Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Untitled Rothko 3

God made everything out of nothing. But the nothing shows through.--Paul Valery

Blackness—like a pit grave in the middle
of the canvas—swallows their failures,
unburdens them of their victims.

Many years of image storms—each might have
been a place to hide—and then his signature
style of clarified silence—
a loneliness washing over flat fields
of sunlit or clouded color.

The painter crouches—brush dripping
on his shoes—
in front of a new world and lets it draw
him in like a breath.
In his ear, the voice of Fra Angelico
whispers, The artist must be a thief
and steal a place for himself
on the rich man’s wall.

Jewel-toned bands of ruby and emerald
like unrolled bolts of seamless cloth—
threads vibrating over the abyss.

Old worlds of woe—in their blood-stained rags—
decompose grain by grain, blown by the wind
until mountains flatten.

If he could stand in the spaces between
losses and still be himself,
if he could find the windy dissonance
between his world and theirs,
if he could keep method from overwhelming

they might not look for The Next Big Thing
but become engulfed in the sea
of their own tears.

They might hear Arbeit Mach Frei rising up
from the darkness and find new life—
use a razor to cut ribbons
from a shroud.

John A. Blackard

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Blackbird First Wednesday Readings, August 3rd

First Wednesdays, a series of readings, performances and wine-tasting are held at the Blackbird Wine Shop, 4323 NE Fremont, 7-9pm. This show is 21 and over. Contact Julie Mae Madsen at maemadsen@gmail.com or http://www.facebook.com/pages/First-Wednesday-Readings/111063515598491 for more information.

The readers for August 3rd are John A. Blackard, Matt Love & Kim Cooper Findling.

John Blackard is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He has three books of poems in print (October Queen, 2007; House-Painting on Liberty Road, 2008; Pulling Apart, 2010) and a book about the golden age of paperback publishing (Vintage Paperback Sources, 2000). He has received Fulbright and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. He lives in Portland, creates hand-made books in his basement man-cave, and works part-time as a medical assistant in a senior assisted-living community.

Matt Love is Caretaker of Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. He is the author of Love & the Green Lady: Meditations on the Yaquina Bay Bridge: Oregon’s Crown Jewel of Socialism, available at independent bookstores or through Nestucca Spit Press.com. Love is the author/editor of The Beaver State Trilogy, Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon’s Sesquicentennial Anthology, Super Sunday in Newport: Notes From My First Year in Town (part one of the Newport Trilogy) and Gimme Refuge: The Education of a Caretaker. He writes the “One Man’s Beach” column for Oregon Coast Today and the “On Oregon” blog for Powells. In 2009, Love won the Oregon Literary Arts’ Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for his contributions to Oregon history and literature. He lives in South Beach and teaches English and journalism at Newport High School. He’s currently working on a book about the filming of Sometimes a Great Notion, the third installment in the Newport Trilogy.

Kim Cooper Findling is a nationally published essayist, journalist and author. She writes about just about everything, but mostly the people, places and stories of her home state, Oregon. In her debut as an author, Kim Cooper Findling’s Chance of Sun: An Oregon Memoir, unfolds the story of an Oregon girl coming of age in the 1970s and 80s, navigating her way through pick-up trucks, dive bars, higher education and backwoods trails before finding a place she belongs.

Monday, November 01, 2010

My First Chanterelle Hunt Yields Freezer Gold

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest on a beautiful Friday afternoon before Halloween weekend, I went on my first hunt for chanterelles. Tall Douglas Firs filtering the sunlight and a thick, wet tangle of undergrowth made for tough-going at times.

After climbing over fallen trees and inching my way down a ravine, I found a small clearing dotted with clover and a vein of chanterelles. I had entered chanterelle paradise! Suddenly, mushrooms were everywhere.

Several hours later, our bags filled with chanterelles, my guides and benefactors, Anna and Phil, helped me to celebrate back at the car.

After setting aside some for tonight's soup, I began preparing chanterelles for freezing. While I was able to brush away most of the Douglas Fir needles and leaf debris in the woods, I obviously still had a little cleaning to do. Now that the mushroom were drier, the remaining debris came off easily.

I rinsed away with water only the most stubborn dirt. Chanterelles are delicate and don't hold up well to washing. If you take care to cut them a little above ground level, you won't have much dirt to deal with at this stage of preparation.

The sauteeing recipe for freezing that Anna and Phil recommended called for dicing up some onions and garlic.

I discovered that shredding chanterelles lengthwise was a lot like shredding cooked chicken.

After heating a large frying pan, I began dry sauteeing a batch of chanterelles. This means that the chanterelles, which are filled with their own water, sweated enough liquid to begin sauteeing.

When the chanterelles stopped sweating, I added butter, olive oil, diced garlic, and diced onions.

