Now flowing water sparkles, and sings, strengthened every time it rains. An occluded acre of the place has been opened up. At first it all felt too exposed; there was a sense of vulnerability. Now as the Indian Plum gets into full leaf, and the ferns begin to unfurl, it feels like revelation. Perception carries farther into the depths of the forest; dimension has been somehow doubled. The whole place feels larger—the invisible brought to light.
This is the winter solstice, exact at 3:21AM this morning in the Pacific Northwest. I awoke at 2, and remembered the buzz around the “end of the Mayan Calendar,” so I got up to ring in the end, and get ready for the beginning.
In the spirit of current worldwide worries, I decided to write that last hour as if there would actually be an end, that this was it, game over. It wasn’t difficult to notice that if the world ended there would be no one to receive my farewell notes. I forged ahead, anyway—thought I might learn something. I looked around for regrets, or a sense of accomplishment, some kind of lists. Nothing struck a chord. What I found was that I am content. If this were the end this, life lived would be enough.
In the middle of that freewrite, with half an hour to go, a line from Theodore Roethke came to me:
“What’s madness but nobility of soul/ At odds with circumstance?”
The line is from IN A DARK TIME one of his great mystical poems. I went to the poem to imbibe the rest. You can read it [here].
On this day—the winter’s darkest—and in this year—that marks the beginning of the Mayan ninth wave—the poem seemed written just for this moment. My friend David Pond, wrote that in the ninth wave… “Consciousness begins to manifest from the Unity Wave, also being called the conscious co-creation level, ‘oneness’.”
Unity wave, that’s where we are. Look at those closing lines from “In a Dark Time”:
…Which I is I ?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind.
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
I don’t know what Roethke intended with that poem, and it doesn’t matter. It can easily be interpreted as the crying out of an individual mind pulling itself (or being pulled) out of itself, and into conjunction with a larger sense of Being consciousness, one with all.
What’s contentment, then, but nobility of soul aligned with circumstance? I know nothing of the Mayan waves, and very little about the inspiring poems of Theodore Roethke. But I know his words touch something at the core, well beyond the ability of words to fully contain. “Nobility of soul” is everywhere I look. We are still here, still alive.
I gave a reading October 14 to a lively group of participants at a Waking Down in Mutuality retreat. The audience had been immersed in a deep process of self-inquiry for three long days, and they were very receptive to the deep transformative channel poetry can guide us in to. I picked three poems that related in one way or another to the explorations in which the group had been engaged. I could have chosen a dozen, but the situation demanded only a glimpse or two.
I started with ALL THE WRONG PLACES from my third book, Letters to Sophie. It’s a shocking poem in several ways, as it considers our very human preference for looking the other way when we encounter the darker facets of existence. The poem came out of a meditation on what I might be missing when I am attracted to familiar and culturally-validated forms of beauty. I started looking the other way and found that most of what is around us, and in us, is overlooked, and rarely considered. I began to visit that, and found it worthy.
Next, WAITING ROOM. I think part of why the poem is so funny is that it brings awareness to a feeling many of us have as we make our way through life. I actually began the poem in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, where my father and I were awaiting his checkup. The core of the poem is built around something a friend said to me years ago. I had said to her “I feel like I’m waiting for something, but I don’t know what it is.” She wisely said “So what do you do while waiting.” Could be we’re all filling in time, with more or less passion, while we wait.
I hadn’t noticed before how that poem fits in with SECOND NATURE from my second book, Natural History. The poem is about the way we practice, practice, practice routines, in order to be always ready to put them to use. Maybe that’s what the juggler, shopkeeper, and reporters are doing in WAITING ROOM. Nothing is happening, so they practice their forms, get something going. In SECOND NATURE the designated form is poetry, and the poem names some of the practices I find essential to the form—but it could be anything from sports, to assembly-line work, to ballet.
In this world we have to adjust quickly as new conditions and technologies overtake us with greater rapidity than we have been accustomed to. What we know at the core has to be ready to morph quickly to embrace or take advantage of unimagined situations and means of transmission. We no longer have the easy grace of thinking we can learn one skill and let it support us into retirement. In effect, we can’t know what we’re getting ready for, so we follow our passions into unknown lands, and practice essential skills in order to be ready for whatever we encounter there.
At least, that’s what I get out of these poems today. Read them aloud. What do you hear?
Olympia's Fall Arts Walk is tomorrow—the evening of Friday October 5—and continues through the afternoon of October 6. Sorry for the late notice.
I’ll have two pieces completed this summer on display along with pieces by other metal workers from the SPSCC welding program. We are showing again at the Euphorium, in the Security Building, at the corner of Fourth Ave. and Washington Street in downtown Olympia.
TINE BALL, a piece composed of twenty recycled (and reconfigured) tines from a dump rake, will be there, along with a galvanized steel table I wrote about in a previous posting, called WINDSWEPT STEEL TABLE. The table base is made from some twisty scraps left over when I bent the rings for Ring Dance #3 & 4.
