Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sunday 4 March 2007

Dry, overcast, warm of late. Ah, warm of late. I met with 58 visitors today. My highest volume yet. A very full day and tiring and full of content and worthwhile.


I spent the morning memorizing "in Just-" by E. E. Cummings. What a ringbox! The "far and wee" of the little lame baloonMan grows wee-er and wee-er as he skips through the park and so when "and eddieandbill come/running from marbles" comes running around again it's "and bettyandisbel come dancing/from hop-scotch and jump-rope and" the whole rhythm changes and quickens and their dancing calls forth the dance of spring and conveys its happy arrival. Six syllables become nine in a measure of that blossoming. And so spring begins, in this way, crafting a palpable rush.

The music in poetry is something we need. It is a conduit for myth and message and image. Listen to your life. Listen to the tree flippering in the breeze. The shoreline sifting punching and rolling. Listen to spring.


Karen, Carl and DiAnne visit with this bit of news, "Poetry is so big!" Yes it is. It's huge, though it needs only a caretaker, one single person, to stewart or print or publish a poem, to bring it to someone. I read Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" to this threesome. Afterwards Karen explains, "I subscribe to The Sun. I'm reading all this personal writing, and then you're here. I don't have to look at a screen. You're a real person."

My body, my Green Lake presence, this body that offers up poetry on Sundays, excites Nancy more than The Sun because it's alive. And you, Karen, you are here too. And this is sometimes the most harsh and exciting of all, the fact that humans have this rare and direct access to one another. To catch onto the notes of a goose is one thing. To follow a rooster's song over a metal roof. But to connect with another human being, to make one word of sense, that is remarkable! That is intense! And is, most arguably, miraculous! And you're here. And I'm here. And that's exciting and news. That's really the most important thing that will happen today.

Karen calls attention to the differences between the art of poetry and the other arts, such as music and theatre, in which the artist stands before an audience, in which the human body is there to send its messages, on all the levels that the body can send messages, voice, posture, gesture, mood. Modern poetry is mostly a visual experience, taken from the page, without an artist in tow, without a human appendage. Poetry rarely begins at the microphone. It lies in wait at a desk. It feeds a drawer. Poetry files all those seed packets away and cultivates that perfect line. It comes then, if it is lucky, to a place that demands communication, real and retrievable. So the poet sends out her work, to a contest or magazine, or shares it with a friend. And depending on their response and her fortitude and her present need, she pushes on or withdraws. What happens now is critical. It determines where the poet will go with her work. For if she is rejected, it may take years, lifetimes, before she is ready to dance again. But if she is called forth and praised, she may gush and say all she needs to say and close her mouth forever. Or she may say too much and spill a tide of verse upon the shore.

And so, when you encounter a poet who is willing to stand up and say "I am a poet," when you find someone willing to harness and exhibit their search for you, you can be sure that what stands before you is a poet, a true poet serving a timeless need. And you can rest assured in your praise of her. For you would be praising yourself and your dreams and your future and your past.

What are the benefits of having a real person, a live poet, in the world? Are dead ones not enough?


A woman stops by to tell me about her interactions with the poet Ted Kooser. She went to a reading of his once long ago and signed onto his mailing list. Now, every Valentine's Day, he sends her a postcard with a love poem on it. Sources say Ted been doing this (for his female audience) for over 20 years. He admits to taking great personal pleasure from it. What is Ted's pleasure in this activity? Satisfying others? Attending to love? Nuturing?

What is the significance of personal contact between the public and their poets? How does poetry live?


"Can you read us something hopeful in these trying political times?" I read "in Just-" by E. E. Cummings. And Arleen shook my hand and said, "Have a great day."

"Do you have a poem to help bring balance to our lives?" I read "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" by Howard Nemerov. They are forecasting severe world peace in 2036. They say a meteor is going to hit.

"Do you have any Rilke?" "Thank you." "That gave me my message for today."


