Vena Cava

in my vena cava
the surgeon found nanoscopic
relics of Portland

a tiny Victorian house
surrounded by roses

two rotting piers
encrusted in barnacles

and a rusted English Raleigh
bicycle circa 1940

in my atman
the nun found closets
filled with black vintage dresses

a wandering band of
Tuvan throat singers

an athenaeum of
illegible journals

and a wildflower meadow
humming with bumblebees

in my corpus
the oneironaut found the
ocean shore in summer

tinkled by
the bobbing music of masts

embroidered by seaweed
printed by paws

awash with the blue air
of distant tides

soon everything will change —
soft things collapse and die

soon only everything hard will remain
and skeletons emerge from frost

Willard Tidal Pool 4.28.19

Experimental Drawing Redux

IMG_2078Recently I took a second Experimental Drawing weekend workshop through the Continuing Studies Program at MECA. This one was taught by artist Michel Droge, whose work and spirit I admire very much. There were six of us and much of the work was messy and collaborative. I’m not normally drawn to those two aspects, but due to the instructor’s appetite for exploration and the camaraderie within the class, the workshop developed into a grand adventure in learning how to embrace the instinctual and let go of expectation.

Instinct and trust are two of the most powerful forces in art; ironically they are based on not caring too much. At one point Michel commented that the secret to “95% of artistic success is not caring.” In other words, when you invest too much expectation and put too much pressure on the outcome, it often stifles rather than provokes one’s creativity. I’ve known this all along, but to hear it put this way was both revelatory and liberating. The supportive instruction, messiness, and collaborative nature of this class gave me permission to make choices that were far less fussy and constraining than in my normal practice. The results amazed me.

The class began with some examples of artists who incorporate the subconscious, the surreal and the instinctual into their work (see other people do this too and it’s O.K.), such as Andre Masson (who bears the highly poetical full name of André-Aimé-René Masson), William Kentridge, Joan Mitchell, Stephanie Hadingham and Amy Stacey Curtis. Amy is a local artist and what I find intriguing about her is that her work is extremely structured and detailed yet profoundly experimental (this gives me hope for my own work).

First we taped large sheets of paper onto the floor and placed a heavy antique fan in the center. Then the six of us all took long sticks that had graphite pencils taped to the ends and proceeded to draw the fan. Every few minutes we rotated so that we all collaborated on the drawings.

Next, we took these drawings and drew into them with pencils and pastels, continuing to rotate so that we all contributed to the pieces. Rather than making a confused mess, the drawings were coherent, energetic and lovely.

We drew the antique fan again, using graphite powder (talk about messy!), kneaded erasers, brushes and rags. You have no choice but to confront gesture through this technique. Again, the results were rich (especially after we vacuumed off the powder).

We made ink drawings of tools using stamp pads and hard erasers. Once again we rotated and worked on each others’ drawings. This was helpful in letting go of too much ownership of a particular image and led to more exploration and invention.

We listened to poetry by D.H. Lawrence and Emily Dickinson accompanied by the music of ocean waves and jazz and drew ink drawings with brushes.

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Then we did something truly radical. We taped a roll of drawing paper up on the wall and we TORE up the ink paintings and collaged them.

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After that we took drawing sticks and drew in ink on top of them and then used drawing pencils and pastels and other media. We drew all over it. It was so fun!

 

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We each covered a sheet of paper with charcoal and drew into it with erasers. Then we added more charcoal drawing techniques. This was mine:

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The next morning we covered another large roll of brown paper with charcoal and graphite.

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Then we each took a section and went wild with charcoal, erasers, rags and white chalk. Eventually we each freely moved around on the mural, drawing into various portions with the long drawing sticks, charcoal, and other media until we were happy with the results. I was very impressed with the end product.

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In the afternoon we sectioned off our two mural projects, each picked a section and worked on them individually. These were the ones I worked on.

