October 6, 2015

Loose Narratives: The Art of ParkeHarrison

Today, I had the opportunity to listen to the two artists talk about their process. Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison collaborate to create haunting and magical realist images. Their work is narrative, and they explore the connections between humans, nature, and technology. Along with Bob's focus is on photography and performance art, Shana brings her experience with choreography and painting.  See this link to view images: http://parkeharrison.com/artistInfo/parkehar/biblio/2.pdf?1968 and https://fstoppers.com/portraits/amazing-surreal-work-robert-shana-parkeharrison-4009

As a writer, I was curious about how they created such deep narratives. Their approach is theatrical, and each image is like a still from a movie. Each series begins with a long period of research and planning. They bring props. They choreograph. They manipulate the photograph to add or subtract color, to blur or obscure elements, and highlight certain things.  This is a slow and painstaking process. Each year, they create about eleven individual works.
 reclamation from Catherine Edelman Gallery on Vimeo.

The protagonist, "Everyman," expresses valiant effort and ineffectual attempts to address environmental damage.  The character often has his back to the viewer, and in this way, brings the viewer toward the world inside the frame. There are many odd elements: a man wears a suit to do things nobody would wear a suit to do. He holds clouds on a string, or he sprouts seedlings from his body. There are machines or laboratory equipment used in curious ways. Veins become roots, and plants are spindly and reaching. Cones are prevalent as are clouds. He attempts to mend the crack in the landscape by stitching with an oversize needle. The narratives strongly connect to the body, and they are piercing.  There is foreboding and magic. All this--such rich narrative--exists in image, object, body, atmosphere.

Artist Talk with Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison (2010) Introduction from Catherine Edelman Gallery on Vimeo.


A Midwest Emmy

A 2015 Midwest Emmy goes to Last Call for the Mitchell Yards – WDSE-TV - The Playlist. I'm thrilled to be among the artists featured in the documentary about the Iron Range. Congratulations! Many thanks for supporting arts and culture in the Northland!

Karen Sunderman LaLiberte, Producer/Off-Line Editor
Steven Ash, Director / Photographer / Editor
Lance Haavisto, Photographer
Juli Kellner, Executive Producer

In the category of Historic / Cultural



September 29, 2015

Disliking poetry...

 Marianne Moore has a celebrated poem, "Poetry"

I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect
contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

A lot of people say that they dislike poetry. It's a frustration with form, perhaps. Some resent the attention to metrics, allusions, sound elements or multiple meanings when these are not part of the awareness in everyday speech. In "Diary: On Disliking Poetry," an excellent critical essay, Ben Lerner writes:
Great poets disdain the limits of actual poems, tactically defeat or at least suspend that actuality, sometimes quit writing altogether, becoming celebrated for their silence; bad poets unwittingly provide a glimmer of virtual possibility via the radicalism of their failure; avant-garde poets hate poems for remaining poems instead of bombs and nostalgists hate poems for failing to do what they wrongly, vaguely claim they once did. There are varieties of interpenetrating demands subsumed under the word ‘poetry’ – to defeat time, to still it beautifully; to express irreducible individuality in a way that can be recognised socially or, like Whitman, to achieve universality by being irreducibly social, less a person than a national technology; to propound a measure of value beyond money, to defeat the language and value of existing society etc – but one thing all these demands share is that they can’t ever be fulfilled with poems. Hating on actual poems, then, is often an ironic if sometimes unwitting way of expressing the persistence of the demand of Poetry, and the jeremiads in that regard are defences, too, protecting the urgency and purity of the poetic impulse towards alterity from the merely real.
He distinguishes between the vision, the possible poem, and the actual which is limited by the limits of language.In his own work, Lerner shifts between poetry and prose. The novel has an elastic and curatorial form, he says, and his contain his poems and essays.  Lerner received a MacArthur Fellowship and is described in this way:
Ben Lerner is a novelist, poet, and critic exploring the relevance of art and the artist to modern culture with humor, compassion, and intelligence. Lerner began his writing career as a poet and essayist focused on contemporary literature and art. His three volumes of verse capture the often elliptical drift of thought, appearing spontaneous even as they layer linguistic and conceptual complexity. 
Bringing to the novel a poet’s relentless engagement with language and a critic’s analytical incisiveness, Lerner makes seamless shifts between fiction and nonfiction, prose and lyric verse, memoir and cultural criticism, conveying the way in which politics, art, and economics intertwine with everyday experience. Both of his novels, Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) and 10:04 (2014), hold up a mirror to the writer’s consciousness. While Atocha is a comedic portrait of a young artist coming of age, Lerner’s concerns in 10:04 are larger and more pressing, reflecting his narrator’s (Ben) growing maturity in relation to others and keen sense of the social structures that constrain him. Ben struggles to create meaningful fiction in a culture addicted to artificial stimulation, a theme interspersed with acute, at times comic, reminders of the neuroses of American society. 
Here is an excerpt of a sonnet in The Lichtenberg Figures:
Forgotten in advance, these failures are technological
in the oldest sense: they allow us to see ourselves as changed
and to remain unchanged. These failures grant us 
an unwelcome reprieve
and now we must celebrate wildly
until we are bereft. 
The ambiguity is pleasing, and allows the subject to remain open. He could be referring to language or poetry.