Geraldine puts a poem out on her fencepost every other week. She posts a poem for the passing pedestrians at 3733 Corliss Ave North, at 38th and Corliss in Seattle. Go and see. Go and see your poem.


They bring me poetry! This is as good as it can get. Mark brought me an Owen Wilfred poem. Toni brought her own verse. Another Mark brought the tale in verse of Sam MacGee by Robert Service. An anonymous woman brought "The Sun Never Shines" by Hafiz. Bill and Phillip brought James Hunt. This is as good as it gets.


How tall will a tulip grow?
What does a billy goat say?
What is the purpose of public art?
True or false? Olmstead saved Green Lake.
True or false? Olmstead killed Green Lake.
When is the next algal bloom?
What kind of fish can you catch and eat, with what bait?
What does a grebe say?
When does the swallow visit?
Where do cottonwoods grow?
What thrives under a black walnut tree?
Where goes the rabbit-o, out along the greeny-o?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Untitled [Intersection], March 2007

Sunday 24 February


A dog and its owner go by. The dog has a thick stick in its mouth. The man swings his arms. They make their way, counter-clockwise, around the lake like this. The dog is a middle-aged sheepdog. The man is a middle-aged Caucasian. The dog lays his stick down before the master. The master walks past without picking it up. The dog must anticipate where precisely to place the stick to encourage his master to pick it up. It drops the stick 10' before its owner, races behind it and bows down. It lays in submission, in wait, in prayer there, head nestled in the grass, eyes up. Every so often, the owner picks up the stick and throws it into the meadow. Mostly, though, he walks past without picking it up. The dog must then pick up the stick himself and begin the process anew. Race forward, drop the stick strategically, hurry around, lie down and wait...

It strikes me that this is what the poet is doing in society, carrying a message, a mystery, a piece of the world, racing around in public, placing it before the reader. Please, please, please see this stick. Please read this. This poem, this song, this stroke of light. Please read this bump in the road. This chip of ice. This feather drifting from the eaves. See this please.

The reader walks on.


My first visitors are working artists, Linda Davidson and Beth Richmand. A painter and a jewelry designer.

Linda has new work on display this May at the Catherine Person Gallery (near King Street Station). Linda talks about the role of poetry in her work. She collaborates informally with the poet Anita Feng. They work back and forth in a sort of call and response. I wonder how much time elapses between their exchanges? I wonder if they show together? Linda explained their the process. They work within a loose structure. No requirements, no explanation, just an open response using one's art.

Beth Richmand designs art deco jewelry and works in enamel. She sells her work at Folk Life and The Rest of the Best (Bellevue).

I offer Linda and Beth chocolates in the shape of little mice, artisan chocolates my mother has sent. When the rain begins to dapple the desk, Beth puts her ball cap over the mice. Her natural instinct to protect the small things in life, the gifts.


Gene visits. He tells me he writes things he thinks might be poetry. I ask him to read me a poem. He has nothing with him. I give him Peter Davison's "The Passing of Thistle." As he read, he exclaims, "Now that's good poetry." "That's real!" He went on, reluctantly, interrupting his own reading again and again to discuss the poetry he was finding. He never finished the poem. He seemed too overwhelmed by its poetry. I give him homework. Memorize a poem this week. Make it your own. Next week, call it forth from memory. Call if forth whenever you need it. Pace your walking with it, entertain your friends, explain a force or a subtlety in the world with it, call it forth when you are bored.


I am alone again. I pace in and out of the forest, Little Sherwood. There are no bandits about. I stand behind my Major Oak for spells to cut the wind, then pass out into the crosswinds. I pace my watch. I pace the weather side of the quarterdeck, from the forest to the far tulip tree and back, an immemorial tradition of the British Royal Navy. I pace with my thoughts. Wonder about the direction of our ship. The safety of our crew. I consult charts. Take a compass reading. I dead reckon. We are not on course. Not the least bit on course. I am troubled.

