The Order of Words

This week I struggled with a tricky poetry form, the sestina. My poet friend Suzette Bishop recommended I try it early on, but its long form and rigid structure was daunting, so I put it off in favor of shorter forms and free-form experimentation. When I returned to the sestina, I didn’t study it very carefully, missing the format rules, and just glancing at examples Suzette recommended. One famous example is by Elizabeth Bishop (no relation to my friend).

Then I tried my hand at it using randomly selected words. Liking the Haiku poetry magnets I’d purchased, I added to the variety by getting the Original Magnetic Poetry Kit also.

Original Magnetic Poetry Kit

I took them out and created a lovely bowlful of words:

And I randomly selected these words:

It’s hard to tell when spring is here
or not; the calendar does lie
Long hibernating, we don’t like to wake
We’re slow and peaceful, sleeping
February comes, with snows and thaws
Some large rodent sees his shadow

Clocks move up, delaying the shadow
of the house across the street
A strange limbo of time
We wait, while knowing time speeds up
Water trickling through our hands
We try to freeze time in a picture

of that March blizzard, while we try to picture
the coming spring we know is due
All things happen in an order
Predictable, knowable, and sane
We only grow in one direction
watching plants rise within our garden

Until the snow is gone we cannot garden
The earth must first unfreeze itself
Feeling warmth of sun, and sky, and wind
Water underground begins to flow
feeding those thirsty roots we cannot see
Until some green appears one morning

We rise from hibernation that morning
Scrape the sleep from our eyelids
Splashing water on our face
Feeling our blood quicken, our temperatures rise
It’s not too late
We can be hopeful, and not bitter

The coffee brewing will be bitter
But it will wake us from our dreams
Start us moving out in daylight
Chasing heartbeats, drumbeats, ticking clocks
Knowing we are alive for now
Craving yet resisting the coming evening

Shadows growing in the evening
Taking us with them back to sleep
We don’t want to miss the summer

Can you tell I’m obsessed with this time of the year? When I showed the poem to Suzette, she kindly pointed out that I’d created a new form, which was her way of saying that I’d done it wrong! In my cursory look at sestinas, I only noticed that the last word of the end line of each 6-line stanza became the last word of the first line of the next stanza, all the way to the last 3-line stanza. In reality, Suzette explained, the form is a lot more complicated! From www.poets.org:

The sestina follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi. The lines may be of any length . . . The form is as follows, where each numeral indicates the stanza position and the letters represent end-words:

1. ABCDEF
2. FAEBDC
3. CFDABE
4. ECBFAD
5. DEACFB
6. BDFECA
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

So in reality, the first couple of stanzas look something like this:

XXX XXXX XXXX XXXX A
XX XXX XXXX XX XXX  B
XXXX XXXX XX XXXX   C
XXX XXXXXX X XXXX   D
X XXX XXXX XXXX XX  E
XX XXX XXXX XXX XX  F

X XXX XXX XXX XXX   F
XX XXXX XXXXX  XX  A
XXX XXXXXX XXX XX E
X XXXXX XXX XXXXX B
XXX XXXX X XXX XX  D
XX XXXXX XXX XXXX C

And so on, following the formula above. Suzette’s version of the envoi (the 3-line stanza at the end) was described as:

line 1:  BE
line 2: DC
line 3: FA

In other words, that the end of each of the two phrases within the three lines should use first B then E, etc.

I found this to be very tricky! It felt unnatural, repeating these words over and over. It’s also acceptable to use different forms (like plurals), hyphenations, or homonyms of the chosen words, which helps a bit. Here’s my first attempt at a correctly structured sestina, using some of the original words I’d selected from the bowl of words:

The Mirror and the Shadow

Looking in a mirror with no shadow
I cannot see it as a picture.
Sun shines too brightly in the morning.
Like my coffee, images are bitter.
I much prefer the purple evening
arriving gently during summer.

It seems so far away, the summer.
Later and later comes the shadow.
Longer and longer lasts the evening.
I can no longer picture
the frosty gems that bitter
winter brings each morning.

But in the springtime, mornings
do not speak of summer.
The wind still blows bitter-
ly, even as the trees cast shadows
through my favorite picture
window, where I wait for evening.

