Sunday, February 28, 2010

Death Valley: Day's End

Images from Death Valley National Park, CA, February 2010

long shadows at day's end
crawl from root of mesquite
to crest of dune wanderer,
a single traveler's memory

sun mountains up the valley tiers
making walls of mist and stone
becoming a nest for stars to inhabit,
a traveler pushed above earth's lip

ladled trace of sky bowled in amber
to web up knitted troughs of sun's gear
march blown down plain pebbled with tigereye,
a walker moves among distaff walkers

cloud anvils crash against steel rims
made of stone-scattered rip hills
licking tongue of last light groaning,
a traveler lost under desert stars

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 26, 2010


Land art sculpture made of found driftwood, on site. One curved piece at the base of the fence, evoking or representing a river.

Thinking to myself at the time, while hunting for driftwood to make into other art, later: If I lived here, in this region, my art would become even more shamanic, just because of the power of the place, the light here, and the materials to be found and used. Probably I'd just scare even more art-viewers than I do already; although I suppose one might argue that California is inherently more open to my kind of shamanic art than is the Midwest, still one doesn't make such assumptions lightly.

Later in the evening, sitting before a warming fire in the fireplace at the cottage, I sit down to draw and write. Using the new Japanese calligraphy brush pens that I acquired earlier in San Francisco, I make a drawing of the land art sculpture I made earlier in the day. And I draw from memory and imagination a stand of bamboo. I feel like this bamboo drawing shows that I've made progress with this art, as it is both realistic yet still graphic and symbolic.

bamboo cane still
clacking in dusk wind—
raven, where are you?

The drive to make art reawakening these past few days. Hunting for driftwood. Talking about art late into the night. Tonight, feeling the need for a greater silence, to be able to hear the voices of inspiration. A good result of this vacation roadtrip, during which I have made many new photographs that I feel are among the best I've made so far. A return to the road, soon, after these vacation respite stops in beautiful places, staying with friends.

The day before, wandering around the Mendocino Botanical Gardens, once again being followed by ravens. Walking out to the coastal point, past tall stands of eucalyptus and dense groves of shore pine, mushrooms sprouting everywhere after the heavy winter, red rhododendron blooming thick under the tall trees. Raven, following along, calling to me from the treeline.

Felt the need to Make things tonight. So as we sat talking, I wove a dreamcatcher medicine shield, and gave it to my artist friend. Later, sitting by the fire, listening to music, I wove two more before slowing down for the night. The fireplace suits my mood tonight: reflective, warming. So, today I've woven three dreamcatchers, made a few drawings, numerous photos, and a work of land art sculpture. That's quite a lot for one day.

I guess Mendocino County has inspired me. What else is this sudden overflow, this rush of creativity? I haven't Made much for a few months. Perhaps this turns a corner into restoring myself to where I was before last autumn's traumas and illnesses. Certainly I feel refreshed, now, on this trip—so that purpose of this vacation has been achieved. Certainly I've made many new photos on this trip so far: and as on the previous Western roadtrip, I feel like some are among the best I've ever made. It's good to feel as if one is getting better and better at making one's art, evolving, improving. Stasis is death; movement is life. (The fire pops loudly at just this moment.)

A return to life. Energy available to make art means abundant energy of life. A surge of intense art-making, if only for today, many things tripping out all at once—that's not new. It often goes in waves, in surges, in pulses and phases. Not every day. What feels new is the return to life, to be able to do this again, after a long time feeling dead and tired. So it feels good to have had a day of making lots of art—it feels good just to make art, to have made art all day. Restless hands given their freedom to whatever they do, that is Making. Being with artists this week who understand art-making, I felt no need to explain myself, or justify myself, as I made land art there on the beach; felt no need even to comment on what I was doing, nor to conceal; I did not need privacy or solitude, nor was distraction possible. That felt new to me, that lack of self-consciousness during the actual process itself of Making even though I was not alone. I felt utterly clear, utterly in the moment, completely accepting and open, completely unselfconscious. Recalling the moment, what I really enjoyed was forgetting myself—as usual, the materials told me what to do—looking and finding the right pieces and lengths and shapes of driftwood to assemble was natural and intuitive. Just being in the moment, making a piece. Nothing special. Responding to the energy of the place, making art from what was to be found lying close to hand. The hands, the soma, wiser than the mind, more sure and certain than the verbal analytical intellect, more responsive to the energy of place than ever words could be.

