Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stinson Beach Sunset

Now the sun had sunk. Sky and sea were indistinguishable. The waves breaking spread their white fans far out over the shore, sent white shadows into the recesses of sonorous caves and then rolled back sighing over the shingle.

The tree shook its branches and a scattering of leaves fell to the ground. There they settled with perfect composure on the precise spot where they would await dissolution. Black and grey were shot into the garden from the broken vessel that had once held red light. Dark shadows blackened the tunnels between the stalks. The thrush was silent and the worm sucked itself back into its narrow hole. Now and again a whitened and hollow straw was blown from an old nest and fell into the dark grasses among the rotten apples. The light had faded from the tool-house wall and the adder's skin hung from the nail empty. All the colours in the room had overflown their banks. The precise brush stroke was swollen and lop-sided; cupboards and chairs melted their brown masses into one huge obscurity. The height from floor to ceiling was hung with vast curtains of shaking darkness. The looking-glass was pale as the mouth of a cave shadowed by hanging creepers.

The substance had gone from the solidity of the hills. Travelling lights drove a plumy wedge among unseen and sunken roads, but no lights opened among the folded wings of the hills, and there was no sound save the cry of a bird seeking some lonelier tree. At the cliff's edge there was an equal murmur of air that had been brushed through forests, of water that had been cooled in a thousand glassy hollows of mid-ocean.

As if there were waves of darkness in the air, darkness moved on, covering houses, hills, trees, as waves of water wash round the sides of some sunken ship. Darkness washed down streets, eddying round single figures, engulfing them; blotting out couples clasped under the showery darkness of elm trees in full summer foliage. Darkness rolled its waves along grassy rides and over the wrinkled skin of the turf, enveloping the solitary thorn tree and the empty snail shells at its foot. Mounting higher, darkness blew along the bare upland slopes, and met the fretted and abraded pinnacles of the mountain where the snow lodges for ever on the hard rock even when the valleys are full of running streams and yellow vine leaves, and girls, sitting on verandahs, look up at the snow, shading their faces with their fans. Them, too, darkness covered.

—Virginia Woolf, from The Waves

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Wrathful Deities

image from the Asian Art Musuem, San Francisco, CA, February 2010

I am drawn to the Hindu-Buddhist deities who express wrath, rage, horror, and anger—as tools for enlightenment. That is the essence of Tantra: the harnessing of the powerful, negative, corrosive emotions as fuel for liberation and release. The wrathful deities are fearsome and frightening, yet their purpose is to guide you towards enlightenment. Perhaps it is because as a young boy I was raised in southern India, surrounded by Hindu temples, gods, and minor deities. Perhaps it's because I perceive a truth and reality in Tibetan Buddhist (Tantric) psychology that is insightful and logical; the logic of the collective unconscious mind, even the soul, which carries forward from the basement floors of our selves into everyday life.

The wrathful deities are aspects of the peaceful deities—you could think of them as the "tough love" deities of enlightenment, who shock you awake if the meditative quiet of the peaceful deities hasn't done so. What does it take to wake you: a quiet tap on the shoulder, or a head slap? I admit I'm prone to needing a head slap. Life can distract me all too easily, and I lose focus.

The wrathful deities are also protectors. In Japanese Buddhist lore, there are wrathful-seeming temple guardians at the gates of every major temple. These are the fudo, protectors, whose angry and violent ways were won over by the Buddha's teachings. Now they turn their scary visages outwards, ensuring the peace and sanctity of what lies within. They keep the demons out. In Balinese Hindu-Buddhism, there is a belief that demons can only travel in straight lines; so the entrance to the temple always has a blocking wall, or a maze, which humans can dance around, but which prevents demons entry. And the demons who have been converted to the side of the light stand on either side of the deflecting walls, further keeping the sacred precincts safe and whole.

