative. I am science-trained and can think very logically and sequentially, but perhaps that's the problem: a carefully constructed linear plot doesn't engage me very deeply because it's too easy to skip ahead logically and figure it out in advance. I don't even think in terms of linear time (between theoretical physics, a lot of reading in mysticism, and Doctor Who, my experience of time hasn't been linear in a very long time), so making a story conform to the norms of a linear narrative simply does not work for me. I liked how Richard Brautigan used to break up narrative into small vignettes, not always strung together in linear sequence. I like Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness in books such as "Big Sur" and "The Dharma Bums," which is more like Virginia Woolf than anything on the New York Times bestseller lists. As a writer, I have no natural "feel" for plot, narrative, or even linear time.

I am not really a storyteller. Well, I am, because every teller of stories is a storyteller, but I'm not a "storyteller" in any conventional meaning of the term. Thomas Merton was a storyteller, so was Kazantzakis, but their stories were told in ways that no one invested in linear narrative fiction would ever really like. The kinds of stories I most like to tell, or to hear, loop around and around themselves, explore ideas from multiple directions, and step "outside" the linear narrative to look at it from a different angle. (Samuel R. Delany's "Empire Star" is a science fiction space opera that does this unlike almost any other, expanding the narrative viewpoint from straightforward linear narration to multiply-layered causal time-loops that drive the original story by making it happen after it had happened.) So when I act as a storyteller, I almost always get bad feedback from people who want easy, linear, narrative stories—I suspect because on one level they're comforting and affirming, a hedge against the chaos of life that gives comfort by giving chaos structure and order and narrative.

Yet Virginia Woolf said, and experience has brought me to emphatically agree: “Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." E.M. Forster in most of his fiction has some sense of unexplainable mystery, a break in the ordinary plot of everyday life, which often cannot be explained but which always has a profound effect on the people involved, from his "The Story of a Panic" culminating in "A Passage to India." Beckett, well, Beckett is actually very funny, people miss that about his writing; but it's gallows humor, hospital humor, the humor of those who have survived the unthinkable void at the center of destroyed lives and need to laugh because it's better than crying. Joyce experimented with stream of consciousness, but in a different direction than Woolf; some say he went too far into the terrain of the unreadable, and some have tried to come up with pat explanations for why he might ventured off the edge as they perceive it.

I am having some short stories published early nest year in a literary journal. But really they're prose-poems, and pretty nonlinear. That's how I think, that's how I write. Not in any normative traditional linear narrative style.

But I'm an artist. I'm heavily trained in science, and I know how to think like a scientist, and think logically and sequentially, but I am an artist.

Art is not engineering.

Engineering can be creative. My favorite uncle was an engineer, an inventor, a builder; I helped him build a deck on his house one summer, which he designed himself, and the deck is still there forty years later. He had a very creative attitude towards all aspects of life, which manifested as a problem-solving approach to many things, and which worked.

I see a problem when artists start to think that what they are doing is problem-solving first and foremost. (I see this a LOT among designers and graphic artists, who are also very creative people but whose work tends to consist of more problem-solving than inspiration.)

One of the reasons I don't read many mainstream literary fiction novels is that I find them depressingly predictable, especially the ones oriented more towards plot than character. I find many substitute style for actually having something worth saying. I've read Don DeLillo, I've read John Updike, Saul Bellow, and many other darlings of the East Coast (meaning New York) Literary Establishment.

So I'll probably never write a novel. It's just not a form that works for me as a writer.

Well, actually, I might. I have it in me to write a science fiction novel, maybe two. I've had the basic idea and plot in my head for years, and someday I might write it. I've started writing it two or three times over the years, only to leave it unfinished due to other things becoming more urgent and important.

Novels are generally not non-linear enough for me. The novelistic fiction that I am most drawn to breaks those "rules" of "naturalistic" narrative rather than affirms them. Like certain theoretical physicists and mystics, I view that entire form of linear progressive narrative to itself be a fiction. Or as Doctor Who once said: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but ACTUALLY from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey . . . stuff." Yeah. Exactly.

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In memoriam Dave King

My online poetry friend Dave King has passed over. (Thanks to our mutual friend Jim Murdoch for letting us know.)

This is very sad news. I will miss Dave, as will everyone else who got to know him. I can only speak for his friends online, many of whom became his friends, like myself, because of shared interests in art, poetry, and writing. My sincere condolences go out to his family and friends, and I will be keeping them in my thoughts.

