Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Oh, my love, things are very delicate."

I am interested in the balance of life, in how to balance the creative life.  I am interested in unbalanced lives.  I'm interested in work, in creating space for writing, for art.  I'm one of those people who want to disappear into the work, remain hidden.  Jane Hirschfield talks about Descartes motto: "He who lives well lives well hidden" in her book, Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise.  (I keep bringing this book up, don't I?).  She then quotes D.W. Winnicott on "the dilemma of childhood":  "It is a joy to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found." 

I wonder how we find those books we need.  It's a mysterious process.  Sometimes you read about them in other books that you find and love.  A friend gives you a book, wordlessly.  You stumble upon it on your strange forays into the web that is the internet.  You're drinking wine outdoors late at night with friends in the early spring.  A book is mentioned, scrawled onto a napkin.  Or, you're in a bookstore, a library, and the book literally falls off the shelf before you.  This happens, I assure you, it does.  Maybe you're reading a blog and you come across a brief reference or read a short excerpt. 

You could say I'm trying to justify these completely indulgent, rambling posts to myself, where I might talk about the weather (it's snowing outside this morning, and snowed yesterday whereas for the last two weeks we've been drinking wine and eating cheese in backyards in the evenings), and where I might tell you what I've been reading. 

The week began, you see, with Mary Oliver.  Dream Work. 

"What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over for all of us?  Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter


"Mostly, I want to be kind. 
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world."

I've been mulling over: happiness, kindness, all of the various fires we swim through, attempt to enter, find, spark.  That happiness is one of the doors to the fire - isn't that a brilliant thing to know, to think about?  as we go about trying to balance the creative and the mundane.  I needed this week to read Oliver's lines on kindness - just so simple and true, bare writing.  What is kindness?  how? I sat with these lines and scrawled them into my own diary and tried to absorb them, and apply them to situations and conversations.  Interesting to read poetry this way.  Just to live with a few lines for a week.  Or more. 

I moved from Mary Oliver to my beloved Clarice Lispector.  The Passion According to G. H. It seems a leap, a jump, from Oliver to Lispector.  I don't know that it is.  I've read this book several times, and frequently dip back into it.  Yesterday it snowed, and the flowers that we had planted in terra cotta pots needed to be moved indoors.  The whole time we moved them in, the line from Lispector, "Oh, my love, things are very delicate" kept repeating in my head. 

So what have I been been trying to get at here?  A sort of thinking out loud.  About. The creative balance - trying to strike it.  Entering the fire, while remaining happy, practicing kindness, recognizing how delicate things are.  Well, mostly I just have the question, you know, how?  How to remain hidden, how to be found?  How to be kind?  What is kindness even?  What are you going through?  In what ways are you delicate?  Oh, my loves....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pre-Existence of the Soul

Once in a while life aligns, the universe cooperates - so that I have several days in a row to write.  For three days I didn't have to go to work, had no errands of significance to run, the groceries were stocked up, and I had no appointments, unexpected emergencies or mini-crises crop up.  The phone did not ring much either, and when it did it was pretty much good-ish news.  This sort of run can only happen, say, twice a year, maybe three times.

What can I say, but that this was bliss?  I awoke early, wrote.  Then the breakfast, dog walk ritual.  Then back to the computer for most of the morning.  But there was also time to sit in my window seat in the afternoons, drink diet coke, read, dream, scribble in a notebook.  I had time to follow strange paths, read about the pre-existence of souls.  In one book I read about the various incarnations in film and on stage of the Bluebird of Happiness.  I found the original on Project Gutenberg.  I watched snippets on YouTube. I downloaded the Betty Carter version of the song. Who knows if any of this has anything to do with the book I'm writing. 

I also took photos, which seems also to have nothing to do with what I'm writing.  But I do know that it sharpens my senses, rights my equilibrium.  To look at blossoms, the way they look through the bars of a birdcage hung in the tree.  I have a feeling that everything you do, see, that you are, will seep into a book that you spend a long time writing, revising. 

One of the books I dipped into was Fanny Howe's The Winter Sun.  I like what she says about revising:  "One way to understand your own condition is to write something and spend a long time revising it.  The errors, the hits and misses, the excess - erase them all.  Now read what you have rewritten out loud in front of some other people.  They will hear something that you didn't say aloud.  They will hear what was there before you began revising and even before the words were written down.  You won't hear anything but the humming of your own vocal cords." 

