At the Intersection of Above and Below Ground

Geomicrobiologists now claim life underground exceeds in size, diversity, and span life above ground. What is life? It might be easier to simply say Earth is alive, all of it, including the rocks. And does extraterrestrial life exist? Well, we exist, we think. It now appears planets are living beings. Universe is alive. And that’s not counting the ghosts.

According to scientist Karen Lloyd, quoted in The Guardian: “The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.” That describes a teacher I had in high school.

Meanwhile, in the basement studio, located at the intersection of above and below ground, I’ve continued to work on cutout paintings. The photos below detail the evolution of a recent graffito work:

Sitting Out: Painting in Progress

Portlanders love to sit out. At sidewalk cafes, outside pubs, in their yards or drives. On porches, decks, balconies. In parks. On special occasions, neighbors will close their street to cars so they can sit out in the middle of the block at improvised tables in whatever chairs seem to turn up. The atmosphere of a street closed to cars turns surreal in these times. Maybe because it rains six months out of the year, Portlanders don’t take the perfect evening for a sit out for granted, but they’ll even sit out in the rain, huddled beneath coats and blankets around a fire pit or under overhead standing outdoor electric heaters.

The current painting in progress is tentatively titled, “Sitting Out.” It’s 3 feet by 5 feet, stretched canvas. I’ve used acrylics, oils, and oil pastels, applied with brush, palette knife, or directly out of the tube. The grandgirls have been involved in this painting as well. Chloe is responsible for the bottom left, raspberries at the top of a green hill, ZZ for the sky and bottom right umbrella and blue chair seated with a red figure. Layer upon layer. Things get covered up. Sometimes it’s a mistake to cover something over, but you keep working. A canvas of this size is not inexpensive, but we got this one used at a garage sale for $5. We painted over the old painting, but ZZ wanted to keep some existing red roses in the bottom right hand corner, so we tried to preserve those.

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Our studio, such as it is, is located in the basement:

The grandgirls are back in school now, and I’m working on the sit out painting in the basement alone. Last night I added the black umbrella outline with the broken stretchers pointing upward in the middle left. Had the girls been there, they would have booed this change. I need to figure out a way to cover it up without ruining the horizon line below it, which tops Chloe’s field.

Below are two pics of Portlanders sitting out on the sidewalk and in the street corral of a corner restaurant:

And we’ll close with this pic of a sit out zone in an unused portion of a driveway, Ollie waiting patiently to be taken for a ride:

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Notes on “Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding”

Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From HidingPure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding, by Lim Lee Ching, with Drawings by Britta Noresten. Introduction by Neil Murphy and Afterword by Jeremy Fernando. Poems Sequenced by Mary Ann Lim. Layout by Yanyun Chen. Paperback edition first published 2017 by Delere Press, Singapore.

 

In a December, 2014 interview with Sara Lau for Obscured, Jeremy Fernando talks about his vision for Delere Press: “We didn’t see the need to have a prescribed look for all our books – we recognize that we are a small boutique press, and we are probably going to remain that way in the foreseeable future. In the end, all we want to do is to create and publish something that shows the artists and the writers’ work in the most beautiful way possible.” “Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding” is my second experience reading with notes intended for the Toads in response to a Delere Press work. Of particular note is the press’s intent “to provide a home for text and images that may not have a home otherwise, no matter what its geographical origins.” That the press attempts to do so with hard copy, illustrated texts, choreographed by literary troupe in our digital age is remarkable.

“Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding,” is a collaborative effort to book a collection of poems by a particular writer that becomes more than a sum of its parts. We have, maybe, become too familiar with books of hidden poetry. They line the shelves like butterflies pinned under glass. A poem does not begin like a fallen leaf pressed between pages of a book for bibliographical preservation. A poem begins as a particle, a photon, a piece of light that lands in the reader’s hands, a single note that enters the ears with a breeze, something that bugs the skin with an itch, as in, “something just bit me!” A book cannot preserve that piece of light except in fossilized memory. We may never hear that note again; it has joined the sound ocean waves make. The bug has lit, and we are left the proof of a small rash of the bed bug or lice visit. We jump into a bath of prose to escape the itching.