Dave King was a prolific poet, and maintained a long-running blog called Pics and Poems that contained poetry, art criticism and appreciation, memoir, random bits of witty writing, and many close observations of people and nature. Dave's ability to observe and report was something I appreciated immensely.

One of the things that we bonded on was the history of art, of painting in particular, and its multimedia stepchild, ekphrastic poetry, which is poetry about visual art. Dave was sometimes very keen on the photographs I post on this blog, which regular readers know have often spawned haiku or other short poems.

There was always something cheerful about Dave's writing, as well as his online correspondence, that conveyed an unending wonder taken by observing the natural and human world. We commented on each other's blogs, critiqued each other's poems, and once or twice we communicated back and forth as though we were writing letters that were all short poems. More than once he produced a poem, or a comment, that made me laugh when I most needed it.

We shared a love of haiku. His were often funny and observational, mine a little more classically austere.

We also shared a love of writing about nature, and writing inspired by nature. One of our back-and-forth poem trades was haiku about the changing seasons.

We introduced to each other some writers we each liked, especially on the topic of creative nonfiction about nature. A few of these became writers that we equally treasured.

I will miss you, Dave. Have a safe journey, my friend.

The best eulogy I can think of is a poem.

Sometime in early autumn,
the tall tear trees wrap themselves
in wind and sunlight

now paling from summer's height,
thinner and complex,
bristles of a brush,

as though each leaf was endless.
Bones and blades and leaves. It seems
each brushstroke flicks out

past the page's defined edges
as though continued
past where the ink leaves

and subsumes itself in light,
much as we depart, unfinished
selves in the making.

Long strokes of wind make trees bow
low towards the sun.
I hear you smiling

out there somewhere in this light.

(for Dave King)

(Part of the homage in this poem is that it's inspired by some of what we shared and enjoyed. The form is a modified renga, or chain of haiku; note the syllable count. Another part of the homage here is that I went back and looked through some of Dave's comments; a poem and artwork of mine that he particularly liked got me going here. )

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Dream States

Very, very vivid dreams last night. Full of people in various scenarios. Busy trying to do things and get somewhere, the sort of dream where I need to meet someone, or get somewhere on time, or meet a plane, only things always get in the way, the airport gate keeps getting farther away, delays and misdirections, things crop up you have to get done before you can get to the main thing, I can't find the room in the crowded busy place where the seminar is supposed to happen. And so on. I usually call these frustration dreams.

But in last night's dreams, of which I can retain three or four important scenarios upon waking, there was a difference: for once with this kind of dream I was not feeling frustration or anxiety. These kinds of dreams usually make me feel, while in the dream, frustrated, anxious, annoyed, all of that spectrum of emotion around frustration and being unable to cope. But in these dreams, for once, I didn't feel that way. I felt strong, and forceful, and able to cope, if only by getting stubborn and angry enough to push through despite everything going sideways. So the tone of these dreams was different, even though the scenarios were not. My reactions were different.

Maybe it's because I have enough of that frustration and anxiety in waking life. Gods know I've been more or less continuously triggered since last week, with lots of anxiety, worry and PTSD to fight through during waking hours. So I'll take my attitude in these dreams as a good thing.

The most vivid of last night's dreams took place in a crowded outdoor area, lots of people, something like a hillside concert amphitheater. The crowded event has come under some kind of biologic attack, like a scene in a movie when the aliens invade the movie theater or big city park. I am on the fringe, in and out of the rough scrub along the verge. People are running towards the dark park. We are being urged to escape, although its not clear exactly why. The fighting or turbulence is off in the distance across the landscape. There is something about a biological situation, or experiment, that has gone out of control.

Intercut are flashes of the crowd seen in the bushes at the edge of the park with the open field beyond, seen from the knees down, walking, running, dodging, moving. A pair of legs belonging to a man, seen in glimpse after glimpse between other things. His left foot is changing, becoming monstrous, slowing his walk.

Finally I get to the park exit, near the car park, with one of my friends. I can see my car in the lot just across the highway. People around me and my friends are screaming and running. There is a man who is in the process of becoming a monster, whose body has been changing as he moves. The right side of his body is normal, but the left side of his body has changed into a reptilian humanoid form, scales, red eye, horny claws on elbows and knees, foot like a claw for ripping and tearing. People are running away from him.

