Plein Air

 

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Plein Air
(for Ruby Allan)

Plein air,”
she said, and I imagined her
sitting before the blank spread of a canvas,
a ship’s sail waiting for a sea-side breeze
to fill that empty space with color and mood.

What routes will her paintbrush take
as it wanders over the new world
lying before her?

Plein air, al fresco,
in garden and street,
before the shops and then
on headland and shore,
alone or accompanied,

with sea birds wading
and the gull’s cry echoing its sea of sound
as the sun sets in its bonfire of brightness
and throws light and shadow,
chiaro-oscuro,
all around.

Comment: The lead photo of Ruby Allan in her studio was taken in her KIRA studio in June, 2017, by my friend and fellow artist, the Peruvian pan-piper and flautist / flutist, Carlos Carty. The poem comes from my book, One Small Corner (2017), written in KIRA during my residency. It can be found on page 94 in the section entitled Artists.

In this poem I have tried to capture the idea of Ruby painting in the fresh air (plein air / al fresco) in St. Andrews-by-the-sea. Clearly, as you can see from the above photo, the sea is so important to this town, as are harbors and boats and the men that man and sail them. The light is important too as it changes throughout the day or with wind and weather. As you can see, Ruby’s paintings are filled with light and she catches those magic moments when the world seems to freeze and stand still. I try to imitate visual art when I write, and I try to fill my poetry with those magic moments as I create verbal pictures that seize the seconds and  hold them, even if it be for just a little while.

 

KIRA Creative Quarantine

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KIRA Creative Quarantine

The Kingsbrae International Residencies for Artists (KIRA) requested its alumni to consider creating a ten minute video of themselves offering an instructional lesson based  on themselves working in their specialist areas. You can click on the above link to see all the creative videos currently available. Note that two more are added each week. Here is a link to my own video on Writing a Poem. It is designed for people of any age and I hope that anyone who sees the video will enjoy it and be inspired to start putting together their own poems.

The photo above was taken by Geoff Slater, the Artistic Director at KIRA. He placed a selection of my books on the beach at Holt’s Point and Bingo: instant art from a master artist. My book Fundy Lines now sunbathes on a beach that has ready access to the beautiful Bay of Fundy.

Still Life with Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
Geoff Slater

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

Comment: I love the way language changes the way we look at life.  A still life painting becomes nature morte in French and naturaleza muerta in Spanish. Still life becomes dead nature. Fascinating. I also love the way in which the camera captures nature and the natural world. We think it is an accurate depiction, but really it isn’t necessarily that accurate. Filters, light and shadow, mood: they all fluctuate and sometimes we capture that which we never saw and sometimes that which we saw is never captured. Oh the subtle enigmas of creative art.

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And it is the same with the hollyhock, my hollyhock, Geoff’s hollyhock. At the top of the page is Geoff’s painting of my hollyhock. The above is a photo of my hollyhock. Which bloom did Geoff capture and reproduce in paint? Language: and what do I mean when I say ‘my hollyhock’? My indicates possession, ownership. How and in what way does one own a hollyhock? How does one possess a garden, a flower bed, a tree? Are they not free, living, beings with a life and maybe even a mind of their own? Does one hollyhock talk to another hollyhock as the trees are said to converse with the trees? Do the trees in the garden possess a soul and if they do, in what sense do they possess one? And what is a soul anyway? I guess it depends upon the church and creed to which you belong. Certainly the garden has a life of its own and we discover that every spring when the grass and flowers grow back and the dandelions return.

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Questions: dangerous things, questions. Several of the questions posed above could have landed me in an Inquisitional institute in Spain in the 1500’s and 1600’s. That is a frightening thought. Alas, the philosophy of all that is way too deep for this poor poet and apology for a philosopher. One thing I do know, though: I love the garden going on outside my window and it is a privilege to be allowed to watch it, admire it, and follow its progress as the sun returns and the draws the birds back with it.

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¡Vale! Hail and fare thee well.

Bird’s Nest

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Bird’s Nest
Jackson Pollock No 5 (1948)

This bird’s nest starts with a startling tweet
that wins a trilled, thrilled response. A flutter
of heart-string wings, creator, viewer, join

with the creation. Thin threads of life mix
and match their tangled weave, existential
tapestry, fathered in a feathered nest.

World without end, this labyrinth without
an entry point, without a beginning,
with a spaghetti-thread middle that meets

not in a breath-catch of the mind, but in
a brush-flick of coloured rain, a cycle
recycled of circled paint, circular

in its circumnavigation, its square
eight by four-foot globe of a new world whirled
in stringy whorls, reinvented beauty

drawn haphazardly from the bicycle
tour de force of this artist’s inner mind.

Comment: In my latest poetry book entitled The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature, I explore the relationship between art and the natural world. I have always been fascinated by what we see, how we see it, and how it affects us. The tiny print above is scarcely representative of the eight by four-foot world that the artist creates, or re-creates. And what is modern art? Is it a re-creation of the world as we see and feel it or a representation of a new internal world glimpsed by the artist’s mind and hand-turned into a new reality, the work of art? I guess it depends on the artist, his or her way of life, the way they approach the macrocosm, and how they view the microcosm of their own inner lives.

