Wednesday Wonders: How to Walk from Poetry over to Sculptures

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Last weekend, I went to Western Washington University for the first annual Poetry Camp. After the end of the sessions and right before Jack Prelutsky, the first Children’s Poet Laureate, gave his fantastic reading of ‘Rat for Lunch,’ I went for a walk around the campus where I once went to school.

I was hunting the outdoor sculpture collection. 

A few pieces stood out in my memory from the time I went there and I looked for them like old friends. Others I had forgotten but as soon as I saw them I wondered why they hadn’t stuck around in my mind.

And some were new. Many of those were installed in 1999, several years after I left Bellingham.

Seeing them all felt like another kind of poetry all together.

Here was my view of ‘For Handel’ by Mark di Suvero from the 6th floor window of Wilson Library. It is huge, orange, and unforgettable, even for me.img_8400

This is one ‘Untitled (Steam Work for Bellingham)’ by Robert Morris. The steam wasn’t running that day, but when it does, you can use your imagination to create sculptures from  what you see.

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This new one was massive and on a newer part of the campus.

‘Feats of Strength’  by Tom Otterness was my absolute favorite of the new ones and maybe even of all the sculpture collection. I loved the sense of play and the balance of those rocks.

The buildings begged to have their pictures taken, too.

And I wasn’t the only one with the idea that afternoon.

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I didn’t get to photo them all or even put everything I found here. You can check out the spectacular photo gallery online for more. Or better yet. Walk around that campus some day.

In my twenties as a new English teacher, I gave my Japanese and other international students tours of the campus. Over and over they would point to some object with no practical purpose and ask me what it was with a puzzled look.

Back then I said, “If you don’t know what it is, then it’s art.”

Thinking about it more this past weekend, I would change my tour guide statement. Now I think:

“If you don’t always know how it makes you feel but it absolutely makes you feel more than you did before, then it’s art. For sure.”

 

Which is, of course. too long. My students learning English would have looked even more puzzled. I’ll have to go back, soak up those sculptures, and come up with something better.

I hear they will have a Children’s Literature Conference in February.

May you find art and may it find you looking-

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P.S. Inside Wilson Library was also amazing! What a place for poetry to happen.

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Wednesday Wonders: The Conceit of Blue Snake Poetry

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Warning: This post has reptiles. If slithering snakes give you the heebie jeebies, you may want to skip this one. 

For my birthday this year, I went to see the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA. From this trip with my husband and six-year-old, I managed to squeeze a poem.

I suppose I should start by saying that poetry has been haunting me lately. It started when my friend Lorie Ann Grover posted that she’d be teaching at a poetry camp in Bellingham this October. The idea of it intrigued me and reminded me that, once upon a time, I thought poetry would be my thing. I considered signing up and then poetry was suddenly everywhere.

When I went to Seattle, I even saw it on the side of a bus demanding that I “Write a Poem” in letters so bold and big I could not ignore them. I gave in to the universe and registered to go to that camp. (Apparently, poetry on buses is a thing. It even has it’s own website.)

Then a free online class popped up in one of my newsletters. I began the course with Douglas Kearney at the California Institute of the Arts.

In the third module, I came up against the assignment to write a conceit–a metaphor that makes the reader stretch into the ridiculous. An example of this is The Flea by John Donne where the poet compares a parasite to the marriage bed. It would embarrass me to explain the connection but here is a clear explanation of what that far-from-prude Donne was going on about.

I thought of how I would write my own conceit and what sort of ridiculous connection I could make of my own and decided to tie together reptiles with poems since they seem so far apart and since I knew I would make the trek to Monroe.

I let those ideas hang loose in my mind as we made the hour and a half drive from our home through some seriously traffic infested areas of our state. I don’t remember where but somewhere along the line, I came on the idea of skin shedding and writing a poem. By the time we got to the zoo, I was set to look for more information on snakes and how I could use them in my poem.

I’ve said it before but one of the best parts of the writing life is the way it brings meaning and focus to every moment of my life even when I am not sitting at the keyboard or with a pen in my hand. 

After my field study (which my six-year-old enjoyed even more than I did), I researched snakes geeked out on how they shed their skin.

Pasted far below you can see what I came up with. It’s still a draft and it scares me to post it here. Poetry has a personal exposure for me that my prose does not. But I like those snakes and this particular exuviae enough to take the risk.

