Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Lilies, 2 silk (art)


Habotai silk, acrylic, and metallic guttas and dye; 9.5" silk hoops. These were probably painted during the summer.



see also
Lilies, silk (art)
Cyclamens silk (art)
Celtic beasties on silk (art)
Celtic beasties on silk 2 (art)

Celtic beasties on silk 2 (art)

After 9/11/2001, I must've designed 50 Celtic hoops. Few were painted in with dye as the acrylic gutta I was using didn't sink through the silk (it's like a batik barrier), so I had to also re-gutta the back, It proved to be too tedious. So, few made it to the color stage: 9.5" hoops. Habotai silk, acrylic gutta and dye.





Saturday, December 21, 2002

Thespians on the Town


 
Clearly, we've left the pub. Or the theatre. Or both. Or not. Thespians, all. Irish, at that. Either we're in San Francisco, at ACT, or in Piedmont—ca. Xmas 2002.

Kate said:
that is me in the back row after a game of pool!
I don't remember a game of pool... Who is taking the photo? Lucy Faulknor?

Clearly, we're all introverts, shy as wallflowers, as well. 

Johnny Mac and Kate Perry both moved back to Ireland. 
We lost touch with Joe Hakik and Owen Murphy.
 
Back row, left: Joe Hakik, Owen Murphy,
Kate PerryMaureen Hurley,
front row:
Neil O'Neill, Johnny Mac


added 4/2016

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Short Plays angst emails



Great class once again last night.  There's been so
much excellent work in this class.  Best part of my
working week.  Thanks.

Just a reminder to send along notes for last night's
readings to me at this address.

Also, here's the line-up for the last two class
sessions.  Please let me know if there are any
problems with this:

December 12th:
Doug
Laura
Nicole
Diane
Elizabeth Creely

December 19th:
Karen
Sean
Chris
Maureen
Evelyn

That's 5 pieces a night, so please try to hold your
reading to 20-25 minutes.  It might be necessary to
skip over scenes we've seen before, and give us an
overview, instead of a complete look.

If there's anyone who feels they won't be prepared to
have their work read, just let me know, okay?

Also, I have a couple of slots left in Directed
Writing for next semester, so anyone else who's
interested, please let me know soon.

All best,
Roy

If there's anyone who feels they won't be prepared to have their work read, just let me know, okay?
> >>

you mean this is an option? I've been so stressed getting my MA thesis together, and 2 papers, that I'm unable to make much headway on my Irish piece...both (older) Lizzes and I are trading plays and making comments directly...so that's fine with me not to read if you need the extra time.

maureen

Yes it's an option if you don't feel prepared.  I'll
take you off the list.   Anytime I can be helful with
the writing let me know.

I've been thinking about the note you wrote on your
summary of your project.  Sometimes it's just not
possible to bend our minds around forms that don't
work for us.  I've yet to get very far in the pursuit
of fiction.  But just in case, here's a simple
exercise to try to touch off some dialogue:

Take two of your characters together, give one an
opening line that's accusatory or argumentative (short
and sweet like: "You're wrong!" or "I can't believe
you said that.").  Then just let them fight it out. 
The only rule is make each of them fight as hard as
they can (short of killing each other and getting out
of the combat the easy way.)

All best,
Roy




Re: Short Plays angst

thanks for the triggers and the advice. I've a whole week to hammer on it. My thesis is damn near done and printed out on 25% rag, thrice vetted & signed, etc., it goes in Fri. the 13th (who could resist such a date?); the 2nd draft of my really really big paper (32 pp) where I didn't know what the fuck to write about on creative process (with all my flailing, I think I came off sounding like a megalomaniac), it was accepted as done by Maxine! (Other than bibliog.); my Stanislavsky paper to Brian is in, so the slate's somewhat clean, so to speak. (BTW, his was a dynamite class...) I've got 2 more CPITS kid teaching days to do and a kid art/poetry show to mount by next Tues...

Now that we're at the end, I must confess that I think I'm suffering from some sort of crisis of identity (or lack of) in your class...as I never felt quite welome or accepted, and I can't quite put my finger on it...something didn't quite gel with the group. 

At first, it was really tough for me just to keep showing up (Nicole & Evelyn kicking my ass ever forward). There were times it felt a little like high school....I kept trying different ways of improving the group dynamics—short of demanding that someone let me read a part....there were about six of us who were ignored, then as pieces developed, no one wanted to change readers...so there were vast tracks of time during rehearsal when we had little to do. It drove me nuts.

Ultimately, you were right, there were far too many people in the class and I'm sorry I was one of the extras clamoring to get in and now I'm suffering from Catholic guilt...mea maximum culprit. However, lest you think I'm not engaged, there are several people with whom I am reading and commenting upon hard copies of their plays and vice versa.

When I take stock, it's hard to believe that it was only last Fall that was the first time I was exposed to play writing (many, many thanks to you!)...I can really feel the difference in my mindset...and in my writing. That quantum leap--the whole reason why I came back to school in the first place. Playwriting somehow made it a LOT easier for me to edit my poetry MS; I was no longer attached to the preciousness of words in the same way because I'm beginning to think in terms of characterization. But I still write blind, and then get stuck.

I'm not sure how best to keep involved with playwriting next semester, but I do know that I want to stick with it. Greenhouse seems like too much of a time committment... unless I can do a directed writing and sit in on some of the Greenhouse stuff..any wild ideas? The person who's teaching playwritng..was she the one who started to teach Greenhouse last semester but then got called away (if so, I wouldn't go near her class with a ten-foot pole, she was that insulting last semester!!!) Sorry, but she was awful! Several of us older types wanted to lynch her up after the first session. Unfortunately, I dropped the class before Brian took over.

I'll shut my gob now...

Maureen

Thanks for this message.  I'm sorry the class hasn't
worked out so well for you.  My apologies for that. 
And for not being able to do more about it.

Yes, the class is too big, which makes my chaotic
organizational style not work so good,, but I can't
blame it all on that.  I'm going to have to rethink
some of the ways I approach organizing the scenes in
class, as well as different ways to maximize
interactions.  Though hopefully I won't have the big
crowd problem again.

GreenHouse is a big time commitment so it might be
better to avoid.  The woman who you speak of isn't
around anymore.  Anne Galjour who's teaching the MFA
workshop is a solo artist and playwright who's
well-known here in the City and beyond.  I've seen her
do excellent dramaturgical work at the Bay Area
Playwrights Festival and other places.