Thank you to those of you who took the time to vote in Olympia’s Percival Plinth Sculpture Project. The votes are in, and Olympia sculptor Ross Matteson’s bronze and steel piece “Windstar” gathered the people’s choice award with nearly 30% of the votes cast. Congratulations to Ross! You can see more of his well-wrought wildlife bronzes at Matteson Sculpture.
I have not heard how many votes “Ring Dance #2” received, but I continue to hear great response for the piece. You can enjoy it until next June at Percival Landing, and while driving around the corner of State and Water streets in downtown Olympia. The piece is for sale if you wish to continue enjoying it in your home or business landscape. I have three further Ring Dance pieces available, including the musical dyad subtitled “Duet.”
We are having a gorgeous extended September here at the southern tip of the Salish Sea. It’s a bit dry, and the light breezes send a crisp sustaining whisper through the curling leaves still on the trees. Every step on the beach trail crunches with the leaves that have already fallen.
A lovely summer September has run over into October, with no end in sight. Doesn’t feel like autumn yet—primarily because it hasn’t rained in a couple of months. Fall will come, no doubt. I gathered a lot of lines over the summer, but only put together one or two poems. The writing group is starting up after a summer hiatus. It’s just about time to process the harvest of summer.
The Olympia Poetry Network asked me to lead a writing workshop as part of their Paul Gillie workshop series. These are free workshops, donations gladly accepted. I’ll be leading the November workshop.
The workshop will take place at the Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. in downtown Olympia. The date is Tuesday November 6, 2012, 7:00 to 8:30pm. Room 101 (I believe. You can ask at the reception desk.)
What will we do? Writing exercises. Here’s the paragraph I wrote for OPN about how I want to focus the exercises:
When the writer can manage to realize something through the process of writing, readers will find something in the poem that invites and beguiles. The challenge is to get what we think we know out of the way and let the places the world has touched us whisper and sing their deeper wisdom. In this workshop we’ll set some snares and see if we can catch a line or two that points toward new territory. Anyone welcome; bring your own writing tools.
If you want to find out what I come up with in hopes of carrying that off, be at the workshop. Come out and play (or in and play.) It’s likely to be beginning to feel like winter by then. Time to write. Come down.
I was moved to make a table for the deck, and with a sculpture about to travel up to the galvanizers, there was added pressure to finish something I could include with the run.
I had a pile of twisty angle iron pieces six to ten inches long that were the end pieces cut off when I made the rings for the latest Ring Dance (DUET). I welded about half of them together into curving forms roughly two feet long.
Riffing on past experience working with curly willow and beaver sticks, I fabricated the twisted linear forms into a chaotic base that flows and dances, and finally seem to cross paws and bow.
I bent another length of angle into a ring for the edge of the top, and cut a circle out of a leftover piece of eighth inch sheet to wrap it around. The outcome is a bit overbuilt, perhaps (at fifty-five pounds) but makes a very stable deck table, big enough for writing, or a couple of glasses of wine and a plate of hors d'oeuvres.
My daughter said it reminded her of those coastal trees that have grown under the pressure of steady winds, so I call it Windswept Table.
Ring Dance #3 and #4 just came back…
from the galvanizers. There is something delightful about the way the fresh zinc coating shines and throws light around—particularly on this set, which has a sine-wave curve around the circumference of each ring. They will oxidize over time to a more classic industrial gray, but this effect could be maintained with a powder-coat finish on top of the galvanizing.
I produced Ring Dance #3 & 4 as an interacting set, entitled DUET. They stand alone near one another in such a way that from some angles they flow one into the other. From other angles one stands tall to tower and lean over the other, which nuzzles from a more relaxed horizontal position.
DUET was conceived as a reference to music, and the musical scale. When I was deciding what sizes to make the rings I chose to make seven ring sizes that mimic the frequencies of the A major scale. I started with a 24 inch diameter circle representing 220 hertz. With that as a starting point I could calculate that a 27 inch circle would represent B, at 246.942 hertz, C (261.626 hertz) would be represented with a 28.5 inch ring—and so on. All together DUET is composed of seven “A”s, six “B”s, five “C”s, four “D”s, three “E”s, two “F”s, and one “G”. I haven’t tried arranging that into a musical sequence. Give it a try!
When I began bending the angle iron, the machinery colluded to enhance the musical reference in an unexpected way. I had decided to make an inside bend and as the steel fed into the slip roller, it began to oscillate side to side, forming that sine-wave curve you can see in the photos. It’s not what I imagined would happen—which showed me one more time that the process often has a better imagination than I do.
The paired elements of DUET, Ring Dance #3 & 4, harmonize beautifully. Since they were completed they have become part of the Refuge landscape, welcoming visitors near the entrance, among the blueberry bushes.
A poem is a strange creature in the modern world. Language, thought, and idea are now transmitted primarily through print, and are ingested in silence through the visual medium of reading. But long before written language was even imagined, poetic rhythms and cadences formed an essential means of carrying particular stories and thoughts across time and distance in a relatively stable form. A poem was an oral mnemonic device, an arrangement of sounds that the pattern-recognizing brain found pleasurable, relatively easy to recall, and repeat. Poetry developed as an oral container for stories and ideas.
