Saturday, July 21, 1990

Hart Crane's 101th Birthday Party










The Paper was first launched in 1979 by Elizabeth Poole and Nick Valentine, in Guernewood Park, and Monte Rio. I began working for The Paper around 1980.  Somewhere along the way, it became the West Sonoma County Paper. Nick Valentine or John Boland may have changed the name again. John moved it from Monte RIo to Forestville to Freestone and to Santa Rosa. When it was purchased in 1994 by Silicon Valley-based Metro Newspapers Group (a chain of 10 weeklies: AAN members Metro Silicon Valley and Metro Santa Cruz), it became the Sonoma County Independent. The Sonoma County Independent morphed into the Northern California Bohemian in 2000. I use the same name throughout, though I worked for at least three iterations of the paper.

Friday, July 13, 1990

BETWEEN THE LINES


BETWEEN THE LINES
                                    —for Jim Dodge

As the blind kitten named Lassie teeths on my toes,
we talk of finding our way home
            to the end of a sentence
and of conjunctions; however, at a loss for words,
our conversation meanders like the perverse bed
of a slow stream oxbowing in and out of itself.
We admire faded pink bachelor buttons
and exposed bulbs flushed from the flowerbed,
studying the hidden patterns of nature
& the inquisition of awkward first-person
perspectives buried in the plot
            of sub-text and context.
Again he asks, Do you still believe in love?
I say I don't regret the falling in love part,
just the endings are harder to erase.
As I turn to leave, my face aches
like the skull grinning on his t-shirt.
He adds, Poetry is on its deathbed in America,
I'm no guru when it comes to love either.
Warns me to tell the truth when I write,
Love over goldas if it were an option.
The nervous heat searing the air
into shimmering ropes of light,
ripples the afternoon like a pond.

7/13/90




BETWEEN THE LINES

                                    —for Jim Dodge

As a blind kitten gnaws on our toes,
he asks: Do you still believe in love?
I don't regret the falling part,
but endings are harder to erase. Over coffee,
we admire bachelor buttons & naked ladies
but can’t find our way to the end of a sentence.
We’ve lost conjunctions and conversation jackknifes
on the dry summer bed of the Mattole River
where an inquisition of first-person perspectives
is buried in a sub-plot of context. As I turn to go,
my face aches like the skull on his shirt.
He swears: Poetry is on its deathbed in America,
and I'm no guru when it comes to love either,
but warns me to always tell the truth when I write,
to choose love over gold— as if this were an option.
The sun teases the air into pools of light,
ripples the afternoon like a stone.



BETWEEN THE LINES

—for Jim Dodge

He asks: Do you still believe in love?
I don't regret falling,
but endings are harder to erase.
A blind kitten named Lassie chews our toes,
we can’t find our way to the end of a sentence
we’ve lost conjunctions
and conversation oxbows on the Mattole River.
We admire faded bachelor buttons
and dormant naked lady bulbs
the inquisition of awkward first-person
perspectives os buried in the plot
of sub-text and context.
As I turn to leave, my face aches
like the skull grinning on his t-shirt.
He says, Poetry is on its deathbed in America,
I'm no guru when it comes to love either.
Warns me to tell the truth when I write,
Love over gold— as if it were an option.
The nervous heat searing the air

into shimmering ropes of light,
ripples the afternoon like a pond.

1993 We Are Not Swans, with Cecelia Woloch








Saturday, July 7, 1990

KEEPING SCORE

KEEPING SCORE, ii


As if to jar me out of my hermetic existence,
this guy, fishing around, asks if I still believe in love,
and to keep myself near shore, far from his whirlpool eyes,
I spend the morning compiling jaded lists.
Of the multitudes, the men I've truly loved are few.
But each one left me beached after the act of conception;
and so, hare-like, three times I absorbed my young,
and practiced self-division, keeping score with prime numbers
by pounding my fist on my heart, and singing: Mea maxima culpa.
The ranks swelled—only when banished from my lover's arms,
seeking solace, I occasionally slipped off the shroud.
But I grew used to that refuge it offered—
unless they reappeared on my doorstep late at night—
apparitions, and that slender seducer, the rain, always falling.
Then, there are those whom I'm saving for a rainy day.
The indistinction between sexual and filial love is more durable,
unlike the declared half-life of an average romance.
Most nights are spent behind these cabin walls,
with only the fog, wind or stars to deceive me.
After two decades of practice, I'm tired of keeping score.
and though I've run out of hands, toes and limbs
to count on, the deluge still comes out to a slim 
1.3 cocks per year—less than the US national average
of children per family, or cars in each garage.
What about the statistics of inflation and extended families?
Have they taken serial monogamy into consideration as well?
I need an abacus on my heartsleeve just to keep track—
And so, celebating the end of my 30s,
so I tell him: yes, I still believe in love; but the ghosts
of children resurrect playing fields of trinitite while I sleep,
and the future appears as an indigo shawl spattered
with the crushed remains of stars, the color of his eyes.