My Directed Writing list for next semester has gotten
very full very fast, but we might be able to do an
independent study or some such thing if you're
interested.

Roy

Roy,

No need for you to apologise, (but thanks...perhaps I should also apologise for bringing it up? I just thought you might like to hear my 2 cents' worth... By the time I got any clarity on it, the group dynamics were already set...and then you changed the format (thank god). 

Post Mortem: I think it was mostly a weird case of disembodied group dynmics (or cliques); one idea would be to put people up into arbitrary groups and do some theater games in order to create tribal mind, safe haven, so that there's a safety net in place. Then the larger class size wouldn't have mattered so much...I get slammed with class angst all the time with teaching kids poetry...the ones that want all the attention...

At first, I thought it was just me, it was MY problem, and I tried to work with it (or around it), but...and I certainly didn't want to say anything to you as you seemed to have enough on your mind w/ the (fabulous) play and your kid (how is he, by the way?), w/o a whining student saying how come they won't play with me? 

Maybe I'll check out the other playwriting class...thanks for the info!







Monday, December 9, 2002

MY SULLEN CRAFT, OR PURSUING MADNESS


MY SULLEN CRAFT, OR PURSUING MADNESS
. . great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art...... the only trustworthy one is the last.
—John Ruskin

Maureen Hurley
CW 881, Chernoff
Poetics of Indeterminacy
Dec. 9, 2002 (this was not the final draft I turned in, 'tis lost.)

It is safe to say that I am obsessed, driven by my craft, and because of my avocation, that much of that time I am at war with myself. If I am lucky, the muses line up like so many planets and the basis for a work of art is produced. Then the agony of revision begins. The obsession that requires my undivided attention to polish it into art is more than the sum total of the act of creation.

I was ten when I first heard the muse—either that, or I was displaying early signs of madness. I prefer the Graeco-Roman tradition where madness and inspiration are linked to direct contact with the gods rather than with modern scientific explanations. I was gazing west, daydreaming some small pre-Joycean Epiphany in late summer. I don’t know why, it was as if time itself was suspended from a thread of sky. Then, out of the blue, a voice like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, announced: “Remember. Remember everything about your childhood—because someday you’ll need to remember, because you’re going to be a writer.”

“Oh?” I nearly jumped out of my skin. Not a being, except for my cat Winky who wandered up to greet me; surely he didn't suggest that I become a famous writer. Besides, he was a soprano, and though brilliant with diphthong vowels, he had trouble articulating fricative and plosive consonants. The resonant voice immediately amended that statement: “Well, maybe not exactly famous, of course, but well-known...” and then it mumbled something under its breath about “maybe in small, but important circles. I felt insulted: I was going to be famous, why was this friggin’ disembodied voice reneging? I tried to ask it: “Important to whom?” But I was holding audience with a puzzled cat in a landscape of long ridges articulated by ravines of dark oaks and bay trees, iron dust, horse manure and dry summer grasses seething in late afternoon. Panic and guilt set in because at a tender age—somewhere in that eternity that stretched between the ages of three-and-a-half and four—I had promised myself to become a visual artist just like my mother.

One of my earliest memories is of watching my mother make black India-ink lines on creamy paper that magically transforming into a three-dimensional object even I could recognize: a broken Christmas ornament, a guilty cat. Much to her annoyance, I literally drooled on her drawings, I was hooked on illusion. All through school I declared myself to be an artist—even though I was informed that one didn't major in a given field until college—as my school counselor so aptly pointed out. It took nearly twenty years before the prophesy of the pen took root, and another twenty years to hone my craft.

During this time was also when I made my first real metaphor. I found a small glass vial of my mother’s white oil paint. Thinking it looked like vanilla ice cream, ergo, it must be ice cream, though it seemed an odd place to store such a miserly amount of it. Then the scientist in me awoke: How come it didn’t melt? So I prised the cork out and sampled it. Give me cigarette butts any day. (My aesthetics were about as developed as the inside of a dustbin’s. I was an ardent connoisseur of matches, cigarette butts, flat beers—problematic at parties. But I was covered in white paint so I went downstairs to sit on the white laundry pile and left it for my grandmother to puzzle it out.

I wasn't too sure who or what spoke to me on that fateful day—not the guardian angels again. They had once before, you know, when I was pretending to be a “groan-up” and was striking what I thought were toothpicks against the rusted teeter-totter seat. Mid-summer sizzling grasses. The voice bellowed, “Don't do that! I nearly peed my pants, forgetting why those toothpicks with fat red tips and delicious sulfur-salt taste were so fascinating. “Fire sign,” my mother explained matter-of-factly; she was a good one for chalking everything up to the four elements. But then, she really was crazy. I had adequate reason to be concerned for my own mental health.

I was always drawn to fire—and perhaps that's what my writing is: a fire in the head, as the Irish druid-bard Amergin was reputed to have incanted some 2,000 years ago in The Song of Amergin, an encoded riddle poem from the oral tradition (writing didn’t arrive to Ireland until the 5th c.). Perhaps to create safe haven in a an uncharted land, tradition has it that 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. . .

At the time I didn't know it, but I have an odd disability for a writer: 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. Elemnopee were on shaky ground, always shoving each other out of line. The teacher refused to let me join the reading groups because I couldn’t get it right (I could sing it just fine, but she never asked me to. I still resort to singing it in libraries and phone booths). So I sat humiliated in a corner through first and second grade, punished for my lack of orderly ABC's.

A more lucent third grade teacher let me sit in on a reading group, (she probably didn’t know what to do with me). I remember the moment I learned to read. Magic. All those semiotic signs produced sounds that stood for ideas. The remaining half-year, I voraciously read whatever I could get my hands on—anything but Spot, Dick and Jane—to the sixth grade level. Unfortunately, reading was about all I'd learned that year. Math and other subjects fell by the wayside. I loved science. My teacher, Miss Lenz, had the reddest hair ever—I'd do anything for her, but the secrets of fractions never shed light upon me. The next few years were a literary desert as I’d read everything appropriate for my grade level. 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. But the ability to describe it in words would elude me for another twenty years.


