Sunday, June 29, 2008

Omaha Summer Arts Festival

Is better than the crappy Lincoln one that's in a freaking mall parking lot for heaven's sake. Still not as cool as the Columbus, OH one in June, and the Excelsior, MN one also in June--both of which I haven't been to in years.

We went Friday, only hours before a storm with 90 mph straight line winds uprooted trees city wide, cut power to over 100,000 folks, and made the art festival look like, well, a warzone. Artist's tents were everywhere, the main and massive music stage tent was blown into a downtown office building with poles sliced through windows. Only 12 artists had to bow out after the first day, but before that we had heard 50% lost most everything. Sad.

We saw three wonderful booths, especially. Raku potter Casey Hankin had some large, cool (and underpriced in our opinion) pieces, as well as some funky ones with faces we'd love to have in our guest bathroom. Casey is from Colorado.

Then there was Wendall King, of Peony Farm Studio in NW Iowa, who makes occasional tables out of stone and iron. Very cool, very expensive.

Can't find any images of a painter who had many pieces we loved, named Lonnie M. Carter out of Des Moines. IMHO her work was over priced, but I'm not painter, just a humble writer who may someday be lucky to get used copies to sell for $1.50.

I enjoyed, for 5 seconds, the one artist who made model airplanes throughout aviation history by using aluminum cans--bud, coors, coke, et cetera. Certainly takes skill, ya know.

Luckily, we made it back home before the Omaha storm, and before my car's engine light came on and it starting convulsing violently while idling. Guess what I'm doing Monday?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trash Watch

Sean of Bamboo Geek has started another blog, It's been getting some good press, here in NE and in my almost native MN and at Grist, for example. Check it out. Here's his decription of the project:

Expose the litter problem in your neighborhood!

Send me an e-mail with a photo of the litter you find in your neighborhood to One photo per piece of litter. Please submit photos that have a clear corporate logo on it. List the date found, the street you found it on (with nearest cross street), city, state and date you found it.I will post the photo on this blog (at my discretion). At some point, I will gather photos and the data you give me and bring it to the offending company's attention.What I will ask the offending company to do is either (1) send their employees to pick up the litter; or (2) help support a local, state or national litter clean-up organization with a donation.Being a good corporate citizen means do something about it. Time to ask these companies to do their share and help clean-up litter in our neighborhoods!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Religion as Life, Life as Environmentalism

From "The Ecology of Work" by Curtis White, found in Orion.

In accepting science as our primary weapon against environmental destruction, we have also had to accept science’s contempt for religion and the spiritual. This is the unfortunate legacy of science’s two-century-old confrontation with what it has always called “religious dogma and superstition.” But this attitude is myopic; it is science at its most stupid. Environmentalism should stop depending solely on its alliance with science for its sense of itself. It should look to create a common language of care (a reverence for and a commitment to the astonishing fact of Being) through which it could begin to create alternative principles by which we might live. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in his famous essay “My Religion,” faith is not about obedience to church dogma, and it is not about “submission to established authority.” A people’s religion is “the principle by which they live.”


The risk I propose is simply a return to our nobility. We should refuse to be mere functions of a system that we cannot in good conscience defend. And we should insist on a recognition of the mystery, the miracle, and the dignity of things, from frogs to forests, simply because they are.

and especially

THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH THE WEST has lived for the last two centuries has been “It’s okay to use violence if you can gain something by it.” Violence against the poor, violence against the vulnerable, violence against those who possess something you want, and violence against the natural world. That is capitalism as a religious principle. What is beyond environmentalism, what is our Party of Life, is actually a return to our oldest spiritual convictions: a reverence for creation and a shared commitment to the idea that religion is finally about understanding how to live in faithful relation to what has been given to us in creation. In the end, our problem is that the busy, destructive work of functionaries has taken the place of a thoughtful, spiritual understanding about how to live. Our problem is not that we are ignoring what science has to tell us about environmental destruction. Our problem is that we are spiritually impoverished. Bankrupt, if you will.

