Tuesday, January 29, 2019

January Trip to Costa Rica: 

What to Remember. 

Costa Rica is sometimes perceived by wanna-be birders as simply a small Central American region of jungle, poverty and birds.  The opposite is the reality—not that birds and birders aren’t flitting here and there, and everywhere there is a tangle of vegetation and vines—but the rich cultural generosity toward humanity and the environment sets it apart and puts most of the outer world to shame.   

Yes, mostly unpaved, stony roads, yes, small farms and rutted landscapes, yes, hard-working people, often poorly paid. And still, I found civility and joy on every street corner and along every nature trail.  A smile and shoulder bump is the native greeting.  And structurally, the Costa Rican military-free and immigrant welcoming government is one to be admired and honored.

This region of Monteverde with its cloud forest and steep farm lands never failed to bring a deep emotional response for me. Wind-howls and horizontal rains, motorbikes and the local’s whistles, artisan wood carvings and hand-made tortillas, milking a cow, holding a newborn goat, turning and tasting the sugar cane juice, the fruits and vegetables, the jazz in large and small restaurants.  These were only a few of the rich tastes of the region. 

Our guides, Will, and Jason and all the people at Calla Lodge and Mike and Kathy’s, Hotel Belmar, couldn’t do enough to make us feel like honest members of the larger community.  Not a bit of irritation at our ignorance and sense of entitlement.

Surprisingly, birds turned out to be the least important thing for me. The culture and the people blew me away with every encounter. 

I am a bird watcher and was thrilled to have been entertained and startled and amazed by Costa Rica’s multitudes: the three Motmots on the first morning who treated us to their antics and startling beauty while we enjoyed a tasty organic breakfast in a windy outdoor porch of our hotel, the drowsy huddled birds we disturbed on our guided night walk with flashlight and scope, the sloth curled against the wind, the pit viper high in the canopy, and a hundred more sightings of bright feathered color and song. 

Who could ever forget the family of spider monkeys and mating iguanas and leaf-cutter ants on our road stop on the airport route going home.  Each sighting and exchange, equally important in a too-short, life-changing Costa Rican experience.

I wrote a quick poem while sitting on the porch watching the birds.  Serious birders are called tickers by the locals.  Though I didn’t fall into that category, the poem felt like my own experience.

Costa Rica

Crest, crown, wing 
flick and flitter
one after another
through mud ditch
and cloud forest. 

Drone spinners
blue, yellow, red
over under beneath
banana leaf
and palm cover.

An overladen hunter,
I squat in the mist,
old ticker
of eye rings
and tail feathers,

stalker of shadow
and song, in hope
of listing the glorious
quick passings
for my future journey.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Creativity is all about an independent style — yet the creative mind can be influenced in many ways — in painting it may be museums, magazines, books or the internet, whether it be technique or inspiration and in writing everything one reads somehow makes its way into ones use of language. No one is free of influence though a true work of art is completely fresh and untethered. 

In straightening a bookshelf today I found over a dozen neatly organized journals dating back at least twenty years—most of which had only five or six pages filled with notes and quotes and snippets of language and art thoughts to be use in later writings and paintings.

In one notebook dated 12/23/13 I copied a section from a New Yorker article written by Adam Gopnick entitled “Two Bands” Duke and the Beatles. In it he talks about the mystery of modern creativity. “There are artists whose genius lies in exploiting other peoples’ talent and we can recognize the exploitation as genius.”  It goes on to say that “originality comes in two kinds: originality of ideas and originality of labor, and although it is the first kind that we get agitated about, we should honor the second kind still more.”
There is “WIT” made by the head and spun out into life; and “work” created mostly by fingers engaging with tools as various as tenor saxes and computer keyboards,
e.g. Johnny Hodges chord changes played over and over (until a creative perfection) another “happy accident produced by hard labor.”

In another notebook from 2006 I found some scribblings. With the exception of few lines I didn’t remember writing any of it—the few lines I recognized made me realize it was mine and not something I was transcribing.


Jazz storm of blues
refraction under the ice blue —
smoke curls in a rockin’ bar room
vein blue eyelid tributaries of light
hard blue swallow blue acting out above
smell of clean calm
blue cough of a buss starting up
Penguins breath blue
blue knuckled nuns
steel blue rage as rigid
as steel blue wisdom
our lady of blue intentions
blue prism of sky/lake
the blue memory of the fossil
false blue of the bird wing, hydrangea, wet stone.

Changes (maybe) or simply an exercise to be pitched later.

Blue Inventions 

smoke storm 
in a jazz club

eye veined blue as
tributaries in an ice cube

down the alley two  
blue knuckled women

rage as rigid as 
steely religion
parallel intention

at the corner the cough of 
bus so blue   so distant 
from a bird’s breath

on the waterfront 
gray-blue s-wing and s-way

interactive swallows 
swapping sky lanes

over the smell 
of upturned fish  
death’s blue calm
a shiver of blue everywhere: 
 bird wing, sky waves, 
alley, moonstone.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

To Live in a World like Simic's

I've recently become obsessed with Charles Simic, poet, essayist, metaphysician, philosopher,  famous for his odd humor and surprising image filled poetry. Just the titles of the books I own:
"The Metaphysician in the Dark," "The Monster Loves His Labyrinth" "The Voice at 3:00 A.M." "Classic Ballroom Dances" "My Noiseless Entourage" even the less creative titles simply fill me with joy, "Sixty Poems"and "The Life of Images."