And that is why I am an artist, and not a poet. My default response is not verbal or word-oriented, it is somatic; what poems I do write try to convey and container that somatic response. Words just couldn't do the day justice, then and there, no matter how artificed they were.

Labels: , , , , ,

Driftwood Art

At the mouth of the Navarro River in Mendocino County, CA, a vast sandbar lies covered with many kinds and sizes of driftwood, blown ashore in the winter storms, lodged there to be moved by the tides, storms, and other waters of change. I go there with an artist friend to find driftwood for myself to carve later, to use in my artwork, to be inspired by, to sculpt with stones and other natural forms. I find several pieces of beautiful wood to take with me. I also find two or three walking sticks, straight and strong and true, for my friend to make into canes, walking sticks, and hiking poles.

And as I do only when moved by the energy and spirit of a place, I make a piece of land art sculpture, in place. I make photographs, the only thing that will endure. The wind was high, and the waves high too. So this river-fence will not endure long, probably less than a day.

RiverFence, Navarro River, CA, February 2010

I also staked solitary poles in several places, as I walked amongst the driftwood piled high, marking places that seemed to need to be marked. And I found a half-desiccated, half-torn-away seagull corpse, bones showing, feathers twirled together, the mark of mortality amongst all the dead and drifted wood.

Labels: , , , , ,

Deserts & Skies: Death Valley

Images from Death Valley National Park, CA, February 2010

salt marshes skin over
the long dry memory of summer
when mirage waters burn

traveler warmed
by low-altitude sun—
first day coat-free

stone field under hills
brushed with low clouds at sunset—
no rest for sore crow's feet!

Labels: , , ,

Death Valley Waters

Images from Death Valley National Park, CA, February 2010

It's a rare year when there is standing water in the dry former lakebed that is Death Valley. Rain or snow might fall often in the mountains, but only rarely reaches the desert floor of this graben lake remnant.

Yet this winter there has been so much rain all over the West that when I passed through, there were small lakes filling up several of the lowest places in the Valley. So I made several unusual photos in Death Valley on this visit, of the mountains reflecting in standing pools of water; photos that are rare at any time in Death Valley, and doubly rare this year for the wet zones being so widespread.

Most of these pools of water stand well below sea level. Death Valley reaches -282 below sea level at its lowest point, the continent's lowest elevation. Part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, with no outlet to the sea, the waters that pool in Death Valley, or that run off from the mountains, are full of mineral salts leached from the rocks: bitter and undrinkable by humans. Still, these rains mean that the desert will eventually bloom this spring with a carpet of wildflowers.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Self-Portrait as Roadmark

Death Valley, sunset

Labels: ,

Deserts & Skies

images from the Mojave Desert, NV and CA, February, 2010

rain veils on the hills
never quite reaching the ground—
desert light

Death Valley

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 19, 2010


Ravens everywhere.

Almost everywhere I stopped in Utah, there were ravens. More than one raven just stood there, unafraid, only feet away from where I walked on the trails. I'm sure most of the ravens along the way are waiting for food handouts.

So many seem the same. I felt like I was being followed. I spoke to them as the day went on. Sometimes they talked back; little murmurs, grunts, sometimes a throaty caw.

One raven, however, I just stood there with. He wasn't interested in handouts. We stood there together, near the lip of the precipice at Canyonlands, and listened together to the silence. No one else was around; the few people there when I'd arrived had all left, leaving us alone. There was hardly anyone in any of the National Parks I visited anyway; it's winter, the off-season for most of the Utah parks.

I experienced several minutes of that desert silence that I love. I always seem to find that silence in Utah: in those empty places where few go, and few are around. The big empty. Nevada, also, is a place to find the silence, but I've found it in Utah every time I've visited.

So I've made some great photos of Raven. As thought they were posing. I did speak to them, and thank them.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Red Canyon

images from Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest, Utah, February 2010

Driving Hwy. 12 east towards Bryce Canyon, below the fog-cloud layer, the striking reds of Red Canyon pile gorgons on top of cliffs, like a shaman throwing needles at the hills. Red points stitching the sky. Shaman dancing from pinnacle to pinnacle like a raven in the snow.

Labels: , , ,

An Important Anthology of Japanese Poetry

I was in a used bookstore in Berkeley, CA, yesterday, and found a couple of good volumes to add to my library. I was in Point Reyes today, and did the same. Whenever I'm on a roadtrip, I try to find a few thrift stores and used book stores, because the selections vary from place to place. In a college town like Berkeley, you often find very good, hard to find, useful scholarly books.