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In the everyday world of getting to work on time, fulfilling responsibilities, and meeting deadlines,  it is hard to reverse mental traits such as obsessive attention to detail and perfectionism. After all, we become rightfully proud and socially rewarded for these traits, which begin to define who we are. When given the opportunity/permission to let go of those expectations and demands, however, and take some risks, it feels like a caged bird has been allowed to soar. As Michel observed in the beginning of the class, we all make choices and create self-imposed structures. That is not a bad thing — it helps create order and stability. But once you learn how to break (or at least play with) those social and self-imposed structures, it can be tremendously freeing. And having done it once, you just may have the confidence to do it again.

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Miniature Worlds

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“Like a lamp, a cataract,
a star in space, an illusion, a dew drop,
a bubble, a dream, a cloud,
a flash of lightning;
view all created things like this.” – Diamond Sutra

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What is it about these miniature worlds that fascinate me so deeply? The smaller and more intricate, the greater my delight. Perhaps a dash of color, an accent, or more vivid tones are needed to portray their strange biographies.  These flakes, stamens, stalks, droplets, buds, blossoms, fossils, desiccations, landscapes . . . form precious moments of frozen time, evidence of being. Their scientific precision is unconscious. Their imperfection is perfect. They are alive, they are dead, they are dying, they are transforming. I like to fix them in time by recording them on the page, extrapolating and refashioning them into reflections of my own inner frangible world made visible.

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“When you realize there is nothing lacking,
The whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu

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Life is unreal, unfathomable, illusory. What we think is solid is a spider web. What we think is obvious is a delusion. By exploring these hidden realms and studying their secrets, we honor their fragility, and our own.

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“Miniatures invite us to leave our known selves and perspectives behind.” – Lia Purpura

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“I can be sure that even in this tiny, insignificant episode there is implicit everything I have experienced.” – If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

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Ode to John Keats

JohnKeats1819_hires“My imagination is a Monastery, and I am its Monk” – John Keats (1795-1821) to Percy Shelley

Even in our devastated and technologically enslaved world, the deep romanticism of autumn cannot be denied.  It is good to think about and celebrate the life of John Keats, who was born October 31 and died at age twenty-five.  Keats life was tragic. His father died when Keats was only eight.  His mother remarried disastrously, lost her fortune, abandoned her family, returned, and passed away of tuberculosis when Keats was fifteen.  Keats nursed both his mother and his brother Tom throughout the terrible illness of which Keats himself would die.  He abandoned a medical career, lived in poverty, and his work was reviled by the critics of the day.  But the mundanely tragic was transfigured and heightened by the flames of genius and romantic love into some of the greatest writing ever penned.

In nature and in art that which is fragile, delicate, complex and temporal may also be the most sublime. RoseGarden4

As I walk the streets of Portland, with its old Victorian houses, many of which are evocative of Keats (places where Keats lived, such as Wentworth Place and Hempstead Heath would not be out of place here), through the pearl-gray dawn and the rose-gold twilight, along gardens thick with purple asters, golden light streaming through red maple and oak, pine cones and acorns crushing underfoot as the last blooms of autumn glow with heightened color through the mist and rain, the warm sumptuous days growing ever more stunted, Keats and his poetry come to life, infusing the city with their presence.

10.5.13.purpleasters    DreamHouse

Selected Letters

Keats letters, though he often complained about the time it took to manage them (much as we complain about e-mail volume today), stand as a literary compendium in their own right and form a rich autobiography that is humorous, joyful and exquisitely intelligent. It is doubtful any modern e-mail correspondence could ever take their place.

“What astonishes me more than any thing is the tone, the coloring, the slate, the stone, the moss, the rock-weeds; or, if I may say so, the intellect, the countenance of such places.  The space, the magnitude of mountains and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance.  I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever, for the abstract endeavor of being able to add a mite to that mass of beauty which is harvested from these grand matrials, by the finest spirits, and put into ethereal existence for the relish of one’s fellows.” – page 167, Letter to Tom Keats, 25-27, June 25-27, 1818, John Keats, Selected Letters, Penguin Classics.

The artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that peaked 1800 to 1850 was in part a rebuttal to the Industrial Revolution, which one could argue was the beginning of the end for life on Earth. Today intense emotion is shunned and science is king – our emotional life is consumed by fears of terrorism, climate change, social anxiety, and fear of nature. Romanticism celebrated a love of solitude and contemplation and decried population growth, the dark side of urbanism, and industrialism. Individualists and artists were heroes and imagination was considered a freedom from critical authority. Ultimately Romanticism was eroded by Realism and the spread of nationalism.

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“As to the poetical Character itself (I mean that sort of which, if I am any thing, I m a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself – it has no self – it is every thing and nothing – It has no character – it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated – It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen.  What shocks the virtuous philosoper, delights the calemion Poet.  It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation.  A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other Body – The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute – the poet has none; no identify – he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures.”

autumn3hinckleyWhile Romantic love is deemed by modern psychology as a toxin that poisons relationships by giving rise to unhealthy attachments, it continues to permeate our world. And in fact it stands as testimony to something eternal and necessary to the human psyche. What would Keats’ life have been without Franny Brawne?  Has there ever been anything more beautiful, fragile, or romantic than their relationship?  He often said the depth of his love was killing him, but it also gave him life.

“Sweetest Fanny,

You fear, sometimes, I do not love you as much as you wish?  My dear Girl I love you ever and ever and without reserve.  The more I have known you the more have I lov’d.  In every way – even my jealousies have been agonies of Love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you.  I have vex’d you too much.  But for Love!  Can I help it?  You are always new.  The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest.  When you pass’d my window home yesterday, I was fill’d with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time.  You uttered a half complaint once that I only lov’d your Beauty.  Have I nothing else then to live in you but that?  Do not I see a heart naturally furnish’d with wings imprison itself with me?  No ill prospect has been able to turn your thoughts a moment from me.” — To Franny Brawne, March, 1820

FMFall13“Upon my soul I have loved you to the extreme, I wish you could know the Tenderness with which I continually brood over your different aspects of countenance, action and dress.  I see you come down in the morning:  I see you meet me at the Window – I see the pleasant clue I live in a sort of happy misery. . .” — To Franny Brawne, June, 1820

“The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me.  I cannot q——- My dear Brown, I should have had her when I was in health, and I should have remained well.  I can bear to die – I cannot bear to leave her.  Oh, God! God! God!  Every thing I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear.  The silk lining she put in my travelling cap scalds my head.  My imagination is horribly vivid about her – I see her – I hear her.  There is nothing in the world of sufficient interest to divert me from her a moment.  This was the case when I was in England; I cannot recollect, without shuddering, the time that I was prisoner at Hunt’s, and used to keep my eyes fixed on Hampstead all day.  Then there was a good hope of seeing her again – Now! – O that I could be buried near where she lives!  I am afraid to write to her – the receive a letter from her – to see her hand writing would break my heart – even to hear of her any how, to see her name written would be more than I can bear.  My dear Brown, what am I to do?” – To Charles Brown, November 1-2, 1820

Autumn FlowersBut the Romantics weren’t all doom and gloom.  Bright Star, the astonishing film by Jane Campion about Keats and Fanny Brawne, is itself a metaphor for the Romantic Age, which, like it or not, has infiltrated Western culture. The film’s melancholia may seem morbid, but it is pierced with exquisite moments, illuminated by an essential “truth and beauty.” And that is the point.


A Thing Of Beauty (Endymion) 

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

— John Keats

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John Keats Weather

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John Keats Weather

by Annie Seikonia

 

rain globe –

long red worms

graze the soil

 

a startling lime-green haze

creeps from frozen brown

drought

 

water sloshes in the lungs

and heart, thermostat plunging

from childish fevers to hellish chills

 

hot sun

beckons through weeks of rain

from imaginary islands

 

spores fire

weed and bud

fermenting the meridians

 

of dark brick corners,

coal midnights —

a ceaseless windy plash

 

soft unimaginable petals

burgeon

the richest desires. . .

 

the outset of the walk was

through lush catastrophe and we

slept in a sodden sullen church

 

hovering in the dense

cheap sick room where

the living bacteria flumed

 

in the quay submerged

rhythms of forest and

marooned moons

 

complicate

arpeggios of

rocks in the chest.

