KIRA

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Commentary:

This is the new advertisement for the KIRA (Kingsbrae International Resdencies for Artists) Fall Session (October 6/12, 2019). Geoff Slater and I will be again facilitating a week of creative workshops, including drawing and painting (Geoff) and writing (Roger, both poetry and prose). These will take place in the KIRA Residence, just beside Kingsbrae Gardens. Residential enrollment is limited to five people. Just send us an e-mail if you are interested in attending this workshop. If you click on the KIRA link in the first line (above), be sure to watch the opening video. Pictures speak louder than words and the video will help you to understand what Creativity at KIRA is all about.

 

 

Wednesday Workshop: New Projects

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Wednesday Workshops
New Projects
03 July 2019

New Projects … how do you choose them, these new projects? Simple answer: I really don’t know. So much depends on you and your work habits. In my own case I have a back log of projects. I have been writing and creating for years. As a result I have a whole set of files that I can turn to and select from. Two novels, about fifty short stories organized into two or three as yet unpublished manuscripts, a couple of hundred poems, organized into three separate thematically organized manuscripts, a set of writings on facilitating creative writing …

Projects … do the work and then choose the order in which you will publish it. I look at the hollyhock that suddenly appeared last year in my garden. Do the work: the birds (in all probability) seeded it. The hard work: the hollyhock grew itself. I should add that my beloved nearly tore it out on the grounds that she didn’t recognize it and it looked like a weed. But she left it, and it grew into what it was meant to be: a hollyhock. One stalk. So many buds. We didn’t know which would blossom first. And it didn’t matter. One after anther they all blossomed. The hollyhock knew what it was doing [we didn’t]. It had belief and faith [we didn’t]. But we had hope.

The Hollyhock Project: This year the hollyhock has eight [yes, eight] different shoots. It’s no longer a single flower, it’s become a bush! It has also shed seeds further afield [I should really write abed, since they’re all in the same flower bed.] I wonder in what order they will blossom. It doesn’t matter really: I am just confident they will bloom. And the sunflowers have rooted below the bird feeders. They have their own projects and I know they will grow as and how they will. And the yucca has four shoots that will flower, how and why I just don’t know. But each flower has its project(s) and I am confident they will all flower and flourish.

My own projects: When June came in, I didn’t know what to do, nor did I know in what order to do it. Then Time-spirits came together. Geoff gave me some drawings and I chose one for the cover. I took the manuscript to the printers, got an estimate, and received a mock-up. The text had shifted in the transfer from computer to computer. My 70 page text had grown to 132 pages. I spent the next 72 hours rewriting everything, eliminating words, lines, poems, dropping the text back down to 70 pages. It i now published. I wondered what to do with the McAdam Railway Station poems. Geoff came to see me on Sunday, 23 June, and told me that he would be celebrating his birthday the following Friday. He also told me that the McAdam Railway Station would be unveiling his mural the following Sunday (June 30). The McAdam railway poems were published on Saturday, 29 June, and I took them to McAdam in time for the ceremony.

Trust: Trust yourself, trust your projects, trust the universal spirit [Northrup Frye’s Spiritus Mundi], under whichever name you acknowledge it). And remember, genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Put in the mileage, put in he hard work, believe, and trust. ¡Qué será, será! Whatever will be, will be.

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Vision

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Vision

Vision
appears from nowhere
holds you in its hands
molds you like putty
play dough or plasticine
till you bend to its will

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is it a conundrum
like chicken or egg
the final product
laid out in all its details
or is it a process
step by step along the way
sometimes even the artist
cannot really say
yet shaping happens

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maybe it happens each day
in a different way
a power descending
an angel entering
a vacant mind as if it were
an empty room
Lorca’s duende
alive and well
and living in St. Andrews

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Comment: The above verses express, in part, a conversation on the origins of inspiration and vision held around the dinner table at the KIRA residence in St. Andrews on 9 June 2019. Those who participated in the dinner discussion … de sobremesa, as they say in Spain, over the table top … included (clockwise round the table) Chuck, Masha, Heather, Susan, Geoff, Andrea, Roger, Evelyn, Perri, Faye, and Mel. If I have forgotten anyone, or placed them in the wrong seating order, please forgive me. I am growing old and my memory is not what it was. However, the arrival of inspiration, how we greet the artistic vision, what it means to each of us, whether it arrives in totality or in fragments, glimpses or a full vision, this varies for each one of us. More on this tomorrow when I write about Lorca’s duende, the dark earth power that takes over performance artists when they perform, filling them with fire and fury, then leaving them empty, drained of all essence, ripe for the old rag-and-bone man and his cart. The paintings, incidentally, are by my line-painting friend, Geoff Slater, who is also a muralist, indoor and out, and the photos are courtesy of Mary Jones, the much-beloved former Executive Secretary at KIRA.