7/17/90
rev. ?
Arcata

1993 We Are Not Swans, with Cecelia Woloch
1992 Tin Ear/Wire Mother (first version, below)






More Jim Dodge
Jim Dodge

BETWEEN THE LINES

Letter to Jim Dodge


1992 Tin Ear/Wire Mother (first version)




old version, replete with ascii kruft

KEEPING SCORE -As if to jar me out of my hermetic existence, )this guy asks if I still believe in love, seeking solace, I occasionally slipped off the painful shroud. /But I grew too used to that refuge it offered— 4unless they reappeared on my doorstep late at night, Elike apparitions, and that slender seducer, the rain, always falling. 6Then, there are those whom I'm saving for a rainy day. CThat indistinction between sexual and filial love is more durable, 5unlike the declared half-life of an average romance. +On Valentine's Day, my X sent me a present: .the results of his HIV test—a license to fuck. 0Most nights are spent behind these cabin walls, 0with only the fog, wind or stars to deceive me. ;After two decades of practice, I'm tired of keeping score. >I'm lousy at swine markets, and though I've run out of hands, 7toes and limbs to count on, the deluge still comes out ?to a slim 1.3 cocks per year—less than the US national average 0of children per family, or cars in each garage. =What about the statistics of inflation and extended families? ;Have they taken serial monogamy into consideration as well? 6I need an abacus on my heartsleeve just to keep track— -And so, celebating the end of my addled 30s, 9I tell him, yes, I still believe in love; but the ghosts Aof children resurrect playing fields of trinitite while I sleep, 4and the future appears as an indigo shawl spattered 9with the crushed remains of stars, the color of his eyes. 7/17/90



Tuesday, July 3, 1990

I, Poet

Why I Am A Writer (MA paper?)


WHY I AM A WRITER
            .  . great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art.  Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only trustworthy one is the last            
            John Ruskin
                          
When I was ten, I first heard the muse.  I recall savoring a moment, a small Joycean Epiphany—looking west, late afternoon.  Out of the blue, a voice said: remember everything about your childhood— because someday, you'll be a writer. Startled, I looked around me.  Not a being, except for my cat Winky who wandered by; surely he didn't suggest I become a writer.  The resonant voice immediately amended that statement:  “.  .  . not a famous one, of course,” and then mumbled something about being known in small, but important circles.  What’s with the backtracking? Important to whom?

I was the only one filling the visible air spiced with the pungency of black-green oaks and bay trees, clay dust, horse manure and dry summer oat grasses seething in the afternoon heat.  Panic-stricken, I felt guilty because at an early age somewhere in the eternity between the ages 3 1/2 and 4—I promised to become a visual artist like my mother. 

I remember watching her make black India-ink lines on creamy paper magically transforming into a three-dimensional object even I could recognize: a broken Christmas ornament.  Much to her annoyance, I was literally drooling on her drawing, but I was hooked.  All through school I declared myself an artist—even though one didn't major in a given field until college—as my school counselor so aptly pointed out.  It took nearly 20 years before the prophesy of the pen took root.

I wasn't too sure who or what spoke to me on that fateful day—not the guardian angels again.  They had once before, when I struck toothpicks against the teeter-totter seat.  Mid-summer.  The voice saying, “Don't do that!”  I nearly jumped out of my skin, forgetting why those toothpicks with fat red tips and delicious sulfur-salt taste were so fascinating.  “Fire sign,” my mother explained matter-of-factly. 

