Friday, September 29

j'y suis jamais allée

I'm in France, the town is beautiful, my suitcases are heavy, the people have been wonderful so far, I'm realizing that I don't speak French as well as I thought I did, I' a bit homesick, and internet has been hard to come by.

More eventually.

Sunday, September 24

what I said, what I meant

I did mean to write again about poetry but instead have been consumed with the fact that 100 pounds is not much at all, and somehow I have to get what I want to bring to france of my life here to fit into two suitcases that weigh less than I do. So I think I will not write any more here until I have arrived in France (this is acceptance--letting it go, keeping myself [reasonably] sane, and it's hard for me). But I will say one small story.

My mom loves Gordon Lightfoot, and has since she was a teenager. He is on tour but has been sick and I wanted to get her tickets (in case!), but they were sold out. I tried every day until three days before the concert, when amazingly I was able to buy two seats, for my mom and dad. Then, when we were picking them up at will-call, someone else offered me two more tickets, so Brian and I got to go. Although I do like Gordon Lightfoot's songs, it wasn't the best concert ever--he had just had a stroke!--and I wish he had sung this song, which I love both for its strong encouragement for people heading out in the world and for the memories I have of cleaning to it on Saturday mornings.

The House You Live In
(Gordon Lightfoot)

Go first in the world, go forth with your fears
Remember a price must be paid
Be always too soon, be never too fast
At the time when all bets must be laid
Beware of the darkness, be kind to your children
Remember the woman who waits
And the house you live in will never fall down
If you pity the stranger who stands at your gate

When you're caught by the gale and you're full under sail
Beware of the dangers below
And the song that you sing should not be too sad
And be sure not to sing it too slow
Be calm in the face of all common disgraces
And know what theyre doing it for
And the house you live in will never fall down
If you pity the stranger who stands at your door

When you're out on the road and feeling quite lost
Consider the burden of fame
And he who is wise will not criticize
When other men fail at the game
Beware of strange faces and dark dingy places
Be careful while bending the law
And the house you live in will never fall down
If you pity the stranger who stands at your door

When youre down in the dumps and not ready to deal
Decide what it is that you need
Is it money or love, is it learning to live
Or is it the mouth you must feed?
Be known as a man who will always be candid
On questions that do not relate
And the house you live in will never fall down
If you pity the stranger who stands at your gate
And the house you live in will never fall down
If you pity the stranger who stands at your gate


Next time, in France!

Friday, September 22

there should always be dancing

I have danced since I was very little: first ballet, and then when it became too much for my feet, flamenco. These days I don't dance much at all (except for the odd salsa night) and I miss it a lot. So I fixed up an old pair of shoes for dancing to wear when I presented my Spring06 collection. They are 'character' (heeled) shoes, and they are tiny--around a size 5 US. But if you know a young girl who has small feet and likes to dance or dress up, leave a comment. I'll draw a name tomorrow and send them to you.

Thank you again for all your comments. Poetry tomorrow.

EDIT: shoes to Sarah. Email me your address, please!

Thursday, September 21


For presents like these:
(silk thread and shibori button clips for my short hair from Megan)

and this:
(beautiful wool-and-kimono-fabric scarf from Blair, for French winters--a bit of home)

and having time to finish my yellow-and-grey skirt, and even take photos before the light was gone:
(speaking of coats and coats, I am wearing my dad's mom's nursing cape with this outfit),

and to have editors who really know how to choose a book cover:
(image by Jennifer Davis, design by Percolator),

and for such kind people to leave such kind words for my big news. Thank you.


(Lucky life. Oh, lucky life./ Oh lucky lucky life. Lucky life.)

(And one more thank-you, to Gerald Stern. As always.)

Monday, September 18

poetry 6 / feeling autumnal / big news (edited!)

It's grey here, and rainy most of the day, and at about 5:30 the clouds parted and there was that fresh blue sky. Fresh makes me think of Hopkins (Girard Manley), and from there I'm leapfrogged into spring and love and hope and the optimism that keeps the world going around.

If you need healing,
just go to the doctor, I mean
that familiar spine, and open it. A lion waits.
A field of bobolinks.
The doorways
and sprinkled streets

and blackbirds.

It makes me think of my students, how much teaching changed my writing, changed my thinking (how it still does both!). How integral the act of generosity required by teaching is to the selfish act of writing for me. How they could come into the poetry classrom and leave changed, and leave me changed, too. How the world always seemed to have that certain smell on Tuesday nights, the smell of things opening. The smell of snow. Magic.

