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1000 Black Lines

:: digital coffee stains on the paper of the blogosphere ::

Ezra Pound

Today marks the birthday of one of America's greatest poets, Ezra Pound. His two most notable works include a poem which launched a movement ("In a Station of the Metro") called Imagist poetry and the other a life long achievement (The Cantos). Not only did he contribute to the world's literature with his writings, he also financially and critically funded several emerging writers including James Joyce, Robert Frost, and T.S. Eliot.

Writing Class Recovery

The writing class updates vanished for couple weeks because I got my Wanter hurt. One of the class assignments was to offer an idea for a book proposal. I did a bit of research and discovered that my idea had not been covered. After sharing it with the class I was discouraged for two reasons. The first reason was because everyone had his or her own ideas of how it should be developed. The second (and more objective) reason was from the only person who didn't have an opinion for my book. She simply stated that it would be better for a magazine feature or something of a serialized nature.

As stated earlier, I was hurt. But not the way it's portrayed in the movies where the dejected writer drowns his/her sorrows in liquor. It hurt momentarily as if I had walked into a glass patio door not realizing it was closed. After laughing at myself for clumsily thinking I could write a book with the story I had researched, I was surprised at the possibilities of this wonderful rejection. The story couldn't sustain the reader for the length of a book, but could provide a good feature length magazine story. Now all I have to do is finish the story by this weekend.

Pablo Picasso

Today is the birthday of Pablo Picasso. Without a doubt, he is probably one of the art world's most recognized names. He said, "My mother told me 'If you become a soldier you'll be a general. If you become a monk you'll end up as the pope.' Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso." Interestingly, the abstract painting style is mistakenly attributed to him. He never painted abstractly. Picasso explored form and style as in the cubist movement, but none of his work could be considered abstract art. The American painter Jackson Pollock popularized abstract expressionism.

In a way, Picasso could have been a great graphic designer. "The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place; from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web." That's key to being a designer--ideas placed on the back burner of the brain eventually become the main course. An old matchbox's typographical design sparks an idea that later becomes a music event poster. An old pulp western novel book cover becomes a marketing brand for a new book of poetry. A thumbnail sketch becomes an illustrated national advertisement. Just think of what Picasso could have done with a Mac design station.

Puppy's Memorial

The family poodle expired yesterday.

Once is enough. Once is enough
to say goodbye on earth.
And to grieve, that too, of course.
Once is enough to say goodbye forever.

-"Lament" by Louise Glück

The former Poet Laureate may not have intended her poem to eulogize a dog, but the occasion presented itself and hasta la vista were the only words muttered as I walked away from the freshly covered grave. Maybe we'll meet again. I'm not sure.

"To say goodbye forever" conflicts with some people's theology. Some would suggest the Puppy's (family nickname for a 12-year old miniature poodle, affectionately dubbed "Poley" by family friends) spirit will guard the land where he is buried. He wasn't much of a guard dog in life. I can only imagine him being more of a Wal-mart greeter than a guard dog. I thought of burning incense over the dog's grave and watch the smoke curl up into the heavens. I thought of performing the burial at sunset to "go gentle into that good night." I thought of many formal ways to bury a family pet. But the simplest goodbye was two gravediggers, my friend and I.

We dug a burial site in the dark of night by the glaring eye of a Mag-Lite, placed the canine corpse in the pit with his head facing northwest (to the place were he was birthed) and then I covered the stiff, fuzzy relic with sand and dirt and stone. ¿Dónde está Puppy? Behind the rose bush near a crooked yellow barn. Puppy didn't seem like a religious dog. To my knowledge he never attended a church, synagogue or mosque. So, I didn’t offer a prayer or poem. I just muttered hasta la vista and went to my friend's home for supper where both families awaited our return from the ritual of burying a family pet.

Jack Kerouac

October 20th marks the 35th anniversary of the death of iconic American writer, Jack Kerouac. He did to literature what Kurt Cobain did to rock and roll. Maybe not the best American writer, Uncle Jack was truly an influential voice and a touchstone of his generation. Today, any coffee shop of reputation (which excludes most corporate chains) harbors the beatnik wannabes and counter culture fringe that read Kerouac's texts as the Sacred Books. Beatnik road trips became a desperate soul's pilgrimage into the spiritual significance of On the Road, The Dharma Bums and Big Sur. The myth is still believed as new converts abandon family and community and toss commitment to the four winds in pursuit of the deified vagrant way of living. Interestingly, Kerouac's novels discuss the transient lifestyle though he did not entirely endorse those thoughts. At one point in his life he declared, "I'm not a beatnik, I'm a Catholic." Did he unintentional spark a cultural revolution? Or was Kerouac an artist reflecting the culture around him and reporting/commenting on it via fiction?

