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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In the margins



"...and on the gem-like sparkling of dust

in the slide of light that entrusts itself to my vision. ..."

From "Poem With Wisteria Growing Along its Margin" by Gerry LaFemina

Monday, October 29, 2007

Inky wind



"...the wind's numerous hands
in the orchard unfastening
first the petals from the buds,
then the perfume from the flesh..."

From "Black Petal" by Li-Young Lee

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A familiar anxiety

My stray

Unpredictable fear, cringing then snapping, dogs me. I
hear it hiding beneath my house, whining its low keening
whimper every night, a scabrous thing in the dark. It won’t
leave me, bristles and begs attention a body-length away
lest I touch it. Poor sooty beast, how long can I sit with you,
careful not to meet your eyes when you’re tugged close
by hunger, jerked back by random noise and nightmare?
Lifetimes, perhaps, till you'll let me clean that wound.

It was, and is



"...If you stare at them words
are faces..."

From "In the Beginning" by Anne Pierson Wiese

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In the costume shop



From "What He Thought" by Heather McHugh

"...poured in waves, through
all things: all things
move. ..."

*****

The Massive Event is a wrap, and seems to have been a success. I feel ironed flat, but am glad to have emerged on the other side. Of course more work awaits. But some lagniappe poured in through all things is here, too.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

All wound up



"I didn't expect to escape. ..."

From "Outliving the Lyric Moment" by Leslie Adrienne Miller

*****

Deadlines. Managing a conference that starts this weekend, doing schoolwork, and...the air conditioner is broken. And my preference is for cool. And the weather forecast is 88 F tomorrow.

Can't sleep, so may have to pack myself in ice to rest.
All. Wound. Up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pot-Paper

I'm approaching the confluence of a few deadlines, and so posting will be erratic until next Thursday.

That said, I've finished my art analysis project, or as Marly called it, my Pot-Paper.

For those who really, really want to read it, please click on the new little three-dash symbols below, right above the "posted by" info. My apologies for the MLA style formatting, and my imperfect translation of such into blog style.

And for those who want to see another picture, no worries, one will be coming soon!



An Opening, Centered: Art Analysis of a Pot by Alice Cling

“What is culture? [It is] the development of attention,” wrote Simone Weil (Bell 117). By concentrating our attention, our surrounding culture acts much like a reverse prism, focusing our otherwise multifaceted experience of time into a bright but narrow light. How does time shed a metaphoric light on beauty? When a person from one culture finds creations from another’s culture beautiful, what happens to the viewer’s experience of time? This art analysis explores the possibilities for understanding created by a focus on one facet of beauty—hózhó, an essential part of Diné (Navajo) culture (Reichard 195-96)—through attention paid to one object, a pot made by contemporary Diné potter Alice Cling, in the context of our course focus, time.

First, I would like to address the initial challenge posed by this analysis, the challenge of selecting a subject. I limited my scope to contemporary ceramics because of the “timely” paradox that this medium embodies—ancient skills made new in living hands, work that despite its fragility will likely carry meaning far past our civilization’s end and further into the future than other, newer art and technologies (Kuzmin 364-69). Using that most contemporary of tools, Google, I searched for images that were resonant with the topic and my sensibilities and found an artist whose work I had never seen before. Featured in the Purdue University website, “Women Artists of the American West” (Peterson), the pottery of Alice Cling was new to me. When I saw the pot in Figure 1, its beauty stopped me; my search for an object of attention ended, and my search for understanding began.



Fig. 1. Pot by Alice Cling. Photograph by Sally Martinez. From Susan Peterson, Pottery by American Indian Women: The Legacy of Generations. 1997. 07 Oct. 2007 .

