Sunday 24 September 2006
If you are counting down, this makes week 41. 40 weeks to go. I have been bringing poetry to Green Lake 8 hours each Sunday since early July, by way of an 8 mile walk. I have put in 96 hours and walked 96 miles. By next July, I will have traveled 416 miles in Sundays.
Where else might I have gone… in 416 miles? I might have walked off south to Mount Washington in Oregon. Or traveled east to west across Germany. I might have whistled over the shores of Rhode Island with the king eider. Or skated across Saskatchewan. Taken the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. Or traced the length of the Sacramento River, all the way from Mt. Shasta. I might even have walked from Rome to Milan. Or through the thicket of dialects in all the parkways of New York City.
Instead, I will walk Seattle's "corridor of neglect and crime" [Sandeep Kaushik, The Stranger]. Sweep the Aurora Bridge. Play a sleepy game of get-to-know-me.
WEARING THE PATH
This is one method of gaining access. Walking, pacing, measuring a place. Traveling on foot. Unlike a book or a conversation, walking involves you with just about every thing. If you are willing to take your hat off and lift your eyes, if you are willing to converse with yourself, walking will give you access to the land, light, distance, color, birds, weather, and music, as well as your own mind, skeleton, breath, and dreams. It can involve you with me and me with you. Involve us in a seen, tasted, felt and worn document of history.
Timelines are graphs of our movement through space.
Here grew the blackberry in August, plump and puzzled. By early September, the half were beheaded. In October, the berries were teddy bear eyes, dangling by threads. Their jackets, a wicked warp upon the hill.
Over here once snorted the wooly pup. All day, he'd sit, alone, absent of praise, awaiting a hand in through his fence. By December, he paced a line as you hurried past. It's March now, he has a place on the porch where he tracks you with his eyes.
And here stood three frightened geraniums, while up went their reflections in a storefront rising, up, up, all the way to the lake. Gulp. Now the schoolboy must dream the lake, rely on memory to bring it "back into the little system of his care" (Ted Kooser, "Flying at Night"). A generation and no one will yearn for the lake. Not even the residents with the costly views infrequently occurred.
No telling what the path will offer. A memory, desire, an aspect of home? Tragedy? Loss? A tunnel of sparrows? Who knows what sky and twilight give? Perhaps they will take you, with yellow and blue, to your source?
Wear a path. Study change. Learn the pace of your place. When you are able to claim a place, perceive it as home, you will claim life. And that means you live.
Wendell Berry talks about "the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it. He is talking about the knowing that poets specialize in” [Wallace Stegner, "The Sense of Place"].
Tell me, poets, what you know? Change or difference? Place or movement? The spot on your wall, that trance-inspiring thing, is it the green chamber where black willows grow? Or a plum in a bowl? Or yet still another life? No matter, time goes on dividing, diving. Dying.
Wear a path. Study change. Hold onto place.
THE HEALING TEMPLE OF GREEN LAKE
"The Asclepieion contains a theatre, rooms where patients were cured by the sound of water and music, the Temple of Asklepios, thermal baths and a library" [Wikipedia]. We needn't go to Greece. We've got all of that. We've got that here at Green Lake. The sounds of water. A library on the lake. A Bath House Theatre. We've even music, if you want. In the bellies of the birds, the traffic's throat, the green and yellow sequins. Squirming. Gurgling. Paddling in the wind.
Dennis sauntered up behind me while I was lugging my desk to the lake. He smelled of liquor. I had only 200 feet to go, but I asked anyway, did he want to help? He said yes, so I gave him an end. A rag of gray beard, square photo grey lenses, a trucker’s cap and baggy jeans. He asked where I was going. "To the lake," I said. "Where are you going?" "Texas." We rested at the edge of the park. "Dislocated arm," he explained, "I got jumped last week." We rested and carried on.
When we finally set the desk down, I offered him my book of William Stafford poetry. Without question, he began to read, as if directed to. He was still standing, nose in the book, long after Bev had come and gone. Ever-merry Bev-er berry, bearing a bushel of plums. Not in a paper bag, a worn brown bag, but in a blue foam tray. The soft frost of each suede nose, upright and carefully displayed. I showed them to whoever would look. Would you look at these gems! Can I offer you a plum?
I wandered around making my meadow beautiful, de-littering, while Dennis made himself at home on the wet lawn, stretched out, buried in Stafford. In the last 20 minutes, he has uttered just six words, "I’m just a horny old bastard." But something in Stafford is quieting him. I sit sensing his nourishment; can almost hear the drip from the i.v. bag. Hear poetry wriggling its way over the border.
Poetry will take any two hands strong enough to hold it.