"It is not my fault that certain so-called bohemian elements have found in my writings something to hang their peculiar beatnik theories on," Kerouac stated. Ideas have consequence--even in fiction. Once a pistol is discharged you can't stop the results of the bullet. Michael Woodring addresses this reality in regards to Anton Chekov by writing “In every child, there is something of the parent.”

Maybe traveling was a way of Kerouac escaping the loss of his older brother, a traumatic childhood event that haunted the rest of his life. Maybe his cross-continental journeys were an effort to bury East coast horrors in a West coast ocean. Maybe he was whom he hung around with--in essence, you live with the lame, you learn to limp. Maybe his writings were too personal for publication that once the masses consumed his words they stole his soul and left him empty. "Write in recollection and amazement for yourself,” he said.

The writing life can be a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Two-time Pulitzer prize winner, Jon Franklin, writes of his “love for words” and quickly follows with “respect for their power.” Sometimes a soldier’s life seems safer. A bullet wound can pierce the flesh, cause devastating pain and potentially destroy the body. But a bad idea slowly poisons one's life and robs a soul. For all who write or hope to write, your words will be worshipped either intentionally or unintentionally. Chose your words wisely.

October Comic


Read the rest of October (section I), by Louise Glück on The Academy of American Poets website.

Malaprop's Music/ Poetry Gig Meditations


It's a rare Friday night when I can find a parking spot within a block of Malaprop's, but tonight there was a parking space available in front of the bookstore/cafe. The drum circle occupying Pritchard Park could be heard two blocks away as I entered the store to verify the show time. Later, the drumming souls would triple in size and volume and invite the fire dancers to contribute to the urban tribe.

The sun had not set yet and the autumn twilight air was cool and comfortable. I waited outside for Philip, a friend and fellow performer, who would be supplying the sound equipment for tonight's event. I hadn't eaten since lunch and the Malaprop's cafe was closed because an author was reading excerpts from his book. Twenty minutes later the shadows from the building opposite the bookstore engulfed the street and cars began to turn on their headlamps.

I was a little frazzled because I had been asked to emcee the event, which makes me a bit nervous. Focusing on reading/performing poetry is one thing, but adding the responsibility of emceeing a show is an added dimension. A common misconception is that an emcee just announces who's up next. There's more to it than that. An emcee helps coordinate artists with venue management about restroom facilities, store policy concerning discount for performing artists at the cafe, technical sound equipment needs, time slots and in general making the artist feel at home in a foreign place. So, I had a lot on my mind this evening.

Shortly before 8PM I found myself placing mic stands in the cafe and discussing time slots with Vanessa Boyd, a mild-mannered musician with the hint of Texas in her laconic communication. After the author and his fans dispersed, Philip and I began setting up the speakers and microphones. Vanessa was off to the side tuning her guitar as I casually sought information from her, which I planned to use to introduce her. She had traveled from Tennessee to perform and had brought her friend Steve. He was equally laconic, like her silent guardian. The set-up of sound equipment took maybe ten minutes. To my surprise, Vanessa finished her preparations, plugged in, slouched into a cafe chair before a microphone, played a few chords and announced herself relieving me of the burden of introductions.

For the first time that evening I was able to grab a cup of organic coffee, find a stool at the cafe bar and prepare myself for the read. I had almost forgot that two friends had joined me to perform along side my poetry performance. A prose piece (thanks Joy) was recently added to the Late Night Poetry portion of my performance. I quickly fished out the performance script and handed it to Julie who would be reading one poem and singing two other poems. Philip would play the performance soundtrack on acoustic guitar and I had to give him instructions on when to start the musical soundscape.

Wearing an earth-tone wardrobe and playing Americana/folk-style songs, Vanessa Boyd provided me almost twenty minutes of uninterrupted meditation with her rich, strong vocals. Wavy chestnut hair pulled back in a ponytail, she sat on a chair hunched over her red acoustic guitar, hazel-green eyes searching the modest assembly, as she sang songs from her many travels.

The show organizer showed up about half way through her set. He had just come off a 14-hour bus trip from Baltimore and hadn't been expected to be present. We chatted a bit about his trip and a few other topics until 9PM when Vanessa concluded her set.