Spiritual rebirth will mean the rediscovery of true human work. Much of this work will not be new but recovered from our own rich traditions. It will be useful knowledge that we will have to remember. Fishing as a family and community tradition, not the business of factory trawlers. Agriculture as a local and seasonal activity, not a carbon-based scheme of synthetic production and international shipping. Home- and community-building as common skills and not merely the contracted specialization of construction companies and urban planners. Even “intellectual workers” (professors and scholars) have something to relearn: their own honored place in the middle of the community and not in isolated, jargon-ridden professional enclaves.

and ha, wait, omg this is me, isn't it

What used to be life is now “fine living”: an array of expensive hobbies for the affluent that are taught through magazines, cable and PBS programs, and local guilds dedicated to gardening, basket weaving, cooking, home remodeling, quilting, and woodworking. Although we rarely recognize it in this way, through these “hobbies” we express a desire for a world that is now lost to us.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Taiko = Drum

Anyone else into taiko? And instead of yoga (which I don't do), wouldn't this be a great fluid, dynamic, whole existence, immersing, primal, connective thing to do?

And isn't it interesting how such art, art as communication on several levels, transcends language--is in fact REAL language (is poetry without the clutter of words, pure poetry)? And then, how in some ways--in my simple mind--taiko is like so many other ritualistic performances across cultures?

If you compared and distilled all spoken / written languages, you'd see they all come from the same base root. However, that's exhaustive and boring--taiko cuts to the chase in obvious ways.

Plus, I personally like to bang on things and make music. I get this from my dad and his (terribly annoying) steering wheel / brake pedal serenades.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Erotic Poet Gardener--Stanley Kunitz

I've just finished The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, a book by poet Stanley Kunitz about gardening, the art of being a poet, and being a sensuous old man. It was written with the help of some woman named Genine Lentine--many of the passages occured during and around illnesses toward the end of his remarkable 100 year life. [The man hung out with Rothko and Kline--how cool is that?] This is a short, easy read, filled with photos and poems interspersed among the prose. Lots of good stuff in here.

I give you too many quotes--some may just be interested in his incredible owl story, some on how he deftly compares gardening and poetry, others on his ideas of composing poems / being unusually emo (an artist), and people like me on his insistence that good poets must have a strong libido. I do. Boy, do I ever. Man.


--There’s something very important to me about having a kind of relationship, with plants and animals, that can be transacted wholly without language. The warmth of one’s body is a form of communication. The stroke of one’s hand is a means of communication. In the garden those forms are heightened. I have a tendency when I’m walking in the garden to brush the flowers as I go by, anticipating the fragrant eloquence of their response. I get a sense of reciprocity that is very comforting, consoling.

--One day, as I stood under a great chestnut tree deep in the center of the woods, I heard some rustling in the branches. I looked up and saw a family of owls, a mother and four fledglings, all on one branch. The moment I moved, they frantically whisked off.

I vowed I would become a friend of theirs and realized I must not disturb them in any way. I learned if I approached very quietly, advancing just a few steps, then standing still, then advancing a little more, the owls were not intimidated. And then I would reach the chestnut tree and stand under it absolutely motionless for as long as I could, fifteen minutes, half an hour or so.

After doing this day after day for several weeks, I could tell the owls had gained confidence in my presence. Gradually, I dared to raise my arm and lift one of the four babies off its perch and place it on my shoulder for a few minutes and then return it safely. I did that with all of them over a period of weeks and finally made the great maneuver—I extended my arm and lifted them one by one, all five of them, on to my arm. I started with the most familiar one, the mother owl. And then once she was perched there, the others were happy to join. By then they were familiar with my touch. There was no sense of separation; I was part of their life process.

So, with the mother owl and the four little ones perched on my arm I walked gingerly out of the woods and took them home and installed them in the attic where I’d prepared the equivalent of a branch and set out some food to welcome them. They lived there happily, coming and going through the open window, for the remainder of my stay at Wormwood Hill….