Work Cited:

Lerner, Ben. "Diary." London Review of Books 37.12 (2015): 42-43. 29 Sep. 2015 .

September 24, 2015

Proposals and Projects

Sometimes grant proposals don't get funded, and sometimes they do. It takes a lot of time to write specific project outlines and budgets, and even when the application does not receive funds from the grantor, I have found that my work on goal-setting has not been wasted.  

Research has shown that people who write goals down on paper are much more likely to achieve those goals. Grantwriters use this acronym:
Time bound
Writing projects, like art projects, are based on a series of tasks. To boost productivity, it's a good idea to set specific and measurable goals that fit these criteria. To increase the likelihood of receiving a grant, writers should get S.M.A.R.T. too. In addition, I highly recommend reading the grant instructions carefully, planning enough time to do a good job, and finding a proofreader for both the application and work sample.

Grants Available for Minnesota writers:http://www.arts.state.mn.us/grants/artist-initiative.htm

September 16, 2015

An Award for Preserving Minnesota History in Music, Art, Architecture and Poetry

Thank you and congratulations to WDSE The PlaylistKaren Sunderman, Steven Ash and Lance Haavisto!
The program "Last Call for the Mitchell Yards" has received an award from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. This story about the Iron Range features Paul Seeba, Dan Turner, Dave Aho, and Sheila Packa. The gala and fundraiser for the Preservation Alliance will be at the St. Paul Athletic Club on Thursday Oct 8, 2015.


Here's a link to this wonderful documentary: http://www.wdse.org/shows/playlist/watch/season-6-episode-12-mitchell-yards

Information about the book: http://nighttrainreddust.com/

August 20, 2015

The Argonauts: A Poet's Essay

The Argonauts by poet Maggie Nelson investigates sexuality, gender, motherhood, and love in her memoir -essay published by Graywolf Press, 2015.  The central metaphor comes from a quote by Roland Barthes in his book, Roland Barthes:
Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase "I love you" is like "the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name." Just as the Argo's parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase "I love you," its meaning must be renewed by each use, as "the very take of love and of language is to give one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new."   (Nelson, 5)
Maggie Nelson has applied the concept of the Argo, a boat that changes completely along the journey, to her relationship (her lover's kinks match her own) and to her lover's transition female to male. She finds the beauty of ambiguity. The metaphor also illuminates Nelson's pregnancy and birth of a son, the creation of her family, and her own artistic work as a writer.

