Really? Wednesday Workshop

IMG0061_1

Really?
Wednesday Workshop
19 July 2017

“Steevie K says adverbs are out. You shouldn’t use anything ending in -ly.”
“Really?”
“No. -ly words are banned. They’re as bad as Anglo-Saxon four letter words.”
“That’s folly, surely?”
“No. It’s an absolute from the best of all writers. You do agree, don’t you?”
“Oh, absolutely, in a sort of writerly fashion. I’ll leave all my -ly words on the trolley.”
“Are you being facetious?”
“Absolutely not. Clearly, Steevie K obviously has a point. Totally too many -ly words in use. Well, usually, anyway.”
“What’s more he says that people in general and writers in particular should avoid adverbs.”
“Funnily enough, I actually feel the same way, relatively speaking, particularly nowadays.”
“But you use them all the time.”
“Only in July, when there are comparatively few alternatives.”
“You know, Steevie K counts the number of times people use the -ly word.”
“Surely not? But then, he must truly be thoroughly committed to the extermination of …”
“… words ending in -ly. Of course he is.”
“I bet he lovingly caresses his dictionary as he peruses the -ly section while scratching his belly.”
“There is no -ly section.”
“You are lying, surely?”
“No. Anyway, that’s ly-, not -ly, and ly- is not a letter , it’s a combination of letters. Do you understand?”
“Truly I do. I get on swimmingly with this. All of it, actually.”
“All of it?”
“Totally. I always wondered why they said ‘jello’ not ‘jelly’.”
“Who?”
“Those with the smelly yellow-belly, of course.”
“I’ll report you to the Steevie K thought-police.”
“Surely you wouldn’t do that, not really, that’s not particularly nice?
“Really and truly.”
“Verily, I say unto you: ‘Oh shut up, you falsely bloated, heavily spotted yellow-bellied sapsucker’ …”

 

Damnatus

IMG_0041

Damnatus / Doomed

‘Poor poets of today: condemned to be nothing more than the dry dust of an unread doctoral thesis.’ They languish, empty headed, in dark rooms, those poets, hunched over their computers, waiting fr someone or something to fill up their heads. They hammer away at their keyboards, correcting their spelling with an  ever cautious spell-check. Intent on making their poems cryptic, they shrug off the sunshine, the beach, the flowers in the garden,  the cardinals, orange and red, who clamor at the feeder, and concentrate on abstract meanings, abstruse words, and twisted thought.

Phone calls go unanswered. Friends are left hanging on the vine to dry. These poets are worse than wallflowers at a dance or lemons out on a date as their crowded heads fill up with metaphors and myths that limp their unsteady ways onto screen and page. Oh pity the blisters on their fingers, the calluses that harden their fingertips to the delights of re-writing, again and again, for they are not real writers but real re-writers, and every thought is a skirmish with unreality, a pledge to continue their servitude to their life’s mission: the curdling of words and the nurdling of poetic thought. What better poetry is there than a hamburger for the hungry or a helping hand stretched out across a street to help a beggar in need … but there are neither burgers nor beggars in these un-windowed buildings, just the poverty of a poetry undiscoverable in its lack of lustre gloom..

Where is the graduate student, earnest, destined to be penniless, who will delve into the notebooks of these poets’ lives and dig out the thought-gems, the diamonds that will make everyone great, publisher and published, poet and practitioner of the uncritical art? Will someone not take that student by the hand and lead him to pastures green, or to the sea, to taste and test the blessed salt and the winds that will drive away the mind’s unwholesome fog and bring light and understanding that will un-cuff the wrists and heal the immortal wounds for, left untreated, they will bleed for all eternity?

Oh the bright bracelet of learning bound round the heart-bleed wrist. Oh the false knowledge gained, that leads poet and critic up and down the slippery garden path towards promotion, tenure, and a seat on the picket fence. Oh those grey human bodies chained to their wooden desks in a dusky library or transfixed on metal seats in academic meditation. Sit and watch while cobwebs sprout in the unused brain and the only certainty lies in footnotes and bibliographical entries that rise like a surging tide to flood the drowsing mind that craves more sleep.