Today is the re-entry back into the world, back to work.  It's painful.  There is truly a tearing sensation, as I'm being torn from my real work.  This is fine.  I'm not one to waste such moments.  I'm resolved that this condition will be dormant, buried, humming, in some layer or other of the narrative I'm writing, even though you won't hear me describe it. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Green Again

The garden is coming to life.  5:30 am the birds are singing.  I try to remember to ask myself every morning, what is it that you love?  (Rumi:  "Let the beauty we love be what we do.")  Today, thinking about blessings, blossoms, hidden things, green things.  About those things that blur.  About how we see things, about the blurry edges of the world, about uncertainty.  There are groups on Flickr devoted to bokeh, afficionados of the blurry background, of a pleasing sensory confusion. I find this heartening.  

It is heartening that so many people are seeking, noticing the various effects of light, trying to capture these moments, to breathe them in a little, to still things, to witness.  I'm reminded of this quotation by Sven Nykvist

Light can be gentle, dangerous, dreamlike, bare, living, dead, misty, clear, hot, dark, violet, springlike, falling, straight, sensual, limited, poisonous, calm and soft.


I've been re-reading Jane Hirshfield's Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise.  She quotes Cavafy:  "From my most unnoticed actions, / my most veiled writing - / from these alone will I be understood."  How to hide, how to be understood, both at once?  I'm sure I don't know. 

I've been reading Lorri Neilsen Glenn's Lost Gospels.  A glorious book.  One that I might not have found, had I not been a part of the Edmonton Poetry Festival.  When I agree to read, I know it's going to be difficult.  I'm a shy person.  I know there will be anxiety, odd amounts of stress and in short, I am pained by it.  Sleep will be lost.  I can laugh about it, but the difficulty and discomfort is real. I also think that shyness is an important place to speak from, read from and write from.  It's not to be wished away. 

I keep reading one poem in her book over and over, "Faith." 

Uncertainty is the truth,
says the ajahn; sit and wait
for nothing to grow
but the small fire in your ears
which you can feed with anything you find nearby:
birdsong, perhaps, or the echoes
of trouble.  Desire.  Until the smoke
has cleared.  Until everything goes.

The old country of awareness
has no record of your name. 
Your name.  You could do well
to give that up, too. 

I'm glad I left the suburbs to hear Lorri read, glad that I emerged from my hiddenness, my suburban hermitage, for this poem that reminds me to feed the small fires, to give up my name.  To find this poetic voice that is both so wise and gracefully uncertain.

Spring, I think, is a good time to think of uncertainty, about those things that can be given up.  About faith.  It always takes me a while in the spring to believe in green again, to feed the fires with it.  To re-learn how to see it and to adjust to its many hues and variations.  Also, to get over, to forgive, its long abandonment.  To slightly recall.....

"...and always we have forgotten our former states,
except in early spring when we slightly recall
being green again." 


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A really long post about ekphrasis, my reading at the Ed. Po-Fest, and ending in a big glass of wine.

I've been promising to bore a few friends who weren't able to make it to the See This / Hear Me: Visual Poetry reading that was part of the Edmonton Poetry Festival with a vague re-enactment of my own portion of the presentation that night.  It was probably one of the coolest readings I've been a part of and the other readers were beyond brilliant: derek beaulieu, Daniel Scott Tysdale and Jolanta Lapiak.  A real honour to stand up with them and I encourage you to seek out their work. 

So.  Here goes. Some of this comes from the actual presentation/reading, and some comes from conversations before and after, over big glasses of wine. 

Because I've been writing and thinking about art for over a decade, not to mention living with an artist for about twice that amount of time, I thought it would be appropriate, if not completely and totally self-indulgent, to look at some themes that persist in my work, and continue to interest me.  Although ekphrasis is a term that most poets are familiar with these days, I remember using it while writing my first book, All the God-Sized Fruit, and always having to define it, to assure people I was not coughing: ekphrasis. Gesundheit!

Of course, I'm interested in the how of seeing, and I'm interested in the gestures of painting, the actual movements of brush, in the mud and muck and slobber of paint, and in the communion of colour.  The image below is a photograph I took recently of the palette of my partner, Robert Lemay.  To me, it's very cool that this rather abstract looking substance can turn into quite a realist painting through mixing, pushing, dabbing, daubing, buttering and etc. 


I'm also interested in modes of ekphrasis, in picture theories and in what W.J.T. Mitchell calls the gap between word and text.  I'm interested in finding ways around, or through, the understood competition between painter and writer (see the title poem in All the God-Sized Fruit for an earlier working through) in the ekphrastic mode.  I could go on about Mitchell's Picture Theory I suppose at length, but hey, I had time constraints the night of the reading, and as for right now, there's a glass of vino waiting for me at the end of this blog post.  (I try not to drink and blog these days...)