* * *


Where do my creative ideas come from? The usual suspects: life experience, pain, conflict—an attempt to create order to the chaos of the universe. Really dumb things just stick in my mind like: My other shoe is a Rebok. OK, if shoes are about sex, and if a re: bok is reference to a book, or a type of ungulate, or a boot, and I only have one; if this is the medium, what’s the message? Everything was duly entered into my journal because I never know what I will need in future writing.

However, I have another muse as well. Sometimes lines or words come to me out of the blue or in dreams, I repeat them over and over until I can write them down when I wake up. For example, I dreamed I was dressed in diaphanous gowns, I was the “heriot” of the woods; the word appearing in gothic script over stately English oaks, and another image where I was trapped in a dungeon: I awoke saying “obliette,” and “heriot”—two words I’d never heard of, let alone knew. Webster’s was of no use (I’ve lost days looking up words in dictionaries. One word leads to another—like the open trail ahead); luckily I had a scholar friend (OK, so he was a lover), who identified “heriot” as an archaic medieval term as “keeper of the woods” and “obliette” (sp.) as a French word for dungeon. It’s true that I’m happiest in the woods, having spent so much time there as a child, and at that point in my life. I felt trapped.

That dream didn’t yield a memorable poem but many other dream-lines did. I dreamed: Easter Island is a mathematical equation of the mind. I hadn’t a clue as to what it meant but I used it in my poem, Wildcat Beach. That night I also dreamed that old men were setting the sea ablaze with crude oil...this was in 1989—before the Gulf War.

Sometimes, to trace back an idea is more cumbersome than just accepting it as a gift from the gods. If it’s dictation, I write down the lines, not understanding their significance until years later. The early poets and prophets had it easier, accepting inspiration as divine. “Inspire” means “to breathe into,” as in Godhead. God breathing into... Utile Dulce The learning should be sweet (or useful).


* * *


History tells us what happened; poetry tells us what ought to have happened, said Herodotus. The history of my poetics of indeterminacy have to do with clashing thoughts and ideas as well as conflicting interests. My writing process is tied up with everything else. There is no one thread, no one ancestor. I was not born with clearly defined boundaries. As for writing prose, most people begin in an orderly fashion, with a thesis statement, a topic, categories and sub-category. But my mind is arranged in a chaotic jumble that is central to my writing process. I have to write through the chaos (informis) in order to find clarity. Claritas has dominated poetry for 2000 years. This essay continues to elude clarity because I struggle with many unknown factors. For example, when I began this essay, I was obsessed by the lines of various poets but I didn’t’ see the thread of thought until I was some 20 pages deep into the essay.

All my references pointed to the Romantic poets and artists who challenged the status quo notions of classical thought and art. And I don’t even like the Romantics! Then, there was a string of disparate quotes I’d collected over the course of the semester’s readings that I didn’t know what to do with: like Plato and Aristotle and the modern playwrights. I’m supposed to massage this into something coherent and intelligent while an autobiographical voice is stubbornly trying to dominate the theme. At one point, the essay swelled to over 50 pages. The sheer volume of words began to cripple me—like Spaulding Grays’s 1200-page monologue, Monster in a Box— I had an essay with no coherent train of thought. And no logical way out, except through.

I shudder to think how many trees have I’ve killed so far with my many revisions, for I need a hard copy of the printed page in order to edit. I need to see my essay in different fonts. First drafts are always in Geneva, then I use a large serif font like New York or Bookman, and when I think I’m close to being polished, then the smaller Goudy font allows me to see the next level of flaws. Proportional spacing is critical. I can’t read Courier at all. Don’t ask why, it’s something to do with my way of seeing. About 3% of dyslexics have a form of light sensitivity. One major distraction is the rivers of white space running through the text. I think that changing the text, changes the dendritic patterns of the rivers. The other has to do with fluorescent light—I cannot read under it, and the computer screen is composed of phosphors of light. OK, enough on the mechanics of distraction, onward into the essay:


* * *


My quest for poetic origins led me to reread a treatise A Defense of Poetry, by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792- 1822) written before his death:

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. (p 39, Shelley, Percy Bysshe English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay, vol. xxvii, Harvard Classics, 1909, Collier & Sons).

Remember the angel by the swing? Sometimes I just hear voices. Really. No, I don't need psychoanalysis—it's merely a matter of tuning in to a particular channel. San Francisco poet Jack Spicer saw himself as a radio receiver picking up frequencies. Poet Sharon Dubiago attributed this poetic channeling to listening to a large interstellar radio receiver for the Shari Lingua (sp); something to do with close alignment to winter constellations—Sagittarius, my sign. I’m still not too sure what she meant. But I love anything to do with the electro-magnetic spectrum; and perhaps as poets, we’re listening to deep space singing. Only we don’t need no stinkin’ cell phones, we’re hardwired to our own bandwidth of inspiration. Doubiago’s idea supports the idea of creativity coming from otherness, or to borrow a Greek term, oikoumene, outside the home (or self) versus the hearth (hystia). Though it might not be a good idea to publicly acknowledge it, we all talk to ourselves (cell phones just give us the appearance of sanity). Poetry is also a recording of the inner dialogues we constantly play while driving down the freeway, or waiting at a bus stop. Call it vocalic daydreaming. I’m used to talking to myself, it comes with the turf. I like the sound of language on my tongue. Sometimes I just say things because it feels good on the tongue.


* * *


Perhaps it helps to have an eccentric Irish grandmother to stimulate the writing process. Or a nostalgia for the past, and a desire to find order. Any organic order. I suspect dyslexia has a lot to do with how I perceive the world. It extends to the aural realm: I hear things differently; however, it both helps and hinders the process. I grew up bi-cultural: American and Irish. No nostalgic Celtic Twilight in our house, the Irish Renaissance was in full swing; I grew up a polymath in a bizarrely self-educated family who had a pathological 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 that I hadn’t a clue as to what I was reading, or why. I read for the sheer pleasure of it—the subject matter, eclectic and varied.

When my grandfather wasn't fighting City Hall or smuggling guns for the IRA, he was consuming several books a week. Though he died when I was five, I inherited his lust for books. My grandmother, poor thing, raised eight children, then she was saddled with my brother and I, and other cousins whenever her daughters had nervous breakdowns. She wanted only to live in a cabin alone in a “bee-loud glade” (to steal a line from Yeats). So in a sense, I'm living the life she might have lived had she been born in this century instead of during the Victorian era.