Each March we delay the evening
darkness, capturing each morning.
We long for the sweeter picture
we hope will come with summer-
time as we banish the shadows
and cast away the bitter

clothes of winter and its bitter
sister, spring – longing for the evening,
craving the darkness of the shadow,
which claims less and less as morning
grows and crows earlier in summer.
And we look outside and picture

ourselves, growing and picture
our children, growing, and feel bitter
for the fleetingness of summer,
the inevitable evening
when we will be in mourning
for the end of life, for Death the Shadow.

Though we picture it perfectly, the evening
too is bitter, more so than the morning
When the summer leaves its shadows.

For my next sestina attempt, I chose another group of words randomly from my bowl of words, and came up with this:

Women in Malls

A pale slender finger
reminds me of the women
I know who want
to capture time
to hold the purple
shadows at bay and swim upstream

As I walk through malls they stream
past me, phones in their fingers
Wearing yellow, green, and purple
Dressed like vibrant women
Shopping just to kill time
Not knowing what they want

I know that I want
to float downstream
losing track of time
feeling water through my fingers
Hanging out with women
waiting for the purple

twilight to appear, the purple
shadows hiding what we want
Hungry, angry women
lost in the busy stream
Shouting, giving life the finger
Never enough time

But after some time
the sky turns to purple
I can soften my hair, my finger
curled around the strands, I want
to go against the stream
not be like other women

When we think that women
are the same, sometimes
we forget that in the stream
of life some love blue, some purple,
Some women only want
that ring upon their finger

The women who wear purple
all the time just want
to feel their streaming hair beneath their fingers

One thing I struggled with, apart from how to handle the repetition, was deciding on capitalization and punctuation. I knew some phrases should read clearly as sentences, but some should stand alone. I practiced reading them aloud. The second sestina definitely felt like it wanted less punctuation, freeing up how it could be read and interpreted to some degree.

Reading and writing poetry this month has given me a new appreciation for words and word choice, and I hope to continue to read and experiment with poetry from time to time. Let me know if you have any favorite poems, poets or poetry forms!

Miriam

 

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Creativity Survey Results

Thanks to everyone who took my creativity survey! I had 72 respondents. Here are the highlights:

49% considered themselves to be an artist/writer/musician (etc.), but would not call themselves “professional”
31% considered themselves to be a professional artist/writer/musician (etc.)
15% said I enjoy being creative, but don’t consider myself an “artist” (writer/musician, etc.)

To the question about earning through their art, respondents said:

47%  I have earned some money through my art, but not often/consistently
25%  I earn some money through my art, but also have a “day job” or other sources of income
11%  I earn my living through my art

72% said that they participate in more than one creative pursuit
19% said they are involved in more than one creative pursuit but within their field (e.g. two different instruments, diff. writing genres)

Fields that respondents identified as their primary focus:

42% writing
27% music
11% visual art
6% filmmaking
3% photography
3% theater

Top additional creative fields participated in (respondents could choose more than one, so = more than 100%):

45% photography
41% visual art
38% writing
35% music
26% theater

How they pursue the various fields:

27%  I have two or more main fields that work together (e.g. filmmaking and screenwriting)
24% I have many areas I’m interested in but move from one to another at different times
22% I have many areas I’m interested in that I pursue almost at the same time

How respondents felt about having different creative pursuits:

36%  If I get burnt out in one area, it’s restful to do something different
34%  I become inspired in one area when I work on something else
29%  I need more than one area of art in my life in order to feed my creativity

To the question: “Do you wish there was enough time/opportunity to “play” with other art forms in your life?”  88% of respondents said yes.

Other forms of art people would like to try (I combined some into larger categories if they had fewer than 5 responses). Respondents could enter as many as they wished (top responses):

Art: sculpture/painting/drawing/glass work/metalwork/printmaking/collage/pottery      39
Music: instruments, singing, songwriting/composition, dance          27
Filmmaking/animation      13
Photography      10
Yarn/fabric art (sewing, quilting, knitting, weaving/tapestry)      8
Writing     6
Theatre/acting     5

Thanks to everyone for the great creativity book suggestions! Top suggestions:

Creativity:   The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp; Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Bayles and Orland

Writing:   Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott; Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg; On Writing by Stephen King

Screenwriting:  The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler; Save the Cat by Blake Snyder; Story by Robert McKee

A number of people recommended reading autobiographies/biographies of artists we admire or find interesting.

