R – Renga, The Poetry of Art (NaPoWriMo #21)

Renga is a longer poem alternating three and two line stanzas. Sue and I collaborated on this one. She wrote the haiku and I did the couplets following. She used the 5, 7, 5 syllabus pace and I used 7 for each line. We decided to write this so each couplet is related to the previous haiku, and the entire poem shares a theme. The final stanza completes the poem and the circle. Sue’s blog, An Artist’s Path, is here.

 

 

The Poetry of Art
By: Bill Reynolds & Sue Viseth

’tis a fickle thing
the words in verse, prose, and rhyme
chosen over time

feel the beat and tap those feet
catch the bop and keep the time

poetry is song
music from the heart and soul
sing it to the world

poet’s voice is here, voice is there
voices writ in blood and bone

no word writ in stone
rather, molded from the clay
poets turn the wheel

words are medium on wheels
the quill a master’s pallet

the artist within
molds the clay and sings the songs
a poem is born

something deeper than the poet
the words take form and art is

share art with the world
come together and create
poets live forever

Look both ways for poets and poetry,
but mind all the gaps.

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The Battling Bastards

Poem
We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.
And nobody gives a damn.
Nobody gives a damn.
~ by Frank Hewlett ,1942

One Survivor’s Story

I was fortunate enough to meet Professor Ben Steele on the day before I completed my fourth Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon: 26.2 miles through a portion of the Chihuahua Desert located in Southeast New Mexico. On 26 March 2011, Ben signed my book of the drawings he had made as a prisoner of war (POW), following the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. I shook Ben’s hand and we talked about his art.

Three Parts of the Story

This is one of three blog posts about our two journeys that converged when I met this heroic Montana cowboy and historic American icon. The first post is about the war, which the US entered immediately following Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The second attack, which followed within hours of the first, was the invasion of the Philippines by Japanese military forces. It happened about four years prior to my birth, but Ben was there.

Prisoner's of War - Bataan Death March

Prisoner’s of War – Bataan Death March

Next Tuesday, a second post will be about my experiences with the Bataan Memorial Marathon, an annual event that takes place at White Sands Missile Range, near Las Cruces, NM. It’ll cover that part of my experience as a 65-year-old runner, in way over his head, leading up to my meeting with Ben, then age 93.

If you’re a marathoner/runner/endurance walker, or even a wannabe, registration signups for this annual patriotic event close on March 5th. The marathon will be on Sunday, March 19th starting early in the cold of the high desert military post, located just east of the breathtaking Organ Mountains. For the link to the web page and instructions, click here. You need be in good physical condition, but not all are. This thing is a rigorous challenge for the average person, and the “casualty rate” is high. The good news is that 85% of the participants walk it – as I did four times.

One survivor would turn 100 this year.

One survivor would turn 100 this year.

The third post will be about the man I met and his experience. He and others were survivors of the Bataan Death March, and long-term confinement into slave labor. He was a POW survivor, an artist, and a Professor of Art at Eastern Montana College: Benjamin Charles Steele.

The Death March

As we should know, on December 7, 1941, Japanese military forces attacked the USA by dealing a devastating blow to our forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Few know that ten hours later, the Japanese attacked the Philippines. The Philippines Campaign (Filipino: Labanan sa Pilipinas), or the Battle of the Philippines, raged from 8 December 1941 to the fall of Bataan on 9 April (105 days), and the following surrender of the island of Corregidor on 8 May 1942.

The Japanese military conquest of the Philippines may have been the worst military defeat in United States history. 23,000 US military personnel, and another 100,000 Filipino soldiers, were killed or captured.

Death March route. Train portion was more nightmare.

Death March route. Train portion was more nightmare.

Bataan is a peninsula on the southwest end of the large Philippine island of Luzon. As the battles raged on, General MacArthur’s forces retreated to Bataan and the small island of Corregidor. Due (in part) to the breakdown of supplies and logistics (in my opinion), the Americans and Filipinos began to lose strength. Following the decision to surrender, the Japanese were overwhelmed with POWs. A torturous and deadly forced march of 65 miles by approximately 75,000 sick, injured, and defeated Filipino and American troops to prison camps ensued. The march took about eight days.