I go towards him. I'm feeling adrenaline, but I go near him and ask him if I can help him. It takes awhile for him to realize I am neither attacking nor fleeing. He has some aggression showing in that reptilian eye, but he is not at the moment violent. There is danger there, but it's restrained. I have to say, as calmly as I can, "Can I help you?" several times. But then he stops his march towards the road that leads downtown and slows and looks at me. In difficult speech he tells me he wants to get downtown to confront the bio-scientist who was giving a lecture to the crowd before all hell broke loose. He believes the doctor may be able to fix his changing form, as he may have caused it to begin with. I listen and continue to offer to help. I am thinking of getting him away from the crowd that he is scaring, so I offer to give him a ride. Communications are slow, but eventually that gets through, and he will wait right there with my friend and his friend while I run get my car and pick them up.

This kind of dream, where reptile consciousness enters and starts to manifest, and change people, is often a rising up of the reptile part of the lower brain, the primal unconscious. At least it usually is when I have a dream like this. Throughout the dream I might be afraid but I remain focused and do not panic, while all around me is chaos and other people panicking. I meet the reptile self, and we do connect, and communicate, and agree to work together.

Very ancient beasts, the vast beasts within us, sometimes rise up like this. I have had many vivid and powerful dreams where I've met the vats beasts within. They are the Wild Things, those ancient animal parts of the self. They are an archetype, and need to recognized as such, and acknowledge, and honored, when they appear in your dreams like this.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

thick dreams of travel

thick dreams of travel
wake you late
might as well get up

you hear words and music
scribing themselves somewhere
in the tan papyrus

of the back of the mind
where dreams scroll
and vast beasts lurk

lines and curlicues of
thrust and melody
get it down before

the tornado of everyday
morning visits robs
you of what you can recall

Capitol Reef National Park, UT
digital painting, 2013

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Monday, August 05, 2013

The Hollow Places

That hollow place in you
Left hollow
When something you love has gone
When someone you love has left

Don't let it be filled in too soon
Or with just anything

Keep it open

Don't put a fence around it
But don't let it be filled in too easily

Let it be

Sometimes in the forest of the heart
A pine grows, sometimes a saguaro
But both are trees of the oldest Tree
Whose roots bind yours to
The root of the world

And sometimes the dark hollows
Are not a hole of what has been
Lost or gone missing
But a well

A well soon filled from below
By a flood, slow at first rising
Of black water shot with silver stars
The waters of the power under life
The creative force that drives the wold
And waters the roots of that same Tree
In which you yourself are rooted
Wellspring and branch and solace

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Conceptual Poetry: Shrug

In the ongoing, often heated debate about conceptual poetry, some voices have a more grounded analysis than others. One of these is Robert Archambeau, of Samizdat blog, who recently contributed an article to a Poetry Foundation roundup about all this brouhaha:

Charmless and Interesting: What Conceptual Poetry Lacks and What It's Got:

Fourteen months after reading at the White House, Kenneth Goldsmith found himself in the real center of American power: cable television. His appearance on The Colbert Report, though, coincided not with a general celebration of the conceptual poetics with which he is associated, but with two stinging attacks on such poetics: one by the young poet Amy King in The Rumpus, and another by the esteemed poet-critic Calvin Bedient in Boston Review. King’s criticism revolved around the idea of conceptualism as an in-group phenomenon, and on the hypocrisy of conceptual poets striking anti-establishment poses while simultaneously seeking, and beginning to find, such laurels as the established institutions of American poetry have to offer. Bedient’s article criticized conceptualism for a lack of concern with emotion and affect, which he linked with both a truncating of poetry’s possibilities and a kind of reactionary political stance. People’s responses to these criticisms, to judge by the emails, texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages I received, were passionate—half of my friends in the little world of poetry expressed delight that the horrible careerist bastards were finally getting called out for their sins, while the other half spluttered in outrage at those who dared try to quench the glorious yet fragile flames of poetic innovation.

This is a moment, then, for an assessment of the virtues and vices of conceptual poetry. What does conceptual poetry lack, compared to other poetries, and what does it have to offer? Any brief answer will, of course, be too general, but we can begin to sketch things out with reference to two aesthetic categories: the charming and the interesting. Whatever else conceptualism has got going for it, it lacks—at least in its pure form—the former. And whether one likes conceptualism or not, anyone who has engaged with it has found that it has, wonderfully or frustratingly, got plenty of the latter. . . .

I encourage the interested reader to peruse the rest of this article first, as what I am writing here is essentially a response to Mr. Archambeau.

My fundamental reaction to the brouhaha of pro/con argument regarding conceptual poetry as currently practiced is a resounding "Meh."

I shrug at the idea that anybody really cares about any of this except those already engaged in defining the argument and nature of conceptual poetry. While I highly respect Kenneth Goldsmith as an archivist and cultural bellwether, in my opinion his ideas about conceptual poetry, as most such are, give me nothing but smoke and mirrors, an no meat on the bone. I feel like Mr. Archambeau has come up with a very good synopsis of the whole situation, in his article, although he very politely avoids ripping the curtains aside to reveal the non-wizards behind them.

