Hot Fingers Close Around the Stem: The Erotica of Flowers in Prose, Poetry, Paintings

John William Waterhouse, "Gathering Flowers"

How can one help shivering with delight when one’s hot fingers close around the stem of a live flower, cool from the shade and stiff with newborn vigor!  ~Colette

Such is inspiration that gives one more reason to spend time as supplicant of the garden again.

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.  ~Chinese Proverb

The flower is the poetry of reproduction.  It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life.  ~Jean Giraudoux

Even if you think the Big Bang created the stars, don’t you wonder who sent the flowers?  ~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

--Berthe Morisot, L'hortensi

Inspired by all of these, I made some flower art too:

Shakespeare Called the Moon a Moist Star 

When the earth laughs, a flower is born

Emerson once said something

to this effect—Think of a river somewhere—

anywhere. . .the hillsides painted

in guffaws, titters, tulips. Silk chapeau

and bawdy cackle.  The Turks say tulbend

or turban.  At the time of tulipmania,

one might have sailed across an ocean

or the English Channel—simply for a love

of tulips.  The Wind Trade they called this

tuberous pearl, spring-blooming,

unearthed and exchanged for its weight

in seventeenth century florins.

I once read having an orgasm

is like laughing out your legs.  When the sky laughs

might we expect an exhalation

of small planets? A star shower preceded immediately

by a gravity of salmon underneath our skins

Somewhere somebody is thinking,

Perhaps it is the moisture that makes

all the difference

Snowflake, raindrop

silk tassel, periwinkle—

you see? Oh, yes—milk thistle, day lily

and sweet sweet William.

–Tess Farnham (MIdwest Quarterly, 2003)

A bread and butter fashioned of flowers. 😉     http://www.etsy.com/listing/97529448/floral-abstract-impressionist

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For the Students at the Back of the Room, the Faith-Based Believers from the “Writing God” Experiment

Chagall's Window at All Saints Church Tudeley,...

Image via WikipediaImage via Wikipedia

A day or so ago, I wrote about the “God” creative writing experiment and mentioned how illuminating it was to listen as my  students read their free-writes and spontaneous poetry aloud.  And also how it began with one student sort of expressing reticence about speaking his mind because he seemed to fear it would lead to judgement and criticism, but that as he read, he just grew stronger and more grounded in his personal beliefs and was reassured by several other students who more or less shared similar feelings.

I also explained that my next goal was help draw out the shyer students at the back of the class, those who seemed to fear the same thing.  The latter pair also struggling to share as well.

I had left the class feeling like I needed to validate where they were coming from as we had spent quite a bit of our discussion time on fears and doubts and breaking free of what many saw as a form of forced faith. . .something that was more or less handed down from generation to generation, strong in traditional adherence to a set of rules that didn’t always resonate.

We were able to establish common ground and caring, looking to core beliefs such as the practice of love and compassion. . .it was the dogma that more or less got in the way of a meeting of the minds.

Some students admitted that while they felt uncomfortable with the inconsistencies and hypocrisy practiced by others of their chosen faith, they themselves were still able to find peace and freedom in another kind of upbringing, one wherein those core beliefs remained the basis for their spiritual existence,  and this at times within the same setting that had left so many feeling oppressed and questioning.

And I left class feeling kind of sad for them, as it seemed as if they too were struggling to be heard.

So this motivated me to search for poems to help draw them out a little, maybe explore some ways to write about their own journeys, as these like-minded writers had done.

And so here then is some inspiration and validation for them:

Gerard Manley “Hip” Hopkins, “Spring”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=WhQwFf6Qb9U&NR=1

William Blake

The Angel that presided ‘oer my birth
by William Blake
The Angel that presided 'oer my birth
Said, "Little creature, form'd of Joy and Mirth,
"Go love without the help of any Thing on Earth."

Bob Dylan, sung by Emmy Lou Harris:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHgzOkeCgVY&feature=related

direct link to “Every Grain of Sand” in case the above imbedded one malfunctions.  🙂

We Shall Overcome  😉

Love,

Professor Tess

Setting Aside the Sad Politics: Some Art for a Sunday

So in reading my facebook feed this morning, I came across a teaching colleague’s post expressing that he’d more or less had his fill of reading about this sideshow that has been going on in politics.  That we need to start finding something else to talk about, to just get back to the business of lifting ourselves  out of this mess and muck and outright insanity.  So I guess I am posting this short blog with a bit of art that speaks volumes about what gives us hope over despair.

