Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Spring Renga, begun in March of 2014

"White Chrysanthemums"

Before the white chrysanthemum

The scissors hesitate

a moment  (Buson)

rustling ears flinch in suprise

a squirrel I, ease each other's fear  (Richard Heby)

picking strength

with  the white blossoms

bird chirps  (Willie Bongcaron)

petals soft, silky - offered

a momentary pleasure  (Mary Kathryn)

the flower awaits

a life soon forever changed

a new begining  (Eve Penman)

bygone moonlight moves beyond

drooping petals   whimsical frowns  (Bukusai Ashagawa

  (Paul Douglas Lovell)

Friday, March 21, 2014

An excerpt from the recently published 4th edition of my poetry book, entitled, JIKU.

Epilogue: Reflecting on how the artistic experiences of artists like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Henry David Thoreau relates to and influences my own artistic process and personal frames of referencing my artistic identity or "who I am as an artist and more significantly as a human being".

In 1984 James Baldwin was asked by Jordan Elgrably of the Paris Review why he left the United States ... While reading this interview I thought ... Baldwin left New York for Paris in 1948 ... due to the racism he was experiencing ... racism I still deal with today in 2013 in more insidious and covert ways ... These are excerpts from his response to this question that still resonated with me today in November of 2013 ... as a Black ... Caribbean ... and Native American Man ... one who identifies as an artist amongst other things.

"Looking for a place to live ... for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you
begin to doubt everything ... You've been beaten and its deliberate. The whole 
society has decided to make you nothing. And they don't even know their doing
it. ... Given the condition in this country to be a black writer was impossible ... My 
father ...He said I was contesting the white man's definitions which was quite 
right. But I had also learned from my father what he thought of the white man's 
                      (Jordan Elgrably, Paris Review interview with James Baldwin, 1948)

I was brought up in two independent and distinctly different families ... one (working class) in the deep south and the other (bourgeois) from the northeast I was heavily ... am still heavily influenced by both ... Though it was my maternal family from the northeast that was especially adept at visibly ... boldly ... flamboyantly ... overtly ... contesting the "white man's" definition of black folk ... My parents lived a life that also challenged how even the majority of the black community thought we should live ... One quick example was the fact that my mother was the primary bread winner for most of our lives ... my father was her partner ... advocate ... and supporter in her artistic endeavors ... This is a large part of why I've always felt comfortable defying what not just as Baldwin puts it "the white man’s definition" was ... but also how black folks too still attempt to dictate to me in regards to how I should live ... how I should identify ... define ... and who or what I should or shouldn’t align myself with ... Today I have $2 to my name ... and hearing Baldwin's words sub vocally ringing in my ear and in my heart ...  inspires and assures me that the path I'm following with my life is the right one for me ... I've never been happier or more fulfilled with purpose ... intellectual and spiritual purpose ... even though I am couch surfing ... technically homeless ... Sometimes in life it is worth it to take a financial leap of faith ... As an artists it is akin to a small business person attempting to start up a business on savings ... and credit cards ... without investors or loans ... Paying for say studio space instead of a place to live ... besides your car ... Only as artists there is very little if any social status involved ... You put yourself out there ... or spend a focused amount of time creating a work of art knowing there probably won't be any financial gain ... at least not for years to come if you’re really really lucky ... And you have to then survive until or as you're supporting yourself and promoting your work ... James Baldwin's plight seemed to parallel my own over 65 years later ... Here is James Baldwin again responding in the same Paris Review interview.

"I was broke. I got to Paris with $40 in my pocket ... It was a matter of getting out
of America  ... I didn't know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York ... I still had to deal with the streets and the authorities ... I knew what it meant to be white and I knew what it meant to be a nigger, and I knew what would happen to me. My luck was running out. I was going to go to jail, I was going to kill somebody or be killed. ... When I arrived in Paris I didn't know a word of french. I moved from one hotel to another not knowing what was going to happen to me ... I got sick and to my surprise I wasn't thrown out ... An old old lady a great matriarch nursed me back to health ... she had to climb 5 flights of stairs every morning to make sure I was kept alive." 
                     (1948 Jordan Elgrably, Paris Review interview with James Baldwin)