All of this innately makes sense to me. Perhaps it's my childhood in India that makes it so. Perhaps it's the logic of Jungian psychology, which affirms the reality and power of those shadow forces within us that have such deific power, and who, via the work of integration and self-knowledge, become allies rather than adversaries. If you are afraid of those aspects of your self that seem wrathful and filled with violence, if you try to deny them, they will come to own you, you will become the puppet of your own suppressed inner forces. We are all both angels and demons: the truth of human life lies in finding a balance.

"Buddha" means The Awakened One, and the underlying message of Buddhism has always been, no matter what form it takes: "Wake up!" There are avenues of peace, that involve meditation, prayer, and quieting the mind. There are avenues of action, non-violent at their core yet seemingly frightening and wrathful. The realization of Tantric Buddhism is that all these avenues work: they are all effective means. If one means does not seem to work for you, as an individual, there remain other means.

One of the Hindu deities that I feel closest to, whose attributes and story speak directly to me, is Ganesha. Ganesh is the Lord of the Crossroads, of travelers. He is Lord of Obstacles, who both removes spiritual and material obstacles from out path, and also places them there, if there is something to be learned from being blocked. He is the elephant-headed god, the scribe of lore and learning, the keeper of the gods' diaries. He is often seen as a cheerful figure, a laughing and humorous god with a playful sense of humor. It is easy to like Ganesh. For regular travelers, keeping a talisman or icon of Ganesh in your vehicle or travel bags is soothing.

The Hindu-Buddhist aspect of my personal, idiosyncratic spirituality tends to come forward when I'm dealing with my own personal psychological and spiritual crises. I have my own temple guardians, and keepers of hearth and home. Even the Hindus know that all the gods are emanations of some deeper Mystery. They are masks of god—for me, they are particularly easy masks of god to relate to. The peaceful deities are as much masks as the wrathful deities. Sometimes it's easier to relate to the wrathful deities when you feel wrathful yourself. You realize that rage is just another fuel for liberation, that there is nothing inherently bad about it. The effectiveness of wrath lies in where you apply it, where you direct it: you can turn it inward self-destructively, or you can direct it at the inner predators who need to be slain, so that the whole person may be freed and brought into the light. The peaceful and wrathful deities are emanations of each other, as well as of the silent and hidden divine godhead from which everything arises. The self can move back and forth between perceiving the necessity for compassionate action as something that soothes and something that is a yoke to be borne. Avalokiteshvara becomes Mahakala, who dissolves back into Kwan Yin. Each are mutual aspects of each other, once you realize that all are One.

For me, the wrathful deities serve as guardians of my own inner temple, as slayers of the inner predators that would lead me into unrelieved and terminal darkness, as teachers and reminders that I must be fierce and strong myself, whenever I am faced with those darker forces within the self. Perhaps eventually I will be able to face down the inner predators with the calm smile of a peaceful deity; yet for now, I am more often required to be the Warrior than the Buddha. Yet everything is change, and even the most stubborn among us may evolve. Those doors are always left open, guarded on either side by the converted aspects of our own wrath. The interior castle lies within.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Re-Enchantment of Art 2: Tribal Voices

Sometimes you must look backwards, at your origins and roots, before you can proceed forward into the unknown.

Many contemporary anthropologists have learned the lesson that writing ethnology is literary writing: anthropology is a literary discipline as much as an ethnographic, research-oriented one. Fieldwork is still essential: going out and living with the culture and people you intend to study, becoming a participant-observer rather than a fictively "objective eye" reporter. When you immerse yourself in a culture that is not your birth-tribe's culture, you learn as much about your own roots and birth-tribe as you do about the other, since it is impossible not to reflect on your own life in the context of reflecting on the lives of others. We travel to learn about our homes. We learn what is different, what is alien, what is Other. This Otherness that we encounter when we travel to the field is the mirror of our own Otherness.