While the exact death toll on the march is uncertain, credible sources report that casualties prior to reaching their destinations were from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipino deaths, and 500 to 650 American deaths. Marchers reported severe physical abuse and wanton killings. The Bataan Death March was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.

On January 27, 1944, the U.S. government informed the American public about the march, when it released sworn statements of military officers who had escaped.

My first assignment following Air Force basic training in 1964 was to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Over 30 years later, I lived for three years in Albany, Texas. It was not until years later, when I started reading and learning more about the Death March that I learned about Lieutenant Colonel William E. Dyess. Dyess Air Base was named after him, and he was from Albany, Texas (population ~ 2,000).

Dyess was a Death March survivor, and one of the few officers who escaped the Japanese POW camps in the Philippines. Following his return, Colonel Ed Dyess wrote extensively about the March and the prison camps prior to his death in an airplane crash in late 1943.

The drawings you see in the following video are Ben Steele’s. The survivors pictured in wheelchairs are at the starting line of the marathon.

Never Ending Wars

Japan formally signed to surrender on September 2, 1945, ending World War II. After 14 years of war, “nearly three million Japanese were dead, many more wounded or seriously ill, and the country lay in ruins,” most Japanese (not to mention those who had suffered at their hands during the war) saw the end of hostilities as a blessing. The USSR and China suffered the greatest loss of life during WWII – in the tens of millions, mostly civilians, who were killed due to brutal war crimes.

There is no shortage of stories about man’s inhumanity to man, particularly in time of war. The Bataan Death March, and the subsequent treatment of prisoners, was one example. Knowing these realities, meeting those who experienced them, and listening to or reading their stories should serve to teach us the truth of what General Douglas MacArthur said, “In war there is no substitute for victory.”

Life is good and it can be better. But, pay attention.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.
It will not happen again unless we allow it.

Understanding Poetry

Let’s face it. While poems are to express a feeling or an idea in a certain style, we don’t always understand them. I love poetry. I try to write it. I admit that it can be more complicated than we prefer, and perhaps more than this Old Texas Aggie’s gray matter can process.

poetry-2

Sometimes, as with music, it just sounds so damn good, even though I have no clue about the subject or purpose of the piece. Poetry sounds especially wonderful when read by the right, good voice. It works for me, even with my uncertainties about understanding the art.

I like the synonyms for poetry, chiefly versification, metrical composition, balladry, and the archaic (and perhaps politically incorrect) poesy. Occasionally, I run across a fine piece of balladry that I not only enjoy and understand, but I also relate to with some internal passion — Hell Yes!

I love irony in life, in writing, in humor, and in verse. It strokes my silly ego to find others who give a pass to the literal minds of the world, and share my ironic reality. Last week I was handed a poem that was published in Stanford Magazine (Jan/Feb 2017), written by Mary Poindexter McLaughlin, titled: Alma Mater.

poetry-5

For me, this poem glorifies the wonderful simplicity of ordinary lives, and it resonates in me the value of things like freedom and love and family and friends. All of which wear the tag: priceless!

ALMA MATER

My apologies for using a link, but the publisher is unable to grant permission for me to republish at this time. Please click here to read the short poem from the Stanford Magazine page.

Because this is from the magazine of a prestigious American University (Stanford, I did not go there, but she did), I think Mary is referring to her alma mater. But, she could also mean any parent, friend, or muse who we believe had greater material expectations of us. It reminds me of that meme, “How do you measure success?”

poetry-3

Here are four lines of my own poetic dribble. I have been massaging this clunker for a while, there is more, but it’s nowhere near finished. I wonder if it conveys the right emotion.

Always, you’ve been here with me,
As children, we survived my foolish resistance.
While we ponder our thoughts, I sense yours in me,
As we bind together, into one two-sided life.

 

poetry-1If you wanna write some, there are on-line poetry challenges, such as NaPoWriMo during April (sign ups begin 1 March 2017). You will be challenged to write a poem each day. I do the A-to-Z blog challenge during that month, so not sure that I could keep up. Maybe.

…. Great love. (In tribute to Pat Conroy)

Poetry or prose, mind the gaps and look both ways.