Peace.

“Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,) You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self. ”  —Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself

Henry Tanner, "The Annunciation"

“As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,The rising of the women means the rising of the race.No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.”  —James Oppenheim

Henry Tanner, "The Banjo Lesson"

Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,”

Then. Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful

I am

And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.

Langston Hughes

Jane Gilday performs “Don’t that Beat Everything”

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence Universit...

Image via Wikipedia

Oh the time will come up

When the winds will stop

And the breeze will cease to be breathin’

Like the stillness in the wind

’Fore the hurricane begins

The hour when the ship comes in

Oh the seas will split

And the ship will hit

And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking

Then the tide will sound

And the wind will pound

And the morning will be breaking

Oh the fishes will laugh

As they swim out of the path

And the seagulls they’ll be smiling

And the rocks on the sand Will proudly stand

The hour that the ship comes in

And the words that are used

For to get the ship confused

Will not be understood as they’re spoken

For the chains of the sea

Will have busted in the night

And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean

A song will lift As the mainsail shifts

And the boat drifts on to the shoreline

And the sun will respect

Every face on the deck

The hour that the ship comes in

Bob Dylan

From “When the Ship Comes In”

Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music

(borrowed as fair use for educational purposes)

Marc Chagall, Paris Opera Ceiling

I choose to be a figure in that light, half-blotted by darkness,

something moving across that space, the color of stone greeting the moon,

yet more than stone: a woman.

I choose to walk here.

And to draw this circle. —Adrienne Rich, from “Twenty-One Love Poems” 1974-76

this arlo guthrie video is so beautiful. ..the embedding doesn’t work, but if you click through, you won’t be sorry.  so inspiring.  thanks, woody and arlo.  🙂

So Here it is. . .After Math: The Outcome of the Creative Writing God Class Experiment

Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh (Photo credit: Berto Garcia)

In my last post, I explained how I had recently given a very simple in-class creative writing assignment, one in which students were instructed to write the word “God” at the top of the page and afterwards just let the words fall underneath it; two plus one is one  according to Stevens: no boundaries, no judgements.  Just words.

And after I published that story, I received a response from a fellow blogger  asking for a follow-up article, so here it is after math, the outcome of the creative writing god class experiment.

Intially, the “God” experiment had been a crescendoing success I believed.  First we spent some time looking at  works examining the realm of spirituality, works from Blake and Whitman to Ginsberg and spoken word, at the same time allowing students to come up front and google things they liked as well. .. and I left class that day feeling as if an enormous shake-weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  First came a sigh of relief, which was deep and gratifying.

Hieronymus Bosch study 200706

Hieronymus Bosch study 200706 (Photo credit: DUCKMARX)

And then came the fear, self-loathing and sur-reality.

English: Painting by Hieronymous Bosch of Hell.

Image via Wikipedia

But then came the time to reconvene and read them.

Thursday, 2 pm:

It was unexplored territory to say the least. I mean, the topic HAD come up before in class, many times, and in these days with their debates and almost no separation of church and state, it’s unrealistic to think we can just be mum about it.  And as you read this, know there is a big pink elephant in the middle of the webpage as well.  It is letting go a lot of flatulence and somebody has got to address it before we all pass out from holding our breath. (And if it seems like I try too hard to avoid any kind of conflict in the classroom whatsoever, even in an academic setting, wherein the default was and always has been science and empirical evidence,  then I guess I should point out that I am also untenured faculty.  I CAN’T just point to factual information and tell them to change the subject. In these straits, I am not at liberty to make anyone unhappy in that classroom!  Because such acts of real or imagined exclusion can lead to the hugeness of mutinies, mutinies to registered complaints, then bad evaluations.

