Fisher King

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King-Fisher-King

King-fisher, wounded wing, Fisher-King
ruling a shallow lake, water-logged,
beaver-gnawed trees, trunks and branches

rotting under water, green growth bearded
upon them, lily-padded the pond,
transformed year after year, to meadows, silt

gathering, filling in smaller channels,
only the mainstream flickers, flows beneath
freckled sunshine. Change hides in plain sight.

All things wither, perish. Cherish this changing,
these modified moods, sun and cloud, the land
recovering, coming back to fertility.

Swift the flight of the swallow’s low dip,
mottled the osprey, aloft in her nest.
King-fisher flying, return of the King.

Copperopolis

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Copperopolis
(1717 / 1804)

mountains of the moon
lunar landscapes
lunatic fringes
mercury madness
running through brains

scabs picked
wounds running raw
skin blotched red
eyes blurred
twitching

wait a hundred years
grass might grow back
earth might give flowers
bay waters might flow free

my grandfather coughs
his lungs up
bit by bit

he’ll never again know
the scent of flowers
taste oysters from the bay
smell sea-fresh air

Gifts

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Gifts

What greater gift for Christmas than one person giving themselves to another? On 24 December, 1966, 6 days after she arrived in Canada, my beloved and I were married in Kincardine, Ontario.

How fitting, then, that today, 52 years later, my beloved and I, still together, should celebrate with this other gift, a portrait of a hollyhock, gifted to us by Geoff Slater, the art director at Kingsbrae / KIRA. This gift is also a gift resulting from a gift, for in the summer Geoff visited us, saw our beautiful hollyhock, photographed it, and carried away some of its seeds to sow in his own garden when he got home. Little did we know, in the summer, that those small seeds would have grown into this fabulous, timeless painting.

Geoff is known for his line-paintings and to have one hanging on display in our kitchen in a place of honor is to celebrate creativity, art, the role that flowers play in our lives, and the friendship that goes with gifting and re-gifting that which is beautiful and most precious to us.

 

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Here is my poem for Geoff and his beautiful wife Andrea. It is based on one of Geoff’s analyses of this painting (Studio 1, October 2018) and is my verbal gift from me to them, from poet to painter and painted.

No Exit
for Geoff and Andrea Slater

Where is the entry point, where the exit?
This labyrinth of lines, straight, not circular,
baffles the eye, confuses with a negative space
that lightens colors and begs more darkness.

Mystery surrounds the sitter’s form: the board walk,
no Dutch kitchen this, the chair on which she sits,
the locket she wears, the landscape, seascape
against which she is framed. White noise, perhaps,

but noise that turns to a single voice, a single line,
that of the paint-brush tip-toeing, delicate its thread
through interior, exterior meaning, just beyond

the viewer’s grasp. Yet walking past, each person stops,
stands still, as the painting draws them in, ties them up,
binds them with an ineffable thread, stronger than words,

mightier than the eye that traces its way along paths
that deceive, baffle, disturb, throw us from the high-wire
created by a mind that turns linear into circular space.

 

Umbrella

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When it rains, everyone needs an umbrella.

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Umbrella

Black clouds overhead,
yet I walk dry
beneath a black umbrella.

Pitter-patter of falling rain:
my ears strain to catch
a nearby robin’s song.

I have mislaid his voice
and can no longer
translate his liquid trills

nor transform them
into a sunlight that will glisten
through dripping leaves.

Frogs in the summer pond
explode light bulbs in my brain.

A rainbow glistens in the pools
beneath my feet.

I want to see my garden reborn,
with words and my world renewed.

I thirst once more for life’s
sweet, fresh water.

Here below is the voice recording of my poem Umbrella.

Early Bird

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This is the first painting I ever did on canvas. Kingsbrae held their painting session for children in June 2017, and I joined in with the five and six year olds. It was such wonderful fun. They slapped the paint onto the canvas with unbounded joy. It was hard not to be joyful with them. Many of them expressed curiosity about my painting: “What is it?” then later “What are they saying to each other?” The conversation between bird and worm (or whatever it is) was of incredible importance to them. I thought of it as my “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet” moment. Now that’s confidence for you.

