Friday, March 23, 2012

Discomfort Zone

Private Collection

Two, maybe three weeks ago, a new friend had the courage, one might say foolhardiness, to entrust to me a whole knapsack full of years of his poetry handwritten on everything from bound journals to loose sheets to cocktail napkins. In one of those moments of overreaching, of which I am always more capable than actually grasping the task ahead, I promised this worthy poet that I would review his work, organize it, and even make edits where I thought necessary.

Silent Reproach

It won’t surprise any longtime readers of this space that here I am, two, maybe three weeks later having done nothing more than sort this most private of collections into a tidy stack on my desk where it has been confronting me daily with reproachful looks, and that if this were not enough of a manifestation of my malingering ways, I am now bringing procrastination of this project to a whole new level by spending time writing about continuing to ignore it rather than just doing it. So, obviously the problem here isn’t lack of time or energy. What then could it be?

 Sharp Reflections

My taking on of this project gave me some misgivings at first, and when something gives me misgivings, I take it as a sign that here is an opportunity to go beyond my comfort zone, which is good for an artist, right? Well, it turns out that going outside your comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable. But not in that invigorating challenging way – it just plain feels weird – and not a good weird.  I thought this would be a wonderful way to make use of some of my unused expertise to help someone while also helping myself, because that unused expertise, by which I mean the writing of poetry, seemed long overdue for some using.  Now it turns out there may be a good reason why this thing, which used to be the center of my life, has been so neatly pushed aside, but continues to reproach me, much like a neatly stacked but stubbornly neglected collection of someone else’s words.

 A Long Time Ago

Because that is how poetry feels to me now: poetry is something someone else does. I have great sympathy and appreciation for this activity; I can even offer advice, but most of the experiences I am drawing on happened a long time ago. I may take poetic photographs, and lord knows I will never stop pouring out words in one form or another, but the majority of my poems happened in another millennium. Becoming deeply engaged in someone else’s poems makes me feel like one of those poor deluded souls who dress twenty pounds thinner or younger than they really are. I am much more comfortable in my new wardrobe, appropriate to this particular creative stage of my life.   

 Life of its Own

But being a good editor of poems of necessity requires a temporary wearing of someone else’s creative clothing. It isn’t good enough to spot and correct the misspellings and grammatical errors.  It isn’t good enough to point out where the rhythm falls off, where anyone but the writer himself would stumble over lapses in music and sense.  To do justice to a poem under review, a good editor owes it to the poem to go one step further. Most writers are pretty good, too good sometimes, at getting the spelling, grammar, music and sense right. But a really great poem has a life of its own, a personal passion of its own, so convincing and compelling you can forgive superficial inconsistencies, if you are not too busy falling in love to even notice them.

   Out of Sorts

When I do make my move and make good on my promise to my friend the poet, my plan is to somehow sort his work into four categories of poems:  ones that have perfect insides and just need a little polishing up on the surface, ones that have perfectly adequate outsides but feel false or empty inside, ones that may or may not have all kinds of flaws, but for what they are somehow come across as finished, entire unto themselves, untouchable, and those that are in such an embryonic state, I can’t really do anything until I have more to work with.  Once I’ve completed this sorting process, the latter two categories I will hand back over to my friend as a kind of peace offering, just so he knows I am not planning on keeping his work so long I have to leave town in shame.

 Held Back by Fear

It’s the first two categories that trouble me. Just as with human interaction, it isn’t impossible, but neither is it easy to tell the difference between a poem that is lying to you, and one that is just not speaking its truth clearly enough. Both leave you with a sense of misgiving, a desire to extend benefit of the doubt, but held back by fear that it may not be worth the trouble.  Which is worse – falling for something that sounds too good to be true because it isn’t, or walking away too soon from something that makes a bad first impression but may be worthwhile after all?  Which brings us back to being outside the comfort zone.

 On its Way to the Light

The only way to tell if a poem makes you uncomfortable because it is using words to cover its emptiness, or has something true and beautiful inside to express if it could only find the right words, is to become the poet writing it. You have to go back to how it felt to be who, what and where they were when they first turned that moment into poetry and figure out what went wrong. You have to get inside that mind, that moment, and challenge its truth. Most of the time there is something beautiful in the deep darkness that was simply mishandled on its way to the light. Sometimes you have to be honest with the poet and let them know that however valid their experience may have been, somewhere along the way the desire to write a poem about it took over, and the poem that resulted ended up not being true to its own inspiration.  And the only way to fix something like that is to challenge the poet to go back to that inspiration and basically try again.  That’s one of those suggestions just as much fun to deliver as it is to receive.  You don’t tell a proud parent their kid is no good.