I always was drawn to fire—and perhaps that's what writing is: the fire in the head, as the Irish bard Amergin said to be incanted 2-3,000 years ago in The Song of Amergin.  “The Mystery,” is an encoded riddle poem to break a spell.  As he set foot for the first time in Ireland, he roared to the wind, “I am a word of science, I am the strength of art.  .  .  / I am the god who created in the head, the fire.  .  .  / Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountains? / Who clears the stone place of the mountain?”

At the time I didn't know it, but I have dyslexia, I had trouble learning how to read.  Because I didn't say the alphabet right (it spanned two known directions—A to K, and Z to Q.)  L through P were on shaky ground, always shoving each other out of line.  The teacher refused to let me join the reading groups (but I could sing it just fine).  I sat through first and second grade in a corner by myself, punished for my lack of orderly ABC's.  

A third grade teacher let me sit in on a reading group, I remember the moment I learned to read.  Magic!  All those letter produced sounds that stood for ideas!  The remaining half-year I voraciously read whatever I could get my hands on—to the sixth grade level.  Unfortunately, reading was about all I'd learned.  Math and other subjects fell by the wayside.  My teacher, Miss Lenz, had a pet skunk, and the reddest hair ever—I'd do anything for her, but the secrets of fractions never shed light upon me.  The tangible world of the skunk, with its rough fur and cool, shiny claws, scrambling on my shoulders, as it adjusted its weight, was more compelling. 

Where do creative ideas come from?  Life experience, pain, conflict—an attempt to give order to the chaos of the universe.  Things just stick in my mind—My other shoe is a Reebok.   Sometimes lines or words come to me in dreams, I repeat them over and over until I can write them down.  Easter Island is a mathematical equation of the mind.  To trace back an idea is sometimes more cumbersome than just accepting it as a gift from the gods. 

Remember the angel by the swing?  Sometimes I just hear voices.  No, I don't need psychoanalysis—it's merely a matter of tuning in to a particular channel.  We all talk to ourselves.  My grandmother, Jennie Reilly wasn't so silent about her internal dialogs.  Often she twiddled her hair and discussed her facts with the empty room—usually a rant against the English, or the Anglo- Saxons who, according to her, were responsible for most of the world's woes.  No Celtic Twilight in our house, the Irish Renaissance was in full swing; I grew up a polymath in a self-educated family who had  a love of books.  I indiscriminately read Joyce, Yeats, Synge, Beckett; more obscure titles included O'Hart's Pedigrees and the Laws of Brefney.  It goes without saying I hadn’t a clue what I was reading, or why.

When my grandfather wasn't fighting City Hall or smuggling guns for the IRA, he was consuming several books a day.  Though he died when I was four, I inherited his lust for books.  My grandmother, who raised eight children, then my brother and I, only wanted to live in a cabin alone in a “bee-loud glade.”  I'm living the life she might have lived had she been born this century.  Perhaps it helps to have an eccentric Irish grandmother to stimulate the writing process.  Or nostalgia for the past, and a desire to find order.  I suspect dyslexia has a lot to do with how I perceive the world.  I hear things differently; it both helps and hinders the process. 

Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which all science must be referred. It is at the same time the root and blossom of all other systems of thought; it is that from which all spring, and that which adorns all; and that which, if blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds from the barren world the nourishment and the succession of the scions of the tree of life.
   —Percy Bysshe Shelley, In Defence Of Poetry, (1821, published 1840).

The rhythms of writing are spirulations circling the globe.  By writing we come to know who we are .  Knower's ink.  The hand creates a dance, choreographing it, so others will know the patterns.  We're always unraveling deeper mysteries, finding our way out of the dark with our words, small candles in the wind, both blinding us, and showing us the way home to the end of a sentence. 

Sometime the voices just come, it's a matter of transcribing and ordering the information.  Other times, it's a struggle to render an art form from the scrawled pages of my journal.  I like the physicalness of writing, the feel of pen on paper, the act of mind and tongue transcribed by the fingers.  The structure of the throat to produce language, and the truly opposable thumb only marginally separates us from the apes. 

