April 15, 2015

Mitchell Yards - Artists of the Iron Range

Thank you to the Playlist WDSE for celebrating art and artists.  This documentary about a place, a time, and the artists Dan Turner, Sheila Packa, Paul Seeba, and David Aho will move you!

April 10, 2015

Night Train Red Dust

Thanks to WDSE Playlist:
The first poem, "Sketch" is about a true story that occurred in 1914 during the labor strike in Biwabik at the home of Philip Masonovich.  Two company guards arrived at the home, purported to check on a "blind pig" or still.  A scuffle ensued, and a gun went off and shot one of the guards who was outside near the horse and wagon.  Mr and Mrs Masonovich were taken into custody. Even the baby went to jail.  Charges were also filed against union organizers who were 75 miles away.   The sketch is proletarian form of writing: a character, a situation, but not necessarily a plot.  I chose the word sketch for the title because of the ambiguity of the situation.  Nobody really knows who said or did what, or who was to blame. We do know that the companied hired and armed men, and that these men used their guns.  A mine worker was shot in the back in Gilbert, and seven thousand people marched at his funeral, including the union organizer for the Wobblies, Helen Gurley Flynn. She later became one of the founding members of the ACLU.

April 6, 2015

Storytelling on the Web: Choreotextographies

Reading and Writing

Reading and writing are the two sides of a text. Reading opens doors and writing crosses thresholds. Reading begets writing. For me, it is a steady chase. Writing begins with an insisting image or something stirred by conversation, between pages or words exchanged with a friend. I begin with no expectation—because that is the best way—simply moving my hand across the page, writing the most mundane things and in this process from somewhere comes a word or a phrase that I follow until I’m lost. Getting lost is necessary, and so is way-finding through dreams, associations, experiments, and reverie.

In books, I find stillness and escape. The lamp on my desk shines books splayed downward and others fallen in stair-step patterns up and down. Books I’ve read are turned titles down, spines to the right, and books I plan to read have titles up, spines to the right. I love to read sitting by a window turning the thick pages fragrant with the scent of libraries and women who wear glasses on delicate gold or silver chains.

Words written in long before arrive into a new encounter, like a letter found in a bottle. While reading, an intimate and silent dialogue occurs with the past or with another life experience. Here is part of an exquisite poem by C.P. Cavafy that uses the phrase "an invisible procession"--

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.

Aside from the narrative of a leader losing his country, aside from underlining the need to face one's losses with courage and other meanings, the poem identifies an individual's cascade of images, memories, and associations. As the world changes, we might apply this metaphor to our experience with old ways of publishing books and experiencing stories.  In our imagination, an invisible procession occurs that can lead to our own creative work. I want to create new works that are evocative and have openings that invite the reader to make multiple meanings. 

In the Digital Age

E-books are static—static as a print book (although this is changing)—and they do not give the reader the sensation of a unique object that pleases the sense of touch and smell. The web provides new and different perspectives and languages: virtual reality, online gaming, multiple media and interactivity. A story that goes from print to film often contracts. The visual language and music will carry meaning as well as the words. If that same story is used in interactive gaming, it will expand. 

Digital media offer new artistic opportunities to make the invisible processions visible. With an increasing range and breadth of communication and networks, we select and arrange multiple things, people, places, and experience. We see memes, and we like to participate. We like our videos to go viral. Curation is a system of collecting, organizing and presenting. Patterns have become more apparent and necessary.

As a poet writing on paper and an artist presenting in digital online environments, I consider the reading and writing exchange. I can best describe the web films I've worked on as innovative ways of reading. The projects arrive, and they depart in code. They are mobiles of text, sound, and image. I call these choreotextographies.


I look for metaphors of movement: flows of rivers, wind, and water, bird and animal migrations, human travel and migrations. Also I’m drawn to transformations—metamorphosis, organic growth and decay, alchemy. Creative work can demand this same process. People change residences, relationships, and/or activities in order to complete an artistic work. Even the language conveys how radical the process can be: one executes a piece of art or music. The verb means a successful rendering but also it carries a shadow of death. The old way of being dies, and a new one arrives. We become part of the artistic piece at the same time as separating from it. Every creative work is an act of change.

