Friday, June 01, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
Saturday, May 05, 2012
I first encountered Andrew Wyeth's work as a teenager and had never heard of the man, never heard of Christina's World, and knew absolutely nothing about him. I continued to know absolutely nothing about him until about 2003, when I attended the Brandywine Museum as part of an art class and came face to face with his work. After that, I spent a lot of effort staring at his work, exploring the museum and grounds, and contemplating just what it is about Wyeth's work.
But to return to my first encounter. I was in high school and was on a school trip to New York. From my small town roots, New York City was very far away. There's not a lot I remember from the various places we visited on that trip, but I remember Christina's World. I don't even know what museum holds it, but I remember walking into the room and stopping dead in my tracks.
My teenage heart understood exactly what Wyeth had depicted. I didn't know that Christina was a real woman, suffering from polio; all I knew is that Wyeth had painted a portrait of what my life felt like. Lost, alone, helpless, eyes turned desperately to the so-far-away house, the cold, forbidding house, a house that would never be a refuge, even if I managed to reach it.
Widely parodied, instantly recognizable the way Grant Wood's American Gothic is widely recognizable, both paintings win the contempt of painfully hip modern critics who turn up their noses at an artist who paints America. Apparently, a depiction of America that is not ironic, surreal, or critical is, by definition, schlock.
I am acquainted with people like that. They're the ones who refuse to shake my hand when I introduce myself. Apparently, shaking hands is schlock, too. They are the same people, who, when finding out the rural community I live in, announce, "You must move to the city immediately." Why? So I can live next door to people like you?
I'm a redneck. I'm part Native American, part Southern Cracker, rural, poor, working class. I have a mullet, thank you very much. When people spout off about the awfulness of rednecks, I point out to them that I am a redneck, and I don't like what they're saying. Whereupon they inform me, "You're not a redneck." By which they mean, that because I am articulate and have a brain, I do not fulfill their stereotype of what a redneck is.
This reminds me of when I was 13, I was speaking to a black man, trying to explain the negative traits of some black folks I didn't like. I said, "They're niggers. You know what I mean?" He looked me in the eye and said, "I know exactly what you mean." With his clear-eyed gaze he made me realize how use of loaded language communicated nothing but my own shortcomings. Thereafter I resolved to say what I actually meant, and to focus on the individual as the individual, and not as a representative of a larger group of people.
As I have discovered over the ensuing decades, people constantly dismiss individuals when they ought to be dismissing stereotypes. Thus we return to those folks who inform me, "You're not a redneck." I am in fact a member of the rural poor who works out of doors. But when they say "redneck" that's not what they mean, is it? As they have told me, they are referring to a negative example of that type. By which they mean a bigot. When they finally stumble into that explanation, I say, "If you mean 'bigot,' say 'bigot.' Don't dismiss an entire community by using pejorative language.
Andrew Wyeth painted a lot of things, but the only ones I am qualified to have an opinion on are the rural scenes around Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania. I've roamed the area--now largely built up with trendy coffee shops and boutiques, but the Brandywine River is still there, and there are still farms in the area. Knowing the area, I know that Wyeth has painted an accurate depiction. Even when he rearranges elements of the scenes to improve the composition, he has still faithfully depicted the country. He is bearing witness.
Some have criticized that his work never changed; that it never showed anything new; that it did not expand the horizons of American art. To them I say, "Bullshit." There's more to art that continual invention. The ability to see and value the ordinary is all too rare. It isn't sentimentality to appreciate the ordinary. Wyeth, with his bleak landscapes, is entirely different from the bowdlerized landscapes of Thomas Kinkade. Kinkade paints a fantasy vision of an America that never was. Wyeth paints America as it is.
As a poet, this was something I had to understand. I made several trips to the Brandywine Museum and walked the grounds and visited the Wyeth home as I struggled to decide what poetry is about. As for someone else, I cannot say, but for me it is about bearing witness. There is a particular Wyeth painting that especially speaks to me, "Trodden Weed." It is a portrait of the artist's boots as he is walking across a snowy scene and treads a weed underfoot. The weed is a thin black line, almost invisible, but the artist stops and notices.
Yes. That is the painter's eye, that is the poet's eye, to notice things others do not. As I learned more about the painting, it spoke more deeply to me. The boots were Cavalier boots that Wyeth had had since he was a child. Homeschooled, he spent a lot of time in fantasy play pretending to be Robin Hood and acting out other famous stories, many of which were painted by his father, N. C. Wyeth, who illustrated many classics of children's literature, such as Treasure Island. What grown man still wears his childhood dress-up boots? And why? I think I know. Above and beyond that, Wyeth was recuperating from an extended illness, and this was his first walk outside. Wyeth, who must have been feeling his own mortality at that point, stopped and noticed the mortality of the weed under his foot.