He makes the case for depth of metaphor and image as the reason poems stay with us. In one essay "Verbal Image" reprinted in The Metaphysician in the Dark," he states "the Alchemy of turning what is visible to us into what is visible to others is what all the arts are about." Easier said than done, but using this thought as the basis for doing my paintings and writing my small poems helps me with any anxieties over the process.

Here is just one poem I wrote after reading his poems. Nowhere near his brilliance, but it was a fun exercise in imagery.

The Reorder

A stomp against the sky
muddy boot layered in earth
pitted gravel raining down.
Another day to scrape off
the dismal, bend over
to unlace the tie, polish it
all up — toe, heel, pain,
look out, trace the fingers
of the cottonwoods rising up
against all odds.

And he is always writing poems about his odd dreams.  I've been reading another great book by Edmund De Waal (world renown potter of mostly porcelain) titled "The White Road" dealing with his obsession with porcelain. His other wonderful book is " Hare with Amber Eye" translated into more than ten languages.  He is also an inspiration.  So my next poem combining both influences.

No Color

White on white
circle of snow in motion
dark bird    dark branch   wind feathers
and up the hill and down the field
shimmers of porcelain spinning
a potter’s wheel of purpose
flattened and driven and smoothed  
sculpting the valley of old cotton.
And now in the postured dream
a found photo   
black pot   white table   bent spoon
and in the looking
summarily free from history’s jumble
a woman in the corner against
a shadowed white wall  
her lit up smile  
against gray lips against dark skin
creased in song,
distance leaning into the cool light.

Now for one of Simic's poems. It is one of my favorites:


You must come to them sideways
In rooms webbed in shadow,
Sneak a view of their emptiness
Without them catching
A glimpse of you in return.

The secret is,
Even the empty bed is a burden to them,
A pretense.
They are more themselves keeping
The company of time and eternity.

Which begging your pardon,
Cast no image
As they admire themselves in the mirror,
Pulling a hanky out
To wipe your brow surreptitiously.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Story and Myth

Recently I was chosen to exhibit a painting at THELMA Center for the Arts in their "Member Spotlight" project. The painting is one I did some time ago and recently tweaked.  I have always liked it, though it is an odd one.  Strange and eerie and one straight out of my imagination (I guess.)
I never begin with an idea when painting or writing and only come up with a title after staring at the finished piece for a bit.  This one is titled "Color in the Myth"  I remember starting with my favorite color, yellow ochre laid on over a deep blue-black surface. While fiddling with the composition a wall of buildings suddenly seemed to surface. From there came more compositional tweets and it was finished.  The painting reminds me of my time in the Middle East where my daughter lived--Morocco and Egypt, and has the basis of story in the foreground.  I called it "Color in the Myth' to invite the viewer to come up with their own story.  it was great fun!

Yesterday I  finished reading the excellent "The River of Consciousness' by Oliver Sacks.  It's a group of essays published just after he died.  He is a favorite of mine, and everything he writes about has depth and interest for me.  One chapter "The Creative Self" examines memory, story and myth.  You can see why it speaks to me.  He says, "Storytelling and myth making are primary human activities, a fundamental way of making sense of our world."
I agree.  My poetry and writing works in much the same way.  I see something or someone and create a story. At one point I was on the subway in NY and watched a man and a young girl interact in a very loving way.  Here is the story I derived from that scene.

Theory of String

 Every other Saturday she came in on the subway from Queens. As assistant curator at the

museum she was required to work in the lab two Saturdays a month.  The museum room she

occupied was a cool and soothing windowless place. The crowded train made her skin itchy

and hot.

She invented a travel game to fend off the boredom of the ride. The game was to see how quickly

she could strip a human figure of skin and fat, down to its bones. She’d studied sketches of

mummified kings and qπueens, had developed a knack for imagining them fleshed out, fully

dressed. Her Saturday exercise switched the game around.

A thickset, red-faced man and small child sat across the aisle. The girl was tiny with dark braids

that just touched her shoulders, shiny, as though oiled, carefully tied, not with ribbons but with

string, the kind of string used to truss a leg of lamb in a butcher shop. He was a large man and

oddly handsome, his beard, elegantly shaggy with errant silver-gray strands.

The man held the girl’s hand with a gentle fatherly reverence, her fingers snug in his big hands.

A small scar curved across his left eyebrow, another thin, calloused line circled his index

finger—a cut from another time. They both are blue eyeed and bear similar smiles. She must be

his daughter. A butcher’s daughter. They live above the shop.  It’s a Saturday outing. The sign in

his window says CLOSED. The regular customers are annoyed. 

She will leave them alone. Today, she will look out the window and name the trees.

So if anyone is reading this blog, would you please come up with a story today.  I'd love to here it.  My email is mkwehner@icloud.com.  If i can do it, you can do it.