How To Become Who You Already Are

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“What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee;

What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage.”

    -Ezra Pound

To become who you already are, you’ll have

to go looking. Ridiculous as it sounds,

you won’t find it from there, and you won’t 

Find it alone. You’ll need to keep moving

to keep up with an ever expanding universe.

You’ll need to find an island, one

with fire still inside. You’ll know you’re there

with your fingertips. You’ll feel a

low volcanic vibration, unexpected

and elevating the earth beneath you.

Consider writing a play, one without end.

Your story should reflect like sunlight on water,

and be performed on an outdoor stage.

Create characters with storybook names, 

known only to you and your closest friend. 

Name your theatrical park after memory, and 

embellish it with angels both in flesh and 

in stone. This is where you’ll find your mirror.

Build a home that echoes your voices,

leave the windows open to a cappella birdsong. 

Finally, but most importantly

If you are going to believe in anything

               (anything at all),

believe that the rest of the world 

has changed with the both of you 

for as long as you possibly can.

(For Jason and Katrina Lewis)

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Poem Beginning and Ending with Lines from The Doobie Brothers

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Somewhere back in her long ago

Every station moves to create

Time not made of now leaves life

She’s everywhere and nowhere


Swells sing above the static

Of pop songs misremembered

As oracles   dream lovers   dis

Associated       disappeared


She doesn’t identify us apart

From viscid evenings spent

Outside of one another again

Echo rises to her apology

Searching through Language: Translations of Hadrian (W.S. Merwin) & Limits of Human Perception

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Below, I have included a couple of translations of the only poem ever to have been found attributed to Hadrian (A.D. 76-138). The first word in the original Latin, animula, translates to little soul or small soul.

These first three photographs capture the relatively hard-to-find Pheonix Book Shop chapbook, Three Poems. I have a copy (only 100 were ever made, and it is signed by the author in 1968). The second poem is Animula. This was a kind of translation, I believe. But, it was more of Merwin’s work than an actual translation of the original.

The fourth photograph is from Merwin’s Selected Translations (2013, Copper Canyon Press) and includes a small bit of description about the origin and attempt to truly provide an adequate translation of Hadrian’s work. This is also included at the end of Merwin’s 2009 collection, The Shadow of Sirius (also Copper Canyon Press), which won the author his second Pulitzer Prize. His first Pulitzer was for the collection, The Carrier of Ladders (Atheneum), in 1971.

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These variations on the poem are vastly different from one another in content, form, and intent. You can read a little about Merwin’s thoughts on translation and the impact of this act on the rest of his learning in his interview with Paul HoldenGräber in 2010 (here), or watch his discussion with Michael Silverblatt in 2012 (here). A nice, printable pdf version can be found at the Poetry Society website (here). The first version included here is probably (since it was published in The Carrier of Ladders as well as the chapbook) an attempt to create anew from the inspiration drawn from the original Hadrian poem. However, it could be the lifelong pursuit of understanding that sometimes takes the form of endless revisions. This is what I would like to believe.

Language, in one description, is a temporary attempt to articulate this experience of being alive and being human. Language may attempt to communicate; however, The most important things in this life are not easily communicated in any form (including verbal and written languages, visual representations in paint or sculpture or architecture, music, etc.). Language is temporal at best. It “works” well enough for a time. Then, it must evolve to something new. Sometimes, this can mean an entire language changing or being lost. With spoken and written languages disappearing at an alarming rate, we are reminded of the temporal nature of everything. Language, like our individual lives, does not last forever (here is a list of extinct languages).

This small poem that has interested Merwin for a good portion of his life could be symbolic of humankind’s attempts to grapple with larger meaning. But, it is only a poem, a short verse. How could it convey so much? I am reminded of Adrienne Rich’s (a friend of Merwin) title for her final book, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (2011). Poetry can be fawlty. It can evolve. It is indicative of what it conveys. It is temporary. For me, this poem (and this author) are reminders to keep searching, to not completely become comfortable with what I believe I know. Merwin wrote (in “The Nomad Flute,”another poem from The Shadow of Sirius), “I have with me / all that I do not know / I have lost none of it.” Merwin reflects often on the limits of memory and language. The Shadow of Sirius is probably the collection which captures this so starkly throughout its poems. Here is the complete text of “Going” from the same collection:

Going

Only humans believe
there is a word for goodbye
we have one in every language
one of the first words we learn
it is made out of greeting
but they are going away
the raised hand waiving
the face the person the place
the animal the day
leaving the word behind
and what it was meant to say

There is a constant wrestling with the limits of communication. These very brief poems carry the weight of the world, prophetic and powerful, not unlike traditional religious texts. This is probably not accidental. Merwin wrote hymns as a young boy. His father, a Presbyterian minister, would have probably remarked on the following passage from Corinthians (King James Bible): While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Even as language is a temporal excercise, Merwin describes the thumbing through pages of his father’s 1922 copy of Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language “in search of meaning” (from the poem “Inheritence,” The Shadow of Sirius, p. 32). In one of his three “forwards” to each section of the Selected Translations, Merwin admits that this practice of translation (and, maybe all writing) has “evolved” and is essentially an “unfinished art” (2013, p. 281).

Maybe, I am rambling beyond what I attempted to describe in the beginning, which was just the dissimilarity of two translations by the same author. Maybe I’m searching for something that’s not in these texts, something that is just beyond them. Maybe it’s in the past, and I am wrestling with some existential questions that one of my favorite poets can’t help me resolve.

These “eternal” things (2 Corinthians 4:18) are perhaps the mysteries that will keep us pursuing clearer understanding…although Joseph Joubert (as translated by Paul Auster) warns that in some cases, it may “rob them of their illusions.” Of course, Joubert is referring to one of man’s symbolic preoccupations, looking at the stars. Merwin continues to search, not worrying of the loss of mystery. He knows that his attempts to capture the uncapturable are futile, but they are attempts nonetheless. Perception changes as we age, as we experience new things. We attempt to hold experiences, thoughts, and create things from these elements. They may not be good forever. But, as John Berryman told Merwin (and Merwin passed on to the reader in the poem, “Berryman”:

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

Knowing we may fail is not an excuse to try to communicate, to connect with others. That is where the magic is- in the trying. Maybe this is what Merwin meant when he admits in yet another poem from the life-changing volume that won him the second Pulitzer,”from what we cannot hold the stars are made” (from “Youth,” The Shadow of Sirius, p. 39).

 

Selected References

Auster, P. (1997). Translations (Selection of Joseph Joubert’s Notebooks). Marsilio Publishers.

Merwin, W.S. (2013). Selected translations. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (2012). Interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on April 18, 2012. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/41266851

Merwin, W. S. (2010). Interviewed by Paul Holdengräber on October 22, 2010 at NYPL. Retrieved from http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/av/transcripts/merwin_transcript.pdf

Merwin, W. S. (2009). The shadow of Sirius. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (1997) Flower and hand: Poems 1977-1983. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (1970). The carrier of ladders. New York: Atheneum.

Vidal, J. (2014). As forests are cleared and species vanish, there’s one other loss: a world of languages. The Guardian (US Edition). Retrieved on April 28, 2016 from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/08/why-we-are-losing-a-world-of-languages

The Initial Stage in Analysis Involves Perception

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A wash of white uncertainty suffers

history & pastels pour
from openings left in the sky.

Our boat, constructed
from stringless cellos, slides
on ribbons of fish.

Above, wings of flesh reflect fire
as blue
bodies over St. Francis.

Our adopted sails, imitating
southern crosses & temporary bridges,
orbit a sunrise of text.

We move ghosts to see again
in any form other
than hovering weightlessness.

Indoor animals push against the walls
of our craft.

Time swells into repeated singing-
homeless, screaming.

Every mother aboard moves quietly
from one outstretched palm to another
recreating rainfall.


The Monkey’s Paw

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Monkey’s Paw (First Version)

1.

the stampede of lost lambs tore into the painting,

coloring the sky in Artaud ecstasy

loud & filthy with desire

strewn across the field

of bodies sewn through the fallen chain link fence.

Lifeless but full of motion,

they are a bloodless hymnal-
a flip book of photographs- discrete

images lie          sometimes, but these are at least

nine hours in the making.

Under no stars,           but so much swirling

sky drips into everything we drink now.

2.

Close your childhood, tightly.

A fleshy specter appears

in light circadian logic

behind your eyes

before everything cries through glass.

Where have you been, a sister asks

in language

woven into

water.

Everything’s slipping

falling

without

3.

                                          your boy.

Your boy has returned home

                              as broken geometry,

all angles in reflection.                   Open hymen

sounds too much like your surname,

too much like Hinderman.

