Mont Blanc

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Mont Blanc
(for Chuck Bowie)

“But what is that stick-like thing
between notebooks and mouse?”

“That stick-thing by my mouse,
as you so elegantly phrase it,
is my Mont Blanc fountain pen.

It’s also a metaphor app.
You stick the blunt end in your ear
to wind up your brain,
then you carefully clean
the tip on a piece of paper.

If it leaves suitable marks,
you read them like Runes
and use them to create metaphors.

You can also use it to conduct music
or to take a thin, blue line for a walk.
It’s very useful for poets who don’t like
staring at computer screens, and with one
they rarely suffer from writer’s block.”

Return to KIRA: Thursday Thoughts

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Return to KIRA
Thursday Thoughts
27 July 2017

“You cannot step in the same river twice,” according to Heraclitus. And he was perfectly correct. Yesterday I returned to KIRA. But it wasn’t the same. How could it have been?

Geoff, Hanna, and Cherry met me at the door. Geoff shook my hand, Hanna gave me a big hug, and Cherry pushed her wet nose into my crotch. Some things don’t change and one of them is a favorite doggy’s greeting. Mary sat at her desk just inside the door and she got a big hug too.

One Small Corner, the book that I wrote while at KIRA in June was in my hand. I had a signed copy for each of them. They also had a present for Clare and I: lunch at the Garden Café, courtesy of KIRA and a trip there on KIRA’s latest acquisition, a new golf cart, driven by Hanna. We were early for our lunch booking and Geoff suggested a quick tour of the gardens since Clare hadn’t seen them.

We all climbed into the Golf Cart, Mary and Hanna in front, and Geoff, Clare and I on the back seat, looking back as KIRA slowly vanished behind us. Another quote: “History,” said Marshall Macluhan, “is like looking at the past through the rear-view mirror of a rapidly advancing car.” This is a wonderful metaphor for my feelings at the time.

I had just met the young lady who had inherited my room, the Red Room, and my studio, #1. Neither the room nor the studio belonged to me anymore. They were now closed spaces, occupied by another. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t drive a spear through my still suffering heart. It did, however, underline that the waters of the stream had moved on and were not the same.

The gardens had changed too. Gone were the splendiferous rhododendrons of June, present were the multitudinous colors of Late July. The tiniest alpaca, born just before I left at the end of June, was now a sturdy one month old, larger and much more self-contained. Moe was a month older too as he sat on the roof of his shelter and nickered away at the world in general. Our lunch table was reserved for 12:30 and we would see them all later, parading on the lawn.

The gardens were fuller now than they were in June: more flowers, more blossoms, more color, more people, more children, more hazards for Hanna to slow for as we made our way back to the Garden Café, past the Sensitivity Garden and the Therapy Garden, past the Labyrinth and the Maze, past the Dutch Windmill, past all those magnificent sculptures … new sculptures had appeared … the blue piano wasn’t there earlier … this month’s artist had erected a new piece in the Secret Garden … change was all around me … and I viewed it from the backward-facing seat of a slowly advancing Golf Cart.

We had lunch in the shade beneath the apple tree. I looked around for Carlos, certain that he and his shadow were both close by … but I could hear no pipes. I spoke to Clare in Spanish, just to hear that language once again, but Carlos still didn’t appear. How could he? The river had flowed on and he was back with his family in Brazil.

Friends dropped in at the table to chat: Brad, Tim, Stefan, Mikah …lunch came and went speeded on by reminiscences and plans. After lunch, we visited the exhibition put on in the Garden Café by the latest group of resident artists. We admired the pencil drawings, loved the paper-maker and her art, and were wowed by the rug hooking and the photographs …

I thought of our own exhibition, held in the same place in June. We had our paintings, courtesy of Anne and Ruby, our sculptures, thanks to Elise, but the silence of July’s exhibition had been broken by the sounds of Carlos’s pipes and the viva voce reading of my own poetry. We were not a silent group, but a noisy, head-banging, drum-beating, piping, singing set of selfie-videophiles … the river had flowed on.

