poems and cups

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On Sunday, October 10, I read an obituary in the Washington Post for the poet Carolyn Kizer. She said poems do not come from ideas but from snapshots tucked in the back of the brain. I went on to read that she went to Sarah Lawrence College and I realized she would have been my mother's classmate. I took a snapshot of my coffee and newspaper as my breakfast poem. Part of our nourishment is sorrow and part is dreaming of dessert. I mix it with the memory of my mother's love of words and clippings, post cards and reading aloud.

cup obit.JPGMy writing often comes during moments of drinking coffee when I pause and look for reflection in the handmade object. The mix of the snapshot taken of cup on the table with a horizon line plus the fragrance of coffee or mint tea along with the given light and temperature of the day all lend texture to the cup as I bring it to my lips for a poetic second.

This is how I make my art. I make these cups that hold moments and days and years. I have books of photos dedicated to a given cup in new light with different angles. There are my sketchbooks devoted to images of mugs. The cups are a way to focus. The snapshot moment is an accumulation of details: the place I sit, the view I see, the season I absorb. All add to the mood. This aesthetic moment can happen anywhere. It can happen on my dock, in the car, on my red chair, or during a slow dog walk. It can be an artistic flash with a paper cup in an unusual place. Or the mundane carryout paper version at the 7/11 convenience store when I am too tired to think or look.

So I focus on cups, on coffee, on words, and the complex mix as I find my stance--all to say here I am;  I claim this day. I declare this particular view depressing or inspiring. I drank coffee the morning after the death of my father; in yesterday's afternoon to gain perspective on memory of my mother; at a meeting with my daughter at an outdoor café in grey Philadelphia. Each cup differs in shape, surface, and poetic content.

I write about coffee cups and how and when I drink my coffee because I think of cups as being representative of the basis of my work. It is an elemental portion of what I do and how I hope to affect a larger public in a very private way.  If I can articulate these intimate moments of aesthetic merit perhaps I can infect another person with the idea that we can make choices in our ordinary moments of living so they add up to a rich life


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I am resurfacing after 6 lovely weeks in what I think of as a retreat on an island in Maine. I do not do clay work while I am there and so it is a time to paint, photograph, swim, walk and paddle.


The quality of light, moss,rocks and ocean ignite my memory of childhood and my parents out look on life in a very specific way.


This year was the year of trying new mushrooms,enjoying oysters and exploring new parts of Maine.


It was a beautiful refreshing healing august and now that September is in full swing its time to reengage and dive back into clay work. and even though I was not working in clay... I was still looking at rocks and sea glass with the eye of a potter


catching the light

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I remember in 1987 my parents had an exhibit at Round Top Center for the Arts in Maine. My brothers and I all appeared and stayed the week helping to move art and cook meals. From my perspective it was a jolly time. I remember the night of the opening we had a potluck dinner at the Art Center and I sat with the painter Lois Dodd and my brother Stephen who as a kid had been close friends with her son, Ely. The statement that sticks in my mind is that Lois said, "when I come to Maine in the summer the first thing I do is sleep for two weeks." She said, "I have to reset my internal clock and slow down to see the view out the window."

After I weeded and harvested my garlic, I showered and felt overheated. I lay down on the couch with a catalog of her work called "Catching the Light." It was the perfect thing to read. She and her former husband, the sculptor Bill King, had studied in Italy like my parents in 1950. Then they came back to NYC and became dedicated figurative artists. Despite the fact that the then current tide was to be an abstract expressionist. Her dedication to observational painting allowed her to be living in the art world but outside the conventions of the moment.

It's how I feel I work. I look hard at the art world, but work outside the conventions of the moment. I am not a manufacturer and I am not a production potter and yet I make things that can be used with an artistic, poetic sensibility. After we visited Kiff Slemmons' studio and home in Chicago, the view of her table stuck in my mind. She is not a jeweler and yet that is the world she is associated with. On Wikipedia it says she is a performance artist. She said she knew that description was there, but she left it because in some sense her installations are a performance. We studied her long table--covered with work in process, work in hiatus--and she described it as her physical sketchbook. The time spent looking and talking ignited my imagination. The visit gave me that great feeling of jealously, the desire to play like her. Looking at her things is like sifting through the best flotsam and jetsam one could imagine. The careful collections and combinations seem like they occurred totally naturally and yet the sense of her hand is both visible/invisible. Her understanding of material and history of use is woven together beautifully.