May you find your own conceits in the adventures of your day-

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In the Blue

 

Skin dull

Spectacle covered

Opaque

Blue

 

Blind with nervous behavior

Not eating

(Or eating baked Cheetos by the pound).

 

Seeking rough surfaces

Like coffee

Or long walks

Or daydreams

In the red minivan

On the way to the Reptile Zoo

 

Molting at last

The exuviae

Shed on the page

 

Poem written

Ecdysis over

 

The poet’s skin

Shines vibrant now

Larger

More colorful than before

 

And the spectacle

Is transparent once more

Wednesday Wonders: Curiosity is the Cousin of Art

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On Sunday, I drove across the Cascade Mountains to sunny Yakima for a three day teaching conference. In this city my grandparents once called home, I let the sun melt away my everyday stresses and felt my curiosity perk up.

While strolling the neighborhood, I discovered churches with large blocks of  dark stone rising above the city streets of downtown. One sits just outside my hotel window.

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Those churches make me wonder.

Where did the stone come from? Who built these churches? Many of them are up for lease so what happened to make the churches fail?

I bet there is a story or five in those answers.

And then in my session yesterday, I had the good fortune to sit next to a mathematician. (I began to suspect he knew more than the rest of us when he launched into a description of vectors and their relationship to area.)

When we started using manipulatives to demonstrate how a negative number multiplied by a negative equals a positive, he mentioned that there is a mathematical proof for that.

That intrigued me.

So I asked if he could do it. He began working on it and says he’ll bring it for me tomorrow.

I can smell a story in that answer, too.

I have no idea if I will comprehend the proof but just trying to grasp the puzzle of it brings me joy. If nothing else, the experience could lead to the story of the linguist who fell in love with numbers later in life.

Earlier that same day, a teacher who works in the prison system read a poem to us titled ‘I See Something in You.’ She tells us she reads it aloud to the inmates in her class and that these men she works with can see right through insincerity. She’s got to give them her honest self, or she will fail as only a teacher in front of a class like that could fail.

I wonder what it would be like to have her job and asked for a copy of the poem so I could adapt it for my own students. Right after that, I wondered if I would have the courage to read it to them.

Maybe I will write those stories and the poem.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, I love the way life tingles when the stories all around me get to whispering. I feel like my black cat checking out the vacuum cleaner hose at the top of his cat post, pulling himself up to see what all the noise is about or teetering at the top of a ladder just to get a new view.

Like him, I know there is danger tucked into the moment but, also like him, I measure that danger against the intrigue and zing of a life chock full of curiosity.

I might look stupid to that mathematician, I might find stories that wound me underneath those churches, and I know, like only a classroom teacher can know, that a poem could be the start of painful humiliation in front of a class of forty students, criminals or not.

But I also know if I follow those leads to the stories and the people tucked into them, I might get the gift of an artful life. Most days the falls are more than worth the climb up that ladder.

May you see the stories of beauty and joy all around you,

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Stone Churches…

 

A quilt of the Fred Redmond Bridge crafted out of fabric and curiosity by the “Anything Goes Quilters”: Deborah Ann, Anna Assink, Sally Fitch, Barbara Green, Sue Grimshaw, Nancy Rayner, and Jeanne Strater. I love their group’s name! I think my writing group needs a name like this.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: The Miracle of Wounded Art

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Over ten years ago, I took a class on adult psychology in a small classroom on Pill Hill in Seattle. The professor stood in front of us in a button up shirt with slacks that blended into the dark background of the room behind. As he described his experience of a wrenching divorce, he said he did not try to push through his feeling of pain. That did not work for him. Instead, he suggested that it worked better to fully feel emotions.

He used this story to illustrate a psychological principal that I no longer remember. I don’t even remember his name.

But I do remember seeing his pain.

We students saw his heart bleed although he said the divorce happened years before.

I don’t think he had yet found a way to heal. Even if I had been able to say something to him, he might not have received it from the ESL teacher in the back of the room.

But if could speak to him now, I would tell him to try art. 

Get out your paper and glue for a collage, crack open an old instrument case, write a poem, or take photos of falling down buildings in your neighborhood, I would say. I have no idea why it works or if science will back me up. I only know it works as well as any psychological treatment I known or tried on myself.

