Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lyrical Thursdays: This Is Just To Say

Today has been cold.  Really cold.  The kind of cold where you really want to be careful about sticking your tongue onto metal surfaces outdoors or you'll have a Christmas Story-esque experience.  (For the record, I think you might want to be careful about sticking your tongue onto metal surfaces outdoors like, any time of year.  Germs, man.  Germs.)  This image led me to start thinking about how, if your hand is wet when you reach in to get ice cubes from the freezer, the cubes stick to your fingers, which in turn got me thinking about ice boxes and sweet, cold plums eaten by someone sneaky, which is the basis of today's poem.

The poem, titled This Is Just To Say, is by William Carlos Williams and is also another I've used in a painting:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten 
the plums
that were in
the ice box

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Painting by yours truly - oil & mixed media
on 8 x 8" panel

For this painting I knew I'd have purple (for the plums), and wanted to play around with complimentary colors so I put a yellow in the background.  I also used acrylic gel medium mixed with white sand to get a snowy, icy texture in the painting over the collaged words, with the purple plum shapes floating over and under.  (Click on the image above for a closer look.)  Part of me always wants to go back and keep reworking the painting (this is the case with all of my paintings...), but I also like it the way it is.  (I'm not the first to create a painting based on a poem by Williams, but more on that another Thursday!)

One of the things that I love about this poem is how simple it is.  Someone had delicious plums waiting for them in the ice box - maybe they were saving them for breakfast when they really would hit the spot - and someone else ate them.  I can almost picture the words of the poem written on a sticky note stuck to the counter, to be found by an irate roommate in the eater's absence:

Of course Williams may have had different, deeper meanings to the poem, but I enjoy its apparent simplicity, the cadence of the words, and the picture they paint (literally and figuratively).  Others have also been inspired by Williams' words, and I'll leave you with an example that had me laughing on Twitter last week:

Happy Thursday!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lyrical Thursdays: Detroit

Today I am heading to one of my favorite places: Detroit!  I live about 45 minutes from Detroit, and love going there and experiencing all that this great city has to offer.  Unfortunately most of the world hears only about the bad things, but to me and many who live in Southeast Michigan, the good far outweighs the bad. There's Comerica Park & the Tigers, Ford Field & the Lions, Joe Louis Arena & the Red Wings; there's the Eastern Market with fresh, locally grown produce; there are all of the delicious restaurants (Slow's, Russell St. Deli, and so many more); there's Greek Town & Mexican Town, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Heidelberg Project, the Zoo, and so much more (including everything the suburbs have to offer).
Detroit waterfront
Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers
Eastern Market, Russell St. Deli & the Heidelberg Project

Jack White, a native of Detroit, has often been quoted as saying negative things about the Motor City.  In response to this, he wrote a poem that was published in the Detroit Free Press expressing, in his words, "my feelings about the city itself, and how strong I believe it to be." (For more on the background of the poem, click here.)  It's a bit of a long poem, so I won't say any more about Detroit myself (for now...), but will let his words paint a picture for you.

'Courageous Dream's Concern,' 

by Jack White

I have driven slow,
three miles an hour or so,
through Highland Park, Heidelberg, and the
Cass Corridor.
I've hopped on the Michigan,
and transferred to the Woodward,
and heard the good word blaring from an
a.m. radio.
I love the worn-through tracks of trolley
trains breaking through their
concrete vaults,
As I ride the Fort Street or the Baker,
just making my way home.
I sneak through an iron gate, and fish
rock bass out of the strait,
watching the mail boat with
its tugboat gait,
hauling words I'll never know.
The water letter carrier,
bringing prose to lonely sailors,
treading the big lakes with their trailers,
floats in blue green chopping waters,
above long-lost sunken failures,
awaiting exhumation iron whalers,
holding gold we'll never know.
I've slid on Belle Isle,
and rowed inside of it for miles.
Seeing white deer running alongside
While I glide, in a canoe.
I've walked down Caniff holding a glass
Atlas root beer bottle in my hands
And I've entered closets of coney islands
early in the morning too.
I've taken malt from Stroh's and Sanders,
felt the black powder of abandoned
And smelled the sawdust from wood cut
to rehabilitate the fallen edifice.
I've walked to the rhythm of mariachis,
down junctions and back alleys,
Breathing fresh-baked fumes of culture
nurtured of the Latin and the
Middle East.
I've fallen down on public ice,
and skated in my own delight,
and slid again on metal crutches
into trafficked avenues.
Three motors moved us forward,
Leaving smaller engines to wither,
the aluminum, and torpedo,
Monuments to unclaimed dreaming.
Foundry's piston tempest captured,
Forward pushing workers raptured,
Frescoed families strife fractured,
Encased by factory's glass ceiling.
Detroit, you hold what one's been seeking,
Holding off the coward-armies weakling,
Always rising from the ashes
not returning to the earth.
I so love your heart that burns
That in your people's body yearns
To perpetuate,
and permeate,
the lonely dream that does encapsulate,
Your spirit, that God insulates,
With courageous dream's concern.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lyrical Thursdays: Sick

