A thousand grandmothers ago
Pyrrha and Deucalion repopulated
the world with rocks, bones of mother Earth,
a generation of my ancestors strained
from the mud of a drowned planet.
But I’m more interested in my earliest
grandmothers, their gills and wetness,
before they crawled from that blue expanse
and learned to carry the sea within them,
in their cells, between their cells, in their eyes.
The buoyancy of ocean has never left us.
It hides in skin’s complex reservoir
where we’re selectively permeable
and our bodies exchange the smallest life.
If we had no need to distinguish ourselves
from others we’d be missing the skin
that defines lovers and enemies
and opens itself to both.
“Ah, this delicious night air,” she said, luxuriously sniffing in the coolness. “Night air and gardening are the great tonics. There is nothing so stimulating as bare contact with rich mother earth. You are never so fresh as when you have been grubbing in the soil – black hands, black nails, and boots covered with mud.” She gave her great jovial laugh.
“I’m a glutton for air and earth,” she said. “Positively I look forward to death, for then I shall be buried and have the kind earth all round me. No leaden caskets for me – I have given explicit directions. But what shall I do about air? Well, I suppose one can’t have everything.”
The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud—the obstacles of life and its suffering.
…The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life.
… Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one.
I see you go bare-shod. This is most likely extremely sensible. Shoes are no end of trouble for girls. . . . How many have danced to death in slippers of silk and glass and fur and wood? Too many to count—the graveyards, they are so full these days. You are very wise to let your soles become grubby with mud, to let them grow their own slippers of moss and clay and calluses. This is far preferable to shoes which may become wicked at any moment.
Flowers don’t often grow in clay and piles of mud seldom win sculpture contests. Are you using your creativity effectively?
Mud is a substance with a myriad of uses, from growing plants and housing animals to creating building materials and ceramics. Many traditions speak of man as created from mud, from the union of earth with water. As we use mud and its derivatives to build our cities, we sometimes forget that mud has life of its own.
Construction, whether it is of a building, a sculpture, or a simple bowl, depends on placing a hold on the lifecycle inherent in mud. To render a structure stable it must dry out to a great extent. We like to think that this process gives the things we fashion permanence, but erosion and time will destroy and reclaim what has been made, converting it once more to earth and water. Many of our arts and sciences are also an attempt to stop time, to hold on to our tenuous civilization. Just as we often forget that we are dependent on the basic function of mud to grow nourishment and support new life, we often forget that creativity has other purposes than perpetuating tradition and culture, as wonderful as those things are.
I recently entered a peer reviewed poetry contest. Feedback from creative people I knew and respected had been remarkably positive, so I wanted to see how well my poems did with poets themselves. As it turns out, they were resoundingly panned (by the five people that voted on them) and lay near the very bottom of the submissions turned in to the contest. What did I do wrong?
Not understanding the nature of my own work or the qualities sought for by others, I had unwittingly sent a pile of mud to a sculpture contest. Let me explain.
The style of my poetry is something that I have been honing in the dark for years. Being a self taught poet who was first a classical singer, my inspiration comes largely from the texts of song literature, most of it in foreign languages. My favorites are the French surrealist poets, especially Apollinaire and Eluard, with their abstraction and ambiguity. I insert spaces where my brain stops to find the next word or phrase, shaping my poems more like an abstract picture than a piece of verse. This was inspired by the graphic works of Robert Rauschenberg, and is an integral part of my process. It helps free my subconscious by removing elements of form so that my critical eye is distracted. I am far more interested in discovering what lies behind my thoughts than I am in structure.
The visual patterns I make can be disconcerting, especially in this set, which is called Fractures, about wounded relationships that have become non-functional. One person said that they felt that the poems were structured as if they had been cut from paper and arranged. This is precisely the effect I desired. Another said the pieces were different for the sake of being different, that they needed to be more poetic. A third mentioned that they were a dialogue within the self and were structurally off-putting. Too abstract. Unemotional… a string of description. Wow. I don’t care much for the sentimentality of some poetry, but I would argue that the emotion was all there, especially in the form and word choice which they all found so radical. What they did not know was that the things they complained about were choices that I made because they felt right to me.
Some artists feel that they build up, or fashion their works, and some feel as if they dig them out and uncover them, removing elements that don’t belong. Those of the first group are often protectors of institutions and styles. Their talents are important in keeping the beauty and power of what has gone before us in our minds, eyes, and spirits. Equally important are those who dig, bringing out new things and keeping apace with the evolution of the human spirit. These people do things in new ways, operating with the knowledge that not everything they will do will succeed. What a different world it would be if people like Picasso or Beethoven had listened to their critics and played it safe.
Traditional arts require a great deal of fashioning and shaping and are ideal for those who operate best when carefully constructing what they envision. I realize now that my natural way of working is by digging, by throwing mud at the wall and seeing what takes shape. I take much more delight in that than creating what is expected, even if it means that others don’t value it.
Are you in the right patch of mud for your skills? If you feel that your creative talents are not traditional and it is hard to find and audience or an outlet, let me encourage you, because I feel our society doesn’t take time to do that. You are the explorers who link us to the creative future; your contributions are important because they may take us somewhere new. And there is a different joy in appreciating something uncommon and unexpected, like discovering a wild place before it becomes a park and the tourists move in. Synkroniciti is a place to find like-minded colleagues, compatriots and playmates who aren’t necessarily comfortable in the cultural establishment. You and your mud are welcome here. Anytime.
About fifteen miles above New Orleans the river goes very slowly. It has broadened out there until it is almost a sea and the water is yellow with the mud of half a continent. Where the sun strikes it, it is golden.
We can’t blame children for occupying themselves with Facebook rather than playing in the mud. Our society doesn’t put a priority on connecting with nature. In fact, too often we tell them it’s dirty and dangerous.