In order to understand this object in relation to our course focus, time, and to better understand what moved me about the object, I found it necessary to delve into the language of beauty and into Diné culture. Crispin Sartwell’s marvelous little book, Six Names of Beauty (Sartwell), explores the variety of meaning carried by six different terms from six different cultures—Beauty, Yapha, Sundara, To Kalon, Wabi-Sabi, and Hózhó. In his chapter on the concept of hózhó, Sartwell contrasts and connects Western European ideas of beauty with those of the Diné culture. He writes:

In my view, [the Navajo] integration of values and activities is simply an expression of the universal fact that human beings are connected to environments and to each other: it makes explicit an integrated system no one can evade. That is, hózhó is a Navajo concept, but a cross-cultural truth. The arts of “the West” are as much a reflection of our culture and as much a utilization of environmental materials as anybody’s, and they change the world as much or more as well. Hózhó has many things to teach, but it teaches first that beauty is one thing: everything. (Sartwell 136)

As with the other names of beauty, Sartwell’s point of view and his desire for understanding becomes the clay he shapes into a bridge between cultures, in this case extending the concept of hózhó beyond its Diné center.

According to Sartwell, “Beauty is the string of connection between a finite creature and a time-bound world” (Sartwell 109). His time-infused connection illuminates some of the difference between beauty and hózhó. Hózhó can be approximately defined as wholeness, balance, health, robustness, and beauty (Reichard 195-96). Hózhó is not time-bound; the etymological root of “beauty” contains allusions to both desire and loss by implying a connection to a specific person (D. Harper), whereas the root of “hózhó” conveys an ongoing, cycling, and universal present time:

...when one says nizhoni he means ‘it (something specific) is nice, pretty, good’, whereas hozohni means that everything in the environment is nice, beautiful, and good. As a verbal prefix, ho refers to (1) the general as opposed to the specific; (2) the whole as opposed to the part; (3) the abstract as opposed to the concrete; (4) the indefinite as opposed to the definite; and (5) the infinite as opposed to the finite (Witherspoon, 1974:53-54). (Witherspoon 24)

I find it interesting that the phoneme ho, which transforms the content of this Diné word from the particular to the expansive, is an outbound puff of breath, one of the most basic of biological metronomes as well as the out-breath of song at the heart of Diné creation stories (Navajo Cosmogony and Worldview).

Alice Cling’s pot reminds me of the expansive quality of the phoneme ho by exemplifying hózhó explicitly and implicitly in the following ways. In Diné tradition, the process of making an object reflects the state of hózhó of its creator, and that state is conveyed to the viewer or user of the object (Witherspoon 151), so my experience of feeling stilled and centered by the pot’s simple beauty validates its being hózhó. There are physical qualities of hózhó in the pot that support my experience as well; the dark blush of smoke and soot from the firing, called fireclouds (Alan Jim) by Diné potters; the slightly asymmetrical shape of the pot, as if it were alive and shifting under the potter’s hands and our gaze; the narrow foot (base) evoking the pointed feet of ancestral utilitarian pottery (Hibben 200); and the active, curved form bearing echoes of Bik'eh Hózhó (Witherspoon, Peterson, and Lang 10). Attention given to this pot is rewarded in a way that honors both viewer and creator, bringing them together and further confirming it is hózhó.

How does all this inform our understanding of time? Although hózhó may be a concept with less meaning tied to concepts of past and future than the ongoing present, the implicit attributes of the pot extend hózhó into deep time. This pot connects at least three generations of Diné women—Alice Cling, working a new approach to what had been a utilitarian tradition; her mother, Rose Williams (Indian Pottery History), and her aunt, Grace Barlow; and her children (Twin Rocks Trading Post). Through this pot and others like it, Ms. Cling provides for the future of her family, both by sharing the craft and by creating a wider audience of buyers. The clay dug out from her family’s land was likely formed 500,000+ years in the past, providing a more-than-metaphoric ground upon which the present-day Diné draw creative energy from their ancestors’ lands, the Diné’tah (Karlstrom). The wood gathered for the smoky kiln-fire had its own timeline embedded in rings as round as the pot; and the pine sap sealant, applied by hand and burnished, connects the pot’s surface, the skin through which it connects to the viewer’s present moment, to the craft tradition of an ancestral time.