Winnie the Pooh (film)

Image via Wikipedia

And without the protection of tenure, under such circumstances wherein an anonymous citizen’s arrest has just been registered, you stand alone before the higher ups.  And the truth is,  there is no defense.  For the most part, you just don’t get called back the next semester. This has been a double-edged sword I have learned to swallow with both hands. On the one hand, it’s incredibly painful to be aware of such intense scrutiny from my students, but on the other, I am thankful for that accountablity.  It makes me stop and think before  I say a word to anyone, and even though I do get it wrong a lot, I like that I am trying harder too.  🙂 )

Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch (Photo credit: rocor)

Sometimes it would be smooth sailing and others just like Scylla and Charybdis, and in having had no prior training in peace-keeping and mediation in these matters, I flailed around in trying all kinds of awkward methods to diffuse the difficulties around it,  everything from banning any kind of cross talk to inviting everyone to share to the point of free-for-all. . .the latter ironically though more painful and more trouble with evaluations and complaints, at the same time MUCH more gratifying than the former I must say,

And as I coached on how to proceed this time, I felt myself needing to pay very close attention to my own advice. Truth be told, I can’t remember what I said exactly, but I do know this is how I had hoped to come across and that is:

“OK, so here’s what let’s do.  Let’s try to keep in mind that this is just exploration.  We’ve all just had some time to be free with our thoughts and just express whatever wells up inside as we write.  So let’s try to keep the non-judgemental frame around this.  Because everybody has their own journey.  And this is just about sharing what has happened along the way.  There’s no right way or wrong way to behave about any of this.  There is only putting one foot in front of the other and taking notes as we go.  So here we go. Let’s do that, shall we?”

At first the room was quiet, but that did not last very long.

And honestly, at this point I really must confess to having been so discombulated from focusing on getting this right that as I try to recall what happened, I don’t even remember who went first.

What I do remember most at the beginning was pausing to offer some encouragement.

To someone who seemed both anxious to get a chance to unburden his thoughts but also rather reticent at the prospect of being judged in doing so.

And in his reticence, it just made everyone else all the more curious. ..curiousity that led to a bit of prodding, followed by a show of support and reassurance.

And so he read.  Head bent down a bit at first and voice trembling, but as the room grew quiet and the other students leaned forward to listen, the words grew louder and clearer.

And then it happened, beginning with him. ..until all those freewrites just spilled into the room like light breaking on still waters.

Afterwards, and I guess in seeing that he was able to vent without getting struck down by Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, everyone else just seemed that much more eager to share their own stories.  And at times the room would fall silent too.  And there were some very awkward pauses followed by my own attempts to make bridges and find common ground.  Mostly I was groping though.  Just feeling around and watching faces to make sure I wasn’t leaving anyone out and alienated.

--Kathe Kollwitz

But for the most part I felt good about how we all found ways to  navigate those waters and keep afloat during such a challenging passage.  And also proud of how well we all had handled it as a learning community, their sweetness and sensibilites intact as we left together that day.  It was all good.

In retrospect and in all honesty, I still feel a little bit heart-broken about the ones in the back, the ones who seemed the shyest to speak.  I still feel the need to work on helping them to feel safe enough as to share all the facets of what they are feeling and I also believe that it will be amazing when they do, so that part is next on my agenda.

Losing my Religion: On Finding the Divine on the Road to Learning

Yesterday in my creative writing class, I gave an assignment that asked students to write the wordGod” at the top of the page and freewrite on it.  No rules.  No boundaries.  Just an exploration of that word.

And when I ask something so big of them, I think it only fair that I ask myself to do it too.

(In the past I learned  the importance of participating in those  free-writing assignments from my department chair who cheerfully passes along a good many lesson plans and classroom strategies. And for this most insightful advice, I am truly grateful.)

As a result, I found this inclusive student/teacher exercise to be a most gratifying experience for a couple of reasons.

Number one first and foremost, freewriting is  fun-time  and I find  that if I model some kind of industrious task-oriented behavior during this period, then I’m more or less contradicting myself by setting a hypocritical example.  🙂

And that’s no way to get on with the business of sharing the joy of learning.

But lately, I have been a lot pre-occupied with thoughts that just take me to a place that I ought not go.

William Blake, from the notebooks

So I’ve been shirking my responsibilities a little as mentor.

And in this transgression from my duties as well forgetting that no matter what transpires between the two of us, the bottom line is that the student is internalizing this from experience, which, up to now, has always been the best teacher:

“Do as I do, not as I say.”