I sauteed the chanterelles until the onions were translucent and most of the liquid had cooked away. As our house filled with a wonderful aroma, I continued to cook the chanterelles in small batches and set them aside to cool down.

When all the chanterelles had been sauteed and had time to cool down, I packaged one-cup quantities of the them in Ziplock baggies. My chanterelles were now ready to freeze.
I look forward to bringing out a bag at a time for pasta dishes and soups this winter!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

October Queen

It’s hard to deny how October makes a woman
want to burn a man because she can,
as if by formula or witchy spell—
how the month is a room
in an old hotel with a mountain-view
where their clothes drop off
like brightly colored leaves—how goth girls
go berserk at the county’s harvest fair
in the big-box parking lot,
and strippers make their living in a dark tent
on the edge of town,
setting fire to corn husk dolls
between their thighs.

There is no carnie’s finnegan pin
to make the season click into gear and hum
along like a ferris wheel— only
the decorative dried cornstalks, hay bales,
and pumpkins in front of the grocery store,
disguising something on sale
that will slowly kill me—
only the shelf-shout of black blood and guts
hanging slick and stringy in yellow poplars
on the Trail of Terror—
only fear’s effortless effort chilling
every step along my six miles of nerves
as I go out of my way to find the one
I know I cannot find—only the infinity pool
of constellated stars plunging me
to the bottom of some older, darker anarchy.

A wine moon illuminates the nightly harvest
of decay.
My poor heart wishes it were as dry and
empty as a bean pod. October, my queen,
with your silky fingers of frost,
rip open the seed sack of the world, spilling
what can never be gathered up again,
and I will tell you my ghost story
that ends with the lines, Know that
the moon’s yellow face is fixed in an old yellow
book, the lord of every story
holds the shepherd’s crook.
How many times
will I look through the eyes of your death mask
before the final walk down the hill, the final
turn on my street
toward home?

John A. Blackard

A multimedia version of the poem-

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day, September 6, 2010

Committee Work

He imagines outside his building
a tree full of magpies still
roosting in the middle of the day.

Inside no coups or shake-ups
planned, no Mein Kampfs about
to be written. The seated slap on
My Name Is ___ tags, office geishas
serve up today’s numbers.

Old business follow-ups:
motivational posters pulled down;
studies show they have negative
effect on morale.

Whatever happens in Vegas
stays in Vegas
no longer an acceptable
reason/excuse for maxing out
the company expense account.

Token IRA contribution set up
to compensate employees for
the 2.4 seconds it takes
the government to spend
their lifetime tax payments.

Promising new business: R&D
brainstorms entire population
of US could fit into ten major league
stadiums in liquid form.

Cutting-edge research to begin on
products and services appealing
to twelve-fingered humans who will
achieve majority status by 2412.

Secure six golden handcuffs,
extend seven golden handshakes.
Notify legal.

Employee #131313, John Blackard,
scheduled for interview without coffee
Christmas Eve. No severance package.

Nothing else for the good
of the order; everything appears
copasetic. Meeting adjourned.

Circling the parking lot in
his head, magpies chase and peck
bad dogs with chicken carcasses
wired around their necks.

John A. Blackard

Friday, April 30, 2010

House-Painting on Liberty Road

Of all the old houses still standing—
blurred, alligatored, crumbling—
on the outskirts of my memory,
when even Weatherbeater paint from Sears
guaranteed to capture, transform, and process
the flow of sun and weather through 1996,
whatever I knew about that one’s
last occupants—friends of my grandfather—
preaching apocalypse, matter chaos,
and heat death,
I heard in their hallelujahs and amens
over my paint-spattered radio
playing the Stones’s Gimme Shelter.

Of all the ladders I raised under
open cornices and brackets—
my weight a bouncing pressure on the rungs
angled against the rock garden wall
and buckled German siding—whatever
I learned about the poor people
who lived in such a ruin,
I glossed over while perched between my myth
of home and their New Jerusalem,
an anchorite wedged into the cliff-face
of the second storey, scraping and painting
the palimpsest of a twenties Craftsman
dissipated and diffused to its
most disordered state.

I was always taken in by the work
on the ladder— scraping down
to old-growth oak, brushing on the hillbilly
chrome of polymer paint—
rather than the nothing that seemed to happen
below me in the hardscrabble of their life.
Of sixty year-old paint flake storms
and blinding fogs of space-age spray rising
over the mast of that reef-wrecked vessel—
even as sea hags and backwoods teasers
stood at the kitchen screen-door and plied me
with Cheerwine and Mountaindew.
Whatever life on the ladder I had
was compromised as I leaned into
the pock-marked skin of
that collapsing organism— smelling
its sour sweat and foul breath,
calculating the exponential growth
of its wasp population whose vespiaries
in the eaves swelled to the size of sunflower heads.