It is magic, propagating the love of words. Love of beauty. It is pure body, it happens inside the human being who has forgotten it can happen, or didn't know it could. It is lines like

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

--for their soundplay and their wordplay and their love of the imperfect (evident also by the oddity that sprung meter [which Hopkins developed--a 'broken' meter, or rhythm, to counter a more regular and traditional one] must have been). The poem is "Pied Beauty," and it should have lovely indents, as it does here, but Blogger doesn't let me.

Please don't be afraid to comment. I've gotten several lovely, kind emails from people who feel intimidated by the subject of poetry. Well, I can't lie: I do think there are 'right readings.' But I would never be anything but interested and grateful for your comments and your ideas and your thoughts on what I've put down in these little 'lessons.'

Because here it is fall, the season of back-to-school and cooling temperatures, and the smell of apples. And the lonely season (of mists and mellow fruitfulness! name that poet!), which makes having some invisible lines out there to you just a bit nicer.

I leave for France in eight days. I don't know what my access to internet will be like there (any tips on getting it set up, anyone? I will need it for a freelance job I have while I'm there), but I wanted to tell you the reason I will be back home in April, rather than staying on.

I wrote, as my thesis, a manuscript of poems. An excellent literary, non-profit publisher bought the manuscript this past July, and will publish it (with extremely unusual alacrity, for the industry) this spring. A real book. As in, go to your local bookstore and they will have it. Or you can ask them to have it. It already has its ISBN (edit: here it is! thanks to Kelly of Weaving Major. Wow! That sure makes it real). The title is Music for Landing Planes By. I feel quite surreal about it all, really. And now the cat's out of the bag. I'm coming home in April to do readings.

If you would like to read some poetry of mine before the book is released, I can maybe figure out a way to post a sample on my webpage. Should I?

Monday, September 11

good things

child's coat by UNIFORM Studio: simple, elegant, wearable, durable, beautiful, whimsical...and the cap looks like an acorn. I'm loving brown so much right now. If I had a little girl, I'd buy her this coat. Check out more of Martha's accomplished designs here and here.

'fancy' quilt from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Makes me wish I had the patience for things like quilting and applique. From the early 1800s, but so fresh to me: the colors, the symbols. I want to make a skirt that does what this quilt does in terms of spring.
mikan bracelet by Bellaceti: I've loved this bracelet since I first saw it, lo these 365 days+ ago. I love that it's called 'mikan,' I love the orange beads that actually LOOK like mandarin oranges, I love the styling of this photo. Actually, I love everything on this site, including the Lupe earrings, which I just bought.

Brian saying my new haircut is "jolie."
But he says it more like "JOE-lee," with a funny, singsongy, falling accent. Very cute.
Anishinaabe bandolier bags from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: I don't think I even need to qualify this. Except maybe to say that these are beaded? With tiny glass seed beads? Yes. Amazing.
Jupon from Modern Child: I love this skirt. I love the ruffle, the ruching via drawstrings, the colors, the (what I imagine to be) French quality of it. I'm working on one like it for me (don't laugh! I do NOT look like a milkmaid in it!) in yellow and grey. I just need a fabric for the outer ruffle still. My fall style is so exactly to my tastes this year--I mean, I really feel at home in it, and maybe that's because I've made/I am making so much of it. More to come on this soon--just need to find time and someone to take photos. LOTS of ideas!

I'm also loving the Japanese fabric section at Crafty Planet online (you know--they ship internationally! and they're local and independent, and the owners are super!). They do have some Japanese trims in stock in the store--not sure if those are up yet.


And hey! if you're in the Twin Cities area, check out +/-, a trunk show I'm part of this Thursday! (And--if you have any favorite shopping or looking links, I would love to know them. I've got money to spend and I really want to spend it with independent makers and designers. I'm looking for high-quality clothes and jewelry. Maybe a shoulderbag big enough to carry my computer (12") and books and notebooks, too. Bring on the links!)

Oh, and one more thing--have you seen the new boiled art website yet?

Okay, I'm done for real.
More on poetry later this week.

