Dublin Castle at Christmas

It is week ten of the semester, and we are on the brink of spring. This is the point in the term where the speed picks up, and what felt like racewalking suddenly turns into a jog to Spring Break and then a frantic sprint to the end.

This weekend I am scanning photos of Christmas as though the length of time is as vast as the distance from here to Dublin. I am grateful for having timed my visit to encounter a castle elaborately decorated for Christmas, for the generous sun shining on the labyrinth and gardens, for the the luxury of history and the venue of a gallery to learn more of Ireland’s bombings and terrorism. I am grateful for the joy and safety I enjoy even at the end of a long winter.

Indeed it has been a long winter full of hard lessons and interesting work. I just have to  pause to remember where I am going and where I have been. Speaking of week ten, the creative writing students are blogging.

Daily Bread 400: https://dailybread400.wordpress.com/

Blissful Binge: https://blissfulbinge.wordpress.com/

Passions of 8: https://passionsof8.wordpress.com/

World of Actions & Reactions: https://creativeblogforclass.wordpress.com/

All Things Dreamy: https://allthingsdreamyblog.wordpress.com/

Please follow them, like them, and tell your friends about these diligent and creative writers.

Looking for writing inspiration, take a look at: http://awesomewritingprompts.tumblr.com/

 

 

Book of Kells

Visit the Kells online at: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v

We were grateful it is not high tourist season as we headed to the Trinity College Library  to see the illuminated New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that are known as the Book of Kells.

We learned about the venerated manuscript’s ink and the colors (lilac, pink, verdigris, indigo, and red and yellow ochre) and the collaboration between writer and artist, what symbols we were seeing in the leaves of vellum, that vellum is calfskin, that the book faced several rounds of warfare and survived.

I looked and looked for a piece of writing to capture the sense of this adventure. I finally found “Scriptorium” by Melissa Range:

Before the stepwork and the fretwork,
before the first wet spiral leaves the brush,
before the plucking of the geese’s quills,
before the breaking of a thousand leads…

(Read more at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/scriptorium)

We leaned over the glass case, wishing we had retained more training in Latin, wishing we had brought a magnifying glass, remembering there was a line of people patiently (or not-so-patiently) waiting behind us. We hastily admired the shine of the colors; we tersely studied the Celtic knots; we speedily marveled at how the pagan and religious interconnect on these pages. I could not resist hurriedly scanning for peacocks (symbols of Christ), fish (symbols of Christ), snakes (symbols of Christ’s rebirth), and eagles (symbols of John and Christ’s ascension to heaven) in the intricate pages displayed.

The next thing we knew we were headed out of the gallery and upstairs into a library reminiscent of Hogwarts’s on the floor above the sacred texts. We felt as if we’d just taken in a museum of information; we were as exhausted as we were acutely aware there is much more to learn.

  • The Book of Kells reminded me of Visual Journaling and the power of drafting using visual art as well as words. Here is an example: http://improving-slowly.tumblr.com/post/150287161654/some-of-my-favourite-pages-from-the-summer, and, of course Frida Kahlo’s journal: https://sketchesandjottings.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/fridas-diary-her-tortured-art-journal/.

Carousel

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Piazza della Republica, Florence

Of course, carouse is at the heart of the word “carousel.” And, we do not deny we were utterly intoxicated by the lively accordion tunes from the carousel; by the buzz of activity on the square, including musicians and strolling lovers; by the joy of the last few merry-go-round riders; by the cold that made us aware that we needed to keep moving and that the graceful herd of twenty buckskins and creamy palominos, elegant as ballerinas, enchanting as unicorns, had dazzled us so that we were practically frozen in their presence. We could not resist envisioning ourselves resting in the two golden carriages covered in blankets or, dare we think it, furs; warm.

Something inside us that hadn’t twinkled in a long time was stirred, and we, delighted that star was still there, were ready to wander back into real life, into being middle-aged tourists.

  • There are many carousel inspired pieces out there in the world. Zachary Schomburg gives us the sense of being inside a carousel, of being pinned to the wall and then made disoriented by the spinning in his “The Carousel” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/carousel. And, take a look at Laura Kasischke’s poem, “Recall the Carousel” at https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/recall-carousel. Her piece is a frightening reminiscence of the threats facing children. The poem takes a sharp turn into the dreadful as she writes: “The carousel? Do you recall? As if/ we were our own young parents suffering again/after so many hundreds of hours of bliss.” Suffering seems to be understatement in the face of horrors she evokes. What happens when you step onto/into the carousel stage?

Epiphany

epiphany

On the twelfth day of Christmas, we spotted a living manger complete with babe, goats, and a cow on the steps of the Duomo.

Then, festive Florence delivered a parade to celebrate Epiphany: several trios of Wise Men; a few triumvirates of Kings delivering gold, frankincense, and myrrh; a spectacle of shepherds; a procession of good ladies and men and horses and falcons and flags and goodwill. But where were the angels?

We were standing at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio and were so close to the revelers we could nearly touch them. This was particularly electrifying as we witnessed the flag wavers’ exhibition and could feel the whip and whoosh of the banners as well as the cavalcade of horses.