Conceptual poetry is, like conceptual art—and the point has been made that poetry lags behind the other arts in which this battle over conceptualism has already been fought and settled—the idea that once you understand the concept behind a poetic work, you don't actually have to read the work: the concept IS the artwork, the idea itself is what you are supposed to perceive as the aesthetic moment, while the artistic product itself is unimportant.

This applies to a lot of writing that is exactly like sample-based music: sampling art made by other artists, over which one layers one's own rap, or concept. It applies to re-writing an existing poem, to recontextualize it as a new work simply by putting a new frame around it. (This is not the same as John Cage's practice of, say, "Writing Through Finnegan's Wake," because Cage used an existing text to make a new experience of the text in a new way, which is a lot more than merely placing a new dust cover on an existing book.) You see a lot of writing nowadays made by doing a web search online then assembling a "found" text as a new work. Much conceptual poetry is anti-originality and anti-writing. A lot of it is about sampling, often without changing anything.

Of course, another way to think about this kind of poetry is that it really is nothing new, but rather is mannerist, or in the art-historical sense, Mannerist.

That is, self-referential (as opposed to observational or original), decadent (as in not interested in doing anything other than forms of conceptual quasi-masturbation), and late-historical in the sense that it is the end of an artistic epoch rather than itself being a new artistic epoch (post-modernism is to Modernism as Mannerism was to the Baroque, a recycling in exaggerated form of already-existing ideas). I see all of that in "pure conceptualism," especially when one considers that the idea that one doesn't actually need to see the art or read the poem to get the concept is an idea that Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists already did. Arguably, Duchamp did it better, too, and not just because he was first, but because he was a better artist. Similarly, "found" poetry is a very old practice.

I would think more of conceptualism if it actually had something new to present, either in terms of idea or in terms of product—but it doesn't. And that is precisely why it lacks all charm, even though it can be interesting.

And I do find it interesting. But most of it, having encountered it once, doesn't ever need to be encountered again. Like puzzles, once you solve it, there's no point in doing it again. There's no discovery in repeating the problem-solving experience because you already know the outcome.

And that is the problem in a nutshell: art needs to be charming—engaging, enticing, enveloping, inviting—not just interesting. I mean, if there's no point in having an audience, even if that audience is just a few friends, what's the point? Pleasuring oneself alone? (The dreaded M word again.)

"Interesting" in this context is just mental. There's no soma to it, no body, no sensuality—and they're PROUD of that. But art is an experience, not just a mental game. I've written before on the point that poetry that appeals only to the intellect is ultimately going to fail, and fail to have any kind of audience other than those who make it. Sound familiar? (Here again. And here.)

I find it hilarious when poets complain about lacking any kind of significant popular audience when they have worked so hard to create that very situation in which no one is interested in what they're doing.

"Charm" on the other hand is precisely what attracts us to poetry, or art, or dance, or music, which is as much as about embodied sensuality as it is about intellectual interest. In the context of conceptual poetry, "charm" is actively negated. So is anything but purely intellectual interest and engagement. This wing of the contemporary avant-garde in poetry, which sometimes oxymoronically calls itself the post-avant, is very much about disengagement, unoriginality, disembodiment, and disenchantment. I view it as an artistic dead-end. It might be very interesting in the present moment, but ultimately there's no man behind the curtain: he has been willfully removed.

So I remain unconvinced by the arguments supporting conceptual poetry—it should be said that some practitioners, like Mr. Goldsmith, seem to enact arguing about conceptual poetry as a form of performance art in its own right. I don't have a strong argument about the contents themselves of conceptual poetry, which for the most part are uninteresting, and deliberately so. I regard the meta-concept (the conception of conceptual poetry) to be itself fundamentally mannerist, and the arguments in favor of the meta-concept to be often transparently, hilariously inept. It's as if we all know that there's no man behind the curtain, but we all must wink at each other knowingly as we pretend otherwise. It's all a game. It's writing about writing that pretends to itself be writing: a labyrinth of recursive mirrors at a party hosted by narcissists.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

A Summoning of Fireflies

A new short film.

A Summoning of Fireflies. 2013.

Video, sound & music by Arthur Durkee.

Music: "Summoning" by Arthur Durkee
AD: Animoog, softsynths, bass guitar, live recordings, effects.
All Rights Reserved.

