Wednesday, August 21, 1991



                                                Language is a virus.
                                                  —William S. Burroughs

Yelena, I want to write you a poem of the men we've loved,
how their names, oval like honey, cling to our lips.
I want to say to you we are sisters; there is no cure
for Tuesdays, Bach, revolution, and snow falling from our memories—
always in another country. The children we don't have,
words lost with meaning, a revelation: the senses fade, or do they?
How do we measure generations, when you and I,
who, following our hearts, sleep alone
because our craft is hidden in the very definition of snow?
The Inuit have 52 words for snow; how many have we for love?
Who will recobble Kutzovsky Prospekt now the barricades are down,
the tanks withdrawn? They say the fallen will be buried in the Kremlin Wall
even if they have to disinter someone to make room for them.
Who will it be: Lenin, Stalin, John Reed?

Someone pinned onto my jacket, Demokratia,
a concept imported like independence, economy, and freedom.
Shall I tell you how I can't sleep in the hollow
where my lover's body made a lasting impression;
I have to move against the wall in order to find rest?
But you know of these things we've never alluded to,
having no common language between us
To those who could translate our thoughts,
we would never divulge such secrets.

The weather is changing,
they're pulling the statues of repression down to their knees.
Both Vladimir and Iron Feliks were found to be hollow inside after all.
Opposite the Bolshoi Theatre, Marx still stands amid graffiti—
I apologise: I was wrong. . .
I can still see you walking down Shevchenko Street;
snow collecting in the blue pockets of your scarf.
There is something about snow that illuminates the face
into the purity of angels
no matter that it is dirty, or a symbol for the old guard,
and the shelves still empty.

I always thought of Russia or the Ukraine
as a dark place in winter;
I forgot about the reflective quality of snow.
Or that East and West are somehow buried
in the curious fact that, in Arabic,
there is no distinction between ice and snow.
And there are no words for democracy or orgasm
in China. Tianenmen Square.
If the revolution succeeds or fails,
will language dictate thought?

I think of you on that street named after the poet,
your lover sneaking off to marry someone's intended wife
while mine is unaccounted for. How does one measure grief
when the collective beds of the harem are so full,
they buckle and strain and calve like ice floes in spring?
They say only a small portion of the iceberg is visible above water-line.
The ice in our lemonade (sweetened, no doubt, with kolkhotz sugar beets,
not honey) demonstrates this with consistency
We fall from the blueness of our lover's eyes,
the iceberg, another summit to be scaled, like all the rest.
I want to tell you how the fragrance of nectarines or apples
in the cloistered stillness of a room in late afternoon
is like that opening to sex.
We are haunted by the everyday things in our lives;
the slippers under the kitchen table,
forgotten clothes still holding the shape of the man.

The air grows colder, I wear flannel nightgowns,
the full moon is a reminder of walks along the Dniepr
midsummer, when there is little palpable difference between air and flesh.
It seems as if the woman is always lying down a harvest for the man,
no matter what country, century, or season. What of Akhmatova?
Sometimes it feels there is no end to this concert of silence.

We become experts in the business of waiting,
calling our advocation our art.
These indistinct words spill onto the snowblind page;
shadows of bare branches,
feeble attempts of fruit trees holding laden skies.
Our lips aren't jaded, they're made of common stone.
Maybe we did live other lives in other countries,
maybe the small boy skating on thin ice was your only child;
the treacherous river is dark, brooding, and vengefully swift.
If you look onto the white expanse, they've cut holes into the skin
of the river, plummeting the icy depths for small treasures.
The river's children glisten silvery, as if the moon hid in their bellies.
They are not the Savior's body, they are feeding on the moon,
each month she reminds us of the red tide,
squeezing out slave's blood, drop by drop.
Coral beads in the snow, on the sheets swaddling our hearts.

Someone cautions me: Give even-numbered flowers to the dead.
I cannot begin to count all the bouquets in Red Square
to see if I'm among the living.
As honey ages, it darkens, turns bitter the sweetness
of long-withered blossoms buried in its core.
What generation of bees enters our lips to reconstitute spring
as if you could cage the very air with memory?
Winter nightclothes grow multiple arms to hold us
as we journey towards the longest night,
drinking resurrected light from the moon.

21 August 1991

1991 Soviet coup d'état

1992 Louisville Review, KY
1992 Richard Eberhardt Poetry Prize, Florida State University, First Honorable mention
1992/93 Sundog Florida State University

Tuesday, August 20, 1991

Maui MIndfulness


This is a story of mindfulness, or the way of things. My introduction came painfully, after a poetry reading I did with a friend and poet Will Staple, at the now defunct Garbo's in Guernewood Park.