Yes I too have been emotionally and financially nursed by friends ... acquaintances ... and complete strangers ... It's an ironic ... a humbling ... and reaffirming  experience ... that of humanity acting in an empathetic loving way ... one that transcends race ... class ... ethnicity ... and culture ... caring for their fellow man ... But! These are experiences that are extremely rare exceptions rather than the rule ... though they always seem to occur at my lowest points in life ... Like the hand of God lifting me … so that the light of Buddha might lead me out of a forest of intellectual ... artistic ... and spiritual despair.  
Sadly Baldwin's experience is still relevant some 65 years later … in what is almost 2014 ... Baldwin as do I ... struggle with these sadly timeless issues ... I like Baldwin and many artists of colour … Women … or any oppressed person have and can often find or reaffirm our artistic and human worth overseas (not that you can't do so in the states)... For me it was in Asia… while for many others in my family it was in Europe or the Caribbean ... It is sad that many of us have to look outside of our country for true artistic and financial recognition and compensation as artists and people ... as opposed to being labeled a "Black Artist" or a "black" person here in the states ... Interestingly enough when Thoreau, Whitman, or Emerson  brooch issues of race they're often characterized as "artists" with "social conscious" or "Abolitionists" ... but let Baldwin ... Morrison ... Angelou ... Belafonte ... or Poitier do so and they are classified as "Black" artists perseverating on ethnic issues.
The following is my paraphrasing of James Baldwin's "Notes From A Native Son" ... I believe it hits the mark in articulating the draw that traveling overseas has had and to a lesser extent still has for all oppressed people in much of the America's ... from Marshall Taylor ... America's first World Champion up until today ... in December of 2013.

"... Europe's black possessions remained-and to a lesser extent still do remain-in Europe's colonies, at which removed they represented no threat whatever to European identity ... If they posed any problem at all for the European conscience, it was a problem which remained comfortingly abstract: in effect, the black man, as a man, did not exist for Europe. But in America, even as a slave, he was an inescapable part of the general social fabric and no White American could escape having a negative attitude toward the Black Man.... And so, the white washing of white americas deep rooted racist past as historically being of the past is not the same thing as ceasing to unconsciously or otherwise allowing that negative attitude to continue playing itself out more covertly and subtly in dismissive, implausible, and deniable ways even today."            

                            (Paraphrased from James Baldwin's, Notes From A Native Son)

As I said earlier I like many other athletes and artists of colour have left my homeland and traveled for an extensive period of time overseas, and have gained much acceptance not just as an artist but as a human being overseas. 
From W.E. Dubois, Langston Hughes, Marshal Taylor, Josephine Baker, Quincy Jones, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Jack Johnson,  Paul Roberson, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Nelson Vails, my grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, my mother, and me. This is not a uniquely "Black Thing" it's a universally "human thing". These types of experiences free people of all races, ethnicities, gender, class, and less frequently sexual preference to reassess their existence. They allow us to temporally transcend the identity both we and our former socioeconomic environment developed for us temporally, spatially, emotionally, especially spiritually, and intellectually back in the states. It is why this year (2013) Tina Turner's relinquishing as opposed to renouncing her US Citizenship for a Swedish one so intrigues me. 
Identity is one of the key components in the creation of human society, minorities and those oppressed cannot escape it. In my personal experience identity permeates every aspect of the lives of everyone, especially oppressed minorities worldwide. Even if you can mitigate some of the racial oppression you experience as my parents were able to do for me via class privilege, one’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality still affect the development of your identity.
Identifying as an athlete and an artist has empowered me to transcend the negative connotations that white american society continues to place on my blackness. It's allowed me to flip it around and claim my blackness as my own, as a positive attribute. Just as other oppressed people find their own way to do the same. Some of us become doctors, thieves, lawyers, gang bangers, soldiers, con-men, parents, or inmates, etc. All can be ways of redefining ourselves and our identities on our own terms. 
Whether speaking to issues of identity from within the specific and demonstrative vocabulary of academia, or as a writer or artist like Robert Wright, James Baldwin ... Walt Whitman .., Miles Davis ... or Henry David Thoreau ... Issues of identity ... whether racial or otherwise  in some form or another are addressed in all our artistic work regardless of how we identify racially or otherwise ... All our experiences as human beings serve as building blocks upon one another to further everyone's understanding of themselves as black white or otherwise, but most significantly as human beings. 
Having said that I've made it a habit to frequently take leave from actively participating in society ... Most recently ... as I'm writing this I've found a precarious alternative ... a place of solace in the woods, much like Thoreau did ... A place where this poor man might find some solitude ... sometime to write and contemplate ... I see this as an attempt to extend a time of concentrated artistic focus. 
I think it would shock most folks to discover how many people get off the public buses of Oregon and Washington State with backpacks on ... and walk off into the brush on the side of the road ... living as squatters in nature's labeled woods ... Living on land labeled BLM Lands ... labeled state and federal forest lands ... beyond the social footprint of civilized society. Oh and not all of them are poor, destitute, or mentally impaired, at least I think I'm not any of those things?

