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.

Mother Tongue Tuesday: Japanese

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Japanese road sign

Last month I listened to Reverend Kakihara from the Tacoma Buddhist Temple speak at a Lenten series in my church. The minister, born in Japan, described his faith beautifully and I learned many things about Buddhism, especially about Jodo Shinshu Nishi Hongwanji Buddhism which he practices.

At the same time, watching his mannerisms and listening to his speech patterns felt like a step back to an earlier time of my life. My career in English as a second language began with hundreds of Japanese students who came to Western Washington University in the early 1990’s in the Asian University America Program (AUAP).

I assisted in ESL classrooms as a university student,. After classes, my conversation partners made me sashimi and served me green tea in a formal ceremony. I learned about the three writing systems of the language, the alphabet sounds and even managed a limited vocabulary with words like really, you’re welcome and thank you (not too hard since “Domo Origato, Mr. Roboto” was popular not too long before my college days).

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The green tea I drank was not from a bag like this. It was a powder and my friend prepared it with what looked like a mortar of the mortar and pestle variety.

sashimi

Sashimi was one of my first food adventures.

Most of all, I got the chance to see Japanese young people experiencing a radically new language and culture, something I better appreciated when I went on my own brief adventures.

Japanese Tidbits from the UCLA Language Project 

  • Japanese is a language isolate, meaning it is not easily related to any other language
  • Japanese uses three writing systems: kanji, katagana, and hiragana. Kanji is based on the Chinese writing system and has thousands of characters. The other two systems are more similar to the English alphabet (although not related in the slightest) because there are limited letters that represent specific sounds that can be rearranged to create words.

kanji rice

  • Japanese is a subject-object-verb language rather than the subject-verb-object order of English. “I give money” would translate to “I money give” in Japanese.
  • Japanese marks the adjectives as past or non-past similar to the way it works with verbs.
  • Japanese does not mark nouns as singular or plural.
  • Matsuo Basho was one of the innumerable famous Japanese poets.

I don’t have any Japanese students today but I’m lucky to still have a few connections with my former students and friends. And as hard as the language is to learn for English speakers, it can be done.

Here’s a video with English subtitles of a college friend from the days when I worked with AUAP students. Marci went on to master the language, is now living in Japan, and convincing students like Noriko to come to America to study. (Marci starts at 00:51.)

http://vimeo.com/91907492