 My Truth

The night my friend gave me his work I took a quick first look and immediately felt as if I had been hit by a shovel. I had not fully realized the emotional magnitude of his writing, and thus the task ahead. In the days that followed I missed him with the kind of intense yet vast melancholy I usually feel for places I’ve visited briefly and loved deeply, but knew I would never live in. I postponed beginning my work the way you play cat and mouse with a novel you know will change your life but once you start reading it you will get closer to the point of finishing it, and thus closer to never again being that person who had yet to touch the first page.  And that’s how I’ve been ever since – hesitant and confident, eager and afraid.  I write to get at the truth of things, my truth, my things, with which I can be as careful or carefree as I choose.  Now I have a roundtrip ticket out of my comfort zone and into someone else’s truth, someone else’s things. I don't want to go, but I wouldn't miss this trip for the world.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

March Merch


For those of you already on my newsletter mailing list, it will not come as a surprise that this month I have reduced the prices on all my publications, including my poetry chapbook, photo book and  wall calendar. As a special thank you to my customers, I am adding free of charge with any purchase one of my desk calendars! I have great fondness for my own work, but I don't need quite so many copies keeping me company. Consider this a clearance sale of sorts. I have some new projects I'd like to begin this spring and I need both the mental and the physical space to work! Thanks to all who have already contributed to this effort!

Studies in Contrast

See the sidebar to purchase items using the BUY NOW buttons. Descriptions of my calendar can be found in my IMAGE SHOP by following the tab above. My photo book, whose genesis you can read about by clicking on the STUDIES IN CONTRAST tab, is still set to full preview via the Blurb site if you want a peek inside, but please purchase direct from me - my prices are a lot better and Blurb doesn't send free calendars!

Every Kind of Night Sky

Before I hang up my crochet hook for the season, I've produced one more scarf which is a tribute to the many moods and colors of the night sky from the moment the sunset ends to just before sunrise begins.  Perhaps this theme appeals to me because I too am in a "between" time of sorts.

A Closer Look

On a technical note that will surely strike a chord of sympathy with many of you out there, for some reason, I've been having problems lately capturing the colors of my recent works when I document them for online listings. This is especially vexing for a photographer! Possibly there is now too much natural light in my studio and my digital camera can't adjust - which really means I am not adept enough with my digital camera to adjust it myself! Maybe this is the real reason I prefer shooting black and white film! In any case, in the interest of accuracy, I am now including an offer with all my crocheted creations to send my potential buyers a small sample of the actual  fiber used in the product if there is any doubt about true color. Believe it or not, I have tried to snatch online images of certain yarns from the sites of the vendors who originally supplied them, and even they are sometimes far from accurate!  I'm always happy to accept returns or exchanges if it comes to that, but why not save everyone the trouble and get it right the first time?

True Colors

I'm working on a much more thoughtful and much less shamelessly self-promoting post for next week, so thanks for reading and see you then!

 Last Look at Dawn in Snow

Friday, March 2, 2012

Art in the House

 Hearth with works by Brenda Sylvester, Fiona Dempster, Barry Smith,  Unknown Vermont Marble Carver and Doug Hoover
One of the best things about living here in Vermont in such a spacious and nicely laid out apartment is that Brian and I can finally properly display some of the beautiful works that we have acquired over the past couple of years thanks to friendships with fellow artists, many of them met right here on Blogger. All arrived as gifts or exchanges and form the core of what I hope will be a growing collection of original art, one we could not otherwise afford.  

 Gabriella’s studio with view of works by Fiona D and Doug H

I have always felt that the d├ęcor of a living space is a direct reflection and extension of the occupants. Even during lean times when I have not been able to fill my home with the furnishings and decorative touches of my dreams, that very shabbiness had something to say about who I was, how I lived, and what my priorities were.  I suppose this is a variation on the belief that you can tell someone by the company they keep. This week instead of me telling you something about myself, I thought I’d share some images of some of my new daily companions (who are all actually old friends) and let them do the talking. 

 Closeup of “Flight” by Fiona D above and “Soaking it In” by Doug H below


 Gabriella’s studio with view of work by Momo Luna

 Mantle with view of works by Manon Doyle and more Momo Luna in the distance

 “Island. Light. Night.” Doug Hoover again, this time in the living room - he's everywhere!

Purple couch with photograph by Crissant – we promise to frame and hang this soon!

Bowl by Barry Smith

In the bedroom: Unnamed (although the title “Smidge” has been considered) by Saba Tekle

To anyone out there whose work I omitted – my apologies. To anyone out there who would like to help increase the Mirollo Sylvester Collection, we love a good barter!  May you all have a happy weekend.

Happy campers