It was the last day of the Fall semester, December 18, 1981. I'd passed my exams, including the dreaded senior seminar—necessary for me to enter the Master's program in creative writing. In those days I had no concept of pacing—everything was done full-bore. I needed to slow down, and nothing seemed capable of stopping me. I had a whole vacation stretching out in front of me, vast as the horizon of the sea.

Still steeped in the melancholy liquor of a bitter break-up, I was uneasy about bringing Will home, and I remember a small moment that changed my life: I was scrambling around looking for the seatbelt, but it was underneath the cab seat of his truck, which meant getting out of the truck, lifting the seat, and retrieving the belts.

It was late and rainy along the river. I opted for au natural, no constraints. Tension, thick as clotted milk filled the cab as we wound our way along the river. A late-model '60s car in a hurry to the next watering hole, overtook us with impunity along the midway stretch, only to signal left into Dino's bar.

We wanted out of his way, and passed on the right, only to have them plow into us—they'd changed their minds—but not their blinkers. Bracing myself, I flew up against the window, and thought nothing of it.

By the telephone, where Will was about to make the call to the police, the driver motions him aside. Will, trying to be a nice guy, is agreeing with the driver—it would look bad on both insurance policies. Besides, he was a prominent realtor in the community, with an Irish name—his strange redheaded son lived two cabins down from me.

The next morning, when it was obvious something was seriously wrong, Will contacted the police, but the driver, Bruce Collins was sober as a judge, so to speak. Of course, I had no idea of what was to follow, the months of lying flat out on my back, unable to even hold up a book, let alone read.

I remember the victory of when I could carry in a small bag of groceries, or sweep the floor without experiencing nauseating pain.

It was just as well I didn't know I would never again be able to do calligraphy or graphic arts again because, ten years later, I still can't tilt my chin down for any length of time. (I use my computer on the bed, with pillows propped behind my head.) Every time my neck bothers me, or the blinding headaches come, I am reminded of the lesson of mindfulness.

Will went off to Maui to join a zendo. His lesson on mindfulness continued in the dailiness of running the zendo as head resident. "No more Mr. Nice Guy," he wrote. "I've learned about appropriate behavior." Two years later, I got a small settlement from the accident, and, in order to go on to the next level of healing, I knew I had to go and see Will.

The daily chores, the cooking, the gardening, cleaning the dojo, stacking woodówere all part of the lesson of mindfulness. I suffered after stacking the wood, but it was a small victory over the body.

That night, on the slopes of Haleakala, in a hamlet appropriately called Haiku, we fired up the wine barrel hot tub, and had a poetry reading under the stars of the Southern Cross, drinking rum and eating May apple pie.

It was there, under the bodhi tree I met Robert Aitken Roshi. I admired his translations of the 16th century Japanese haiku poet Basho. We were preparing for a deep ecology conference, and poet Gary Snyder needed to be picked up at the Maui airport—such as it was.

I don't know who made me more nervous—Snyder or Aitken. My banana-persimmon bread, a smash success the week before, came out of the oven looking more like a brick than food—they were polite and ate it anyway.

The lanai was redolent with gardenia scent; the gekkos chupped, the famous Maui cockroaches spun on their backs like draedls when we entered the kitchen. Will taught me the Maui cockroach shuffle—namely, don't pick up your feet, because it's not a good idea to kill other living things.

They instructed me in the manner of mindful thinking by not instructing me at all.

Thursday, August 15, 1991

Crafts for Craft's Sake 8/15/91

EXHIBIT CURATOR JEFF ZIGULIS at the kiln of his workshop in Sebastopol: 'The popularity and recognition of American Crafts has exploded."


The early '70s was the heyday of the current American crafts movement. But changing lifestyles and values, and a plethora of mediocre crafts, nearly killed it. We've all done time at numerous street fairs and crafts shows—and they keep coming back to haunt us: vintage resurrections are alive and well at the flea market, and village shops along the isolated North Coast in summer can be like a bad déja vu. I mean, who still has Aunt Em's beaded macrame frying-pan wall-hanging? How many ceramic Hobbit toothbruses weed potholders can one person admit to having owned?