--We are all candidates for composting. So we cannot approach the compost heap without a feeling of connection.

--The garden communicates what it shows to you but you also contribute to the garden some of what you are seeking in terms of your own life, your own state of being. One reason a garden can speak to you is that it is both its own reality and a manifestation of the interior life of the mind that imagined it in the beginning.

--And you need the silence. So much of the power of a poem is in what it doesn’t say as much as in what it does say. As when a flower is preparing to bloom, or after it has bloomed, when it is suspending its strengths and its potency and is at rest—or seems to be, its mission to flower and to produce seed having been fulfilled.

--Art conceals and reveals at the same time. Part of the concept of the garden is that you never see it all at once. This I got from my understanding of Japanese gardens, that the way to see a garden is by circling it, by walking through it.

You don’t see the garden as a whole from any point, but you begin to know it by making a tour around it. Then it becomes a garden in the mind, and you become the instrument that defines it, just as you have to create the wholeness of the poem in your mind. Though you learn the meaning of a poem, the sense of a poem, word by word, in the end what you have is a fusion.

In the poem, there is an impulse that moves form line to line, from image to image, but complete revelation is not achieved until the poem arrives at its terminal point, at which time what has been secret before the poem begins to reveal itself, and you have to really meditate on the poem. It’s like someone removing a garment slowly, slowly. What bothers me about so much contemporary poetry is that there is none of that secrecy; it is all exposition, all revelation. I find that to be a diminishing factor.

--One of the great delights of poetry is that when you’re really functioning, you’re tapping the unconscious in a way that is distinct from the ordinary, the customary, use of the mind in daily life. You’re somehow cracking the shell separating you from the unknown.

There’s no formula for accessing the unconscious. the more you enter into the unconscious life, the more you believe in its existence and know it walks with you, the more available it becomes and the doors open faster and longer. It learns you are a friendly host. It manifests itself instead of hiding from your tyrannical presence, intruding on your daily routines, accommodations, domestications.

The unconscious is very much akin to what, in other frameworks, I call WILDERNESS. And it’s very much like the wilderness in that its beasts are not within our control. It resists the forms, the limits, the restraints that civilization itself imposes. I’ve always felt, even as a child, that there was the decorum of the social structure, the family structure, and so forth, and then there was the wild permissiveness of the inner life. I learned I could go anywhere in my inner life.

--The poem, by its very nature, holds the possibility of revelation, and revelation doesn’t come easy. You have to fight for it. There is that moment when you suddenly open a door and enter into the room of the unspeakable. Then you know you’re really speaking.

After you’ve written a poem and you feel you’ve said something that was previously unspeakable, there’s a tremendous sense of being blessed.

--The mystery of the creative process is that the poem is there but NOT there within you, accumulating experience, accumulating images. It needs to be released, but sometimes there are barriers. The poem incites fear; you are coming into truth in the writing of the opem, you are hesitant to explore unfamiliar areas.

You cannot know completely what your obligation is in writing the poem. The primary responsibility is to speak the true word and to distill the complexity of sensitivity that enters into any human experience.

--In a sense, all creativity is a process of giving meaning to what is on a universal scale meaningless. The plant and the poet and the gardener collect these disparate, disorganized raindrops, sun rays, passing birds, and make something formal.

Creativity gives form to what in nature is ambiguous, suggestive. Language wasn’t there at the beginning. It was created after people had gone through all sorts of experiences and needed to become expressive in order to give meaning to the life.

As an artist, you are a representative human being—you have to believe that in order to give your life over to that effort to create something of value. You’re not doing it only to satisfy your open impulses or needs; there is a social imperative. If you solve your problems and speak of them truly, you are of help to others, that’s all. And it becomes a moral obligation.

--A poet without a strong libido almost inevitably belongs to the weaker category; such a poet can carry off a technical effect with a degree of flourish, but the poem does not embody the dominant emotive element in the life process. The poem has to be saturated with impulse and that means getting down to the very tissue of experience. How can this element be absent from poetry without thinning out the poem?