In June, when I was out shooting footage of the wind in the grass, as dusk fell the fireflies began rising from the verge. They pulsed alongside the road ditches, in the trees, and over the fields.

I have spent several evenings this summer filming fireflies at dusk, gathering a lot of good material. This short film is the first in a series.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Queer Art Show in New York City

I was very pleased to participate in this Qweer Arts gallery show in New York City, that was put on by the gallery and RFD Magazine, in celebration of the magazine's new issue featuring lots and lots of great art. I have artwork in the magazine as well (look for Dragon), which is why I was invited to participate in the gallery show. I'm very glad for the opportunity, and very glad I was able to participate.

I sent six works of homoerotic photography and digital art for the gallery show. One work was purchased at the gallery opening, which is very exciting.

So I regard the RFD Magazine "Qweer Arts" show to be a big success. Six prints of my photo-based digital artwork were shown in a gallery in New York City, and one of them was sold! Adding these elements to my artist's resumé brings me a lot of joy.

Thank you.

This is the third gallery show that my work has been shown in, in 2013. I hope this might be viewed as a good omen of Things To Come.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

stars in grass alongside bright sky fade

cool of evening
walks alongside silence:
this waving grass

a good year for fireflies, now late at night off in distance
howling, maybe coyotes, over the fields and far away
along the river shore lights pulse green-gold on darker emerald
trees and grasses along the verge a knot of possibility
high summer wet warm wearying while cicadas mourn
singing long desperate howls in midafternoon sunblaze
nightsong distant lonely voices of desert dogs wandering
up alingside verdant river green liffull beneath a purpling dusk

in small blue above tall forest tops a crescent moon licks silver
light from azure blue indigo to carve a sickle caul across black night

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Monday, July 08, 2013

consort, with fireflies

An evening of Renaissance winds in a cloistered tent on prairie's edge. As dusk deepens to blue, fireflies rise from prairie fields and grass and tall flowers under cypress. Green pulse on stem of tiger lily, cupped in hand reflecting. Bronze lions watch these moving lights. Whine and throb of ancient pipe and reed. A skirl of dance marks time to the finger-tapped drum. Redwing blackbird in the bower sings counterpoint to sacred chant, while crickets drum in corners. Unbroken consort of recorders. Voices tuned to rhythm and pace of breath. We are still as rapt grass in windless rows. Night's shadow line crawls high behind this brightened stage. Long intertwined counterpoint of melody weaves spirals and leaves in air filled with weaving pulsing light. Long past the blue hour in still twilight lights scatter along the road. These darkened fields full of life turn to rush towards light. All alone in the alien darkness of empty backroads winding past lost hearths, I drive homewards through crowded firefly constellations.

prairie evening
concert lit by fireflies:
ancient music

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A Thousand Words About Endings

(A Spiral Dance essay.)