As a child, I was privy to my grandmother’s inner mental landscape because she talked out loud when she thought no one was listening. Not that it was poetry, but it was a lay person’s dip into the stream of consciousness. My grandmother, Jennie Reilly, often twiddled her hair and discussed historical facts with an 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. It was as if by remembering the atrocities of centuries of cultural genocide out loud, she had a window on the past.

For years, I thought Oliver Cromwell, the antichrist, was still alive instead of some four centuries dead. Inadvertently I learned my ancestral story in the best oral tradition, at the hearth. In a country of Anglophiles, this knowledge often cut across the grain of established fact or “truth” (this was long before revisionist history came into vogue). It was hard to reconcile what I learned at the hearth with the history I learned in school. When I began to compile the facts, at first, I thought my grandmother’s rants about the English kidnapping Irish children and selling them in the New World on slave ships that sunk enroute to the Caribbean, were the ravings of a madwoman; I couldn’t corroborate it with what I learned in school.

The Potato Famine, where two to three million Irish needlessly died while England watched, another sore point with her, wasn’t even mentioned in our textbooks until congressman Tom Hayden introduced a bill one hundred and fifty years after the famine. But when I too began to read history with a jaundiced eye, I learned to read between the lines. “History is always written in the tongue of the oppressor,” she always said. “Never forget. Never.”


* * *


Poet Laureate Robert Hass once said in a poem, Songs to Survive the Summer (p. 56, Hass, Robert. Praise, Ecco, NY 1974), that he loved books but that he was uneasy with that love:
*
The love of books
is for children
who glimpse in them 
a life to come, but
I have gone
to that life and 
feel uneasy
with the love of books.
This is my life 
—Robert Hass

This uneasy love of books is an inherited trait—an odd trait in a family of raging dyslexics. Most of us can read, but it wasn’t an easy task becoming literate. I’m ambidextrous (hand dominance confusion) and the only one in three generations with a college degree. (Poet Sharon Doubiago maintains that most poets are dyslexic—there may be some scientific validity to this claim). One would think that having a love of books automatically translates into being facile with words. As a young woman, I couldn’t consciously string two ideas together in order to make a metaphor, I had to learn, as Dylan Thomas put it, my sullen craft the hard way:
In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night...
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart. 
—Dylan Thomas

In the still of the night and by the dawn’s light I labor hard at my craft (when I can find the time between school and work, that is). The rhythms of writing are spirulations circling the globe. For the most part, I just pluck them out of the air. Maybe Sharon Dubiago was onto something there. By writing, we come to know who we are. Knower's ink, as the Japanese called it. Gnosis. 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. Then, the long employment of craft begins. 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. I like the way the structure of the throat produces language, and our truly opposable thumbs that 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 gorilla who knows sign language, has learned to communicate via an Apple computer at Stanford. (However, keeping things in perspective, SFSU professor Dan Langton says we share 90% of our genes with rats, and 60% with bananas. I’m sure Koko would be pleased to know this last factoid.)

Mechanics shouldn't be limiting. After all, the pen too is a tool. 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 highly artificial; we think of ourselves as literate beings in a symbolic society—using numbers and characters to transcribe our history. (I prefer to write prose on the computer, forsaking pen for keyboard, but the language tends to be different. I don't know if that has something to do with the mechanics of writing or not. Or my inability to think in a linear format. Writers should be able to practice their craft anywhere, in beach sand, blood, paper, the wind, or computer screen.)

People from so-called “primitive,” or “patterned” societies who have no writing, no books, have a rich spiritual life. They are also among the most conservative people on the earth. Their very lives depended on the accuracy of a song or ritual. Imagine memorizing the genealogy and history of a Nigerian tribe for 1600 generations. Aboriginal Dreamtime creation stories are said to be more than 40,000 years old. “Every preliterate tribe utilizes music, dance and poetry—and they teach them with complete success,” said SFSU professor Dan Langton. 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.

In this same tradition, Celtic myth and legend wasn’t created by 5th century monks mimicking the Classical world—in media res—as some recent TV documentary producers and scholars still clinging to the treacherous skirts of Romantic thought, would have it, but it was part of an older conservative oral tradition, from which the Classical world shares the same Indo-European roots. The Irish saw no need to write down the stories until their culture was threatened by the Vikings in the 9th century, followed the Normans under Henry II—who threatened to completely destroy the roots of culture in Ireland.

The role of the poet in the so-called primitive societies is that of shaman, or priest, because they are the keepers of knowledge and the instructors of the tribe. I would like to leave aside for a moment the anthropological distinction between shaman and priest (a shaman is a self-appointed seer who usually invents new rituals and a priest usually officiates proscribed dogma within a given society. Druids straddle both definitions but the Celts recognized three orders: legal, medicinal, historian, to encompass seer, healer and officiator of ritual.) As with 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. In our desire for objective poetics, we sometimes forget that rhyme schemes weren't sing-songy devices to be cute, they were a means to remember vast chunks of encoded knowledge. The Celts preferred a complex internal rhyme structure, akin to sibilance, not the heroic, or Alexandrine couplets of Pope, etc. My own poetry gravitates towards interior rhyme schemes—I can’t seem to help it; it has something to do with the relationship of sounds.


* * *


I have always been a little afraid to try my hand at fiction, the largeness of it, the long-term commitment to it scared me off. Why I am a poet is because the form is closest to my inner voice. It comes easy. This is not to say I don’t delve into prose, but I approach prose the same way that I approach a poem. The density and thickness of imagery interests me and so much of my writing straddles a region that is neither prose nor poetry, nor prose poem, for that matter. “Neither fish nor fowl,” my grandmother would say.

Aristotle said that “The Simile also is a metaphor; the difference is but slight.... Similes are... the nature of poetry.”(Book 3, Chapter 4, Aristotle, trans., W. Rhys Robert, Rhetoric, 1954). Metaphor awakens our collective cultural memory. It is something innate within language. Noam Chomsky believes language has a biological basis, that we’re born with the ability to absorb language. Metaphor is an anomaly in primary process thinking but children do it all the time. When Mateo Carr, who is now a software developer for Apple, was three or four, he explained to me why the moon is bigger than the sun, and that I should put the sun in a bucket and cut it in half. As a child, he was a natural poet, but that talent has been absorbed by more practical occupations. SFSU professor Dan Langton maintains that poets literally think with an extremely primitive part of the brain that perceives dissimilar as identical. Like kids who take delight in the idea that analog clock hands can clap, tables and chair legs can walk. Conceptualization happens in a different part of the brain, words live elsewhere. We experience thought without words—an idea we suppress. Words are translations of thoughts. I think in a series of juxtaposed images before I write.