What bright word, what metaphor dim, has poisoned the wit so it effortless moves into the serenity of contemplation? Look on this pathless sea of words, ye mighty, and despair. But take great care: for what if this sylvan warrior awakes, steps out of that figmented dream, sees the reality beyond the shadows, demands a proper challenge, a walk in the park, a vision of the grass that is so much greener on the other side where the administraitors gather and garnish paper and paperclips as they strive for the privilege of herding more and more slovens in their poetic pursuits?

Oh grant them more grants, these purloined poets. Gift them pure visions of things that never were and will never be. Never let them break away from their dissolute dreams that wrap their disadvantaged forms in the ignorance of mental slumber, half-sharpened pencils, and a box of blunt sharpeners..

Identity: Wednesday Workshop

IMG_0067

 

Identity
Wednesday Workshop

5 July 2017

Today’s workshop settles on the question of identity, loss of identity, and the attempt to recover any form of cultural identity that one feels one has lost. These questions are particularly important in the current age when so many differences are so easily erased. Language, culture, identity, music … they are all tied closely together.

The search for identity runs parallel to the search for the poetic voice (or the writing voice) that is so unique to each good writer. In fact, one can distinguish between good writers and lesser writers merely on the basis of voice. Lesser writers rarely establish a distinct voice while good writers usually have voices that are uniquely their own.

What to do we mean by voice? When we read Shakespeare or Miguel de Cervantes we know almost immediately whose work we are reading. The same is true of the great musicians. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, all have sequences and styles that are individual to them, as do Scarlatti, Brassens, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilles Vigneault, Edith Butler … their style, their voice is established. We listen to them and we know who they are.

Cultural identity is also very important. It is tied into language, childhood beliefs, fairy tales, myths, the basic culture that we receive as children. When we all listen to the same radio stations, or download the same ITunes, or watch the same TV programs with their infinity of ad nauseam advertisements, then we are socially engineered to be the same or, if not the same, remarkably similar within a series of very limited and extremely limiting patterns. When we establish our own identities, — and this is always difficult both for people who have had their culture taken from them and for immigrants, or the children of immigrants, who want to retain their culture at the same time as they blend in and fit in socially — then at the same time we develop our own voices.

When I hear the poetry of Lorca, of Antonio Machado, of Miguel de Unamuno, of Octavio Paz, of Dylan Thomas, of Gerard Manley Hopkins, of Wilfred Owen, I hear their very distinctive voices and recognize their individual styles and the cultural / poetic identities that they have established. The goal that we, as writers, are aiming for is to establish our own style, our own voice. To do this, we must listen to ourselves and discover how we think and how we feel. Then we must listen to others of our own generation. We must make comparisons and establish what we do differently, why we are different, what forms our differences … our own individual voice may come from speech rhythms, from language usage, from the establishment of a certain form of narrative, from the use of imagery or metaphor … there are so many different ways in which we are, each of us, different … or capable of being perceived as different.

When we write often enough and frequently enough, we at last begin to recognize those words, those phrases, those rhythms, those ideas, that are ours and nobody else’s. This is when we start to discover our own voices and our own personalities. It is a goal worth striving for … step by step … poco a poco … little by little … and a step forward everyday … until we grow into the type of writer or poet, fully established (or establishing), that we were always meant to be.

It is never easy to capture oneself and place oneself on the page in readable form. It’s a bit like trying to draw Picasso’s blue vase using only one blue pencil: not easy. It’s much easier to take a selfie with a flashy cell-phone.  Cell-phone selfies are easy, but verbal selfies are what we are seeking for. They take much longer to ‘produce’ and it is only when we finally achieve them, that we realize how difficult they are to actually achieve. But remember, read and re-read my earlier postings: don’t give up; don’t get off the bus!

 

Residency: Thursday Thoughts

Chaos

Residency
Thursday Thoughts
29 June 2017

Application:
I would not have applied for the residency at KIRA had I not have been encouraged to do so by my writing group friends and by a friendly voice on the Kingsbrae phone.

Acceptance:
I was surprised to receive notification of my acceptance. It arrived on 2 March 2017. On 3 March 2017, I started to peruse the Kingsbrae web page and make the first drafts of poems that I would later complete on site.

