A Seed of Hope

downloadThe e-mail flyer from the MAC (Merrymeeting Art Center) was ambiguous and intriguing:

Hmmmm…. What kind of exhibit was this? 

I read the flyer again. Then I checked the clock. 12:15.

“Hey, Lyddie,” I called, “want to go downtown and check out a show?”

“What is it?”

“I’m not really sure, ” I replied and showed her the e-mail flyer, “It’s opening today though. We’d have to leave right now, but I’d like to check it out.”

Lydia, ever up for an adventure, agreed, and about ten minutes later we were in the car, driving to our town’s local Arts Center.

After arriving, we parked, put on our masks and walked over to the entry. Outside the gallery was a small table with hand sanitizer and a stack of masks. A sign stated that only four people could be in the gallery at one time and masks must be worn. We still had no idea what the exhibit was.

As we approached, Mark, a town artist and MAC member, came to the gallery door. He greeted us and explained a little about the exhibit. It had been planned before Covid-19 and was based on the old-fashioned game, Telephone (the game where you whisper a word around a circle of people and the end word, when announced, rarely matches the initial word.) The twist, initially conceived of by a group of NY artists, was this:

“What if the game were played, not with spoken words, but with art?”

We were hooked.

What an amazing idea!” I exclaimed.

“I know!” he said, “I wanted to be in the show as soon as I heard about it!”

He guided us to a written explanation of the show and then stepped back to let us experience it for ourselves. According to the explanation, the process involved presenting the first artist with a stimulus, having him/her interpret it in the artistic medium of choice, and then sending that art to the next artist to spark another interpretation. Each artist had only 24 hours to respond. Talk about pressure!

In this case, in honor of Maine’s Bicentennial, the process began when the initial stimulus, a single chocolate cupcake with a candle, arrived at the home of the first artist, a local 10 year old girl. It arrived, unbelievably, on March 13th, as Covid-19 made its presence known. Undeterred, after a “mad scramble” of grocery shopping with her family, and amidst speculation and rumors about school closings, this young artist dove into a “creative flurry” and crafted her frosting-daubed collage:

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by Nori Edwards

The exhibit creation was underway!

In the next day or two, as our world shifted dramatically and quickly, the Arts Center and artists considered their options and ultimately decided to forge forward. They realized the process for this exhibit was actually well suited to a “distanced” setting. Now, instead of delivering the actual work to the next artist, images and files were sent of the inspiring pieces. No physical contact was necessary.

Commenting about the experience for her daughter, the mother of the first artist wrote:
“Doing the work and sharing it with other people felt important in that uncertain moment in time.”

So, off they went, inspired by others, creating within their own spaces, sending the message on down the line, until finally, all the pieces were brought together in this community space.

In the gallery a red string leads from piece to piece, evoking old string-and-can telephone memories. As suggested, we followed the string to guide us through the gallery. What began with a chocolate cupcake evolved into various interpretations before our eyes.

As we walked through the exhibit, I stood before the pieces, admiring the art, reading the artists’ words, and was deeply moved. More than once tears pricked. The  parallel between the creation of this exhibit and our recent Covid experiences is so strong. It was inspiring to see the creative effort of this group and to know that each piece was crafted in isolation while such huge uncertainties loomed over us all. This exhibit made visible the idea of working individually toward a collective goal. It was such a positive response to frightening times–a pivot to creativity in the midst of darkness.

Midway through, we stopped before a boombox and read the description, suddenly realizing that the music playing in the gallery was one of the artistic interpretations. The artist this time was the elementary school’s principal. He had composed a piece of music after receiving his prompt, a photograph of an elaborately conceived chocolate cake.

Mark, came back to join us.

“Wow, how cool to have a musical interpretation,” I enthused. “It really changes things.”

Mark, who had received the original musical piece as his spark, emphatically agreed.
“I know!” he said, “I looked at the e-mail attachment and was like…wait…this is an mpeg file, not a jpeg!”

He rose to the challenge and created a sculptural fiber arts piece in response. It was free form, but somewhat nest-like. And, one after another, the artists continued to respond, interpreting along the way. Ultimately, the show ended with a fabric piece of two birds nesting:

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by Caitlin Johnson

I turned to Mark. “Wow! This is such a wonderful show. It resonates so much now, doesn’t it?”

He nodded, pleased and smiling, and I turned again to the last artwork, the two birds nesting. I was struck by how uncannily appropriate that piece was. We’ve all spent so much time at home lately, tending to our nests and trying to interpret the messages coming down the line.