But I also have a fear in indulging in “an excess of metaphor,” as French philosopher Roland Barthes put it, “piling up words for mere verbal pleasure (logorrhea).... “ Because this writing has no audience, it has, for the most part, remained hidden in bottom drawers. In order to begin this essay on my own writing process, I dusted off the artifacts of my craft, twenty years’ worth of writing and I was drawn to a couple of epistolary poetic prose essays which I’ve included in this essay because it seems some of those same issues were forefront subject matter even then. In one journal entry, I found:
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)

Science continues to have a significant influence on my writing. I'm intrigued by what British plant biologist Rupert Sheldrake who developed the idea of the Gaia principle (the earth as a ‘sentient’ self-regulating organism), coined the phrase “morphogenic fields” resonating around the world, the idea of invisible blueprints, and connecting, or group memory. Sheldrake is an advocate of challenging so-called established facts. 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 in 1953. But it was a woman, Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the structure of the double helix; she died before they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. The person who receives credit 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 ideas 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.
(Ibid—from Stacking Wood for Celia)

I fought tooth and nail to get out typing class in school because I didn't want to be shunted into the traditional occupations designated for women in the 1950s and 1960s: secretaries and teachers. (I couldn’t have learned to traditionally type anyway, being dyslexic). So now, ironically, I make my living as writer, and a teacher—as 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 the line. I've discovered it's OK to write all jumbled up, because later, tangled ideas can be unraveled in a logical order. (I can’t look at the color screen; a passive matrix black and white (mostly gray) screen is easier to read.) But I began writing by longhand, transcribing everything to calligraphy because I couldn't type. (I now type with four fingers and an occasional thumb.)


* * *


I've been luckier than most writers in that I've been able to survive at my craft, as a member of California Poets in the Schools, primarily through seven California Arts Council artist-in-residency grants, with innumerable projects in Sonoma county schools, and a CAC grant at Napa State Hospital. I was also on the roster for the Montana Arts Council for years. I currently earn my living by teaching poetry with CPITS and another non-profit, Young Audiences of the Bay Area (primarily visual arts).

Another grant launched me into a child and adult Soviet poetry and art exchange, which absorbed nearly all my available time during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s (I commuted to Russia and the Ukraine). A poem from that journey, Country of Origin, and the name of my poetry manuscript MA thesis, 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.

I’m a confessional poet in the narrative school. I write about what’s true; but then, I’ve had an interesting life to write about. Carolyn Forché, who had returned from El Salvador, urged us to go to the places and things we were writing about—to go to the front lines. Our job was to bear witness, not to write from the ivory towers of academia. So during the 1980s and 1990s, I traveled whenever I could, bearing witness in Central and South America, Russia and Europe. But then I grew tired of the “exoticallity” of place. I began to feel like the journalists in Tom Stoppard’s play, Night and Day, with President Makeeba as my own censor. I wanted a new voice, a new direction but much of the poetry being produced in America held little interest to me. And I was sick to death of writing about love gone wrong—something I seem to be an expert at.

I began to fear that I needed pain and suffering in order to create art. So I offered up a challenge to go back to school—a process that was almost derailed in 1997 when I was nearly killed in a car crash. I spent the next two-and-a-half years healing and trying to find out where my brain was located, ’cuz it certainly wasn’t in my head. With a very real dose of pain and suffering, I discovered that very little by way of poetry came to the surface. Now it wasn’t merely an academic issue, I really needed a new voice as my old one had jilted me. I hoped that going back to school would allow me to find it after nearly embarking on that undiscovered country from which no traveler returns.

After the accident, for the first time in 25 years, my daily journaling habit also fell by the wayside—partially because I was so injured—with deep tissue bruises over 60% of my body, I had almost no use of my left arm (detached biceps), and a punctured lung and rib/back injuries made it nearly impossible for me to sit up, let alone write for any length of time. Besides, my head was empty of voices, other than rage toward the woman friend who nearly killed us, then left us to pay our hospital bills. My partner, an actor, was also severely injured; his facial/bone reconstruction surgeries were the price of a new car. No one told us the post-traumatic syndrome would completely level us. Or that my favorite organ (my brain) would go south for a long winter.

Since my partner who also suffers from head injury trauma, was admitted to UC Berkeley in English, and couldn’t concentrate, during the next two years, I read to him his entire English BA literature course load: The Bible, Chaucer, Spencer, Milton, Dunne, Behn, Wollstoncraft, Johnson, Shakespeare, Dickens, Austin, James, Faulkner, O’Connor, etc. I revisited most of the books I’d read while young with a new awareness on the craft and history of writing. It was somewhere around The Friar’s Tale—or was it the Red Cross Knight?—that I thought about going back to school—since I sat in on his classes as well.

Joycean scholar, Professor Robert Tracy, who rekindled my interest in Irish writers (the fire in the head), recommended that I sit in on other classes. (I had been rejected by the UC system after junior college in the 1970s (though I went from a poor student in high school to an A student—no one knew about the dyslexia)—with my poor grades, I was just not UC material). Thus armed with an irrational fear of failure, I began my Celtic Studies with Professor Dan Melia—as an auditor. I received the equivalent of a second BA in Celtic Studies. In 1999, I was accepted to SFSU, and I continued my UC studies concurrent with my SFSU MA classes; most semesters, I attended both universities carrying an average unit load of 19 units while maintaining an A average: important vilification for a near high school drop-out.

Unfortunately, SFSU only offers one Celtic studies course, but I was able to cross-register at UC Berkeley and receive credit for a few classes. Professor Melia gave me a useful working metaphor—as I collected knowledge and rhetoric on the classical and medieval worlds, I was to think of my brain as a mansion of unused rooms, and to make a floor plan with which to store information. Mansions of the sky! At last, I was able to assimilate information that I’d rejected in my youth. (I have a knee-jerk reaction to organized religion, and to the roots of western philosophy—the classical notions that all civilization originated with the Greeks and Romans—and here I was, reading Diocassius, Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Tacitis, Cogitius, Adamnán, and the manuscripts of anonymous monks with gusto because I had a personal invested interest—necessary in order for a dyslexic to learn historical facts. We need the storylines.)