Without stealing or appropriating another culture's beliefs, without co-opting anything, without being superficial and naive about it, there is deep artistic and social value in listening to the tribal voices. In terms of art, fine artists have often looked to tribal art for renewal, for inspiration, and ideas. Picasso and his contemporaries were openly inspired by African tribal art making the rounds in the museums of Paris about the time that Cubism was being developed; there was a direct influence on Cubism. Is that stealing from a tribal culture? Perhaps not: if the artist then runs with it and incorporates it into his or her new art: a fusion, rather than merely copying. Influence is only theft if all it does is imitate, without going beyond and developing into something new. If it's more than just quoting, if it's more than merely reproducing, there is a chance of renewal.

Yet artists don't have to look to indigenous cultures alone for inspiration. Every culture has its own tribal voices, even those cultures considered post-tribal, urbanized, and industrialized. What is more tribal than inner-city ghetto culture? Or graffiti "tag" culture? Tribalism always reappears and reemerges in unexpected ways. Hip-hop culture all too often expresses the darker shadow side of tribalism, yet still it coheres as a tribal way, and that is its power.

Since the philosophical and scientific Enlightenment, 300 years ago in Europe, Euro-American culture has increasingly come to live in its head, forgetting sometimes that it even has a body. We intellectualize everything, and think we can solve our problems by thinking them through. Thus, we ignore easy and obvious solutions that had been available to us, before we forgot about them, that are body-centered, even body-prayers, and that connect us with the land.

My own birth-tribe, which I can trace back to the Vikings and to the Celts, has a rich source of tribal wisdom to draw on. There is northern European traditional shamanism from ancient Ireland. There are the Sagas, preserved in Iceland and written in Old Norse, which tell the tales of men and gods from the Viking era of conquest and settlement. There is a legacy of daily contact with the masks of god, with the divine and numinous in many forms.

it is this recovery of the daily encounter with the numinous and liminal that can re-enchant our art. It is the awareness that what is magical lies close to the surface of the everyday world, if we but pay attention. It is the sense of wonder that every child has, which is eventually beaten out of them in school, and by life, but which can be recovered. Even a life's darker moments are liminal.

In a festschrift volume about mythopoetic writer Robert Duncan, Sean Golden contributed an article which contains an excellent overview of the unified Celtic approach to art, literature, music, and indeed to life. This stands well as a descriptor of both ancient and modern Celtic modes of making art: a tribal heritage I can also call my own. This excerpt also appeals to me because it addresses my own pursuit of abstract realism in photography.

Illuminated manuscripts, the greatest examples of Celtic painting, typify Celtic art with their intricate abstract forms which reveal a simultaneous realism. Whole borders of manuscript pages are taken up by interlocked spirals and concentric circles which, distinguished at first only by color, depict birds, hounds, or serpents whose elongated necks and limbs entwine their neighbors. They clasp each other in their jaws and ancillary lines followed out to the sides reveal legs and claws, but the body has been subjected to abstract patterning. Abstraction and naturalism as a visual pun introduce an exuberant humor. An example from the Book of Kells will illuminate this.

One page is devoted entirely to the word Quoniam. The Q dominates half the page, containing u and o within itself, while the letters niam are relegated to a lower corner. A troop of human figures wind their way among the letters. A translation of the Latin introduced by this word explains why—"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand. . . "—it is a verbivisual pun. The pun is the essence of Celtic art and literature, and many passages cannot be adequately translated because they are, like [James Joyce's] Finnegan's Wake, densely packed, multilayered sequences of puns whose meanings are simultaneous and often contradictory. Verbal facility, the felicity of puns, emphasis on individual words, particularly proper nouns, etymologies—all of these form the content and structure of Celtic literature. The tendency towards abstraction reveals itself through strict and intricate rules for meter and sound. This insistence on a careful and intricate patterning of sounds to which content is frequently subordinated parallels the abstract quality of Celtic art. The Celtic mind took in everything whole.