I offered Dennis a plum. And out came a number. "1970." Then a whole line, "I got shot in the heart." Magic plums. He went on and told me about his screen play, a detective story, the last case for his hero Chan, the death of his father. Dennis has 8K squirreled away from the 25K advance. He’s holding out until he needs it. He is 60-something, proud and curious. Whether the money exists or no is irrelevant. He believes it does. Either way it is helpful. He’s mentioned, several times now, he was born on the same day as Walt Disney. December the 5th. He has a way of parenthesizing everything, as if there were a story behind not only the story, but each word of the story. He is a study in language. A self-commentating show.
Tom and Lucy came for a visit. Lucy put her front paws on my desk. Hello Lucy! Tom is, for me, the image of Tristan Jones. The Tristan Jones I have read and imagined. Tristan, the solo ocean voyager, a storyteller, author of twenty books. A wayward sailor. The scruffy and calloused, they all look alike. They have a splinter in common. They know humor through work and humility through fortune. They are both large and small on this earth.
Again today, their time has come and gone and they've not sung. They did not sing last week. Has my imagined village washed away? Has its sea of red roofs sunk in the mud? The ringers, do they sleep now in buried towers?
Wake, wake! I have flowers for you. I will not open. An eternity! To what vulgar existence shall I turn? What daydream? Wake pastor, wake! Call upon our passions.
"Cannons and bells have always had a curious relationship— bells are melted down to make cannons in times of war, and cannons are melted town to make bells in times of peace" (Blagovest Bells).
They're imagined, yes. Copied on magnetic tapes, air and song, played on the roof through a speaker. No chance to melt them into cannons. They are impotent. But that doesn't stop me from dreaming them into a line of bronze cannons on the Aurora embankment. And what are they shooting? What ammunition do they gift? Something red. Over the roadway and onto the path. Red velvet cakes perhaps. Soaring in burgundy streaks across the roadway. Breaking and scattering in reckless crumbs. The passersby stare in disbelief at the arresting morsels of impulsive red. Colorist bring cases of pigments to match their red. Cellists dramatize their grief with waving bows. And children do what children do, collect them into tins.
THE ORIGINAL AFFLUENT SOCIETY
In 1966, Marshall Sahlins proposed a theory suggesting the hunter-gatherers as the original affluent society. Sahlins argues that "hunter-gatherer and western societies take separate roads to affluence, the former by desiring little, the latter by producing much" (Sahlins, Man, 85).
With our loss of time then, perhaps the desire for less?
Less listing. Fewer slabs. Not so much chatter.
"Hunter-gatherers consume less energy per capita per year than any other group of human beings[…] All the people's material wants were easily satisfied. To accept that hunters are affluent is therefore to recognise that the present human condition of man slaving to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means is a tragedy of modern times" (Sahlins, "The Original Affluent Society").
What to want? A dream. A story. Crumbs.
First to realize our affluence,
an act of beauty overtakes an act of speed.
A race becomes a quiet parade.
A feather outweighs a leather case.
Dennis has been with me for five hours. After finishing Stafford, he fell asleep in the grass. Dennis is rich in time. When he awoke he rolled over, stood up and walked away.
I ask myself, week upon week, I ask, "What are you doing out here?" I ask, is this a performance? People come by, "I just had to see what kind of theatre you were making." Is it art? They turn their heads. Stop and think. Photograph me. Participate. Or is it a search? It is too late in our history to search? Has everything been found? Been measured, catalogued and tasted? Or is there something still unknown? Is it possible to search? Or has the exercise of searching, itself, lolled into the realm of art? Become a subject for an indy film?
If we display our search, no matter how true, how real to us, does it become, by default, a parody? An act? An embossed event?
No. Do you remember those Brooklyn nights? Those endless nights? That poetry desk, those forty poems, those forty nights? For whom then, this quiet life of discontent? For whom? You? This life? This search? Your passion? First you must find your poetry, then search for a home. The persons, places, lives you wish to honor. Until then, words can only define a fiction.
A GOOD LANDFILL
And then we have artist Clayton Campbell offers his idea of generativity whereby "the individual gives back more to the community than s/he takes out of it." Well, it's nothing new. This is how we were taught to share, to love. How we were taught to be happy. Give. Lend a hand. Volunteer. Just look at Plymouth House. Look at the Wintonia. Look at Ski-for-All. We're still helping one another. Navigating traffic. Still offering spokes for the wheel.
And anyway, generativity, if practiced, would yield such a terrible excess. More good than we need. Heaps and bins and landfills of good. A good ghetto! In the end, we would need to recycle some of the good to rebalance earth. We'd need to ingest some good ourselves.
And i ask, are pain and deformity not also generative? Is silence not generative? Buttering bread, is that generative?