You may ask why I subjected myself to all this scholarly torture, when I’m supposed to be focusing solely on my MA in Creative Writing? Why double my work load? What’s it got to do with my writing process? Because there is an emptiness that couldn’t be filled. A hunger. Because someone accused me of paying lip service to my heritage. Because I was rubbing shoulders with the Irish scholars who came to visit with Seamus Heaney to commemorate “A Terrible Beauty,” the UC exhibit, of Irish painters in 1997, I knew that I needed formal training. That my poetic voice was imprisoned in an empty head—or maybe that I was just tired of my old ideas. Without having to justify why, let’s just say that there was an overriding need. As usual my disparate interests were like wild horses pulling me apart. Coalescence and integration is something I struggle towards—often at great personal price. It’s an unnamable urge that offers no respite. Call it stubbornness (I have known mules to be more malleable), call it an inability to be linear or to think succinctly, to follow directions or to toe the line, to do what’s expected. I am plagued by fears of inadequacy and a lack of intelligence, and so I suffer but I am offered little choice but to anneal my obsession in the smithy’s forge and to name it writing.

In a poetry class at SFSU, Professor Dan Langton said, “Poetry isn’t journalism,” and a light bulb went off in my head, and my voice and direction began to change. (Forgetting about yellow journalism) I had been locked into the idea of reportage as truth. Some themes I’m currently exploring for my MFA include aspects of this new voice. Because I needed a correlative for my MFA, I took a playwriting class on the advice of a fellow student (while sitting in your office waiting to be advised, Maxine), and though I don’t have much confidence in my work, it opened up a new landscape for me to explore. A new voice, or voices. A tabula rasa for which to creatively explore a new art form based on all those years of traveling. These days, my reading focus on the playwrights: Tom Stoppard, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov (OK, so the last two were novelists and poets as well), but I find the process of playwriting and poetry to have the same origins, though utilizing different dialects.

Hemingway 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, frightened, but didn't deter me. I wound up smothered in the coat racks, the ghostly rattle of hangers whispering among themselves. I was so sure they were whispering some secret but I couldn’t decipher it; I didn’t know how to crack the code. They became a regular visitor to the land of my nightmares. On horseback (we rode anything on four hooves—split-hoofed, or otherwise), 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, it became the landscape of my page.

Our family has always maintained a fierce unslakable love for the land, which I inherited, without really knowing what it encompassed. I think it was food writer M.F.K. Fisher who said that the land itself shapes culture, art, and cuisine. (She lived in Glen Ellen, Sonoma Co.) Having grown up in a pristine area, the San Geronimo Valley, in west Marin, Northern California, has shaped my art. I remember my neighbor's sister visiting from Seattle, exclaiming on and on how beautiful it was where we lived, the fresh air, etc., and that I should cherish it. I didn’t know what she was talking about. English Romantic philosopher and painter, John Ruskin (1819-1900) refuted a theory popular in the eighteenth century that beauty depends upon custom. I was accustomed to the landscape, I did not yet find it beautiful because my aesthetics had not been developed. And I had nothing to equate beauty to, because I had no developed aesthetic vocabulary.

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 back home again. 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. I have often wondered is my story any different from that of an inner-city writer. After the car accident I moved to Oakland (where Gertrude Stein wrongly snubbed the Bay Area, calling it an armpit, and saying that there is no there there. Unless, of course, she was consoling us.). Other than locale, 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 psychological distance. Or it was time to grow in another direction, to become literate. Once I interviewed an NPR radio journalist/dancer Joan Marler, who said the reason why she got into writing (she was the editor and biographer of anthropologist Marija Gimbutas, and a public radio talk show producer for KPFA), 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 that I had a brain. This was my impetus too—especially after the car accident when I couldn’t even read a book as my ability to concentrate was gone and I began to exhibit strong dyslexic traits—something I’d managed to successfully hide from the world for years. What brought me back to the world of letters was art. About the only voice I had left was my ability to draw. Art was my first second language; poetry was my third language.

Dostoyevsky said that everyone is an artist. I like working with children in poetry and art because they're closest to the creative process. As a writer, like Wordsworth, I keep returning to early childhood memories, and I wish that I didn't have to wait until I was nearly 30 before writing my first poem. Most of the Romantic poets were dead by the age of 30. 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 California against Southern California. My team mates include poets Cole Swensen, Luke Breit and novelist Michael Larraine, our Agency founder. What we have in common is a love of language, this is what bonds us. Besides, the bases and the poets are always loaded.

I tell my students, “As artists we're spies. We record what's around us. We have poetic license to snoop. In art there was no one “right” answer. In fact, there are multiple solutions. Sometimes the third or the 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.

(Ibid, —From Sunday Morning, Berth 1-11)

Poetry, the apex of culture, the distillation of human expression, is not limited to what is “poetic.” The integration of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves should coalesce in a poem. The Mayans and Aztecs named 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 I believe that one must live life fully—whether like Emily Dickinson who turned her microscope of an eye on the garden or the inner landscape of the psyche, or like Pablo Neruda scaling the Heights of Macchu Picchu:
I come to speak through your dead mouth.
Through the earth unite all
the silent and spilt lips
speak to me all night long
and from the depths
as if we were anchored together,
tell me everything, chain by chain,
link by link and step by step,
sharpen the knives you kept,
place them in my chest and in my hand,
like a river of yellow lightening,
like a river of buried jaguars,
and let me weep, hours, days, years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.
Give me silence, water, hope.
Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.
Fasten your bodies to mine like magnets.
Come to my veins and my mouth.
Speak through my words and my blood.

— Pablo Neruda, Heights of Macchu Picchu. . trans., Mark Eisner

I tell my young students that poetry is comprised of: 1) Image (a picture is worth a thousand words; a good poem is worth a thousand pictures. And imagination. I tell them Einstein’s famous quote: “My gift for creativity has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing knowledge.”); 2) Comparison (simile/metaphor); 3) Feelings/emotions. If you do a good job on the first two items, well, the third comes naturally. You don’t have to state it. 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.

Cavafy wrote that the journey, not the destination, is what matters. I think we need both aloneness and fear—or 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. The painter Paul Gauguin, after a bungled attempt at suicide, posed Cartesianesque questions on his 1897 Tahitian altarpiece: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Asking these questions have become a guidepost in my life, and an aid in my art.