When I turn from the wheel, when I turn out of the forest, I am confronted by a group of women who have mushroomed out of nowhere and stand before my desk. Eight of them, all lined up. I am amazed. "Where did you come from?" They smile in answer and ask for a poem. I select "Emergency Haying" by Hayden Carruth. "Would one of you read it?" They call to someone on the pathway. They say, Professor. And Professor walks into their group. He warms, slowly, to the idea of reading. He locates his glasses. He reads the poem softly. Everyone must lean in. He reads, "I change grip and the image fades." Each word receives fair emphasis.

"She snicked her hand off and took it/and threw it grandly at the sky." It is hard, hearing this, not to iterate this gesture, not to play out this scene. A defiant laborer, a cane-cutting grandmother, taking her own hand, her own power, now severed, now cut away from her body, and throwing it to the sky, throwing it into the face of her maker. What a grand gesture! Defying the one who would own her labor.

"Are you together in class today? How did you come to be walking around the lake?" They wouldn't say. "You don't want to know. We are walking in memory of someone. We have to go now. Thank you."

I read "One Train May Hide Another" by Kenneth Koch to Oliver. "One thing I've learned about Koch's poems, they're long, but they're amazing." It is a 66 line long poem. I read it again to Ross. The poem intrigues him. He asks me to mail it to him so he can share it with friends. "If you are waiting to cross/The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at/ Least after the first train is gone." The poet again is training our eyes. And this line, appropriate to Seattle, "One bath/may hide another bath/ As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain." And so we question our use of words to express meaning. The ability of our language to mean. When we say the word bath. When we say the word work. When we say the word love.


I spend all afternoon with Erik Lacitis of The Seattle Times, who has come to collect information. He vacuums for details. We photocopied my journals. I'm not sure why we did it. I waffled back and forth thinking it may be an invasion and remembering I'd intended to keep a public journal. What is a public journal if not published? Notes, sketches, a head count, random thoughts. Contact info, a history of weather and names. What does it amount to?
Erik drove me, in his very warm hatchback, north on Aurora to an Office Max. We photocopied my journals there, two sheets to a page. The end result seemed small, seemed inconsequent. Eight months of Sundays look like this? This thin stack?
And then Erik made a comment which got me thinking, "If 7000 people pass your desk in 8 hours and only 40 stop by, that's a very small percentage." Honestly, I never thought of it like that. To me, 40 is just about as much conversation as you can have in 8 hours. It's as continuous a conversation (from 10-5) as it gets. It's almost nonstop talk. I am certain I couldn't communicate with 300 or 200 or even 100 people. It just isn't possible. No, that's not true. Larger bodies could form. I could use a megaphone. I could mount a podium. And though the message might be homogenized, I could learn to generalize. I could take fewer questions. Learn fewer names, look into fewer eyes.
No, I cannot be this poet. The hand-to-hand passing of poems is too important. The stories, the depth, the texture of the day, are too much the point. Given too large an audience, I would be reading instead of communicating. That is not the intention of my project, nor of life. The intention of both is to find the means necessary to communicate the human condition.


Butkui came late in the day. A lonesome man. A Rupert's Drop. "I feel trapped in my body." I sympathized with him. This is the universal condition, Butkui. The best we can do is make art and try to share the world. This is the state of humankind. We are solitary souls trapped in bodies. Some say we are "a wealth" trapped in "poverty." Butkui asked for a poem about terminal illness. I read Zach Sussman's "Cancer."
Then he asked, did I want to see his art? Yes, yes! He had images of his paintings on a handheld device. He showed me a whole series of paintings, images of islands, glum and monotone. Images of Duck Island, the island that sits a few hundred feet offshore. He works from photographs.
The best we can do is make art and try to share ourselves with the world. You are already doing this. Though I suppose sometimes this is not enough. I suppose sometimes this fails. Sometimes work is done and never communicated.