Now the emphasis is on high-quality collectibles—objets d' art. This is the focus of the "Fine American Crafts by Sonoma County Artists" exhibit currently on display at the California Museum of Art (CMA) in Santa Rosa. The handicraft of 29 Sonoma County artists (the majority from West County) ranges from traditional wood crafts, clay, blown glass, textiles, dolls, and knives to jewelry and metal sculptures.

According to some artists and collectors, American crafts have made a real comeback, and have been transformed and elevated to the status of fine art. In the post-Darwinian fashion of the '80s, many craftspeople molted—got a haircut and a "real" job, while others tenaciously stuck it out, honing their survival skills by developing their craft into a fine-arts format.

Curator for this crafts show is nationally recognized ceramicist, Jeff Zigulis of Sebastopol. In his Artists' Statement, Zigulis tosses out a provocative idea: that with the growing popularity and recognition of American Craft over the last 15 years, the line between Art and Craft has blurred significantly." Zigulis, a former college instructor, juror, and "seasoned exhibitor" for the American Crafts Council, states that "the show will display how American crafts have evolved into a movement that merits acknowledgement by admirers and collectors alike." Certainly the show challenges set notions, as there is a wide variety of objects and styles ranging from pure craft to pure art to choose from.

Public response to the show has been varied. Some who come to the exhibit expecting to find bargains are surprised to find this isn't another crafts fair. Unfortunately, the term "arts and crafts" conjures up images of lace doilies, shell animals and trees and dried-bean picture frames. As Zigulis states, "People have a cheapened view of crafts."

He is very quick to point out the distinction between a crafts fair and a show. "The emphasis here is on the word 'fine' crafts. Many of these artists who became craftspeople are from a fine-arts background. These people are professionals making a living at their craft." A successful craftsperson, with the right marketing skills, exposure, and a little luck, can make up to $100,000 to $200,000 a year, according to Zigulis. Not exactly flea market wages.

Form follows function? During my salad-bowl days at College of Marin, I recall my pottery teacher, a corpulent Greek named Thano Johnson, wildly waving his arms in the air like a stuffed owl, booming the adage: "Form must follow function." He emphasized that "because every substance had integrity, one must both respect and honor the physical and aesthetic properties of the medium and the object." During raku (Japanese wood kiln) firings, he demonstrated the Art of Tea.

Form and function echoed through my mind like "Good and Plenty" commercials on TV. And so, as I viewed the exhibit, I found myself automatically muttering form follows function. This idea is attached to another, less defined idea, the blurred borderline between art and craft.

'Form follows function. Yeah, but there is no longer any function in pure form," Zigulis explains, citing an example of a teapot with a sealed lid used as a theme or a starting point which leaves us begging the question: Is it a teapot or a sculpture? "It's no longer functional. A kitchen knife transforms into a piece of sculpture. The lines are blurred. The definitions are blurred."

From this progression of ideas, the artist has the opportunity to grow and evolve. Ultimately, aesthetic judgement is in the eyes of the beholder, a more personal definition is needed. "You just kind of slide into that gray area," says Zigulis. laughing.

The dictionary doesn't shed much more light on the subject: a craftsperson (craft is an Anglo-Saxon word) is defined as someone who is cunning or skilled at a manual or mechanical trade-, an artificer, an artisan; also, sometimes called an anist.

On the other hand, a fine artist (art is a Latinate derivative) practices an art in which imagination and taste reside over the execution of the making of things for their own sake without relation to the utility of the objects produced.

In other words, art is for art's sake. Though the origins of craft are utilitarian, it approaches the realm of art on a more personal level.

Interestingly enough, the influential Bauhaus movement of the '20s and '30s. which played a vital role in the shaping of American and European crafts and industrial design, ventured away from pure function into streamlined form. Artisans designed experimental models that became industrial products.

However, in some cases, they got so carried away with form that it no longer followed function—as anyone who's sat too long in an uncomfortable Bauhaus chair can attest to. The Bauhaus movement, founded in Germany, had an enclave right here in West County: American Bauhaus West, so to speak.

The Bauhaus director, architect Walter Gropius, designed the Hexagon House in Guerneville as a studio space for artists and art students. One artist was internationally recognized potter Marguerite Wildenhain of Frog Pond Farm in Austin Park, who influenced several generations of potters including my former partner.

Meeting of the physical and the aesthetic, Sebastopol potter and teacher John Chambers' salt-fire glazed ceramic vessels with closed tops present an oxymoron: they're no longer practical as pots, and transgress into the realm of sculpture. At what point does a craftsman become an artist? When he calls his vessel a "Helmet Pot."