New and old are not valuable in and of themselves. They are valuable for what they give us. Mortality is an old trope in art, but that doesn't mean we should stop painting it or writing poetry about it. Death is an eternal reality, and Wyeth grasps that. When he paints scenes of living trees and blossoms, they are not the sentimental effulgence of Thomas Kinkade, but a keen appreciation for the moment, a moment that will pass away.
The criticism that Wyeth's work never changed is wrongheaded and completely misses what Wyeth was about. Wyeth achieves the universal and eternal by focussing on the individual and immediate. If his work seems unchanging, it is because he has succeeded in capturing the essence of what he paints. It is only seen as unchanging because the critics are unaware of the changes. I would like to know the locations of the various paintings Wyeth has executed around Chadd's Ford. I'm certain that if I hiked in his footsteps, I would find that the reality underlying the paintings has changed--and that his subsequent paintings of the same subject have changed as well.
The scenes seem generic ('generic' is the adjective for 'genre') only to the impatient eye that doesn't bother to engage the reality that Wyeth is depicting. Because I'm from around here, I can see it. Those high and mighty art critics in Boston or New York can't see it, aren't trying, and have never been here. I actually live in Maryland, in the Tidewater, and although Chadd's Ford is a mere 44 miles away, the terrain and architecture change dramatically. I can tell when I've crossed the Mason-Dixon Line by the changes in the buildings, the shape of the land, the colors of the construction and countryside. Wyeth has painted the countryside around Chadd's Ford and painted it truly. Nowhere else in the world looks like that. By focussing on the truth of the locality, he has achieved the universal.
When I learned about Wyeth's death, I went and looked at Christina's World online again. I am older and wiser now, but the painting has not lessened its impact. I can find a million more associations in that painting, and it gives an accurate depiction of how I feel about a lot of things. First, there is my own disability that I must deal with, and I can well envision myself in the predicament of the woman with polio in the painting. But it also symbolizes more than that. It still depicts the estrangement I feel. After thirty years of trying, I still haven't reached the house.
Good art speaks to the silence in our souls and gives voice to what we hardly knew needed speaking. Christina's World is still speaking to me, and the art of Andrew Wyeth is still informing my experience of the world, my poetry, and who I am in this American world.
Monday, April 23, 2012
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Thursday, March 08, 2012
Anyhow, some years later, we acquired an orange marmalade tom about six months old whom we promptly named 'Caesar' because he walked in like he owned the place. Pirate mostly ignored him and let him think he was important. One day, not long after he had arrived, I was sitting in the living room when a mouse ran across the hearth and darted behind a potted plant. Pirate immediately hunkered down and started to crawl across the floor on his belly. I said, "Pirate, wait." So he settled down right where he was, watching intently. He became one with the floor—great ninja cat trick. None of the other living creatures in the room saw him.
Caesar eventually noticed the mouse when it ran out the other side of the potted plant and pounced. He missed and the mouse scurried behind plant. He came out the other side. Caesar noticed, pounced and missed. Mouse ran behind plant and out the other side. Another miss by Caesar. Mouse started doing this on purpose, and got Caesar all riled up just like a cartoon cat so he was perfectly out of sync. When he pounced on one side, the mouse was on the other side. When he pounced on the other side, the mouse was back on the first side. Caesar eventually became so frustrated he sat on his haunches looking vexed.
Whereupon the mouse came out from behind the plant, stood on his hind feet, and started wagging his whiskers and waving his paws at him. It was a perfect field mouse performance of "Nyah nyah nyah." Poor Caesar, mocked by a mouse! He didn't try to pounce this time. He knew he couldn't get it. He sat there in abject humiliation. I mean, really. Here was a creature about the size of a teaspoon who couldn't have weighed more than a few grams harassing a creature about a 600x larger than himself!
At that point I leaned down and whispered, "Okay, Pirate. Go get him." Ziiiiiip! Black lightning streaked across the floor and caught the mouse by the scruff of the neck. He trotted over to me and presented the captive. The mouse hung paralyzed in his grip with the "HOLY SHIT WHERE DID THE CAT COME FROM?" look on his face. I told the mouse, "Pride goeth before a fall."
I fetched a plastic bowl, held it in front of Pirate and said, "Drop it." He plopped the mouse into the container. I took the mouse outside and set him free, unharmed.