I've had the following quotation by Mitchell rattling around in my small brain for a decade now, and feel now it's a good time for the reveal:

“...we still do not know exactly what pictures are, what their relation to language is, how they operate on observers and on the world, how their history is to be understood, and what is to be done with or about them.”       (W.J.T. Mitchell, in Picture Theory)

I myself am still thinking about all the ways in which images / pictures operate on observers.  Honestly, what is to be done with or about them? 

Meanwhile, another topic I've been occupied with is that of fraudulence.  Also forgery, authenticity, and copying.  The first poem in my first book (ATGSF) is about an art forger, and I've just finished a novel-like book about the possible existence of a woman art forger.  So obviously, I'm also interested in getting away with things, but also with transparence and how we show our indebtedness to those from whom we thieve/borrow or to whom we allude.  The image above is from a village in China, Dafen, where they produce famous works to order.   

I think this one is mainly just me trying to work in a photo of myself standing in front of a Gentileschi painting at the Met.  A really great memory.  Okay, true that, but I was looking over my past work and thinking how I hadn't even SEEN an Artemisia Gentileschi painting when I wrote that first book I keep talking about and how I wrote an entire series of poems about her.  I only saw this painting last year.  While putting together this presentation for the Po-Fest I began toying around with this idea I've had for a while, where I write a whole book of what I call 'gesture poems' - where I translate paintings in a more abstract sort of way. Taking them back to the palette so to speak.  I wanted to write a gesture poem about the above painting, so I went to the Met site and started looking at this painting inch by inch, zooming in and then printing off select zooms, details, or whatever you'd like to call them. 

I mean, is that not amazing??  You can do it too, just go to the Met site and zoom away.  I spent a whole day looking at this painting when I should have been preparing for this presentation thingie or writing a poem.  When I wrote that first book, having black and white images reproduced in the book was a BIG damned deal.  Huge actually.  I could write several blog posts on that process but I have a feeling the effect would be acutely soporific. 

I couldn't help thinking through this intense and lovely day of procrastination about the ways in which technology changes how we approach an image, or an ekphrastic poem or passage in a prose work.  We know that when we're vieiwing a painting at the Met we can go home and check it out inch by inch online.  We can almost always very quickly look the image up after reading an ekphrastic poem.  But part of what ekphrasis was originally for, I think, is that it would allow the listener to shut their eyes and SEE the image, envision what isn't there - something they're not likely to have the opportunity to see.  You know, back in the day before WestJet, Google and airmiles at the grocery store. I mean, I seriously don't have any answers. Lord, I barely have time to write this crazy blog post before my daughter gets home from her yoga class.  And you should know, I broke down and am now having a glass of wine.  

The rest of the presentation by me, was a reading, where I read my shrimp woman poem from ATGSF with the image I'm talking about on the screen behind me.  There is a whole bunch of name-calling that went down in the contemporary criticism of the painting (which I'm sure would be much easier to track down now than it was in 1997 when I wrote the dang poem).  So, that's what that poem was trying to subvert/soften, goof around with.  


Then I read "Passages of Red" from Against Paradise which is about Titian's red drapery.  If you think about it, it's really a sort of gestures poem....I had been thinking about the process way back when. 

Then I read a poem from my latest book, Red Velvet Forest, a poem called, you guessed it, "Red Velvet." It's mostly about this painting, below, painted by my partner, Robert Lemay. 

I ended by reading a poem titled, "Notional Ekphrasis: Painting of Woman Sitting in a Museum Writing."  I like the whole idea of notional ekphrasis - describing a painting that you've imagined.  What I'm doing in this is fooling around with Mitchell's Picture Theory.  You know I was so nervous the night of the reading I probably didn't even mention that.  I was trying to embed his formulations of ekphrastic hope/fear/indifference and whatnot into the poem.  I thought it might be a good opening to that book I might write about the gestures of painting.  I actually think it's more of an essay than a poem when I look at it now.  The other question is, is it too long to post here?  But I'll give it a whirl and say arrivederci and head to my big glass of wine now. 