Today's poem is brought to you (a little late) by the number 4 and the letters f-l-u.  It is Shel Silverstein's Sick, which is probably the first poem I ever memorized.  It was a favorite of my siblings and mine, and was recited often.  It is also very applicable to me this week, except for the last few lines...  With no further ado (please excuse me while I go cough up a lung):
"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more--that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut--my eyes are blue--
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke--
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is--what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lyrical Thursdays: Stopping by Woods

As mentioned last week, the poem I chose to share this week is also by Robert Frost, and also has to do with snow.  Neither of Frost's poems are really only about snow, though they both deal with it in different ways.  He leaves his poems up for a certain amount of interpretation, and we can infer what we will from each.  Everyone brings different experiences to a poem or a book or a work of art, and will take away something different than anyone else.

Here is the poem:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

In one of my favorite books, A Girl Named Zippy, a memoir by Haven Kimmel, Kimmel (alias Zippy) addresses the power of words, and specifically how Frost's poem affected her as a child:

               Mrs. Denver made us memorize and recite poetry... The first poem I chose was
         Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening," and when I stood up to recite 
         it I got through it marvelously, right up until the last line, "and miles to go before
         I sleep," repeats itself, and then I got intensely moved and just had to stand there 
         with my throat aching while thirty-seven unsympathetic eyes stared at me.  Finally
         I just ran over to my desk and put my head down, and Mrs. Denver walked over
         behind my desk and put her hand on my shoulder.  The rest of the room stayed 
         blisteringly silent.
                "Why does he do that?" I asked in a tight, mad voice, meaning why does he 
         repeat the last line in that devilish way.
                "Well, dear, I'm sure it has something to do with poetry, but I don't know what.
          Why don't you ask your mother."  She patted my shoulder for a second, and then 
          asked someone to stand up and repeat their little James Whitcomb Riley gem, and
          the attention was off me for a while but I felt disgruntled all day.
                 When I got home I went straight to my mom and asked just what the heck     
          Robert Frost was up to...
                 I told her about how mad I was about "Stopping by Woods," and told her what
          Mrs. Denver had said about poetry, and the mystery of the repeating lines.
                 Mom thought for a moment about how to explain it.  "The best answer I can give
          is that poetry is all about the effect it has on a reader, and Robert Frost was very,
          very good at that.  If you're asking what it means that the line is repeated, I'd have
          to say I don't know.  It's stylistic.  But the effect is pretty clear."
                   "Doggone right the effect is pretty clear!  The effect is I looked like an idiot in
          front of my whole class and I'm never reading poetry again unless it's by James 
          Whitcomb Riley!"  And I went storming out of the house to try and shake off the 
          injury done to me with words.

I love that last line!!  That's the effect this poem (and many others) has had on me.

One last thing I wanted to share: Eric Whitacre, a contemporary composer, composed a song to go to the words in Frost's poem.  He could not secure the rights to use the Frost poem, so asked a friend of his to write new words for the music he had already written.  He wanted to make sure the new lyrics had the power of Frost's, including the repetition of "sleep," which is also the name of the piece.  It's a beautiful song, made all the more so because it is sung by a "Virtual Choir," made up of thousands of people from dozens of countries.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Year, New Ewe*

Happy New Year, everybody!

Over the Christmas break, I spent some time going through old boxes, sorting through and getting rid of a lot of stuff I haven't looked at in years.  It was fun/painful/tedious, and felt good to clean things out a little.  The best part of the process was laughing a little bit at younger me.  I mean, I've always been rather proud of being a nerd, but my nerdiness knew no bounds when I was in high school!