—Sean Golden, "Duncan's Celtic Mode," in Robert Duncan: Scales of the Marvelous (New Directions, 1979), p. 212

The "verbivisual pun" aspect of Celtic art leads towards my own experiments in illustrated, illuminated, visual poetry. Like my Celt ancestors, I like how puns within a poem can create multiple layers of meaning, adding what I sometimes call resonance or depth of meaning: the further in you go, the more layers you find, sometimes contradictory, sometimes all the way down to the substrate where the gods are born. I like visual puns as well as literary puns, and when I illuminate a poem (illuminate rather than merely illustrate, leading us towards that combination of words-and-image that is visual poetry, haiga, etc.) I think about how to access and emphasize some of the "hidden" meanings of the text. Not hidden, actually, but off to the side, or not obvious on the surface.

Celtic tribal perception was gestalt perception: taking in everything as a whole, rather than breaking it down via reductive analysis. There are plenty of details to look at and analyze, but the overall form and shape, its shimmer and weave, are more important. When I write music, or poems, or make art, I leave room for indeterminacy to come in, and surprise me. As the artist, I like to amaze even myself, first, before any one else sees the work. In music, I often think in terms of gestural shapes and forms, in which the actual notes are subordinate to the phrase and arc of the form.

What do our tribal voices say to us? What do they remind us to feel and be? This is what they say:

Be mythic in your art (not inflated in your ego). Stand on the shoulders of the tribe of giants who are your ancestors. Use their wisdom, which they acquired across millenia of living. Reclaim your own rootedness and groundedness in the earth itself, through the feet of your tribal history. Respect the land you husband, rather than own. (Who can own the land? We'll all here only a short time, while the land endures for millions of years.) Find connections with the animal and plant spirits that surround you, connections which sustain and nourish. They are a dialogue with the spirits of the place where you live. Remember that nature is not other than us, it is not separate from who we are, and it is not merely "dead matter"—it breathes, just as we do. The cycles of the moon, sun, and the planet we live on are all interwoven, and affect us more directly than we often let ourselves be aware of. Stop living in your head, and move back into your body. It's through the body, the dancing feet, that we feel the land, and know ourselves to be part of it. Hike barefoot wherever possible.

By way of closing, here's an incredibly inspirational and sharply pointed video from Yothu Yindi, the indigenous Australian band. I saw them on two US tours in the early 1990s, and was utterly enchanted; both with their musical fusion of Aboriginal and rock musics, but with their political message delivered in an artistic, toe-tapping way.

The opening lyrics to "Tribal Voice" are central to what we're talking about here, so I'll give them the last word. Listen!

Tribal Voice

There’s a wakening of a rainbow dawn
And the sun will rise up high
There’s a whisper in the morning light
Saying get up and meet the day

Well inside my mind there's a tribal voice
And it's speaking to me every day
And all I have to do is make a choice
'Cause I know there is no other way

All the people in the world are dreaming (get up stand up)
Some of us cry for the rights of survival (get up stand up)
Saying c’mon c’mon! Stand up for your rights
While others don’t give a damn
They’re all waiting for a perfect day
So you better get up and fight for your rights
Don’t be afraid of the move you make
You better listen to your tribal voice!

Labels: , , , , ,

Does Poetry Ranking Mean Anything?

With an ever-present urge towards taxonomy and categorization, some folks can't resist making lists. I recently was pointing towards yet another annual list: 100 Best Poetry Blogs. Congratulations to those blog writers listed here, who are going to get some exposure from it, who hopefully are grateful to be so recognized, and will continue to do good work. Many of them I'd never heard of before.

Yet my questions are: Does this mean anything, does it matter? Does this list contribute anything? Is it anything more than subjective and ephemeral? Is it all about increasing hits on one's blog(s)? In the vast world of possibility, does making the list or not making the list say anything about quality? Does it say anything about popularity? Is it a random walk through a vast field that always includes more than can be possibly listed?

Lest I get accused of sour grapes, I'll merely point out that there's only one category given on this list that my own blog writing might fit into, that of poetry-plus-art/photography, labeled "Photographic Poetry." Those listed are of mixed quality of presentation, in my opinion, and I could have nominated a few others in that category. Nonetheless, these are all fine places to start with that topic, and some go quite deep into exploring the synergy of words-and-art or words-and-music, something we care deeply about here. So congratulations to them all for being recognized.