You just can't let the cat eat Tom from the Tom & Jerry Show.
Tom never came back in the house, and I'm sure he never taunted any more kittens after that.
Sunday, March 04, 2012
#Gogyohka on Twitter, with 15,000 uses, exceeds #tanka with 13,000 uses. #Gogyoshi is hardly used, with just 19 uses, according to Topsy.com. Strangely, these figures are way down from last year when I did the same searches in May. Then the 'all time' number of #gogyohka was 33,000 and #tanka was 25,000. This severely undermines the credibility of Topsy.com -- if 'all time' means all time, the figure should rise over time, not shrink. Then again, Topsy.com makes references to 'three years' worth of data, which is hardly 'all time,' is it? If only three years are searched, then it would not be surprising that each term might rise or fall depending on the three year period examined. But to call a measly three years' worth of data 'all time' is severely misleading. As a consequence, I cannot offer any hard data on the incidence of tanka, gogyohka, and gogyoshi in social media.
Last year saw a peak of interest as tanka and other poets discovered gogyohka and it was readily adopted. Many tanka poets experimented with gogyohka and found it freeing. Specifically, they felt that gogyohka freed them from the restraints of tanka. These restraints were largely imaginary, but widely perceived. It was thought that tanka only permitted certain kinds of subject matter and certain kinds of treatments; these rules did not apply to gogyohka. In actuality, tanka is as diverse in subject matter and treatment as gogyohka, as an examination of the several volumes of Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka will show. Certainly there was a time in tanka during the late 20th century and early 21st century where conventions ruled tanka publication, but the rise of Modern English Tanka and various other small presses and their publications shattered those boundaries. Today the only journal insisting on a restrictive definition of tanka is not even a tanka journal, but a micropoetry journal, Simply Haiku. SH has announced that it will only publish tanka written in a s/l/s/l/l format. No tanka journal has such a restrictive editorial policy.
In addition to tanka poets, many other poets adopted gogyohka. Thus gogyohka garnered a larger share of the social media space than tanka did. Many of the offerings were of an amateur caliber that showed no familiarity with previous gogyohka publications. Enta Kusakabe, the originator of gogyohka in Japan, has translated an anthology into English named simply, Gogyohka. A perusal of this text shows that the aesthetics are very similar to tanka aesthetics. The difference between tanka and gogyohka in Japanese is that the former are written in sanjuichi form, a pattern of syllables of 5/7/5/7/7. Gogyohka are not. Gogyohka are short five line poems, which may or may not be end-stopped; that detail is not clear in Gogyohka. Since tanka in English abandoned syllable counting due to differences between the Japanese and English languages, tanka in English are functionally the same as gogyohka in English. The difference is of great importance in Japanese, but of no significance in English. Tanka in English fulfill the definition given for gogyohka. On the other hand, so do kyoka, waka, Japanese tanka, limericks, cinquains, and other five line forms, yet it is clear that gogyohka does not embrace these as part of its definition and view. The assumption of a lyric Japanese aesthetic is built into the genre without being specified. Thus, we can define five line poems lacking in a Japanese or at least a lyric presentation as not meeting the operational definition of gogyohka, even if they meet the technical definition.
Last year Enta Kusakabe trademarked the word 'gogyohka' in Japan, causing a flap in the English-language micropoetry community. Atlas Poetica adopted the public domain, non-trademarked term 'gogyoshi' in order to avoid violating Enta's trademark, and some other poets have as well. Most poets in the West appeared to be of the opinion that 'gogyohka' was not trademarkable, and continued using it for their works regardless of any authority Enta attempted to exercise over the term or items published under its rubric. Enta said he did not intend to control the term, and that poets were welcome to use it, yet he filed suit in Japan against a gogyohka contest sponsored by a city in Japan. Most poets outside of Japan are unaware of these developments, and the term 'gogyohka' continues in regular usage.
The alternate term 'gogyoshi' was coined by Aizu Taro of Japan, a former gogyohka poet who has split from Enta Kusakabe. Aizu defines 'gogyoshi' as simply 'five line poem' with no requirements regarding syllables or content, and expressly welcomes assimilation of Western and Eastern forms. Thus, although he has not gone so far as to say say, it appears that Western forms such as limerick and cinquain can be encompassed under the umbrella of 'gogyoshi.' Aizu has explicitly addressed tanka, although it is not entirely clear what his vision is. That tanka is a subset of gogyoshi? He has stressed the absolute freedom of gogyoshi, so he does not regard tanka and gogyoshi as being the same thing. Since the requirements of tanka include five poetic phrases to replicate the core feature of tanka in Japanese, tanka cannot be any five lines, but must have an internal structure compatible with the Japanese original. There is no such requirement for gogyoshi. On the other hand, although gogyoshi expressly permits any subject matter and treatment, an examination of gogyoshi as it is actually published shows a lyric element and the application of Japanese aesthetics. Nonetheless, given the espoused view of literary freedom, it is reasonable to accept that five line poems not displaying the usage of Japanese aesthetics would qualify as gogyoshi.