In a TED Talk by Angélica Dass, I listened to her tell of the searing comments and prejudices she has endured because of her skin color.

Then I watched her speak of the project she created to help herself manage this pain. Even as she described the way she photographed the people from around the world, I noticed her shoulders ease and her voice warm to the telling.

Maybe that psychology professor already knows about this trick of art and how it lets you fully feel without smashing you to bits under the weight of being human. 

Perhaps he even knows what a gift that art can become to others.

I hope so.

The beauty of Dass’s work cuts through so much of what we use to separate us. I don’t pretend to know why gifts to humanity need to spring from nearly unbearable pain like prejudice and divorce. I only know that they often do and that the art soothes the sufferer when she throws herself into the making.

I also know when someone pulls some once of goodness out of their wounds, everyone touched by the art is the better for it. 

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Did I mention baking? I made these in response to having a crown and root canal this week. They helped. Art with chocolate has to be the best of all.

Need to Keep Yourself on Task? Try the Tomato Technique Badge

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While looking up blog designs and doing my research, I checked out the site of an illustrator and writer I really admire. I have loved Debbie Ridpath Ohi ever since I discovered her work in an interview by Dan Blank last year.

Debbie has a brilliant idea to but up a badge for wordcounts.

She created a badge you can use to post on your site if you commit to writing 250, 500, or 1000 words 6 days a week.

I recently found that word counts don’t work for me unless I’m deep in a long draft. Even then, they are a bit of a stressor. I find myself anxious to get through it rather than sinking into the process.

Instead, I found a technique that works better for me from a wonderful Massive Online Open Course called Learning How to Learn.

In this class, Professor Barbara Oakley describes the Pomodoro Technique, using the fancy Italian word for tomato.

Apparently (though I have never seen one away from the Internet) timers often look like tomatoes. I guess the ‘egg technique’ isn’t as elegant.

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My own timer looks like an iPhone. This could be distracting if people called or texted me at 4:30 am when I am writing but I suspect most people are asleep. (Shortly after writing this first draft my son’s school district did call to say there was a 2 hour delayed start at 6:00 am. So it’s possible.)

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I set my timer for 25 minutes of focused attention and then dial into what I am doing. After 25 minutes, I take a 5-10 minute break to get tea, check Facebook, or talk to my husband as he gets ready for work. If I have more time before the day job, I set the timer once more and get back at it. When I went on my writing retreat, I worked three 25 minute sessions in the morning and then one or two in the afternoon, too.

The professors in Learning How to Learn say that this sort of focused time is crucial when learning anything new (like how to write a darned novel or draw a tomato). They also say the breaks are vital. Our brains need the down time in order to process the information and come up with creative solutions like we do in the shower or while driving.

At the top of the post, I have a Tomato Technique Badge. I’m calling it by its English name because the poet in me likes the sound of the t’s.

My favorite Online Etymology Dictionary also told me this about the word:

‘tomato (n.)
1753, earlier tomate (c. 1600), from Spanish tomate (mid-16c.) from Nahuatl (Aztecan) tomatl “a tomato,” said to mean literally “the swelling fruit,” from tomana “to swell.”‘

I find it even more poetic and encouraging to think of my writing and other creative work as a ‘swelling fruit.’

Anyway, feel free to save my hand drawn tomato for your blog and link it back here. Or use Debbie’s badge if the word counts work better for you. If you don’t have a blog, you could print and post it to your wall. You could even draw your own!

However you do it,  the badge you choose shows your commitment to wordcounts or focused time on any creative endeavor you want to dial into 6 days a week. 

May you find time to create your own swelling fruit-

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Pics and Poem for the New Year

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The blog revise is still in progress (maybe I’ll make it in time for the Lunar New Year).

In the meantime, I’m feeling brave on this first day of the year, so here are a few of my favorite Instagram moments from the past month along with a poem I worked with just because the cats needed some sort of ode for all the trouble they cause.

The inspiration came from Ogden Nash and an exercise in Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink by Gail Carson Levine.

“The Dog” by Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove

When I state that the dog is full of love

I’ve also found, by actual test,

A wet dog is the lovingest.

 

Black Cats” by kzm

Black cats may well be best

I’m sure because of this one test

A lap full of their love

Lays my shredded yarn woes to rest.

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And then my favorite shots from the last week of December.

Happy New Year!!

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