 

lush wheels of geometric

patterns

provoke and set

 

foggy breaths

clink music as

a cat licks its lips

 

hoary poppy

leaves pierce

black loam

 

two crows toy

and drop

the bone

 

ribboning cove

bronchial tide

veins of muddy brine

 

time unfurls

the heat cruelly

exploding the farm

 

you both

kiss the wall

covering it with whispers

 

spectral fairies prance

over harsh

oaken moss

 

a red ribbon of flame

haunts your

alabaster neck

 

a purple dress

sails through

the heath of health

 

you were correct

to fear the scansions of love

without which

 

the verse would not

burn

nor the world uncurl

 

yet still time? to

set things right

put the house in order

 

sweep out the larks

ashes beetles

mortar

 

though a moist

chaos infiltrates

the book

 

________

 

so one goes on

perhaps even marries

settling into the stitch

 

it’s nothing like

marrying the sea though

is it?

 

Sketchbook: Black and White

 

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“Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times.  It brings together man and the world.  It lives through magic.” — Keith Haring

“Color weakens.” — Picasso

I love drawing, an act I find profoundly meditative, and most especially I love drawing with pen and ink.  There is a power you get with black and white that isn’t achievable through color.  Writer and photo historian Peter Bunnell said, “Full-color images lack the poignancy of monochrome. . . Black-and-white film inherently peels off interesting images from the world; it sees things we do not see, and thus insists on the existence of a phantom presence within reality, a world we cannot perceive.”  And In Praise of Shadows, a long essay about the aesthetics of the sublime in Japanese culture, Junichiro Tanizaki said “we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”

By stripping away the color, the power of the pattern emerges.  The absolute contrasts are eloquent and bold.  Drawing with ink is closer to writing.  It contains the seeds of an ancient magic, as so profoundly depicted in Werner Herzog’s documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, in which Herzog leads the viewer into the depths of the mysterious Chauvet Cave in southern France.  Although these images, the oldest human ones yet discovered, are called “paintings,”  I read them as drawings, and when I draw I feel connected to these ancient humans.

To me, color is symphonic, and I think of these sketchbook drawings as more like piano pieces, frozen pieces of time.  Of course, sometimes a hint of color does seem warranted.  Though nowhere near as talented as these artists, my influences include Vincent Van Gogh’s drawings, the paintings of Maurice Utrillo, and the prints of Hokusai.

 

The Metaphysics of Autumn

The last flowers and fruits of the season, the husks and shells of effervescent blooms, the spectral forms of autumn, are poignant reminders not only of the ephemeral, but of the eternal.  In nature there is no death, only transformation.

Spontaneous Summer Haiku

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forget daily life
go to the pond
and sit there

this place
as perfect as
any other

alone
in the park
surrounded by leaves

sublime the ducks
gliding through
reflections

sketching in the park
suddenly I understand
the language of ducks

there’s no end
to this richness
no end

shadows pour
down oak leaves
over the summer pond

close your eyes
and listen
to the green

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The Universe in Three Lines

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I wrote my first haiku in Sixth Grade and have been an aficionado ever since. Haiku has been referred to as a “restrained mirror of the universe,” and its jewel-like quality – that essence of a shard that reverberates to encompass the entire world – is stunning in its highly compressed brevity. Therein lies the challenge of haiku.

English haiku has been somewhat crippled by the early attempts to mimic Japanese haiku, which included the erroneous idea that the 5:7:5 formula of five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables, needed to be employed, and that the first and third lines had to rhyme, in order to mimic the rhythms of Japanese haiku. However, Japanese use “onji” or “sound symbols,” which refer to phonetic characters that do not actually correlate with English syllables. The 5:7:5 formula is an easy template to follow, but it does not represent the true art of haiku. Great poems have been written in this manner, but they seem hobbled in comparison with the Japanese masters.

A structure of two beats/three beats/two beats, with a break after the second or fifth beat (to mimic the grammatical pause or “cutting word”/kireji found in Japan, yields a poem that is truer to the traditional haiku form. The Japanese typically use a kigo, or “season word” as well.

