Monday, December 18, 2017

"but in things" :: our (un)intentional collections

The series Mr. Robot quietly revolves around a poem that begins, "so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow." That's half of the poem right there. It's by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), a medical doctor turned poet, born of English and Caribbean descent. The poem has no title, but most people refer to it as "The Red Wheelbarrow," (46) which also turns out to be the name of an eatery in the alternative, apocalyptic New York City of Mr. Robot

I got curious. I had not read much William Carlos Williams before, so I checked out William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems (American Poets Project) edited by Robert Pinsky. The book features many spare poems with crystaline imagery and some longer ones that were fine but not as exciting to me. I also kept tripping delightedly over familiar lines. In the poem "A Sort of Song," which appears to be about the writing process, we find "(No ideas / but in things)" (103). A neat reading of it by Williams in 1954 is here.

Thinking about things and the ideas and stories in them: take a look around your room. Rummage through a drawer. You've got a collection in there—at least one, probably more—to which you actively add. Art. Socks. Books. Tea. Pens. Watches. For these active collections you may take pleasure in looking through and handling each object. For these active collections, you are probably also interested in the hunt. We may not realize it, but we are constantly collecting. Our own—shall I say "curated?"—collections can be expressive. They continuously express our ideas about the world: what we view as important, interesting, or funny. Active collections are an extension of ourselves that we may share with others. We may take joy in arranging them or in telling their origin stories. 

Sometimes we collect things, not because we take pleasure in them, but because they might be useful: carrot peelings for the compost, tin cans for recycling, rubber bands for whatever we might need a rubber band for. The story to come. By actively collecting potentially useful items we are attempting to predict or affect the future.

The inspiring and thoughtful documentary film, California Typewriter, embodies the idea of collecting and our connection with both the past and the future. While it tells the story of one typewriter shop here in Berkeley, it also touches on other people affected by typewriters: an obsessed collector, a passionate collector (Tom Hanks), an artist who makes sculptures scavenged from typewriters beyond repair, a poet who will create and type a poem for you in public, a playwright (Sam Shepard) a writer (David McCullough), and a songwriter (John Mayer) who only compose their works on the typewriter and the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, who compose and play typewriters as instruments. Interwoven are concepts of creative process, recycling, repair, and just slowing down. In the case of this film, so much depends upon, not a wheelbarrow, but a typewriter. (There's a red one, too.) All of the people in the film are active collectors of something: either the typewriters themselves or the words they create.

More ideas in things: what about passive collections? I don't mean the dust collecting under the windowsill or the shirts in the laundry basket. Both of those are ignored and waiting for action. I'm thinking about leftover objects that we don't immediately throw away. Some attractive, some less so. Unintentional collections, perhaps.

Quilt Trimmings.

Book Trimmings.

Soap Chips.

Spare Buttons in Baggies.

What are these bits about? Are they worth anything? (I don't even like buttons.)

I finally used a years-long, unintentional-but-compulsive collection of tickets and stamps torn off of envelopes to make collages for my book, What We Reuse in 2016. But I hadn't planned on making anything with the ephemera as I constantly clothespinned and bagged the items in bundles. (You can see one of these baggies in a 2011 post, "An Artist's Book Is Not a Taco," here.) Perhaps sorting and bundling is what we do (or at least what some of us do).

In 1997, Julie Chen used some of the trimmings from her books to create one book with envelopes, Leavings, to hold them. Leavings is a beautiful book that explores memory, baggage, and attachment. I asked her in an email about those leftovers, and she said that they were things she had just not gotten around to throwing out. They were corner roundings from (1993) Correspondence Course and tunnel book holes from (1996) Life Time, among other things. Regarding these unintentional collections she said that it's hard for her to throw anything away until "it becomes clear that I'm never going to use them for anything else." I imagine this means that at some point they lose their liveliness, connection, or spark. She also included bits of ribbon and shed snakeskin. She wrote:

Funny story about the snake sheds—I was cleaning out a drawer last year and found a plastic container that had some leftover snake sheds and some kind of insect had eaten every last bit. It was really weird. I love materials in general, so there's always plenty of stuff lying around.
She called it "more like accumulating," but I see an active collecting impulse to actively store it. It may not have meaning right now, but it may spark something new in the future. Unintentional, true, but it's a collection of potential sparks, whether or not the actual things are used. The shed snakeskin has gone, but it still leaves behind its story: the idea in the thing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Star 82 Review 5.4 is Live! Celebrating Our 5th Anniversary!

