listen

I could have spent my whole life in that quiet.

From the daily writings of William Stafford, 19 July 1993. (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

I have to start somewhere and this is a good place to begin. I want this early reflection of my time spent at the William Stafford Archives to be a conscious wandering.

I knew I couldn’t finish. There was too much. I needed a respectable and intuitive pace. I had to make quick and deliberate decisions on what to capture and what to let go — a practiced, indulgent impulse.

From the daily writings of William Stafford, 15 June 1993. (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

“I would like to be known as an action philosopher.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, from the novel Kitchen 

I wrote what came to my attention and catalogued patterns — wind, mountains, snow, trees, rocks, and secrets to name the most prominent. It felt the best, and most honest, way to honor Stafford’s daily writing practice. It was what I had learned to do from You Must Revise Your Life and Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation.

On August 17, 1993, eleven days before he died, he asked:

“What can butterflies do if they get mad at each other? Should they express their anger? Stop and get even? Are these questions about a butterfly trivial? And about you?”

And on May 13, 1951, at the age of 37, Stafford wrote:

“How do we know our perceptions have the same feel as others’?” (emphasis in original)

Graceful inquiries such as these found their way into Stafford’s daily writings, which also included his dreams remembered in the darkest shadows of morning light. Intimate and rooted in place, Stafford recorded the present in all its creative movements.

I learned how deeply mountains listen when trees and rocks tell their ancient stories.

Stafford’s lifetime dedication to following and listening — carefully — to what wasn’t being said, or said loudly, was powerful to witness. His repetition was seductive. A rhythm visualized into meditative language that demonstrated “…all living things are afraid (20 June 1975)” and a steady truth that “your hope keeps you awake (20 May 1975).”

What comes next is unknown and that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.

a thread to follow

Blue Earth, MN [date unknown](digital photo of 35mm photo by edwardatlee)
All those years and I still remember the exquisite details. This specific memory does not have a year attached without much difficulty nor can I remember the time of day it occurred. Yet I can summon the sweet smell of ozone and hold onto the thought of how my own breath, in concert with yours, folded into one timeless moment.

We had pulled off a mostly deserted I-90W to wait out a thunderstorm witnessed hours earlier, which we assumed was fleeting from a distance reserved only for endless and empty horizons.

We found temporary refuge in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Waiting in a potholed parking lot, bordered by a 55-ft Jolly Green Giant statue and a gas station that sold cheap pizza and cold beer, you read A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford as rain poured hard and thick from a dark sky.

There was so much we didn’t know about each other – or the world – and a sublime anchoring in such fearless truth.

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

This moment, which probably lasted no longer than an hour before we got back on the road, forms the shadowed edges of how I’ve been preparing myself for this upcoming poetics inquiry of William Stafford. I want to be witness to his early morning and honest daily writing practice — his golden thread. I hope to explore how he taught poetry that centered curiosity as a method of facilitating an effective learning experience, his own and his students.

I feel a pull to reference an intention I outlined before I went to the Audre Lorde Archive in Berlin, my first poetics inquiry. This poetics inquiry is also an artistic project, which will explore how lived experiences of the “boundaries of one’s imaginative sympathy line up, again and again, with the lines drawn by power.” I use this quote by Claudia Rankine to bring attention to the phrase: lines drawn by power. This expansion of reference feels necessary in context to what I know about Stafford’s personal history and the now.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

At the age of 27, Stafford chose to be a conscience objector when he was drafted into WWII — a few years older than I was during that thunderstorm. He chose not to participate in a war that was framed as moral, just, and unquestionably popular. He served four years in various prison camps for his decision. I want to learn what it means to live a life grounded in a commitment to practice non-competitive creative integrity. A life, like mine, lived when the United States was never not involved in wars and conflicts.

