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.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


I've decide to return to this Blog writing whether anyone reads it or not. It makes me happy and seems to organize my thoughts.  Good enough reason at my age.

Given the tone and angst in the air these days, I decided to take a five day semi-retreat in the warmth and comfort of my house on the lake.  The fact that my husband, Dick, is off on a ski trip for five days and I have the resurgence of a terrible viral thing makes for this easy decision.

I recently bought a book I hadn't taken time to carefully research.  The Experience of Insight. It's comprised of lists and chapters to read and meditate on in a month long Buddhist inspired retreat.  Well, I only have five days and am not going to get up at 4:30 to sit and walk and am certainly not going to meditate for hours at a time, but I am reading the various chapters and finding that it just what I needed to get some idea of how to live in this turbulent time.  I'm meditating a few times for brief periods, doing my yoga, writing, cooking, listening to jazz, reading and trying not to talk--just a couple of phone calls and those didn't really add to my peace and quiet.

I would however recommend this approach even if I am only in the third day and starting to get a bit antsy.  I think it bears looking into.  I believe the political scene today has the danger of burnout for some of the most sincere and politically active people I know.  How do we sustain the pressure to restore morality and decency to this world if we are so stressed and angry that we can't sleep or have a civil conversation with those we disagree with?

So we can send money, march if we are able, write and phone and pray if you pray.  At least I will write and paint in these few solitary days. And read. One bit of reading I've just finished is the recent Sun magazine. They feature a recently deceased poet from Vermont, David Budbill,  in a previous interview and offer a few of his wonderful poems.  He was a Buddhist and self described recluse and a previous activist against the Vietnam war.

When asked how someone living in isolation make a contribution to society?  He replied,"Not everyone should be out on the streets protesting. I have a Buddhist friend who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. He says, "What I can do for peace and justice is split wood." To do no harm is a great service to humanity.

Budbill's poetry is plain-spoken and thought provoking.  Here are two of his and one of mine from today.

What We Need

The Emperor,
his bullied
and henchmen,
terrorize the world
every day

which is why
every day

we need

a little poem
of kindness,

a small song
of peace,

a brief moment
of joy.

Words to Myself

Ryokan Says: With what
can I compare this life?
Weeds floating on water.

And there you are with your
dreams of immortality
from poetry.

pretty pompous --
don't you think -- for a
weed floating on water?

David Budbill

And here is mine:


Mindful of the waves
I skimmed them like a gull.
There were rocks
and sandstorms, horizons
and sunsets to recall—wistful
paintings and poems, glorious
lies revised as memory, still one more
sighting off to the west and then
the next. Proof that there's no finality

to a good story.

Thanks to Andre Theisen for encouraging me.
Tomorrow i will try to send a painting at whatever stage it is in.