November 25, 2015

Startle Yourself

Advice to poets:

"Your poem [essay or memoir] effectively begins at the first moment you’ve startled yourself. Throw everything away that proceeded that moment."

 —Stephen Dunn

November 22, 2015

The Baltics by Tomas Tranströmer

The poem "The Baltics" by Tomas Tranströmer has been translated by Patty Crane from Swedish into English.  This is just a small excerpt of the three part long poem:


Wind enters the pine forest. It sighs heavily and lightly.
Likewise the Baltic sighs in the island’s interior; deep in the forest you’re out on the open sea.
A new breath of wind and the place is desolate and still again.
A new breath of wind, murmuring about other shores.
It has to do with the war.
It has to do with places where citizens are under control,
where thoughts are built with emergency exits,
where a conversation between friends is really a test of what friendship means.
And when you’re together with those you don’t know so well. Control. A certain candor is all right just don’t take your eyes off whatever’s wandering the edges of the conversation: something dark, a dark stain.
Something that can drift in
and destroy everything. Don’t take your eyes off it!

 Read the poem in its entirety at

November 19, 2015

And We Who Move Away: Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs won a Nobel Prize in 1966.  She was born in Germany, a Jew. With the help of a Swedish friend, she escaped Nazi Germany a week just before she was due to enter a concentration camp. As a refugee, she moved to Sweden. Her writing is about the Holocaust. She was a friend of Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann. 

"Writing is my mute outcry; I only wrote because I had to free myself."  --Nelly Sachs

And we who move away

And we who move away
beyond all leaves of the windrose
heavy inheritance into the distance.

Myself here,
where earth is losing its lineaments
the Pole,
death's white dead nettle
falls in the stillness of white leaves

the elk,
peering through blue curtains
between his antlers bears
a sun-egg hatched pale─

Here, where ocean time
camouflages itself with iceberg masks
under the last star's
frozen stigma

here at this place
I expose the coral,
the one that bleeds
with your message.

An excerpt of Bewitched is Half of Everything

Solace lives far
behind the homesickness scar.
where a different green speaks with tongues
and the seas abandon themselves timelessly.

(─Translated from the German by Michael Roloff from Und neimand weiss weiter, 1957)

see more english translations at

Nelly Sachs and the Hubris of Pain:

November 13, 2015

The Endotic

Narrative Machine by Lorenzo Sandoval

In the search for literary trends or possibilities, I've come across the word "endotic," the opposite of "exotic."  The endotic is an artistic or literary practice to focus on the ordinary as opposed to the extraordinary. First, I've excerpted a blurb from a workshop recently taught by artist Lorenzo Sandoval, and then I did some exploration of his source, Georges Peres. I've collected excerpts (and their sources) here. Sandoval has created narrative machines. Peres was an experimental fiction writer. These ideas intrigue me. 

Exploring the Endotic
by Lorenzo Sandoval

Contrary to the exotic, the endotic is a very subtle but powerful tool to generate a situated practice from. It is subtle because it looks to the imperceptible of the everyday life, to the visible but hidden details of the space and gestures of the bodies around us. It rescues the astonishment from the forgotten and obvious, trapped by its naturalization. The endotic is a powerful tool because it leads us to read and listen to our surroundings, always looking from unexplored stances. From this immanent display, the very local traces a priceless threshold from where to approach the complex global. The second element we aim to work with in this workshop is microhistory. This methodological branch of history changed the scale and direction of the historical devices to instead look at smaller events and to listen to the relevance of the unwritten voices of dismissed subjects from hegemonic history.
Sandoval's 2015 workshop:
Review of Sandoval's art:
Narrative Machines:

Information regarding Sandoval's source, Georges Perec:
Georges Perec (March 7, 1936 in Paris - March 3, 1982 in Ivry-sur-Seine) was a French novelist, filmmaker, documentalist, and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. His father died as a soldier early in the Second World War and his mother was killed in the Holocaust, and many of his works deal with absence, loss, and identity, often through word play. 
Many of Perec's novels and essays abound with experimental word play, lists and attempts at classification, and they are usually tinged with melancholy. 
Perec is noted for his constrained writing. His 300-page novel La disparition (1969) is a lipogram, written without ever using the letter "e". It has been translated into English by Gilbert Adair under the title A Void (1994). The silent disappearance of the letter might be considered a metaphor for the Jewish experience during the Second World War. Since the name "Georges Perec" is full of "e"s, the disappearance of the letter also ensures the author's own "disappearance". His novella Les revenentes (1972) is a complementary univocalic piece in which the letter "e" is the only vowel used. This constraint affects even the title, which would conventionally be spelt Revenantes. An English translation by Ian Monk was published in 1996 as The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex in the collection Three. It has been remarked by Jacques Roubaud that these two novels draw words from two disjoint sets of the French language, and that a third novel would be possible, made from the words not used so far (those containing both "e" and a vowel other than "e").

Here are some excerpts of writing by Georges Perec
What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic. (The Infraordinary)
“Question your tea spoons.”  (Species of Spaces and Other Pieces)
“What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we go downstairs, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed on order to sleep. How? Where? When? Why? 
Describe your street. Describe another. Compare.”  (The Infraordinary)
Also, a recent essay regarding Perec's creative work and a celebration of Paris: 

October 16, 2015

Earth Body: The Art of Ana Mendieta

Covered by Time and History: The films of Ana Mendieta is showing at the Katherine Nash Gallery in Minneapolis. In four rooms of the gallery, the installation of several short films (in continuous looping) immerses the viewer in her art.

Mendieta called her practice Earth Body. It was a fusion of body art and earth art. In the 1970s, an art critic identified her work as being feminist and goddess like. Mendieta did not agree with this analysis, and she made some changes to prevent further assumptions. Her work does have a spiritual quality, but she was also exploring her culture, immigration, and violence toward women.

Mendieta imprinted herself on the earth. She did not bury herself, but maintained the abstract figure /outline on the surface. This female earth form degraded as it was exposed to the elements.  Often the form was filled with fire or water. Her performance art she documented by video and photographs. I found the sculpture and her earth works to suggest a vulva-like shape. She also had film and images of herself marked with animal blood (and a sidewalk, and a wall). This series was triggered by the murder of a female student, to acknowledge and address the violence. Some films are of her holding a decapitated chicken, wings flapping. It's visceral and powerful work.

In her film, she explained that she used the earth to express her connection with nature. This connection began as a child in Cuba, and later as an immigrant in the US, she found that her practice helped maintain her roots and connection with her culture.

Adriana Herrera Téllez, in Arte Al Día, has an excellent article about Mendieta's work that provides insight into her practice. Mendieta has been described by Olga Viso (currently at the Walker Art Center) as "inventive and iconoclastic."  Téllez believes Mendieta has influenced several other artists, including Marina Abramovic, yet Mendieta has not received the attention she deserves. Téllez describes her artwork in this way:
experimental art, capable of fusing aspects of primitive and conceptual art, mythical traditions and ecology, the land and performance, the non-territorial concern for violence against the female gender and the transcultural, displaced identities and the universal archetype.
Amanda Boetzkes says, “the artist does not only attempt to create a space in which the earth receives her body, but through her way of withdrawing it, provides a surface on which the elementary may appear the silueta fills with water, combustion or is blown apart and illuminates the face of the earth.”

Ana Mendieta's work has been a source of inspiration for me.  Here is a poem that I wrote to pay homage to her.

for Ana Mendieta

So light
the trembling of leaves
in the water’s mirror
shadow of your contour
shoulder on shore
line of tree your spine.
So dark
the stones depth, cold hip
I trace the root
in the earth’s script
where you’ve cast runes
written yourself in blood
or feathers spilled and mud
taken up with gunpowder
returned what never returns
to the continent or your hands.
Memory of fire that cast its spark
into the vast body giving birth
and reaching
the branch that breaks
beneath the feet,
drew yourself upon a leaf
from a tree or upper story.
Lost with certainty
the perfect execution—
self was never the answer
only earth.

c2012 Sheila Packa in Cloud Birds, Wildwood River Press, 2012.


Boetzkes, Amanda. The Ethics of Earth Art, University of Minnesota Press, 2010. P. 163

Téllez, Adriana Herrera. “Ana Mendieta Revisited.” November 30, 2010. Retrieved 15 October 2015. Arte Al Día / International / Contents / Artists / Ana Mendieta

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: and

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:

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:

Information about the book: