Sheep

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Sheep                               

Wales is whales to my daughter
who has only been there once on holiday,
very young, to see her grandparents,
a grim old man and a wrinkled woman
who wrapped her in a red shawl
and squeezed her and hugged her
till she cried herself to sleep
lunging for lack of space and air,
suffocating in a straitjacket
of warm Welsh wool so tightly bound.

So how do I explain the sheep?
They are everywhere, I say.
On lawns, in gardens. I once knew
a man, a friend of my father’s,
whose every prize tulip was devoured
by a sheep, one single sheep
who sneaked into the garden
on market day when they left the gate ajar.

Sheep are everywhere, I say, everywhere.
I remember riding on a passenger train
and seeing sheep leering like tourists
peering from dark coal wagons travelling
God knows where and bleating
fiercely as we passed them by.

In Wales, I say, sheep are magic.
When you travel to Paddington
on the train, just before you leave Wales
at Severn Tunnel Junction,
you must lean from the carriage window
and loudly call “Good morning, Mister Sheep!”
and if the one you greet looks up,
why, provided you’re good and quiet
for the rest of the journey,
your mum and dad will buy you
something nice in London.

My daughter shows disbelief. And “Look
at that poster there:” I say, “a hillside
of white on green, and every sheep
as still as a stone,
and each white stone a roche moutonnée.”

Commentary: I couldn’t find a Welsh sheep in my photo collection, so I used this photo of Pre-Columbian Incan sheep substitutes instead. Llamas is probably a Freudian slip or a typo for lambs. See: there’s reason for everything and a link between all things, even llamas, vicuñas, and alpacas, like this pair from Kingsbrae Garden Barber Shop Shorn Quartet. The other two from the Barber Shop Alpaca Quartet are around somewhere. I’ll go and look. Ah yes, here they are. Listen carefully, and you may hear them sing.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KIRA 1

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KIRA 1

Our first full day at KIRA, and it’s not over yet.

Last night we had our first dinner together, courtesy of Kingsbrae Garden Café. Wonderful food and a dessert to live for. All of the participants gathered around the table and we were graced with the presence of Mrs. Lucinda Flemer. Conversation was lively, with each of us defining our position and interests in various art forms ranging through painting, print-making, poetry, photography, short stories, and memoirs.

After dinner, we discussed the nature of the retreat itself. This centered on several areas: Establishing Goals, Towards a Shared Experience, Building a Creative Community, and Managing Expectations. We discussed an agenda for this morning (Monday) and agreed upon an action plan for our first day. We also agreed that we would achieve what we could during the first day and then change, as necessary, if change were needed. The main things: be flexible, be creative, talk together, work together, support each other, and cater, small group, to each individual.

This morning we discussed the creation of a personal time and space for writing. Each one spoke of where and when they wrote. We made some suggestions as to how time and place might be achieved, even during a busy working day. We then spoke about journals, pocket notebooks, hard work versus inspiration, and the need to recognize gems when we created them. Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. The hard yards must be put in at the beginning. Before long they will no longer be hard. The idea of the artist as a traveler was discussed. We are all making similar journeys, but we are all on different points along the way. Many of us were helped in our beginning days, and we in our turn must now help others.

We then worked on specific goals for each person, facilitators and participants. This was very person-specific. We agreed upon a schedule for Blue Pencil Cafés and gave the first ones later in the afternoon. We finished with a ten word exercise, courtesy of Jeremy Gilmer. Write a ten word story. We took time off to write and then ended the session by reading our efforts to each other. Great fun and a good time was had by all.

My own BPC went very well. More about that later, perhaps. It went on much longer than I expected and we both had great fun looking at a poem in all it’s different shapes, meanings, and possibilities. Tonight, we have our first set of readings and we will see how they go. The BPC material, reworked, should be ready for later. Again: it will be fun and words, thoughts, and ideas, will creatively take wing and fly.

 

 

KIRA Writing Retreat #2

KIRA Writing Retreat #2

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A second KIRA Writing Retreat will be held from Sunday, October 14, 2018 to Saturday, October 20, 2018. A maximum of five participants will be selected to work with the Kingsbrae  Artistic Director, Geoff Slater, Professor Emeritus and Award-Winning Poet, Dr. Roger Moore, and Award Winning Short Story Writer, Jeremy Gilmer. Full details are available from the Program Director, Mary Jones, at kira@kingsbraegarden.com or by telephone at 506-529-8281.

Click on the attached link for A Brief Overview of Life and Art at KIRA.

 KIRA Promotional Video

 

 

KIRA Video

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Kira Video

So, our July project, a video of the first KIRA poet reading his KIRA poem, is now completed. I read One Small Corner at KIRA and Geoff Slater, Jeff Lively, and Cameron Lively added video to verse in this blend of magic. Thank you so much: I really appreciate this visual rendition of my words. So much so, that for once, I am at a loss for words. I will just let the video speak for itself and myself. Just click on the link below and you will be transported to KIRA and Kingsbrae Gardens on a magic carpet. swift and smooth.

KIRA Promotional Video

Our September / October project is to inaugurate the first KIRA Boutique Retreat (Creative Writing). This will run from September 30 to October 6. I will be one of the facilitators, along with Geoff Slater, the artistic director at Kingsbrae and Jeremy Gilmer, this year’s writer in residence (July 2018). For a description of my own stay at KIRA last year (June, 2017), click on the first link. Click on either the second or the third link below for more information on KIRA and the Boutique Retreat.

KIRA: an intensive creative experience WFNB, August 5, 2017).

 KIRA – Kingsbrae Garden

KIRA Boutique Writing Retreat