For starters:
Senior Picture Nerdiness
I'm fairly certain I got that ensemble at a thrift store and I remember that Del Boca Vista shirt and those corduroy pants as being very comfortable...but still!  I wore that outfit with pride, though, and had several other vintage shirts just as ridiculous amazing.  This picture isn't as bad as one of my indoor senior pictures (which I sadly couldn't find) where I'm posing clarinet.  Doesn't get much nerdier than that.

Also, as if my outfits weren't nerdy enough, I always carried a lunch box to school. In high school.  In high school!! I had three - my purple Jem & the Holograms one from kindergarten, a blue Smurf one I got at a local store, and a bright orange Police Academy one - a gift from my nerd compatriots.  I still have them, and they still smell like peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and bananas.

The best thing about being a nerd in high school were my awesome nerdy friends.  I really did have some great friends - fellow nerds who knew how to make the school day go by faster, who introduced me to books like 1984 and coined the phrase "nerd charisma."  Around that time, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups had come out with their "There's No Wrong Way To Eat A Reese's" ad campaign, but my friends and I decided that there were, in fact, 42 wrong ways to eat a Reese's.  (Apparently we'd been reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...)  Some are a little gross, some a little ridiculous, but I remember laughing a lot as we came up with this list.  Here's the first page of our ideas in an old notebook I found:

Re: #21 - Mono was going around our school...
Re: #25 - Seinfeld reference!
Our freshman year, a few of us decided that it would be super awesome to have a party a la Woodstock, but instead of lots of different bands performing, there'd be corn fields.  (We lived in a farming town.)  I think we just really wanted to have a play on the name "Woodstock," but didn't quite grasp the concept of what it was that Woodstock entailed.

A flier for the Party of the Year

Sadly there were no subsequent Cornstalks, but we did have fun at the first one.  (I believe there was a game of Red Rover played at one point, and maybe Duck, Duck, Goose.  Also, listening to music and running in corn fields.  MAN, we were cool.)

The nice thing about looking back to high school me is to see how I've changed since then.  I'd like to think that I'm much cooler than I was back then, but I've also been able to retain my Inner Nerd and made it work for me.  I'm still that girl who likes to read, and loves art and musicals and jazz and nerdy things, but I've learned to dress a little better, throw better parties, and finally figured out how to do my crazy hair.  

With the new year, we focus a lot on looking forward with new goals and plans (I've got lots!) for what we want to do to improve ourselves in the weeks and months ahead.  But it's nice, too, to look back on who we were, and who we've become as a result of our past experiences.  I am who I am today because High School Katherine wore vintage clothes; carried a lunch box to high school; was in band, marching band, drama club, and art club; went to church; and surrounded herself with great people who had a positive influence on her.

When I look forward to who I'll be 15 years from now - wife? mom? professor? famous artist? Olympic gold medalist?** - it causes me to take a look at who I am now - Post-Grad School Katherine - and make sure I'm making choices that 15 Years-From-Now Me will be grateful I made.  Those juggling lessons, for one, are SURE to pay off in the long run.  

So, tell me: what were you like in high school?  As cool as me??  

**U.S. Canonball Team

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lyrical Thursdays: Desert Places

Here in Michigan we got a few inches of snow the week after Christmas.  It was nice, really, since we barely got any snow last winter (though the winter before was a doozy).  While snow can be a pain to clean off cars and sidewalks and to drive in, there's still something so magical about it.  It's so peaceful as it falls, dampening the noise of the world and covering everything with the purest white blanket.

The snow inspired me to post a couple of poems about, you guessed it...snow!  I'll post one this week and one next.  The poems are both by Robert Frost - apparently he was very affected by snow!  The first one is called Desert Places.  Like with Millay's Sorrow, I was inspired to do a small painting based on this poem:

These paintings I did based on poems were releases for me.  I did them in the midst of the chaos of my last year of grad school, when I was busy working on very detailed paintings that took most of my concentration to do.  When I needed a break, I'd turn to where I had a few small panels set up and let loose with color, with palette knives, and with various oil painting mediums.  Sometimes I liked the results, sometimes I really hated them!  I was usually aiming to capture the mood of the poem more than the actual image the poet was painting.

I'll let you decide whether this painting captured the poem or not.  Here it is:

Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it - it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less -
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between the stars - on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.