Saturday, May 31, 2008

Unsettled Air

Coming out of a local restaurant a couple of Thursdays ago, we caught a glimpse of a double rainbow in the eastern sky, between the trees. In search of a more open view, we drove to the North County Trailway in Yorktown and stood on the bridge over the New Croton Reservoir. The unsettled air produced some wild contrasts in the weather. The rapid changes in the surroundings were beautiful: wind-whipped inky clouds, water turned to hammered silver, sky scoured blue and spotless, pelting rain, and intermittent rainbows. Sometimes rays of sun pierced the raindrops as they fell. It was like standing inside a time-lapse sequence of May days, our hair flying, the condensed weather flickering over us. The scenes changed in such quick succession that I could almost feel the seasons of my life rushing over my scalp.

All five photos were taken from the Putnam Railroad Bridge on the North County Trailway in Yorktown, NY, on 5/22/08.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Findings from the Archaeological Museum

Dina Bursztyn of The Open Studio Art Gallery in Catskill, NY, e-mailed an announcement of the new show at the gallery, Findings from the Archaeological Museum. The invitation listed examples of the unusual things to be discovered there:

The collection includes a necklace that was lost by the God Neptune, a fork that once belonged to Thomas Cole, the moon's smoking pipe, a Hemingway tangle, and a monument made by a tribe of diminutive sculptors of the Hudson Valley, now believed extinct. Artifacts found by artchaeologist Dina Bursztyn. Also on view: new assemblages by Julie Chase.

The photos above show two samples from the show: "Horse Zeppelin" by Julie Chase (left) and "Pandora's Lock" by Dina Bursztyn (right).

The Open Studio is located at 402 Main Street, Catskill, New York. During May the hours are Friday and Saturday 12-6, Sunday 12-4, and by appointment and chance.

For more information and lots of wild art, you can visit, Dina's Web site. (Potato Spirit! You've got to love that.) If that's not enough for you, you can call (518) 943-9531.

A couple of Cyclops-like creatures from The Open Gallery appear in my Glorious Cabinet of Perfect Order and Beauty, pictured in the 5/2 post. Other previous posts are accessible by scrolling down to the bottom of this page and clicking on "Older Posts."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gertrude & Olga: BFFs

Sorry, sorry. I can't help it. I love them.

Plural of BFF? Confusing. BFFs? I saw it this way in The New Yorker. Picture of aged Steiff hedgehogs taken 5/1/08.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Somewhere Between Lilacs and Honeysuckle

Walking uphill past my neighbor's house, somewhere between the white lilacs and the honeysuckle, I noticed a single iris blooming, leaning toward the road as if to greet me. This reminded me of another iris, probably a sister to this one, that my neighbor brought me years ago. Throughout the blooming season, she delivers me surprises of flowers from her yard: magenta azaleas, daffodils, peonies like pale pink tutus. They arrive in an odd assortment of containers, charming in their combinations: tomato cans, vitamin jars, apple juice and water bottles. I stumble upon an unexpected gift of color and perfume, which is followed by the meditative pleasure of arranging the flowers in ceramic and glass vases collected over the years.

That original iris really captivated me. Flowers reveal incredible details when met face to face. I remember observing the iris' beauty and demise over the following days. This fascination resulted in a poem:

Lavender Cathedral

The iris builds its lavender cathedral,
curving three vaulted petals
over a trinity of fringed ones
that leap skyward
through translucent arches.

Three lowest petals
lower long, furred tongues;
carpets of yellow hairs unroll
down the center of each one.

Slowly, flowers fold and curl and darken,
exuding a grapey sweetness as they shrink.
When I touch them,
they are cool and cling to my fingertip
like wrinkled balloons.

One iris forms a withered fist,
soft knuckles sticky with dying,
while the next one up the emerald stem
unfurls a new sanctuary
of captive purple radiance
our eyes enter anew,

"Lavender Cathedral" was first published in The Bitter Oleander, then in an online "gallery" on three candles. It later became part of Teaching Bones to Fly, my first book. The photo of the iris was taken this afternoon. I also found a four-leaf clover at the top of the hill.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Secret Worlds in Wonderland

Last fall I discovered Book Barn, a wonderland of used books in Niantic, Connecticut. For those who love to meander through aisles and aisles of books, hoping to serendipitously discover unread treasures-- those entrances to countless secret worlds--this is the place to go. At last count, they had over 350,000 books on display throughout their sprawling complex, which includes a barn, houses, sheds and tents. (You will also find friendly and knowledgeable staff; complimentary coffee, tea, cookies and doughnuts; as well as cats and goats.) 2008 is their twentieth anniversary year.