Your sin sees damage like you

                              never did

(in reverse)

& no mysteries exist in these words.

Your son has returned home,

                               & he’s currently beating

prayer into the TV             while you watch.

You asked for this emptiness, he screams.

                  You’re shot talentless

into reality.

Bullets know distance
only matters in formal math.

   You have returned home in another body,

as energy,

             as longing.

You can stare into yourself       forever

              once he’s inside.

Look to the door           shaking

knocking

                 into your fingertips.

Your little boy has returned.

Your boy has come home

                 to a version

of you.

He’s waiting for you.

      Lambs will grow wild        in the absence

of good.

So,

go now.

                      Go right now.

Open your door,

                 & let him in.

Stream of Conscience Regarding Pre-Gesture, Erasure, and Silence- Part 1

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This post was largely drafted via dictation to Siri (iPhone 5) en route to work.

Francis Bacon, a largely self-taught artist, said that the first mark of the canvas was the most powerful.

Bacon had an artistic vision that was informed by the various media of his time. So, movies like  Battleship Potemkin and images like the pope frequently easily entered the frame of his canvas. Bacon was painting not things or portraits but a visual schema of his psyche, one littered and entangled with images both representational and symbolic.

What of impulse before the Gestural scraping of paint on the canvas for that first “indelible mark”?

What I’m asking is what happens to the paint in the heart and the mind prior to the first mark on the unprimed canvas? Ever prolific, this too was recorded for Bacon. He would actually test color and test the way his brush hit a surface on the walls in his studio.

What of all of this practice? Is it meaningful? Is it something to be recorded? Is it more than practice?

It felt like scientific study. A question is asked, a hypothesis is pronounced or declared, and off goes the scientist to decide if the process or the outcome is something worth investigating further. It always felt like this for me. I would grab my alto saxophone or my trumpet and I would play completely alone in a room or a racquetball court somewhere in town. Almost everything I played was recorded on a cassette. I suppose I recorded out of habit or out of necessity to hear what those sounds not only sounded like while I play them but once I was out of that moment.

The sound invariably changed once I left the moment of actual creation. My ear would pick up things that I just liked in retrospect, but it felt like something worthwhile. The process became the art, the meaningful pursuit for some communication or the meaningful pursuit of a way to communicate with sound. The communication may have been only shared with myself at the time but had some significance in the way I processed information in a variety of other subjects.

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This morning I’m listening to David Gross. His album, Things I’ve Found to be True, captures this gesture before the published gesture I guess. However, none of this feels like simple practice. If feels very much like David Gross is scraping into the messy areas of creativity to find something just beyond his reach.

Do the quiet scrapings that move through the sound space of Gross’ record originate from the same space as the automatism-based drawings of Robert Motherwell or Matta (his teacher)?

Does this experiment in silence or in near silence have any root in the foundation of the movement known as “New London Silence” with which cellist, Mark Wastell, and harpist, Rhodri Davies, are known?

Heddy Boubaker’s Lack of Conversation does the same, albeit dramatically different in process. Boubaker may focus more on filled space then Gross, but both have an intense need to do things with the saxophone that may not have been heard before or prior to their respective recordings. It’s not so much about the recording of something that’s never been done as much as it’s about recording something that you don’t know what it’s going sound like prior to playing. It becomes an act of freedom and also bravery.

Something about this area artistic creativity reminds me of Paul Auster’s White Spaces a prose (almost a prose poem, and it is included in his collected poems) that captures a sense of emptiness (or, rather, openness) that very few artworks capture. There is a great deal about this piece here.

In the last few years, several musicians have taken to almost “erasing” their sound to bare minimal marks. Assembling just the brass and woodwind players alone, one could create an orchestra of silence or near silence. These include Nate Wooley, Axel Dorner, Radu Malfatti, Greg Kelley, etc. This list could go on for days if one were to collect the names of musicians that are often working on the outside of normally accepted musical sound, like Gabriel Paiuk (sound artist from Buenos Aires) and Taku Sugimoto (guitarist from Japan). The list is endless because artists are all searching for that method of communication in a time where probably so much Sal fills our day it’s a stripping away to the essential elements that informant memory or soft around the subject. It may even be the stripping away of the subject itself.

