Pisa and the Fallen Angel

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We spent the first afternoon of the new year in Pisa.

The leaning tower with a fallen angel on the lawn near it made us feel as if we’d walked into someplace dangerous.

What could have taken down such a ginormous messenger? And why?

And, had the same force tried to take out the tower, leaving it with its magnetic slant that draws thousands of pilgrims and onlookers as we on this cold winter afternoon? For a geo-technical engineer, as M is, the building is more than messenger, it is a harbinger and admonition for what could go wrong.

The rest of the spectators seemed oblivious to how these monuments were blaring warnings. Perhaps they were in denial or still hung over from new years reveling. It was hard to tell.

This scene seems like something people see and say: “You should write a poem about this…” And, it reminds me of Amanda Earl’s “Ars Poetica 3”:

A poem, not all poems, but some poems, or maybe just this

poem is uncertain, it falters. A poem crawls on its belly out

of shadow, but avoids full-on sunshine. A poem is made

from ashes, nightmare, solitude, erasure, the unknown. It

names itself or it doesn’t. A poem cannot fully articulate or

understand the pattern of synapses made by the brain. A

poem is a long sentence or a line or a group of lines or a

school of images, a fish that swims through uncertain

Read the rest of this poem at the link below.

 

  • Celebrate National Poetry Month this April with Poem in Your Pocket Days: https://www.poets.org/sites/default/files/poeminpocketday_2017b_0.pdf

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.”

2016 Watershed Changes

Definition of watershed – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/watershed

1a:  divide

b:  a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water

2:  a crucial dividing point, line, or factor: Turning Point

No matter where I travel, from the classroom to the Home Depot language exchange to family in Northern Ireland for Christmas, people ask what a Trump presidency will mean for our nation and the rest of the world. I have no answers, no hypotheses. I just know, as the rest of us, this feels like a watershed moment.

The following exquisite lines from Simon Armitage’s frightening 1963 poem “Gooseberry Season” capture an alarming sense of landmark change.

Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
razor’s edge
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.

(Read more of the poem at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/gooseberry-season)

Speaking of watersheds, I have three poems appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of Watershed Review http://www.csuchico.edu/watershed: “Recipe for Peach Salsa,” Dancing a Little, and “Jesús Wants to learn to use the internet.” (http://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2016-fall/poetry/hutcheson-heather.shtml)

Many thanks to the editors for including my work in this knockout publication.

  • Armitage’s poem is a mini horror story. Confide an equally sinister confession.

Revision

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Photos: Sunset Watchers and Sunset, A-Bay, Big Island, Hawaii

I love The Sun (http://thesunmagazine.org/). The founding editor Sy Safransky often offers a glimpse into his personal notebook. He has compiled these notebook entries; I read the most recent installment, Many Alarm Clocks, in small selections on an irregular basis. When I do so, I am looking for inspiration for my own writing—and human—practice. The good news: his wisdom suffices for both goals.

In his entry titled, “Three Days in the Wilderness,” he reflects on revision:

Readers sometimes ask how much I edit my own writing. I edit until each paragraph has lost the ten pounds it gained over the winter. I edit until each sentence can survive three days in the wilderness on its own. My father taught me to look at a sentence and, if it didn’t deserve to live, shoot it between the eyes. Ignore the pleas of the women and children. Take no prisoners, he said.

I think about my own quiet father and how he offered no specific advice for a sentence, but what he taught me as he showed me how to break and train a horse, patch a pipeline, or use a sluice box was really about writing, made me ready to revise.

 

San Martin Tilcajete

San Martin

On Saturday, after intercambio at the library, I decided to go to San Martin Tilcajete, one of the pueblos dedicated to carving and painting alebrijes (magical animals made of the wood of the copal tree). It is a short walk through farmland to the center of the town. My companion on this adventure, S., commented that it was a refreshing break from the traffic and noise of the city. S. had never seen San Martin Tilcajete and had never seen how the villages are organized around the production of a particular artistic or other type of product.

I was happy to introduce S. to some of the artists I know in the community, but the two families I have spent the most time with seemed wrapped up in other business including fighting tour companies entering their village, the ones that take tourists to only one or two families. While I was interested in hearing about their work, I also wanted to say that it was likely to be as successful as one of the marches I had seen earlier in the day.

I had the difficult task of picking out alebrijes for people who wanted them back home; this was difficult, so if you’re one of the people waiting for your treasure, S. picked it out!

In one of the shops, S. convinced the couple to turn over their brushes and paints to him. He was overcome with the urge to paint: the wood pieces, the walls, the senora’s hair! They laughed and said they are also inspired by their artform.

On the way out of town, we saw a tractor on one side of the road and two young men with two bulls and a plow on the other side. They were straining hard under the sun. We inquired whether we might take a photo of them. One guy asked: Los toros o los bueys (a slang term that is bull but is used like dude)? He asked it rhetorically. But I responded, “Los dos.” (Both.) And, he said to his friend, “Ella entiende.” (She understands.) They let us not only take their picture, but they invited us to pretend to drive the bulls. S jumped at the chance to pretend wield the stick (just as he had the paintbrush), and one of the dudes even plopped his sweaty sombrero on S’s head!

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