Ghosts of our voices clung to the back porch when we returned to KIRA. Hanna and Mary returned to their duties. Geoff, too, had things to accomplish. We met with two more of the new resident artists and complimented them on their skills. Then we slipped silently away to join the river of traffic that flowed down Water Street and up and away and back again to Island View.

Yes, I enjoyed myself. Yes, I will return again in August for I have promised to do that. But each trip will be different and no two trips will ever be the same, for old man river … well …he just keeps flowing along …

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Creativity: Thursday Thoughts

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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.

 

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

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Kingsbrae 8.3
8 June 2017

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

The end result of the poetic process, however we define it, is the poem. Whether the poem be good, indifferent or bad, depends on a set of critical value judgments of which the poet may or may not be aware at the time of writing. The end product must be allowed to look after itself. But what about the process?

The question is simple, but the answer is more difficult, because the actual nature of the process will vary with each one of us. If the end point is the poem, how do we write the poem, what is its starting point? Is it when we sit down to write? Is it when the pen nib (yes, I still write the old-fashioned way) makes contact with the paper? Is there a pre-writing starting point and if so, where does that begin? Is it in the poet’s head, or the poet’s eyes? Does it reside in touch or scent? Good questions: no answers other than the failsafe … it depends.

One thing that has emerged from this KIRA retreat is that above all we need time to be artists. Art and poetry take time, and artists, whatever their medium, need time to think, time to practice, time to splash paint on canvas, time to sit down and put their head in their hands and meditate … “What is this life,” writes W. H. Davies, the great Welsh poet, “if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

Elise Muller came up with an interesting exercise for developing self-expression. “Write down a question with your dominant hand,” she said. “Then answer it by writing with your less dominant hand.” I tried this. “What do you mean by writing process?” my right hand asked. My right hand held the pen about half an inch from the page and made me stop … and think. I thought about the critical analyses, usually ultra-academic,  that I had written and read over the years. Then I started to organize them into do’s and don’ts. The thoughts of certain serious writers sprang to mind … then I switched my pen to my left hand.

Uncontrolled, uncontrollable thoughts came tumbling out and spilled off the end of the pen on to the empty page that rapidly filled with visual and verbal images: evening falls and the stars grow into flowers in the darkness … three deer enter an empty field and dance on the dandelions … the sky fills with snowflakes that erase, one by one, all the objects in the yard … the tide flows back in and the bay recovers its memories of silver fish beneath the waves … the half -empty / half-full glass becomes meaningless: its essence is to filter the sunshine and to sparkle with light … clouds gather into small, wooly herds and the wind chases them across the sky …

To be filled with poetry and creativity we must first be emptied of the cares of the world. Then, when our heads are empty and free there is space for them to fill with the most beautiful images and ideas. This creative process needs time. Time to download and forget our worries. “Time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows” (W. H. Davies again). Time to be ourselves. Time tobe. Time to become one with nature.

To gain this state of freedom, we need to be free of financial cares and woes. We need to escape from domestic duties. We need to be alone (when we need to be alone) and among friends of a like mind (when we need company). “The time to see when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass” (W. H. Davies, yet again). So, in the poetic process, we need that freedom to create, to cut the ties that bind so tightly, to walk and watch and stop and stare. When that old, tired head is empty, the poetry will flow back in. And it will be a poetry not of grinding ideas but of dancing metaphors and sparkling words. “A dull life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

KIRA has gifted me with this time, this quality time. Clare and the WYPOD and my Fictional Friends and the Thursday Grunts and my fellow New Brunswick writers have encouraged me to take advantage of it. The process is in process. Some of the results are already being seen on these pages.

My thanks to all those who made this adventure possible. I would also like to thank all those who now facilitate this process every day.