Saturday, August 12, 2023

How to Create a Masterpiece

The Shakespeare way…

Know little Latin and less Greek. Remove your ego to the extent that you can fully inhabit a saint, a murderer, a queen, a beast, a clown, and everything in between. Be myriad-minded. Cut down on the history reading. Be a passionate lover who distrusts power.  

The Dickinson way…

Make vast imaginative cognitive leaps while wearing white. Listen to a fly or look at gazing grain while contemplating the journey from infinity to eternity. Reject church. Talk regularly with your sister-in-law, God, and Shakespeare. Make your greatest outing the distance between your bedroom and the kitchen. Tell it slant. Much madness is divinest sense.

The Van Gogh way…

Transition from depicting your family eating potatoes to communing with the divine in a drinking hole. Be sorrowful but always rejoicing. Practice bhakti yoga, approaching everything with awe and devotion. Be on good terms with a relative who makes money. Paint that which is dark, yet color. 

The Yeats way…

Be silly but know your trade. Obsess over a girl who’s completely wrong for you. Dive into the occult. Don’t be content.  

The Stevens way…

Maintain a stable job and the outward appearance of normality. Take long walks. Spend hours and hours in contemplation and concentration. Resist the intelligence almost successfully. 

The Kafka way…

Be obsessive. Become literature itself. When Germany declares war on Russia, go swimming in the afternoon.

The Rothko way…

Spend long hours staring at a blank canvas. Have a well-worn copy of Fear and Trembling by your bedside. Contemplate inner feeling states and express them in haunting and ecstatic ways.  

The Beckett way…

Completely digest and integrate the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, Proust, Joyce, western philosophy, and art. Contemplate qualities such as waiting and ending. Express fundamental sounds. Write a play in which nothing happens twice. 

The Guston way…

Spend years telling stories, then years in abstraction, then years telling stories again. Constantly question everything, especially your own motives. Completely strip yourself down and start over again so that each new form is genuinely fresh. Mingle comics and politics with the masters and eternity. Love all things Italian. Cut down on the smokes. 

The O’Hara way…

Enjoy lunch, talk a lot on the telephone, be a fast runner and wear tight jeans. 

Friday, July 21, 2023

On the Heart of Creativity

I think the imagination is committed to the justice of wholesomeness. It's not interested in one dimensional stuff, or reductionism, or one side over against another side. It's interested in where the sides meet, and what they can bring to birth when they cross-fertilize with each other.

And I think that brightness in a poem, in a painting or a piece of music, usually has to sweat its way through underlayers and undercaverns of darkness to come to the top. And when it comes to the top, and when you see it, you can see in it the beautifully sculpted shadow of the darkness of the journey it has made.

And I think that's the heart of creativity. Creativity is listening in to the places where opposites are already dancing with each other.

- John O'Donohue

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Poem "Ancestry" by Fred LaMotte

 My DNA results came in.

Just as I suspected,

my great great grandfather

was a monarch butterfly.

Much of who I am is still

wriggling under a stone.

I am part larva, but

part hummingbird too.

There is dinosaur tar in

my bone marrow.

My golden hair sprang out

of a meadow in Palestine.

Genghis Khan is my fourth cousin,

but I didn't get his dimples.

My loins are loaded with

banyan seeds from Sri Lanka,

but I descended from Ravanna,

not Ram.

My uncle is a mastodon.

There are traces of white people

in my saliva.

3.7 billion years ago I swirled

in hydrogen dust,

dreaming of a planet overgrown

with lingams and yonis.

More recently, say 60,000 B.C.

I walked on hairy paws

across a land bridge

joining Sweden to Botswana.

I am the bastard of the sun and moon.

I can no longer hide my heritage of

raindrops and cougar scat.

My mud was molded with your grandmother's tears.

I was the brother

who marched you to the sea

and sold you.

I was the merchant from Savannah

and the cargo of blackness.

I was the chain.

Admit it, you have wings,

vast and crystal,

like mine, like mine.

You have sweat, dark and salty,

like mine, like mine.

You have secrets silently

singing in your blood,

like mine, like mine.

Don't pretend that earth

is not one family.

Don't pretend we never hung

from the same branch.

Don't pretend we do not ripen

on each other's breath.

Don't pretend we didn't

come here to forgive.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Reporting Back to Queen Isabella

When Don Cristobal returned to a hero’s welcome,

his caravels corked with treasures of the New World,

he presented his findings; told of his great adventures

to Queen Isabella, whose speech set the gold standard

for her nation’s language. When he came to Xamaica

he described it so: ‘The fairest isle that eyes ever beheld.’

Then he balled up a big sheet of parchment, unclenched,

and let it fall off a flat surface before it landed at her feet.

There we were, massifs, high mountain ranges, expansive

plains, deep valleys, one he’d christened for the Queen

of Spain. Overabundance of wood, over one hundred

rivers, food, and fat pastures for Spanish horses, men,

and cattle; and yes, your majesty, there were some people.

- Lorna Goodison

Sunday, April 2, 2023

On Education - Rousseau & Strike

On the "provide-and-prepare" model:

What, then, must be thought of that barbarous education which sacrifices the present to an uncertain future, which burdens a child with chains of every sort and begins by making him miserable in order to prepare him from afar for I know not what pretended happiness[?] … I hear from afar the clamors of that false wisdom which incessantly projects us outside of ourselves, which always counts the present for nothing, and which, pursuing without respite a future that retreats in proportion as we advance, by dint of transporting us where we are not, transports us where we shall never be.

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

On the "aspirational" model: 

Mrs Smith was my ninth grade algebra teacher. To enter Mrs Smith’s class was to enter the Temple of Mathematics. Equations were objects of reverence. There were no attempts to make math fun or ‘relevant’. There was no discussion of how math helped one get a good job. Rather, Mrs Smith was able to point to the goods that made math intrinsically valuable. … I do not recall that Mrs Smith used terms like elegance, simplicity, paradox or power to describe mathematics, but I do know that she showed us that these things were what motivated her about mathematics. … In effect, her message to us was this. ‘Here is what I see in math. There are goods internal to its practice. There are virtues required to realize these goods. Let me help you see them’.

- Kenneth Strike