--Feeling is far more important [than reason] in the making of the poem. And the language itself has to be a sensuous instrument; it cannot be a completely rational one. In rhythm and sound, for example, language has the capacity to transcend reason; it’s all like erotic play.

That’s the nature of aesthetic impulse, aesthetic receptivity. Whether you’re walking through the garden or reading a poem, there’s a sense of fulfillment. You’ve gone through a complete chain of experience, changing and communicating with each step and with each line so that you are linked with the phenomenon of time itself. The erotic impulse is so basic to human experience that we can never be free from it, even in old age.


Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
"Light splashed . . ."

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Building 1/8 of a Yatsuhashi Bridge (Or, Ode to Dad)

It was either spend $150 on a rain barrel that'd probably fill up in one of our deluges, or, more economically (and with some style points), build a dry stream for the gutter on the east side of the house with a small scale bridge (the garden ain't that big anyway, so it's about proportion--hear that mulch volcano and white rock everywhere dip-wad neighbors?).

Yatsuhashi is a Japanese bridge, uh, system. It's composed of eight spans over a pond or stream or marsh or clump of dead bodies. The point is to make each span go off in a suddenly new direction, thus forcing the gardenee to stop, pause, and reflect more about their surroundings (or fall off and die). In addition, the Japanese believe evil spirits walk only in straight lines, so, this will help you lose them in the tranquility of the natural space. A bridge, in general, is also a symbol of moving from one world to another. Makes sense.

A yatsuhashi is very simple, too--some are simply planks thrown across each other like fallen dominos. Most look sorta like my mini 1/8 version, below, which, yes, doesn't make you walk in a new direction, but it LOOKS like a yatsuhashi, sorta. Plus, we got about 3/4" of rain this morning, and the stream worked.

Yatsuhashi is also a Japanese dessert of some sort. My bridge does not look like the dessert.

So, for father's day, a brief tribute to the man who helped me, sort of, overcome my fear of saws, nails, hammers, construction sites....

My dad was a home builder once upon a time, helped his dad do the same growing up, moved to MN and started his own business and built some kick ass houses. We kids always got to go along, at $5 an hour--a bribe so he had company, because the work itself was difficult at 13: we picked up buried lumber scraps and disintegrating cardboard in muddy yards, scraped floors smooth after the walls were taped and sanded, put paper on wood floors to protect them, spread hay on dirt basement floors in January to keep them thawed out (and get a nose full of nasty grime with frost bit fingers), cleaned finished houses top to bottom, et cetera. I also hated all the noise when the crews were there, especially framers with their nail guns and air compressors, cords to trip on, chasms to fall in to.... Good times. And in a way, they really were.

Anyway, I used to NOT be able to hit a nail worth a darn. Certainly not on the head, MOST CERTAINLY not straight. And saws. I once used a table saw to help my dad build stairs from our house down to the lake--all I had to do was cut about 5 billion spindles for the railing at the same length. Still, scared the crap out of me. And using the Skil saw--whoa. Not pretty.

So, I went to HD, bought wood and nails, measured and sawed said wood, hammered said nails beautifully true, and made me a little said craft project (ain't a house, or set of stairs). Said.

I felt like a man, briefly, not an emotional whiney grad student artist writer temperamental prissy plaid-wearing suede jacket touting English teacher flake. I tore chest hair from my flesh. I ate it. I sniffed my sweat and became engorged with my man spirit. I beat drums and chanted strange, deep, gutteral sounds late in to the night competing with the neighbor's peacock. Or, I took a shower because I smelled like Arby's.

