June 2015 Archives

It is the little events, the ordinary things in the garden, the pots on the table, the length of the light of the day. They are contrasted and photographed and marked down on the page. Once combined there are new meanings. Another year of summer light and long days is marked. Suddenly the bleached expanse of days has reached its turning point.

21-white-garlic-2015.jpg"Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story."
--Arundhati Roy, from The God of Small Things (HarperCollins, 1997)

#20 summer solstice 2015

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We tripped over shadows, Richard Tuttle poems informing textile musings, humanity, exhibits, architecture, sidewalks and meals--filling our souls with Philadelphia heat, family stories and urban variety. We filled our bags with Pennsylvania cherries, strawberries, and Virginia dill to keep us going. And, at last, stopped on a porch to watch the world go by.

20-white-dill-2015.jpg"Here, even the light trips
over its own shadows."
--Richard Jackson, from "Self-Portrait as Window," Resonance: Poems (The Ashland Poetry Press, 2010)

#19 summer solstice 2015

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It feels like the true beginning of summer. The public schools have ended or are almost over depending on where you live. The heat and humidity have settled in and the long twilight hours are a welcome respite from the heat of the day. The air has been so thick it felt like we could have caught the light with a butterfly net. It's hard to imagine that the days won't just get longer and more languid.

19-white-onion-2015.jpg"There were days when we could catch light in a butterfly net."
--Richard Jackson, from "That's What I'm Talking About," Resonance: Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2010)

#18 summer solstice 2015

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For the December holidays Warren gave both Zoe and I copies of A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations, a translation by Daniel Ladinsky. The idea was that we could have a Hafiz reading club to periodically exchange poems. Our exchanges have been very sporadic, but I dip into the book, using poems as fodder for text brushwork. I have found that random words find their way deeply into my imagination. Today I painted with a long handled brush and water on the studio's concrete floor--part calligraphy, photo-op and floor washing.

18-white-caligroahy-2015.jpgA Coat Rack

Let this page be a coat rack you leave something

Something that you will be better off without.
Something that if you no longer carry it's weight

you will look less cunning and dangerous, less
inclined to explode. And you will know more mirth if a thorn in your
mind you let me keep: a pin-cushion my being,
why not, for you?

--Hafiz, excerpt from A Coat Rack, June 8, Daniel Ladinsky, A Year with Hafiz

#17 summer solstice 2015

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This week we have started each day picking high bush blueberries. Most of my local friends also have bushes and we have been comparing notes on when and how we pick and mulch and protect our crop. Mostly I go out and pick and smile and think of the book Blueberries for Sal. I have very fond memories of the blue-black illustrations by Robert McClosky of a mother and daughter picking blueberries. I related to Sal in her overalls and her inability to fill her bucket because she ate most of the berries. The short version of the story is that Sal and her mom go out to pick berries. Mom heads uphill filling her bucket so they can preserve them for winter, while Sal sits and eats most of hers. On the other side of the hill a bear cub and her mom echo their actions. When both youngsters are done eating their fill they go in search of their Moms and somehow Sal follows the mother bear and the cub follows Sal's mom and how will they all find their way safely home?
  I can understand Sal's impatience with her inability to fill her bucket and the sound of berries hitting the near empty bottom of the bucket. And there were times as a kid when I reached for the wrong Mom.

17 white-berries-2015.jpg "Keplink, Kerplank, Kerplunk," the sound of berries hitting the bottom of the empty bucket.

#16 summer solstice 2015

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We dipped into suburban Virginia on our errands this afternoon and as the returning highway looked terrible we chose to mosey home along back roads. The summer daylilies bloomed in clumps along the road speaking of summer like painted islands along twisting blacktop. The deep green of shade, the blazing hot sun, and the stacked up clouds were the odes in a chorus singing to these long days. The vision of lilies was exactly the taste of summer I needed.

16-white-lilly-2015.jpgMorning Poem

Every morning

the world

is created.

Under the orange

sticks of the sun

the heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches --

and the ponds appear

like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.

If it is your nature
to be happy

you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination

alighting everywhere.

And if your spirit

carries within it

the thorn

that is heavier than lead --

if it's all you can do

to keep on trudging --

there is still

somewhere deep within you

a beast shouting that the earth

is exactly what it wanted --

each pond with its blazing lilies

is a prayer heard and answered


every morning,

whether or not

you have ever dared to be happy,

whether or not

you have ever dared to pray.

--Mary Oliver, from Dream Work

#15 summer solstice 2015

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When we are stacking the kiln we have a kind of short hand for how we refer to different series of pots. Generally one of us is in the "driver's seat" stacking, another is wadding as we go and a third helper is outside the kiln handing us pots. I might say, 'bring in the largest of the bird vases or the rest of the poem cups or the skinniest tulip vase." Our helper said, "usually I get the names, the bird vases look like birds, the poem cups have a hieroglyphic-type text on them, but I don't get the tulip reference." I had to explain that when I first started my studio Korean stores in NYC were just taking off and I loved the tulips they sold. I wanted to make vases that held a bunch of tulips with ease.