And when I think of my own learning experiences, that is how it always worked anyway.  I mean, I loved being taught.  Loved my teachers, all of them, even the ones still struggling with themselves to be patient and such, because they taught me other things I needed to know as well.  Things like being organized with numbers and keeping to a schedule.  I mean, these are respectable behaviors that must be tended to as well.

Sadly the point was often lost on me as I always picked up on some other kind of unhappiness in that exchange and it usually made me run from any kind of discomfort that might reinforce it in myself.  So the lesson got lost on me a lot.

I always knew they meant well though.  And I loved them just the same.

I don’t think there is any such thing as a bad teacher.  Just some in need of a bit more love and support themselves it would seem.  I mean, if you look past that sometimes inscrutable and unforgiving face, you can and will see a softer one.  It’s there if you’re willing to look.  The little girl at three years old, her hands having just been slapped for putting them in the light socket.

She knew that Mommy meant well in doing it, meant to save her from the ultimate separation between parent and child.  If anything ever happened to elicit such a misalignment of the stars, then Mommy would fight like a tiger to stop that.  Even if it meant seeing the tears of disappointment on on the face of someone so close, so innocent and vulnerable.  Those words we all wish to avoid at any given time in our tenure as parents.  “Mommy, why?”

Alas, there was a second lesson in that interaction, one that Mommy in her infinite longing to understand, might never have anticipated and that was “If you explore too much, then you will get punished.”

And so it begins, the cycle of learning and punishment.

Followed by rebelliousness and breaking away.

Which in turn leads to more of the same.

And where on earth could we have gone so terribly wrong as to keep that inefficient system alive for so long?

After all, we came into this world, every single one of us, with two very basic means of understanding and those were

A. To love and be loved.

And B: To learn and share what we have learned.

And so I offer up for you this other kind of scenario to ponder, one in which the child’s learning experience leads her to a pile of excrement in the back yard, the one wherein the dandelion is sprouting up so proudly beside it, and in her excitement to share, she just leans down and kneels to it.  A supplicant in awe of the innerworkings of this earth.  That for every pile of shit, there is a rebirth that follows and flowers after it.

It is the way of the world after all.  Birth, Death, Rebirth.

And without all three of these elements, there simply is no way to understand the divine.

So now I sit here before the laptop and freewrite and let the words fall where they may.  No beginning or end to speak of, just being.

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Norwegian Wood and Bubblegum Soul: On Dylan, Dope and the Breakup of the Beatles

Subterranean Homesick Blues

Image via Wikipedia

Ah get born, keep warm

Short pants, romance, learn to dance

Get dressed, get blessed

Try to be a success

Please her, please him, buy gifts

Don’t steal, don’t lift

Twenty years of schoolin’

And they put you on the day shift

Look out kid

They keep it all hid

Better jump down a manhole

Light yourself a candle

Don’t wear sandals

Try to avoid the scandals

Don’t wanna be a bum

You better chew gum

The pump don’t work

‘Cause the vandals took the handles.

Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

Aug, 1964  Hotel DelMonico, New York City:

After much anticipation and excitement, Dylan  meets the Beatles for the first time. . .his jealousy over their “bubble gum” success almost palpable. . .

As the story goes, the unwashed phenomenon offers the fab four their first marijuana cigarette and bam, music is changed forever.

At least that is what they say anyway.  It was the drugs that did it.

Fine.  I will grant you that one in theory.  No doubt the sloshing and slowdown of brain function had an impact. . .there’s zero denying that.  Love minus zero denying the altered state and how it changes things. And if you want to go to that altar and worship the gods of creativity, you can use drugs to do it. . .

Or you can just let the awkardly emo chips fall where they may.

There is a price to pay for imbibing. . .no denying that either. And speaking strictly for me, I would have to admit that my own delicate physiological state can’t absorb the shock of it so I choose to abstain. . . not out of any kind of moral high ground choice. . .it’s just simply a result of cause, effect and lesson learned.  I simply cannot handle the crash that follows a high.  It feeds these suicidal tendencies, ones that I already have a hard enough time with, minus any other kind of input from unprescribed chemistry. But there is also a price to pay for sobriety, especially when it comes to friends and fitting in, having something significant to offer in a situation wherein many of the participants are saying things you really can’t relate to. . .