Saturday, September 9

poetry 5 + studio business

shop at Red Dragonfly Press

My senior year of college (5 years ago now!), I was lucky to be able to take classes in the graduate program in poetry at my university. I was working three jobs, taking 17 credits, rehearsing for a show, and trying to write my thesis, on top of what constituted my 'normal' life--boyfriend, friends, artmaking. But walking into the poetry classroom every week was permission to play, to make, to enjoy. I frolicked among the words (maybe to some of my older classmates' chagrin).

I wrote about winter in the far north ("Canon," a long poem of 8 sections) that fall:


Your winter atlas

is the burning
of old letters,

curling before
they have a chance
to char.
The flames

at your ankles
push you further
into wide darkness,

and night comes
like an owl
when you are lost.

An expanse of stars

fits in your palm,
that stippled plain.

Looking at it now, I can see all its flaws: it lacks balance (every stanza is endstopped--predictable and repetitive in form and rhythm), it relies on my 'old tricks' (words like 'wide' and 'stars;' the demonstrative 'that'). But I can also recall what a huge discovery was going on at this time. How all of a sudden words were constellating themselves differently: Call something back. As differentiated from re.member. Put something back together from its parts.

This was the beginning.

I wrote earlier about Emily Dickinson and snow and walking around.

come in

Then it was spring and I was writing love poems (my habitual mode; one of my classmates in graduate school typified my work as 'love poems and prayers,' which I liked--maybe more on the love poem in another post) and relearning punctuation. From "Disappearing Acts":

We touched snow in one another’s tracks, stars & ice witness—
these have faded: the four of icicles, the jack of winter nights alone.

My hand is emptied. I won’t cry for you, shadow, for the forgotten nights
like bird tracks on sand. I’m not the woman anyone can cut in half by hand,

hacksaw singing through her body; flesh
and bone, not the wood of stringed instruments. Every day slipping through my fingers is another move away—

I’m asking for something
geometric. No more
of this sleight-of-hand, your white hands moving in the unlit room.
I can’t wait, silent woman in the dark, when the world is finally warming—

Good: beginning to use punctuation, not just scatter it around. Becoming conscious of it. Bad: well, maybe everything else: high melodrama factor, refernce to crying, lots of end-stops again, etc. I do like the woman-sawed-in-half image and the end images in line three. Otherwise, it's loose and sloppy. But, unlike everything I had written before, it doesn't end with a period.

I love the idea that punctuation is as representational and meaningful as a word: that it holds specific utterance--nonverbal, but present. I love the long (em-) dash, the colon, the semi-colon. I like the Oxford comma ('x, y, and z'). I don't much care for the ellipse (...). I remember actually figuring out (by reading Dickinson, actually) that the dash, the comma, the period all stood in for different kinds of breath--and I could make the reader breathe the way I wanted her to by using them.

I like now that I can look at these and (though I cringe a bit) not judge the younger me for what I wrote. These days, I think of every new poem as a draft towards a more perfect poem. I rarely go through exhaustive changes and revisions as I used to. More often than not I have a sense of a poem's workability as I'm writing it. It's enough sometimes to write the poem that is a gift, is a letter, is a one-off. They're all practise for other work. Other play.

That's enough of that, I think. To end the serious part: a love poem, a favorite.

A Portrait in Nine Lines

E. Ethelbert Miller

I want to hold your face in my hands
just for its laughter. I love your hat.
I was standing in a bookstore when
you turned the corner. Page after page
reminds me of your arms. The wind
sits in a park reading a book of your
poems. Is today your birthday? Yes
is such an easy word to say. I know.
This is the portrait of you I love.


I'd love to hear your responses to any of this. I'll write back in the comments--or you're welcome to email me if you'd like (ohbara at gmail dot com).

And, studio-box-expecting people: here's the deal. I've boxed up everything and it's set to mail by Wednesday of this week (depending on how many trips to the P.O. I have to make! There are a ton of boxes!). I didn't include notes or niceties; I popped things in willy-nilly sometimes. But in many I was able to include little scrap packets like these:
Just tiny bits (I really use up my fabric, so when I think of scraps, I mean tiny pieces for quilting or zakkaing!) all bundled together. It was late last night when I finished, so the light in the photo is poor.

Watch your mailboxes!

just a little sale

Or maybe a big one: everything in my shop is half off (yes, 50%!) for this week. I will be closing up shop as I move to France, so 9/21 will be your last chance for delightful bara goodies! (I'll reopen, but exactly when and in what capactiy remains to be seen.)

Also, all orders over 75.oo (US) can use the code 'freeship' and get--you guessed it--free shipping.