I am reminded that I know only what brought me to today: a poem, a ritual, that has not broken the line.

reconciliation

“everyone is a conscientious objector to something” — William Stafford (from Every War Has Two Losers)

artist unknown

The sun was warm. Flowers pop and stretch.
I sang softly into the deepest darkness.
I was not afraid.

Even here, I struggle what to say.
Bending under the weight of unwritten letters,
I want to succeed
differently.

Morning news push violent denials.
I wake softly into fading darkness.
I am not afraid.

periphery of justice

“Most of the time, I think we’re embodied because we are supposed to be. I don’t think the goal is to leave our bodies behind, despite what many major religions tell us.” — Dana Levin

Santiago Moix, Rippling #34, silkscreen monotype, 2012

Economists believe
things that are abundant
have less value,
example: love.
A cheap cadence
mutated and wound
around a swelling chorus.
Shut tight. Loud as bodies.
Imagine if we answered
all those blushed curious inquiries
and followed constellations
to rewrite retrogrades.
Speaking softly enough to
understand its sacred feedback.

__________

title is William Stafford’s reference to “that feeling you have when you go along accepting what occurs to you and finding your way out somewhere to the rim where you are ready to abandon that sequence and come back and start all over again” (Writing the Australian Crawl)

we live promised lives

June 2018

And then will come my turn toward considering the poem as a set of strategies.
— William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life

My aesthetic genealogy is borrowed from a working poetics. A magpie practice of creative slanted interruptions. One of my favorite writing habits is to post on Sundays. Years ago I discovered this practice as a way to reclaim time lost to benign neglect and take back a day formerly dedicated to church services that framed ideal bodies as those willing to give up their souls.

Forgive this brief editorializing break. I’ve wandered to the edge of today’s subject.

It is safe to assume the forensics of great writers are investments in process.

For the last twelve and a half years, I have traced the shapes of memory — collective and personal — in this wide open space. I have anchored active examination into subtitled weekly posts. I curated evidence of expansion through parallel interpretations and feel for traction inside line breaks weighted by punctuation’s invitation to pause. I am aligned when tone reflects visual structure.

This time last year I was organizing myself to study Audre Lorde’s time in Berlin. Today I want to capture my emerging intention to study William Stafford this fall. The boundaries of this poetics inquiry are a promise to continue to carve out curious time. It is an extension of how conscious practice cleaves to the promise of honoring spirit. I aim to explore and investigate Stafford’s pacifist approaches — specifically conscientious objector — to writing poetry, his teaching methods of writing poetry, and his graceful rejection of competition.

Our days are urgent as parents wait for children to find them. Climate and change are conjoined into violent denials. Stafford practiced creative resistance strategies during WWII and the Vietnam War.

What might we borrow to alter our endangered lives?

prominence

“writing…is a process of relying on immediate pervasive feelings, not an escape from them…”   — William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl. pg. 88

I’M HERE FOR LUCK. Louis Wain (1926)

I haven’t found a way to say I love you that isn’t complicated, so I practice loving you every day. Sounds of terrorized children broke through all those hours of visual noise. Hope is a map. A place to begin.

The distance of decades doesn’t always make things quieter. Calendars are more form than function. I learned early and repeatedly that love must be earned, and value is measured by others. An intimacy of detachment.

Addicted to seeking approval is one way of saying yes unconditionally. Instead, imagine a private collection of silent hymns. These days, I take care to mend memories as a way to create acceptance. A public chorus swelled.

Broken into speculative practices, writing things down reinforces pleasure and importance in tandem. Together, through famine and fortune, what stands out is love.  An oxygen where sacrifice is not born from competition.

the birds sang our gossip

“When someone tells us something, we don’t know how many versions they have tried out inside before the one we hear.” — William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life

Paul Jenkins (American, 1923-2012), Phenomena Winds Meet West, 1976-78. Acrylic on canvas, 70.5 x 127 cm

It was nothing but ordinary how the day started. The sun crept above the horizon like any weekday likes to unfold. Yesterday a seismic shift happened — two degrees right to the center. Trees noticed the ambient vibrations immediately, then the birds. No one noticed the subtle ways computer grids had wiped clean negative balances and dropped zeros while spinning out complex equations for how to love beyond reflex.