Not for the first time in my life, nor even the third, an important relationship in my life ended because the other person had an idea about me that was wrong, or thought I had done something that in fact I had not actually done. This has happened more than once, and in quiet moments of self-reflection, I wonder. It's been on my mind today, sadness and bitter regret and anger and hurt and contemplation and acceptance all mixed together.
More than a misunderstanding, the event itself, that has been said to happen, can be a matter of perspective and interpretation, and sometimes viewpoints are so relative that they seem to exist in different universes. But people get very attached to the narratives that they create for their lives, especially those in which they become locked into being in the right, so that you must be wrong, and so justification and rationalization come into play. Most people have egos that need to be fed, and are not capable of suffering much contradiction. So your viewpoint might not even get a hearing, or might get dismissed, and if you insist on creating a dialogue, which takes two or isn't real, sometimes you get rebuffed. Nowhere.
So what did I contribute to the situation? It's a reasonable question. Yet when the other party accuses you of something you know you didn't do, and won't listen, it's a question impossible to answer. I've considered it often, and with no feint towards justification I can honestly say I don't know. Both parties feel wronged, but only one wishes to work it out.
For my part, I know well that I live my life at a level of intensity and passion that some people simply don't like, and don't want to engage. So maybe the other felt provoked. Yet sometimes the rationale for a break-up is dishonest in that an excuse is found rather than the truth being told. People look for an excuse to conceal their real, even unconscious, intentions. Sometimes people think that's the best thing to do, or the least likely to cause suffering, which itself can be another layer of delusion or self-deception.
For my part, I always prefer telling the truth. It's easier, it's simpler, and you don't have to waste time trying to remember which lie you told to which person. But not everyone feels that way. Most lies we tell are self-supporting justifications, or rationalizations that appear to make sensible our most irrational urges and compulsions. Learning to live more consciously means first of all that you have to stop lying to yourself.
And that can be the hardest work you've ever done on your own self. I know for a fact that on at least one occasion, probably two, the person pushed me away, or rather found a reason to break up with me, because my presence was requiring them to stop lying to themselves about something in the core of their being. I made them uncomfortable. Not deliberately, not because I wanted to, but because of my insistence on honesty, and my refusal to go along with the lies they were telling themselves. Lots of people do not like very much honesty.
But in a relationship that's what I have to give. Honesty. I do not do codependency, and the reason I do not do it is because it's always built on lies we tell ourselves, like the idea that we don't deserve anything better. People often reject honesty when it doesn't serve their self-aggrandizing interests. Our illusions can seem more comfortable or pleasing to us. We are all guilty of that, me too, once or twice in our lives. But codependent people live within an even deeper tangle of delusions and despairs. They often believe that love is supposed to hurt, so they work subconsciously to make it painful even when it doesn't need to be.
Which is why I find it so fascinating that this pattern of being rejected for something I never said or did keeps happening, in my life, that people shove me out of their lives because they have decided to believe something about me that isn't true. Of course, you don't always get a chance to tell your side of a conflict.
I must consider if this is a flaw in myself, of which I am not conscious. That's why I mentioned intensity and passion. It has been pointed out to me by a few friends that my personality can, without my knowledge or intention, dominate a room. I've been told I can change the mood of a room just by walking into it. I have learned to be much more aware of that, since it's not something I want to do, usually. I hold myself back. I rarely let show the full force of my personality. I've gotten used to being invisible.
Maybe I just keep choosing complicated, damaged people to love. Maybe the reason I end up alone is because I am in their lives for the period of time it takes them to grow up, and then we're done, and we grow apart. Maybe I should just open a finishing school.
But there is another possibility, if you examine life from an archetypal, symbolic level, a level of oversight that floats above the everyday and can look down upon events with dispassion and honesty, that the relationship was already done, and it was time for me to move on. It wouldn't be the first time I was severed from some situation and person that made me feel comfortable and accepted, but like an eagle fledgling needs to be pushed out of the nest so that it could learn to fly, I needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone.
So maybe when the job is done, some higher purpose forces me to move on. You are of service, and you must go on to the next job. Maybe this functions on the archetypal level of sacred contracts. Maybe that's my purpose, here, my job. An unarticulated and secret function, as healer and shaman. Not all healings are obvious, and you don't always get to know the outcome.
At this point I do not expect to ever have a permanent, long term love relationship. It doesn't seem to be my fate. If I'm honest with myself, it's not the way I'm wired. I will probably always be alone, which has its own challenges. I don't seem to be wired for monogamy, anyway, nor shall I be permitted its pleasures. Who cares? I've survived thus far, and who knows what the future might bring.
All I know for certain is that here is a pattern. Patterns always mean something. You have to pay attention whenever you discover a pattern, or there is no chance of altering it. No doubt these musings will mean nothing to anyone but me. So be it.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Perfume of the Desert