When I say “to book,” I mean that pinned collection of specimens organized for study. To book is to create a model to look. The helpless reader must imagine the specimen fluttering in a heat of flowers. A poem may try to evade its predators (its digital critics) by hiding in the book:

“Even as it might be chuckling, perhaps always
laughing

                                            le rire du poeme

A laughter from elsewhere,
one that we perhaps cannot yet hear.
Much like the silence of the sirens. Always perhaps
already there,
awaiting us.”

That is from Jeremy Fernando’s “Et tu…A Prayer for Lim Lee Ching,” an afterword to “Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging from Hiding.” Other parts of Lim Lee Ching’s book of poetry include an introduction by Neil Murphy (“Lim Lee Ching: Bounded by Beauty”) and eight drawings of birds, spread throughout the book, by Britta Noresten. We are told the poems were sequenced by Mary Ann Lim and the layout composed by Yanyun Chen. All of those collaborators are called “contributors,” and they are given end-space so they too might become familiar to the reader. What becomes larger than the sum of the parts is that collaborative effort that creates emergence. What emerges is poetry from hiding, raising elation, poetry unshackled, flown like paper birds from the garret into a community, a society. Poetry is a question of community more important than mere self-expression.

“The path is not tongue-tied,” Lim Lee Ching says. The path is there and people will walk it. The invitation, the invocation, is clear. But who are these people, these walkers (readers) of the path? “That perhaps is not so much the question, but quite certainly a question,” Fernando says, and “Keeping in mind Paul Celan’s beautiful, haunting, reminder that la poesie ne s’impose plus, elle s’expose. One might even say it opens itself” (93). Opens itself to itself, it’s self-same intuitions, which are its conventions, if you need “criteria” to read by, if mere light proves insufficient. We are on a path.

When I first read “Quick Guide” (48), I thought I was to pick words from the text box on page 48 and insert them into one of the blank lines in the text on pages 49 through 51. I thought the path had come upon a Mad Lib.

“Sometimes a show can be too new for its own good” (49), I suggested to myself, my choices being “first blue dark ripe new fast.” “Mad” is a choice farther down the list, and “sad,” and “bad,” if you want to rhyme. But now I’m not so sure. All the words in the text box are one syllable. There are 78 words in the text box, and there are 60 blank spaces in the text on pages 49 through 51. This is analysis. Am I analyzing a joke here? Is this humor? Of course it is! Let’s get the reader really involved!

“It quickly becomes clear that part of the idea is to use humour to send up some of the ____________ attitudes still dominant in the art world. So, the pleasures of discipline are extolled, the players get their turn and pretentiousness gets a ____________ kicking” (50).

Poetry comes without directions, or it should. Critics may provide some directions, using a kind of rear view mirror to describe the path now behind them. The critic’s notes may prove useful maps; then again, the reader may feel just as lost.

The Poems:

Beginning with “Ode to Everman” [sic], we hear repetition and a counting (accounting of things): cadence, marching, peace and piece, music piece, measured. Every man [who has ever marched, marching in a line, in a poem, to a tune, attuned]. Circumstance, the silence of Beckett (a ringing in the ears). Military “boom time,” “armed,” “beating” (12:13).

Warren Beatty? How’s that for a surprise? Repetitions (‘One at a time”), words connected by sound: “cravat advocate” (14).

“Unloading pomposity one at a time” (14), and again “…your / Penchant for pomposity” (22). Where “Iowa” is monosyllabic: “Impossibility of authenticity” (22).

Numbers as poetic concern, things counted, measured, “Halved too far” (15).

“Cull” illustrates the poet’s task. The poet fishes, on a perch, for a perch. But who are the “armed men”? Look how quickly we can move from river to city:

“Waiting and baiting on the narrowing perch,
The centre holds them still.
A trunk, a branch – of streets and lanes,
Of skinny legs and weathered shoulders” (17).

Suggesting weathered soldiers, readers. Again, a military, a line: “Of fight, of fright, / And frenzied feeding against stained walls” (17). Desire is impotent. Who will teach that?

Then we turn the page to a drawing of a bird, not quite but almost black and white, but more, the feeling of a bird in flight, perhaps in the night, or a fog, or over a grey sea. We resist the impulse to anthropomorphize. But it’s clinging to a small branch. Building a nest? Very few birds fly solo. What a world this must be, to a bird. In any case, to cull is to pick, peck, at words.