It was a small show, but it was a powerful show. It was a testament to art, to individual effort, and to collaboration. In the midst of a pandemic, the Arts Center persevered, the artists created, and a show was born. And as I walked through the exhibit, a small kernel of hope took root.

Ethical ELA Prompt Responses

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Last month I experimented in my notebook with a couple of  Ethical ELA prompts.  The first was from Margaret Simon who, within her prompt, asked “Are you a marcher or a leaper?” I didn’t manage to meet all the guidelines of the prompt (like the use an echo line), but enjoyed playing around with some of my favorite words.

No Clear Destination

I’m neither a marcher
nor a leaper,
rather a rambler,
a perambulator,
one who coddiwomples
or stravaigs,
meandering along,
no clear destination in sight,
the journey the reward.

©Molly Hogan

Another Ethical ELA prompt last month came from Melanie Crowder. She suggested identifying your emotional state then brainstorming things in the physical world that are illustrative of it. She encouraged writers to look beyond the obvious and then write a poem that reveals one’s emotional state through a description of that chosen object.  I did initially have an emotional state in mind, but I think the poem wandered a bit.

Mica

Beneath earth’s surface,
silted and soiled,
layers of mica rest.
Light, soft, flexible,
it cleaves
into glittering sheets,
transparent to opaque,
reflective and insulating,
resistant to heat.
Mica shields
and reveals.

Above ground,
when struck
by the whirring blades
of a mower,
mica shatters,
exploding briefly
into a dazzling constellation
of shimmering slivers
of light.

©Molly Hogan

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is  hosted by the ever-ready-for-a-challenge Linda Mitchell. She’s written an “In One Word” poem, a form newly created by April Halprin Wayland. Check out her post for an explanation of the form and a powerful original poem.

 

 

Garden Lesson

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I would have said it was impossible.

The snail caught my eye while I was playing around with my camera in the front garden. It was on the edge of a bishop’s weed blossom, perched in what seemed a slightly precarious position.

Be careful, little one!

I leaned in for a closer look.

DSC_0426 (1).jpgI’m not fond of the destruction snails can wreak in a garden, but I still think they’re kind of cute. As I watched this one, it stretched it’s head out toward a nearby blossom.

“Taking some time to smell the roses,” I thought, smiling.

DSC_0428Then, as I watched, it stretched even further across the empty space toward the blossom.

Uh, oh! That looks risky! What’s it doing?

I squatted down and prepared to watch the drama unfold.

DSC_0430It was hard to see exactly what was happening, but within a short time, the snail had somehow grasped onto some of the adjacent blossom,

What’s it doing? Is it eating? Is it using its mouth or its foot?

DSC_0431.jpgAs I watched, it became clear that eating was not its primary intention at this time.

No way! It’s not going to try that, is it?

But the snail, far more intrepid than I, was clearly charting its trajectory forward, pulling itself closer to its intended destination. I watched, astonished.

DSC_0432Bit by bit, it moved forward, committed to its path. I held my breath, wondering at the outcome, marveling at the snail’s unhesitating flowing movement forward. Slowly, but surely, the two blossoms came closer together as the snail manipulated them, its body bridging the gap between them.

DSC_0433In a surprisingly short amount of time, the snail was clearly entrenched on the second blossom.

It’s actually going to make it.

DSC_0441 (1).jpgAs the snail moved forward, the previous perch released and swung back to its original position. The snail continued onward. I sat back on my heels, dumbfounded. I considered how far the snail must have already come and how far it must be going. I marveled at its steady path forward across daunting, seemingly impossible, barriers.

DSC_0442Just look at the distance between those two blossoms! Look at the length of the snail’s body! Incredible, right?

Before this moment when I stopped to watch its journey, I would have said it was impossible.

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PF: Dark Thoughts and The Danger of Denial

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The news is grim and so is much of my recent poetry.

Dark Thoughts

At night
dark thoughts
come home to roost
like a murder of crows
ink black,
loudly squawking,
demanding attention,
while feasting
on carrion.

When will the danger pass?

Never.

It’s always been here.
I just hadn’t seen it
so clearly before.

©Molly Hogan, 2020

 

The Danger of Denial

There are only so many times
you can wrap
something disturbing
and wrong
in coarse rope
tie it to a heavy boulder
and push it
beneath the surface
to keep it submerged.

Eventually,
such things
slip free
of ropes and anchor,
bob up
bloated,
distorted,
and dreadful–
evidence of a crime,
on the brink of exploding
and spewing putrefaction.