In “Learn From the Pine,” the master haiku artist Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), wrote, “Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo. Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought. The basis of art is change in the universe. What’s still has changeless form. . . Make the universe your companion. . . The secret of poetry lies in treading the middle path between the reality and the vacuity of the world. . . When you are composing a verse, let there not be a hair’s breadth separating your mind from what you write. . . Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter. . . The bones of haikai are plainness and oddness. . . Eat vegetable soup rather than duck stew.”

In a great haiku an implosion of music, image and meaning creates that state of “no mind,” the “reason of unreason,” that echoes the Zen moment of awakening. Translation is difficult. Even scholarly translations may fall far short of the original intent of the poem. I’ve read many haiku that didn’t impress me, only to find that in a different translation, the same poem blew my socks off. Oddly enough, one of the best haiku anthologies I’ve come across is a thin paperback volume published by Dover, titled The Classic Tradition of Haiku, edited by Faubion Bowers. It contains a survey of original Japanese poems, extensive footnotes, and a variety of translators (and, on occasion, different translations of the same poem.)

The writer Richard Wright discovered haiku during the last 18 months of his life, proceeding to write over 4,000 of them. For Wright, haiku were “self-developed antidotes against illness” that allowed him to further his art in spite of diminishing health and stamina. His poems suffer from the 5-7-5 curse, which makes them stilted, and at times he seems to be over-striving to mimic the Japanese masters, yet there are some amazing poems interspersed in this incredible body of work.

Here are some examples of what I consider to be “gems” of the haiku world:

Iio Sōgi (1421-1502)

mono goto ni                                 everything that was
oi wa kokoro no                     has vanished from my aged heart
ato mo nashi                                   leaving not a trace

Arakida Moritake (1472-1549)

asagao ni                                           My span of years
kyō wa miyuran                    Today appears
waga yo kana                                    A morning-glory’s hour.

Anonymous (1600’s)

tsunu mo oshi                                   I regret picking
tsumano mo oshiki                                  and not picking
sumire kana                                       violets

Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693)

tai wa hana                            Villages may lack
wa minu sato mo ari                Sea bream or flowers
kyō no tsuki                           but they all have tonight’s moon

Yamaguchi Sodō (1642-1716)

yado no haru                                In my hut this spring,
nani mo naki                                 There is nothing –
nani mo are                                   There is everything!

Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

It’s not like anything
they compare it to –
the summer moon.

Spring!
a nameless hill
in the haze.

furuike ya                                       old pond. . .
kawaza tobikumu                        a frog leaps in
mizu no oto                                   water’s sound*

Or is this better?                                    Th’old pond – a frog jumps in. Kerplunk!

yagate shinu                                 Nothing in the voice
keshiki wa miezu                              Of the cicada intimates
semi no koe                                  How soon it must die**

natsukusa ya                                The summer grass
tsuwamonodomo ga                       Is all that’s left
yume no ato                                 Of ancient warriors’ dreams

tsuki sumu ya                              The moon is clear –
kitsune kowagaru                             I escort a lovely boy
chigo no tomo                            frightened by a fox

hamaguri no                               A clam
futami ni wakare                           separates lid
yukuaki zo                                               from flesh as autumn departs

The sea darkening –
the wild duck’s call
is faintly white

The jars of octopus
brief dreams
under the summer moon.

petal by petal
yellow mountain roses fall –
sound of the rapids

More than ever I want to see
the god’s face
in these blossoms at dawn

year after year
on the monkey’s face
a monkey’s mask

*This is quite possibly the most renowned haiku in the world. An entire book has been devoted to its variations and meanings. It exemplifies the height of satori and “eternity in tranquility.”

**I disliked the translation that went with this (“It gives no sign/that it knows its death is near/the cicada’s cry”) and recalled this translation, which made a deep impression on me when I read it during my teens, used in the J.D. Salinger story “Teddy” in the collection, Nine Stories.