It’s not hip to open that can of worms, I know. And I await the backlash to come. But whatever.  (I still say that 40 minutes of meditation does a kickass job at calming the nerves and relieving social anxiety, without the accompanying slowdown of actual awareness followed by a significant chemistry crash and paranoia.  And people forget to mention it. ..especially in a culture dominated by a consumer mindset, one that says if you are lacking something, especially charisma, creativity, self-confidence, there’s an app for that.)

Again, you get screwed up for turning it down too. . .you spend a lot of artist time alone for being such a square that way. . .  That’s life, I guess.

So anyway, back to the Beatles vs. Bob and August 1964.

And a question for you to ponder. Just suspend your belief system for  a minute with me here, and then let go of everything you know about music and drugs. Then consider this  question and proposal if you will:

What happens when strong emotional input follows intellectual stimulation, mixed with a bit of jealous venom from the guy who could/would smash the competition in a single strum?

And there is just no denying it. Something happened that day. ..something that had a massive impact on the fab four plus one.  So here we go again. ..which one had the most impact that day? The weed or the seed?  Maybe a bit of both; you decide.

No doubt it had to hurt the first time the boys heard  Bob’s unabashedly sneering parody of Norwegian Wood. . .

Enough for them to have wanted to break free of that kind of scrutiny, looking for the cracks in the floor, lettin the shortcomings slip into them. . .

And what ARE you really saying with your art when all you do is sit in a room and pencil dream about some girl who’s got you by the short and curly:

Bob Dylan holds a cue card in the music video ...

Image via Wikipedia

And then enter Yoko, who was undeservingly designated as breakup scapegoat for a lot of years. . .I guess if you forget about Bob, you might want to grab a club and go after that, but think about it.  That moment when Dylan saunters out of the room after having been introduced to the newest Lennon/McCartney collaboration.

Think of it again.  Hard.  Imagine half of that creative team walking away that much more determined in his resolve to writing “Silly Love Songs,” and the other just feeling crushed and stuck to the bottom of Bob’s bootheel.

And now to drive it home and see if I can get there without anybody getting hurt by this rant. ..(with apologies to Doors fans as well as anybody who has to deal with the insanity of the prison industrial complex, one that punishes us all for just trying to escape this ratrace and make some art.  Love to you all. xoxo)

This is your brain on drugs:

English: Mug shot of Jim Morrison.

Image via Wikipedia

This is your brain on Bob.

Any questions?  😉

And Now for Something Completely Strange! Poetry in Motion Clips. . .Tom Waits’ Smuggler’s Waltz and Ginsberg Can Dance!

Poetry in Motion   --Ron Mann, 1982

Anytime I want to light a funny fire under my creative writing students, I just bring this video to class.  It has everything:

comedy,

(this is long, I know, but insanely worth it for the last line and the story. ..and you won’t forget it. ..EVER)

drama,

tragedy. . .

Seriously, I love this clip. . .even if it is kind of the pinnacle of silliness.  Ginsberg is amazing!

and Micheal Ondaatje, the author of “The English Patient

. . .like a. . .desert romance. . .only ten degrees hotter. ..

and this is just complete insanity, but worth the ride. Enjoy ! :

(OK, that’s all I have for today.  If you are a girl, I HIGHLY recommend a second viewing of Ondaatje, just for the fantasy factor!)

Laffy Taffy for the Holidays: Putting the Crack back in Christmas

Religion and Politics.

Two topics that nice girls don’t talk about if they want to get asked to dance.

So we sit on our hands . . .we keep our knees together. . .and make nice. . .

Kathy Bates, Misery, 1990. directed by Rob Reiner: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100157/

And sometimes this works out OK.  Sometimes it’s good to just be able to sit and fade into the ether with Sid Vicious

or Justin Bieber. . .

or some other awesome stranger who can come along and carry us off to the scariest part of town. . .

Come any closer, and I will pull the pin!

 

But sometimes. . .somehow. . .no matter how you hard to try to be a good girl and soldier on, even in the stickiest of conditions. . .

something’s gotta give. . .

Lactating Mary and Newton Herman Perry, “Home for the Holidays,”  1492, director: Chris Columbus