“Only the facts remain” of Ryan White, who picked up a “Contagion.” Only our germs remain. You build yourself a bomb shelter against the fallout, but you are yourself a germ, a bug, rising, falling. So much fear. “Only the facts remain” (20). Facts survive. If we’ve lived for any length of time in a refugee camp, we have germs. If we’ve lived any length of time in a bungalow in Des Moines, we have the same germs. We are emergent, emerging – emergence, as writer merges with reader, something more. Is that pompous? Is poetry a contagion? After the poem, what remains?

“Bookmarks” is a longer poem, of which there are several in the book, prose blocks, not non-lyrical, but not lyrics. But not prose, and not blocks, scrolls. We keep to the first word of each line capitalized, giving the line that authority accustomed poetry, but the lines are not necessarily sentences, not in the usual sense:

“Only the words remain to be spoken, the writing to be sung
Of happinesses witnessed and tongues tied
In full contemplation of the idea of ideas” (24).

Who inhabits the space of an idea? “…not…king, colonel or clown, / Nor the realm of whisperers seeking to please” (24).

An idea (ideology is not ideas, Trilling said: Ideas malleable, suitable for poetry; ideology fixed). Idea of order in things (Key West shells, beaches, cocktails, dandy diamond Wallace Stevens). “Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself,” Stevens said. No idea except in things (Williams, Paterson, Book I):

“—Say it, no ideas but in things—
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident—
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
secret—into the body of the light!”

I’m in “Bookmarks,” and I’m reminded of Blake (where I left plenty of bookmarks), “Proverbs of Hell.” “Adagia”? Erasmus’s collection of proverbs. In any case, Lim Lee Ching says:

“The source of ignorance may well be reluctant pursuit.”

“The cult of stability and singular meaning
Diminishes ascendant beauty, delight and breath-hope.”


“Persistent therefores are fallacious,
They bind while unleashing the gateward push” (25).

Prayer, cadence, repetition. Whose tongue is tied praying, writing, reading poems? The scat of the song ruins the stutter, but the poet’s many tools are not obtrusive:

“Whispery songs of woven trances,
Of ancient wisemen oozing” (27).

Cadence as old steps (“the fragrance of remembrance”) might lead to disappointment, even depression: “Accord each a place in abjection” (27).

But isn’t time directionless? What does it matter if we are moving forward (in desire, in anxiety) or backward (in memory, in loss). For-word. Back-word. The poet spends time in a backworld, where the citizens speak backward.

“Penance is the province of princes, not poor men” (28), which brings us to T. S. Eliot:

“Here lies the awakening
Of the dispensation of an age,
Dismissing the certainty as one in many
[where]
The faces put on meet the faces within” (29).

Ideology is a “contagion.” Is poetry the antidote?

And again birds, before a song breaks the spell of the litany. Something lonely about the bird drawings. The birds are not in nature, or even in the city, but alone, each its own poem, each drawing its own poem, saying the same thing, but in different expressions. Where do we see these birds? In sky that is like a sea: grey-green; blue-grey; slate; cliff chalk white.

“Song” (34): Blake of the Songs – song, rhyme, cadence, hope, safe, heart, metaphor for what? Can the reader, too, be one of the “players of the heart”? (35).

“faithful” (37), religious or spiritual, sound but abstract images, nothing of the kitchen full of dirty dishes or the toilet in the bathroom in need of cleaning. Not Bukowski here. And I’m still hearing Blake of the Songs. Which is lovely, lyrical, song. I try to remain a faithful reader.

We’ve had our song, now the “Road Rises” as the reader falls. Mix of pop culture with “village.” The “tenderizing songs” of Elvis. And “Plastic Jesus” – the perfect image on the dashboard desires deconstruction, a theory to explain its presence, or disappearance.

Then again I’m reminded of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, but not Stevie Smith or Marianne Moore. Not a statistician. Enjoys punctuation that helps, not simply follows some rule. Writing as accretion, addition. I find something interesting, a two word form, in “Shallowbreath”: “ribboned arches…winded depths…cobbled many…meddled few…celebrated warmth…allayed smokememory…displaced upon…hounded the highroad… …warmed eyes.” We could be in London or Singapore or Dublin. Joycean, that “smokememory.”

A short, lyrical, litany ends, “And then there is you.” Do birds prepare for flight? Always at the ready, never slack, like cats, never napping in clear sight. Are birds keen to fly? “On the station platform prayer beads change hands” (57). Partnerships.