My strange accent, slowly developing as mid-Atlantic Welsh, with a touch of West Country English and a dab of Upper Canadian and a touch of New Brunswick also fascinated them. “Where are you from?” “Fredericton.” “No. Where are you really from?” “Island View, New Brunswick.” “No. Where were you from before that?” The questions continued until they had ascertained that indeed, I was not a Canadian, a real Canadian, even though I was in Toronto in 1967 to see the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup. 1967: that’s 51 years ago, and I still support the Maple Leafs and I still have my strange overseas accent. “You’re weird,” they told me. “I’ve been in Canada a lot longer than you,” I told them. “Where did you grow up?” They asked. I silenced them with my answer: “I don’t think I have yet.”

Happy paint-splashers, we dabbed on and on in alternating mirth and silence. Some left the table and walked away. Geoff collected our paintings and left them to dry. Later that day, we hung this painting on the wall in the KIRA dining room. It sat there for several days and nobody noticed it. Alas, a hawk-eyed young lady finally spotted it the first night she came over for dinner and “What is that?” she asked, pointing at my painting. Bold and italics combined cannot reproduce the scorn and disdain rolled up in the single word: that. I remember the butler in a country house in Somerset removing with a pair of tongs the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker from the weekend newspapers left on the doorstep. He, too, was very disdainful.

I also remember the tone of an Old Etonian, well he said he was an Old Etonian and had a rasping, high-pitched nasality that made him sound the part. This jolly goof fellow summed me up at a dinner party one night in Toronto when I first came to Canada: “Oh, you’re Welsh.” The grate of his voice was the scrape of a stick removing a dog turd from a shoe. “No,” I said. “Irish, actually.” I used my broadest Welsh accent. “My family is Irish Catholic not Capel Cymraig / Welsh Chapel. Moore is an Irish name. Llewellyn ad Jones are Welsh names. I am not called Llewellyn or Jones.”

And this reminds me of my father, standing in the elevator in a posh hotel in Bordeaux, when three Irishmen walked in. They scanned him for a moment, and then one said, in the broadest of Southern Irish brogues: “T’is the map of Ireland written all over your face.” “Yes,” says my father in his thick, Welsh accent, “I am Irish. But I was born in England.” And that brings me back to my painting. Is it the early bird that catches the worm or the late worm that gets caught by the bird? And which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Ah, the beauty of children. They accept, often without judgement and often without speculation and I love their readiness to befriend the growing child within the old man as he ages. They may not hold doctorates in philosophy, but by golly they are true philosophers in their finest moments. And then of course, they go to school to learn how to behave … and may the good Lord have mercy on them.

The Painting Lesson

The Painting Lesson
KIRA 

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Geoff is teaching the participants in the creative retreat how to paint a cone flower. He plucked several on the way to the workshop and placed a couple in a cup of water so we could study them in close up. Mine are on the table just to my left hand. The golf cart outside is the main means of transport when it is time to move me from place to place. It’s so much easier to sit in comfort rather than to pick my way carefully over slightly uneven grass. Geoff has shown me how to paint the background to my flower. Alas, my background is nothing like his background. I often wonder if this is because I went to school in England, while he went to school in Canada. Certainly our backgrounds are very different. Geoff took the Golf Cart keys from Mad Max. Hence the drive over to Studio #1, where I wrote for a month in June 2017 was very smooth. Mad Max is very kind and gentle. Until he gets behind the wheel of a golf cart. Then he earns his nick-name: Mad Max. My plastic chair is about to collapse and land me on the floor. But I don’t yet know that. It will happen about three minutes after this photo was taken, but the camera had gone by then. Fortunately. Or the next picture would show my rear end raised into the air in all its glory with my little legs kicking.