Kasugi Isshō (1652-1688)

mi tsukushita                           My eyes, which had seen all, come back,
me wa shiragiku ni                 Back to the white chrysanthemums.
modori keri

Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707)

kojiki kana                                There goes a beggar
tenchi no kitaru                             Wearing heaven and earth
natsu goromo                          As summer clothes

Uejima Onitsura (1661-1738)

gaikotsu no                               Oh! flower-gazers, who have decked
ue o yosotē                               the surface of their skeletons!
hanani kana

Tachibana Hokushi (1665-1718)

kaite mitari                            I write, I look, I erase
keshitari hate wa                     And in the end
keshi no hana                       A poppy of erasure***

*** Hokushi’s death-bed poem.

Ogawa Shūskiki (1669-1725)

mishi yume no                        Even after waking
samete mo iro no                  From the dream
kakitsubata                              I’ll see the colors of irises

Kaga no Chiyo (1703-1775)****

koe nakuba                               but for their voices
sagi ushinawanui                   the herons would disappear –
kesa no yuki                             the morning’s snow

wakakusa ya                            green grass –
kinema kirema ni                  between, between the blades
mizu no iro                              the color of water

tsukubcte                                 squatting
kumo o ukagau                      the frog observes
kaeru kana                              the clouds

akebono no                             dawn’s separation
wakare wa motanu               unknown
hiina kana                                to dolls

**** Chiyo was a popular haiku poet, a married woman who later became a nun.

Yosa Buson (1716-1784)

nusabito no                            a thief
yane ni kieyuku                   vanishes over the rooftops —
yosamu kana                         night chill!

furuike no                               In an old pond a frog ages while leaves fall.
kawazu oiyuku
ochiba kana

among twenty snowy mountains
the only moving thing
was the eye of the blackbird

blow of an ax,
pine scent,
the winter woods

in the summer rain
the path
has disappeared

bats flitting here and there;
the woman across the street
glances this way

Lighting one candle
with another candle –
spring evening.

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

The lights are going out
in the doll shops –
spring rain.

Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826)*****

aki no ya ya                          autumn night. . .
tabi no otoko no                a traveling man’s
harishigoto                          needlework

utsukushiki                          gorgeous kite
tako agarikeri                     rising above
kojiki goya                           a beggar’s hut

mata mudi ni                      Once more in vain the stepchild bird opens its beak.
kuchi asku tori no
mamako kana

shi ni jitaku                         Being born the lowest of the low, I view cherries at night.
itaseitase to
sakura kana

shi ni jitaku                        Get ready, get ready to die, the cherries say.
itaseitase to
sakura kana

tsuyu no yaw a                The world of dew
tsuyu no yo nagara              is the world of dew, and yet
sari nagara                        And yet. . .

In spring rain
a pretty girl
yawning

Naked
on a naked horse
in pouring rain!

writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art

what’s said of snowmen
doesn’t last any longer
than the snowmen

let’s ride
on the duckweed flowers
to a cloud over there

the sold horse
looks back at his mother. . .
autumn rain

never forget:
we walk on hell,
gazing at flowers

the distant mountains
are reflected in the eye
of the dragonfly

*****Issa is my favorite haiku poet. His earthy, compassionate poems are the most beautiful in the world.

Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

harusame ya                          spring rain
kasa sashite miru                 browsing under my umbrella
ezōshiya                                  at the picture-book store

WhiteIrisichihatsu no                          this lone iris
ichirin shirōshi                    white
haru no kune                         in spring twilight

yuki furu yo                         snow’s falling!
shōji no ana o                       I see it through a hole
mite areba                             in the shutter. . .

jōbutso ya                              Buddha-death:
yūgao nokao                         the moonflower’s face
hechima noke                       the snake gourd’s fart

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

A cathedral bell
Dimming the river water
In the autumn dusk.

In a drizzling rain,
In a flower shop’s doorway,
A girl sells herself.

Leaving the doctor,
the whole world looks different
This autumn morning.

BluePine

A night of spring stars:
Waves breaking beyond the wall
Have a dark blue sound.

The blue of this sky
Sounds so loud that it can be heard
Only with our eyes.