Degenerative, that is night following night. That is when the rose petal blows into the Grand Canyon.
A verb flung into any art conversation - to inform, to profoundly inform. A verb I intend to appropriate. For the poets. I'd like to lodge it between the poet and her public. I’m here to inform you… And now to inform the conversation, let's turn to a poem... This is poetry to inform the way we live and die. Informing requires a wish to connect. Recognition of two bodies in space.
Dennis laughed once and went on reading.
Later, he read a line aloud and held up the book to me. I looked at the line with him. We marveled into it together. Poetry wiggling.
Instigation: Poetry for the homeless.
The world will not stop to bend a knee. The poet, through persistent involvement in the world, makes life happen, makes time, art, space, event and nature happen. The poet facilitates life. Connects us in a substantive way.
I have issue 85 of Contemporary 21, a glossy art magazine, with me today. There are images on pages 20 and 21, dark entangling shapes stretched on white walls. Baseboard mouldings catch and carry their art. The images make a perfect match when the pages shut. One might be a blot of the other. The one on the left is an installation by conceptual artist William Anastasi, called Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (1965). The other is a work, in paint, by the same artist.
It was the Metaphor Man who suggested, last week, I take Beethoven’s "Fifth" and set it to language. Here is it now, draped on the wall. A bundle of kelp, a long strip of acetate gathered and hung from two nails. It stretches and drapes and tangles and falls in a heap on the floor. And on the facing page, evidence of a gallon of black paint thrown on a wall. A shocked head. A betendriled heart. Another kind of symphony. A rendition. I would have preferred this too to be called Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It is titled One gallon thrown (1966).
Beyond the poured and thrown items are Anastasi's subway drawings from his Blind Drawing Series. Yes, others were being guided by forces, exploring surrealism, automatism. Others were splattering. Dripping. Throwing. Others were doodling. Perhaps it is the image of Anastasi, realized in a line by critic Thomas McEvilley, that makes me love him so, "Sometimes the paper would be in his pocket, folded small, the artist drawing away in the private dark with his stub of pencil while the performance went on." There’s something luscious about such an image and it isn’t only Anastasi the human, but the way Anastasi is presented, the language he is awarded. In the private dark. Doors are closed on the world. His stub of pencil. A tiny door, in a pocket, opens. While the performance went on. Two worlds collide.
While the performance went on. Such a line could be stickered to any event, a birth, a death, a haircut, the harvest of one grape. I plucked a grape from an idle bunch on a platter while the performance went on… The performance is always marching on, or dancing, or sometimes racing. Then it will surprise you, out on the pier, dangling a foot in the water, about to slip in. And the performance goes on.
When art acts outside of the market, fights our demands, grates against accepted styles, we call it defiant. Defiant art. Like a ruffian, a school boy. Defiant. We call it complex, personal, not easy. His art is highly personal. But still we engage it. Still we work towards it. Attempt to hook it, barb it. Give it a taste.
How is it, then, that defiance overlooks our language? Is poetry no more when it fails to conform? Is there no such thing as a defiant poetry? We are told there is not. We are told this is nonsense, incomprehensible. No sense in trying to understand a thing, if it’s a thing without language. It’s stillborn. Empty! Leave it be. It will blow away with the autumn wind.
If I were to set Beethoven’s "Fifth" to words, you wouldn’t want it. You wouldn’t want the thing I could offer. But I will. I will prepare this meal for you. Hunt it, toss it, set it before you. Serve you this little mouse. Do with it what you will. Let it wilt. When it begins to blacken, before it is autumn dry, you will smell its carcass and know of me. And then, once crushed and dusted on your children's feet, you will forget me again.
LIST OF THINGS TO DO
I am still fielding this question and answering stupidly, instead of gazing quizzically into the distance to point out a harbor light. A visitor asked, "What is the practical purpose of your project?" I jumped for my book, "I have to write that down. Add that to my list of things to do. (Scribbling) B-e m-o-r-e p-r-a-c-t-i-c-a-l." And laugh. A laugh. Here follows a line of questions begun on day one, "What do you hope to gain?" I thought I had iterated. I thought I had driven it home. You're here, now get out. Go home, I said. Week after week, they ask, "How will you measure the success of your project?"
We have already succeeded. We succeeded on day one, when you approached, when you spoke to me. And I listened. When you rolled by and puckered: p-o-e-t. This is an ungraphable gain.
Might I now return the question? How do you know your life has begun? How will you know when it is through? How do you know life at all? Do you grasp it? And how? Do you see it? In what? What do you hear? When it is too much, do you write it down? Do you ever write it down? What part of your life is not practical? Are these the best or the worst parts? Answer me this, what helps the most? Whimsy or Prose?