April 13, 2010

Synesthesia & Art Fusion: Cloud Birds

Read a Book Review, "Not Forgotten: A Poem by Lois After Mark" Midlife at the Oasis. Web.  July 8, 2011.  http://midlifeattheoasis.com/soul/not-forgotten-a-poem-by-sheila-packa/

Godard the French film maker said of his work that it was "as if I wanted to write a sociological essay in the form of a novel, and all I had to do it with was notes of music."  Poetry and film are related genres: both employ image, word, music.   They operate the same way.  I like poetry that cross pollinates with painting, sculpture, photography, music, composition, film, theater, dance.  Even better to combine it with other ways of knowing: science, navigation, philosophy, history, religion, alchemy.    Poetry is a form of waking.   

I think of it as paradox, the combination of opposites.   Not dialectic, but ecstatic.   Not static, but in motion.   

Poetry is a live painting for the ear, or music made by taste and touch that reaches you deep inside.   It's time travel by smell.    It tells you about yourself by water or wind or stone or flames.  If it's a pattern, if it's a ritual, if it's a dance.   It will sing to you, unsettle you, bring you back to yourself, change your life.  And all you have to do it with is the alphabet and empty space.

Cloud Birds has three sections:  Bear, Wing, Cloud.

Bear, the first section, contains twenty-one love poems to bears. I'd had a bear phobia since childhood. My father, who obviously was worried about me wandering in the forest by myself, warned me to stay near the house "or the bears would eat me."  Parents don't usually use this method of childrearing, but he grew up on a farm. They had sheep, and often bears preyed on the lambs.  So perhaps his fear was grounded in that experience.  Nevertheless, the effect had been paralyzing. One of the poems in the section was dedicated to Ana Mendieta, the environmental artist who had mysteriously fallen from her balcony window in New York City. Her husband was charged with the crime, but he was acquitted. This was an ekphrastic poem, written because the cover image by Cecilia Ramón was in homage to Ana Mendieta.

When I moved to the house in the country in 2007, I had seven intersections with bears. In the city while I was driving in the city of Duluth, on Superior Street at the Tischer Creek Bridge near 34th Avenue East.  One peered in my studio window at home while I was working at my computer.  I saw two crossing the freeway, and a week later, meandering on the Homestead Road. At the cabin, Kathy and I went for a walk on the Olsen Road near Thunder Bay. In the mud, I saw the distinct prints of a bear claw. Fresh!  Then, the footprints wandered off the road and disappeared into the bush. Uneasily, I looked behind and the bear was following me.  On another day, we encountered one again. This time, it stood up on two legs and stared at us.  We waved our arms and shouted. The bear was curious. It got back on all fours and paced back and forth. We didn't dare walk forward, and it didn't want to leave. Minutes passed. Not a car drove down the road. My legs were shaking.  I noticed that no one was home at the neighbor's house, and maybe the bear was bound for this place, because a chicken coop was in the yard. I found some scrap metal in the yard, luckily. I banged the rings of an old kitchen stove, and finally the bear bolted across the field.

I decided to let my anxiety feed my writing and was inspired by Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and one poems of Despair.  Kathy had suggested my obsessions with bears, my hyper-vigilance, was perhaps related to my Finnish heritage. Were they not bear people in the Kalevala? Aren't they magical?  So that began this series, and it became a meditation about fear and an exploration of the wilderness and secret life, and then suddenly it was about women and intimacy. The bear poems were a ritual act, a Kalevalian effort to break the spell of my fears.

The next section of the book, Wing, was a series of poems that were about fear, women walking through violence, and my relationship with my father.  The poem about the man who lived in a tree was a story I'd heard in Finland from my second cousin Mikko Himanka. We were touring the family cemetery plot, and I'd seen the tombstone of the Man Who Lived in a Tree.  Mikko explained he had been in America to work in an iron mine, but he had contracted miner's lung, and he came back home to die. After his experience of years working in the underground mine, he preferred to sit in a tree instead of anywhere else, and this is how he had become a legend.

The third section of the book, Cloud, was about moving through love relationships, about break-ups and migrations. Two Worlds is the title of one of the poems. When a love affair is over, it feels like falling out of the world.  Of course, when one falls out of the world, one falls into another one.  It triggered meditations on Persephone.  This mythic story of a daughter who fell into the underworld fascinates me.  Isn't this migration?  Walking through hell, or walking through violence, wasn't just something I'd witnessed in other relationships.  I'd had to do that myself. It was a personal experience.

So much of what I've been through in life gets worked through artistically.  Before I can really articulate it, I must find images.  I'd been reading the collection of Finnish women poets, Enchanting Beasts.  The beast I was determined to enchant was not a bear actually, but fear.

Read a Book Review, "Not Forgotten: A Poem by Lois After Mark" Midlife at the Oasis. Web.  July 8, 2011.  http://midlifeattheoasis.com/soul/not-forgotten-a-poem-by-sheila-packa/

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