A freezing morning:
As sharp as an aching tooth,
A long icicle.

A spring sky so clear
That you feel you are seeing
Into tomorrow

How lonely it is:
A winter world full of rain,
Rain raining on rain.

The neighing horses
Are causing echoing neighs
In neighboring barns.

Of generations
Comes this wild red rose to me,
As I come to it.

In the summer haze:
Behind magnolias,
Faint sheets of lightning.

I had long felt that
Those sprawling black railroad tracks
Would bring down this snow.

Factory whistles
Bring flurries of fat snow
In a winter dawn.

Over spring mountains
A star ends the paragraph
Of a thunderstorm.

The sudden thunder
Startles the magnolias
To a deeper white.

The lighted toy shop
Seen through a frozen window
Is another world.

This well-thumbed novel
Was the tale she loved best –
Fields of autumn rain.

Beyond a sea wall,
An occasional wave flings
Foam at the autumn sky.

I saw the dead man
Impatiently brush away
The flies from his mouth.

Spring snow melting,
But under the dark hedges
Are patches of white.

The ocean in June:
Inhaling and exhaling,
But never speaking.

Golden afternoon:
Tree leaves are visiting me
In their yellow clothes.

With nervous pleasure,
The tulips are receiving
A spring rain at dusk.

Annie Seikonia

I have been writing my own haiku for over forty years. Even now, I find myself tinkering with haiku I wrote decades ago. Sometimes I fantasize about starting a Kickstarter campaign through which I would ask subscribers to pay $100 a year in exchange for haiku-a-day emailed to them for 365 days. Three hundred subscribers, and I could almost quit my day job.  Then I could become a full-time haiku master!  In any case, here are some of my own recent haiku:

sleeping
I would have missed
this nautilus dawn

three gray squirrels
early Sunday morning —
autumn’s trapeze

rainy Friday night
rooms festooned
with heavy wet laundry

invisible in white
blossoms: the cardinal’s
red song

blue cold gold
bee green
spring throne

a theater of blossoms
unfolds in the opera
of spring rain

white blossoms
on a cold spring night –
solitude

white blossoms
cold black sky
fugitive galaxy

rain at dusk
the dogwood trees
in blossom on the trail

finally home
a pocket of rose petals
recalls the ocean rain

after the summer rain
a crow walking
through mirrors

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Photographs by Annie Seikonia

The Difficulty of Writing

DHLawrence

D.H. Lawrence

Rodin.TheThinker.Best

The Thinker by Rodin

GeoffDyer

Geoff Dyer

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”  — Thomas Mann

I first came across this quote in my early 20s.  The first time I read it, I was astonished!  How could writing be more difficult for a writer than for other people?  But it is.  It is, almost to the point of rendering the writer unable to write. For a writer, the stakes are sky-high.  Writing is a cerebral, exacting, daunting task, made even more formidable by the omnipotence of the words and the language that we use to communicate with all the time.

A friend of mine recently lent me a book called Out of Sheer Rage:  Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer.  It was described to me as a book about D. H. Lawrence, “and so much more.”  It is a novel about the author’s inability to write a study of D.H. Lawrence, mixed in betwixt the facets of his life (such as his peripatetic nature) that keep him from reaching his most primal ambitions, with D.H. Lawrence leaking in intermittently.  In the end it is indeed a study of D.H. Lawrence, as well as a memoir, a travelogue, and a critique on literature and philosophy.  It is also about the difficulty of writing.

At first I was taken aback by Dyer’s stylistic echoes of the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard (an homage – or offense, depending on how you look at it) acknowledged as early as Page 3:  “As soon as I started making notes on Lawrence I realized I was probably sabotaging forever any chance of writing my novel which, more than any other book I had written, had to be written immediately, before another protracted bout of labour came between me and the idea for what I perceived as a rambling, sub-Bernhardian rant of a novel.  It was now or never.” 