Double-checking my notes and poem folder, I approached the "stage." I placed the music stand near the microphone stand and began my introduction including thanks to Vanessa, Malaprop's and The Traveling Bonfires (who organized the event). The mic stand was competing with the music stand and I held the mic as I read a Billy Collins poems to get things started. I continued to hold the mic as I read through my solo set including a poem by Keith Flynn, a collection of poems from my forth coming project, a pseudo-political piece (with apologies to Uncle Walt) and prose piece by another writer which acted as transition to group performance.

The group piece featured Julie singing three selections (including one she wrote) and reading one and Philip playing his haunting theme as I read through a half dozen poems from Late Night Writing. It continues to amaze me how supportive they are of my work. I often look at the words I have written and wonder if anyone is touched by these poems. Sometimes I helplessly observe someone moved to tears at words I've written and wonder why those lyrics don't move me the same way.

Now I am home in a forest guarded by red cardinals and black salamanders and I am eating chicken, drinking chai tea latte (rooibos tea with honey vanilla & spices), burning incense (sage and smoke) and wondering what lines and poems these hands will transcribe.

Writing Class

Tonight was the fourth class on narrative nonfiction taught by Neal Thompson. Most of the class was spent listening to each other read the assignment of the week and then offering constructive comments, praise and/or critique. I am amazed how well written my classmates are. At times I feel completely out of my element, and other times I feel the warm brotherhood of creative souls playing with letters and words. Below is the story I read:

Assignment #2
Mary’s two-year-old son dressed in a red thermal sleeper watches Caillou (a PBS Kids DVD) on a frost colored iMac in the small kitchen where she folds laundry. She had moved to the western mountains of North Carolina three years ago with her husband. Now, she stands near an old wood table covered with a fall themed vinyl tablecloth from Wal-mart, three months pregnant with her second child and living in a city much different than the metropolis of her childhood.

The first eighteen years of Mary’s life were spent along the Potomac roads that lead in and out of the nation’s capital city. She confesses that stores were more convenient and opened later in the District of Columbia, but inhaling exhaust from surrounding automobiles while waiting an hour during rush hour no longer appeals to her. As a school-aged girl, she would travel an hour to school in the morning and repeat the same trek in the evening. She learned to eat on the go to keep up with the fast-paced lifestyle and estimates a quarter of her day was spent commuting along the belt way. Returning to that life would be too overwhelming she comments as she leans over the washing machine.

She appears content in her home with three different styles of chairs surrounding the table beneath the kitchen window. Though her family remains in the D.C. area, she has no desire to return. Besides, living in the general area of her family doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll see them more. While she lived near her family, doing laundry at her brother’s home and scheduling holiday festivities was the only time the family would congregate. Now, she folds laundry in her own home and visits family during the holidays. In the background, Caillou wishes he could grow taller.

It’s “much nicer to introduce someone to the mountains,” she says, than to the hectic world of Washington D.C. Mary refers to both inviting her family and friends to North Carolina as well as introducing children to a world without one-hour commutes. Sure, it takes two hours to drive to Charlotte and Knoxville and an hour to Greenville, but the view is spectacular. She does miss the cultural diversity of her hometown. Not just the cultural difference of big city versus small town U.S.A., but friendships she enjoyed crossing economic, racial, and international boundaries. Yet, it is not the environment she desires to raise her children. From the iMac situated on the countertop in the corner of the kitchen can be heard the final song from the DVD, “I’m growing, growing... everyday I’m learning.”

Class comments were as follows:
- displaced person theme works well
- immediate empathy with the person
- more contrast between D.C. and Asheville
- weaving the Cailluo video through the story seemed to work well
- introduce the two cities sooner
- nice details
- not getting a grasp on her person, “couldn’t see her”
- “very visual”
- “painting a picture”
- How do you know she’s 3 months pregnant? Is she showing?
- motherhood aspect very interesting
- what is she doing to cope with the displacement issue?
- is there a sense of loss?

Three ways to discover a story

Writing class on three ways to discover a story:
1) Personal experience--Last Man Down
2) Third-party sources--Black Hawk Down
3) Research written/published accounts--The Rape of Nanking

Categorizing Books

As a class assignment, I am reading Peter Rubie’s Telling the Story. On page 19, the book presents this definition of publishing genres: "The development of genres came about as a marketing necessity. 'Category' and 'genre' are marketing terms... Their purpose is basically to help you more easily find what it is you're looking for." Telling the Story then goes on to list seven narrative nonfiction categories: Adventure, Travel Books, Biography, History, Military, Memoir and True Crimes. My book idea overlaps a couple of those categories. Keep in mind that narrative, by it's nature, can break genre barriers. Take for instance Black Hawk Down,--adventure, history and military.