A staring at the wall kind of day. Across this grassy field
the tops of riverside trees are winding fast in a hazy
humid late morning sky. I got here as soon as I could.
Now it's a matter of recovery, of absorbing silence.
I just discovered someone I used to have a crush on
is dating again. I know I don't stand a chance, not now,
probably never, so I don't imagine I'll even try. That steam
is fished out. But you can't help thinking. Roving rivers
of blind memory. In Arabic there's a word for the kind
of memory that comes over you sudden, a full bodied
kind of memory, and you relive a moment you'd forgotten,
or tried to. It's called the demanding memory. It demands
of you what self you are able to give. This morning is like
a sough in the thicket alongside a northern summer
gravel road. I can smell dirt dust in the air. I have no hope
of ever unraveling these ties that blind. People you like
seem to linger at the edges of your life, while people you
love seem either at the center of the radar scan, or completely
absent. An either/or of magnificent endurance. People
I don't like very much gather like a traffic jam where
one should never happen, small streets by a small lake in
a small town. Usually it's just about rubbernecking the latest
disaster, not because anything durable has happened.
We're all mayflies in the wind, after all. It's the end
of wisdom, at the end of life, that leaves you gasping,
a fish out of water, on the steps of a rickety wooden porch
somewhere no one knows who you are, I could die here,
and no one would know. That last thought before you do.
What we hate lingers so long because it's just pickled love
gone sour. Given an inkling of hopeful chance, we'd love it
again, and walk placid as wild turkeys towards doom.
A yearning for that shirt hike from desert to oblivion.
The slow motion violence of those cloudless trees
becomes this backdrop for self-flagellating melancholy.
How can I move forward when everyone wants to drag
me back down into the mud. Solace comes from ignoring
people and talking with redbirds. Even though it rained
hard these last few days, I sniff a tang of alkali dust
in air blown all the way from Nevada to Lake Michigan.
No wind strong enough to scrub it loose. Tang of dead cities,
eroded metals pooled in temporary lakes that lead to no ocean.
I've lost all ability to tell potential lovers what they do to me.
I'll settle for these crumbs from the sidelines. You lose the desire
to risk when rejection is inevitable. Small consolations of
higher forms of love, spiritual, intellectual, distant, worshipful,
the perfume of the desert, either tang or memory of tang, a cup
long drunk, long hungover, long regrets in echoes of a breeze
combing its fingers through hair of trees. Such hard work to resist
this sudden pathetic wail that comes over you with its
demanding memory. I haven't got much left to offer anyway.
The safest muse is the distant one, the muse you watch from afar,
the one that doesn't threaten immolation, moth wing to candle
bright as fusion, soaring in too close. I'll keep my distance,
lessons burned. Let's rename all these birds, give those green
tall stands which brush the wind a new name, a heartwood name.
In my distraction I ignore how solitude becomes a habit,
you have to work up the courage to say hello. People go
to church and nightclubs less for the worship than to meet
each other. If they took their shirts off to dance in church,
that's a religion I could follow. Sweat and wine flung
everywhere. I don't have any conclusions, I just watch
from the sidelines as usual. Once earlier in life I fell
into an abyss, not only of despair, so these latest rituals
of affiliation and desire seem pale to my roving jurist eye.
I'm told you're supposed to feel more alive when you're
near the flame of love, but my wings keep getting burned.
I plummet. I can't afford to fall back in worship with one
who never noticed the first time around. I have no fear
of immolation, I've been a phoenix here before. No,
what I fear is so much more red. When I get on the dance
floor it tends to summon darkness. Memories demanding
sharp as knives remind me how blunt instruments rise
from corner shadows whenever I let loose. Once again
I'm a wallflower at the dance, sore feet notwithstanding,
not because I fear the flame. I'm immunized by being burned.
Once again what I most fear lies in myself. That power
that smolders, deep within, that makes them all
turn pale and flee. A brooding volcano nothing can erode,
fire in the mountain's throat. It's when they realize
I'm not the moth, they're not the fire, that they retreat.
I've tried to civilize this inner mounting flame, to no avail.
I guess I'll always be in shadow, not in the spotlights.
I'll leave behind a stink of burning stone, dust
in the wind. I'll leave a mark along a trail, a maze
to master if you can. An ugly milkweed where there should
be cactus. Stand on the ridgeline, take in blue air
hazed with wind and distance, its scent of dry lake dust.
Bitter grit on tongue, nose full of rocks. Sweet memory
of cornflower. No, I won't try to follow you again. I'll live
alone and learn to like it. I'll never go back to that
village, not where the long boys gather in gloom
of dusk to preen their feathers and firedance. I'll let
my lungs be satisfied with gypsum, salt, and terror.
I'll salve your fear of wildness with such easy lies.
I'll make a bonfire with my heart, and dance alone
beneath such alien stars. My home's this heaven
haven where the sparks fly loose as wind in trees,
where none can hear me sing.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Creativity: Writing, rather than Writing About Writing

This week I have been sorting through piles of books and CDs, deciding what I can live without. I need to thin the herd, lighten the load, divest. Yesterday I unloaded a satchel full of books at a used book store, one friendly to the obscure, the academic, the poetic, the literary.

I realized, in my sorting, that I have over time amassed an entire library on LGBT/queer/gender theory and LGBT history, all these heavy-duty big books written from an academic and philosophical viewpoint. I've read them all, and realize I'm not going to read them again. There are a very few of these that I will keep, as the only ones I'm ever likely to re-read or consult ever again (like John Boswell's books, Martin Duberman's history of Stonewall, etc.). But most of these need to find another home. Yesterday, the used book store took them all in, and will pass them on. (The recycling of ideas.)

But in truth, the more important realization here is: I'm an artist.

To engage with LGBT studies in future for me is to make art about it, rather than to read or write a dissertation about it. Now that I've embraced being an artist, it's time to let go of my academic background.

And one way I do that is to make art about how I respond to LGBT life, rather than to write a theoretical paper about it. Thus, I have a two-page spread of artwork in the current issue of RFD Magazine, in their brand new "Qweer Arts Issue." (And I plan to participate in the art gallery show that is being planned to highlight artists from the issue.)