Artists court change. Virginia Woolf said, "...we can read ... with another aim, not to throw light on literature ... but to refresh and exercise our own creative powers." Writers are good readers. Readers are open to enchantment and meditation. Readers are thinkers and dreamers. In the exchange, there is a potential transmission of energy and breath and intimacy that extends beyond one's life.  

This was originally published in Proof Magazine, 2014.

April 2, 2015

Enter Text

Exciting news! Kathy McTavish and I have just been accepted into a one month arts residency, "Enter Text," for poets, writers and text-based artists. Arteles is near Tampere, Finland.

Enter Text

Residency program for poets, writers, and text-based artists at Arteles Creative Center in Hämeenkyrö, Finland. The one-month residency period occurs October/November 2015.

Fiction writing, visual/sound/traditional poetry, graphic novels, code art, calligraphy, typography… All are equally greeted with joy and creativity in Finland with other enthusiastic, international text artists and writers.

Silent nature and solitude

Surrounded by beautiful forests, fields and lakes, Arteles Residency provides the perfect setting for intense writing and mindplay close to the nature. The same award-winning landscapes (European Union Landscape Award 2009) have also been an inspiration for F. E. Sillanpää, the Nobel Prize winning author born and raised in the region.

The predefined structure of the program is very flexible, allowing you all the time & space you need in order to take your work where it wants to go. Weekly group meetings are a good chance for feedback and discussions, but if you feel more like barricading in your writer’s chamber, you are completely free to do so, as all participation is 100 % voluntary.

Experiment freely

To accompany the intensive solo practice, the program is an excellent opportunity to join forces with other text-based creatives from around the world. Share, examine, go cross-genre – play around and see what comes out. Brainstorms to be finished in the heat of the traditional Finnish sauna.

Read more and apply online at:

March 31, 2015

Minnesota Orchestra: Poetry and the Composer

Buy tickets now!

In February 2016 the Minnesota Orchestra and Vänskä, joined by Finland’s YL Male Voice Choir and vocal soloists Lilli Paasikivi and Tommy Hakala, will make a live, in-concert recording of Sibelius’ Kullervo. The Orchestra, YL Male Voice Choir and Paasikivi will also record Kortekangas’ Migrations, and the Orchestra and Choir will record Sibelius’ Finlandia, all live in concert.

The Orchestra’s offerings of contemporary music include the world premiere of Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas’ Migrations, with the YL Male Voice Choir and mezzo Lilli Paasikivi singing text by Duluth-based poet Sheila Packa.


March 26, 2015

History and Memoir

I want to celebrate the poet Natasha Tretheway. Her work inspired me while I wrote Night Train Red Dust (a poetic people's history of my Iron Range). Natasha Trethewey's work comes out of the intersection of history and memoir. The people she writes about had been forgotten by history, nearly erased. Of her book, Native Guard, she said, "I was thinking about the buried history we overlook. Really so much of it is literally beneath us -- the real bones of the people who are beneath us. The Native Guard was a troop of black soldiers who fought for the Union cause during the Civil War. They are a forgotten story in Mississippi and in US history. Here are excerpts from interviews with the poet:

I think I’m someone who has a constant awareness of things that are invisible... I think it in some ways comes from growing up in New Orleans...people either love it or they hate it. People who hate it think it’s seedy. I always think that seediness is just the presence of this history. There are ghosts everywhere around you.
This book won the Pulitzer Prize, but it also holds her own family story about her mother who was murdered by her stepfather. This connects the violence in the political sphere with violence in the domestic sphere. It gives this work a deep emotional heart. The poems are beautifully crafted and haunting.

