VVP: Art 434 & Engl. 410

Website for Vision Voice and Practice: An Interdisciplinary Course in Art and Creative Writing

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


We've had the good fortune to have two excellent visiting poets the last couple-three weeks, Caley O'Dwyer and Cecilia Woloch. Both have worked at the intersection of art and poetry. Caley read to us from his series of poems responding to Mark Rothko's paintings, and Cecilia described for us a collaboration she participated in with an artist (whose name escapes me) for a show curated by Beth Shadur in Chicago.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Wine Maker

bottle clank against wood,
my heart beats in unison-
as grapes press beneath the wheels
that carry my wife who carries
my child who squints at a
sliding sun overhead.
it is an indian summer this
october and the fermenting fields cry out,
erupting from the vine,
their sharp odor.

the conversations of chickens
flutter like old women gossips
who, over tea, pick apart the newest
plot of dirt.

i listen in.

it just might be a good year.

     - Shirly Tagayuna

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another Poem

Here's a poem by Ariel Okamoto, written in haiku stanzas (i.e. five syllables/seven/five):

The Poetry of Particle Physics

      At the border of
Switzerland, CERN knows that the

      of the Higgs boson
and the rumor of black holes
      run through their giant

      mass of particle
accelerator at speeds
      approaching that of

      light. Physicists grasp
after cosmological
      constants and rethink

      equations spitting
out answers with differences
      of minute quanta.

      Protons shoot on a
collision course, providing
      a fireworks show

      for those who know how
to interpret the soundless
      echoes of strange quarks.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Student Work

The poetry students have been asked this semester to write poems according to some limitation(s) of their own choosing. So, for example, Melissa Gutierrez has been writing nothing but sestinas. More than one student has been working within syllabic restrictions, as is the case with Erin Arendse. Her poem, below, takes its formal cues from Marianne Moore, but part of the fun of this poem is in how it reveals something about Moore's voice: that it was not just a product of her idiosyncratic commitments to line length or syllabic count. If that were the case, Erin's poem would carry the same aura as Moore's. It doesn't. It carries its own, almost O'Hara-like vibe, while working within the kind of line and stanza limitations we don't see in O'Hara.

Replication with Projector on Vinyl

Searching each cornered tea house and street front
coffee shop hoping the next one will have
          a public restroom
          obliged to order
          every time

“12 oz. house brew please, black.” Each little place
unique yet somehow the same. With Billie
          Holiday crooning
          in the background at
          this one followed

by John Mayer then Norah Jones at the
next. The one on 3rd and State Street has a
          wall full of books, 4th
          and State’s place features
          local working

artisans and a painting of a man
with a coffee mug, staring at walls of
          books just like the one
          on 3rd street. On 6th
          Street, something new:

heat lamp on the veranda, tables for
two and four set in patterns according
          to the rule of odds.
          Gilpin didn’t know,
          neither did Marx,

what he was talking about. You see, I
figured it out. All men are born evil.
          If they weren’t, every
          tea house would have a
          public restroom.

But my grandparents always call at the
worst times and I can’t seem to remember
          what I never meant
          to forget, so I’ll
          answer this one.

“Hello. Yes, I’m fine. How are you?”


More poems to come.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pushing against J. Cornell - student projects

Worth Watching

Talk about your vision, voice, and practice!

Hillman on Beauty

Julian Francolino (class participant), meat, oil on canvas

Kevin Scholl (class participant), Exquisite, mosaic from shredded fashion magazines

In James Hillman's essay,  The Practice of Beauty, he considers "Suppose we were to imagine that beauty is permanently given, inherent to the world in its data, there on display always, a display that evokes an aesthetic response. This inherent radiance lights up more translucently, more intensively within certain events, particularly those events that aim to seize it and reveal it, such as artworks." "The artist, of course, does indeed reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary. That is the job - not to distinguish and separate the ordinary and the extraordinary, but to view the ordinary with the extraordinary eye of divine enhancement." 

Monday, March 9, 2009

L'Engle, Privilege, and Work

We read Madeline L'Engle last week, from her book Walking on Water, and I noted this passage in our discussion:

When spring-fed Dog Pond warms up enough for swimming, which usually isn't until June, I often go there in the late afternoon. Sometimes I will sit on a sun-warmed rock to dry, and think of Peter walking across the water to meet Jesus. As long as he didn't remember that we human beings have forgotten how to walk on water, he was able to do it.
I said I was troubled by this passage, because it suggests to me an unawareness on L'Engle's part that her ability to contemplate beauty and faith--in this particular context--derives from her privilege. She has access--by ownership, by friendship, by leisure--to enjoy the beauty of "spring-fed Dog Pond," which raises the question: Is art for the privileged, for the people who have time and means to contemplate it? Is my own participation in art merely a product of being born into an upper-middle-class family, with parents who could finance my higher education while I dabbled in this and that?

This week we'll read Auden, who writes the following about the poet:

The condition of mankind is, and always has been, so miserable and depraved that, if anyone were to say to the poet: "For God's sake stop singing and do something useful like putting on the kettle or fetching bandages," what just reason could he give for refusing? But nobody says this. The self-appointed unqualified nurse says: "You are to sing the patient a song which will make him believe that I, and I alone, can cure him. If you can't or won't, I shall confiscate your passport and send you to the mines." And the poor patient in his delirium cries: "Please sing me a song which will give me sweet dreams instead of nightmares. If you succeed, I will give you a penthouse in New York or a ranch in Arizona."
(Which suggests I'm either failing spectacularly as a writer or I'm singing to the wrong people.)

Free-lance philosopher (really? wow!) Jonathan Ree, on the other hand, suggests there's an ethical upshot to contemplating beauty (which isn't to say all art is conventionally beautiful):
Beauty is not only a source of pleasure but also an ethical summons, requiring us to “renounce our narcissism and look with reverence on the world,” and offering intimations of the sacred even to those who have no truck with religious belief.
Could it be that the young men in this heartening story, college-educated both of them, and like me, children of privilege, were influenced by beauty, or a contemplation of art? Did their classes in literature or art history--or whatever they took in the humanities--have any influence in their bold plan for revitalizing their hometown, when they could have chosen more personally lucrative paths? Are they, in fact, in the process of renouncing their narcissism? I don't know. But, as L'Engle might say, their actions, seen from the right angle, could be understood as two men remembering how to walk on water.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Poetry of Making Lists

We talked in class briefly about what I heard the poet Dean Young call "the intrinsic poetry of lists." Marianne Moore often traffics in lists. "The Steeple-Jack," for example, takes a detour from the describing the sea-side town just to revel in list-making, and as we read Frank O'Hara's work in the coming weeks, you'll see the pleasure he takes in listing the activities of an afternoon, especially in what he calls his "I-do-this-I-do-that" poems. Then there's this song, a favorite of my kids, which I had mentioned in class:

It's the excess of lists that often charms. They go on longer than we might expect, and somehow, when they threaten to bore, they can re-enchant us by their momentum and conviction, like a fan whose praise of a singer or movie passes through obsession and into the sublime. (I hope I'm not overstating things...) I've been reading George Herbert's The Temple lately, and the following poem, a list poem, has been something I find myself returning to in the past few weeks for nourishment. Each quality he mentions suggests to him another quality, and another. And another.

Prayer (I)

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th' Almightie, sinners towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloude,
The land of spices; something understood.

That ending! Read the poem again and OUT LOUD.