Zeitgeist

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Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.
Wikipedia 

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.

My current poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998) and many of the surrealist writers. In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem. Remember that images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. Each word, each image offers a picture that reflects some of the shared realities with which we live.

Remember, as I said above: “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in my recent poems suggest that perhaps all time is ever-present and always one.

Revision

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Revision
“We are not writers, we are re-writers.” I do not remember who said this, but it is extremely well said. We write, yes. But then we rewrite, sometimes obsessively, again and again. But how does that rewriting process take shape? Why do we rewrite? How do we rewrite? And what do we do when we re-write? These are all vital questions.

Mechanical revisions and rewrites
This, for me, is the search for typos, punctuation errors, mis-spellings, grammar corrections, that sort of thing. Yes, we can rely on a (reliable?) editor and a not so reliable spell-check, but the editor usually costs money. Or we can learn to do it ourselves, which is what I recommend very strongly.

Grammatical revisions and expression checks
These are usually a little more difficult to deal with. Do the verb tenses check out? Are subject and verb clearly delineated? Does the wording make sense, not just to us, but to the outside reader? A second pair of eyes is always useful at this point. Also, a sense of distance from the text is useful. Leave it a day (or two) and come back to it later when he creative rush has fled the system.

Structural revisions 1
Whenever we do a structural revision, it is essential to check that the revision ties in with the rest of the piece and that we maintain consistency throughout. A simple example: I decide, on page 77 of my novel, to change my main character’s name from Suzie to Winnie. Clearly, her name has to be consistent, both backwards (1-77) and forwards (77 onwards). While this is obvious, other changes, taste, color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, tv program preference, may not be so easy to check and double-check. But it must be done.

Structural Revisions 2
This is where we must pay attention to the vision in the re-vision. We must ask the question, what does the poem / story / chapter / text want to say? What is it actually about? Often, in the flush of creation, we write words (actions, thoughts, emotions) on the page and they flow like water from a fountain. It’s a wonderful feeling. Later, during the re-vision process, we must ask ourselves, again, deep down, what do these words mean, what are they trying to say? This is actually a slightly different question from what am “I” trying to say?
The speaking / writing voice may want to say something, but the words (and characters and actions) themselves may want to say something else. Now we are faced with a dilemma: do we write what we want to say or do we follow the intricate word-path growing from what we have written? As a beginning writer, I did the former. As a more mature (and I hope, a slightly better writer) I now do the latter.
The result is often a piece that is radically different from it’s starting point. When you listen to what the story / poem / text / characters etc are telling you and when you follow words and characters, then structure changes, paragraphs switch places, thoughts move around, expressions change. We are no longer forcing words into our meanings, we let the meanings grow out of the words. This is particularly important in short story telling and the writing of poetry. It is vitally important to the novel where any inconsistency must have a relevance to the development of action, plot and character. It is also a totally different approach to the meaning of re-vision.

Summary
I realize many writers may have difficulty accepting these points. Those trained originally in the academic world, in particular, will respond negatively to the idea of the words ‘not being forced into the correct academic shape by the quasi-omnipotent academic mind’ aka Constable Thesis Editor. However, the more creative a writer is, the more that writer will respond to the creativity that lies within both the creator and the creation that has appeared on the page and, as writers, we must never lose sight of that creative act, for it is one of the most truly wonderful things that we can do.