The Red Room:
I was lodged in The Red Room in the KIRA Residence and I had a small desk at a window overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay. I spent a whole month looking out of that window and writing at that desk … or was it the other way round?

Community Commitments:
These were multiple, but they were always art orientated and therefore most enjoyable. They included working with school children, attending various unveilings and openings, and being present in our studios and discussing our art with visitors. On 26 June we had an exhibition in which each one of us either showed our work or produced a live performance.

Evening Salons:
Most evenings we had a literary / artistic salon in which we discussed various aspects of our art. These lasted two to three hours and some were summarized while others were video-taped. These quick-fire exchanges provided a backbone to our daily work.

Trips:
There was time for local trips and we travelled, individually or in groups, to many places including Deer Island, Passamaquoddy, Campobello, St. Stephen, New River Beach, Holt’s Point, Greenlaw’s Mountain, Jarea, Minister’s Island, Ile Ste. Croix, and several other locations. The photographic records enabled us to build our creativity.

Artistic Development:
This was individual to each of us, but we all remarked on a widening of our perspectives, a new commitment to narrative and theme, and a broadening of our artistic horizons.

Returning Home:
On my return home, I turned to my everyday life in which art, in my case writing, was of secondary, not primary, importance. The need to cook, to shop, to do normal household duties suddenly conflicted, once again, with my need to be a writer.

24/7:
24/7 is indeed a cliché. But for 28 days it became the pattern of my writing life. It was indeed a fertile time. I wrote some 100 poems, 25% of which will be rejected, with a possible thematic structure and three revisions already completed. Sooner or later, I will produce a book about this experience..

Conclusions:
This type of time commitment turns us from budding /artists into the real thing. We must strive to re-create these last 28 days in what remains of our creative lives. There can be no lesser or secondary choice, if we are to be serious about our art.

The Journey:
If we wish to travel from Halifax to Vancouver by bus, we must make several decisions.
1. We cannot get off at Moncton.
2. We cannot get off at Montreal, nor at Toronto.
3. Winnipeg, Regina, and Calgary are beautiful; but we mustn’t get off the bus.
4. If we do, we will never get to Vancouver.

Conclusion:
Art is a life-time journey: don’t get off the bus.

 

Rain

Empress 005 (2)

Kingsbrae 20.4
20 June 2017

Rain

Hand in hand, we walk
beneath black umbrellas.
Grass beneath our feet is wet
and water seeps through
our shoes, soaking our socks.

Cold and numb in spite of the date
(the summer solstice draws near),
my ears strain against the pitter
-patter of falling rain to catch
the nearby robin’s song.

He has mislaid his voice
and I can no longer translate
his liquid notes into soul music
that might lighten mind and day.

Clouds gather and empty themselves
over our umbrella-covered heads.
In spite of damp and dark that rule,
thoughts abound and hop around,
like frogs in a summer pool, while
light bulbs explode in my brain.

Water Tower

IMG_0452

Kingsbrae 19.3
19 June 2017

Water Tower
(for Geoff)

Asked where he got the material
for his plays, Molière said:
“Je le prends où je le trouve,”
“I take it from wherever I find it.”

Here, before the water tower,
I find the tower to be a ground
level water tank, no tower at all.

The first steel band, the horizon,
is composed of yellow lilies.
Above them, the Kingsbrae Café shares
the second band with the gardens’ windmill.

Twin pointed roofs and the windmill’s
thin sails reach up to the skyline
with its background of trees
silhouetted against an egg-shell sky.

Art is in the eye of the beholder
or the artist and can be seen
wherever it can be found.

 

Creativity: Thursday Thoughts

IMG_0070.JPG

Creativity:
Thursday Thoughts
Kingsbrae 15.1

15 June 2017

The KIRA experience has been very kind to me. It has enabled me to spend time writing and thinking without the necessity of worrying about the daily rituals and necessities of everyday life. In addition, the daily conversations with the other artists in residence have kept my mind focused on the process of creation and this has allowed me to study how I am creating. As many on this blog have noticed, I have been very productive during this residency, and there are several reasons for it. I would like to share some thoughts and ideas with you.