Paraphrased from Thoreau's "Walden"  

"I went ... faithfully minding my business, till it became more and more evident that my countrymen would not after all admit me into the list of town officers, nor make any place for me, so I had nothing to lose in creating my own place in society. ... The wise have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the rich and the poor."

All of which inspired me to finally create for the sake of creating, rather than splitting my time between creating ... marketing ... and studying (in academia) others who are now and have created in the past ... I've spent enough time doing so ... I've also reached a point in my life ... a point of maturity as a human being and as an artist that draws me to for a time ... focus solely on my art ... to focus on my work ... on my path ... I am now artistically honed to a razors edge ... like when an athlete has trained all their life for an Olympic performance ... and so I know I am at my artistic height ... if not a crucial developmental artistic juncture ... If I don't focus on artistically performing now I will have wasted a lifetime of artistic discerning ... learning ... and practice ... If I don't refine and sharpen my craft I'll become artistically dull for a time... and miss an opportunity to reach or create at my artistic zenith.
I feel that regardless of my financial success or failure ... the real issue is to continue progressing on my journey and be mindful of the process undertaken while on that journey ... rather than where it might or might not take me in regards to selling "delicately textured artistic baskets" in a subjective and biased capitalist marketplace ... Still at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite ... I'd never say no the Sotheby's or Christies ... in regards to selling my work. ... It took me several decades to let go mentally ... materially ... spiritually ... and socially ...  from the ties that have actively bound me to society ... How long I'll continue down this road I do not know ... I'm just here to be mindful and open to the experience ... After all my role models for this experience are in literature ... of other cultures ... or are characterized in this one as lost in more ways than one ... How do I or do I attempt a reentry into society? I do not know.  
Again this paraphrased excerpt of Thoreau's Walden speaks to this much more articulately. 

"... I too have woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which most men praise and consider successful is but one life, one way."

"I believe that this body of work I've woven throughout this book to likewise have a delicate texture. A delicate texture that is at once tangible and intangible all contained within the pages of my book-basket. A book-basket that has much artistic merit yet may still not seem worthwhile to the buyers in our marketplace. So instead of attempting to appeal to a capitalistic profit driven marketplace, I too, have chosen to focus on producing an artistically woven and delicately texture book-basket. My book-basket too is uniquely crafted and delicately woven following its own poetic and visual design. The artistic process of which is transparent enough for all to see. This exposure of its artistic process and the social strands of fabric that compose its individual parts is what may make it so unappealing to the marketplace. After all no one really wants to have to be reminded of or acknowledge the tainted strands of our social fabric exposed for all to see. Social strands of colonialism, sexism, homophobia, classism, oppression, religious persecution, tainted democracy, and corrupted capitalism, all delicately but nonetheless blatantly interwoven into an artistic medium. An artistic medium designed to mitigate the overt presence of these social tinges in our society and in our art." 
                                                            Bukusai Ashagawa

Still for me these social tinged and artistic strands have always been undeniably visible. For me I see the beauty that can and does shine through in spite of our being bound by a delicately textured socially tinged interweaving. It’s just that I'm trying to assist all my brethren, especially some of my elders, my white male brethren in finally acknowledging the presence of the beauty that each of us has to contribute. A beauty that rings true through all of our humanity and is indivisibly interwoven into all our social, spiritual, and artistic endeavors; despite being deeply flawed and undeniably artistically tinged. 

