Recent poets of interest

Wasn’t sure how to briefly define this group, which consists of poets who’ve written poems that I ran across after the election, and have been taking comfort in.

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  1. Mary Alexandra Agner, American science writer, poet
  2. George Bilgere, American poet; born 1951
  3. Alberto Blanco, Mexicano architect, art critic, poet; born 1951
  4. Lisa M. Bradley, Tejana poet and novelist; {@cafenowhere}
  5. Rosario Castellanos, 1925–1974, Mexicana ambassador, journalist, essayist, poet
  6. Elicura Chihuailaf, Chilean translator, poet; born 1952 (writes in both Spanish and Mapuche)
  7. Lucha Corpi, Mexicana poet and novelist; born 1945
  8. Diane Der-Hovanessian, American poet, daughter of Armenian immigrant parents; born 1932
  9. Ber Grin (Itsik Grinberg), 1901–1989, Ukrainian essayist, playwright, actor, poet (emigrated to USA)
  10. Jerzy Harasymowicz, Polish land surveyor, forester, poet; 1933–1999
  11. Keçecizade ‘Izzet Molla, 1785–1829, Turkish poet
  12. Margaret Noodin, American poet, Anishinaabemowin language teacher; born 1965
  13. Achy Obejas, Cuban-American journalist, novelist, poet; born 1956
  14. Elise Paschen, American editor, poet; born 1959
  15. Ricardo Pau–Llosa, Cuban-American essayist, art critic, novelist, poet; born 1954
  16. Nigoghos Sarafian, 1905–1973, Armenian typesetter, poet
  17. Abraham Sutzkever, 1913–2010, Lithuanian Jewish poet. NYTimes: “greatest poet of the Holocaust”
  18. Arthur Sze, American translator, poet of Chinese descent; born 1950
  19. Vahakn Tavtian, Armenian poet; born 1923
  20. Jorge Teillier, 1935–1996, Cuban editor, poet
  21. Adam Zagajewski, Polish poet; born 1945
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Poem: friendsgiving

I’m thankful for:

Spouse

Drabhu

trees & tendrils

plants in pots, in my household and not

dancing

books

rivers I have loved

Twitter-friends

hills and boulders

mountains, near and far

art

having had relationships with 2 grandparents

photography

living in Maryland

Loch Raven forest

Cali (1939–1998)

Rosemary (1917–1998)

Heidi (c. 1976–1994)

having known Paul W (1968–1993)

poetry in translation

salamanders in the Smokies

earthworms everywhere

golden afternoon sunlight

clouds

“occasional spiders”

flowers

cousinry

imagining

pretty colors

synesthesia

the kindness of strangers

walking in darkness

not-knowing

serendipity  /  synchronicity  /  surprise

being me

 

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#161124

Poem: seeking the misplaced

You’re whose child now?

Sister to wolves, moonbeams, and mushrooms

Made in the image of no one you know

This dilemma

Ask me a riddle

Experience hard green apples in memory

Onto what door have you fallen?

Parent the monster within. Befriend it.

Forced to sit still, stay where you’re not welcome

No great matter

Shouting silences

Near the mountains of my youth

The parrot

Window

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Poem #140, written 10.14.2015

Autism: poetry makes sense

I’ve tried a lot of art forms*, but poetry is one of the few that enhances my perceptions of the World. Poetry, especially writing poetry, clarifies things I didn’t know I knew. It spotlights those (often philosophical or metaphysical) dilemmas I’ve been struggling with. Poetry conveys what matters most to my benthic self.

As much as I love/d painting, I didn’t understand the World better because I painted.

Jane Hirshfield:

“Poetry itself, when allowed to, becomes within us a playable organ of perception, sounding out its own forms of knowledge and forms of discovery. Poems do not simply express. They make, they find, they sound (in both meanings of that word) things undiscoverable by other means.”

Poetry is a dissipative structure.

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After my family of origin moved to Naperville (Illinois) in the mid-1970s, my mother set child-me up for oil painting classes at the Park District. I remember the carrying case for all my supplies she bought me at a garage sale — it cleverly resembled a briefcase, but of maple wood. Of course I remember all the paint names! Mixing colors was transcendent. I infinitely preferred the goopiness of painting with a palette knife, not a brush.