This deep time resonance, and the corresponding inner stillness, is missing for me in other contemporary ceramists’ work. In my experience with works by well-known artists like Bob Arneson (Robert Arneson’s Eggheads) or Katsumata Chieko (J. Mirviss), there is something lacking. Close attention paid to their work did not alter my perception of time’s passage. In contrast, the experience I had when I first saw Alice Cling’s pot recalled my perception of time during meditative practice. The surrounding air stilled. Time slowed, blurred, and seemed to stop. Works such as Arneson’s visual puns, Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Beckett’s jars in Play, and even this analysis, show us that a pot can overflow with language and meaning. Ms. Cling’s creation emptied me of chatter. Alice Cling’s pot is an opening, centered; the work’s beauty shed a quiet light on time.

Through focused attention over time that echoes the cycling present of hózhó, I found that simply looking closely at this pot changed my experience of time’s flow. By being open to different kinds of beauty, I found beauty does not always contain a foreshadowing of its own end, but sometimes reflects a cycle of recreation and renewal. In some cases, in some cultures, if the work is beautiful, it is because the creator and the act of creation are beautiful, whole, centered, and harmonious; and because the universe itself is beautiful, hózhó.

Works Cited
ArtsWork - The Philosophy of Navajo Pottery Making. 2002. ArtsWork. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Bell, Richard H. Simone Weil : The Way of Justice As Compassion. Ebook ed. Lanham, MD: Lanham Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. 6 Oct. 2007 .
Danisch, Jim. 2006 "Wave" Installation by Jim Danisch. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Hibben, Frank C. "The Pottery of the Gallina Complex." American Antiquity 14 (1949): 194-202.
Indian Pottery History. 2007. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Karlstrom, Eric T. "Late Quaternary Landscape History and Geoarchaeology of Two Drainages on Black Mesa, Northeastern Arizona, USA ." Geoarchaeology 20.1 (2004): 1-28. 12 Oct. 2007 < http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/109860189/ABSTRACT?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0>.
Katsumata Cheiko Biography. Joan B. Mirviss. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Kuzmin, Yaroslav V. "Chronology of the Earliest Pottery in East Asia: Progress and Pitfalls." Antiquity 80.308 (2006): 362-71.
Navajo Cosmogony and Worldview. 2003. Mesa Community College Anthropology. 16 Oct. 2007 .
Online Etymology Dictionary. 2007. http://www.etymonline.com/sources.php. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Peterson, Susan. Pottery by American Indian Women: The Legacy of Generations. 1997. 07 Oct. 2007 .
Reichard, Gladys A. "Language and Cultural Pattern." American Anthropologist 52.2 (1950): 195-96.
Robert Arneson's Eggheads. UC Davis. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Sartwell, Crispin. Six Names of Beauty. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Twin Rocks Trading Post. Navajo Pottery. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Witherspoon, Gary. Language and Art in the Navajo Universe. Ann Arbor, MI: The U of Michigan P, 1977.
Witherspoon, Gary, Glen Peterson, and Peter Lang. Dynamic Symmetry and Holistic Asymmetry in Navajo and Western Art and Cosmology. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1995.

News



"...A boy walking across the ball field
an hour after the game – we’re covering that silence.
We have reporters working hard, we’re getting
to the bottom of all of it."

From "And This Just In" by David Tucker

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Passenger



"...I'm on a train, rocking toward the cemetery
To visit the dead who now
Breathe through the grass, through me..."

From "Who Will Know Us?" by Gary Soto

Monday, October 15, 2007

Riveted



"...Riveting the lattice of a skyline
Or walking the I beams of infinite rooms..."

From "Last Century" by Wyatt Prunty

*****

First interview for a New Book of Hours is done, and a delightful chat it was. More to come...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

X-ing



"...if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. ..."

