Anton von Werner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A bit of this and that.
I returned to my pottery class yesterday, and while I’d like to state, with an accompanying surge of uplifting music, that I’ve been transported to a new level of clay awareness, the reality is that it’s going to take a lot of time.
I did consider not going back to class, and I wish it were bravery and stick-to-itiveness that set me straight, but it was the tuition paid that put an end to the idea of quitting. There was a delayed school opening due to icy roads, so I was a half-hour late, but into the studio I marched, jaw set, apron in hand.
I see that part of my problem is that I need to let go and relax and focus solely on my current actions. I had moments of that. And the potter must be queried often for assistance, so I have to get over too my longstanding and residual reluctance to ask questions in a classroom setting. Those issues are mine and do not belong to the clay.
That being said, I got over myself, asked questions about next steps and hand positions, etc., and above all allowed myself to slow down. It started to sink in that however I touched the clay the clay would respond in a way that reminded me of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Now, I have no idea if this is correct, but this is different from my first concept of the clay as dough, because when you stick a finger in dough the dough rises back up. When you dent clay, like the dent in the bathroom wall I discussed a few days ago, it stays dented. But that’s not quite true either, for when the wheel is in motion and your hands are cupping the clay there’s a sense of molecular movement, of elasticity that I am just beginning to experience and therefore cannot articulate well yet.
Practically speaking, so far I’ve thrown four pots: one looks like an embarrassed flowerpot, another a small, sorry candy dish, the third a food bowl for a pet guinea pig named Corky, and the fourth a cup to hold chewed, half-used pencils.
I will say that the fourth pot surprised the potter, who I am convinced was secretly hoping I would not return to class. I asked, him, “Why does it look like this?” And he answered, “Because you are starting to hold your hands the right way.”
Moving to another kind of art, I also begin my spring semester MFA coursework this week, an advanced forms class on verse satire and verse drama. J-O-Y. My classmates are fellow poetry MFA students in the same fiction class I took last semester, and we are hoping to continue the momentum.
During week one we are reading translations of the Satires of Horace. I am particularly enjoying reading the translations published in 2008 by A.M. Juster, who made the engaging and provocative decision to fashion the Roman lyric poet Horace’s dactylic hexameter as rhymed lines of iambic pentameter (heroic couplets), which seems to me to underscore their wit and urbane, conversational quality.
I remember translating and scanning passages of Horace in college Latin class, but this is a different experience altogether. I’m not worried here (much) about grammar, but learning how to add satire to my writer/poet toolbox. That makes it sound mundane and practical, which this process is, partly.
The rest involves history. Maybe call it reenactment. If you want to know something study its origins. If you want to be a good writer, read good writing. I know I’m geek-oriented (i.e., a geek), but starting with a thorough and ongoing study, independently or otherwise—there are so many options available today—of what you desire to learn seems to me to be the best way of getting good at what you want to do.
Bravery and stick-to-itiveness help. As does patience, humanity, and a bit of satirical, self-deprecating reflection, like this, from Satire 1.3 of Horace, as translated by Juster:
He may feel ridiculed when people say
he cuts his hair the way that bumpkins do,
his toga drags, and an ill-fitting shoe
keeps slipping off, but he’s a decent guy—
you won’t find someone better if you try,
and vast capacities may hide within
that fellow’s unsophisticated skin.
Once finished, shake yourself to check if seeds
of evil in your nature or bad deeds
are sown within you; in neglected fields
we need to burn away the weedy yields.
This lively text doesn’t jive with the somewhat stern portrait of Horace by nineteen-century German painter Anton von Werner posted above, does it? But I like it.
To me, the great Quintus Horatius Flaccus looks like he is wearing a short-sleeved turtleneck à la Papa Hemingway and sensible shoes—Rockports perhaps? I often find ancient writers disarmingly modern, which is refreshing, and a reminder that just when you think you’ve seen it all, somebody smarter saw, and commented upon it, thousands of years before you were born.
p.s. I went hypertext happy in this post. A little clay goes a long way.
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