©Molly Hogan, 2020

I think these poems are like purgatives (or at least I hope so), an attempt to relieve some of the deep concerns I feel under the onslaught of horrible news. There are still many wonderful things going on in my life, but sometimes I need to focus on the darker stuff.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Karen Eastlund at her blog, Karen’s Got A Blog.

 

PF: Tabernacle

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Tabernacle 

Pine trees spire above.
We move along
the narrow aisle of trail,
each step stirring
densely layered needles,
censing the air.

In the distance
an emerald glow
filters through tree trunks,
luminous as stained glass.

Without a word
we stop,
rapt.
Something potent
lies ahead.

©Molly Hogan, 2020 (draft)

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Tricia Stohr-Hunt is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at her blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect.

PF: A Poem of Farewell

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Many months ago, fellow Swagger, Heidi Mordhorst,  suggested writing a poem of farewell for our monthly challenge. At that time, none of us had any idea that it wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill end to the school year. I remember idly thinking I’d maybe write a farewell to my alarm clock or to some aspect of my classroom.

When I finally turned my  attention to this month’s challenge again, maybe a week or two ago, my initial knee-jerk poetic response was:

Every atom
of my being
revolts
at the thought
of saying
one
more
goodbye.

There have been so many unexpected endings lately. Sigh.
In other words, I struggled with finding a way into this challenge.  After numerous false starts, I toyed with the idea of not participating, but I felt guilty, especially since another Swagger, Margaret Simon, was hosting the Roundup this week at her blog, Reflections on the Teche. (Be sure to check out her beautiful golden shovel, written to her students.)

Finally, I was bemoaning the pending deadline and my lack of progress on the prompt to my daughter. We were talking about all the accumulating, worrying farewells (school, employment opportunities, truth, common decency, environmental protections, etc.) and she started riffing off the ending of “Goodnight Moon”. Inspiration struck! With apologies to Margaret Wise Brown, I used her classic book as a starting point. Like so many things, it turned political.

Goodnight Trump

In the great white house
there is an inept man
with a sickening band
of sycophants
who
rally round his toxic rants.

With this bigoted liar in the oval room,
lie truth in tatters and a whiff of doom,
tax returns hidden, but no books in sight
a hunger for power—not justice, but might,
mocking tweets, outrageous lies,
a need to diminish and patronize.

Goodbye dignity
Goodbye truth
Goodbye clean water and skies for our youth
Goodbye unity and national pride
and a country with citizens deeply united
Goodbye decency
Goodbye class.
Pray God, come November,
Goodbye to this Ass.

©Molly Hogan, 2020, draft (revised again after posting)

To see how my fellow Swaggers’ respond to this challenge, click below:

Today’s host, Margaret Simon: Reflections on the Teche
Linda Mitchell: A Word Edgewise
Catherine Flynn: Reading to the Core
Heidi Mordhorst: My Juicy Little Universe

 

Letting In Some Light

slice-of-life_individualWendell Berry’s poem “In the Peace of Wild Things” is one of my favorites because I can so readily relate to turning to Nature as a source of solace. During recent weeks, so many people have done the same, desperate for some relief from the dizzying, dismaying reality of our world these days.

These days my own forays into nature have taken on an almost frantic air. I feel slightly desperate to find some space to breathe, to escape. I am perpetually thankful that I live in a place where I have so many options to do so; yet, in view of our current national woes, these moments feel tinged with guilt or almost inappropriate somehow. As a friend recently questioned seriously on a Twitter post,  “How dare I enjoy my garden?”

Still, I need the time within nature to pull my thoughts out of torturous circles, to find a short respite from the ongoing concerns of our embattled country, to find some peace. So, I go out and wander and take pictures when I can, and when I can’t not.

I post my photos frequently, seeking to share the beauty and solace I find. With them, I send an implicit message: “Look at the beauty in our world. Lose yourself in it for just a moment. Breathe.” Still, in the midst of such turmoil and tragedy, I worry that I’m being tone deaf  when I post photos of lily pads, dandelions, and osprey.

Then this past Saturday, I shared these photos:


Beneath them, two friends commented:Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 6.00.25 AM

So, while I puzzle over how to do my part, how to stand up for what I believe while balancing my need to be informed and my need to periodically retreat, I’m still sharing. I’m hoping to find peace amongst the wild things and to offer that momentary respite to others. The presence of beauty doesn’t deny the darkness surrounding us, instead perhaps it lets a bit of light in so that we can replenish ourselves, gather up our strength, and persevere. At least, I hope so.