From "One Train May Hide Another" by Kenneth Koch

*****

And another crossing diversion.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

School daze

Some of how I'm spending my evenings: an excerpt from my art analysis in progress on this pot.

Oh, and I have my first face-to-face interview for the New Book of Hours project set this weekend.

*****

An Opening, Centered: Art Analysis of a Pot by Alice Cling

“What is culture? [It is] the development of attention,” wrote Simone Weil. (Bell 117; ch. 6) By concentrating our attention, our surrounding culture acts much like a reverse prism, focusing our otherwise multifaceted experience of time into a bright but narrow light. How does time shed a metaphoric light on beauty? When a person from one culture finds creations from another’s culture beautiful, what happens to the viewer’s experience of time? This art analysis explores the possibilities for understanding created by a focus on one facet of beauty—hózhó, an essential part of Diné (Navajo) culture (Reichard 195-96)—through attention paid to one object, a pot made by contemporary Diné potter Alice Cling, in the context of our course focus, time.

First, I would like to address the initial challenge posed by this analysis, the challenge of selecting a subject. I limited my scope to contemporary ceramics because of the “timely” paradox that this medium embodies—ancient skills made new in living hands, work that despite its fragility will likely carry meaning far past our civilization’s end and further into the future (Kuzmin 364-69) than other, newer art and technologies. Using that most contemporary of tools, Google, I searched for images that were resonant with the topic and my sensibilities, and found an artist whose work I had never seen before. Featured in the Purdue University website, “Women Artists of the American West” (Peterson), the pottery of Alice Cling was new to me. When I saw the pot in Figure 1, its beauty stopped me; my search for an object of attention ended, and my search for understanding began.

*****

Back to our regular programming, soon!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Get in



"...Neither he nor Os

can walk. Anymore. They both love wheels
and feel them fasten on like flesh. ..."

From "Driving in Circles with the Blind" by Sandra McPherson

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The "pause" button

10:30pm return from class, 7:00am meeting this morning -- and so I'll hit the "pause" button and post more tomorrow.

(Wish it were the "snooze" button.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Awaiting pollination



"...a thousand shades of white, I think.
Eggshell, oyster, parchment, flax. ..."

From "Burning the Fields" by Linda Bierds

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Granny J. asked...

...via a tag, about my tips for bloggers.

Yikes!

I'm meme-averse, but Granny J. really is curious about my thoughts.

So, GJ, here are thoughts that may not be tips, but might at least have something useful to offer.

1. Be prepared to be surprised, if not dragged further afield than you'd ever imagined, by the act of blogging. I started mine in response to a post-your-poems dare, never imagining I'd stumble into digital photography.

2. Images build bridges across language and culture that writing can't -- I count among my joys exchanges with the delightful PMBC and Mauricio, both of whom have joined me for visual play despite the language gap.

3. The virtual world may lead to the 3D world. Through my online activity, I've met Rachel Barenblat and Laura of Laurelines, and we had lots of fun extending the connection.

I hope that shed a little light, even if these weren't tips.

Interviewees bubbling up
for a New Book of Hours

Some fresh info's posted about interviewees bubbling up for the New Book of Hours project.

If you have thoughts about others I might interview, leave a comment and I'll get in touch!

Old green Caddy



"...stared at her
Reflection for a while, then looked up at me
And said, Jordan, I think that I must be
Like a pool of water in a cave that sometimes
She steps into...
"

From "Los Angeles, 1954" by David St. John

(Click on the poem's title to see the real linebreaks...)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Pentimemento



"...keeping a steady hand
as we flew beyond the bounds of the artificial horizon."

From "Artificial Horizon" by Sue Standing

(And a little lagniappe.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More, Thursday

It's another very busy week -- and so I will post new things this Thursday.

Here's an excerpt from a poem by César Vallejo, translated by Robert Bly, to mark the time:

"...It will be a Thursday, because today, Thursday, setting down
these lines, I have put my upper arm bones on
wrong..."

Monday, October 01, 2007