I look at Lois Dodd's painting and I understand the brushiness of it. Her work  is not photo-realistic. It is not impressionistic. It is a fresh look at the things she sees, the shadows that catch her eye. Her paintings can be of the broken glass in the city,  the thistles in Maine, or the view out a window in New Jersey. She paints an iris and lets it be forgotten. She said once she brought flower studies back to the city to work on over the winter but could not work on them. She let the flower be forgotten like a fire that is stoked hot and then left to grow cold. Just as time can be our friend;  then it is gone as we get older. Lois is a year younger than my parents would have been and as far as I know she is still making her way to Maine in the summer. And first things first, she sleeps for two weeks.

garlic.jpgLet it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
   Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
   Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.

If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
   Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
   In a long forgotten snow.

Let it be forgotten by Sara Teasdale

The only downside of doing this project is that it makes me so aware of the length of the days  that now I know I have reached the apex. From here the days get incrementally shorter. Driving in Chicago at 5 this afternoon the sky got dark like a winter evening but it was only a thunder storm and we were still able to linger late in the evening light on a beautiful deck admiring the clouds trees and deep greens and depth of color in the sky.

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No one--

not the wind in the leaves, not

the leaves in the sky--can promise

permanence, no one

gets all the days, even if it seems

that we are the ones

writing the book,
even if it seems

that we are the ones

who made each leaf. Inside

each leaf

more leaves, inside these trees

more trees, some so old they threaten
the roof, some so tiny we will need

to keep the deer from them. Each leaf is not

a word, each branch not

a sentence, yet

the wind is saying something--inevitable?

unlikely?--even if impossible to perfectly

translate. Now imagine these trees as

a roomful of books, each book spills from its


each hour alone, reciting the alphabet,

marveling at how the letters cluster, how each

comes with its mouthful of sound--until

a word somehow entered you, until it

somehow led

to this--perfect day, perfect sentence.

Nick Flynn, from "Epithalamion," The American Poetry Review (vol. 43, no. 3, May/June 2014)

#20 summer solstice 2014

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Imagine the Chicago skyline reflected in light of the water of Warren's bowl.

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"One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark."
Annie Dillard, from The Writing Life (HarperCollins, 1989)

#19 summer solstice 2014

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These last few days have been full of people,conversations,pots, images, stories and urban contrasts. The input is great and the day light long but the moments for digesting short.

19 summer solstice 2014.jpg

#18 summer solstice 2014

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We are pleasantly exhausted after our opening at Douglas Dawson Gallery. wishing I could have found a thistle on a Chicago street corner to put in Warrens Vase.

18 summer solstice 2014.jpg

"Life must be back there. You hid it
So no one would find it
And now you can't remember where."

--John Ashbery, from "Vaucanson," in April Galleons: Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1987)

#17 summer solstice 2014

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#16 summer solstice

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the big question before I left the house was do I pick the garlic now or next week.
in the end I ran out of time.

16 summer solstice 2014.jpg

For some time I thought there was time

and that there would always be time

for what I had a mind to do

and what I could imagine

going back to and finding it

as I had found it the first time

but by this time I do not know

what I thought when
I thought back then

there is not time yet it grows less

there is the sound of rain at night

arriving unknown in the leaves

once without before or after

then I hear the thrush waking

at daybreak singing the new song

W.S. Merwin, "The New Song" from The Moon Before Morning (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)

#15 summer solstice 2014

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When Warren and I are in the car together and I am the driver he often requests that I imagine I am driving around a basket of eggs. Our Sunday drive was a long one and instead of eggs we had to be careful of all our fragile pottery cargo.

15 summer solstice 2014.jpg"Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall."

― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls

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Recent Comments

  • Catherine White: Sorry, but we haven't been able to get the Captcha-authorization read more
  • Emily Hancock: Exceptional. Moving. Beautiful. read more
  • Ken Davis: Hi Catherine, In 1985 I wrote a poem in memory read more
  • Emily Hancock: Wonderful. read more
  • Teresa: Catherine, your post was so lovely and moving. I cried read more
  • Emily Hancock: I love your posts and pics and quotes. Thank you read more
  • Jessie Duff-McLaurin: Could you include me in your solstice entries? Thanks so read more
  • Lucy Fagella: oh those images in the sketchbooks... it's always such a read more
  • Matt: It is always nice to look back to the year read more
  • Robyn: Beautiful image! read more


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