Due to the proliferation of #hashtags on Twitter, I invented and advocated the use of the term #5lines to identify five line poetry. So far it has been applied to waka, tanka, kyoka, gogyohka, and gogyoshi, but I envision it encompassing Western five line forms as well, such as the limerick, cinquain, and free verse. My recommended use is #5lines plus one other #hashtag specifying exactly what it is, eg, #5lines #tanka, or #5lines #kyoka, etc. This will reduce clutter in the Twitspace. Too many #hashtags severely reduces the number of characters available for the poem. #5lines is a convenient shorthand for any type of five line poem. However, it is not the same as gogyoshi. At least, not yet. Although Aizu embraces a world view of five line poetry, it has not yet come to fruition.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
It's a Wiki-based technology, so is always a work in project to which anyone can contribute.
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
I and more than two hundred years of my family became unequivocally legal in 1967. That was the year that the United States Supreme Court struck down Virginia's 1924 anti-miscengenation law. The couple that challenged it with the interracial couple of Mildren and Richard Loving. When they married in Washington, DC, then returned to Virginia, they were arrested, and banned from living in the state of Virginia for 25 years.
I was aware of Loving vs. Virginia even as a child. It was the first Supreme Court case I ever became aware of, and the one which I deeply admire. Starting during the colonial period, the American states flipflopped on interracial marriage--interracial meaning a white person and a person of any other race, black, red, brown, or yellow. My family is mixed blood, part Native American, part European American. There have been a number of mixed blood marriages in my mother's family tree, so much so that it is impossible to compute my blood quantum. I am anywhere from one fourth to one sixty-fourth Native American thanks to those intermarriages. Not until 1967 could my mother's family rest assured that they and their marriages were as good as other people.
Now we are faced with the controversy over gay marriage -- a controversy that shouldn't be a controversy at all. Civil marriage is a civil right. Loving vs. Virginia tells us so. Two adults have the right to marry. Read the language of the Loving decision--it utterly affirms the importance of marriage equality. Criticisms of marriage equality whether based on race or sexual orientation rest on the same bigoted principle: that God made people a certain way and they are not allowed to use their God-given brains to make their own choices.
There are some folks that insist that gay marriage is completely different than miscengenation -- but it's not. The arguments are against both are exactly the same -- that it's unnatural, that it violates the Bible, that it's not healthy for children, that it undermines 'real' marriage, that it offends sincerely held religious beliefs.
Bullshit. Why should should a minority sect of Christianity be allowed to dictate to individuals who are not members of that faith? I am not a member of that church and I promise, I won't ask to hold my gay marriage in your church. However, I assert my Constitutional right to freedom of religion, and that means I have the right to act on my own religious beliefs, and my religions blesses same sex marriage.
It is a fundamental principle of American government that religion and state are separate. That means the state should not perform marriages at all because marriage is a religious right. It ought to issue the marriage license without discrimination, the same as it issues all others licenses, such as fishing, driver's, business, etc. In other words, that any adult who shows up, fills out the forms, and pays the money, should get the license. It is the couple's responsibility to arrange whatever marriage ceremony they desire -- having a friend officiate, getting married in their church (assuming they belong to a church that performs same sex marriages), or having a private ceremony of just themselves.
In other words, every church has freedom of religion. Religions that practice bigotry can do so in their own sects and sanctuaries. They can decide who they will marry and who they will not. They have always had this right. Legalizing same sex civil marriage has zero impact on this. What legalizing same sex marriage does is to legalize my religion and the many other religions that practice marriage equality. The Constitution protects our religion, too.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
I switched over to incognito search, did the same search, and got ten PAGES of results. Some of that is garbage, but most it returned lots of hits on things relevant to my topic that I didn't write.
I went over to Bing.com and got 111 hits.
Google, stop trying to 'help' me! You've ruined gmail as it is, Google+ 'real names' policy sucks rocks through a garden hose (even with the new changes), and now you've gutted the best thing you had going.
Monday, January 02, 2012
You can learn more about composer Erik Spangler at: http://dubble8productions.com/