From Christmas Carol

–Sara Teasdale

The kings they came from out the south,

All dressed in ermine fine;

They bore Him gold and chrysoprase,

And gifts of precious wine.

 

The shepherds came from out the north,

Their coats were brown and old;

They brought Him little new-born lambs—

They had not any gold.

Take a look at the rest of the poem at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/57831

I grew up in a household where we packed away the Christmas season’s shiny baubles and synthetic spruce by the New Year. However, it suddenly made sense that one ought to delay these chores. All it took was for me to witness the entire city still decorated on January 6th,  to recognize this as the last day of Christmas. Yes, of course, we need pageantry for those bearing gifts throughout Twelvetide. Yes, we should not be so hasty in wrapping up the season.

  • Some believe that one should receive a present every day of the twelve days (as the song suggests). These believers insist that the offerings have the power to represent an aspiration for each month of the new year. What dozen tokens will you furnish for a lover, a child, or a parent?  What is the corresponding wish?

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This Little Piggy and Other Superstitions

pig

Fontana del Porcellino pavilion with projections on the cement

In Florence, there is a bronze boar.

Rumor has it, if you rub the piggy’s proboscis, you are certain to return to the fair city.

Another superstition particular to this porcine effigy involves putting a coin into the piglet’s mouth; as it falls into the grate, you can make a wish.

Some believe that rubbing the hog’s snout will bring a male son.

Because of the threat of fertility, I was uncertain whether I should rub for the promise of a return. In fact, I waited until the last day of our visit to finally approach the swine statue.

I am intrigued by superstitions. Here are five ways of looking at Florence through superstition:

  1. A neighbor will warn you not to bother knocking on wood. Instead, touch iron (or one’s own testicles, or one’s own breasts, if female).
  2. The wild taxi driver will ardently suggest you watch out for black cats. Even while driving, pull over and wait, however long it takes, for another driver to cross these felines’ paths.
  3. An intoxicated man at a bar might insist that posing the pinkie and index finger like devil horns can: 1. Defend against the evil eye. 2. Curse an enemy. 3. Signify infidelity. (You will not know how to translate his meaning when he uses this sign minutes later.)
  4. In a tall building, you are likely to learn the Italian seventeen is like the American thirteen: unlucky.
  5. A waiter is certain to inform you in certain terms that thirteen is lucky, unless you sit down to a table with twelve other people (as in the Last Supper); then one of the diners is certain to betray you. (The Real Housewives of Anywhere should take this into consideration.

Consider the following lines from the beginning of Malcolm Glass’s poem “Superstitions:”

I write these words on the twenty-seventh

page of my notebook, ensuring my words

safe passage and ready readers. In my lapel

I wear bloodroot to ward away broken

mirrors and my image splintered on tile.

Fire by Heather Hutcheson

Background photo: Url Duke /Pixabay, CC0.Manipulation and design layout: Elizabeth Stark A professor of English at Cosumnes River College, in Sacramento, Heather Hutcheson is the founding editor of the Cosumnes River Journal (crc-ljsubmit@crc.losrios.edu). She organizes an annual senior and student memoir conference, “Our Life Stories.” During…

Ekphrasis

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In Florence, we invested in the Firenze Card, a pass that allowed us into more than 72 museums in 72 hours, and M is serious about getting his money’s worth. He has a plan, and when I start to flag at the fast four we visit the first morning, he cheers: “Only 68 more!”

Nearly 60 hours into the adventure, I have seen more than a dozen statues of Dionysus, a handful of Davids, a couple of Goliaths, The Birth of Venus and her wind gods, The Baptism of Christ, lots of busts of the wealthy (many of them lazily named: Bust of a Man, and at least, it seems, 10,000 versions of Madonna with Bambino. I have read this title so many times I am almost certain it is synonymous with: “untitled.”

 I walk into a room and think I have been there before. I am on sensory overload. (I recognize this makes me both giddy and a little mean.) I learn that when a large room is sparingly appointed with adequate signage, I am delighted. When the display appears to be a sink of dishes or a closet of clothes (parts of the Pitti Palace offerings) or a haphazard shrine (Dante House), I am not so pleased.

Space and structure allow small pieces to speak to me; Sandro Botticelli’s St. Augustine in His Study (Uffizi Gallery) has a sign to explain, among other things,  that “This picture shows the saint writing in the privacy of his study…The sheets of paper strewn across the floor at the saint’s feet are intended to convey the difficulty implicit in translating divine inspiration into words.”

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Yes, I think. Yes, this is what it is to try to write, and this is why most days it is near impossible to teach creative writing. Sometimes it seems like an endeavor designed to torment writers—and words. I can only open doors for people to walk in; upon entering, some will discover a museum; others will observe a Spartan cell. What I can offer is that no one can teach us how to make art. It’s easier to cure disease, win the lottery, or find true love. I want to hand over the secret, the recipe, the key, but that’s the secret. We each need to learn to distinguish one Madonna and Bambino from another. So we study the masters, nature, and the divine magic of the world to learn to see the way to transform our lives.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle I so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. I must change my life.

Rainer Maria Rilkehttps://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/archaic-torso-apollo

  • Write an ekphrastic piece of writing. Ekphrasis is art inspired by art. Don’t just describe it; let it transform the speaker as Rilke has in his “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”