30 people visited my desk today despite the wind and cold. I did not need a megaphone to communicate with them. I learned their names. I heard their stories. We shared long poems and short poems and discussed and viewed art. It was a lovely day. A memorable day. A day of strong images and genuine connections.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sunday 18 February 2007

Cool. South wind. Overcast.
"The way upward and the way downward are the same." T. S. Eliot

The artist has become invisible in our culture.
Making the artist visible again is itself a kind of artistic endeavor.
Here is the window through which the poet has climbed. Let us call to her- Poet! She stands outside the poem, outside of the frame. She stands with the mass of pedestrians she has called together. She calls to the world. "Here is the view! Come and see." She says to them, "In looking out, you look in." They understand. And see. She is a pastor.
The reach from poet to public, on behalf of all poetry, is a sacrament.

I am consumed with thoughts on the reading series I am developing for the Phinney Center. Fielding questions from poets, performers, the media, friends who wish to understand. "What are you trying to do?"

Asking a distinguished poet to recognize and introduce a colleague who hasn't yet published a book seems simple. Artists supporting artists. Yes, but what an seldom incurred event! And so this is my effort, to call forth the humanity of the artist. To expose the nurse/patient, food/hunger, relationship between poets, mentors, the literary society. To take the artist outside herself, put her in a telephone booth, on a seesaw, to recognize that balance and need.

The artist sits in her room, alone and wondering. "Who will recognize this? Recognize me?" Wondering how to be found. "Why are the other being published? When will it be my turn?" Talking to herself, forgetting how to relate. "For whom do I write?" Forgetting the aim of voice, which is to converse. To live. To explain. To comfort. To affirm. Not to preserve, but to begin. Not to prolong, but to grow. Not befuddle, but expose. Not dispute, but avow.


What is the purpose of coupling poetry and performance? How to explain performance art?

The public is confused. "You mean slam poetry? You mean performance?" The poets are worried. "There's going to be a performance during to my reading?" The performers are most leery. "What kind of poets are these?"

Well, I think all of this is like asking an onion and a glass of water how they might relate if I were to put them on a table together. The fact is, they can't help but relate because they coexist, they inhabit the same frame. The onion just by being an onion. The glass just by being a glass. There is no work to be done. There is only information spent. The bend of skin through water. The reflection on glass. The moisture breathed by a paper skin.
Ah, but this still leaves the question, why encourage these forms to relate?

I chose a title, a title meant to read like a label, for a painting.
Untitled [Intersection], 2007.
It had to be in a gallery, in an art space, a place where poetry could wrap itself in visual art. It had to be equalized, poetry needs the real dialogue of living art, of performance art.


Whether or not you agree that performance art work was born in the work of Futurist Italian poet, F. T. Marinetti in 1908, it is hard to deny the parallels between performance and poetry. When true, they serve as forms of attack on the state, on the state of art in the modern world, in the bourgeois culture. Poets and performers are the artists most significantly affecting how we see the world. How we live in it.

Untitled [Intersection], 2007 proposes to merge these efforts, to posit them against one another, as means of correcting their fracture and of instigating a dialogue between them.


Talk about a rose petal in a canyon! The poet goes to the mailbox, drops in a submission, put it onto the blue tongue and Amen waits. What quieter death exists?!

Rise up devout one, tie a stone to your petal. It is time you made noise. Tasked yourself with talent.


A visitor brought me Janet Wong today, a local children's author and poet. A kindergarten teacher brought me Janet Wong. She reads Wong's poetry to her students, to her kindergarten students. Someone is working to turn the tide. Thank you, Professor Lilliput. Thank you for planting the next fairy tale crop.


"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you" (Jesus, in the Gospel of Thomas).

Fred Bissetti came to see me. He came to the lake. A famed Seattle architect came to see the unknown poet. He suggested putting a booth beside mine, sitting at a desk that read a-r-c-h-i-t-e-c-t. Yes, I said, please do that. That would be lovely.