Writing, rather than writing about writing.

There are limits to the intellectual and academic study and analysis of the way we live our lives. There are limits to talking about it, as opposed to doing it. I went through graduate school. I can actually read and understand these kinds of heavy-duty high-theory academic books. I know the lingo, I know the theories, and I know the history. (I am a data sponge.) I was actually read good in graduate school: I was an excellent, thorough researcher, and a good writer of thesis-like papers. I got good grades, and was well-liked by most of my professors, one or two of whom thought I could be a brilliant scholar in future.

But that's no what happened. Academia, the university as an educational and research institution, has its own rules of survival, "publish or perish" being only the most famous example, that I could not adhere to, in the end. Grad school politics did not engage my heart, and so I did it poorly. Even though I was very good at the scholarly side of academic life, I failed at the political side.

Most importantly, however, I left grad school, I now believe, because I knew on some level, at the time still a pre-verbal level, that I'd rather write music than write about music, I'd rather make art than write about making art. Making art is what I do best. I'm pretty good at writing about making art, too. But I never wanted to be a Critic, an intellectual who analyzes the artwork of others and never makes his own. I know now that I never would have fit in, in academia; I might have been a good teacher, but probably not a good Professor.

I still write about making art and making music, although I write about it because I'm interested in the creative process as a process. I make notes. I leave breadcrumbs. I document and study the process itself, out of fascination. I have written a great deal about the creative process, and the arts. It's one of my main topics as an essayist.

And I enjoy reading what other artists and writers and poets and composers have to say about their own creative processes. (Stephen King's book On Writing is a wonderful book, even if you don't like anything else he writes.) I love that kind of book, and have an entire library of "poets on poetry, writers on writing" sort of books. I have an entire library of John Cage's books.

But I don't want to read another academic book about queer theory, LGBT theory, or theoretical models of queer living, when what I'd rather do is go live life as a creative gay shaman artist poet composer painter, and respond to life lived as an artist instead of an academic.

I have no regrets about the academic period of my life—except perhaps for one: I never should have let anyone convince me that I was supposed to write ABOUT music, rather than writing music. But even that is a minor regret, because it was part of the path that led me to where I am now.

I embrace that I am a maker, not one of those who talks about makers, although I think it's okay for makers to talk about what makers do. I write, rather than write about writers writing. I embrace the paradox that I am writing, now, about writing about writing. But I'm still writing about the creative process, not about the "product" that I produce. I have little interest in telling you how to think about the art I make, or telling you what to believe it means: I'd rather you discovered that on your own.

As the haiku master said, centuries ago: The poem is only fulfilled when the reader completes the poem by bringing his own life-experience to the reading, filling in the gaps with those things we all have in common, just because we are human.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

on the shore of the last sea

and we meet them on the shore
of an endless sea in blue twilight in bright sun
brighter so bright one can barely see past sun tears
as more and more of our beloved dead gather
to greet us to love us to say hello and farewell one time
more in the promise of something we cannot contain
the lost restored to each other
all sorrows healed
not papered or scarred over but gone as if they never

and we meet them on the shore
as the light of that long bright afternoon fades
to blue wind and lapping waves
rising out of the waters we are born from
and to which we inevitably return
when our span of suffered growth is done
given to each other given our sons to the sun
held in hands blessed with infinite brilliant

and we meet them on the shore
where at the edge of vision gold sunflowers
stand tall offering of vigilance
a requiem of attention
shadows of clouds reflected in wind-bled waters
sound of waves of that lapping last shore
sound of breeze in tall grass and flowers
sound of sigh of breath of sleeping children
sound of trees beyond the windows
all one sound the same sound same sigh same breath
all one

and we meet them on the shore
as they go forward into silence
fingers sliding apart last touch after long merge
until we too we also
meet our own children our own loves
from the other side of this meeting place
we dead now those who go on
and return to water in blue

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

his long sleep in black wells of ink

(for my father)

particular performance
limbo of flowered time
purple and white wounded morning

long past the hour when all good ends pass into dusk
severed conduits of the fruit of life, blind passage
into cool, long nights, long since skipping required roads
this stack this smoke of knowledge kindled into gross
habitation stone solidity flesh and blurred sinew, a fact
of ravens, simple digression into horror's shame and brute surmise
where each stem thorns and blooms burst night-wild
and winsome into quilted garden rows bedecked with solace

you've long since ghosted past into perfected end
where shape means so much less than sorrow

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