A final note   

The prose writer Richard Wright who passed away in 1960 was an example of someone who came to haiku at the end of his life but did so prolifically. He spoke to oppressive issues, of materialism, greed, poverty, race, mortality, and gender while juxtaposing them to mitigating presence of nature in his haiku's.

Paraphrased in part from Gabor Terebess translation of Richard Wrights Haiku: This Other World

"In roughly 1959 Wright began writing haiku in France while in self-exile. He wrote over 4,000 haiku in the 18 months before he died. He predominately focused on nature. He wrote haiku steeped in the beauty that would act as a culmination of his life's work in prose. In prose he directly addressed issues like materialism, greed, and poverty in regards to how they collectively oppress women and people of colour. Wright then readdresses these social ills in his haiku, with a beauty that provided scope and a universality that transcends race and color without ever denying them". 

(Haiku Poems By Richard Wright from "Haiku: This other World" translated by Gabor Terebess, 1988) 
Wright does so by using nature as a backdrop to illustrate the oppression of women and people of colour ... He humanizes their struggles by juxtaposing nature with their plights ... while addressing and contrasting the relationship between humanity and nature.      
Wright's daughter Julie also spoke of the appeal of short distinct syllable counts ... and how they matched with his need to take short breaths due to the illness that would end his life ... Wright's daughter also spoke of how haiku allowed him to develop an appreciation for nature ... despite previously perceiving it as hostile ... Interestingly enough  Wright's writing of haiku over the last 18 months of his life could be viewed as one extended death poem ... All of which coincided as his daughter noted with his shortness of breath ... which naturally aligned with the concise format of haiku.

Here are some examples of the haiku Wright wrote during the last 18 months of his life.

The dog's violent sneeze
Fails to rouse a single fly
On his mangy back.

Upon crunching snow,
Childless mothers are searching
For cash customers.

In a drizzling rain,
In a flower shop’s doorway,
A girl sells herself

A bloody knife blade
Is being licked by a cat
At hog-killing time.

So it seems even the Hungarian translator of Wrights work is artistically, critically addressing issues of race and color in regards to a haiku, an art form created by other artists of colour. Haiku, an art form that enables an artist who was a spokesman for issues of race to "transcend those issue of race without denying it". (Haiku Poems by Richard Wright from "Haiku: This other World" translated by Gabor Terebess, 1988) 
Wright much like Emerson and Whitman before him believed that the divinity of God could be found in nature. Wright too seems to have discovered a spiritual connection to both nature and Zen Buddhism. Thoreau, Whitman, and Emerson interpreted this spiritually divine connection to nature as a form of transcendentalism. Wright interpreted this spiritual connection to nature as being aligned with African Nationalist Independence ... which he aligned with Eastern spirituality ... Personally I too see the beauty of nature as well ... amongst other things as natural.
Many readers and critics may not make this connection between race and art, and in particular haiku ... even though it's an art form created by yellow people ... now adopted by whites and all others race ... Many readers may likewise interpret all of this as an inappropriate politicizing or aligning of issues of race into a discussion of art ... Yet in western society and especially in America issue of art and race have always been indivisibly intertwined ... They are at the very least unconsciously personified in one another ... Even Thoreau ... Emerson ... and earlier on Whitman ... all spoke out in favor of abolition in their artwork ... and as a part of their artistic process ... Yet still today ... increasingly art and race are characterized as if they exist in isolation of one another. 
In fact issues of race ... gender ... and art have always been intermingled in the West ... As a poet I am merely emulating the numerous examples set by some of America’s greatest poets and artists ... I am in part emulating my white male elders in speaking to these social justice issues in relation to my art and my artistic process.

From my hovel in the Willamette National Forest #88

torrential downpours

trunks swayed by whistling winds

boisterious companions

drooling roof -  rhythmic   rain tricklings

found!      solice  in  solitude

From my hovel in the Willamette National Forest #90

Old growth

germinated in the way

are not uprooted

From my hovel in the Willamette National Forest

lacking substance

enter where there is no space

the way beyond

worldless   actionless      teachings    

modeling   a master's way

(inspired by the the Tao Te Ching #43)