 

 

 

Verbal Collage

I’ve always had an interest in collage, as you can see from my previous posts beginning with A Bird by Any Other Name and ending with Juxtaposition of Elements. In addition to continuing my exploration of poetic forms such as haiku and cinquain this week, I explored a form of experimental poetry that is similar to collage. Like collage, this form borrows words, phrases or longer passages from different sources, interspersing them with original poetry. The end result is a pastiche or verbal collage that gains meaning from the juxtaposition of differently sourced material.

My friend, the poet Suzette Bishop, first introduced in my post Words Matter earlier this month, uses this form frequently and very effectively. She’s gifted at choosing interesting source materials, commenting on them with her own poetic phrases and also selecting different fonts to make it easy to distinguish each section of phrases.

One example is from her poetry book Horse-Minded (CW Books, 2012)

Here’s what two of her pages of poetry look like (pp. 80=81), from her poem Horse-Minded:

I’ve always been fascinated by her work, and I love how she finds interesting texts to borrow from, including fortune cookie fortunes, postcard texts, history and memoir, technical manuals, tourist guides and more. I decided to try this format, and I chose from amongst a number of books and manuals I had on my shelves. Although I first chose things at random, I soon realized that a couple of the items I’d selected shared a similar theme, so I wove pieces of those two items together with my own original phrases in between.

After I’d written and assembled my first draft, I realized that there were connections between some of the fragments that I hadn’t seen before, and I wasn’t satisfied with the order of the sections. So I cut them up into strips and played around with the order for a while.

Below is what I came up with. At Suzette’s suggestion I changed one of the fonts before deciding it was complete. Unfortunately, I am unable to keep the same fonts that I used in my original poem, so here I used italics, bold and regular type to distinguish between the different sections. I cite the sources of the borrowed material after the poem.

The Ugly Duckling Inner Diet

At last the big egg cracked. “Cheep, cheep!” said the young one and tumbled out. How big and ugly he was!

It is now time to make a conscious and deliberate choice to either control your weight or remain overweight. In reality, this choice can only be made by you.

Cameras I avoid. Mirrors are okay. My face in mirrors smiles at me. My eyes are fine. Alluring, even.

We can all deceive ourselves into making unhealthy choices for what seem, at face value, to be good reasons. This is referred to as “the psychology of self-deception.”

But the poor duckling which had been the last to come out of the shell, and who was so ugly, was bitten, pushed about, and made fun of by both the ducks and the hens.

Wishing I could talk to my twenty-year-old self, my thirty-year-old self. Reassure her that she’s fine, she looks good.

“He is not handsome, but he is a thoroughly good creature, and he swims as beautifully as any of the others.”

The Part of Me That Wants to Remain Overweight.
My name is *_______. My goal is to remain overweight. I have been in control for _____ (years/months) now. Three words that would best describe me are ________, ________, and ______. Most of the time I feel (happy, sad, angry, afraid, etc.) *_________.

I feel the same. “I’m the same on the inside as I was when I was twenty, when I was thirty,” my mother used to say. Now I understand.

“What sort of a creature are you?” they inquired, as the duckling turned from side to side and greeted them as well as he could. “You are frightfully ugly,” said the wild ducks.

Rewards for weight control should not relate to food or eating. The ideal reward should be something that is practical (i.e. affordable and accessible).

The other ducks round about looked at them and said, quite loudly, “Just look there! How ugly that duckling is! We won’t stand him.”

“Control Rewards” are another effective method of increasing inner control. Place one check mark on a piece of paper every time you feel a strong temptation to stray from your program, but successfully resist. When you have accumulated ten checks, allow yourself a reward. The reward can by anything, except food, that you consider worth the effort of maintaining your success (a new item of clothing or a movie, for example).

I avoid shopping. Trying things on. The clothes looked so good on the rack.

Increased motivation is the key to your success in weight control. No weight loss program will work for you until you increase your motivation to lose weight. Your low motivation will interfere with your ability to succeed.

“It is so delicious to float on the water,” said the duckling. “It is so delicious to feel it rushing over your head when you dive to the bottom.”

Cravings wracked me at times. Wanting sweets. Wanting company. Wanting love. I wallowed in the cravings.

Human behavior is like a river. A river automatically seeks the easiest route and, upon finding it, continuously runs the same course, eroding the ground into a permanent pathway.

The water dashed over their heads, but they came up again and floated beautifully. Even the big ugly gray one swam about with them.

Keep with you, in your desk, purse, or pocket, a small pad of blank paper. When you become aware of the potential for stress eating, take out your Stress Diary. Describe, in writing, your feelings at that time. Write down the cause of the stress and why it is frustrating, angering or depressing to you. Allow yourself to say, on paper, the things that you would not or could not say out loud.