What interests me is this urge towards ranking that lies behind the use of words like "100 Best." I don't think ranking matters, and there are always many wonderful, equally worthy, items that are left off such rankings.

Is poetry a competitive sport? I don't think so. One of the lessons I learned from martial arts training is that one doesn't compete against other people, one competes against oneself, for the sake of one's own development, improvement, and growth. But then, even as a boy, I never thought much of competition; even in gym class, in those rare sports that I was actually good at, being bad at most of them, I didn't feel any different by being the best—or the worst, for that matter. It's good to be noticed. But there's room for lots of people to notice you, regardless of lists or rankings.

When I see a list like this, I'm always drawn to find out who was left off. I always want to know about those who didn't make the cut, many of whom are usually just as good as those who did. Which leads one to surmise that making the cut can be a popularity contest, or simply a matter of the judges knowing about one item and not having been introduced to another. Ignorance is bliss. Surely compiling a list such as this is a lot of work, probably largely unrewarded, and full of coin tosses in the case of items of equal merit.

In which case, since there is no limitation of size in blog posting—no column inches to fight, as in print publications—why not make a list of the best 200 poetry blogs? Or the best 500? Actually, some poetry mavens have done so: long lists of links and recommendations in which the reader is encouraged to go see for themselves. There are blogs that are clearing-houses of links to other lists, many of which are worth pursuing. Only one's personal taste matters, when going through a long list to see what attracts one.

I don't want to cross that line into saying its all utterly subjective, though. Once the postmodern stance of total relativism comes into play, what happens is not that everyone is raised to same level of meaningful rank, but rather everyone is lowered to the lowest-common-denominator equal level of meaningless. In which case, why bother making a list at all? Purely beyond the fun exercise of it, of course.

Well, I don't really have any answers to any of my questions. They're the sort of questions that are worth asking regardless of how you or I might answer them. Although for myself I would opine that poetry ranking means nothing, that one must explore and appreciate for oneself, I have no desire to impose my opinions on anyone else. You're free to mount your own.

I do believe, however, that asking the right questions is often incredibly important; more important in many cases than having ready answers to the questions. When we live in the question, rather than always having a ready answer, we learn a kind of poise, a balance, that will serve us well not only in poetry, but in life.


Happy Birthday, Akira Kurosawa

Born 100 years ago, the highly influential Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is remembered today for a long legacy of great films.

I first saw Seven Samurai at one of those university student film group shows in Ann Arbor, but I saw in a big lecture hall presented on a full-size screen, sitting in the second row center. To say that the movie was overwhelming and left a permanent impression on me is an understatement. I've been interested in, and have studied, Japanese arts and culture for many years, and Kurosawa has been one of my guides. Sanjuro is one of my all-time favorite films, in any language. Ran, which is Kurosawa's feudal-era samurai version of King Lear is one of the shortest three-hour movies I've ever sat through: I was so drawn in to the tragedy, the beauty and power of the acting and cinematography, that I had no sense of the passing of time.

Dreams is a film about art, as much as it is about life. In some ways, it's Kurosawa's ars poetica, his poem about making poems; in his case, poetic films. To call this film a linear narrative is wrong, since dreams themselves are non-linear and only appear to be narrative. To call it "magic realism" is also wrong, because that label, which is a descendent of Surrealism really, cannot contain the way dreams free-associate: they make complete sense while we are immersed in them, and proceed by their own internal logic.

Last year I found a copy of Kurosawa's only memoir, Something Like An Autobiography (1983), which contains many insights into the history of Japanese film. He doesn't talk about his own art much, except to tell stories about the making of many of his early films, but when he does it's compelling reading.