Writing Memories 7

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Module 2.3: Accidents

We are talking about accidents, but this segment offers a transition between accidents and illness. To a certain extent, accident prevention or at least the check-ups that lead to illness prevention is key here. Blood tests rate high on that scale and I am tested regularly, at least once every six months, sometimes more often, for the different levels of chemicals in my body that may signify that all is good or that something may ultimately go wrong. Blood testing has become quicker and easier. I used to hate the sight of the needle, but now I concentrate on the nurses who work with me, some especially those nearing my own age, very sympathetic, others, younger, setting out on their nursing careers, so young, delicate, and full of enthusiasm. Sometimes I feel attracted to these young creatures in a sort of May to December match up of care-giver (her) and care-needer (me). I find this both curious and funny: si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait  / if youth knew how, if old age was able to … I have learned to laugh with delight at the incongruity of these silly moments and I am amazed how much humor can help, even in the most serious moments. First, the poem.

Love at Last Light 

A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge
bearing her name asked me to reveal my birthdate.
This apparently confirmed that I knew who I was,
so she bound my arm with a thick rubber thong.

My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening.
She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed
with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein
from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood.

I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts
driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as
my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated.
The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth.

My heart was a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers.
I dreamed for an instant of walking upright and free,
a stranger in the paradise of a long-promised land.

Then she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty,
three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card,
with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name.

Commentary: I like this. It might benefit from more dialog, an insertion of personalities, an exchange of wit, dry science on the one side, an old man’s take on life on the other. I’ll think about that. Meanwhile, we have all been to a local hospital or clinic for blood tests of various types and we are all familiar with the situation. I don’t know how other people feel, but here’s my prose take on the situation.

Love at Last Light [Prose 1]

A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge bearing her name asked me to reveal my birth date. This apparently confirmed that I still knew who I was, so she bound my arm with a thick rubber thong. My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening. She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood. I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated. The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth.
My heart was a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers. I dreamed for an instant of walking upright and free, a stranger in the paradise of a long-promised land. Then she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty, three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card, with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name.

Commentary: This stands up. It is short, to the point, and makes a point at the end. Or does it? Maybe I need to expand the ending, insert some direct dialog, I need to think about this. No problem: there’s lots of time. I’ll go out for a little walk and see if the muse descends while I am walking. The muse arrived and whispered in my ear, and I expanded the piece from 170 to 415 words, virtually doubling the word count. Was it worth the effort? You must be the judge.

Love at Last Light [Prose 2]

A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge bearing her name asked me to reveal my birth date. I gave it, and this apparently confirmed that I still knew who I was. She offered me a quick twist and pucker of the lips and I interpreted this as a smile. My left arm, sleeve rolled up, lay flat against the little work area beside the chair. “This arm?” she asked and I nodded. She bound my arm with a thick rubber thong. My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening. She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood. Then, she took a new needle, checked it, concentrated on her chosen spot, and slipped the needle into the web of veins just inside my left elbow. I felt the needle tip slice through the flesh, but I felt no pain. With the needle in, she attached the shunt to the needle end, and I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated in the container. When the first container filled, she attached another, and another. “Wow,” I said, remembering the immortal words of the comedian, Tony Hancock, “that’s a whole armful.” The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth and my heart fluttered. My heart did more than flutter: it became a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers. I remembered how easily I bruised and tried not to think about the red, purple, and blue sunsets that sometimes spread across my inner arm after these exercises. I dreamed instead of walking upright and free on the golden sands of a Caribbean beach, hand in hand with this stranger as the sun slipped into the sea for its final bathe of the day. A stranger to my present self, I felt young again as we walked together in the paradise of a distant but well-remembered land. “I’ve got a present for you,” said my new found companion as she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty, three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card, with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name. “You know where to put the samples when you have produced them?” I nodded, sighed, picked up the anonymous brown paper bag, and walked away.

Suggestions for the writing exercises included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.
Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.
Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.
Write from an image or a metaphor.
Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.
Letter style: write to a friend.

Beginning Writers: Just write, using the prompts to help you get your own words and experiences and memories on the page. Use dialog where you can.
Intermediate Writers 1: Try and concentrate, while writing, on including at least one sense (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) within your piece.
Intermediate Writers 2: Try and combine two or three senses within each exercise.
Advanced Writers: Use the prompts as you will and concentrate on imagery, metaphors, letting the language doing the work, and combining or mixing the senses. You can also experiment with free-writing, interior monologue, and surrealism.

