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God’s Acrostic

What if the universe is God’s acrostic?
He’s sneaking bits of proverbs into seismic variations;
Abbreviating psalms in flecks of snow.
Try to read them, says a comet,

If you dare.
Fine print. What you’ve been waiting for.

Twisted in the DNA of marmosets:
Hermetic feedback to your tight-lipped prayer.
Examine indentations left by hailstones in the grass;

Unearth their parallel soliloquies;
Note, too, the shifting patterns in the shibboleths
Initiating each communication.
Verify them. Don’t take my word.
Eavesdrop on the planets in the outer spheres; they may
Reverse the letters’ previous direction.
Silence, as you might imagine, has no bearing here.
Episodes of stillness—however brief—must be

Interpreted as unheard
Sounds,

Gaps that, with any luck, you’ll fill in later—
Or so you tell yourself, acknowledging
Delusion’s primal status in this enterprise.
Still, that’s no reason to slow down.

Abandonments are howling out around you:
Cast-off lamentations from the thwarted drops of rain
Reduced to vapor on their struggle down;
Observe, at the very least, their passing.
Sanctify them. Don’t succumb
To anything less potent than a spelled-out
Invitation to rule a not yet formulated nebula.
Calm yourself. You’ll hear it come.

–Jaqueline Osherow

I have been in an email conversation with my friend L about poets turning to visual artists for inspiration (she is, inter alia, a poet) and vice versa. In general I find poets and poetry more compatible (sympathetic? aligned?) with my experiences in the studio than I do talking with other visual artists. L thinks writers can be a bit cranky, and I think visual artists tend to be.

This issue has many sides. My sister Rebecca, a consummate musician, is compelled by composing and would like to do more. Even though she has the musical gifts, I listen to more contemporary music than she does. But that is by design and primarily a matter of self-protection: She doesn’t want to drown out her own music with overexposure to the work of others. In a similar vein, Rilke once wrote that he didn’t read the reviews of his books because he didn’t want to disturb his subconscious.

I do have visual artist friends whose minds and points of view excite, delight and inspire me. But their impact on my work feels more macro than micro. Meanwhile the straw, dirt and clay I need to build come from lots of small and random encounters, with tiny aha’s and those chords that hit the resonating board deep inside. The instantaneous and random insights come by way of poetry more frequently than almost anything else I do each day.

Thank you to 3 Quarks Daily for introducing me to Osherow’s work. I read this and immediately began searching for more that would be available to read online. Every other poem by her that I found was compelling.

Originally from Philadelphia, Osherow now teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Utah. Small world. I spent two semesters there after I returned from a year in France, attending school there at the same time Karl Rove was beginning his pernicious career as a political operative with the Young Republicans. But there’s no reason to spend time on that peculiar and random overlap since we are just days from the official end to the worst political era in our country’s history, in which Rove played a major role. January 20 can’t come fast enough.

This poem has a cosmic swat, but I find a redemptive sense of calm when I read it. That’s something we can all use more of. I hope you get a hit of that too.

greevaye2a
Greevaye 2, mixed media on wood panel, 2008

picasso
Sometimes Picasso nails it (like he does in this drawing)

I Sing the Body Reclining

I sing the body reclining
I sing the throwing back of self
I sing the cushioned head
The fallen arm
The lolling breast
I sing the body reclining
As an indolent continent

I sing the body reclining
I sing the easy breathing ribs
I sing the horizontal neck
I sing the slow-moving blood
Sluggish as a river
In its lower course

I sing the weighing thighs
The idle toes
The liming knees
I sing the body reclining
As a wayward tree

I sing the restful nerve

Those who scrub and scrub
incessantly
corrupt the body

Those who dust and dust
incessantly
also corrupt the body

And are caught in the asylum
Of their own making
Therefore I sing the body reclining

–Grace Nichols

This is a poem I can feel all the way in. It goes deep inside my body’s knowing, where I can feel how it is to let the “soft animal of your body love what it loves” (thank you to Mary Oliver for that oft-quoted but ever immortal line.)

nichols

Grace Nichols grew up in a small country village on the Guyanese coast and has been living in the UK since 1977. Her first poetry collection, i is a long-memoried woman, was published in 1983 and won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.

Thanks to 3 Quarks Daily, one of my favorite blogs, for introducing me to this lush, lanquid poem.

Here’s a midwinter diversion for you. From Slow Muse friend and frequent commenter, Elatia Harris:

3 Quarks Daily is known as one of the blogosphere’s more cerebral haunts, and it occurred to me that habitues of 3QDistan might know a great deal about being broken-hearted by a poem, a song, a building, or most of all an idea. People are okay, too — but are they less interesting and compelling? I’m asking you. I was inspired in this challenge by the Museum of Broken Relationships, a traveling repository of love’s artifacts now in Skopje, Macedonia. The MBR received lots of media attention last fall, but passed us by on 3QD — I hope to remedy that. For some visual inspiration to take the challenge, here’s the link.

3 Quarks Daily

I am compelled by the idea that the enormous cultural thrust usually associated with romantic love has its equivalencies in other domains. I can openly confess to thinking of something other than another person when I hear a love song. For me the object is more typically a particular landscape or the longing for that altered state that happens in a creative fervor. Or of course the total body ecstasy of being with a painting or a building that lands right at the center of me. Maybe true for you as well? (Send your votes to Elatia at elatiaharris AT gmail DOT com.)