For a long time I thought the main thing was the Native Guard. When I took my grandmother to a restaurant on the beach on Ship Island, someone heard our conversation and told me this history that I hadn’t learned my whole life. It occurred to me that there was all kinds of historical erasure like that -- things that get left out of the record and are equally important in the history of us as Americans. I started doing research about the guards, and that was what I wanted to write about.
My more personal poems, about me and my place in the South, started to enter into this book. I saw that connection. I started thinking about my place as a southerner, and as biracial, and as a black southerner and what gets left out of history and who’s responsible for remembering, recording, those things that are left out -- the native duty of many of us."
She served two terms as US Poet Laureate, and I look forward to reading her new work, and I hope she will continue to receive accolades and recognition of her important writing.
See more information and links at https://storify.com/sheilapacka/the-situation-and-the-story-native-guard-and-natas
Also see: http://blueflowerarts.com/artist/natasha-trethewey/ 

March 18, 2015

Art, Code and Narrative

James Coupe, Sanctum. Commissioned by the Henry Art Gallery, with support from the Barton Family Foundation, Linden Rhoads and DXARTS. http://jamescoupe.com/?p=1740
Skill Share: A Northern Lights.mn SymposiumMarch 27-28, 2015 at the Soap FactoryFree, registration required for both days on EventBriteSponsored by the Jerome Foundation
Join us for a conversation on art, surveillance and narrative plus an afternoon knowledge-share of information every artist working with media in the public sphere needs to know.  Part artist talk, part skills fair and part happy hour, this gathering aims to build knowledge, peer learning and expand networks around contemporary digital art in conjunction with Art(ists) on the Verge.
Friday, March 27, 7 pmJames Coupe: Metadata and Meta Narratives
Co-presented with What’s Up Pop Up by Sarah Lutman and Associates
Using surveillance systems, social media, and neuroscience, James Coupe makes art that approaches narrative in unusual ways. Some works are composed by using pre-existing literary or cinematic templates as a framework; others take social media as a narrative framework in itself. For example, in (re)collector, a city-wide surveillance camera network attempted to reconstruct Antonioni’s classic film, Blow Up, from people’s everyday activities; and in Today, too, I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days, Facebook’s profiling algorithms are used to generate films that use people’s status updates as scripts.
The talk will consider the use of narrative in Coupe’s work alongside a discussion of metadata, surveillance and autonomous systems.
James Coupe is an artist and associate professor at the University of Washington’s renowned DX Arts program.

March 16, 2015

Algebra and Fire

Matthew 25:30 – by Jorge Luis Borges
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The first bridge on Constitution. At my feet
the shunting trains trace iron labyrinths.
Steam hisses up and up into the night
which becomes, at a stroke, the Night of the Last Judgment.
From the unseen horizon,
and from the very center of my being,
an infinite voice pronounced these things–
things, not words. This is my feeble translation,
time-bound, of what was a single limitless Word:

"Stars, bread, libraries of East and West,
playing cards, chessboards, galleries, skylights, cellars,
a human body to walk with on the earth,
fingernails, growing at nighttime and in death,
shadows for forgetting, mirrors which endlessly multiply,
falls in music, gentlest of all time’s shapes,
borders of Brazil, Uruguay, horses and morning,
a bronze weight, a copy of Grettir Saga,
algebra and fire, the charge at Junin in your blood,
days more crowded than Balzac, scent of the honeysuckle,
love, and the imminence of love, and intolerable remembering,
dreams like buried treasure, generous luck,
and memory itself, where a glance can make men dizzy–

all this was given to you and, with it,
the ancient nourishment of heroes–
treachery, defeat, humiliation.
In vain have oceans been squandered on you, in vain
the sun, wonderfully seen through Whitman’s eyes.

You have used up the years and they have used up you,
and still, and still, you have not written the poem."

–Translated by Alastair Reid

Aristotle and Ovid

New work is underway, and I search for new forms. The greatest influences on literature are Aristotle and Ovid.  They offer two different methods of story-telling.