It took seventeen years for scientists to confirm the shift occurred. Pundits had convinced the public that such a change could not occur simply because they had no imagination to the contrary. Scattered conversations slowly and remotely extended what had been idle reservations around the basics of grace as understood as time. It was a dramatic revolution. Men were not brave. We found their excuses strapped to the back of westbound bus seats.

We considered multiple ways to drown ourselves in the meanings of what we had known and what was now. Immediate and sharp like a broken tooth, we rejected regressive poetic frames. In some places, it became fashionable to sell boredom while others practiced local rituals that buried light. By all accounts, we now live immoral lives. Only the youngest birds have yet to learn not to take from the most fragmented rumors to make their shelters.

sub rosa

“And is is strange how experiences blend and enhance each other.” — William Stafford

22.10.2017 Berlin

It is not that what I know today is necessarily different from what I knew yesterday, or that I have replaced prior knowledge with a brand new extended spectrum of understanding. It is more subtle than a transaction, more gracefully defined as complexity. This feels like transformation. A shift.

Love fits into this equation as a multiplier. The critical variables that come next are a matter of routine, a particular and conscious genre. A ritual.

There is always more. A compilation.

monograph

[A]s my mother used to say, if wishes were horses, women would ride.
— Elspeth Probyn, Outside Belongings (62)

New Orleans, October 2017

The prompt was bold: how do you embody whiteness? My heart froze knowing that some of my truth has no accessible language.

So I thought about how we grew up nowhere, or more accurately, we lived around no one. A place where you learn orthodox norms, where conformity was practiced as integration. A place where we conversed in churches or homes, and almost never on the long road in between.

The days take flight and return again.

My writing practice captures moments, and contain all kinds of shadowed referents, insurrections, and commitments. There’s a way this claiming expands space to repurpose perfection. A response to how surviving trauma from decades past seeps into what I believe is real and how I frame what is just. I’m not afraid to tell you why my fears are justified. I have a story to let you know why this is true.

I am left wanting. I know dissonance can also be harmonic despite its agreed upon definition. There’s room in that idea to breathe. To release orchestrations that dance around forgone conclusions.

Weeks ago, I wrote: don’t let me forget where I came from and the day before that: resistance to belong a furious understanding. I read these reminders, now, as culturally weighted influences.  Next week, I will be in Berlin. A city that embodies trauma and healing’s relentless journey. A city where Audre Lorde taught, organized, and loved. A place of intentional inquiry.

cache culture is a collectivized monograph of intentional inquiry. A place to find my way in contemporary American culture. A place to expose how my gendered body has historically been named as white. I post curated moments that reflect culture and place because that’s where belonging takes root. My roots grew deepest in South Dakota, Ohio, Washington, and now California.

Berlin’s calling and its collective response is another cache.

I will be carrying William Stafford’s advice with me, but one of many influential guides on this poetics inquiry.

“We all share, in art. And to be worthy artists we must be ready to look around, give credit where we feel it belongs, help each other maintain that sense of community that will maximize whatever vision we are able to find and share.”

cultural fronts

Wherever I go they quote people
who talk too much, the ones who
do not care, just so they can take the center
and call the plans.
— William Stafford (excerpt from Deerslayer’s Campfire Talk)

May 2017 (detail Oranges on Fire, 1975, Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel)

sifting accents, hardwood hustles, and transitory migrations
this is a time for wild-from-abandon imagination
blame the devil or self-manipulation for this perception

like the draw of a well positioned salt lick
he spoke of competition for promised visibility
extending territory by adjusting the frame of domination

even though desire and loss are higher forms of inspiration
we feel motivated by such assurances
taking all of this as seriously as reflections that have no anchor

if it’s true there is more hope in intention
let that reality bruise
endlessly

future tense

I read the words “indulgence in loss” after absorbing the previous passage “and that kind of indulgence is understandable, but it’s regressive.” Regressive had been defined as, “when you celebrate something you know you’re going to leave.” (William Stafford interview)

west coast
west coast sunset

Haunting thoughts dance between those words – a performance perfected through practice.