Now that the tulips are long gone in Virginia I have been putting all sorts of other things in these vases including bolting lettuce. I don't know what my assistant would have thought if I said, "please pass me the fattest lettuce vase." I often let some lettuce go to seed. They grow into three or four foot towers of color and sculptural blossoms that, in turn, self-seed for next year's salads.

"It began in the cold light of the A&P by a rotating seed display that had been placed beside the lettuce bin. There, side by each, the lettuce and the lettuce seed. I stood dumbstruck. This lettuce and this seed had something to do with each other. I knew, of course, that the seed made the lettuce. But I had never once wondered how the lettuce made the seed. I suddenly needed to know. I decided to buy a packet of seeds, plant a few, and watch very carefully."
--Mary Anne Mclean, Mary Anne's Garden, page 7.

#14 summer solstice 2015

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A few lavender blossoms waving like flags.


#13 summer solstice 2015

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It has been said we make our world by what we choose to see but potters might say we make our world by what we choose to use. These are what I call my poem cups holding red mustard greens. They can hold water, tea, wine, or the unsayable.

13-white-poemcups-2015.jpgPoet Marie Howe defines poetry as "a cup of language to hold what can't be said."

#12 summer solstice 2015

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When we were kids my oldest brother often made up games with changing rules. At one point he declared that Ornette Coleman's album Something Else was music for new sneakers. That declaration stuck in my heart and every time I see the album cover or hear its music my feet itch for the squeak of new sneakers. I used to think that I wanted to make pots that were classical in nature but with a contemporary twist. However the longer I work the more I understand that what I make are Jazz-like pots full of syncopation, playing with the rules of harmony, rhythm and symmetry. When I am at my best creating work for the wood kiln, full of momentum and ideas, I feel like I am wearing my new sneakers and following my own path with the heart of someone like Ornette Coleman.

12-white-magnolia-2015.jpgOrnette Coleman died on Thursday June 11 at the age of 85. I remember walking by his loft on Prince Street often and seeing him going in and out his door a few times. He is quoted as having said "I don't want them to follow me. I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me."

#11 summer solstice 2015

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As a potter I am used to the idea of transformation. We start with mud and once the clay is fired it is hard like stone. I often say being a potter allows us the gift of being able to see into the future. Potters are used to taking shrinkage and drying into account. We can look at unfired materials or glazes and imagine how the heat and atmosphere will change color and texture. This understanding is not without its disappointments and surprises but it is also akin to being a gardener. As gardeners as we take a seed and water it we can imagine what it will look like as a sprout, a full grown plant and what happens when it goes to seed. We might assign our success or failure to the gods of rain or fire, but it might equally be through subtle shifts in habits, learning to see clues and remembering to make adjustments that in combination permit us to make changes in our lives and our work.

11-white-oniongrass-2015.jpg" I've watched, again and again, as one thing becomes something else--the way a seed becomes a tree becomes a board becomes a bookshelf. For people, such transformation are subtler, and perhaps more difficult to achieve. We cannot take a hacksaw to our habits, after all. But as Ovid writes," By birth we mean beginning to re-form, a thing's becoming other than it was."
--Nina MacLaughlin,  Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, page 2


#10 summer solstice 2015

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I dream intensely and tend to bore my family as I tell them how I walked through a world of light and that my hand could shape whatever my mind imagined. In my dreams I often walk with my mother. I hold her elbow and we walk slowly in the snow or draw perched on the rocky Maine shore or sit on my grandmother's porch on Duck Pond Lane. She rarely speaks except once when she showed me a cabinet of candles in the New York City loft. This was after we had emptied  the place and I had been floored by how many candles had been squirreled away in drawers, shelves and boxes. Last night I dreamt that drawing on the floor with long handled brushes had healing powers.

10-white-onions-2015.jpgMore Awake In Dreams

Many are more awake, with greater
abilities in dreams, than in the daylight.

I walked through a world last night of
such exquisite intricacies . . . in my sleep
some might say.

But no, it was not really like that. It
was surely as real as any place you ever

Whatever the hand can shape and make
last . . . the advanced mind can do a

Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With  Hafiz, June 20

#9 summer solstice 2015

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At this point in the Virginia June I love the long grasses. Over and over again I try to photograph fields. I never quite capture the mix of grass and daisies, insects, movement, and mix of close-up and distance all in the same instant. On my evening dog walk around the pond I chose to walk below the dam to stay in the shade. Walking on the path along the interior of the field it was as if the field whispered "here is the best vantage point." As I got to the edge of the tall grass a sound stopped me. I am hearing impaired so I stopped and focused to see if I could discern the source. As it is too early for cicada or grasshoppers as best as I could tell it was a mass of dragonflies. The sound would die down as several perched among the grass stems, and then the volume would increase again as they flew on.