Now that written language has been developed, and mechanical print has made the practice widespread, words and language can be locked in place in a form that is transmitted from mind to mind across time and distance. We read precisely what our progenitors wrote, the words in exactly the same order, even if the sounds are not in any particularly memorable arrangement. The starkly compelling visual component that language took on in writing and print steamrolls the more subtle dance of sound on which we once relied.
A poem on the page is a script held in a reliquary—a container contained. When we encounter a poem on a printed page the tendency is to treat it as we would any other written character, and read it with our eyes and brain. Looking in through the glass of the secondary container, reading the silenced words, we may be imagining the sounds, to some extent, but we don’t experience the poem. Like so much in life, we imagine living instead of doing it. No wonder there is a tendency to feel like something is missing.
I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with the evolution of language into written form; it’s just what has happened. I’m interested in noting and exploring the effects and opportunities brought about by what has happened.
The reliquary is right here in front of you. Caged in print under glass a world of wonder awaits the sacred technician who learns to unpin the old jeweled box, open the dry-hinged, squeaky lid, and speak the poem aloud a few times. Try a few variations of style, shout it, whisper it. Listen to how the poet pronounced the poem, if you can. Get out the dessicated relic and rehydrate it with your breath and energy.
Let me warn you in advance, this practice will bring you quickly to another topic that needs to be explored: “how come I hate most of the poems I come across.” We’ll get to that. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, try reciting a few more poems until you find one that hits paydirt. It’s so worth it.
Poetry is a practice. We don't learn to make poems, we develop a practice that makes space in our lives for poetry. Poems are a visible result of that practice, but not the only result, and maybe not the best result. A strong practice once developed can weather slow periods, slumber through quiet times and spring to life when we need it. Like any other practice we may not know what it is for until we need it. Then suddenly the years and hours focused on the work give wings to our creativity and it all makes sense. Practice becomes us.
SECOND NATURE from my second book "Natural History" speaks to the nature of practice:
It takes a long time, years
of practice. Make the moves
over and over—slowly
at first then faster. Memorize
patterns, train ear and hand,
learn to play with sound
and sense. Harvest
silence from crowded corridors,
rage from empty meadows.
Drill cadences deep,
carry them everywhere.
Then, when you are threatened,
when you have to move fast,
your body will know what to do.
Motions unfold like breath,
well-worn pathways channel
the moment into song,
and—never doubt it--
making that one poem
will save your life.
I was awake at 1AM thinking about what moves me in sculpture. The current RING DANCE series holds me fascinated, and I was wondering what it is about that. The best answer I can come up with is “form and interplay of forms”, or “form and movement.”
When I equate interplay of forms with movement I realize I’m making a distinction that defines movement in a particularly subtle way—a way that excludes mechanical motion. Maybe I should come up with a new word, but I can’t think of one. So let’s talk about movement and experience—about perception.
Have you been to a sculpture park that includes a piece or two that catches the wind to create motion, or is motorized to rotate, or operate—repeating some cycle of motion? We do notice it immediately. That’s because the brain is wired to notice and assess motion very quickly. It’s a survival instinct, at the deepest levels of perception. Something moving might be a rock aimed at my head; I need to know about that as soon as possible.
Motion might also indicate running water, or a food source. As hunters living in the earth environment we have developed senses and sense reactions that assist in survival here. The tendency to quickly notice when a new motion comes into our field of view comes in handy crossing the street, and it’s very useful to advertisers. Ever wonder why those youths on the street corner are frantically waving signs for cheap mattress stores? Just as when there’s a TV on at the bar, or you are near the flickering flames of a fire—you can’t NOT notice it. Motion—particularly new motion—draws our attention.
Intriguingly, the same hard-wired feature causes us to dismiss movement that repeats. Once it’s no longer novel the brain begins to rule it out, or see past it—so that we won’t miss the newer motion that could arrive at any second. This explains what happens with those enjoyable pinwheels and other whirly-gigs at the farmer’s market. Very attractive at first, so we buy them. But with familiarity we stop noticing. It’s a good trick, you might say a cheap trick. That kind of motion doesn’t interest me in sculpture. I’m looking for forms that move us in more resilient ways.
The movement that I look for in sculpture is more closely related to the experience of walking through a landscape. The observer moves, and as the observer moves the perspective flows, lining up different features of the landscape in a constantly shifting dance of perceived relationships. In the forest, various trees line up then move apart; as the angles and curves play in the eye you experience a flow of perception. Same with walking through a redrock canyon, or in a cityscape of various building-forms, separated by streetscapes. It’s the perceptual movement that interests me, the observer’s interaction with form.
So I look for elements or collections of elements that offer opportunities for interplay with the passing eye. Sometimes a perspective stops me cold, and I want to consider the pleasing arrangement that has come together—I might even come back again and again to watch it line up in just that way. Then I move a little, and another surprise coalesces, from a different perspective. That’s the movement I’m talking about. I’m not always sure what will make it happen, but I love it when I find that it has.