Slam Poetry Workshop and Ideas about Art

Not the kind of place you’d expect to attend a Slam Poetry workshop – a little historic Baptist church with vintage neon sign. But the Missouri Literary Festival hosted many events over three days, in a variety of places, and this little church on the edge of campus was saved by Drury University and renamed the Diversity Center.

Drury-diversity-centerI went to the workshop, not knowing anything about it. I was intrigued by the title and thought it might be fun to videotape. I’ve been spending a lot of my creative time this month working with video. I’m better at editing than shooting, so I need the practice. Russ is the great photographer and techie in the family.

In the 90’s we did a lot of video work – documentary type stuff — and am now finding how much fun it is to upload and share videos via our new YouTube channel as compared to having to dupe tapes, design packaging, and figure out how to distribute them. I love video, it’s total immersion into a world of thousands of trillions of single photographic moments smashed together and find myself getting lost in it. But back to poetry.

The workshop was great, amazing — maybe partly because of the environment of the church and the beautiful light that filtered that afternoon through the large stained glass windows. But most definitely because of Joaquín Zihuatanejo. I found out later that he’s really famous – 2008 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, 2009 World Cup of Poetry Slam Champion.

And so kind and generous – with his talent, his spirit, his desire to teach and to share ideas. I made three short videos from the one-hour workshop. This overview of Slam Poetry has pretty much what I think are some universal truths for all art.

The keynote speaker for the MO Literary Festival was Billy Collins, two-time Poet Laureate for the United States. I was pretty excited about hearing him. I thought I was a fan, but he pretty much lost me when he said that all poetry is about death and that someone should tell English majors that when they are starting out.

I was an English major — no one ever told me that, and I wouldn’t have believed them if they did. I’ve always thought that poetry and art were about life, so I’m happy to post this other video of Joaquín Zihuatanejo. He pretty much sums it up in a short minute.

Circular Writing is like Circular Knitting

circular_knittingI used to think that writing was a linear thing, and it can be if you’re telling a story. Then blogs came along, and it seemed to make sense to write and post things in order, because in the beginning they were kind of just an online diary of events or ideas.

Now there’s the next generation of blogs. What I’m seeing now and starting to write for are blogs that follow a don’t follow a linear time-line — blogs with front pages that link to all different places in the life of the entire blog.

There are ways to do this in WordPress — for example using sticky posts to make a certain post stay on the top of your post order or featured article categories that do something similar — so I’m assuming this is also possible in Blogger and Typepad.

So now I’m learning to write circular, because  you can’t assume that someone will start at the beginning or end, or maybe you don’t even want them to. If you’re going to use a non-linear structure, you’re got to think about things from the reader’s perspective and try to give them some way-finding clues. What I call circular writing is not like circular thinking, a term many people use to describe a kind of obsessive pattern of going around and around in circles and never being able to break out of a vicious cycle.

Yesterday I realized that by “circular writing” I meant something more like knitting on a pair of circular needles in which you start with one loop of yarn and knit around and around making a tubular shape. When you knit in a circle, you are building on the past. Although you may revisit a place, it’s not repetitious, because you’re actually using it as a foundation and adding to it.

Circular writing also seems to me like making art. Over the years, I’ve found myself coming back to a theme or idea, sometimes not even aware that I am revisiting that idea until I’ve made something new and moved on. Only later do I realize the connection to the past.

Last week Karen left a comment on my “On the Road to a Improved Blog” that she wanted to start a one. I hope she does! I often hear or read about people who are are thinking about starting one, but something is holding them back. Just remember that starting a blog is like making that single little loop. Go ahead and get it started now so you can start building on it. It doesn’t have to be important or fancy, just get going now! And I hope that the idea that you don’t have to do things in a set order may be as liberating to you as it is to me.

If you’re still wondering why you should write a blog, here’s a great video from Tom Peters and Seth Godin about how blogging changed their lives, and why it’s important to do. Everything they say has certainly been true for me.

The Power of WordPress

Self-imposed WordPress camp, that’s where I’ve been the for the last couple of weeks. It’s not a real camp, but just me with my laptop on the dining room table hooked up to the internet. But I like to use the term to describe the intensity with which I’ve been learning how to better use WordPress.

learn-morse-code.jpgFor those who don’t use it, WordPress is the software that drives my and a lot of other people’s blogs. It’s free and open source, which means that people all over the world are constantly working on it to add to it and make it better.

The reason for my intensity is this summer I started to build a new blog. First I was just looking for a good theme to use. Then it progressed from there…

Themes are the framework of the WordPress blogs. What is cool about them is they don’t effect your content (what you write or the images that you upload). So you can try out different themes, and it’s almost like trying on vastly different clothes when you’re out shopping. You and your content don’t change, just your outward appearance and presentation.

For someone like me who thinks that rearranging the furniture is a great hobby, playing around with different WordPress themes is really fun. There are very simple themes and more complex. You can pay for a theme or write your own, and there are a lot of great themes there free for the downloading.

In the process of looking at a lot of themes, I’ve learned how to use WordPress plugins and widgets. All that has me so excited that I wake up at four or five every morning to work on it. I’m getting close to going public with the new blog and can’t wait to link PaMdora’s box to it.

Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning PaMdora’s Box though. In a few weeks I’m planning a make over for PB, because my theme here is so basic that I can’t even use widgets. It doesn’t access tags either, and when I add that feature to a new theme, you’ll be able to search the archives more easily.

Did I say that? (less is more)

qn_backcover.jpg When I first got into some art shows and was asked for an artist statement, I often spent a lot of time at the word processor — refining and tweaking and trying to cram as many power-packed poetic words into the space allowed. Type…..check the word count…..retype……check the word count.

Now after a year of using Twitter (only 140 characters, not words allowed!), or maybe because I’ve decided I’d like to leave some mystery for the viewer, my statements are getting much shorter than the space allowed.

In fact, my statement for Quilt National 2009 was only one sentence long. I’d actually forgotten I’d said it because it’s so core to what I believe that it seems apparent, but was pleased to see it in print. And it also ended up on the back cover of the book. Sometimes I guess, less is more.

In case you can’t read my quote in the photo, it says, “I believe the true power of art is the ability to transport us to new or unexpected places.”

Muse On-Line Writers Conference

wannabwriter.jpgBefore I launch in Seattle stuff, I want to tell you about last week’s Muse On-line Writers Conference. It was a free conference that I found through an on-line writers group I recently joined.

For a week, people from all over participated in live chats and workshops with publishers, promoters, writers and illustrators, and a full discussion forum with the same. Since I registered late, I had lots of homework, reading handouts and research on websites — and believe it or not, I had never even been in a live chat room before (but it was fun once I got the hang of it.)

I didn’t realize it was going to be so good, or I would have told more people about it before. But I’ll be signing up for next year Oct. 13-19, 2008 — registration starts in January, so I’ll let you know then. And hopefully I’ll have some work done on my book ideas and be bouncing ideas off you before then! 🙂

Lesson from a Writer


Where have you been? you’re probably asking… I don’t know really, just bouncing off the ceiling like a silly thing. Seems lately I’ve either had the opportunity to meet creative people or just take a big bath in the wash of their creations.

In the studio, it’s been hot hot HOT, so I have had little inclination to fire up an iron or turn on a sewing machine. In the meantime, I’ve been playing with paints. In the photo on the left you see a gouache experiment and on the right an acrylic. Also just got back from an Uncommon Threads retreat where I played around (and already washed some essential parts down the sink drain) with my new Airpen. I’ve also just finished revamping my Quilts and Drawing webpages, so check them out and send me some feedback, please!

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by children’s author David Harrison, who has published 73 books. It was inspiring to learn the story of how he’s structured his business life around his writing habit. One of his points that caught my attention — when he was younger he said he chased every single idea. Then as he became a more seasoned writer, he realized writing was a lot of work — so he only pursued ideas that he was really enamored with and were solid, going somewhere kind of projects.

Part of being an artist is play and experimentation. I’m a firm believer in that. But artists can also take his advice to heart, and knowing when to use it is the key.

Yoga, the Moon, and the Zone

This morning the old 1904 part of the house where I normally do yoga was freezing! I guess the radiator heat system is broken. Not being able to do my yoga there, I moved my mat, quilts, and other yoga props into the new part of house.

At first I was disgruntled by the uneven terra cotta floor, which I blamed for not being able to do my balance poses, (handy excuse). But over the next forty-five minutes, I realized that I was fortunate to be able to watch the full moon set across the winter sky through the big glass wall in the family room.

Every time I looked up from a pose, the moon had moved a little more, and as it moved behing the winter trees, I saw how big it was. That huge white circle in the dark sky reminded me of a poem I wrote about a winter moon in high school. I always did a lot of creative writing when I was younger. I think the first story I ever wrote was called “I am a Pickle.”

But as a kid I always struggled with the concept of being a writer versus being an artist. It was so unfair, writers could have their work reprinted by the millions and could be experienced by so many people. Artists on the other hand, I thought, could only have one original that would be experienced by a limited audience. And the visual arts were undemocratic too, because buying or owning a work of art was much more expensive than buying a paperback book.

I suppose recently those internal arguments have been softened a little by computers, the internet, and other digital media. And recently I have been working more writing into my artwork in little devious ways.

But back to the moon. I have never watched the moon set, and I think it put me into the Zone. I think the Zone is a meditative state of mind, or maybe a kind of out-of-body experience. Athletes talk about the Zone, artists talked about a creative mental state, yoga masters try to reach some kind of bliss, but I think it all might be a similar experience.

Sometimes I can get into the Zone when I draw or paint. But sometimes I’m not sure how I get there, it seems to happen accidently. All of a sudden I’m just there, and then I write or draw some of my best stuff. One time I was eating lunch, I think it was a hot dog and Campbell’s soup, and suddenly I got up from the table and wrote one of my best poems ever.

I guess that’s one reason I started this blog. I’m not sure how to get to that place where I create the best, but I’m always searching. I could try writing after yoga each morning, but if I add that to my current regima, even though I’m getting up at 5:30 I might never make it to the studio before noon.

I shouldn’t even be writing this right now, because I have a full day with four meetings scheduled, the biggest one being the art quilt group meeting where we are going to review all the work for our show. But you know, probably a lot of great art would never have been created if people always did what they “should.” Not that this is great art. But hopefully it’s on the road to making some…..