PF: Another Week of Poems Of Presence

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This week it’s mostly been #PoemsofPresence again. I think I missed some days and wrote two on others (who can keep track of the days anymore!?!), but here are a few of this week’s entries: 

May 23

cardinal two

Bird song spills
into golden afternoon.
A slim candle
of cardinal
illuminates the shade.

©Molly Hogan, 2020

May 25th

Busy with chores,
our orbits crossed
in the living room
where the music played
loud and bouncy.
We met,
danced a few steps
together,
then twirled off,
accelerating back
onto our individual
trajectories.

©Molly Hogan, 2020

May 26

Illicit Goods

Somehow
a persistent yen
for a sticky roll
with pecans
transformed into
a surreptitious
curbside pick-up
with money exchanged
for a suspiciously bulky
brown paper bag.

©Molly Hogan, 2020

May 27

ajuga

ajuga’s bugle blossoms
rouse the drowsy bees
morning reveille

©Molly Hogan, 2020

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Mary Lee Hahn at her blog, “A Year of Reading.” Mary Lee is sharing poems by Marilyn Chin along with a nudge to stretch oneself and read “without walls”. Thanks, Mary Lee, I needed that!

SOL: Blue Jay Gratitude

slice-of-life_individualI owe such a debt to the birds–maybe even my sanity these days (that’s assuming I still have it). However I’m feeling, watching the birds takes me out of myself and lifts my mood. It’s a combination of meditation and treasure hunt.

At this time of year, newcomers abound at the feeders and through the yard and there’s so much to see. Orioles linger at orange halves, red breasted grosbeaks sing in a nearby apple tree. You might see a finch flapping his wings wildly to woo his lady love, or a hummingbird arcing through the sky in a pendulum flight display. Some days I’m rewarded with a glimpse of a migrating warbler hopping through trees or shrubs. Recently, I delighted in seeing a chestnut sided warbler and a black and white warbler within minutes.  All this in my own yard.

I sometimes feel guilty about the blue jays, though. They are here year-round, so I tend to overlook them as loud and pesky regulars. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and it truly is so with blue jays. If I’d never seen one before and one flew by my window, I’d be rapt–delirious with joy at the beauty of the brilliant blue, the raised crest, and the bold black and white markings. Since they’re here daily though, I tend to disregard them.

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Yesterday, however, I looked up from my computer at the insistent call of a blue jay. I nearly turned away again–not much to see there. Just a jay. It’s so easy to overlook or disparage this common bird with its gluttonous, swaggering behavior. It swoops in like it owns the place. Big, bold and brassy! But yesterday, my eyes lingered.

Have you ever watched a blue jay squawk? Really watched? I’d never noticed before, but it invests its entire body, lifting and stretching with each call. This jay sat on the platform feeder squawking away, bobbing up and down. Sun filtered along its back, highlighting the softer blue, then illuminating the lower brilliant blue, black and white feathers like stained glass. The jay stopped squawking only to eat the choicest seeds. It cocked its head, contemplated its choice and then tucked each one away. I wondered at its capacity–how many could it fit!?– reminded that jays had a role in reforesting the land with oak trees after the glaciers retreated. Amazing! Finally, the jay retreated to the tree tops where it commenced squawking again, its momentum setting the thin branches swaying. Other jays joined it in a raucous chorus that literally set the treetops into motion.  

I often think of how much I miss by simply not paying attention. There are so many things to amaze and delight within the commonplace. Yesterday I was grateful to the blue jay for reminding me.

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blue jay enjoying peanuts at a different feeder

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PF: More Poems of Presence

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Here are a few more poems from my responses to the ongoing “Poems in Presence” challenge. I’ve been so thankful to combine this prompt with photography as a positive focus in recent weeks.

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Day by Day

Yesterday
the plum tree
blossomed

Today
I watch
the sun rise
through its petals

©M. Hogan, 2020

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newborn leaves
cradle lambent pools of light
radiant morning

©M.Hogan, 2020

lady's mantle

Lady’s mantle
makes her spring debut
adorned
with a dewdrop diadem

©M.Hogan, 2020

thrush

Some days
worry and grief
settle in
before my eyes
are even open.

Thankful
for the lingering visit
of a hermit thrush

©M. Hogan, 2002

This week the Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Carol Varsalona at her blog. She is sharing some of the wonderful poems she’s collected at her Nature Nurtures Gallery and also an original poem to Mother Nature.