Aristotle in Poetics focused his attention on these elements: plot, character, thought, diction, song, spectacle, and catharsis.  This design usually features a compelling narrative focused on the intense desires of a main character.  Sparknotes contains an analysis of Aristotle's Poetics:
Plot, derived from the word muthos (the root word for myth, Greek) applied to any art form, including music or sculpture. The muthos of a piece of art is its general structure and organization. It means not the sequence of events so much as the logical relationships that exist between events. The best kind of plot of muthos contains surprises, those that fit logically into the sequence of events. The best kinds of surprises are brought about by "peripeteia," or reversal of fortune, and "anagnorisis," or discovery.
In addition, I particularly value the following thoughts from Poetics by Aristotle:
Every word is either current, or strange, or metaphorical, or ornamental,
or newly-coined, or lengthened, or contracted, or altered. 
...the poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities.
...magnitude in the sense of the astronomical...brightness or power...  
On the other hand, Ovid's Metamorphoses has also greatly influenced literature and the arts. Larry A. Brown writes: "...there is no central hero, thus no simple Aristotelian unity to the work. So what binds this poem together, making it more than a random collection of stories? We might first consider three superficial strategies of unity within the poem:
  • All of Ovid's tales involve metamorphosis. But some stories (see Phaethon, Pentheus, Heracles) only have metamorphosis tacked on as an incidental element, almost as an afterthought. Ovid is more interested in metamorphosis as a universal principle which explains the nature of the world: Troy falls, Rome rises. Nothing is permanent.
  • Chronological progression: Ovid begins his poem with the story of creation and the flood, and ends in his own day with Augustus on the throne. However, chronology becomes unimportant in the vast middle section of work, as seen by the numerous anachronisms throughout (see notes on Callisto, Atlas, Cycnus stories for examples).
  • Transitional links: Ovid continually surprises us, as we never know where he's going next. He changes strategies using several techniques
Ovid presents a much more associational form, a theme with variations: "gods acting like humans (section I), to humans suffering at the hands of gods (II), to humans suffering at the hands of humans (III), to humans becoming gods (IV)," according to Brown.

Of the two styles of storytelling, I find myself more often prone to Ovid that Aristotle.  My work has been always focused on changes, including Migrations, the anthology of Lake Superior area writers that I collected.  Poetry is often associational.  But as I work on my new play, I can see the strengths of Aristotle's approach, and so I aim to incorporate structural elements of both.

Work Cited:

Aristotle.  Poetics. Written 350 B.C.E.  (full text) The Internet Classics Archive. MIT.  Web Retrieved http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.htm

Brown, Larry A. Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Web. Retrieved 16 March 2015. http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/xeno.ovid1.htm 

Philosophy Study Guides. Aristotle. Poetics. 384-322 B.C.   SparkNotes. Web. Retrieved 16 March 2015.  http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/aristotle/section11.rhtml

February 14, 2015

Cecil Taylor on Poetry and Magic

I've read a marvelous short story in Bombsite Magazine today. "Cecil Taylor" by César Aira (translated by Chris Andrews) explores with aching beauty the hostility and rejection that the musician and composer endured in his career. The writing of César Aira, an Argentinian writer known for 'miniature novels' --a sort of intimate immensity, is phenomenal. [The Musical Brain and Other Stories, by César Aira and translated by Chris Andrews is coming out in March from New Directions Press).  Here is an excerpt by Aira:
Immobility is art in the artist, while all the events treated in the artwork take place on the other side of the glass. Night comes to an end, so does day: there’s something awkward in the work in progress. The opposite twilights drop like tokens into slots of ice. The eyes of statues closing when they open and opening when they close. Peace in war. And yet there’s a movement that’s out of control, and all too real; it makes others anxious and provides the model for our own anxieties. Art figures it as Endless Revolving Growth, and it gives rise to libraries, theaters, museums and whole universes of fantasy. It may stop, but if it does, an enormous number of remnants are left. After a while, the remnants begin to revolve and breed. Multiplication multiplies itself ... But, as we know, there is only “the one life.”
In the contemplation of Cecil Taylor's life, the narrator considers this line between the artist and the art. I found this interview "being matter ignited" between Cecil Taylor and Chris Funkhouser (1994) published in a literary magazine, Hambone. Funkhouser interviews Taylor about his poetry.  This endless revolving growth is reflected in his interview. This is what Taylor said:

And what I mean by it is, after you do it enough, you make a commitment to the magic. Then the magic asserts itself in ways that you don't have to worry about, because it is incorruptible. That's the whole thing. Integrity must stand. If it stands, then you don't have to worry about other things. You do your work and then it comes. Because that is the truth. That is the beauty. That is the force. However, you just made me realize something. I am not conscious of form but yet you cannot not be conscious of it. Because you look at the page. And the page let's you know certain things. So, of course, one of the things that I'm thinking about is how the next part of this poem is going to be different in terms of its architecture. 
I mean, what are they doing, talking about form? I mean, you look at the rivers and the mountains. The forests that they haven't destroyed yet. Look at these rocks. I could have showed you a rock in that place across the street.
Can you imagine all the spirits that are coming out of that rock? And we are, after all, just animals and we are a part of nature. We are a part of, and we are probably the quickest in terms of duration of life. We are the transitory poems. The mountains will be here, and perhaps we will be part of a mountain. You know there are certain West African tribes that believe that life is just a part of death, and when the chemical composition changes--some of them believe that they may become a mountain stream, star, whatever. I think that we definitely go back to the earth. Which is interesting. It's called "mother earth." The Portugese say, "Portentosa", that's Africa. And actually, the oldest bi-ped was found in the Sahara, she was a woman species. But then again that's not really strange when you understand that salps, fish--it is the women who give birth, and without male--and the women, as they mature, they become male and that's how they unite. This is not acceptable by a Christian--but they don't know anything. 
I'm not interested in separations. What I mean by that is what I'm discovering and becoming aware of every day now is that the similarity, although the nature of the material is different, the process of building the structure are very similar. This is a recognition of something that was gradual. And I rather delight in it now, because I know, thus far, how to practice. Practice is very important to me, musically. In other words, practice is-- forget that--the preparation, the spiritual--the preparation is to enter the realm of the spirits. And it is not practice because it is voluntary. It is. Practice has to do with discipline. 
What happens is that you don't even think about it, and you work on it. Once you've been touched by extraordinary beauty, they tell you what you're supposed to do. And of course everyone who has been touched comes up with their own methodological concept how to translate that into their own language.
The phrase "methodological concept" that Cecil Taylor mentions is one that he has fought long and hard to maintain. While in school, he recalled that many teachers were not only disinterested in his concept, but actively blocked it. Because of the endless obstacles, Taylor turned toward other arts to maintain his connection with the "magic." Even at the end of his career, Taylor protected his vision from tampering by recording studios. His writing was not published at first, and he said that it was not his concern, that he simply loved to write and left the results of it to another time or place. Aira in his story:
And what counts in literature is detail, atmosphere, and the right balance between the two. The exact detail, which makes things visible, and an evocative, overall atmosphere, without which the details would be a disjointed inventory. Atmosphere allows the author to work with forces freed of function, and with movements in a space that is independent of location, a space that finally abolishes the difference between the writer and the written: the great manifold tunnel in broad daylight ... Atmosphere is the three-dimensional condition of regionalism, and the medium of music. Music doesn’t interrupt time. On the contrary.  
Aira's technique reveals the forces that make his story. It's a biography that includes a meditation on art and its making and an unforgettable atmosphere, And of Cecil Taylor's failure after failure in the New York clubs, he wrote, "His continual changes of address protected him; they were the little genie’s suspended dwelling, and there he slept on a bed of chrysanthemums, under the shade of a droplet-laden spider web."