Even as solitary life on the ladder
brought windows around occasionally
for me to trim,
filled with candlelight panes of bubbled glass,
I imagined I looked into a darkened room
and saw a cradle built like the house
in miniature and the child’s sleeping face
showed a perfect peace,
but what I really saw was a dirty
toddler in sagging diapers—
part Cherokee, part Black— standing in
a catbox, crying for her life.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

I Wish Mr. Hyde Had Talked More About This Last Night

Lewis Hyde-- The Gift and Art

How, if art is essentially a gift, is the artist to survive in a society dominated by the market? Modern artists have resolved this dilemma in several different ways, each of which, it seems to me, has two essential features. First, the artist allows himself to step outside the gift economy that is the primary commerce of his art and make some peace with the market. Like the Jew of the Old Testament who has a law of the altar at home and a law of the gate for dealing with strangers, the artist who wishes neither to lose his gift nor to starve his belly reserves a protected gift-sphere in which the work is created, but once the work is made he allows himself some contact with the market.

And then - the necessary second phase - if he is successful in the marketplace, he converts market wealth into gift wealth: he contributes his earnings to the support of his art.

To be more specific, there are three primary ways in which modern artists have resolved the problem of their livelihood: they have taken second jobs, they have found patrons to support them, or they have managed to place the work itself on the market and pay the rent with fees and royalties. The underlying structure that is common to all of these - a double economy and the conversion of market wealth to gift wealth - may be easiest to see in the case of the artist who has taken a secondary job, some work more or less unrelated to his art - night watchman, merchant seaman, Berlitz teacher, doctor or insurance executive... The second job frees his art from the burden of financial responsibility so that when he is creating the work he may turn from questions of market value and labor in the protected gift-sphere. He earns a wage in the marketplace and gives it to his art.

The case of patronage (or nowadays, grants) is a little more subtle. The artist who takes a second job becomes, in a sense, his own patron: he decides his work is worthy of support, just as the patron does, but then he himself must go out and raise the cash. The artist who manages to attract an actual patron may seem to be less involved with the market. The patron's support is not a wage or a fee for service but a gift given in recognition of the artist's own. With patronage, the artist's livelihood seems to lie wholly within the gift-sphere in which the work is made.

But if we fail to see the market here, it is because we are looking only at the artist. When an artist takes a second job, a single person moves in both economies, but with patronage there is a division of labor - it is the patron who has entered the market and converted its wealth to gifts. Once made, the point hardly needs elaboration. Harriet Shaw Weaver, that kindly Quaker lady who supported James Joyce, did not get her money from God; nor did the Guggenheims, nor does the National Endowment for the Arts. Someone, somewhere sold his labor in the marketplace, or grew rich in finance, or exploited the abundance of nature, and the patron turns that wealth into a gift to feed the gifted.

Artists who take on secondary jobs and artists who find patrons have, in a sense, a structural way to mark the boundary between their art and the market. It is not hard to distinguish between writing poems and working the night shift in a hospital, and easier still for the poet to know he is no Guggenheim. But the artist who sells his own creations must develop a more subjective feel for the two economies and his own rituals for both keeping them apart and bringing them together. He must, on the one hand, be able to disengage from the work and think of it as a commodity. He must be able to reckon its value in terms of current fashions, know what the market will bear, demand fair value, and part with the work when someone pays the price. And he must, on the other hand, be able to forget all that and turn to serve his gifts on their own terms. If he cannot do the former, he cannot hope to sell his art, and if he cannot do the latter, he may have no art to sell, or only a commercial art, work that has been created in response to the demands of the market, not in response to the demands of the gift. The artist who hopes to market work that is the realization of his gifts cannot begin with the market. He must create for himself that gift-sphere in which the work is made, and only when he knows the work to be the faithful realization of his gift should he turn to see if it has currency in that other economy. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.*( * Artists who sell their work commonly take on an agent as a way of organizing this double economy: the artist labors with his gift and his agent works the market.)

A single example will illustrate several of these points. For years before he established himself as a painter, Edward Hopper used to hire himself out as a commercial artist to magazines with names like Hotel Management. Hopper was an expert draftsman, and the illustrations and covers he drew during those years are skillfully rendered. But they are not art. They certainly have none of Hopper's particular gift, none of his insight, for example, into the way that incandescent light shapes an American city at night. Or perhaps I should put it this way: any number of out-of-work art students could have drawn essentially the same drawings. Hopper's magazine covers - happy couples in yellow sailboats and businessmen strolling the golf links - all have the air of assignments, of work for hire. Like the novelist who writes genre fiction according to a proven formula, or the composer who scores the tunes for television commercials, or the playwright flown in to polish up a Hollywood script, Hopper's work for the magazines was a response to a market demand, and the results are commercial art.