Your buildings are not invisible. Are you? Where is your entry way? You are here at my desk, in a chair, before me. Yes, I said, please do that. That would be lovely.

Mr. Bissetti brought his daughter, Ann, and two chairs. Or did Ann bring her father?
They spent twenty minutes with me. It was awful blustery and overcast. They brought literature and ideas. Poems and definitions. And Fred was real. He sat on a chair under the dome I constructed. And his papers fluttered. He is 90 years old this January.

Fred brought the Encyclopaedia Britannica definition of poetry. It begins, "Poetry is a vast subject." It goes on to raise connections between poetry and breath. It explains why we'd continue trying to define a term after so many years failing. The reason we must keep striving, they say, is out of pigheadedness. We, the poets and critics, presumably, wish very badly to determine what is not poetry so that we may claim poetry. The poet is challenging her existence. O, what boldness!

"The French poet Paul Valery said that prose was walking, poetry dancing. Indeed, the original two terms, prosus and versus, meant, respectively, 'going straight forth' and 'returning,' and that distinction does point up the tendency of poetry to incremental repetition, variation, and the treatment of many matters and different themes in a single recurrent form such as couplet or stanza" [Encyclopedia Britannica].
We must applaud our Circlers for creating poetry.. by moving. By moving in a space that churns up poetry. Applause for having recognized and preserved this poetic space. Applause! Applause!

Mr. Bissetti is renowned for his work on the Burke Building, for his efforts to salvage elements of its pre-modern, Romanesque architecture, for incorporating them into the modern structure as architectural fragments. He is credited with architectural nostalgia, with warmth and intimacy. No not architectural nostalgia, but memory. Nostalgia shows weakness, memory shows strength. He is credited for imbuing Seattle with an architectural memory.
My desk as a stage surrounded by Evan and Casey and Miriam and Dirk, discussing what theatre can do. We start by asking, "Who are your heroes?" Evan said Bono. Casey said the name of a local forest firefighter killed two years ago. Dirk said Ghandi. Miriam said a 1600's Peruvian figure named Tupa Kapparu. I said Goran Kropp, the Swedish purist climber who died in Vantage, WA a few years back. We have heroes. We have a stage.
The theatre is a catharsis. Is an experiment. A testing ground. A lesson and exercise for life. And then, finally, life itself.
Augusta Boal, in Brazil, developed a theatre close to life with his Forum Theatre. A theatre intent on solving our particular problems now, without violence and without magic. During the show, the action is frozen and the audience is asked to come forward to fill in for the characters, to solve the problem happening on stage, which is their problem. Which is a problem raised by studying their own concerns and events. This is a form of participatory theatre.
"In Forum Theatre, audience members witness the unfolding of a scene in which someone playing one of their members is faced with oppressive practices (eg. by a public official, employer, patriarchal family member, etc.). Audience members are invited to call “stop!” at any time and to take the stage in place of the oppressed character, performing alternate
responses in defiance of the oppression. Boal draws a clear distinction between what happens when the actors who are not members of the audience community play out the scene and when audience members, who he calls “spect-actors”, take up the role. He says when people watch someone not of the community represent their lives, they experience a sort of catharsis—a recognition of the familiar with an accompanying emotional response. But when the actor is one of them, it gives rise to a far more compelling process because it is a sort of self- libratory act
initiated by the oppressed people themselves: 'We should depart from the theatre galvanized with our desire and our decision to bring about change for that which is unfair and oppressive' (p.25)." [Performing Respect].
This call to action, to act upon life, is no different than life. Yes, all the world is a stage and you are called to act on it. Really, you are. Despite the pacifiers that have been laid about by those in power, who wish you would not act, upset things, change the order. The screens and lights. The dim rooms and vats of wine. The world calls to you. The wild geese. The evening air. The onion's paper sleeve. The bevels in a glass of water.