Journal: On 2 March 2017, I received an e-mail telling me that I had been accepted for the arts residency at Kingsbrae. As most of you know, I keep a journal and write in it every day. On 3 March 2017, I started my Kingsbrae poetry sequence. I began by reading the entirety of the Kingsbrae web page and then watched the Kingsbrae Garden videos online. Then I began jotting down in my journal poems and snippets of poems, creative thoughts, metaphors, images,  and ideas. By the time I came to Kingsbrae, I had 90 proto-poems in place. Since they were taken from photos and videos, and were not written in situ, I saw them as prototypes, rather than as the real thing.

The Journal as Poetic Quarry: I look on the journal as a poetic quarry. It contains many stones, some tiny, some larger, some useless, and some very precious indeed. One part of my poetic journey here at Kingsbrae is to go back over these stones, turn them over one by one, discarding the dross, and concentrating on the precious material that has lain there waiting to be re-discovered. Now that I am on site, it is easier to distinguish between those essential words, the ones that really count, and the lesser words, the ones that can be dismissed. This sifting process needs time and thought, and that is exactly what the residency has given me. Writing tip: keep a journal. Mark in red those passages that contain seeds of poetry, images, metaphors, rhythms etc. Return to them when you have the time to do so. Time and space are essential: a time in which to work and a space in which to work. Without these two things , we are lost as writers. ‘I don’t have time,’ you think. Ask yourself: ‘what is more important than a little time each day, spent on yourself and your writing?’ As writers, we MUST indulge ourselves with those two little gifts, time and space. An hour a day is more than enough: find that hour, use it. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is enough to keep us ticking over: if we can’t find that ten minute space, then we are unfortunate indeed.

The Revision Process: As I develop as a writer (and believe me, I am still developing), I realize that the ability to recognize good writing is one of the most important skills that we possess. Re-reading is one thing. Distinguishing the great (oh yes, there are great thoughts and metaphors in those journals), from the good, from the average, from the futile and meaningless is a key skill. All of us have wasted precious time on an idea that just didn’t work. We have worried at it like a dog at an old bone, drooling, gnawing away, growling at ourselves and the bone, getting no nourishment. Leave those ‘dead’ ideas, those ‘dead’ metaphors. Move on to the good ones asap. Our writing time is precious: don’t waste it. Learn to recognize the good and workable from the lesser writings that waste our time.

The Creative Process: “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” This is the first line of one of W. H. Davies’s poems. The Kingsbrae Residency has given me time to stand and stare. It has also given me time to sit and stare. Emptying myself of the daily drudge, I have been able to allow light and inspiration to enter my mind and fill me with creativity. I have discovered that there are ways to do this: meditation, an open mind, an emptiness within that slowly fills, and, above all, carpe diem, the ability to recognize that moment and seize it and exploit it. None of the above is unique to me. If we are at all creative, we are all faced with a simple choice: to develop our creativity or to let it wither. Most of us are too ‘busy’, in the worst sense of the word, to allow ourselves the time we need to create. This is a process we must reverse. We must return to self time, thinking time, emptiness time, metaphoric creative time.

The Value of Art: The modern corporate businessman’s mind is of the type that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. As a result, we have the tendency, as artists, to fall into the ‘price’ mold rather than the ‘value’ mold. If we do not stop and think, if we do not find the time to create, if we do not search for the absolute values that are represented by our art and our creativity, then we count the pennies, add up the costs, and look at the price. Nobody said art was facile. Nobody said that creating the time and space in which we could create would be easy. This residency has convinced me of one thing: that without that time and space, we are nothing but drones, workers, lifeless puppets, going through the motions as other people pull the strings, lacking the spiritual wherewithal … We must stand up for creativity, for being different, for doing things differently, for being ourselves. We must stop being digitalized consumers and become, or continue to be, active, thinking creators. The world needs creativity and art. It needs people who stop and think. It needs people who think differently. It needs artists and creators. It needs us. What we do as artists and creators is precious and valuable. Never doubt it. Never forget it.