The classes were probably during summers, so I was newly 11, newly 12. I felt like a Real Artist, like my hero Claude Monet. I had Things to Say, and painting set me free to say them!

Not exactly.

We had to bring in source materials to paint from. The one I remember best was a nature photograph from a magazine, depicting an iridescent lavender-ish butterfly against an indistinctly leafy yellow-green background. Although I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the butterfly, I made lovely the yellow-green background (years before knowing those shades, in these proportions => “Amelia”, which is the flavor profile of Joy/Delight/Whimsy in my emotion-color synesthesia).

With thin washes of color painstakingly applied, I somehow managed to reproduce the interplay of nacreous hues in the butterfly’s wings.

Oh, I was so proud of that! It was gorgeous!

And then the teacher came over. She tut-tutted. “There’s no depth definition here! You need shadows!” Me, thinking: Um, I don’t think I do, but…

She took her paintbrush, dipped it in my paints, and painted in shadows!

If that wasn’t horrifying enough, she said her shadows, if I just stroked them through enough, would blend into my work. It turned out, though, that my wings were mostly dry, so her “shadows” sat on top, looking stupid and out of place, and utterly ruining my naïve style.

That was the worst example, because the butterfly wings were so difficult, I could never replicate them.

But she also interfered in 2 other paintings. One, I can live with; the other, I couldn’t.

The egregious one was an abstracted sea scene, in shades of cerulean blue, born out of my delight in the colors, and a feeling of lightness and happiness inside of me. My painting teacher, however, pronounced it “Ridiculous! No one will know what they’re looking at! It needs something for their eyes to focus on!” She, again with her paintbrush and my paints, inserted a tree. “There! Doesn’t that look better!”

I was aghast.

From those moments on, those paintings were no longer mine. No longer my vision, my unique sensibility and worldview. No longer my inner life. Those paintings had become visible replays of my traumas, reminding me relentlessly that I’d been, repeatedly, violated by an authority figure I’d trusted.

My mother couldn’t understand why I was upset. She said I was “too sensitive”, that I was “being a baby”.

After the classes ended, I tried a new painting on my own, sneaking away to spend time in the unfinished basement, where no one would find it. But it didn’t work, on any level. I no longer trusted my own judgment. Instead of clarifying myself to me, painting had become just another thing that hurt me, frustrated me, diminished me.

I didn’t paint again for 30 years.

= = =

Two years later, when I was almost 14, I had a similar experience with a teacher at my Catholic school and my first poem. Again, I was brutalized through my work being destroyed, but this teacher went further, telling me I was “depraved” for writing as I had. She wanted to get me expelled from school, so I had to beg her for “mercy”.

I knew better than to mention that incident to my parents, who, of course, would have taken her side. “Authority figures are always right! That’s why they’re in charge!”

I didn’t write another poem for 30 years.

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An aspiring poet can take writing classes, or work with a writing group, but they don’t have to. If you’ve got paper and a pen/pencil/crayon, or an electronic writing device, you’re good to go.

I’ve taken writing classes and poetry workshops, I was a part of a Poetry Meetup for a few months, I’ve exchanged poems for critique with Twitter-friends, I’ve submitted poems for publication. No one has ever inserted their own words into mine, never mind insisted that doing so improved my work — I can’t imagine how that even could happen.

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I actually started writing this post to talk about a new project: I have a spreadsheet that I’m populating with all the significant** words I’ve ever used in a poem, and their frequencies. I have to prevent myself from working on it day and night — categorizing is catnip — but even only 20-some poems in, it’s already evident that I use a high percentage of distinct words (so far, ~ 60%). Lots of wildlife: 20+ words for plants or plant structures; 40+ words for animals. Water bodies, precipitation, or watery habitats = 15 words.