A lasting legacy, not only in film, but on culture and the arts in general. Arigato, Kurosawa-domo.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sea Fog at Point Reyes

images from Point Reyes National Seashore, CA, February 2010

clusters of lilies
hang on wet hills above surf—
white ghosts in the mists

fingers of land
stretched hundreds of feet high
where deer jog the road

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ocean & Skies: Pescadero

images from Pescadero State Beach, CA, February 2010

Labels: ,

Dreamstones at Pescadero

images from Pescadero State Beach, CA, February 2010

There are sandy beaches at Pescadero, especially when the tide's out. But the whole southern stretch of shoreline is gravel, rock, and boulder beach. When I visited this favorite place of mine, the surf was high and the tide was in. I went down to the shore where the heavy boulders rise all the way to the cliffside. The waves come in, and the boulders rattle together like a room of bowling balls as the waves slide out.

This is how you make a dreamstone. The conditions of surf, tide, and materials have to be just right. At surf's edge, especially during high tide or in a storm, the waves make the boulders and smaller stones smash together. Chips fly off, and cracks appear. Perhaps a bit of sand gets lodged in a pit or crack, and the moving water swirls it around. This is the same way potholes get made in river and waterfall areas: a grinding stone in a pit or crack gets swirling around by the waters, gradually making a smooth crater.

Here by the shore, if the crater gets worn all the way through the rock, you get a dreamstone.

Depending on the hardness of the stone, the strength of the tides and waves, and time, you can get a smoothly polished stone, or one still rough-textured. Some more fragile stone weathers much faster, but then crumbles apart. Here at Pescadero, ophiolitic seafloor high-density rock is overlayered by much softer siltstones, sandstones, and conglomerates. It's very easy to see here, how seafloor spreading offshore made island arcs that slammed into the coastline, assembling California. The seafloor rocks make smooth and polished dreamstones, and take longer to carve; the siltstone fragments carve quickly and easily, but once you pluck them from the shoreline, they might crumble in your hand.

I didn't find very many new dreamstones this visit. Since the tide was in, the best place to find them, right at the surfline, was hidden by the hard-rushing waters. I mostly stumbled along the boulder field near the cliffs, still getting splashed with spray. After the previous night's fog and cold, the morning sunlight felt good on my face.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reading & Organizing

I've been re-organizing big parts of the house, this past month. Sometimes when you go away for a few weeks, you come back and know right away what needs to be changed. I've got a few more photos I'm going to hang on the mostly bare walls. I've lived here now between 2 and 3 years, and it's starting to actually feel like "my" home for the first time. So naturally one wants to re-arrange things that, when moving in, inevitably just got thrown in place to keep them out of mind and off the floor. I have a lot of filing of old papers to do, still; that's piled up for months.

On the other hand, I realized this past week (again) that I needed to cut myself some slack, as in truth I've been very ill for about six months: I was very sick, so sick for part of that time that I couldn't get anything done. I remind myself not to feel like a slacker, because in fact I haven't been. For a guy who's been ill, I've actually gotten a lot done. You have to keep reminding yourself of these facts, periodically: I'm learning that this is part of the process of coping with chronic illness.

Over the past few days I built some more bookshelves, got the dormant (over winter, and while I was on the last roadtrip) tools in the garage ready to work on some more woodworking projects, and prepared for the next few months' efforts. I also went through my plans for my garden plots this year; I want to try planting a wildflower patch, which ought to be self-sustaining once established. I also have a couple of more organizing projects in the basement that I half-started before the roadtrip, that I can finish now, both around the workbench and involving better shelving for future art projects.

Yesterday in the bedroom I reorganized all the poetry bookshelves. They'd been rather haphazard. I realize I can start going through all my books again soon, and do another round of deciding what to weed out, what to sell, what to pass on to the local library book sale. If you don't need to keep something, don't. There are a few duplicates in the poetry shelves—that keeps happening, because you sometimes forget you have a certain volume already—that I'll sell off. There were a few novels that friends gave me that I don't want to keep around, having either read them or decided not to. You weed out as you sort through.