“A Gazal” (58). What gets rhymed, and why, and what gets repeated, and why? For song, for the sake of song in which we have something to keen. Poetry gives form to the broken. What is unbound cannot be broken again.

The poems seem to call on a kind of philosophical muse, hard thought. Yet that thought’s softness comes through in poetic style, the form and shapes, the lines, the breath, the flows repeated and measured. The writing seems logical, in the same way that Kafka may appear logical, or Borges, without dismissing the nonlogical. The first person is not paramount. Others are. And when I appears, it’s Meng Jiang (61). If we continue to break what is broken what do we become? Minerals? Salts?

Little poems of “love and faith” (65). What more can a reader ask for? The reader comprehends the poetry without necessarily every line understanding it.

Nijinsky appears (66). The last time I saw Nijinsky in a poem was at El Camino, around 1969. Stephen Jama passed out a poem he had written, typewriter print on colored paper. Some students got a green sheet, others a yellow, others blue or grey. Never white. “And the world dies, Adonis on its lips,” I think I recall, at the top. And Nijinsky was “dancing a band”? No, dancing I forget what. And there was a “tousled laugh.” I wish I could remember that poem. It’s lost now. I don’t think it ever made it into a book. I wonder who still has their copy. I kept mine for years, then one day without reason tossed them all, along with a box of my own stuff. I was knee deep in the red dust by then, cleaning out the basement, lost in the dust. Maybe it’s poems “belong only to the night” (67). Jama’s assignment was for us to read the poem and then to write a response. Birds in flight.

“What I have written, I have written,” Jeremy Fernando says in his afterword. Would that were true of what I have written. But what I have read, I have read. Fernando attempts to connect writer to reader: where does poetry, that space of water we seem to want to cross, a crossing, from the shore of sleep to the loading docks of day – poetry the ferry full of readers unbound from one shore, paddling for the opposite – what path leads down to the ferry launch? When the poem laughs, is it the reader laughed at? That is a cynical view many hold.

To read is to experience. Any attempt to make some other sense of that experience is a different matter:

“… every try, any trying, perhaps even trial, is not just haunted by misreadings, over-writings, one cannot even underwrite it with the certainty that reading has taken place, that one has even read” (77).

Plein-air on Mt Tabor

Late summer in the Northwest finished hot and dry, smoke and ash drifting from the wildfires drizzling down onto our outdoor evening tête-à-têtes in the city. The Gorge fire was the closest to us. Ash blew with the east winds and if windows were left open you awoke with ash on the sills and furniture and floor. Down south one of my brothers and his family were safe but dramatically affected by the wine country fires. Now in Portland we’ve had a few days of sweeping rains, and suddenly flood alerts replace air quality alerts, but today is a lovely fall day, and I took a walk through Mt Tabor Park.

I wanted to walk in the sun, so in the afternoon I climbed over to the road above Reservoir Number 5, around its south end, to the flat road up above Reservoir Number 6. I stopped to take a picture overlooking the water, across the Hawthorne neighborhoods to the city and West Hills beyond. Now walking north, I noticed an artist standing at an easel, working.

I took a few pics of him working and got his permission to post them to my blog. The artist is Jonathan Luczycki, who paints in the plein-air style, which means he paints outdoors and tries to catch the light and colors, shadows and shapes, of a particular moment, before that exact image changes and is lost forever. I thought to myself, “This guy is a poet who paints.” Jonathan explained the plein-air artist must work quickly before the moving lights and colors change. It strikes me as a very physical kind of painting. Because of the speed with which they must work, the plein-air artist canvas is often smaller in size.

Painting from a photograph will not produce the same effects the plein-air artist achieves. For one thing, a camera rarely captures true color (indeed, what even is “true-color,” when we all see things so differently). More importantly, the camera is too quick, works too fast, freezes the image. The plein-air work breathes, catches subtle changes, of a human view.