comfort kills
comfort kills

William Stafford notes what a person is shows up in what a person does.
Those habits are manifestations.

studio 45 March15
studio 54 March15

No longer abstractions, unable to able to hold my breath, I surrender.

there is a sweetness

“That’s the biggest thing there is – the sky! It’s there, and it’s an abiding puzzle, presence and invitation.”
William Stafford

NYC March15
NYC March15

What you have is what you walk away with.
Leave nothing behind.
A particular kind of status quo,
founding tensions of contradiction.
Yet, this is worth unraveling.

Where does all this information go?
Why are we competing with brutality?
When does resilience become fight?

co-inspire

Wedding rings hang outside car windows left open to let in the warm winter breeze. Expositions of racism flare, burn, and spread. Secrets, held between breaths, were left behind in paid rooms. Stories about love and risk and reward are threads. As William Stafford ends The Way It Is, “You don’t ever let go of the thread.”

Marina Abramovic & Ulay, Breathing in - Breathing out, 1977
Marina Abramovic & Ulay, Breathing in – Breathing out, 1977

 

 

following the wrong god home we may miss our star

Keep your words soft and sweet in case you have to eat them. – Amish proverb

We are tired; it is June. We are at the midpoint of a rogue year. As I rest, I am forming a plan. This plan is just beyond my horizon, like those childhood summer storms we saw coming days in advance and were the most talked about event weeks after they blew past us. Those summer storms a result of collisions, of mixing extremes, of letting go. Perfectly orchestrated chaotic conditions that result in epic reverence, a beauty best experienced first hand. These are the kinds of moments I’ve been hoarding as the day’s light provides sustained warmth and has exposed vulnerable possibility. It’s a ritual, a strategy bent towards inspiration with hopes of reinvention.

___

title credit: line from A Ritual To Read Each Other by William Stafford

gravity

justice will take us millions of intricate moves
– William Stafford

Miami, 2012

As each day tucks into the next, I add up the cumulative influence of how silence can be a weapon of intention. My head reminds me that this is the familiar effect of winter and the reappearance of those heavy memories that not-so-gently announce its arrival. My heart has been in hibernation for weeks.

There is nothing left for you; I promise.

Shall we think of junctions as felicitous opportunities to recast and reassess? If the rumors are true that the world is ending in less than a month, let us wake up each day with strategic purpose. This ritual is bigger than you or me.

the maker’s marks

What are you coming to tell me?
Do not bring me anything that doesn’t have apposite details, please.

We only give the sweetest looks, and we only steal from the greatest books. Just use one sentence and insert your name. We should not be ashamed. – Karate, The Last Wars

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Why has the antiquated opinion that contraception is dangerous to society resurfaced?

Because this ersatz politics is simply thinly-veiled misogyny. The purpose of creating this false tension (e.g. women are incapable of making autonomous decisions about their bodies) keeps the discourse noisy, distracting, and catatonic. It’s salacious rhetoric and it sells.

Wake up!

“There are few ways in which a person can exercise more power in a relationship than by consciously playing with it.” [Nomy Lamm, make/shift issue no.10, pg 17]. Lamm was giving advice to someone struggling with a long-term BDSM relationship break-up but the agency translates beyond interpersonal politics. The leverage point in Lamm’s advice is consciousness. To be conscious is to be awake; aware.

This realism can be magical. As William Stafford so eloquently states in A Ritual to Read to Each Other,

“For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”

So if you are unable to see this darkness and translate these critical details, then you do not have my attention. No matter which side you hustle.