The form of the book is capacious and uses poetic devices (metaphor, recurring images, repetition of words, enjambment, white space).  It captures 'the state of becoming,' or perpetual emergence. There are some people who resist poetry and say they don't like it and won't read it.  This book looks like an essay and it presents an argument. However, the book is grounded in the body and Nelson's experience. The Argonauts conveys queerness and the contradictions of desire. It resists hetero-norms.  It illuminates the subtle difference between lesbian and queer. It examines gender, motherhood and family in an unsentimental way. She brings together several ideas from gender theorists (Judith Butler), artists (Catherine Opie), and philosophers (Barthes, Wittgenstein, Lacan, and several others) as a way to investigate contemporary culture and her own life. The cover flap describes it as a "genre-bending memoir, a work of autotheory offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire."

The title and metaphor are from the Greek myth Jason and the Argonauts. Jason, the hero, goes on a quest in order to gain the throne that was lost by his father. The goddess Hera noticed his task matched her own mission to claim recognition from mortals (Jason's father the King had failed to pay homage to her). She assists, or perhaps one could say, uses Jason. Several elements of this mythic story add depth to the book. Nelson is smart, and I enjoyed the book.

July 12, 2015

Where the Heart Beats

I'm reading an interesting book by Kay Larson, a biography of John Cage, Where the Heart Beats: Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists. (Penguin 2012)  She includes an interesting quote from John Cage:  "What can be analyzed in my work, or criticized, are the questions I ask."

If one were to apply this to one's own work, it brings up interesting things.  One of the observations that others have had in my writing are shifts in verb tense: past and present.  I do have a question about time. Although some people declare, the past is the past - it is behind us - isn't the present made up of both here/now and memory?

June 18, 2015

The Terrain of Heaven and Hell: Marilynne Robinson

Since the publication of Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, I have had deep admiration for this fiction writer who I felt explored realms common to poetry.  What does she think of poetry?  Housekeeping engages readers with women characters in a mountain town in Idaho. Robinson skillfully, fully, beautifully uses the metaphor of water: fluidity, flood, lack of boundaries, and erosion and loss. Robinson connects her stories to myth or deep cultural (and Biblical) stories.

In 2014, Wyatt Mason interviewed Marilynne Robinson for the New York Times. This is an excerpt of his article:
All four of the novels are in conversation with — at times tacitly, at times explicitly — the stories of the Bible. Housekeeping is the story of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, who, after their mother commits suicide, are abandoned to the care of their grandmother and, after she dies, are abandoned to the care of their grandmother’s two maiden sisters-in-law. They, in turn, overwhelmed by the burden of caring for children, abandon the girls to the care of the girls’ aunt. And she, the girls come to understand, is not a stable person herself. Without question, the novel is preoccupied with the generational, genealogical succession of suffering. But it also makes sustained allusions to the book of Genesis, particularly the flood narrative: God’s failed attempt to wipe the world clean of the very errors he could not eradicate from creation — his creations.
Robinson's female characters are adrift, most often by accident or by dangers posed by others. She places her characters in domestic situations, but they are not and never seem like they could be domesticated, for the characters reveal dimensions of the truly wild and uncivilized. I like that she places her stories on the margins of society and she uses these margins to explore being.  Her characters are wary but not fearful.  Yet Robinson is concerned about the pervasive fear in our culture today, and she feels it becomes a rationale for avoiding action.  Mason wrote:
And it was here that Robinson brought up fear: How it has come to keep us at bay from our best selves, the selves that could and should “do something.” In her case, that “something” has been writing. For Robinson, writing is not a craft; it is “testimony,” a bearing witness: an act that demands much of its maker, not least of which is the courage to reveal what one loves. 
“A lot of people who actually believe in the sacredness of life, they write things that are horrible, desolating things, ” Robinson said. “Because, for some reason, this deeper belief doesn’t turn the world. . . . It comes down to fear; the fear of making self-revelation of the seriousness of ‘I sense a sacredness in things.’ ”
In Housekeeping, Robinson opens the story with a tale of the grandfather and a train derailment:
The disaster took place midway through a moonless night. The train, which was black and sleek and elegant, and was called the Fireball, had pulled more than halfway across the bridge when the engine nosed over toward the lake and then the rest of the train slid after it into the water like a weasel sliding off a rock.   
 The sound of the language evokes poetry: the image is drawn with vivid strokes.  The alliteration: "midway through a moonless night." The m sound shift to l sounds: "black and sleek and elegant...called the Fireball, pulled..."  "into the water like a weasel sliding..."  Some vowel sounds also are particularly powerful:  through/moonless; nosed over; off a rock.  The midway-ness of the night and the train on the bridge underline the midway-ness of the lives interrupted by the event. It marks the town. It presages the suicide of the girls' mother who also takes her car and drives off a cliff.  It begins a cascade of loss: The train disappears, the mother disappears, followed by the grandmother, and the great aunts.

In Lila, Robinson opens the story with Doll mercifully removing the child Lila from the cold porch where she's been put. Her decision was an impulsive act, a kidnapping, but had she not taken her, the child probably would have died:
She hitched up her apron to cover the child's legs and carried her out past the clearing. The door might have opened, and woman might have called after them, Where you going with that child? and then, after a minute, closed the door again, as if she done all decency required. "Well," Doll whispered, "we'll just have to see."  
The road wasn't really much more than a path, but Doll had walked it so often in the dark that she stepped over the roots and around the potholes and never paused or stumbled. She could walk quickly when there was no light at all. And was strong enough that even an awkward burden like a leggy child could rest in her arms almost asleep.   
Again the spare and vivid images and the alliterative phrases create a powerful beginning.  This is an act of courage that saves Lila's life, and marks a fugitive existence. Doll must fight with her ready and finely honed knife--the members of Lila's family have followed in pursuit or in revenge--and Doll takes the life of a man. After Lila meets the Reverend, marries him, and waits her child's birth, the novel traces her haunting memories, secrets, and speculations about her origins. Her early life, in the company of Doll and the loose group of homeless, itinerant workers was a tenuous existence.

The knife is a significant metaphor of survival used to prepare food, defend, and even cut the girl's fine hair. It severs Lila from her past; it protects her, and finally it becomes a talisman of the woman who loved her.  This last remaining link to Doll Lila treasures.  In this marriage, Lila constantly thinks of departure; the thoughts are a metaphorical knife that threatens to cut her marital and community ties. She is welcomed in Gilead, but she finds it difficult to acclimate to a routine, safe life.  Trust is slow in coming. Her world doesn't feel quite real. She has been so damaged by neglect, mistrust, and abuse she can hardly relate to her new role as the wife of a pastor.

Lila's questions about her past are never answered, and her questions of why life is like it is are also left to linger, and slowly she and her husband, the elderly Reverend, find their way to a conversation, in their growing intimacy, that explores that question.

Poetry takes many forms; and I find it in the writing of Marilynne Robinson. In a review of Harold Bloom's American Religious Poems, Marilynne Robinson writes:
The threshold between the life we know and whatever follows is a mystery religion has always addressed, and for which it has tended to provide the imagination with language and imagery. Dante and Milton created grand visions of a cosmos ordered to serve the ends of divine justice. But there is strikingly little interest among American poets in mapping the terrain of heaven and hell. In place of mythopoesis, their attention is turned on the actual, the phenomenal. And it is turned on the universal, solitary, subjective experience of the transformation, or the end, of consciousness. If death is the mother of beauty, it is the mother also of the deepest self-awareness, the consciousness of the nerves and senses that translate experience as beauty, and as meaning.
The marriage of Lila and the Reverend is a good marriage, and yet it measures the distance between the two people with vastly different life experiences. They almost don't speak the same language.  Lila grew up illiterate and unschooled, except for one year.  She doesn't have words for things, but like many illiterate people, she makes like she understands. The one thing that she does read is the Bible, rich in poetry. Robinson's new book maps the terrain of heaven and hell with aching beauty.