My mom got me to overcome my aversion to dirt--and celebrate dirt--my dad my aversion to real work; but neither have taught me to avert praising myself for tiny things over many paragraphs. Who else will, though?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Big Stone Sculpture Garden and Mini Golf

I haven't in years, but I do so enjoy mini golf (and sculpture). So, dude, check this out, yo:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Funnels, 5" of Rain, Cherry Pie

Wednesdays are tornado day in Nebraska; two weeks in a row now. Wife and I (and cats) spent 2 hours in the basement last night, as our Mrs. Smith's cherry pie grew tepid upstairs. The cold front moved ever so slowly, allowing three confirmed funnel clouds to slide overhead, one only minutes later a confirmed tornado just NE of Lincoln. But it never got really bad here.

The real story is the rain at Insert Name Here Gardens. Nearly 5" in my rain gauge. 4.5 of that fell in about one hour last night between about 6:45 and 7:45. HOLY CRAP I say.

All this rain is going to force me to build a small dry stream across the japanese garden, in front of a down spout, and build a small bridge over said stream (very small). Yes, sure I'll enjoy this process, but I also can't have so much mulch floating away. Plus, once I do this, I hope to be able to plant a greater diversity of stuff on the east side. As for the main garden, 1/4 of it is now officially a bog garden.

Roger dodger.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sick / Slow Trees? And Where Am I???

Checking in. It's been a heckuva last three weeks. I have no concept of place, time, or dimension.

Drove 7 hours to Minnesota. Next day flew (through O'Hare) to Ohio for a few days. Flew back to MN then drove home to Nebraska with sick wife, on her birthday. We had a party in the car on I-35. But, hey, this was the first time in YEARS we had no delays or problems flying--a rare thing in the age of airlines mothballing staff and planes and overloading the entire infrastructure.

While in MN saw my youngest younger sister graduate from high school. I am anxious to see who she'll be on the flip side of college, in Wisconsin, in Green Bay (grrrr Packers). She's also a pretty decent softball catcher, though her schedule conflicts with my school year so I never see her play.

While in MN my mom and I hit four nurseries, and I was treated quite well by her checkbook. Had a great time, of course, even though it was 45 with a windchill when we started in the morning. The nurseries in the Twin Cities are far better, for good reason I suppose--just not as much selection in small Lincoln. A plant list may be forthcoming.

So, after two weeks gone (and now one with a head cold, courtesy of my lovely wife) the garden exploded, as it should in late may. What DID NOT EXPLODE were:

--Morning glory seeds. WTF.
--Tiger Eyes Sumac (apparently dead as I see no green underneath the bark)
--Bloodgood Japanese Maple (four leaves at the base of the trunk, upper twigs snap off easily)
--Clump and single River Birches (ANEMIC growth after late summer plantings of all these trees--the birches have growth mainly along the trunk about halfway up, oh, but not the clump, it's much worse. All the twiggy branches are still pliable, though. HELLLLPPPP!!!!!!!).

I'm very upset about these trees. I've read fertilizer in the first year, like Urea, ain't a good idea. I'm upset about the maple--got it for $50 on clearance, and the whole Japanese garden ain't very Japanesey without it. I guess I'll yank it out. The maple and clump birch provide key vertical accents, and the single trunk birch privacy from the deck next door. PISSED.

So, on Wednesday this last week my wife went to central NE for a one day conference. While in the hotel at about 1am the tornado sirens went off. She ended up getting a free room as there was water coming in through the light fixtures (she was on the top floor). Someone else had a stop sign and post, I think she said, come through their window, and the elevators were flooded. She did get a free room! Back in Lincoln, I had the cats in the basement bathroom riding out my own tornado warning, but didn't see much action, just tons of lightening and low clouds.

Speaking of weather, nearly 8" of rain in the last three weeks. I have plants ROTTING and dying back--caryopteris, some siberian iris (ummm, why iris?), and growth of the dry loving plants is a bit slower. Don't get me started about the lawn. I came back to 18" tall seed heads.

Well, I have two months to write a dissertation, so after I shake this cold, do some planting, this week IT begins. I've got many ideas, and much research to look over and get reacquainted with. After such a long break from writing, it may take me 1-2 weeks to get anything pumping again and a rhythm going. Better stop talking about it. Have some flowers.