Motifs that (so far) I write about most frequently include:

  1. Animals
  2. Body
  3. Celebrating
  4. Container {“vessels”}
  5. Craft
  6. Direction {spatial orientation}
  7. Emotion
  8. Fiber
  9. Food
  10. Geography
  11. Geology
  12. Heritage {culture, not always my own}
  13. Hidden
  14. Imaginary
  15. Literary
  16. Machinery
  17. Motion & Dance
  18. Music
  19. Mythic
  20. Person/s
  21. Plants
  22. Relationships
  23. Texture
  24. Water

Some overlap and interconnect, which I can’t show linearly. In fact, some probably join together to emergently create hyper-motifs, like Synesthesia.

I haven’t yet arrived at visual poems, and I’m not sure how I’m going to account for their nonlexical elements.

But just from the above list, there’s a strong sense of what kind of person I am. And therefore, what aspects of the World are likely to catch and hold my attention.

Luckily, words in my poems < 10,000 — my poems tend to be short, and I’ve only written 137 of them. (2 outliers at 900+ words are skewing the total. Excluding them, the average number of words per poem drops to ~ 56.)

{ Analyzing my prose would be cool, too, but almost 6 years of blog posts, for instance, number > 600, and their total word count is approaching 500,000. I’d need a database; I’d need to write code. I haven’t created a database in years, and I never got to the point of writing specialized code. Learning curve! }

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I learn from writing prose, but I don’t, necessarily, heal. It often doesn’t illuminate what’s been spackled over, but festers underneath.

Poetry lances.

In prose, I’ve written about my mostly-awful childhood, about being raped as a teenager by my cousin and disbelieved by my mother years later, about relatives treating me with casual contempt but calling it ‘respect’ and lambasting me for not being obsequious in response. I’ve written over and over and over. I learn something new each time, but… it doesn’t fix anything.

But Poetry…

No matter how many times I’ve tried to communicate with my relatives about being raped, they don’t respond. Or respond wildly inappropriately, such that I’m re-traumatized. (I’ve had extensive therapy; I’ve healed my inner wounds as much as can be.) But ‘social’ wounds remain: there no longer seems to be a ‘place’ for me in our extended family, because when people pick sides, they always pick his. Even my mother.

No matter what I’ve said, or what words I’ve used, none of them seemingly could hear what I was saying.

I had written a poem about that whole period of my life, in 2011. I worked on it intermittently (when I could bear to) over the years. A few months ago, I felt an urge to just finish it and be done with it. Finally, I had sufficient emotional distance to craft it. To polish it.

To aim it.

I sent that poem to my cousin (my rapist’s sister) whom I was breaking off ties with. She’s actually in the poem, because as things were happening 30 years ago, I went to her for help … and she betrayed me to him. In response, his behavior towards me escalated. That long ago breach of my trust had always prevented me from feeling at ease with her. Yet it was something I couldn’t conceive of how to talk to her about, since no relative will admit to me, “yes, I believe you that X raped you. He was wrong to do that. You deserved better.”

So, I sent the poem. She read it. She told me she read it.

Of course, she didn’t apologize for her part, or for anything. She said, “I’m sorry you’re still in so much pain. You should get over it. . . . Have you tried ‘thinking positive’?”

Breaking up with her was not only the necessary thing, it was long overdue.

A poem allowed her to hear my pain. Thousands of prose words on my other blog (which she used to read) did not.

= = =

When I broke ties with that cousin, she was the last member of my family of origin that I was in contact with. Writing that poem, then sending it, allowed me to realize… I don’t want to be part of a family where everyone denies that they mistreated and abused me.

Ironically? 30 years ago, my rapist was a huge fan of Bill Cosby. I bet he still is.

= = =

My pain is a boundary. My pain delineates who is me, or on Team Mea; and who isn’t. My pain has kept me alive, kept me sane, kept me myself.

Anna Deavere Smith:

“Your pain can be a source, like the color blue, or orange, for that matter. It can be one of your colors; it can be a tool . . . As artists, we can tolerate, for a while, great discomfort in order to explore discomfort.”

My pain spurred me to become an artist, a writer, a poet: I define myself.