Genetically, we're close to apes, DNA-wise, 99. 9%.  But that . 01 percent allows me to glyph my thoughts onto paper.  Even this distinction is losing ground, Koko, the ape who knows sign language, is learning to communicate via an Apple computer.  I write prose on the computer, forsaking pen for keyboard, but the language is different.  I don't know if that has something to do with the mechanics of writing or not.  Writers should be able to practice their craft anywhere, in beach sand, blood, paper, the wind, or computer screen. 

Mechanics shouldn't be limiting.  After all, the pen is a tool too.  But the act of writing longhand is soothing, as is reading.  My psyche gets rattled if I don't read and write often.  It amazes me because both are artificial; we think of ourselves as literate beings in a symbolic society—using numbers and characters to transcribe our history. 

People from so-called “primitive,” or “patterned” societies who have no writing, no books, have a rich spiritual life.  They use body or harmonic memory data bases.  The danger of books is that they destroy memory.  Our mnemonic capacity is severely diminished because we don't have to remember anything.  It's already in cold storage.  Imagine memorizing the genealogy and history of a Nigerian tribe for 1600 generations.   Aboriginal Dreamtime stories are said to be 40,000 years old. 

The role of the poet in the so-called primitive societies is that of shaman,  or priest, because they are the keepers of knowledge.  Rhyme schemes weren't sing-songy devices to be cute, they were a means to remember vast chunks of encoded knowledge.  As is most ancient Celtic poetry, The Song of Amergin, is a coded poem; I think of it as a reference index.  Each line stood for a branch of knowledge.  The poets were the bookkeepers, the keepers of genealogy, the historians of the tribe.  The poet reinvents the definition of language. I have been intrigued with the root origins of prosody most of my writing life:

This room, with its indirect morning light, a permeable membrane, like the boundaries of skin, translates the air with origins.  We each bring with us the burden from earlier fires, but here, we unwrap genetic coals, and though there's no longer a hearth, it is a place-holder for an idea we can't quite let go of.  

Late at night when there's little else to sustain us, words burn across the page. Celia talks about the ability to pour thoughts out her arm and onto the page, this curious process, an arm the extension of a tongue, of thought, of mind.  And as we contemplate the blank page, we fill it with fingers pointing in every direction begging for perfection, or some meager form of enlightenment. The page kindles memory of the first fires.  What did they call the ones who kept the hearth fires lit?  And so the words blossom tenderly, small bison thundering to the edge of the precipice.

                  Maureen Hurley, from Stacking Wood for Celia

I'm intrigued by what British plant biologist Rupert Sheldrake coined “morphogenic fields” resonating around the world, the idea of invisible blueprints, and connecting, or group memory.  Why are ideas suddenly relevant?  The scientific world is riddled with the simultaneous combustion of ideas.  Timing.  Watson and Crick began working on the discovery of DNA independently.  The person who receives credit for a scientific discovery, or an invention, may not be the first to think of it, but the first to register it at the patent office, or to publish it in a scientific journal. 

“Someone mentions that between love and death is life.  This casual stacking of words forms a nucleus we spend a lifetime decoding.  Something preternatural about the fall, the quickened night brings us to the idea of order, and we stack them like wood against the shed for the coming winter.  Like the leaves of so many books, unwritten, the trees have achieved the purest state, waiting to combust the stories of the sun for when it forgets to return from that longest night; they burn steadily, singing of a lifetime of cycles.  Informis.  This final combustion of thought arcs across our eyes and glows under our skin.”
                                              —from Stacking Wood for Celia
                                                                                                  
I refused to take typing in school because I didn't want to be a secretary or teacher.  So now I make my living as writer, and a teacher— an artist in residence.  In spite of my dyslexia, the computer has allowed me to blossom as a writer, but that doesn't stop my fingers from typing the wrong letters: shape-changers p, b, g, q still refuse to toe in line.  I've discovered it's OK to write all jumbled up, because later, tangled ideas can be unraveled in a logical order.  But I began writing by longhand, transcribing everything to calligraphy because I couldn't type.  (I now type with 4 fingers, and an occasional thumb.)