From the Country of Eight Islands: An anthology of Japanese Poetry, edited and translated by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson (1981), is an essential volume for every student of Japanese poetry to own. I've been looking for a copy for some years. At 650 paperback pages, the anthology begins with the very earliest recorded poems in Japanese literature, from the 8th Century, and ends with 20th C. poet Mitsuo Takahashi, a personal favorite poet of mine. He was a poet who, beginning in the 1950s, began writing explicitly homosexual poems; but he had a real knack for combining spirituality and sexuality in his poems, and making them both soar.

Along the way, the anthology includes large selections from all the well known haiku masters, from each of the classical Japanese "official" anthologies (that is, sponsored by the royal court or the shogunate), and a generous selection of contemporary poetry. The latter selections are particularly useful for the reader who might already know the classics, but doesn't know the contemporary poetry, or its relation to the past. Many other of the most famous and influential historical poets, such as Ryokan and Saigyo, are also well-represented herein.

That there is a vast and deep literary tradition in play here becomes apparent, and the form of the anthology brings out the many allusions and connections across time, which are essential aspects of Japanese literature. I find this anthology therefore to be both illuminating and comprehensive. There are many wells to tap into, here, that will guide the reader towards new favorites.

So this is a great overview of the entire history of Japanese poetry, which every serious student of haiku, tanka, and other Japanese poetic forms would find useful and interesting. The two translator/editors are among the best of those who have compiled many translations from the Japanese. Both are poets in their own rite. Sato has also written scholarly analyses of Japanese poets and poems, which I've found useful.

Although haiku and tanka, and to a lesser extent renga and haibun, have become well-known Japanese poetic forms, and spread internationally to be written in many languages, there are other related forms that are less known and used, for example, among English-language haiku writers. The anthology contains a Glossary of terms used in the book, which mentions some of these other, related poetic forms, which might be interesting for the experienced haijin to explore.

Here's a sampler:

Choka (long songs): A poetic form of varying length, composed of alternating 5- and 7-syllable units, usually finishing with an extra 7-syllable unit, and longer than tanka. In the Man'yoshu, the shortest choka consists of 7 units, the longest of 149.

Sedoka (head-preparing song): A poetic form consisting of two 5-7-7 syllable patterns.

Since a great deal of Japanese poetry, although not all, consists of various patterns of 5- and 7-syllable lines, it's interesting to encounter and use formal variations on those forms. There are some much looser forms; and in contemporary Japanese poetry, equivalents of prose-poem and free-verse forms are also found, including numerous examples in this anthology.

So I recommend this anthology as essential. There is a great deal herein that will open doors into poetry you might never have associated with Japan, both ancient and modern. Each important poet is given a good representation, which might lead the interested reader to go find out more about their poetry elsewhere. You can't ask more of an overview anthology than that it might lead to more specialized interest in some readers.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Zion Rain

Images from Zion National Park, Utah, February 2010

When I passed through Zion National Park, it was winter rain, occasionally mixed with snow at the higher elevations. Mist everywhere. The rare and beautiful sight of rivulets and waterfalls flowing down off the slickrock and onto the road. Snow on the northern faces of the mountains, where the sun hasn't melted it, while the southern exposures were rich with redrock slick with rain, stick trees and bands of green life.

This is the rare sight of the full arid high plateau desert in its wettest phase. I spoke to a Park Ranger later about photography; working there, practically all of the Park staff carry cameras all the time. Zion is that beautiful. When I was stopped taking these rain rivulet photos, a Park maintenance truck stopped near me, and yes indeed, two Park workers got out with their cameras to photograph the rare and temporary waterfalls.

Labels: , , ,

Zion in Winter

images from Zion National Park, Utah, February 2010

Labels: , ,

we stand alongside, listening to emptiness

raven on the fence
stands unafraid as I approach—
companionable silence

long pause in wind's breath as lowering sky slips down
black streak in high air over canyon abyss the raven lands
on a stark outcrop a hundred feet below the stone lip still
a thousand feet above the gloved lobed canyonlets below
flung together as leaves spreading out and down from riverbranch
to swerve of cut through high plateau a boat of a million years
wings fold in and tufted throat clucks once to itself content
and the waiting begins, high in the air, waiting, above the plain

long silence unfolds from basalt raven wings
we stand together in silent company, as the world pauses

Labels: , ,