(And have you seen the Cram-Cream there?)

Back to the 'real' stuff this weekend. Boxes of studio explained and mailing next week.

Wednesday, September 6

poetry 4: simple

Lisa S. asked whether simplicity has to do with it. I think it does: simplicity, and clarity, and precision, and grace.

The way lines look on the page.

The space taken up by breathing/breath.

The meaning of what isn't put down. Elision.

I don't mean the easy idea, the easy image, the easy word. The expected. The cliché. I mean what is most fitting, what is beautiful unadorned. The poems I wrote as an undergrad I look at and squirm, mostly because they drip with words. I didn't know when to be spare. The poem needs the marrow-bone just as much as it needs the fancy vegetables.

No more writing just for writing's sake.

Mary Oliver can do this sometimes, but sometimes it feels cold. One poem where she accomplishes simplicity (in balance with--what?--poetic excess? humanity? physicality?) is the stunning "University Hospital, Boston," from American Primitive. The poem blends narrative and lyric so seamlessly that I'm carried through it, from her descriptions of the hospital, to the speaker's relationship with the beloved, to the musing on the hospital's history, to the hair-raising final stanza.


The trees on the hospital lawn
are lush and thriving. They too
are getting the best of care,
like you, and the anonymous many,
in the clean rooms high above this city,
where day and night the doctors keep
arriving, where intricate machines
chart with cool devotion
the murmur of the blood,
the slow patching-up of bone,
the despair of the mind.

When I come to visit and we walk out
into the light of a summer day,
we sit under the trees--
buckeyes, a sycamore, and one
black walnut brooding
high over a hedge of lilacs
as old as the red-brick building
behind them, the original
hospital built before the Civil War.
We sit on the lawn together, holding hands
while you tell me: you are better.

How many young men, I wonder,
came here, wheeled on cots off the slow trains
from the red and hideous battlefields
to lie all summer in the small and stuffy chambers
while doctors did what they could, longing
for tools still unimagined, medicines still unfound,
wisdoms still unguessed at, and how many died
staring at the leaves of the trees, blind
to the terrible effort around them to keep them alive?
I look into your eyes

which are sometimes green and sometimes gray,
and sometimes full of humor, but often not,
and tell myself, you are better,
because my life without you would be
a place of parched and broken trees.
Later walking the corridors down to the street,
I turn and step inside and empty rom.
Yesterday someone was here with a gasping face.
Now the bed is made all new,
the machines have been rolled away. The silence
continues, deep and neutral,
as I stand there, loving you.


1/ The end-stopped stanzas work here, I think, because they are a natural closure and connection of information. They mark subject/topic changes--almost small poems within the poem.

2/ If you're familiar with Oliver's poetry, you can probably imagine how terrifying and horrible a "place of parched and broken trees" would be. I never thought of that until typing this poem out--how personal and awful that image really is.

Tuesday, September 5

poetry 3 (the long one)

I got a card from the University of Iowa press when I was a senior in college. It is bright green with bright blue writing; it reads POETRY IS FOR EVERYBODY. I hung it over my desk when I began graduate school.

It's a complex sentiment for me, this democracy. Yes, poetry is for everybody. I believe this. But then how do I differentiate between good and bad--can a value judgment even be made? I knew I would have to confront this question as I began teaching. Good. Bad. They're relative, right? I know many of the poems I cringed at were met with high praise by their authors' peers in class critique. So what makes a good poem?
For me, a strong poem is marked by its innovative and intelligent use of language first of all. I am thinking of Anne Carson's writing (specifically Autobiography of Red: "Herakles lies like a piece of torn silk in the heat of the blue saying/ Geryon, please. The break in his voice/ Made Geryon think for some reason of going into a barn/ first thing in the morning/ when sunlight strikes a bale of raw hay still wet from the night"--pg. 54). The images are precise and beautiful and evocative, and they are communicated by language that is unexpected and interesting.

A strong poem will make its reader think. I don't mean that poetry should be, necessarily, a mental strain. I don't think the aura of difficulty that's projected onto poetry is healthy for it or for the people who would like to read it, but feel (or have been made to feel, perhaps by a high school English teacher with a snobbish attitude) intimidated by it. But reading poetry is not like watching a blockbuster movie. It's a place for work.