I rearranged the poetry shelves to be more categorized. The High Moderns (Eliot, Cummings, Moore, etc.) are all gathered in one corner now; all the Neruda and Paz and George Mackay Brown have been pulled together; I had a lot more each than I realized; all the modern Greeks are grouped together now; I had a lot more Seferis than I realized, too. Sorting through the books makes you want to dip into them again, or read deeper. Pulling out the poetry books you start re-reading your favorites; but you also find yourself wanting to get around to reading that Collected Poems of a poet you know less about, and picked up on spec last year, but hadn't really gotten into yet.

You remind yourself that you already have a treasure horde to dig into whenever the mood strikes. Here's that Stanley Kunitz collected you've been meaning to read; especially the very late poems. Here's an anthology from the 1970s, an overview but also a slice of poetry history. Here's all the Lorca together, all the Whitman, all the Cavafy. Here's all the other gay poets gathered in their own place, from Assotto Saint to Thom Gunn to those post-AIDS anthologies that are hard to read because it seems like half the poets have died too early now. Here's all the May Sarton you've decided to keep, all the journals, most of the poems, and the novels you find yourself re-reading periodically. Reading is re-reading at least half the time.

Now I can find everything again.

Maybe this is all spring cleaning. At the very least, it's spring reorganizing: part of the process of coming back to life. Of feeling able to make art again, after a long illness. Organizing the visual space reduces the mental clutter. It also makes it easier to have my tools at hand, so I can right to it, if the urge is there. No wasting precious energy on set-up; just get right to the art-making.

Now it feels like my head is clearer, and ready to get back to work.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

deer, woods, dusk

deer, woods, dusk

In the indigoed light, it’s snowing again, thick mists fogging the distant treetops. Flakes begin to stick to the wet ground, which was covered with water and sleet, and will soon, in the chill evening, be covered with ice and snow.

deer move in the woods,
stepping high, noses down—
snow falling hard, now

The watershed deer herd were mincing through the woods to the south of the house, exposed by the lack of leaves on the trees, the air dark blue with evening. One doe started to move into the yard. I picked up my laser pointer, and put the red dot on the crumbled snow at the her feet, and much to my pleased surprise, she nosed at it, the way a cat or dog will do. I moved the dot around a few times, and the doe followed closely, then I moved the dot off into the woods, and the deer bounded away. Who knew? I guess I’ve discovered a new way to herd winter deer.

ruminant hooves pace
silent among fallen oak:
winter tree-spirits

Start with a poem. Then we make iterations of the poem, gradually working towards words-as-art, or visual poetry. At what point does the poem's linguistic information stop being comprehensible? At what point do we reach the frontier between (verbal) meaning and (visual) meaning. At what point does the art cease being an illustration, and become integral? When do the words become an integral element of the art? One element among others, which can be parsed for verbal meaning, in gestalt, but is also part of the greater gestalt (in which the verbal meaning might be nested) of visual/poetry.

At some point all the elements must synergize into something archetypal, symbolic, mythopoetic: the goal and result of much of my creative work. At some point the elements must become more than what they individually are, to take on a numinous, liminal life of their own; to become shamanic; to become an experience of threshold. This has long been known to me, as the artist, as the goal of much of my art-making: to depict and recreate, visually, aurally, even verbally, experiences of the threshold and the liminal, that I have myself experienced, and which I have no better way to re-create for others to witness.

In the past, I've treated words this same, as an element of composition, in experimental musical settings. I've made several text-sound pieces on tape (and later digitally) using layered readings of my poetry, and cyclic loops of texts that are a form of gradual-process music. For example: Light, in which the words finally become part of a multi-layered texture that has musical shape and form: the words as elements of composed music, rather than purely linguistic conveyors. At what point does the (verbal) meaning go away, and the sound of the speaking voice become a musical texture?