* * *


At the beginning of my essay, I mentioned a relationship of poetry to madness, an observation even Plato (who said the poetry of madmen withers the lesser poetry of sane men) speculated upon. According to a report in American Psychiatry Journal, (April, 1994), “Artists suffer more than their share of depression, a tendency that may fuel their creativity while it shatters their personal lives.” (p. 302, Creativity’s Melancholy Canvas, Science News, vol. 145, http:users.lycaeum.org/-martins/M2/creativ2.html). Of course, poets head that list.

There is a whole rash of findings similar to this that are all based on an interesting (if flawed) study done on art and madness in 1987, by a psychiatrist Nancy Andreason of Iowa State University. Several other studies were conducted with slightly larger target groups in the early 1990s. Other studies of artists through the ages are based on biographies. Psychiatrist Joseph Schildkraut, Harvard Medical School, looked at 15 Abstract Expressionists of the New York School: in such a specialized study, Rothko, Pollock, Motherwell, de Kooning, didn’t fare too well. In the case of Andreason, all 30 writers came from the Iowa Writers Workshop. Granted, good writers do come out of that program, but it certainly doesn’t represent a cross-section of American writers. Looking only at the New York school of Abstract Expressionism for signs of mental illness in all artists is patently absurd.

Psychiatry’s list of billable “mental illnesses” includes almost every activity of life. Everyone is either nuts, was nuts, or is going to be nuts. Of course, they discovered that writers and artists, manic-depressives and schizophrenics all shared similar symptoms. But they can’t tell them apart. “For years, psychiatrists and psychologists have been diagnosing the creative mind as a mental disorder, labeling an artist’s ‘feverish brilliance’ as a manic phase of craziness, or melancholic performances as depression. Vision is redefined as hallucinations;.... Freud claimed, ‘The artist...has not far to go to become neurotic.’” (Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights www.cchr.org/art/eng/page12.htm). This is a deeply ingrained notion in our culture, with its underpinnings in ancient Greece. But Freud envisioned psychiatrists in mental hospitals working with the seriously ill, not with the public at large, but the psychiatrists have been let loose like a pestilence and it seems a full flung war is being waged against creativity—the likes of which Plato never envisioned. He had no overriding desire to cure poets and artists of their malady.

Unfortunately, the mental health profession is less than scientific when it comes to diagnosing the realms of the mind. Scientists are unable to determine or agree upon a lucid definition of creativity, or when creativity becomes madness. And who is setting the norms of normality? Normal to whom? Much of what is considered to be normal as signified by pop culture, is an anathema to most artists. There is no objective measurement for normalcy or madness. Is this science. or intuition at work? And lumping artists in with the truly insane is a pathetic fallacy, it’s another case of trying to equate apples to oranges. Me, I write in order to stay sane in an increasingly insane world.

“Art may have evolved as a way of accentuating the emotional significance of communal rituals, Schildkraut proposes.”(p. 302, Science News, vol. 145). Psychologist Kay Jamison’s book, Touched With Fire, (Macmillan, 1993), reads like a who’s who of writers and artists. Under the current terms of sanity, Newton, Franklin; The Wright Brothers, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky; van Gogh, Gauguin, Hopper, Michaelangelo, Monet, Motherwell, Rothco (to name but a few); and writers Beckett, Brautigan, Cassidy, Capote, Crane, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Michael Dorris, T.S Eliot, Fitzgerald, Ginsberg, Gorky, Graham Greene, Hellman, Hemmingway, Hesse, Henry James, Jarrell, Ibsen, Kafka, Kerouak, Primo Levi, London, Lowell, Lowry, Merrill, Nietzche, O’Neill, Walker Percy, Dorothy Parker, Pound, Plath, Roethke, May Sarton, Sexton, Delmore Schwartz, August Strindberg, both Tolstoys, Virginia Wolfe, Lou Welch, Tennessee Williams, WC Williams all would have been at the very least, medicated. If psychiatrists had gotten ahold of them, we wouldn’t even have a literary world. Most artists weren't clinically insane, they just seemed that way. But the concluded that there was a higher incidence of bi-polar disorder. And no, I’m not “in denial.” Which got me thinking on the role of madness and art. Playwright Arthur Miller said:
Plato was right in that the artist doesn’t know what he is doing, to some extent...the whole truth is by definition, made impossible by the fact that we are obsessed. I don’t know a first-class piece of work written by what a psychologist would call a balanced, adjusted fellow...the impulse to do it is obsessive, it always is... Tolstoy was quite mad...Dostoyevsky, Ibsen... (p 44, Matthew Roudané, “Conversations with Arthur Miller” U of Miss, 1987).

Without waxing tangential on Heisinger’s principle that in quantum mechanics, that the observer by the act of observing, changes the outcome of the observed—in other words, it’s impossible to be impartial—scientists tend to discover what they were already looking for in their hypotheses. What is it we are looking for? Is it a form of madness? Or is it because we delve deeper into the unconscious and utilize it in our craft that we are obsessed? Certainly the ancient seers and poets were considered to be possessed. We render it, give it a shape, transform it; a byproduct is to heal something within 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, as Shelley wrote. Art 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, mid-line, 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 waves 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.

(Ibid,—From Sunday Morning, Berth 1-11)

Plato considered poetry to be dangerous because it misleads man, blinding him from the real truth. But, as I understand it, he didn’t equate poets with those beings without a philosophy who were trapped in the metaphorical cave, who, never having witnessed reality, thought that the shadows of men were real. Placeholders for an idea. He saw poetry as a mirror of history and the earth. When the mirror got full, then, the earth would end. Nilis. He said to a friend of Catullus, “Fine ideas are the father of poetry, words are the mother of poetry: poetry takes after its mother.” Plato banned poetry (and poets) from his Republic because it upsets the emotional equilibrium of the psyche and gives no truth of its own. Though he said that poesis must be strictly censored—he was a poet and reverted to poesis in the construction of his dialogue. It’s safe to surmise that Plato also distrusted emotion, as it interfered with truth, and disrupted the human psyche like poetry, thus encouraging self-destructive feelings and actions. He held that art must be held accountable and that we must move against forms of poesis that corrupts our understanding of what is important.

When interviewed on his play, Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller said:
Metaphor is dangerous, ambiguous; it leaves people slightly mystified...an intelligent business man ain’t interested in metaphors. He wants to know who’s on first...as soon as you stretch that into the metaphoric arena, they get uneasy. (p 73, Ed. C. Bigsby, “Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller,” Cambridge Univ. Press 1997).