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Writing Memories 4

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Writing Memories 4

Module 2.1 : Accidents

Like it or not, accidents happen at our age. We trip on the rug, slip on the ice, fall in the bath, so many little things can happen, none, hopefully, serious, but every one of them annoying. In my case, my beloved traveled to Ottawa to visit our family then and I stayed to look after the cat (and have my favorite chair vomited on by the monster). I played contact sports for years, no stitches. My beloved goes away and two or three days later, I slice myself up sharpening a kitchen knife. Everything is fodder for creation. Here’s the poem.

Triage
A stitch in time

1

Banality, stupidity, or just old age:
how did the knife slip from its intended path
and end up slicing through my finger? Blood

everywhere, oozing then pumping, flowing
freely, deep ugly, red, between fleshy
cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain,

short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing
out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning
my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand,

right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first
aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press
down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet

ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom
towel, run down corridor to garage,
leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following,

sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor,
one hand clumsy on steering wheel, the other
held high as I drive to emergency, fast.

2

Three nurses attend me. The first completes
the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages
my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait.

Second nurse inserts needles, kills the nerve,
cleans the wound, sews my little finger up.

Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time
now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, checks me
for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: The poem summarizes the instant well. I think the most horrible and outlandish thing of all was looking over my shoulder and seeing the cat following me, licking up the blood trail that I left spotted across the floor. I remember her squatting there, licking her lips: little horror. So, for Sunday’s session, I turned that moment into prose.

Triage [Pose 1]
A stitch in time

1

Banality, stupidity, or just old age: how did the knife slip from its intended path and end up slicing through my finger? Blood oozes, then squirts, then flowing freely, deep ugly, red, between fleshy cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain, short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand, right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom towel, run down corridor to garage, leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following, sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor, hand clumsy on steering wheel, horn tooting, driving to emergency, fast.

2

Three nurses attend me. So many questions. The first completes the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait. Second nurse inserts needles, kills the nerve, cleans the wound, sews my little pinky up to the sound of thread pulled through flesh, then knotted, and snipped. Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, checks me for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: Nothing wrong with that. From poetry to prose poem. But is it lacking something, some bite, the feeling of panic, a sense of shock? Alas, it is missing so much. “Every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it.” And that is so true. What was true for me then, battered, bruised, bleeding, in shock, no longer comes through the words I left on the page. I wondered if I could warm them up a little. Here goes.

Triage [Prose 2]

A stitch in time
1
Banality, stupidity, or just old age: how did the knife slip from its intended path and end up slicing through my finger? Blood oozes, then squirts, then flows freely, ugly, red, between deep, fleshy cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain, short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand, right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom towel, run down corridor to garage, leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following, sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor, hand clumsy on steering wheel, horn tooting, driving to emergency, fast.
2
Three nurses attend me. So many questions. The first completes the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait. Second nurse inserts needle, kills the nerve, cleans the wound, sews my little pinky up to the sound of thread pulled through flesh, then knotted, and snipped. Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, asks me questions, gazes into my eyes, checks me for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: Not much has changed yet now I seem to have lost the thrill, the shock, of that moment. I never even mentioned the feeling of achievement that warmed me when I got home, the knowledge that I had hurt myself and had got myself repaired without having to call my neighbors or emergency. I didn’t add that the first nurse tossed the blood-soaked kitchen towel into the garbage can and that she was unable to stop the bleeding. The second nurse managed that, after he injected me. He also gave me extra bandages in case the cut re-opened during the night. It didn’t. Looking back now, and remembering, I recall the hospital smells, the sense of the needle slipping into my flesh, the gradual loss of all feeling, the smell of the surgery, the scent of the anesthetic, the taste of the saliva in my  mouth. Revisiting the scene, so much later, I can begin to see all that I missed. As a result, Eliot’s words ring out truer than ever. Clearly, I will have to revisit this poem, this prose, this memory sketched into my life. This commentary, written on the spur of the moment, may help me do just that. Clearly I need to move from visual expression to visceral experience and taste and smell may just do that. Yes, I tasted my blood (so did the cat), and my saliva, and  I remember how the taste changed, oh so subtly, with each injection (there were three). I also remember the smells, all different of each of those rooms. Oh dear, so much work still to do.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

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