Creation: such a lovely word. Such joy generated as we create something new, be it something verbal, visual, or tactile. For me, it is more a verbal world than a visual one. My forays into art are wonderful, enjoyable, but very personal and artistically limited, even though I love taking a line for a walk or allowing the marker to trace images on the page. Dreams and a dream world: we need them. Sometimes reality is too much for us and we have to shut out the noise of the world and, in Antonio Machado’s words, ‘saber estar solo entre la gente‘ / know how to walk alone among the crowd. The loneliness of the long-distance runner. The isolation of the loving heart trapped within its cage of flesh and bone. The solitude of the spring nest on the pillars at Long’s Creek, overlooking the head pond at Mactaquac, as it waits for its restless occupants to return from their long journey back to the north from the south and start the rebuilding process, each twig, each straw, a minor miracle. And then the hatching and the fledglings and the return flight south that gifts the empty nest such loneliness as it waits for the cycle to begin again once more.

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Self-Isolation Day 19

 

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Self-Isolation Day 19
Platero yo yo
Meniscus: Crossing the Churn

I am eking out my reading of Platero y yo much as I eke out the food supply: small portions, and a chapter at a time. In the same ay that I am enjoying my food so much more, savouring each mouthful, cutting down on the accompanying wine, tasting life to the full, so I am slowing down my reading. I am learning to enjoy the journey, the perusal of each word, each phrase, the long-drawn out aftertaste of every image, the lingering bouquet of each metaphor. Yes, Platero y yo is a fine wine drawn slowly over the palate to be tasted and tested, not swigged and swallowed.

Not for the first time in my life, I am jealous, jealous of this writer with his Nobel Prize for Literature and his wonderful way of choosing le mot juste, the exact word, with which to illustrate his tales. It is not the Nobel Prize of which I am jealous, but the talent, the skill, the patience, the taste of each word. I wish I could write like that. I wish I could take the world outside in my garden and imprison it on the page.  Imprison: that’s what I do. Juan Ramón Jiménez imprisons nothing. His birds and butterflies fly free. His donkey roams free. His village women, young and old, wander freely across the pages as do the gypsy children and the children of the poor, with their dreams of gold watches that will not tell the time, their shot-guns that will not kill hunger, their donkeys that will carry them to a pauper’s death. Reading at this level, I rediscover my inevitable inability to write the way I want, to capture what I see, to give life and liberty to my words, enchained all, and lavishing in their captivity.

There is, of course, an alternative, one of which I am also incapable: to create a new world. I know of few people who are capable of doing that. Tolkien, of course, created Middle-Earth, the Shire, Mordor, Gandalf, and the Lord of the Rings. Rowland created Hogwart’s and the world of magic that surrounds Harry Potter. Closer to home, Alexandra Tims created Meniscus, a planet that travels around twinned suns and is in turn circled by two moons. Here water effervesces and flows uphill or generates dramatic water-climbs and lake-like churns.Erosion occurs by wind-scour and frost-heave. It holds predators (slear-snakes and kotildi) and humans have been brought her, as slaves, from earth itself, to eke out a miserable existence amidst the dystopia created by Dock-winders, Gel-heads, Argenops, and the Slain.

What I love about this series includes the invented language, the flora and the fauna, the wonderful drawings and maps that occur regularly throughout the books. This is no Middle-Earth, a recognizable world inhabited by humans and figures of magic drawn from our own legends and mythologies. It is a flesh-and-blood creation of something new and startlingly different.

Wolfgang Kayser suggested, a long time ago, that there were three types of novels: novels of action (the easiest to write, if you have that calling), novels of character (the development of an individual or a series of individuals), and novels of place (where the world, or a small part of it, is captured in detail). Occasionally, a great novelist, and Miguel de Cervantes was one of those, manages to write a book (Don Quixote) that contains all three of these features. Mikhail Bakhtin talks about ‘man’s dialog with his time and place’. Well, Ms. Tims has created ‘a woman’s dialog with her created time and space’ and I, personally, am so very happy that she did so.

Comment: [added 27 March, 2020]
Meniscus: Crossing the Churn can be found at
Here are the other books in the series.
Book One – Meniscus: Crossing The Churn

Book 1.5 – Meniscus: Forty Missing Days
Book Two – Meniscus: South from Sinta
Book Three – Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb
Book Four – Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill
Book Five – Meniscus: Karst Topography
Book Six – Meniscus: Oral Traditions
Book Seven – Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod

 

Le Pont Mirabeau

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Le Pont Mirabeau

Beneath Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine
and so does our love
must I be reminded yet again
that happiness always follows pain

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Hand in hand let us stay here face to face
while beneath the bridge of our arms
like flowing waves our gazes interlace

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Love flows away like waves that flow
love flows away
hope fills us with dismay
and life passes slow

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Days and weeks flow by bye bye
along with former loves
and past times that did fly fly fly
they will never come back again
Beneath Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Comment: It’s hard to give up on this. The poem has stayed with me since 1962 (58 years). A slight variant on an earlier version. Sorry, Guillaume.

Crows

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Crows

A family of crows lives  and nests close to our garden. Here are four of them together on the same branch. Two years ago, there were five of them. Last year there were seven and this year ten flew in the other day. They are such beautiful flyers. All weather conditions, too, summer and winter, all year round visitors.  I wish I could photograph the sound the air makes through their pinions as they swoop low over the roof on a warm summer’s afternoon.

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And they leave such gorgeous tracks in the snow. It is always fun to have them around and totally raucous when they find something worth eating.

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Geoff Slater has captured them to perfection. He’s better with his pencil than I am with my camera.

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