Change comes in bits. Taking one new step. Then, maybe, another. Changing things you may not have been looking to change.

Change is an extremely difficult process for most people. Even though you may have a very strong conscious desire to change, there is always a part of you that seems to resist change! This is human nature. Change, nevertheless, is absolutely within your ability.

He saw three beautiful white swans advancing towards him from a thicket. With rustling feathers they swam lightly over the water. The duckling recognized the majestic birds, and he was overcome with a strange melancholy.

Self Statements
1. I WILL SUCCEED
2. CONTROLLING MY EATING IS MY RESPONSIBILITY
3. A
CHIEVING MY WEIGHT GOAL IS CERTAIN.
4. NOW I AM IN CONTROL.

Many times I felt out of control. Seeking anything to make me feel better. Spending mornings in a movie theater, one of maybe three people there, watching whatever, guzzling Twizzlers in the dark.

It would be too sad to mention all the privation and misery he had to go through during the hard winter. When the sun began to shine warmly again, the duckling was in the marsh, lying among the rushes. The larks were singing and the beautiful spring had come. Then all at once he raised his wings and they flapped with much greater strength than before and bore him off vigorously.

At twenty, I worried about how I looked. At thirty, I worried just a little bit less. At forty, somewhat less.

He flew into the water and swam towards the stately swans.

It’s not that I no longer care. I just don’t think about it much. My world is consumed by other things.

He saw below him his own image, but he was no longer a clumsy dark gray bird, ugly and ungainly. He was himself a swan!

    *     *     *     *

Excerpts from: “You Can’t Change Your Weight . . . Until You Change Your Mind” ™ Activity Book, The Inner Diet ™ by Dr. John H. Sklare, ©Inner Tech Corporation (italics). “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen, from Childcraft in Fifteen Volumes, Vol. 3 Folk and Fairy Tales, Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago, 1961, pp. 213-226 (regular font). My own words are in bold.

What do you think? Have you ever tried this form of verbal collage?

Miriam

Word Play

Why is it that restricting structure or form, or requiring use of external stimuli (like writing prompts) sometimes inspires the most creativity?

You’d think that if you just tell someone: “Write whatever you want! The sky’s the limit!” they would be the most inventive and enthusiastic.

Paradoxically, it is often when artists are confronted with limitations that they are challenged to dig deeper into the well of ingenuity to come up with something truly wonderful. You may have noticed this on creativity-based reality TV shows like Chopped, Top Chef or Project Runway – when the contestants are forced to use crazy materials or ingredients, or follow extremely restrictive rules or time limits, that’s when they really wow the judges with their creative solutions.

This week I’ve been experimenting with playful forms and prompts to inspire poetry. A few friends recommended I try to write Haiku, the Japanese form which requires one line with 5 syllables, the next 7, and the last 5. To make it even more fun, I ordered a set of Haiku poetry magnets to come up with some random word prompts to get started.

I ended up creating a set of haiku about the current season, Minnesota’s so-called “spring,” which usually still resembles a tired, worn-out winter. Here’s what I came up with, using several randomly selected word magnets:

Minnesota Spring

The sound of sad snow
before the wild blossoms rise
water trickling

A frozen spring field
flowers whisper beneath us
laughing at the sun

The sun melts cold snow
leaves will soon be green again
still the summer sleeps

Geese surround the feeder
scaring off the squirrels
on their way back home

A journey to the north
Gliding, winging over us
dream of summer moons

Writing haiku made me question how we say words; is “wild” one syllable or two? It can be said both ways. Is “trickling” two or three syllables? Three, though it looks like two. How about “squirrels”? I definitely needed to read these out loud, and I had to tinker with them to  fit the format correctly as well as to make sense and create something that sounded good to my ears.

Then I tried a form called the Cinquain which was recommended to me by Morgan Grayce Willow. Her latest poetry book is Dodge & Scramble, published by Ice Cube Press. (For Twin Cities readers, she’s doing a reading at 7pm April 18th at Magers & Quinn.)