Visual Vocabulary

Regarding a posting on Aesthesis entitled "Concrete Collage" I got to thinking about the vital communication between the art-maker and art-viewer. You might want to read the posting before continuing.
==========

My question to the posting was how it applies to non-objective art (for non-artistic readers, non-objective art is generically referred to as abstract or expressionism. Objective art is typically art with a discernable "object" like a lighthouse landscape, floral still-life or portrait)?
Would the visual vocabulary include concrete colors or patterns in place of concrete images? In trying to avoid expected comments to my paintings (i.e. "looks like someone's kid spewed and they framed it" or "still can't color inside the lines, huh?") Currently, I moved to an objective painting format (stylized landscapes with heavy thematic colors) to create what I had been doing with composition and color non-objectively.

Aesthesis's author replied:
"You nailed it. Colors themselves are concrete on a certain level. People have all experienced red and specific reds can be concrete images of something. Pattern too could be concrete. The difficulty though with color or pattern is that they may not be concrete enough to spark an immediate response.
"I have moved away from completely non-objective art in the past couple of years because I didn’t feel like people could really connect with the colors and shapes I had been using. They instead connected with the abstract as abstract art and so never bothered to think any deeper than that level. I love the abstract and my compositions are still abstract but I feel like if an artist wants to connect with their audience in a non decorative way they have to find some connection with the concrete world that their audience lives in."

==========

One step in sparking "an immediate response" is taking objective material (in my case a simple landscape of five trees on a hilltop) and reducing it to a simplistic suggestion without loosing the objects essence. For me, that was taking a landscape and dividing the heavens from the earth and then adding five lollipop trees as compositional elements. My goal was to present a visual lyricism to the painting--similiar to a hiaku (hence my use of five trees representing five syllables).

Steven Heller, Graphic Design Superstar

For those of you who are not familiar with graphic design and those who practice graphic design, allow me to introduce you to one of the most prolific writers of graphic design, Steven Heller. According to his publisher's bio, "he has been senior art director of the New York Times" since 1986. And that is a very short list of his many credentials in the field of graphic design.

As one who practices graphic design, it is a topic that is very close to me (not to mention it pays the bills). Naturally, I am interested in the writings and wisdom of Steven Heller. Equally, I am interested in writing about topics I am passionate about. So, as I was reading Telling the Story, by Peter Rubie, the following quote arrested my attention: "Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist James B. Stewart says: 'Curiosity is the great quality that binds writers to readers'." Okay, so what's interesting to me, as a reader/writer, doesn't means it interests you.

"The fact that graphic designers have great skills," stated Steven Heller in an interview with Elizabeth Resnick (New York City, December 27, 1999) "and can mechanically put together a page and make it look good, is not enough, it's not enough to keep one interested. Certainly it is not enough to keep me interested. So I figured if I'm bored by graphic design, many, many other people are trapped. The designer as author,... involves using the basic language as a means of developing content.... for lack of a better term 'providing content' is what I call it."

"Providing content?" Hm, I'm not sure my boss will go for changing my business cards from "graphic designer" to "provider of content" (though I dare say it's more accurate). The fact remains, the title "graphic design" doesn't always define job responsibility. Most creative departments don't have the proper resources to hire a copy-writer, photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, art director, media buyer and project manager.

"Talented designers are predisposed to create good-looking work," Steven Heller said in an interview with DT&G Magazine concerning his book Citizen Designer "We are taught to marry type and image into pleasing and effective compositions that attract the eye and excite the senses. Do this well, we're told, and good jobs are plentiful; do it poorly and we'll produce junk mail for the rest of our lives."

To avoid junk mail purgatory, a graphic designer has to wear several hats to "provide content." Obviously, I slipped into Dante's "Design" Comedy because I spend most of my time producing direct mail collateral. According to Mr. Heller, if I am designing "junk mail" it is because I design "poorly." As far as a career path goes, he's correct. As far as poor design, direct mail packages are openned because they are successfully designed. The copy and images on a piece of "junk mail" trigger a response and the individual opens their mail. Admittedly, there is a lot of direct mail in circulation that is poorly designed and should be dubbed "junk mail."

Note to self: finish reading Telling the Story and find another job.