Like this bowl, a heart
cannot fill and overflow
unless it’s empty
Felicia Sanzari Chernesky
It’s spring, although fine snow is falling
from a once blue sky.
No daffodil is thunderstruck,
no bird is wondering why,
for hardy crocus knows that while
our calendar has changed
the weather is reminding us
by date we have arranged
what human beings cannot control.
“Don’t be unreasonable!”
wild nature chides. “There’s no such clime
Felicia Sanzari Chernesky
Here’s the funny thing about clutter and creativity. I feel like I need a lot of stuff inside my lens to get motivated But then, as I’m rolling along, I begin to pluck out what isn’t pertinent to what I’m writing. Sometimes I think of it as editing-on-the-move, a constant sifting and winnowing that helps me streamline my ideas as well as my lines—of prose and verse, although the process is even more intense when it comes to verse.
This occurs literally as well. The deeper I dig into what I’m doing the more I need to empty off my desk. Papers and books and all the household items that always seem to end up there must GO.
In my dream life I have two writing rooms, one as crammed and exotic as Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory office, the other empty—and I mean empty—of everything but my desk and my imagination. I’ll fill the rest of the space with effort.
There’s that old saying, I can’t remember who said it first or how, that if I had more time, I’d have written less. This is what I mean. To carve and whittle away to what’s essential is, I believe, the key to polished writing and a more satisfying existence.
Too much static and stuff still gets in the way. Or I am still letting it. Or still learning how to let go.
Does it matter? Not really. I’ve been an editor for twenty-five years and have learned that to do the job well, you have be able to set expectations aside and listen to the heartbeat, to what the writing and the writer are trying to say.
Writers don’t always listen to editors either. I’m guilt of that, too. And sometimes we need to hear what we mistake as criticism but is really an issue of clarity many, many, many times over before it moves us to revise: to rewrite so that what we are trying to say can be understood.
I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that. The rest is ego or sloth or unpreparedness. The first two need a different kind of address, but unpreparedness can always be answered with education, whether it’s independent scholarship or skills acquired in a classroom environment.
I like also like learning as I go. The “results” take longer but it keeps life interesting, like asymmetry. Some days it just feels off-kilter, but on other days it creates the kind of perspective visual artists do so well, and I can hone in on the object of my attention and affection.
My frame? That brief band of longed-for bliss.
Today the sky, grey as a goose,
set its winter feathers loose.
Reprieve: Another View
Parting the curtain like long hair
I watch each freeing snowflake dare
to dance across heart-chilling air
and feel a loosening in my noose—
a groaning desk, each household care—
and warm the window with my stare.
Felicia Sanzari Chernesky
If were wishes were dishes, on what would you feast?
Potato knishes? A trip to the East?
A plate of spaghetti snowed under with cheese.
Hot air balloon vistas of mountains and trees.
Egg rolls and dumplings and Mom’s apple pie,
a sandcastle beach with a Creamsicle sky,
then slow dancing gumbo ‘til red rice and beans—
the way we are wishing we’ll need larger jeans.
Felicia Sanzari Chernesky
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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