In contrast to Chambers' academic and understated ceramics, Bodega sculptor Michelle Morehouse's porcelain candelabras positively resonate and challenge the senses. "Candelabra for Kuwait" and" 100 Hours," with their powerful primary colors and motifs-barbed wire, dead doves, skulls, missiles, and candies stuck on cactus—are reminiscent of Mexican papier-maché altar pieces for El Día de los Muertos.

Patsy Chamberlain of Occidental incorporates yarn-bound twig pinches into her bird shrines, and I like the honest evidence of slab construction—textured clay. However, with the exception of the exquisite center shrine (which sold immediately), I wish she'd experimented more with other types of glazes and techniques to enhance the shrines—perhaps raku.

Gerald Hong's raku vessels, especially "Arch with Arrows," are exemplary models of form and function, demonstrating both physical and aesthetic integrity. As is Zigulis's vessel from his "Dancing Man Series." The surface of these vessels becomes a rich canvas for an idea. Both artists use underglazes, pencils, and stencils to work the surfaces. Technique doesn't interfere with overall aesthetic design. Zigulis often saggar-fires his pieces two or three times to achieve the results he desires.

Forestville artist Carla Bernstein's peeled willow chairs don't differ much from the age-old craft, other than burned and painted pictographs judiciously placed here and there. However, they're quite comfortable to sit in. Nice copper nails, too. She is new to the field; perhaps, with time, her work will evolve more.

Though we couldn't handle Karl Schroen's knives at the exhibit, it's reported that their balance is superb, they bless the hand. I lusted after sun-ripened Roma tomatoes and basil, just to whet the thirst of the blade. (Tomatoes, as any good chef knows, are the ultimate challenge to the quality and sharpness of a blade. However, I think Carl's blades are more carnivorously oriented.)

Healdsburg weaver Molly Hart, best known as a textile artist, successfully takes her soft craft of yarns to the hard realm of metal sculpture/ painting in "Genetic Memory." Her "found art" jewelry is composed of circuit breakers, screens, and switches.

Collaborative artists Robert and Joanne Herzog's stacking wooden jewelry boxes are more like shrines. Every square centimeter is carefully polished, decorated, or carved. Even the bottoms! "Analog" is supported on river stones of carved redwood. One loses a sense of scale with these pieces.

Chuck McLaughlin approaches the wood for his bowls the same way a sculptor unlocks secrets from a raw slab of marble by studying the possibilities it has to offer, and paying tribute to it. Among the results are a handsome big-leaf maple bowl, replete with original knothole, and a redwood burl bowl with lacy natural edges.

Brenda Rainson's coiled linen baskets are amazingly well executcd. "Transformation Journey," with lavender and green trees and dreamlike figures, conjures up images from our aboriginal past. Marilyn Radzat's large dolls have great costumes (the layered look), but I instantly recoiled at their too-beautiful faces, as it seems she can't bear to give them character or life.

Master craftsman Fred Cresswell of Cazadero's handblown glass pieces, with heavy Venetian cane designs and fumed glass, though technically beautiful, fluid, and well crafted, lack that distinction to challenge the cutting edge of glass art, while French-born Occidental artist Laurence Evangelinos's kiln slumped glass pieces are more arresting as wall pieces that just happen to double as platters—especially her untitled piece of blue glass with threaded black glass cane and blue squares.

Avant-garde. According to Zigulis, American crafts are in the forefront of the international crafts scene, with France, Australia, and Japan as close contenders. The American works are more avant garde—"pushing the inside of the envelope out," muses Zigulis. When asked what future trends might develop 15 years from now, the burly artist laughs and says, "I don't know. If I did, I'd be out there doing it, and not this exhibit!"

Though Zigulis is the curator, this thoughtful and well displayed show (there are over 100 pieces) is the brainchild of Duane Jones, CMA director. "I wanted to do a crafts show for a long time," says Jones. "We have many fine artists and craftspeople who have no venue to show their work in Sonoma County.

Last spring both Jones, who also lives in Sebastopol, and Zigulis were setting up for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts auction when Duane collared him late one night "with the help of a good bottle of cabernet," —well, the rest is history. No matter what your take on arts and crafts is, you'll find something at this show to stimulate your synapses. As Jones says: "We want people to argue about it."

"Fine American Crafts by Sonoma County Artists" is at the The California Museum of Art at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa through September 15. Exhibit hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. A free lecture by Jeff Zigulis will be on Thursday, Aug. 22. at 7 p.m. For more information, call the museum at 527-0297.