Ironically, the theater and poetry uphold truth as central to the form. John Guare (“House of Blue Leaves”, and ”Six Degrees of Separation”) said the theater is where people go to find truth (as opposed to the linear, narrative art of TV and movies. Maybe we’re really looking at two definitions of truth here: Platonic and artistic truth. Plato said “all knowledge is recollection.” When Marshall McLuhan envisioned the concept of a global village, I don’t think he had in mind this technological revolution of silicon chips and ferrous (iron) oxide. When we're barraged with a www. of meaningless facts, it's hard to string information together, to make a deeper sense of things beyond shallow impressions. We no longer live in small villages—cohesive groups with a common unifying philosophical basis for understanding the world. We no longer have the same symbology of thought.

In 1802, Wordsworth wrote poetry is the "spontaneous overflow" of emotions...recollected in a state of tranquillity" so that when the tranquillity dissolved, the poem became a prism of trapped emotion. Wordsworth said that poetry should be close to natural speech, and its duty is to provide pleasure—for sympathy is based on a subtle pleasure principle that is "the naked and native dignity of man." With this idea, Wordsworth changed the course of English poetry. To refer back to my opening quote from English Romantic Writer and painter, John Ruskin (1819-1900) who helped to shape the aesthetics of modern art, wrote theories on beauty in defense of Turner, said that art was the only trustworthy gauge we have by which to judge beauty and by extension, nations. His idea that beauty was independent of utility, was one of the most important ideas in Modern Painters.

Though I agree with Ruskin, like Wordsworth, who was troubled by the rationalism he found in the works of thinkers such as William Godwin (father of Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s wife, and the author of Frankenstein), I am uneasy with the rationalism of that quote. History has shown us that art too has been utilized as propaganda. For example, take Social Realism which manipulated Russians into accepting a regime far worse than conditions faced in repressive Czarist Russia. Or to borrow from Ruskin’s own era—Romantic artists and writers who looked back into the mists of time to a mythical Golden Age of Man with its roots steeped in the Hellenistic past as being pure. The idea of the Noble Savage. There was no Golden Age; it’s a myth. The seeds of the Romantic movement repatriated the Celts onto the cultural map of Europe, but some of the ideals buried within led to a serious breech of human rights in the name of nationalism. The Romantic movement fueled Hitler’s theory of the supremacy of the Aryan race.

Ironically, the Romantic movement Ruskin is integral to, began with James Mcpherson (1736-1796) a Highland poet and schoolteacher who claimed to have found in a cave an ancient manuscript. He probably did find some genuine surviving fragments in the Celtic oral tradition, but in a fit of Scottish nationalism, he forged a manuscript to rival and predate the Irish manuscripts based on the Irish Ulysses, CuChullain. Scotland also suffered an identity crisis under the neocolonial thumb of England. His “translation” of the epic poem Ossian was so influential that Napoleon carried it with him into battle. (Did he carry it with him to Moscow as well? All that mud...) If Mcpherson had admitted the heroic verses were his own (merged with some 3000 lines of genuine ancient Celtic verse, now irreparably lost due to his lack of scholarship), he might have been remained an important literary figure. In a 19th c. fit of nationalism, the Finns, shadowed by Russia’s cultural dominance, also invented a national folk myth, the Kavelala.

Romanticism was an emotional backlash against the classical scientific world of rational thought as exemplified by Isaac Newton, the father of modern science. But Newton’s analysis of the properties of light (he was a lens grinder and noticed the edges of lenses made prisms; he reduced light down to its basic components: the colors of the rainbow); his 1666 treatise on color and light, Opticks, spurred the poets on, especially Alexander Pope, to use more scientific terms, and to use three to four times more color words—”increasing by tenfold” as compared to Shakespeare (p 228, J.B. Bronowsky, The Ascent of Man, Little, Brown, 1973). But Newton was a metaphysical speculator, obsessed with Pythagoras, he practiced alchemy in secret, prompting Wordsworth to pen, in his massive poetic 1808 autobiography, “The Prelude” Newton with his prism and silent face...

Poetry’s transcendence has to do with the fact that its roots are still strongly linked to the oral tradition. In the world of education, poetry is often a neglected stepchild especially when it comes to state educational frameworks. Because I teach poetry writing workshops to kids, this is an area I’m especially sensitive to. Shelley wrote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” For years, as representatives of California Poets in the Schools, we lobbied educators and politicians primarily on the state level to include poetry in both the Literature and the Arts state frameworks. We were even temporarily successful, but once again, the California State Framework for the Arts delegates poetry to the Literature Framework—no matter that poetry is part and parcel of the oral tradition and that an integral part of poetry is performance.

It’s not enough to merely witness poetry on the page. It is a spoken art first, writing is merely a secondary act, a method of preservation. Unfortunately, the Literature Framework is deeply entrenched in the tyranny of art model—limited to the study of artifacts left by famous old, dead poet (preferably male); the framework is geared for the consumption of poetry, not to the ongoing act of creation, so vital to poetry. Ironically, Plato also maintained in Republic, that poises is and must be an essential part of the educational process for all people to be healthier, happier, and more moral beings. The role of the poet is to continually 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. Poetry is what keeps me sane.

What is the moral obligation of the writer? To be society’s mirror, to point out the fact that the emperor is really naked under his new clothes.. to get the news. As Miller said of Chekhov’s psychological plays where “nothing happens,” is that “It’s a long and honorable tradition...telling the news.” (p 385, Roudané, Matthew, Conversations with Arthur Miller, Univ. of Miss, 1987).

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.


BIBLIIOGRAPHY (under construction)
Aristotle, trans., W. Rhys Robert, Rhetoric, 1954.
Bigsby . C. , E Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, Cambridge Univ. Press 1997.
Bronowsky, J.B., “The Ascent of Man,” Little, Brown, 1973.
Roudané, Matthew , Conversations with Arthur Mille, Univ. of Miss, 1987
Curtis, ed., English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay, vol. xxvii, Harvard Classics, Collier & Sons, 1909
Hass, Robert
Norton Anthology of English Poetry Thomas, Neruda citings...
1000 Years of Irish Verse Amergin

HOW TO LIST WEBSITES?
Ruskin, madness (5), dyslexia, McPherson, etc...