One famous example of this is Robert Rauchenberg’s Erased to de Kooning, a pencil drawing by Willem de Kooning that was erased by Rauchenberg after being given permission by the artist. The image, or what is left of the image, is mounted in a beautiful frame. The “indelible marks” are almost nonexistent; they become pentimenti.

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What is it that draws me to this openness? This erasure?

Why am I entranced by Mary Ruefle’s Little White Shadow, a short book, appropriated and erased by Ruefle in the creation of something new? Isn’t this a reworking of Radi Os (Ronald Johnson) or A Humument (Tom Phillips)?

Why do I create work that is also engaged in some secret history of absence or erasure? What do I gain from it?

Why do I create musical works (like the one linked) that attempt to do much the same as these? Or like this one (Track 9)?

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There is so much more that could be connected…so much more ether, nothingness, absence, silence.

Maybe I am interested in exploring this creative “first act” or non-act…because I am a teacher. The moment that a student learns…there is a magic that happens in that moment. Some term this a “lights go on” moment. Some call it awareness. I think it has to be the most powerful emotional moment…reaction to awareness of learning. It is something beyond what I could ever hope to describe.

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As I write this free thought exploration down, I am thinking about how art isn’t really separate from that moment at all. It is that moment. It must capture something that is not able to be captured, something that is just outside of normal “practice” or just beyond reach. To get there, maybe we have to erase what has come before.

Maybe we have to erase ourselves a bit.

Perhaps all art needs to be destroyed and erased and lost in order to build the simplest of blocks of coherent expression back into existence. Maybe, it’s a building back to relevance.

Recent Publications (since December 2012)

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 UPCOMING PUBLICATIONS, 2014

“Revisionism” at 5/Quarterly’s Tumblr in Spring 2014

“Wetlands” at Convergence: An Online Journal of Poetry and Art (Spring/Summer’14)

RECENTLY PUBLISHED POEMS, 2012-2013

“Occupation” at Convergence: An Online Journal of Poetry and Art

“Broken Consort” & “Silent Black Song” at Icebox Journal

“Amplifier” at NNATAN

Three Poems at Iridum Sound’s Churn Thy Butter

“Haunting” at Yorick Magazine, Summer/Fall 2013 Issue

RELATED

Painting and Process (short interview) at Draft Journal, 2013

 

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Creativity and Dr. Dorothea Lasky – Links and Appreciation

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Dorothea Lasky is a force for creativity.

Her poems burst with color and neccessity. Her short lines are full of fire. Earth, water, and wind are present in her most recent book, but there is much fire.

Not only a respected and established poet (her books- Awe, Black Life, and Thunderbird- can all be purchased at Wave Poetry), Dr. Lasky examines the role of creativity in learning. Her dissertation, her articles for academic journals, and her class syllabi all reflect this deep passion for the creative act. She creates spaces in her writing and her teaching that allow others to experience the power of the imagination and the possibility of experiencing something transcendent.

But, you can read for yourself.

Here is a small list of some of her articles, interviews, and her book on poetry in education:

Could Poetry Start an Educational Revolution?

2012 article in The Atlantic

Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry

Making Space for the Act of Making: Creativity in the Engineering Design Classroom

Examining small “c” creativity in the science classroom: Multiple case studies of five high school teachers

Interview w/ Phantom Limb

Interview w/ The Conversant

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This poem was written after a concert at the Stone during our honeymoon. We had taken a cab back to midtown, and there was a “supermoon” that evening. I was reading Paul Auster’s translations of Joubert’s writing at this time. The performers at the Stone were Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee on clarinets, saxophones, and pocket trumpet. Later, she purchased the photographs of the event from Peter Gannushkin (http://blog.sonicbeet.com/ & http://www.linkedin.com/in/gannushkin), an amazing photographer who captures the music and the personalities of the evening perfectly.

East Village Evening (For Anna, 3-19-2011) with description

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East Village Evening (For Anna, 3-19-2011) with description

This poem was written after a concert at the Stone during our honeymoon. We had taken a cab back to midtown, and there was a “supermoon” that evening. I was reading Paul Auster’s translations of Joubert’s writing at this time. The performers at the Stone were Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee on clarinets, saxophones, and pocket trumpet. Later, she purchased the photographs of the event from Peter Gannushkin (http://blog.sonicbeet.com/ & http://www.linkedin.com/in/gannushkin), an amazing photographer who captures the music and the personalities of the evening perfectly.