I’ve been burrowed in my studio for several days, getting work ready for an upcoming show in San Francisco. For the first time in nine years there is no heat in my studio on weekends, so I have had balance and moderation forced on my otherwise excessive self.

I’ve missed the introspection and insight that both writing posts and reading others’ blogs brings to my life. And what a welcome surprise (and compliment) it was to find this after several days of heads down studio marathoning: “TIV”, Maîtresse Extraordinaire of the wild colony of blogs camped out around The Individual Voice has awarded me a purple lion. Instructions include the tagging of five other bloggers whose work inspires me and to share three shards of advice about writing.

I’m going to break ranks on this and tag five individuals who do not currently have blogs but whose written language skills thrill, delight, inspire, provoke, instruct, evoke and fill my email inbox with the best kind of writing.

In no particular order:

1. Andrew Kimball. A friend for nearly thirty years, Andrew’s weekly e-newsletter is sent out to a select list every Sunday morning at 8am. It is a running history of his life and the lives of his large family of six children. He combines the personal with the larger arc of existential meaning like no one else I know. His wordsmithing is so rich and redolent, I have saved every one he has sent to me.

Here are a few samples:

**
But of course there are a thousand ways to fail, most of them available at any age. The thousand people at last Thanksgiving’s AA meeting in Marin County struggle to endure, just 24 hours at a time, so sufficient to each day is the evil thereof. Meanwhile standing unseen and ministering amidst that great congregation crammed around cafeteria style tables and so caught between bodily weakness and wings of desire, are the somber comforting spirits, without voice or body, that strive to bless us.

**
My college friend Tom: “One year ago yesterday my mother died, exactly on the date of giving birth to me. I gave a eulogy and began closing a book that seemed to have not been completely written. But, as they say in my profession, “pencils down”. Left alone we could design and redesign and explore yet another concept to see if some geometry or set of relationships not yet recognized might still be found by our relentless searchlight.

**
One year later, something significant is simply over. At this point, I now realize, life is increasingly about things that are “over.” Until life itself, in our last abilities to move about, laugh, grow enraged, feel hurt, feel loved and rise up in the morning convinced that every day above ground is a good day, is over.”

2. Paul Barbuto. I have known Paul since my first days in New York City. He drove a cab and would stop by my Chinatown loft at odd hours, always toting a strange and arcane book under his arm. I knew he had a poet’s soul when I handed him a volume of poems by Wallace Stevens. Stevens is a poet who typically requires a more academic orientation rather than the intuitional. But Paul “got” Stevens immediately, without intermediation of any kind.

We have reconnected after many years of being out of touch, and our coming back together has been one of the greatest gifts to me during a difficult year of loss and grief.

A few samples:

**
I told GW about a short poem I read in a book of Robert Bly translations. It was from a Japanese poet. It goes “inside one potato there are mountains and rivers.” I felt it summed up everything I had ever learned or ever hoped to learn about poetry. It was all there: the actual & the imaginative, the everyday & the strange, consciousness & dream, etc etc. It tells me how to see and experience things.

**
Gary Brown had the fastest mind-to-word ratio I ever heard. He was (and must be, today) the best slash and surprise guy that ever spoke. Every sentence had a wonderful and surprising punch. There was no one like Gary Brown.

Reading Denis Johnson this week brought Gary to mind. Denis Johnson, like Gary Brown, has that magic sudden turn in every sentence. After reading Jesus’ Son I decided I would never write another word. I will read and I will point and I will click and if need be I will make my “x” on the line. But I will leave the words to Denis Johnson (and Gary Brown whose spirit is a mighty sword).

One line that amazed me was the opening sentence of Dirty Wedding. “I liked to sit up front and ride the fast ones all day long. I liked it when they brushed right up against the building north of the loop and I especially liked it when the buildings dropped away into that bombed-out squalor a little farther north in which people (through windows you’d see a person in his dirty naked kitchen spooning soup toward his face, or twelve children on their bellies on the floor, watching television, but instantly they were gone, wiped away by a movie billboard of a woman winking and touching her upper lip deftly with her tongue, and she in turn erased by a –wham, the noise and the dark dropped down around your head–tunnel) actually lived there.”

He takes my mind just ahead of the words. When I arrive at the words they tell me what I just saw. How does he do it?

3. Elatia Harris. Elatia is an artist and a writer, and exceptionally gifted at both. While she does not have her own personal blog, she writes regularly for the highly respected blog, 3 Quarks Daily. You can go there and search her articles. Each one is a flotilla of brilliance, written in a style that is florid, seductive, erudite and very funny.

4. George Wingate. My first roommate when I arrived in New York City with $200 in my pocket and a few names scratched on a napkin, George is an exceptional artist but his mind also finds words as playful and malleable as wet paint on canvas. His e. e. cummings-esque emails are treasures of unexpected, quixotic, timeless insights.

Examples:

**
lots of things to consider.

the smile, not of reason….

the big-mouthed smile of the computer screen: the primal screen

save me

at least we’re having fun.

**
first look at your blog
blog…
can’t hardly accept the word…blog…
and i heard chris lydon champion the word early-ish

and i’m trying, just as i ‘m trying with the computer

YOU are not a trying individual you are a doing individual who doesn’t try me at all. keep it up and you will wear down my resistance.

5. Matt Thomas. Married to my niece Celeste, Matt teaches high school in Utah and has a mind that deserves a larger audience than his lucky students. He does maintain a classroom blog, but oh would I love to read what he’s thinking when he’s not confined to lesson plans.

As for the shards of writing advice, I have to think about that.