In the end, though, the purpose and strength of a poem is its expression of truth (the Keatsian truth, which equates to beauty, and is "all ye know on Earth/ And all ye need to know"). The work of poetry is the work of creating beauty--not glossing over what is dirty or depressing or ugly, but somehow rendering those things in such a way as to create a consciousness that goes beyond them. Not just anger, not just sadness.

1/ Poetry doesn't have to rhyme. In fact, most modern poetry doesn't. If you'd like to see a master of the formal poem, look up Elisabeth Bishop's work. Her most widely anthologized poems are probably "One Art" (a villanelle, I believe) and "Sestina" (a sestina).

1.5/ Also, most contemporary poets don't capitalize the initial letter of every line. Some do. some do, depending on the poem.

2/ Journaling and so-called 'writing therapy' are useful and helpful ways of working out initial problems or ideas on the page. In the end, though, the poem is a communication device, meant to establish connections between writer and reader. Being so, it is important that there is at least some point of access for the reader--that not everything is totally private or involved with the self.

3/ The emotional response is a valid and important primary response to a work of writing. When you're reading and you feel, that's worth noting. But figuring out what you're feeling, and why, and how the poet makes it happen--that's the next, equally necessary, response. Just liking the poem can't be enough.

4/ The 'paragraphs' of a poem are called stanzas. Lines that end with punctuation are 'end-stopped,' and lines that break without punctuation are 'enjambed.' I realize this is kind of basic but thought maybe some people wouldn't know and might like to.


I hope I don't sound just awfully didactic. I don't write about this here much because I do love it, and I love teaching it, and it is hard to convey nuance through the blog. I would love to answer questions, engage in dialogue, whatever you like, in the comments.

And a favorite poem, to end with:

From the book Eve's Striptease, which is totally worth the sixteen bucks or however much, by the poet Julia Kasdorf.

On Leaving Brooklyn

after Psalm 137

If I forget thee
let my tongue forget the songs
it sang in this strange land
and my heart forget the secrets
only a stranger can learn.

Borough of churches, borough of crack,
if I forget how ailanthus trees sprout
on the rooftops, how these streets
end in water and light,
let my eyes grow nearsighted.

Let my blood forget
the map of its travels
and my other blood cease
its slow tug toward the sea
if I do not remember,

if I do not always consider thee
my Babylon, my Jerusalem.


It gives me chills.

Until tomorrow, then.

Monday, September 4

want a piece of my studio? + poetry 2

EDIT: all the packages are gone!

Yikes. Cleaning out the workroom (/living space, now). Didn't I just finish doing this at the old apartment? How can there be so much stuff--after paring down so, so much? I have three cigar boxes and a shoe box. Those are for any notions, trim, ribbon, and bits-and-pieces I want to keep. They'll come to France with me. I know there are probably more efficient ways of packing, but it's comforting to me to put things in their places. To make those places up.
I'll bring fabric, too. Just a few favorite things. I'm still trying to use most of it up--making things for the shops and for myself. And for friends, too. But the fact remains (more than facts alone remain, alas, or I would have MUCH less packing to do) that there are beads and ribbons and fancy Japanese papers and fabric and stuffing and bits and bobbins that I won't take with me. That maybe I would never use? And maybe you would?If you would like a piece of my studio, why don't you email me (ohbara at gmail dot com), and we'll work something out about postage? Then I can send you a lovely package of pretty things. I'd say I have enough for 20 good-sized packages.


And--poetry. Thank you all for your comments on the last post. I'd love to keep hearing your thoughts on what I wrote and on what you find in the comments. I'll write more this week.

Sunday, September 3

poetry 1


My dream is I'm walking through Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

So says Gerald Stern in the poem "Lucky Life," which I love. Which I read to my students almost every day.

The first poem I memorized was "Jabberwocky": 'Twas Brillig and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimbol in the wabe/ All mimsy were the Borogroves/ And Mome-raths outgrabe." I was in third grade. Lewis Carroll.

Then came "The Lake Isle of Innisfree": "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,/And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;/ Nine bean-rows will I have there, and a hive for the honey-bee,/ And live alone in the bee-loud glade." Yeats.

And then, in high-school, Eliot's Prufrock. The nearly-perfect poem: "Let us go then, you and I/ Where the evening is stretched out against the sky/ Like a patient, etherized upon a table." And in college, Prufrock, and in graduate school, Prufrock. Lucky life. Indeed.

More poetry this week, if you're interested.

Do you read it? Like it? Feel about it (anything)? Who, what, why/not?