Ben Marcus, who wrote about Thomas Bernhard in Harper’s magazine, is my least favorite writer for the same reasons I was initially apprehensive about Dyer.  Bernhard is one of my most revered authors, starting with Corrections, which I read about the same time I came across the Thomas Mann quote.  Corrections is the dark-edged paragraph-less narration of a project that is continually being “corrected” to the point of oblivion.  Bernhard is a genius.  When someone tries to imitate him it gives me pause.  Copying a Picasso might not be such a difficult task, but it doesn’t make you Picasso.

But as I read deeper into Out of Sheer Rage I was drawn into its meandering melanges, and Dyer’s  looping novel/memoir/literary critique entertained and fascinated me in a way that Marcus’ hollow post-postmodern babblings never have.  I loved Dyer’s commentaries on Rilke, Italian society, Camus, and Oxford, aka “Dullsford,” a place where “dim-wit academics [are] shoveling away at their research, digging the grave of literature.”

What does it require to write?  The right time, the right mood, the right energy, the right place, a fancy studio, the cabin in the woods?  All of those things and none of those things.  What are the great enemies of writing?  Distraction, procrastination, insecurity, atychiphobia (fear of failure), cynicism, depression, illness, exhaustion. . . the list goes on.

Dyer is haunted by the constant feeling he should be doing something other than what he is doing, or living somewhere other than where he is living.  This torturous sense of indecision haunts me as well.  Do I write now or go to the gym?  Do I go to the gym and write later?  If I write I will wish I had gone to the gym; if I go to the gym I will wish I was writing.  Later I am highly likely to be too tired for either, having stayed up very late reading.  But it’s the weekend, goddamnit.  In the end I decide to clean out the blankets of dust from behind my refrigerator.  I also have to go to the store.  And do yoga.  Check Email.  It is just like at the office:  death by a thousand paper cuts, though I accomplish a lot more there.  At times I am so driven, I become paralyzed; hence the difficulty of writing.  Of course there are larger issues at play here, mostly related to fear of writing itself (graphophobia!).

There are so many sources of inspiration:  books, the Internet, conferences, workshops, classes, writing groups.  They are all so helpful and yet so potentially distracting from the central difficulty, which is expressed so succinctly in that brilliant Nike slogan:  Just Do It. However we may cajole, reward, pressure, manipulate or encourage ourselves, it all boils down to those three silly words.  Of course it’s true for everything from exercise to cooking, whether you love doing it or not.  There is that constant battle with malaise.  Artistic creation, however, is so ensnared with ego, hope and desire, that traction is even harder to gain.

“The more I ponder these questions the more I am persuaded that the real subject of this book, the one that writing it was an attempt to evade, is despair.”— Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage, p226.  One could easily say the same of Bernhardt.

Then there is the “what if” factor, i.e. “what if I didn’t have to work; what if I didn’t have to go to that meeting; what if I didn’t have to volunteer for that worthy cause?”  And this is what Dyer has to say about that:  “The perfect life, the perfect lie, I realized after Christmas, is one which prevents you from doing that which you would ideally have done (painted, say, or written unpublishable poetry) but which, in fact, you have no wish to do.  People need to feel that they have been thwarted by circumstances from pursuing the life which, had they led it, they would not have wanted.”

Suddenly it is after midnight.  I should have been asleep two hours ago.  I have to be up in six hours for work.  A kind of sudden brilliance suddenly crackles through my mind.  Ideas for stories, poems, essays – the blog – well up in phrases and sentences that long to be captured.  This occurs at precisely the moment when I am most exhausted (and, perhaps, finally, my brain is most relaxed).  The irony of this is not lost on me.

Between the great devouring maw of time and the endless tasks (real and imagined), the magic kingdom represented by those three little Nike-ian words continue to propel us to put pen to page.

As Dyer says, “One way or another we all have to write our studies of D.H. Lawrence.  Even if they will never be published, even if we will never complete them, even if all we are left with after years and years of effort is an unfinished, unfinishable record of how we failed to live up to our own earlier ambitions, still we all have to try to make some progress with our books about D.H. Lawrence.  The world over, from Taos to Taormina, from the places we have visited to countries we will never set in, the best we can do is to try to make some progress with our studies of D.H. Lawrence.”