June 5, 2015

Dusk 'til Dawn

This is a sneak peak of the large scale projection planned for June 13, 2015 Northern Spark Festival in Minneapolis. Mill City Requiem for Solo Instrument and Distance.  Interactive web film by Kathy McTavish with text by Sheila Packa.  These lines are from my poem "Dusk" in Echo and Lightning (Wildwood River Press, c2010).

on her body / dusk
the circle of light
from the lamp falls on a pot
upon a round bowl
in front of the window
on her hips
roses bloom
as if the light has found
a way to enter the body
it's raining outside
water flows into the vessels
and blossoms and out
on the umbrella
over the empty table
on the lilacs
as if music as if light
plunged into the clouds
and the clouds wrapped
around its fists
green leaves all hearts
and stems like vines
and the light in the body
went into the roots
and the roots were sending it back
as if we were wrapped
by clouds and rain
and in the center
darkness lifted

June 4, 2015

Northern Spark: Mill City Requiem - #nspk

Mill City Requiem for Solo Instrument and Distance is presented as part of Northern Spark 2015, produced by Northern Lights.mn
June 13, 2015, dusk till dawn, at the Mill City Ruins, Minneapolis, MN 

Sheila Packa, Kathy McTavish and cello
This is a live performance, a large video installation,  and an interactive, navigational mobile experience ::: The mobile device is a glass boat in a submerged storyworld. The user rubs Aladdin's lamp - touches the glass - an act of "reading" that will bring you into an underground storyworld.  At intervals, Kathy McTavish will perform live improv cello with the underwater soundscape and the projection. 

Projection, web design and code by Kathy McTavish.  "The River / Requiem" by Sheila Packa.  See the mobile first web design at http://millcity.io/  This is an image of the interactive web application.

Navigation: If you choose to share your location, millcity.io will assign an avatar and a client # to you and track your distance from the center @ Mill City Museum on the Mississippi River.  The website lists all clients currently on line.

Telegraph: This is an internal telegraph service that enables users to type in phrases and see the words scroll on the mobile screen.

Live, freestyle poetry: On the night of Northern Spark, Sheila Packa and Kathleen Roberts will be doing freestyle, improv poetry on their mobile devices.  You can watch on your own mobile device, and add your words to theirs.  Sheila Packa, Kathleen Roberts, and friends will be at the Northern Spark projection site to meet with you and show you how to participate in the freestyle writing. Beware! It's totally addicting! Your text will scroll down the screen and become part of the scene.

E-book: "The River" adapted from Undertow and Echo and Lightning poems by Sheila Packa in html5, javascript, css3 with symbol fonts and vector graphics drawn to the screen.  For more information about the books, see www.wildwoodriver.com

Music: Live and recorded music by Kathy McTavish / cello, found sound, and recorded voice by Sheila Packa

The aviary links you with twitter, an ongoing twitter-dialogue. Tweets in the millcity.io story are by Kathleen Roberts, Kathy McTavish, Sheila Packa, and readers like you who tweet to #millcityio

Kathleen Roberts of Prøve Gallery, Duluth
and here's a photo of mad Kathleen:

History of the Mill City Museum: Originally, this building was a Gold Medal flour mill.  Later the building was abandoned and fell into disrepair, and homeless people navigated through the treacherous floors (with openings that could drop you down several levels).  Graffiti over the doorway read "Hotel Victory."  A photo exhibit "Homeless in the Mill" by JobyLynn Sassily-James, 1997, documents the Hotel Victory. It is on display in the Mill City Museum.  

Northern Spark is an all-night arts festival that lights up the night on June 13, 2015. On the second Saturday of June, tens of thousands of people gather throughout Minneapolis to explore the city's great cultural institutions, play in temporary installations in the streets, and enjoy experimental performances in green spaces and under bridges. Northern Spark is presented by Northern Lights.mn, a nonprofit arts organization with the mission to transform our sense of what’s possible in public space.  On June 13, tune into social media for up-to-date happenings.