Go Forth in Joy

From time to time my interest in prayers and litany for worship has led me into song, at least the words if not some efforts at a melody. Scott Taylor, our Director of Music and Worship Arts at our church, asked me to write some new words for Easter to the familiar tune of HYFYRDOL. With Sylvia’s gold and white “Bright Morning Star” banners shining at the front of the church, we sang it in closing, a brass ensemble joining us to sparkle the air. Now we move on to Earth Day in a resurrection spirit for this magnificent and threatened world that is our home.

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Posted in Poetry and Songs, Worship and Spirituality | 1 Comment

Pay Attention

As I was working over my recent poems I became more aware than ever that they arise from the simple act of paying attention. If I’m asked again about what enables me to write my poetry, I will start and end with saying “pay attention.” No matter how good or bad your hearing, touch or eyesight is, pay attention to whatever they are revealing about the world without and within you.

Paying attention is, in a way, much easier when you are out in the desert, as we were in (New) Mexico, because there are fewer demands, it seems, on your senses. You can open up to the little that there seems to be around you, only to find that there is more than you ever imagined. Moreover, the so-called wilderness gives you sensory space to pay attention to what is inside you. This is surely one reason that people have gone out into the desert to be closer to more ultimate realities—still small voices, burning bushes, beatific visions.

Or else they have gone on a long walk through unfamiliar territory, unshackled from daily routines, voices, sights, and obligations. They take what we often call a pilgrimage. Around here, they decide to walk the Appalachian Trail, all 2,060 miles of it. And then some of them write a book about it. While we were out in desert country Sylvia and I read each day from my friend Newton Smith’s new collection of poems written while he was on the Camino de Santiago de Frances, the famous route to Santiago de Campostelo in northern Spain and Basque country. It’s called Camino Poems (Argura Press, 2016).

Each day, each poem, was simply an exercise in paying attention—to stones, flowers, strangers, birds. And yes, to fatigue, pain, awe, and gratitude. It became a daily reading. We were able to walk with Newt and pay attention, though we had no blisters and sore knees to focus our attention even more.

We live in a society of distractions. Paying attention, like mindfulness, is harder than ever. Maybe that is why our public conversations are so frazzled by the lies and spin of other voices. Images flood our vision in airports, lounges, hotels, and even in our doctors’ offices. We can’t pay attention to the rusted machines that would tell us our failure, the sign held out beside the stoplight asking for a job, the sparrows that return to build their nest again within the downspout’s bend. Or, indeed, to pay attention to our dreams, a mason’s careful stonework on a wall, the wan smile of a waitress as you thank her for her help.

I know there’s more—how we think about this thing we’ve paid attention to, what treasury of images we bring to its side, how we match it up with the music of our words, the accents, cadence and the onomatopoeia of our language. But it’s the act of paying attention that is the spirituality of poetry, its soul, what makes it start and run. Books like Camino Poems help lead us into that life. I tell you, it would be a good place to start. Even without the blisters.

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Posted in On Writing, Poetry and Songs | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Crystal Bridges

A stunning museum of American art in the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas? Well, get used to it. We tried to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2014 but the great ice storm Titan ditched (so to speak) our plans. This year, under gray skies but no ice, we made it. You must go. The life-long dream of Alice Walton, of Walmart lineage, it is an accomplishment of architecture, art, ecology, and education nestled in a ravine in her family’s home of Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is still headquartered amid an exploding metropolis of subsidiary businesses and industries.

My attention was first caught by the cb-bldgs-web architectural work of Moshe Safdie, the world-renowned architect who had also designed the buildings at Hebrew College that came to share the hill with Andover Newton in my final years there. Drawing on the architectural heritage of Frank Lloyd Wright and his student Fay Jones (Thorncrown Chapel and Cooper Memorial Chapel are nearby), Shafdie conceived of a set of structures that would bridge the little creek in Alice Walton’s ravine. Local woods were laminated into the beams supporting their roofs, with glass walls erasing the barrier between inside and outside spaces.

Great care was given to preserving as many trees as possible, including two tulip trees that were renamed Thelma and Louise, because they teeter at the edge of one of the buildings. Other woods were incorporated into the furnishings. The grounds are still being

"Yield," by Roxy Paine

“Yield,” by Roxy Paine

developed, but they contain an array of sculptures, including a “Dendrite” tree by Roxy Paine, versions of which we had seen at the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth and in Raleigh at the North Caroline Museum of Art. The “Maelstrom,” by Alice Aycock, emerged as Sylvia’s favorite. She definitely did not like the enormous arachnid that hovers over the entrance foyer.

"Maelstrom," by Alice Aycock

“Maelstrom,” by Alice Aycock

Nestled into the woods adjacent to the main buildings is a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright. We would not have seen it in 2014. It was recently moved piece by piece from New Jersey, where it was endangered by recurrent floods, to Crystal Bridges, affirming the American architectural tradition represented locally by the work of Fay Jones. While we could feel some of the “tiny house” ethos wright-house-cb-webof our present time, we could also see elements of light, honesty of materials, and alignment with the land that had inspired us in building our own home, which has room for our “stuff” as well.

The inside spaces display an extensive representation of works from the earliest American painters to contemporary installations. They include many works by women (Mary Cassat) as well racial or ethnic minorities (Jacob Lawrence, John Biggers). Most works have a description that tells you how the work fits into the history as well as contemporary context of its creation. The wooden floors made viewing a pleasure rather than a backache.

Fittingly for us, a special exhibition of “Border Cantos,” based on materials and photographs of the Mexican-US border barriers was installed in the exhibition gallery. It concludes with a wall of post-it notes from immigrants to the US from all over the world.

And there were families, children and young people everywhere. Because it’s FREE! Yes, you have already paid for it. A million people a year are now visiting it, in spite of its (for coastalites) remote location. As they wander its buildings and lands, we can only hope they are imbibing the artistic heritage that its constantly expanding, unfolding, and daring new things. And as, they say in Hamilton, immigrants are always making it happen in new ways.

And now, a word about the food. It is delectable, presentable, down-homey with a flare, and reasonably priced. What more can you ask for? Not to mention the room overlooking the pond, wooden beams arching overhead, and the golden heart warming the space above… Well, we were grateful for the experience. Sometimes great wealth does good things. You all go, now, hear?

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Posted in Arts, Ecology, Travel Journal | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Great River

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Here the Rio Grande is dry

            a hollow bone without the marrow

            a sleeping body without blood

            waiting

            patient as the ceaseless wind

            blowing tumbleweeds

            into the dry rushes on its banks.

They say it runs with catfish in the spring

            who mysteriously are resurrected

            by the flood of melting snow,

            the spring release

            from reservoirs

            upstream.

Downstream

            we wander on the dry bed

            waiting

            for the life to come.

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Posted in Ecology, Poetry and Songs, Travel Journal | Comments Off