Using word-clouds as an element in a visual composition is equivalent, I think, to using spoken words as an element of musical composition. There is still (verbal) meaning to be found on the small, fractal scale: individual words and phrases come to the foreground of attention. But, hopefully, the overall effect is gestalt and non-linear, rather like non-verbal cinema. The (verbal) meaning of the words is not as important as the textures created with them; although there are meanings to be found (assembled, perceived, created) therein, the meanings are additive; right-brain-perceived as a gestalt, rather than left-brain linear-logical. A lot of this is about liberating poetry from the straight-jacket of fixed meaning—not of meaning itself, since the idea of "liberating" words from meaning entirely is absurd, as words will always be signifiers for memory, experience, and conception; but rather, of liberating words from assumed fixed positions of meaning. To soften the edges of hard linear logical, rational discourse. To make poetry from language that all-too-often is wielded as a blunt instrument of deterministic meaning, and by softening that bluntness, to allow a bit of Mystery to creep in. Which is what poetry is all about: making words do more with less; making words invest themselves with meaning beyond the ordinary; with opening the doors and windows for Mystery to seep in, if it will.

And all of this because deer have been continuously and forcefully coming into my perception, in various recurrent and forceful ways, for the past several weeks. When ghost-deer walk into your mind, sit down in the grass and listen to what they have to say. When you find a perfect antler discarded on the lawn right under the window where you do most of your writing, pay attention. When deer emerge from the fog and blowing snow and darkness, every dusk of every day for a long week of driving, listen to what they're pointing you towards.

And then respond by making art about the encounters. Because poetry and art and music are praise: are celebration, and commemoration: are the journal and notes made from encounters with the liminal, on the threshold, and you had best pay attention, or ignore them at your peril.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sea Horses & Sea Dragons

images from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA, February 2010

After the morning spent at Point Lobos, I met a friend at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and took in the marvelous show currently on display, The Secret Lives of Seahorses. The last time I was at the Aquarium, I had seen the amazing jellyfish program, and this experience was just as well-done, just as beautiful. I made a few photos of the seahorse show, but also of the Aquarium in general. And it was interesting to encounter a quote from Robinson Jeffers in the tidal pool room, in the day after having been at the annual Robinson Jeffers conference.

leafy sea dragon

leafy sea dragon

weedy sea dragon

brain coral

Labels: , , ,

A Brief Pause for Some Word Clouds

Wordle is a Javascript tool for making "word clouds" out of texts. It's fun to play with periodically A nice way to take a break from Deep Thoughts, or just waste an hour.

a representation of this page of this website

It's also a quietly subversive way of crossing those usual boundaries between poetry and art, passing back and forth at will. The idea of making clouds out of the words of a poem, in which the words which appear most often are the most prominent in the cloud, is beyond clever. It points out how the visual arts can include the verbal and linguistic arts. At times it can approach visual poetry, something more than just a typographic layout, or hybrid. Furthermore, the ability to be surprised, by using the Randomize function, allows one to play with the aleatoric arrangement of typographic and verbal layout.

a compilation of all the poems I wrote in 2009

from a poem, Walt Whitman's Summer Wander Across America

from a poem, The Deer Antler

If we consider text as art, what I have sometimes called matrix poetry, what some others call cleave poetry, you can still read a poem arranged this way as a text. The arrangement on the page leads us to read the poem in several ways, several directions, each of them generating a facet of experience of the poem. (For example, "Blanco" by Octavio Paz, or sections of "The Little Mariner" by Odysseas Elytis.) We can read it in any direction, we can start in the middle, and read outwards, we can go where our eye is drawn. For example, our eye might focus on the most prominent words in this example, and leap between them; gradually our perception of the poem unfolds to include the smaller words, till the poem as a gestalt fills our mind. This presents several new ways to read poetry, when poetry is presented as a visual art. And there are possibilities that come to mind, when combining this sort of visual text with an actual image, as juxtaposed or complimentary collage.

For example, the poem above, about deer, might be conjoined with these images of deer at dusk, from Capitol Reef National Park, in Utah:

Labels: , , , ,