During his years as a commercial artist, Hopper created for himself what I have called the 'protected gift-sphere' by spending only three or four days a week at the magazines and painting at home the rest of the time. He would, of course, have been happy to sell his gift-sphere work on the market, but there were no buyers. In 1913, when he was thirty-one years old, he sold a painting for $250; he sold none for the next ten years. Then, between 1925 and 1930, he began to earn a living by his art alone.

In a sense Hopper's work for the magazines should be considered not a part of his art at all but a second job taken to support his true labors. But the point is that even when a market demand for his true art developed, Hopper still preserved the integrity of his gifts. It may be hard to formulate a rule of thumb by which to know when an artist is preserving his gifts and when he is letting the market call the tune, but we know the distinction exists. Hopper could have made a comfortable living as a commercial artist, but he didn't. He could have painted his most popular works over and over again, or he could have had them photographed and, like Salvador Dali, sold signed gold-flecked reproductions. But he didn't.

It is not my intention here to address the problems and subtleties of the various paths by which artists have resolved the problem of making a living. There are second jobs that deaden the spirit, there are artists who become beholden to their patrons and those whose temperament prohibits them from selling the work at all. Each of the paths I have described is most often a way of getting by, not a way of getting rich. No matter how the artist chooses, or is forced, to resolve the problem of his livelihood, he is likely to be poor. Both Whitman and Pound make good examples. Neither man ever made a living by his art. Whitman's description of the 'sort of German or Parisian student life' he lived in Washington during the Civil War could be translated almost verbatim to Pound during his years in London and Paris, living in little rented rooms, wearing flamboyant but secondhand clothes, straining his coffee through
a cloth in the morning, building his own furniture. (By Pound's own estimation, one of the attractions of Europe was its acceptance of an artist's limited means. Remember his letter to Harriet Monroe: 'Poverty here is decent and honourable. In America it lays one open to continuous insult on all sides.')

If we are to speak fully of the poverty of artists, we must pause here to distinguish between actual penury and 'the poverty of the gift.' By this last I intend to refer to an interior poverty, a spiritual poverty, which pertains to the gifted state. In that state, those things that are not gifts are judged to have no worth, and those things that are gifts are understood to be but temporary possessions. There is a sense in which our gifts are not fully ours until they have been given away. The gifted man is not himself, therefore, until he has become the steward of wealth which appears from beyond his realm of influence and which, once it has come to him, he must constantly disburse. Leviticus records the Lord's instruction to Moses: 'The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me.' Likewise, we are sojourners with our gifts, not their owners; even our creations - especially our creations - do not belong to us. As Gary Snyder says, 'You get a good poem and you don't know where it came from. "Did I say that?" And so all you feel is: you feel humility and you feel gratitude.' Spiritually, you can't be much poorer than gifted.

The artist who has willingly accepted such an interior poverty can tolerate a certain plainness in his outer life. I do not mean cold or hunger, but certainly the size of the room and the quality of the wine seem less important to a man who can convey imaginary color to a canvas. When the song of one's self is coming all of a piece, page after page, an attic room and chamber pot do not insult the soul. And a young poet can stand the same supper of barley soup and bread, night after night, if he is on a walking tour of Italy and much in love with beauty. Artists whose gifts are strong, accessible, and coming over into their work may, as Marshall Sahlins says of hunters and gatherers, 'have affluent economies, their absolute poverty notwithstanding.'

I do not mean to romanticize the poverty of the artist, or pretend to too strong a link between this state of mind and 'the facts.' A man may be born rich and still be faithful to his gifts; he may happen upon a lucrative second job; his work may be in great demand or his agent a canny salesman. Actual poverty and interior poverty have no necessary connection. And yet, as we all know, and as the lives of Whitman and Pound testify, the connection is not unknown, either. For one thing, fidelity to one's gifts often draws energy away from the activities by which men become rich.

For another, if the artist lives in a culture which is not only dominated by exchange trade but which has no institutions for the conversion of market wealth to gift wealth, if he lives in a culture that cannot, therefore, settle the debt it owes to those who have dedicated their lives to the realization of a gift, then he is likely to be poor in fact as well as in spirit. Such, I think, is a fair description of the culture into which both Whitman and Pound were born. Theirs was hardly an age of patronage, as my brief list of return gifts indicates; nor was theirs a time that would have likely understood that Trobriand social code, 'to possess is to give.' Theirs - and ours - was the age of monopoly capitalism, an economic form whose code expected and rewarded the conversion of gift wealth to market wealth (the natural gifts of the New World, in particular - the forests, wildlife, and fossil fuels - were 'sold in perpetuity' and converted into private fortunes).

In a land that feels no reciprocity toward nature, in an age when the rich imagine themselves to be self-made, we should not be surprised to find the interior poverty of the gifted state replicated in the actual poverty of the gifted. Nor should we be surprised to find artists who, like Whitman and Pound, seek to speak to us in that prophetic voice which would create a world more hospitable to the creative spirit.

Lewis Hyde