The Cinquain is an American poetry form created by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), which requires five lines, with the syllable pattern (per line): 2, 4, 6, 8, 2, like this:

XX
XXXX
XXXXXX
XXXXXXXX
XX

Again, I used haiku word magnets to spur ideas, and came up with a group that appeared to be about the time of day, but before I finished them (I wrote Morning and Evening first), I realized that I was also writing about times of life:

Morning

Yellow blossoms
Dandelion children
Every day is hot and noisy
Sleepy

Daytime

People wanting
Harvesting between the weeds
Traveling roads and seeking laughter
Working

Evening

My favorite song
Dreaming of blue water
Yellow moon rises from the trees
Silence

Midnight

Whispered voices
Cats are sleeping on us
Windows filled with purple lightning
Dreaming

Morgan also told me that she likes to write ekphrasis – poetry based on or inspired by a work of art. This jived well with another exercise recommended by my poet friend Suzette Bishop (see last week’s blog). She uses a similar exercise to one that I offer my screenwriting students: using a picture postcard to inspire a piece of writing. I have a large collection of postcards, some of the tourist variety that you pick up on trips, and many of works of art that I’ve purchased at museums and bookstores.

I chose a postcard from my collection at random — this painting called “Automat” by Edward Hopper:

After studying the picture for a while, imagining what the woman was doing there and taking in the mood of the painting, I first wrote a haiku, then a cinquain.

Automat Haiku

Sitting all alone
Gazing at her cup of coffee
It’s cold and bitter

Automat Cinquain

Waiting
She’s not hungry
There’s no point in going home
Coffee cup is almost empty
Stalling

I really enjoyed allowing myself to “play” with poetry this week, and using both word and picture prompts, as well as specific forms, to try to express images and ideas.

What forms of poetry or creative inspirations work best for you?

Miriam

Words Matter

I am fortunate to count among my friends many poets. Poets are thinkers. Poets pay attention. They are mostly introverts, and I understand their need for solitary reflection, which I seem to crave more as I get older. I respect them. Poets are known to choose their words carefully.

Because of this I couldn’t help but compare poetry to screenwriting – a discipline I’ve studied. When I first decided to try poetry as one of my creative pursuits, I felt very intimidated. Not just by the fact that so many of my friends are published poets and/or professors of poetry, but because I felt that poetry was so alien. I haven’t really read poetry (beyond the work of a couple of friends), nor tried to write poetry since my college days. Even then I felt out of my depth. Poetry seems to me like rarefied air, only breathable by a few chosen geniuses with amazing inborn talent.

Screenwriting was the comparison to poetry I’ve had in my mind. Because I’ve worked a little as a screenwriter (though unfortunately not yet produced), and because I teach screenwriting, I think a lot about how language is used in screenplays more as a tool than as an end in itself. This reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby:

I am not particularly interested in language. Or rather, I am interested in what language can do for me, and I spend many hours each day trying to ensure that my prose is as simple as it can possibly be. But I do not wish to produce prose that calls attention to itself, rather than the world it describes . . .
Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, Believer Books, p. 14

I’ve held this view particularly for screenwriting, where you try to avoid unnecessary verbiage like adjectives and adverbs. You have only 120 pages (or fewer) to tell your story. Your work is not meant to be a finished product, but a blueprint for others to use in creating a film. For that reason, you need your chosen words to serve a precise purpose.

I used to think poetry was just about indulging in an orgy of words for the sheer enjoyment of the words themselves. But I’m learning, in my very superficial beginnings, that I’ve mistaken actual poetry for the stuff we learned to write in grade school or high school – when teachers were often trying to get us to use as many words as possible to help us increase our vocabularies and become better readers as well as writers.

This week I read an assortment of poetry, some recommended to me, some because I have friends whose work I’m interested in, and some just because I happened to have them in the house. I read a little Pablo Neruda, Robert Bly, Naomi Shihab Nye, Paula Cisewski, Suzette Bishop, Diane Wakoski, Sylvia Plath, Anthony Hecht, Elizabeth Bishop.

Some of the poems were more accessible than others. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t understand what I was reading. Sometimes I really loved what I was reading. It’s a different kind of experience than my usual diet of fiction. It takes more focus, and frequent re-reading.

One of my favorites was by my friend Suzette Bishop, who teaches at Texas A&M University. She is the author of four poetry books, and her work constantly amazes me. Here is a poem I really liked from Hive-Mind, her most recent book (Stockport Flats , 2015):

Stuck

Swing set,
swollen knee
from bee venom,
I watch the redness swell.

After my mother’s agitated tending,
her mumbling about being stuck
in this wilderness,
it takes a day to subside.