09-white-field-2015.jpg"A path is a prior interpretation of the best way to traverse a landscape."
--Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

#8 summer solstice 2015

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Yesterday Warren and I were invited to a celebration in honor of a friend's son who has just finished eighth grade. Until the eighth grade my friend and I had both lived in New York City a few blocks from each other but we did not know each other at that point in our lives. While we both live in Virginia now there are certain phrases of language that we share that somehow emanate from our New York selves. I was honored to be part of her family party and enjoyed eating my first rambutan (as featured in today's image).

The whole feeling of the day got me thinking about my own family and what it was like to finish eighth grade. My parents gave me an Instamatic camera and a 5x7 sketchbook. My Dad suggested I photograph my friends at our picnic in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum and then glue the pictures in my book. He knew that this was a pivotal moment in time for me as I would go to a different high school in the fall. I still have that sketchbook.
I have been going through my Dad's contact sheets from the 1950s and they are glued in notebooks along with concise, penciled notes for who, when, or where the photo was taken--much the way he suggested I organize my images. As I look at his books I see how my brothers grew like trees, how  our lives move fast like movies, and each summer as school ended I felt like my life was beginning over and over.

08-white- rambutan-2015.jpg"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Great Gatsby

#7 summer solstice 2015

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Garlic makes the world go round.

07-white-garlic-2015.jpgA nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.

--(Rather) old New York proverb (5 cent fare from 1904 to 1948)

#6 summer solstice 2015

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In the Chinese lunar calendar the 6th day of the 6th month is an auspicious day for doing things like building a reservoir, storing water, or digging a pond. It is not a good day to have a wedding. On our Virginia calendar it was a good day to pick peas and enjoy the breeze and visit with friends who have a new puppy. It was a lovely evening to sit on the grass and enjoy the waning day. We watched how the light falls against the grass, and witnessed the puppy explore a new world.

06-white-peas-2015.jpgIf each day falls
inside each night,
there exists a well

where clarity is imprisoned.

We need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light

with patience.

--Pablo Neruda, from The Sea and the Bells,
translated by William O'Daly

#5 summer solstice 2015

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I once thought of myself as the potter who would save the ordinary cup, bottle, vase and plate from the oblivion of utility. But now I feel that I cannot save anything or convince anyone of anything. I just have to keep working and looking. Through photographing the ordinary, I am distilling my vision and material--working from an intuition of how to make our ordinary days extraordinary by paying attention.

"I once thought of myself as the poet who would save the ordinary from oblivion. Now I think poetry will save nothing from oblivion, but I keep writing about the ordinary because for me it's the home of the extraordinary, the only home."
--Philip Levine

#4 summer solstice 2015

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The words used to describe the rain today from drizzle to deluge or mist to monsoon all serve to add to the sense of the day. A slow walk in a shower staying close to the house turned up embryonic fruits and pods that otherwise often go unnoticed.

04-white-osageorange-2015.jpgWords add to the senses. The words for the dazzle

Of mica, the dithering of grass,

The Arachne integument of dead trees,

Are the eye grown larger, more intense.

--Wallace Stevens
section XIV of Variations on a Summer Day
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (Vintage Books, 1990)

#3 summer solstice 2015

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Petals jumped out at me today. On my table was a compact pile of rose petals from the arrangement for June first. Outside my garden fence, withered peonies are strewn on the grass and under the catalpa tree a random pattern of blossoms carpet the wet path. I'm still not clear what the day's message was, but I did come clean to my neighbor that I stole a few of his late blooming peonies.

03-white-peony-2015.jpgThe things we look at keep changing:

one day's sun or another day's rain; early poppies

one day, late tomatoes another.

                                                       As though

each day was trying to say something,

with a voice that isn't coming from any throat.

--Rick Barot, closing lines to Tacoma Lyric, diode (vol. 5, no.1, Fall 2011)

#2 summer solstice 2015

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02-white-plate-2015.jpg"I call them erasures
and so began
because lips never stopped working
for one can never tell
an intimate rose
from the remarkable habit
of crude time"

Mary Ruefle
Her own erasure of her essay ON ERASURE,
from the journal Quarter After Eight: A journal of Innovative Writing

#1 summer solstice 2015

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Today is June first and it marks the jumping off for my summer solstice project. I am never quite sure what it will bring or how I will resolve the ideas in the back of my head, but I choose the uncertainty of trying again.

01-white-roses-2015.jpg"The voice of that despair suggests seducingly to me that I should give it up, that I'm a phony, that I've made all the good pictures I'm ever going to, and I have nothing more worth saying. That voice is easy to believe, and, as photographer and essayist (and my early mentor) Ted Orland has noted, it leaves me with only two choices: I can resume the slog and take more pictures, thereby risking further failure and despair, or I can guarantee failure and despair by not making more pictures. It's essentially a decision between uncertainty and certainty and, curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice."
-- Sally Mann, Hold Still, pp. 281-282.