I’m putting together a collection of poems for publication. Years ago at a reading I heard poet Pattiann Rogers say that putting poems in a linear book format always feels limited and arbitrary, because to her, every poem in a collection leads to every other poem. She would prefer to organize poems in a way that was somehow circular, or spherical. I concur. I rarely read a poetry book straight through, but prefer to enter anywhere, and hop around the pages.
Still, a book is a book. We have to find an order to the poems in order to publish. This new book is a collection of over a hundred poems, written over twenty-five years or so. Tipping my (actual) hat to the spherical, I decided to trust in divining as a way to allow chaos to assist in the process. I put the poem titles in a hat, mixed well, and began drawing poems one by one.
My dining table took part in an unforeseen way—as the poems emerged I placed them on the table in a column, one poem under the last. My table is split down the middle, so I began the first column at the split and after about twenty-three poems I had to start a new column. I ended up with five columns of twenty-three poems each.
I studied the layout, considering the poems in each column. With that complex set of perceptions and memories we call intuition, I began to see that there was a certain rough harmony among the poems of each column. I took a stab at naming the five tones. That gave me five section names.
I moved a few poems around among and within columns to bring the harmonies closer. It was so easy. A couple of hours and I’m ready to lay out the book. I know play is the basis of creativity; I’ve been engaging such methods all my life. And yet I’m still amazed every time a new twist on the game draws down a fascinating result. I could not have imagined this divine order using the feeble crutch of reason. I don’t entirely understand it, but that’s what I like most about it.
Four new sculptures are hanging around the entry stairs at the Refuge. These pieces continue the “Ring Dance” series. They hold the space vacated by an older piece that just left the grounds for permanent installation in downtown Olympia. While I’ve been focused on other things these last months these intriguing structures have been quietly gestating in the background. I’m still surprised when I see them out there, dancing.
Ring Dance #2/ CORE, which was at the west end of State St. on Percival Landing in 2012, is now mounted permanently in a street-side parklet near the NE corner of Fourth and Franklin Streets in Olympia. In the daytime its shadow walks across the sidewalk and climbs the building to the east. At night the streetlights print two copies of the piece in shadows on the wall. I’m honored to see the piece out on its own in the world.
All the Ring Dance pieces are based on the abstract arrangement of circular elements. They are fabricated using a procedure that avoids pre-thinking what the result will look like. I collaborate with the elements and processes, adding them one by one to the piece, and sometimes in repeating clusters. As an overall thrust surfaces I work to enhance that. The process is unnerving at times. I don’t know how it will come out and that can make me anxious. Continuing anyway leads to final pieces I could never have imagined in advance. So I proceed.
The new pieces, Ring Dance numbers six, seven, eight, and nine, are the result of a series of interwoven creative experiments based on rings made by slicing pipe, and a “staple” form made from a length of heavy channel iron. I wondered what would happen if I introduced the linear, masculine element of the staple, mixing it in with the rings. I also began experimenting with opening the rings so that they could intersect in new ways.
All four pieces developed at once as I played with the elements and connections that fascinated me. At various times I thought it was all moving toward one piece. At other times it was all moving toward more scrap. Finally one piece after another emerged as discreet siblings. Just like us they are made of the same stuff. Through whimsy, chance, and intention, each becomes a unique character.
For Olympia’s 2013 Percival Plinth Sculpture Project I applied with the TINE BALL I put together a year or two ago. The core of the piece is a double spiral made from the half-circle spring-steel tines of a hay rake. I knew that if it was accepted into the exhibition I’d have to come up with a base for the piece, some way to affix it to the plinth and hold it up against the sky.
The TINE BALL was already galvanized and powder-coated silver. When the proposal was accepted, I fabricated two curving rods from a scrap-pile of short 7/8” steel rounds, and cut out some brackets that would allow me to bolt them to two of the 3” spring coils on the tines. Some scraps of 2” angle iron became a base that would fit the design constraints of the plinth.
With the piece all together I realized I wanted it to be red—like OXYGEN (Ring Dance #5)—in order to stand out in the complicated downtown, harbor-front space of Percival Landing. It’s summertime—powder-coating took four weeks. I installed it June 10, on schedule.
To me, part of TINE BALL’s beauty is the delicacy of the form. A breeze can make it shudder. It’s a bit delicate for the “fraternity rules” classically considered for such situations. I knew there was a risk in putting it out where the public can interact with it. The sign says “do not climb”—but eight days after installation someone apparently did just that. My guess is he or she tried to get inside the ball. I know, I’ve thought of that too. Tine points broke loose at each hub.
Now we were only one week from the opening reception. I had to repair and reinforce the piece, and get it coated again (third time’s the charm!) We took it down and over the weekend. I repaired and beefed-up the hubs and added nine more welds to stabilize the belly of the ball.
C T Specialties in Olympia was just as busy as the first time I took it in for powder-coat, but they recognized my plight and had it ready in four days. I tipped them enough to buy everyone a couple of beers, and loaded-up the rebuilt TINE BALL still hot from the oven. We bolted it back on the plinth fifteen minutes before the opening reception began. Unbelievable.
Now, the risk is still there. The piece is stronger but still delicate—you wouldn't see the difference unless I pointed it out. It might be able to withstand another exuberant “return to the womb”—but I hope I don’t find out. Meanwhile, it’s there. Come down and see it.
If you get there during July or August, the city has ballots available in pamphlet-boxes on the landing. Olympia will buy the sculpture that gets the most votes, for their growing collection. Voting ends August 31. Here’s an essential voting tip: your vote won’t count unless you fill in the box that asks what it is you like about the piece you have chosen. The answer is subjective; you can’t get it wrong—so answer the question and be counted!
In other news: Debi of 33 Image Design rebuilt my sculpture and furniture website. It’s now searchable and very slick. I also have a verbal commitment with Gallery IMA in Seattle’s Pioneer Square to begin representing my work soon. I’ll let you know.
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.