The essay/poem:

Notional Ekphrasis: Painting of Woman Sitting in a Museum Writing

Still. She sits, she stations herself. First in a hum a milling crowd. Before she had stood. This distance. That. Stood in the corner off to the side. Left. Returned. Is transfixed. Now sits elbow on crossed knee, back curved. Encounters, recognizes, hears hidden echoes. On the chestnut leather bench. Medium Firm. Posture. She thinks about her posture. Back not so straight as she’d like. Squints. Thinks wrinkles, crows’ feet, blinks, smooths. Alone now. Docent vacates. Can see a sleeve, a leaning against the threshold. Feels harmless, assessed. Thinks about wombs ports dominions. She raises her arm slightly. Strokes air alone, daub dab swish. Filled brimming with honeysuckled ekphrastic hope ecstatic. Secretly she had wished, wishes, she could paint. That she could merge with colour, Venetian pink, alizarin crimson, turmeric, common madder, verdigris. Takes out small leather bound notebook. Pencil point on paper. Rests. She gazes. Raises an eyebrow. Discerns, is ironic, melts, quavers, envies. Is pulled. She wonders what the painter kept, held back. The painting the paint the colours the brushstrokes – in turn violent and soothing and incomprehensible wild – the image enters her skin. Speaks to her. Begins a mute quarrel. She resists holds back she engages responds soaks up sensuously she understands. Shudders sparks breathless bliss. Closes her eyes, leans back, lips apart, listens, feels the sparks, the rhythms of intimate gestures. No, yes, now, leans in drowns in a din of colour, delightedly smitten, chosen to receive, to be astonished in this exact way. She is conscious, tranquil, she ponders the symptoms of Stendhal’s syndrome. Remembers Achille’s shield, remembers destiny, sincere trembling. Thinks about the unutterable order of things, their eloquent circuitry, of picture theories, of shift and turn, of representin’, of representation, of suturing text and image. The quarrel becomes louder, tense, she meets it she praises lingers languishes in deception juxtaposition translation replication. She gives and gives. She distorts, desires, invents. Battles struggles. What are limitations? Verklempt, she envoices, ventriloquizes gives voice. Critiques flatters falters is afraid. She fears collapse. Overcomes. Wades into illusion quill to lip. Truth? Reality? Souls revealed? She battens flattens returns to battle to antagonism she speaks to, speaks from, knows secrets knows silence embraces limitations enters the gap the convex mirror the rabbit hole the old duck-rabbit conundrum, hears vases talk, jars talk, pipes disclaim. Phantoms the gap between language and image. Is ambivalent. Has failed. Aesthetically. She sits in the site of minor yet glorious aesthetic failure. Wind knocked out of her. Deflated where before she had been elated. Ekphrasis as fraudulence, full knowledge of that, sunk, drowning, shuddering. She sits a sham without words beyond words pretty as a picture. Waits, hope, a lesser hope returns. She sits with beauty with truth with eye of the beholder, she’s been operated upon by images, been under surveillance, been invisible, just yesterday she bought the latest shade of lipstick. But now she sees an excess an interarticulated impatient moment. She collects unravelments excess with butterfly nets, looks over her shoulder. Fight gone out of her replaced with questions theories possibilities sensations interpretations conversions reconfigurations captivations awe. Stands. Takes one last sturdy look around the room, drinks of it, closes her notebook, takes it with her.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shrouded or Shuttered. Fluctuations and Obligations. No Assurances. And the Shape of the Heart.

Am fluctuating between Coldplay and Chopin this morning, watching the spring snow fall while I sit at my desk -  that privilege.  Wandering through poems by Neruda, the Dhammapada, and Woolf's diaries.  Underlined this by Woolf:  "I feel I can use up everything I've ever thought."  This is from her entry of Monday, October 15th.  She also records that she wrote her 100th page of Mrs. Dalloway the same day.  That she is maybe writing 50 words a morning. 

I love details like these, coming across them.  As for me, I wrote my 6oth page this morning, and I'm proceeding at a similar pace.  Very happy if I can write 50 words, 4 or 5 mornings a week.  I also have notebooks full of plot outlines - mostly abandoned.  Also, possible endings, scenes, quotations, words.  This quotation from Woolf's diaries, Saturday, November 1st entry:  "If one could be friendly with women, what a pleasure - the relationship so secret and private compared with relations with men.  Why not write about it?  Truthfully?"  This, I find, is what I'm most interested in attempting to do. 

I have been thinking about love, friendship, about how it's possible to fall in love with your own fictional characters, and maybe this is why I have lately become obsessed with the shape of hearts.  Finding them everywhere.  Looking.  Thinking about Neruda's 'shrouded heart.'  (in other translations I notice it's a 'shuttered heart').  About obligations.  To the self, to the soul.  Half of the week I'm the one cooped up, the other half, I seem to be the one 'listening to the sea', 'drawn on by my destiny.' I tell you, it's quite confusing. 

The thing is, I'm feeling like I can use up everything I've ever thought in this new obscure novel of mine.  It's glorious and terrifying.  And I'm likely quite deluded.  From White Ink by H. Cixous:  "To allow oneself to write is a monstrosity."  and "It's, for example, to think oneself born to write or capable of in the world, unless you make yourself a god, can assure you of your capacity."  I find this is somehow reassuring - the fact of no assurances.