I've been luckier than most writers in that I've been able to survive at my craft, primarily through seven California Arts Council artist-in-residency grants, with projects in Sonoma county schools, and at Napa State Hospital.  I'm also on the roster for the Montana Arts Council.  Another grant eventually launched me into a child and adult Soviet poetry and art exchange, which has absorbed nearly all my available time for the past three years (I've been commuting to Russia and the Ukraine).  A poem from that journey, Country of Origin, won the San Francisco Bay Guardian Poetry Award.  It seemed funny that the award check presented to me was from the investigative journalism fund—yet many poets and writers were journalists as well. 

Hemingway comes to mind.  He said “Travel broadens the mind.  Writing broadens the ass.  I write standing up.”  Though, due to an old neck injury, I tend to write lying down, travel always stimulates my writing process because the newness is a sharp foil against the complacency of what is known.  I started wandering at an early age.  Macy's, in San Francisco, with its escalators hiding dragons beneath the bottom step, scared, but didn't deter me.  I wound up smothered in the coat racks, the ghostly rattle of hangers whispering among themselves. 

On horseback (we rode anything on four hooves), we explored the long north-south ridges that traversed west Marin—where we could see the bell curve of the ocean arching beyond the Tomales headlands—and Point Reyes peninsula, a floating island.  Later, the Sierras, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Galapagos, Europe, and Russia beckoned.

Our family has always maintained a fierce unslakable love for the land, which I inherited, without really knowing what it encompassed.  The land itself shapes culture, art, and cuisine.  Having grown up in a pristine area, the San Geronimo Valley, in Northern California, has shaped my art.  I remember my neighbor's visiting sister Borg, exclaiming on and on how beautiful it was where we lived, the fresh air, etc. 

I suppose we were spoiled, but we knew no other life.  The horses took us across the boundaries to freedom and change in the form of fences and county lines and home.  I had to leave west Marin to understand the concept of beauty; by understanding loss after the fact.  Maybe that too was responsible for the distillation of vague ideas into tangible writing.  Is my story any different from that of an inner-city writer?  Other than locale, I suspect the primary impulses are the same, my story is any writer's story. 

Why I write is to heal something within myself.  It's the most vulnerable act I know of, to be a poet.  Perhaps it's also the most political of the arts.  As a painter, I turned my back on the world, working in isolation.  I was mute and shy; communicating was the hardest thing I could choose, and so I, having no words for what was boiling over, I began to write reams and reams—not calling it poetry.  That came later. 

Perhaps it was the dissatisfaction with the pimping and whoring of the art world that made me turn my back on it.  Or it was time to grow in another direction, to become literate.  Once I interviewed dancer Joan Marler, who said the reason why she got into writing (who is editor and biographer of anthropologist Marija Gimbutas, and a public radio producer), was to prove to herself she was intelligent.  As a practicing dyslexic, I know that story all too well.  The supreme challenge for me is to paint pictures with words.  To string two ideas together, to prove I had a brain. 

Dostoyevsky said everyone is an artist.  I like working with children in poetry and art because they're closest to the creative process.  As a writer, I keep going back to early childhood memories, and I wish I didn't have to wait until I was 27 before writing my first poem.  Everyone has a poetic voice (or creativity), it's merely a matter of finding and uncovering it—sort of like being a detective.  I belong to a “detective” agency (code name: Private Irish): we meet once a year to read poetry, and play softball, Northern against Southern California.  What we have in common is a love of language, this is what bonds us. 

I tell students, “As artists we're spies.  We record what's around us.”  Poetic license to snoop.  In art there was no one “right” answer.  In fact, there are multiple solutions.  Sometimes the third or tenth solution is better than the first.  Art requires going back again, working with the material until it feels “right,” it requires persistence.  Like with science, it comes from those hunches and intuition.  If we always knew what we are going to say or paint—why bother?

“While we stretch metaphor to its limit, each new crenulation of word, where ideas rub shoulders, becomes clichéd the moment it's conceived.  Forever divining the spirit of word in purgatorial surroundings, we are headhunters in search of our own heads.  Cannibalistic dreams are a natural phenomenon in the New World.  Prospero's daughter in love with the island of Caliban.  Canvas, the hemp sails and rope that took Columbus to the New World—E.  Cannabis Unum.  Entire civilizations fell. 