I came across a copy of (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities, a 1988 collection of essays by Joyce Carol Oates. Because it contained an intriguing essay about Emily Dickinson that I wanted to finish reading, I bought it. The other day I picked it up to read again, poking about among the offerings, landing on a chapter called "Wonderlands." Here is what she had to say:

How spontaneously our childlike excitement is aroused by the mere notion of a secret world--a secret garden perhaps, or a world of dazzling radiance; a spectral world that is yet authentic, plausible--contiguous with our own (otherwise how should we enter it?) yet altogether separate and unpredictable. A veritable galaxy of fantasy worlds exists for us to explore, in legend, fairy tale, and imaginative literature; and no less fantastic are the hypostatized worlds of singularities (in physics, "non-places" where all known laws of nature seem to be suspended) and counterfactual conditionals ("possible worlds" accessible only by way of logic).... Divine legends, Gothic tales, childhood fantasies, moral parables cloaked in the forms of science fiction, the supernatural, the mock-adventure--each makes claim to having penetrated the most secret region of the soul, addressing the soul in its own special language....

This ties in with her introduction to the book, which begins with a quote from Gide:

"I will maintain that the artist needs only this: a special world of which he alone has the key."

In this opening chapter, Joyce Carol Oates presents two theories about "the genesis of 'art' ":

1. It originates in play: in experiment, improvisation, fantasy; it remains forever, in its deepest impulse, playful and spontaneous, a celebration of the (child's?) imagination.

2. It originates out of the artist's conviction that he or she is born damned; and must struggle through life to achieve redemption. By way of art.

These thoughts appear contradictory. But Joyce Carol Oates says: "Sometimes one is self-evidently true; sometimes, the other."

And later:

The unique power of the unconscious is that it leads us where it will and not where we might will to go. As dreams cannot be controlled, so the flowering of a work of art cannot be controlled except in its most minute aspects.... As in any fairy tale or legend the magic key unlocks a door to a mysterious room--but does one dare enter? Suppose the door swings shut? Suppose one is locked in until the spell has lifted? But if the "spell" is a lifetime? But if the "spell" is the life?

The photograph of poppies (of course) was taken at that secret garden, NY Botanical Garden, on Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Giant Fingers at the Window

Sleep was impossible. The room was too small. The bed was too small. The giant fingers of his conscience were scratching at the window.

Photo of Renwal doll taken 5/7/08. Fingers courtesy of the artist.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Turquoise Galaxy

I received an e-mail from John Glick of Plum Tree Pottery following the post about the "Glorious Cabinet of Perfect Order and Beauty." (Two of his fantastic ceramic vessels are proudly displayed in said cabinet.) He attached photos of an exciting new project he is working on. His accompanying note resonates with my own perspective concerning the creation of art:

"I will include one full view and several amazing little universes that seem to be rich in visual color poetry and possibly a grace that comes only in the unguarded moments we have when playfulness has a tag game with good luck and experience."

I'd agree. That is the joy and surprise and discovery all artists savor.

Thrillingly, John told me he was going to mail me a "bit," a sample from this new work. Imagine the fun of receiving a small package containing a beautiful tile alive with swirls and clouds and gorgeous splotches. Something both earthy and celestial -- a turquoise galaxy unreeling over a field of rich brown. I took its picture; a partial portrait glows above. I have never met John, have only admired his art. What generosity of spirit. I will reciprocate with something poetic.

John suggested using a loupe for viewing the details in the glaze. I am obsessed with all things miniature, so can only imagine what tiny worlds might blossom when magnified. Also, picture using the loupe to view fiddlehead ferns, fabric, the angel wing begonia leaves....

Here's where John suggested finding an inexpensive loupe: Calumet Photographic.

(To see "The Glorious Cabinet..." post, scroll down to the 5/2/08 entry. For parallel comments on the "grace" of creative expression, on art and writing, see the 10/22/07 "Space Doll" post. Just click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of this page and scroll back in time.)

Click on photo to enlarge.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Ghost Between Them

In the wee hours of the morning, I heard from the multi-talented Wendy Lewis at Mental Contagion that the new issue was out. Mental Contagion is an online arts and literature magazine that features interviews and work by artists, writers and performing artists. You can get happily lost there for hours. I mean it.

If you'd like to read three prose poems from Stirring the Mirror that are now available online for the first time on Mental Contagion, visit their fascinating Web site by clicking on the magazine title. I've also included a link in the sidebar, along with links to other online work.

As for the photograph above, several captions come to mind. Here are a few:

1. Her ghost is always between them, whispering.

2. Since the breakup, she feels like an exposed root: painfully sensitive, suddenly blind, anemic.

3. Her life pales in comparison to the colorful lives of her siblings/parents/friends.

If a caption pops into your mind, share it by e-mailing it to cbklu [at] optonline [dot] net. I'd love to post some. Remember the Baby Muse inspiration project? That was FUN. (See earlier posts: 2/29/08, 3/2/08 & 3/19/08. You can get to them by clicking on "Older Posts" at the bottom of this page.)