 

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This next photo shows my painting with my lovely cone flower painted in. My cone flower does not resemble Geoff’s cone flower, nor does it look like the real thing that sits on the desk in front of me. I hope you can see my  cone flower in the painting, but if you can’t, don’t worry. My best advice is search for something that doesn’t look like a cone flower and you will find mine. We are not sure what happens when I paint. Whereas all the obedient students have only one large realistic flower in their painting, my painting sprouts flowers as if by magic. They just appear, like dandelions. They are everywhere and in all colors. It’s quite the bouquet, really, though that is not what it was meant to be. It was meant to be a cone flower. Geoff says I have a unique and powerful style of my own. I think this is instructor-speak for “Roger, you can’t paint for love or money and, as a painter, you are as dumb and stubborn and inflexible as a knot in a lump of wood, but shucks, I’m not a negative person, so I’ll call your messy message unique.” Thanks, Geoff. It’s nice to be unique. Much better than being an abject failure. When Clare saw my painting, she thought my eye-sight was going, so she made an appointment for me to see the optician, or whatever he’s called, next week. Or the week after. I couldn’t make out the date. Her hand-writing is so blurred. Maybe her hand-writing is unique, too. Either that or she also needs an eye-appointment.

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This is the final product. Geoff says it is very strong and demonstrates the strength of my personality. I think it looks like a cross between a Tangled Garden, a nightmare bristling on the facade of one of Monet’s Cathedrals, a Van Gogh flowery sky, and a walk in the park with Picasso when he was trying to relearn how to paint as a very young child would paint. The other participants say they like the energy of my brush strokes. Brush strokes, a lovely idea. I hold the brush like a carving knife and, pretending the canvas is a lump of recalcitrant cheddar cheese or a fierce Shropshire Blue, I attack it with my bristle sword, hacking it into colorful lumps that can be whatever the viewer thinks they might be. Speaking of cheese, this painting is the sort of dream that comes in the night to haunt me when I have eaten too much cheese. The slashing of the nightmare with the paintbrush sword brings a moment of release and a wonderful feeling of relief and relaxation when canvas and cheese are cheerfully hacked and the contents of their souls released into a heaven-haven of paint. Ah soul: I think you can see one or two souls flitting through my tangled garden. I’ll tell you a secret, though: I don’t know how they got there. I thought I was painting butterflies at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surrealism

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Surrealism
KIRA Retreat Day 4

Only one of the Kingsbrae alpacas could understand and illustrate what we did today. This one showed us so many things. Luckily we smuggled him into the writing classes and the art classes and nobody was any the wiser. In fact he taught one class himself, and one participant served as translator, moving from Spanish to English with almost as much ease as he taught.

He began this morning with a reading that linked Symbolism to Surrealism to Magical Realism. It was a fascinating piece that nobody in the room, myself included, had ever heard before. So, we began with a concrete, literary example, then moved to a theoretical session. The alpaca began by explaining the difference between a lama, an alpaca, and a vicuña. This was extremely interesting, and something we hadn’t considered before. Luckily, these three creatures, two of them mythical (but which two?), do not have-isms attached to them and were therefore much easier to understand.

The lama began the theoretical session by offering some meditation exercises, very peace-giving.  Then he moved into the nitty-gritty of automatic writing. He followed this with some examples of how, rather than copying the automatic writing, we could select prime elements from it. This selection process allows the writer to mine the subconscious while avoiding some of the repetitious nature of the automated pen on the suppliant page.

In all cases, all participants read from their work and the sharing of subconscious inanities was a great way to break any ice that came with the overnight change in the weather.

After lunch, we had a second writing exercise that stretched into two exercises. These were courtesy of a second lama and entailed describing unknown and known objects. One of the participants was very uncooperative and instead of writing words drew pictures in his notebook. This drew comments of ‘Naughty, naughty,” from the lama and that student was given a time out on the golf cart driven round the lawn by the KIRA equivalent of Mad Max.

In our final session, the art lama appeared. He had carefully plucked all the flowers in Kingsbrae and then eaten them. However, in an incredible act of bravery, the ladies present stole some from his hoard and placed them in water cups. The participants then scattered random dots of paint upon a canvas and agreed that, seen from a distance and in the dark, they looked like flowers on a tarmac road under storm clouds on a thundery night when nothing could be seen.

By now, the lama who had been tied to the fishing weir, oh, I forgot to tell you about that, sorry, had been rescued when the Old Sow let the water out of the Passamaquoddy bath tub (aka low tide). Luckily no harm was done and a delicious, fossilized piece of Turkish Delight was shared by the participants all of whom agreed that nothing like this had ever happened to them before, and I believe them.

Mad Max took everyone for a ride on the Golf Cart and we all chased deer round the Kingsbrae Gardens while singing “I’ve been working on the chain gang” and “For it’s a jolly good yellow.”