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*DANCE: ballet, tap, modern, ballroom; MUSIC: acoustic guitar, recorder, singing; THEATER?: acting, modeling for a photographer; DRAWING: pencils, charcoal, colored pencils, pastels; PAINTING: oil, acrylic, watercolor; PAPER: 2-d design, collage, paper garments for photography; MIXED MEDIA: handmade valentines, building miniature rooms, flower arranging, beading jewelry, collage, “balancing/sculpture” for photography; FOOD: baking, cake decorating; WRITING: letters, poetry (age 13 only), essays; FIBER: braiding, rug hooking, embroidery, machine sewing (from a pattern), knitting on a machine, tapestry weaving, floor loom weaving, fabric painting, fabric dyeing, hand sewing (freeform), quilting, knitting by hand, fiber jewelry; PHOTOGRAPHY: nature, portraits –nonhumans, ongoing series of Spouse, self; CERAMICS: hand-built vessels, tiles; FASHION: my own wardrobe building, styling models for a photographer; CONCEPTUAL ART.

 

**I was originally going to track every single word, but I’ve since removed ones like ‘a/an’, ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘at’, ‘as’, ‘by’, etc.

Poem: Integral Methods of Rotation

In the part that is silvered you see the full reflected

Pattern, distorted by incoherent acceleration.

Closely observe the

Wooden dock that runs away from you towards

A little gadget, peculiar in shape. A window

Of dark grey intensifies the yellow of the aluminum

But the first surface mirror may be strange.

Infrared-sensitive library cards glisten

With luminescent chemicals —

Their outside brilliance will smother the weaker

Crystals projecting a tiny dot of light 100 feet away.

One image is tinted pink, the other green, both

Animating opalescent fins, swimming in the ether.

 

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Poem #68, written 7.4.2014

dyeing differently

I first began dyeing fabric when I was a teenager — I dyed T-shirts with Rit, which I cooked up on the stove, then poured into my parents’ washing machine. As an adult I would’ve liked to dye clothes more often but Spouse and I have mostly lived in apartments, with tiny washers and dryers, and I just couldn’t figure out how to make the logistics work. I did hope that someday things would change, making fabric dyeing possible again. In the meantime, I occasionally took classes in fabric dyeing or fabric painting. I bought fabric paints, fabric markers, and dyes. I bought a huge stainless steel pot, of the sort people use for indigo.

I’ve occasionally bought books on dyeing and painting fabric. Gradually I started moving toward an interest in natural dyes, so I also have several books on ethnobotany, as it pertains to dyeing*, including Native American/First Nations** ethnobotany.

Autumn 2010, I read (Australian fiber artist) India Flint’s Eco Colour.  She wrote about how toxic the entire process of creating synthetic dyes is, and how wearing things made from those processes, next to our skin, is probably at least somewhat unhealthy, if not dangerous. So I started wondering if I could use natural dyes on my own garments.

A few weeks ago, looking ahead to doing more fiber arts projects, I started checking out from our local library books on natural dyeing. I found at least one that is worth buying***.

I started thinking about how I would do things, and how I wouldn’t.  Safety needs to come first. And I know all too well how absent-minded and/or careless I can be. So a lot of things that the authors take for granted that of course you will do are things I won’t be doing. But there are also things that the authors assume that you can do (have available to you) that I either cannot, or I will not.

  • I do not have a yard or garage that I can use as a dedicated dyeing space.
  • I do occasionally put fabrics out on the balcony to drip dry, but I certainly cannot have a fire up there, to heat dye pots.
  • If I owned all the gear that they insist you need, I wouldn’t have anywhere to put it — our apartment is tiny.
  • I really prefer my (enjoyable) activities to be as open-ended/loosey-goosey/ improvisational as possible. I am never going to buy a scale and cooking thermometer so I can measure every last gram or ounce of this or that ingredient, at this or that specific temperature, never mind carefully watching the pot for hours if necessary. If I wanted to do that, I would work in a lab. Or maybe hang out with engineers.
  • There are hardly any mordants that are readily available and not a total pain to use. I’m willing to experiment with rusty nails and pieces of tinfoil; I’m not willing to deal with buying special chemicals that require very careful handling.

But the really big deal-breaker is this: water. Fabric dyeing is an activity that uses amazing amounts of water (in a bad way). I guess they assume you have a garden hose or some other source of water near all your gear. And that you also have some place to safely dispose of what’s left over, without hurting your water table.