Photo of Renwal dolls taken 5/7/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


He was always stunned by the way her overly-bubbly personality dominated the atmosphere.

Photo of old Renwal dolls taken on my deck this afternoon, 5/7/08. Click to enlarge image.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Winged Seeds

She whispered to them all that night, filling their skulls with her dreams. She woke just before dawn, imagining she still stood in a dark wood, cupping her hands to catch winged seeds. The waxing moon lingered as a gold cocoon in the western sky. At sunrise, she led the children to the open door. She looked down proudly at their lengthening branches and leafy crowns. When they saw the six deep holes, they understood. They leaped from the stairs into their marked places, raising their arms to the sun.

Excerpt from "Parchment and Twigs," first published in Text: Ur -- The New Book of Masks, then in Stirring the Mirror. Picture of maple seeds, my yard, 5/1/08.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Book That Leaped to My Hand

On a visit to the library, while I scanned the poetry titles, an old blue paperback (1975) leaped to my hand. Sometimes a book is insistent that way. It cries out for your immediate attention, for a human fingertip against its spine. We needed each other. The last time this book left the shelf was 2003.

Friends, You Drank Some Darkness is a collection of the poetry of three Swedish poets: Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelof, and Tomas Transtromer, chosen and translated by Robert Bly. Although I was unfamiliar with poetry by the first two, Transtromer is one of my favorite writers. The book was in bad repair, binding taped and pages stained, but the words were fresh, vivid and deep. I kept returning to Transtromer's poems most frequently, but the others were fascinating, too. I have renewed the book twice, flagging the best poems and lines with Post-Its. I managed to find a used copy online, which I ordered yesterday.

Here are some lines from Transtromer's "A Few Moments": "The dwarf pine on marsh ground holds its head up: a dark rag. / But what you see is nothing compared to the roots, / the widely groping, deathless or half- / deathless root system. // I you she he also put roots out. / Outside our common will. / Outside the city." Then, the powerful and mysterious ending: "It is as if my five senses were hooked up to some other creature / that moves with the same stubborn flow / as the runners in white circling the track as the night comes misting in." And how can you not savor the quivering jolt of the final stanza from "After a Death": "It is still beautiful to feel the heart beat / but often the shadow seems more real than the body. / The samurai looks insignificant / beside his armor of black dragon scales."

Each poet's work is introduced by Robert Bly, whose words are insightful and poetic themselves. I love the way he describes the magic of Transtromer's writing: "His poems are a sort of railway station where trains that have come enormous distances stand briefly in the same building. One train may have some Russian snow still lying on the undercarriage, and another may have Mediterranean flowers still fresh in the compartments, and Ruhr soot on the roofs."

Photo of root and moss: my front yard, 4/3/08.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Glorious Cabinet of Perfect Order and Beauty

This is the cabinet in the eye of the storm: shelves of perfect stillness and order, of beautiful and oddly fascinating objects. In times of need, buffeted by high winds, I gaze upon its contents, soaking up its shades of blue and green and earthy brown serenity. The handmade oak cabinet contains the meaningful, the gorgeous, the sentimental, the peculiar, the magical, the historical, the silly, and the symbolic. There is a simple glass door (open here) that encloses these treasures in a shelter from the chaos of the universe.

A partial inventory includes:

1. A cobalt blue and white Norwegian vase that my mother bought for me when we were in NYC when I was a teenager.

2. A miniature silver devil sculpture that my brother gave me. It should be placed near a fireplace, to protect the house from any spirits with bad intentions that might swirl down the chimney. Supposedly it repels the devil with his own mocking image. (Okay, so I don't have a chimney. It protects my collection from evil drafts that come in through the kitchen door.) My brother has the other of the pair.

3. Two fantastic vessels made by artist John Glick of Plum Tree Pottery, Michigan. Visit his Web site to learn about his work, his philosophy, and his creative process.

4. A pregnant-looking, incised vase I bought in London the year I graduated from college.

5. Four tiny turned wood vases, three from one of my oldest friends and one a treat to myself from another artist.

6. Two intricately detailed Native American vessels, one small, one even smaller, given to me by my husband and younger daughter.

7. Two Cyclops-like creatures from the Open Studio Art Gallery in Catskill, NY. This is a wonderful and strange place to visit, full of unusual creations. (See photo in article.)

Now, where is my cabinet of contained chaos to balance my cabinet of perfect order? Can a poem be either one?