Read, accept, compile, write a poem, send out for print proofs, write code for the pages, announce, publicize. Every issue of Star 82 Review has this rhythm which has sustained it and me for five years (so far). I've learned more about writing from reading the submissions than from all the years before it. Many thanks to contributors: past, present, and future!

Here are the links to the newly released online and print issue 5.4 and to the 5th anniversary issue (print only). Issue 5.4, our twentieth, features a wonderfully eclectic collection of art and writing, some of which deals with different kinds of love, misunderstandings, confusion, tenderness, anger, and warmth.

The 5th Anniversary issue is a collection of all twenty regular issue erasure + photo covers (plus the Special Flash 50/50 word stories issue cover), a list of all the contributors, and the twenty found poems I created from either the first two or last two words of each written piece. An index, of sorts. For fun and fundraising. A little celebration.

5.4 Contributors
Geoff Anderson
Vincent Barry
Cristina Bresser de Campos
Leah Browning
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
Jette Clover
Nicolette Daskalakis
Anne Walsh Donnelly
Matt Dube
Alex Ewing
Charles W. “Bud” Gibbons, III
Howie Good
Terek Hopkins
Ana Jovanovska
Carole Jeung
Denny Kolakowski
Joy Merritt Krystosek
L.L. Madrid
Arturo Magaña
Cleary Mallard
Brooke Middlebrook
Ray Scanlon
Darin Wahl
Jud Widing
Jasper Wirtshafter
Noga Wizansky
Clarence Wolfshohl
Sidney Wollmuth
Albert Zhang

5.4 online is here.
5.4 print is here.
5th Anniversary is here.

Or search for "star 82 review" and "alisa golden" on Amazon (CreateSpace has stopped selling directly through their store so you can bundle your *82s and get free shipping.) Thanks for your support!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Reaching Deep, Reaching Out, and Betty Reid Soskin

Betty Reid Soskin is a 96-year-old, African-American woman who became a park ranger in her older years and still gives many talks a week at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center today. She is calm, down to earth, and quietly amazing. I heard her last summer; she draws her listeners into her world as she speaks thoughtfully and matter of factly about her life. Since the talk I attended I've followed her blog, which touches me with every post. Her talk also inspired me to read To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963 (which I recommend). I was particularly interested in the WWII era because the history that is taught initially makes it seem as though all races worked together in harmony toward the building of the ships and participating in the war effort. If you read more carefully you see that black workers didn't get as good health care, there were separate black unions who had to pay dues but who had no votes, housing was built primarily for white workers, and the discriminatory list goes on.

All of this is important background and deserves volumes on its own. But one recent post that I feel I can comment on shone light on Betty Reid Soskin's creative spirit, a deepening that perhaps allowed/and allows her to continue moving forward. Her creativity is manifested in her talks, which are neither written nor rehearsed, but come from deep within herself. In her post, she shows how she needs time to situate herself, to respond to the people around her, and to gather her thoughts. A great teacher's work. 

I would say artist as well.

I've seen her only once. But I felt close to her as I read about her process: understanding the need for space, for quiet, for an opportunity to dive down into oneself in order to provide. Be it a talk, a book, a visual work, an experience. Each person has the potential to reach many others, even in daily acts; a calm tone and kindness in life and art can in ripple outward.


More about Betty Reid Soskin
Betty's blog

If you are nearby, I recommend that you go hear Betty Reid Soskin yourself. Check the calendar for dates and times.

From birds to Betty to the wider world. Here is a bit of process info: watching the osprey web camera and visiting the osprey nest, which is next to the Red Oak Victory ship, got me interested in WWII shipyards, which is what brought me to Betty and a better understanding of history.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tool for a Line

While I like the look of freehand embroidered text, I found that keeping the lines somewhat straight, particularly with a large block of text, can become stressful. How do other people mark their fabric? In The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook (which auto correct insists is "sashimi"), Susan Briscoe, the author, lists a whole page of fabric marking tools. I've tried white pencils, white marking pens, even regular pencils and regular chalkboard chalk, but found they either don't show up or don't come out. She mentions a "Chaco liner," a tool that has a little wheel that picks up powdered chalk and lays it down on the fabric. I found the tool, the Clover Pen Style Chaco Liner Yellow, at my nearby Jo-Ann's, but it's also available through Amazon.

The chalk brushes out easily, which means I must reapply the line, but that's just fine. When I'm done I can quickly wipe it off. No need to wash!

It has a little duck-billed tip.

Clover Chaco Pen Refills, are also available. They come in white, blue, pink, yellow.
I found the yellow worked well on both dark and light colors.

Tiny dotted rotating wheel at the tip.

I'm happy with it.