I talked with Jonathan for just a few minutes, and he continued to work as we talked. But he was personable, friendly, outgoing. That is the beauty of working outdoors. I promised myself I will get back to writing some sidewalk cafe poems, some plein-air poems.

looking west over Res 6 and SE Portland 24 Oct 2017Jonathan Luczycki Mt TaborJonathan Luczycki Mt Tabor 3Jonathan Luczycki Mt Tabor 2

 

Lust for Like

Just as we might ask a critic not to call not good a work for not being what it is not intended to be, we might remember expecting a like from any particular audience predisposed to dislike the chosen form doomed to deletion. We often think others think like we do, but they probably don’t. We persist in putting our selfie into play in the hopes of turning on an audience to a new experience. But before this post devolves into another discussion of what is good, let’s update the recent doodles, many of which have received welcomed likes from the general audience online community (hover for titles):

Artists like van Gogh who truly lust for life can afford to ignore pandering or otherwise trying to persuade an audience of anything, let alone what might be good, because those artists pursue their work free and unencumbered from the fickle vicissitudes of audience likes and dislikes and market influenced fads. The cost of this artistic stubbornness is usually obscurity, the rat infested garret, fasting; the reward is independence, exploration of the unknown, relaxation.

These various recent venues, if the attempt is art, (facebook, twitter, blogs, instagram, etc.) are as full of activity as the Midwest summer evening near the lake is full of mosquitoes, where each like becomes a bite that draws blood and soon begins to itch like crazy for more. Bites and likes, interchangeably. In any case, each of these venues presents a certain form that challenges the artist to conform with the appropriate content for the coveted like. No likes doesn’t mean no appreciation. One may safely assume lurkers around every post. Or one may at least tell oneself so.

Think maybe for a moment of the undiscovered or otherwise ignored (perhaps worse) artist who has invested much more emotion and investment and expectation in a work longer than the doodle (the epic novel, the still oil painting that seems to move, the play with a cast of a dozen burning stars). One begins to envy the popular doodler who survives on fish and chips and cheap beer, and turns away with the crowd from the hunger artist. What is it we want, what are we looking for when we open a book, look at a painting, watch a play unfold? What does it take for us to simply like something? A like is like a smile; it’s not a kiss.

Some evenings are full not of mosquitoes but lightning bugs, fire flies, glow worms – that light the length of a like. But it’s foolish to lust for likes. What’s important is to like what you are doing. A neighbor recently asked, “What are you doing, Joe?” If I only knew, I’m sure I could stop. Sometimes people ask what when what they mean is why. In any case, don’t lust for the like; like for the lust.

The Decoy of Art

LA Pool after HockneyA duck hears a quack that sounds a bit out of whack and decides to hide in the reeds. The duck call recedes. Later, a duck decoy floats by, and our duck hears that queer cracker again, now from the far side of the pond. The prattle, it skiffs across the smooth water, sounds not propelled by a voice – and that’s the art of the duck call.

Museum art, discovered, sold, and resold, donated now so someone can get their name on a room, where “infinity goes up on trial” (Dylan, 1966, Blonde on Blonde, “Visions of Johanna“), hangs by the imprimatur (“let it be printed”) of money.

Why, when art is capable of producing such wealth and covetousness, does it still require public funding? Because anyone can make art and the average duck can’t tell the decoy from the real thing? Or is it because the decoy is the real thing?

cloud surf

Is the philanthropist involved in a clean form of money laundering? But this is neither the time nor place for a conspiracy theory. Do we breathe our art together, or solo? You can’t make a duck out of lead, at least not one that will float. That requires a pencil.

Does art require genius (En attendant Godot)? Every child has an attendant and attentive muse. Genius is the ability to listen with ears open, even when filled with wax, to see with eyes clear, even when they are closed. “You can look but don’t touch” is the beginning of art criticism. One day, the muse disappears, and the child no longer makes art. Instead, she buys it, or tries to. She applies for a grant.

Once upon a timeA friend who is a close reader, noting correctly my sudden obsession with my text-drawings done with the phone app, asked, “Having fun yet?” Once upon a time, art was fun, which is to say the making of art was fun. Writing was fun. The two together a blast!

Cooking is not the same thing as eating. Sewing a dress is not the same as wearing one. A colleague once said to me, “Everyone should write a book no one will read.” Maybe they do. How would we not know?

Meantime, my attendant must be on spring break, vacationing here. Can’t seem to get rid of her. I’m not sure if she’s another starving artist or just a decoy.

Note: with thanks to our regular reader from down under (who goes by “B”) for the inspiration behind the LA Home with Swimming Pool after Hockney mini-pic.