I could use copious amounts of water from our kitchen tap, but I’m not going to. I’ve been actively lessening my water consumption for years because I know water shortages everywhere are just a matter of time. Even if water shortages don’t occur in my lifetime where I’m living, it still seems like an excellent idea to rethink how much I use and for what purposes. So I’m not going to add a new activity to my life that requires lots of water usage.

Which means that all the books I’ve read about natural dyeing can only be very general references, since I won’t be following any of their methods.

I did use my very large stainless steel pot in the first of my experiments with natural dyes  this week. I quickly discovered that while it allows a lot of room for the fabric to move around, for that to be meaningful, you have to use a lot of water.

In the second round, I inadvertently washed away the lovely purples and blues I got in the first round, probably because I didn’t use any mordants. So for one of the pieces of fabric in the third round, I did use a rusty nail in the dye jar.

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Instead of using a huge pot to steep my fruit peels, I’ve mostly used small glass jars (that originally held jam or honey). They are large enough that my fabric pieces will either fit inside the jar, after being rolled, folded, or scrunched, then secured with a metal twisty tie; or one corner of the fabric stuck in the jar, creating a wicking effect.

Since I’m not trying for uniform or consistent color, pretty much any results I get are good.

That’s another place where I part company with the authors of these natural dyeing books. The photos all show skeins of yarn with fairly even and uniform color. And they show a lot of skeins, or pieces of fabric, or garments.

A meaningful interest in sustainability will require completely rethinking a lot of the things we take for granted. If you’re buying just as many new clothes (new skeins of yarn, new fabrics, etc.) as you ever have, and the only difference is that now they are dyed with plant materials instead of synthetic chemicals, I’m not sure that’s much of a net positive.

Which brings me to … the plants involved. Using natural dyes to get deep rich colors requires huge amounts of plant materials (or in some cases, insect materials). For the plants, at least, in many cases you can ‘harvest’ what you need, carefully, without killing the entire organism. Rebecca Burgess, in her book, Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes, wrote that Rose Dedman [Navajo fiber artist] and “other Native American teachers [taught her] to use what is abundant and to treat the plant with the utmost respect.” That respect includes asking the plant for permission to trim, prune, make cuttings, etc., and then thanking it afterwards.

I talk to plants (and rocks) a lot. I think of them as my friends, and I’m careful to be as respectful of them as I can be. But I rarely feel any confidence in understanding what they might be trying to say back to me. I do not assume, with plants or rocks, or really, with anyone, that they are telling me what I want to hear. Human beings rarely tell me what I want to hear. Why would non-humans be more likely to tell me what I want to hear? That makes no sense to me.

Say I go out into the woods nearby, looking for plants who I can use in my dyeing. If I ask a plant, “do you mind if I pick some of your leaves?” Or, “do you mind if I dig you up, and cut off part of your roots — I promise I won’t take ‘too much’?” I have to assume that the plant has the option of saying No. Otherwise, why ask? But if they did say no, how could I tell? For that matter, if they said yes, how could I tell?

So I walk up to some plant, mutter some gibberish at it, cut pieces off, and then I thank it for ‘allowing’ me to do so. How can that possibly be respectful? And I have to do the same thing to a bunch of plants every single time I want to dye something.

That is not happening.

So far my idea is to use plant materials that we bought for food, and/or plant materials that are dead or dying (like leaves or fruits on the ground). I won’t use big quantities of anybody, because everything I dye is going to be both unique and nonrepeatable. I want to dye fabrics that I can use in my own fiber arts projects, some of which will be modular, so they can be repurposed or recycled. And at the end of their lifecycle, they should be safely biodegradable.

 

*Dyes from American Native Plants: A Practical Guide, by Lynne Richards & Ronald J. Tyrl

**Navajo and Hopi Dyes, by Bill Rieske/Historic Indian Publishers, ISBN 1-883736-08-0;         Tanaina Plantlore: An Ethnobotany of the Dena’ina Indians of Southcentral Alaska, by Priscilla Russel Kari

***Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition, by Jennie Dean

 

*Note: The earliest version of this post appeared on my other WP blog, 2.2.2012.