Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Bowl with Gold Teeth

Craving quiet and beauty, I walked up to the Smith College Art Museum this afternoon. I found there an exhibit of Japanese tea wares that spanned 500 years of history. The room was dimly lit and the tea bowls held silence in their curves. I remembered attending tea ceremonies in my adolescence (once at a neighbor’s house and once on a field trip). The care and precision involved were too much for this tall, awkward American. I still can’t imagine enjoying the bitter, frothy tea and turning the bowl just right—but as an outsider in a museum looking at the arrangements of dishes and effects, I could better appreciate the meticulous beauty of ritual.

With the little I know of Japanese culture, craft, and art, I expect all of it to be delicate and nearly perfect. So I was intrigued by an asymmetrical bowl displayed on one wall of the gallery. Brick-colored and rough as cement, its circular form squashed towards oval, it looked— frankly, ugly. The card on the wall said the bowl was about 400 years old and beloved for its imperfections. Some of its defects were intentional; others were an effect of time. The rough texture occurred because the potter decided not to refine the clay thoroughly, so grit rose to the surface when it was fired. Centuries of use resulted in a chipped rim that had been repaired in several places with gold lacquer. These shiny spots, the card said, made the bowl especially prized. I thought: it’s a bowl with gold teeth!

Now, what’s the poetic equivalent of not completely refining my words so that distinctive grit will rise to the surface?

And I Said To My Demons…

I love adjectives! I will use them as much as I want to! I will describe everything! My images will not speak for themselves, I will speak for them! I will not be an invisible author! I will show my hand! I will be known for my passionate and excitable adjectives, for my rich and deep associations, and for my heady and determined descriptions! I will also joyfully throw in some adverbs! And as for those zesty exclamation points, I will employ them liberally as well! So there!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Writer's Block

It's not a block exactly, more like fear of what will come up.

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." - Robert Frost

It sure is hard to go there sometimes.

Last night this poem came to me at the perfect moment, from Alice Walker's "I Said to Poetry."

I said to Poetry: 'I'm finished
with you.'
Having to almost die
before some weird light
comes creeping through
is no fun.

True, it's not always fun... but the fear is much worse than what happens when I take a deep breath, let go, and see what happens. Natalie Goldberg said, when all else fails, just "keep the hand moving." I get up every morning and scratch my pen across lined paper until something happens. It's as hard as meditating, this getting up with the alarm when I want to stay cozy under the blanket... and as rewarding.

Today I'll give the last word to Audre Lorde, from her poem, "A Litany for Survival."

... and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.