The trough in the mind made by this houseboat, a canyon, a small river seeking the blood mother and our beginnings.  Who came first?  Alpha or omega?  Omicron, small o's as we face the second coming.  Umlauts and epsilons.  The invention of letters on the mud flats is left to the crabs calligraphing their way to safety.  Kathleen says she writes in order to keep her sanity.  The saxophone upstairs seeks union with the human voice within the channels of the ear.”
              —From Sunday Morning, Berth 1-11
                                                                                                          Poetry is not limited to what is “poetic.”  Poetry, the apex of culture, is the distillation of human expression.  The integration of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves should coalesce in a poem.  The Mayans and Aztecs called it the “flowered word.” Poetry is a form of activism that took me into the schools—to affect change, to make sure the children were getting the tools to help them put their feelings in perspective with the logical world.   Poetry is empowerment.  It's political.  It saves lives. 

To be a poet one must live life fully.  You have to have something to write about, a need to tell someone the story, and a reason to write it.  If you're stuck, ask: who's my audience?  Whom do we write for and why?  It could be to yourself, to your our peers, or to the tribe at large.  We spend a lifetime designing an imposed order on this chaos of thought.  One can feel so alone in the midst of the personal journey of the creative process. 

Cafavy wrote that the journey, not the destination is what matters.  I think we need both aloneness and fear—some inner conflict to hone the creative process—forcing us to write.  I have to write, it's not a matter of choice.  There's no magical formula.  You just do it and do it and do it.  It's also about self-empowerment.  It offers another perspective responding to the painter Gauguin question: who and what are we and where are we going.  There was an interesting study on art and madness. 

Of course, writers, artists and schizophrenics shared similar symptoms.  Only, the artists weren't clinically insane, they just seemed that way.  It's because we delve deeper into the unconscious and utilize it in our craft.  We render it, give it a shape; a byproduct is to heal ourselves.  Art is a process, not a product.  This is why art is a mirror reflecting back who we are.  The only trustworthy mirror we have.  A poem is like a stone thrown into the pond of our collective unconsciousness.  A small splash—concentric ripples spreading out into the conscious dimensions of the larger pond of humanity can affect change. 

“.  .  .  This battle of the sexes continues to operate between the sheets making no distinction between lines of gender, the shore line, midline, line of declination, the screen phosphor line, a line fed to us from the psyche, the gods, or another man or woman wanting something other than commitment between church and state, war and peace, enemy and friend.  The helical line of the electro-magnetic spectrum, where anything from radio to color bands is explainable, to the staircase of DNA unwinding the haploid life, drawing the line, toeing in, the shortest distance, points of recognition—is a song line.  The earth's name is Gaia. 

Last night I dreamed Kathleen told a man she wrote under the pseudonym of Gaia; and she was smiling, alone and ruddy-cheeked, loveliness in a white room suspended above the squalor of mud, the tide going out, something larger than love coming in.  In this way I understood we are all imperfect transmitters and receivers—pain is not interference from deep space, it is a conduit that allows us a glimpse, the curtain drawn for a moment, we see in the mirrored air, a little beyond the image we call “self,” the first “I am” we cannot help but utter in the plasmic void of what we are, and what is to be, becoming literal in this littoral zone.”     
                            —From Sunday Morning, Berth 1-11
                                                                                                         
Plato said “all knowledge is recollection.”  Wordsworth wrote poetry is what is recollected in tranquillity.  And now, in this technological revolution, when we're barraged with meaningless facts, it's hard to string information together, to make a deeper sense of things beyond the shallow impressions. 

The role of the poet is to reinvent the myths.  We've been on a crash-course destroying what we believe in, and as a species, we need the myths in order to survive.  Like dreaming.  Otherwise we enter into a world of nihilism, of denial.  This is why there are so many gangs—in search of identity, they form tribes in order to know who they are. 

Poets are the keepers of the conscience of the larger tribe of man, they give shape and meaning to our existence.  These small stones thrown into the pool of the world leave concentric ripples lapping on the near and far shores of our thoughts.  As the good doctor-poet William Carlos Williams said: “It is difficult getting the news from poetry but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.


FIrst written in 1990 and published in The Paper June/July issue. 
But this looks revised (ca. 2000, or 2001?), and much longer than the first version, a self-written feature story that appeared in The Paper. I did have to write a 25-page paper for my MA (which I lost the file to), this may be one version of it.  I'll keep them all together under 1990, even though it's a decade later.