I know I was by myself,
I know I was playing
with imaginary characters,
I know I was in my own imaginary world,
I know I was probably talking to my characters,
as my characters, maybe a princess,
What if he is the one
who will make me happy?

I know the sting
was a jamming return
to my backyard,
a re-emerging
into summer’s fullness and sting.

This poem is very accessible, as it uses familiar images from childhood, and it also moved me on a number of levels. I saw layers, as I read and re-read it. I like the play on the word “stuck.” I love the sense of the child seeking refuge in fantasy and imagination from unpleasant reality. This experience was relatable. I also appreciated the lovely, interestingly paradoxical word choices in phrases like “my mother’s agitated tending” and “summer’s fullness and sting.” After just a week of tinkering with my own attempts, I can appreciate the time, effort and care that no doubt went into creating such a seemingly effortless poem.

Not knowing where to start on my own efforts, I asked friends who teach poetry to give me beginning assignments they use in classes. Before I even had a chance to try one of them, however, an idea sprang into my head, so I wrote it down by hand:

Then I entered it on the computer, finding myself changing it even as I typed it. The poem was based on a memory I had, so I repeated the line “I remember” in each stanza. I knew pretty clearly what I was trying to say, but didn’t want to be too obvious in saying it. I spent time massaging it over the next few days.

I remember
that lady who thought we were of an age
her hands were not like mine
onion transparent
wispy leaves with vein rivers

I remember
my daughter’s doll hands in mine
milky, delicate and fine
they were not real

I remember
touching his sturdy arm
squeezing his warm hand
holding on fast

I remember
making something out of nothing
massaging fragrant dough
arranging colors, shapes and lines
pushing stories from reluctant keys

I remember
broken bones
impossible zippers, keys and knives
my hand wasn’t mine
playing with marbles, putty, coins
mending it, regaining it
recovering what was mine

I remember
dark bruises of age appearing
those blue vein rivers
even as I join that lady
my hands are me
I am my hands

After some hours (or days), I’d made changes which were mostly to reduce excess words, the same way that I would revise a screenplay, even though I thought the language was pretty spare to begin with. That really surprised me! It was not easy. Even when I was trying to sleep at night, I found myself obsessing over the poem. I didn’t realize I’d become so engrossed in this process.

There were some stanzas I felt I needed to add. But in general, instead of padding the poem with extra words, I tried to find more concise ways to say what I wanted to say, and I focused on revealing my meaning through images rather than explanations.

That was another surprising parallel with screenwriting (that should not have surprised me): both poems and screenplays tell stories primarily through images. The best screenplays/films show us images, reveal dialogue, and let the reader/viewer draw conclusions (the old “show, don’t tell” adage). I found that, amongst the poems I’d read, I preferred those that showed more than they told.

Still feeling unsure of myself, I asked my friend Suzette for advice, since I had little idea how to “fix” what I’d written beyond what I had already attempted. I worried that what I’d written was cliché, or not “real” poetry (whatever that means). She sent me guides to revision that included advice about removing excess language and also reading the work out loud, which is also what I recommend to students of screenwriting! I hadn’t yet read my poem out loud, so I tried that, and found that some of what I wrote sounded really good, some not so much.

The next day, Suzette sent extremely useful feedback. Among other things, she recommended removing the commas, since I already used little punctuation. She also told me what the strongest line was for her, and suggested ending on that line, deleting the lines I had written after that. I agreed. Suzette encouraged me to question some of my language choices, while providing positive feedback about phrases she found effective. I could see why she’s so good at teaching! After thinking about her ideas I revised it again, coming up with this “final” version (I may yet tinker with it more …):

My hands are me

I remember
that lady who thought we were of an age
her hands were not like mine
onion transparent
wispy fallen leaves
vein rivers

I remember
a blank white page
trying to sketch “myself” for art class
all I could think of
were my hands

I remember
my daughter’s doll hands in mine
milky and fine
they seemed unreal

I remember
washing my little boy’s hair
shielding his eyes from suds
rinsing golden strands

I remember
coaxing sound out of instruments
caressing smooth keys
loosely gripping wooden sticks
pounding out beats

I remember
touching his sturdy arm
clasping his warm eager fingers
holding fast

I remember
massaging fragrant dough
arranging colors shapes and lines
pushing stories from square reluctant keys

I remember
broken bones
impossible zippers keys and knives
playing with marbles putty coins
mending
dark bruises of age
those blue rivers
recovering what was mine

A couple of days later another idea came to me as I found myself on a lazy Sunday staring out the window, which is one of my favorite things to do. It feels like meditation. So I wrote it down. I’m not sure yet what this one is “about,” but I’ve already played with it a bit (see below). As Suzette recommends, I’ll try to step away from it for a day or two before revising again.

Looking out the window

I like
being still
gazing out the window
cold March sky
seeming monochrome
but moving from white
to gray
to white
patches heavy with rain or snow

I see
prickly treetops
reaching upwards
stabbing at the clouds
Do I just imagine
that faint hint of green?

I hear
drips of melting snow
icicles dropping pieces
of themselves
toward the frozen ground

I wait
someday soon
the clouds will dissipate
the earth will reappear
the green will swell

Let me know if you have any favorite poems or poets, or if you have tried any poetry exercises that you found useful!

Miriam

ARTS AND CRAFTS

What’s the difference between art and craft? Is there one? Does it matter?

The online Oxford English Dictionary defines art as: “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Craft is defined as:  “A skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice. An activity involving skill in making things by hand.”

We think of art as work created for its own sake and not for some other, more practical, purpose. Crafts are generally considered as works created for use, such as pottery, knitting, sewing, woodworking. However, many “crafts” bridge that divide. Do we elevate a quilt (both literally and figuratively) just by hanging it on the wall rather than leaving it on a bed? Does it cease to be art if we use it? Does it leave the “craft” category if we put it in a museum? Or can some work be both?

We often think of crafts in relation to activities we did in school, using Popsicle sticks, construction paper, yarn and glue. Crafts are often assumed to belong to a lesser category than art (as I did when I used the word “elevate” when mentioning quilts just now), but is that fair? How do you know when something you are crafting becomes art? Is it in the inherent quality of the product, or the value of it as perceived by others, or the intention of its creator?

I don’t claim to be an artist. I haven’t had the training or put in the time and effort to become skilled at the visual arts I’ve been dabbling in during the past year. I have created a number of pieces that were pleasing to me, and that felt “artful” – but would never presume to label them as “art.” That feels too presumptuous. Having an art history minor and spending many hours in museums viewing a wide range of art from many cultures and eras has given me a real appreciation for visual art. I definitely feel like a dabbler or dilettante where art is concerned. But the work I put in gives me so much pleasure at times that I wonder what it would take to create work that could enter that rarefied category of “art.”

Continuing with mosaics after my fun class at the Rum River Art Center (see last week’s blog), I bought decorative mosaic tiles to work with at my local Michael’s craft store, as well as a round mirror for my base. I also had some cool bling meant for belly dancing costumes that I got from my friend Cassandra Shore (see my blogs on belly dancing), in the form of sparkly colored round rhinestones.

Using Wellbond glue that dries clear, I started in the center to create my mandala design, and added to it over a number of days.

I focused on keeping the design symmetrical, but did not agonize over accuracy in line or placement, and I tried to use every color available in my supplies. One thing I’ve discovered in working with materials, whether paper or tiles, is that I rather like overkill (see my blog about paper collage, Enough is Enough).

The final product is very pleasing to me, but it’s quite heavy. I’m still not sure what to “do” with it, such as how to frame/hang or display it, but I enjoy looking at it. The mirror helps capture the light and reflect it through the various objects I used.

Then I decided to use a number of buttons that I’d collected, again mostly from my friend Cassandra, for my next mandala using a piece of cardboard as base.

Most of the buttons have an antique appearance that I quite like. Again, I worked on creating a pattern of symmetry that pleased my eye, and kept adding to it over a few days.

Once I used up all the buttons that I had enough of to create a pattern, I felt like the work was still incomplete. So I decided to use some of the craft paper I have, mostly with a “vintage” feel to them, to round out the mandala.

The papers range from looking like old letters or music to more of an antique wallpaper kind of look. The color palette is muted and adds to this vintage feeling. I cut out round shapes of the paper to match the round buttons.

Again, I sometimes have trouble knowing when I’m “finished” with a piece, but this time felt like it was completed before I entirely ran out of space on my base.

Because I really enjoyed exploring ways to create mandala patterns with different materials, I hope to return to it, possibly trying natural items or fabric next time. I’d also like to create a mosaic using a grout background, which I avoided during these first attempts.

While the finished works may not enter the category of “art,” however you define it, they give me great enjoyment, and may find a decorative place somewhere in my home if I can figure out how to display them!

How do you define art?

Miriam