Bonus Post – Look Both Ways

Bonus Post – Look Both Ways

I just finished watching Look Both Ways, a 2005 Australian independent movie. I watched it because I had one of those idea moments today.

As I was walking on a sidewalk next to a busy street, I approached a minor street to cross. I glanced left, but was not yet crossing when a car came from behind me and turned right, quickly passing directly in front of me. She was driving a little too fast, did not signal, and may not have seen me. I checked to my left again for traffic and safely crossed the street.

Before I reached the opposite side, I realized that I had not looked to my right to ensure no cars were coming from that side. I recalled being told repeatedly, as a child of five or six, to look both ways before crossing the street. While the threatening traffic was on my left, I should have looked right.

I’m also in the process of reading How to Write Short, a book by Roy Peter Clark. Dr. Clark’s book has me thinking about how effective we can be with few words. Thus, I had one of those rare moments when an idea comes to me.

Look both ways1Look both ways can serve as my metaphorical phrase for living life—staying alive and healthy. I can see it as considering all sides of an issue (pro and con), hearing people out who may think different than I, discerning dangers of life, being careful, remembering lessons from our childhood, trying different things and new places. Can you add to my list?

Here is my advice: look both ways.

There are about a half-dozen books with the title Look Both Ways. I only found the one movie and I’m glad that I watched it. I enjoy that kind of flick. If you like artsy, emotional, love-story-ish movies with lots of music and relevant singing in the background, give it a go, mate. I had to get my ear tuned to the Aussie English, but I managed. I found it for two bucks on Amazon, but you might find it for free on YouTube. Warning: tear jerker. See the official trailer here.

Look both ways3

There is no vegemite in the movie, but she does say, “Are you giving me the flick?” That must be Australian for Are we breaking up or Are you dumping me?

Furthermore, starting this Tuesday, each blog I post on Our Rainy Journey will end with some comment about “look both ways,” at least until I tire of it. And, yes, there is rain in the movie—they get wet.

Look both ways4

Hear the Music

music2

My music–I like 1970s soft rock and disco, although they’re not exclusive to my play lists. During the 70s, songs didn’t have the same meaning they do now. These days, my current emotions change how I hear that same music. Today, my music taste is deeper and broader.

music1I can listen to a song and apply it to any time in my life–past, present, or future. Beautiful songs stir me emotionally. I have thoughts of love and family–those memories we carry with us. As I listen to lyrics, I contrive personal interpretation and meaning.

I’ve selected four songs: one from the late 1960s, two from the 1970’s, and one from the mid 1980s. While song writers couldn’t foresee my thoughts and feelings years later, it often worked out that way.

A Whiter Shade of Pale (by Procol Harum, 1967)

I don’t know the writer’s intent or inspiration. Some have said it has to do with a sexual encounter. It also parallels with the Titanic tragedy.

It’s a wonderful song. Most Brits and I have enjoyed it for years. This was the most-played song in England for the past 75 years. It’s haunting and mysterious. I see it as sad, but in an oddly good way. In the manner that sadness is not always a bad part of life.

I selected the video with Sarah Brightman (circa, 2000) because the older video with Procol Harum, a product of its time, is not my favorite. This one has better imaging and Sarah’s singing of A Whiter Shade of Pale is great. The original, by the original group, is the classic favorite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ToU5OshV4g

Hotel California (by The Eagles, 1977)

The intent and inspiration for this Eagles classic is well-documented. But, it depends on when they were asked. There’s a lot written and said about this one. What Don Henley said in a 2002, 60 Minutes interview was, “It’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.”

I agree that this is about life. I blow off the tie with LA. As my life moves forward I feel emotions and do things to experience life. I think my past, given what life had to work with, combined with my consciousness to make me – me. My two favorite lines in this song, which is also haunting and mysterious are:

“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device” …………….and

“We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!”

Click on the link here to listen.

The Sad Café (by The Eagles, 1979)

Even more straightforward, this song is about their (musicians and writers) experience at The Troubadour, a club in LA where musicians met, back in the day. It’s a look back.

I love this song. I’ll say haunting again. This one draws me back to my younger days (my 20s and 30s) when I had more tomorrows than yesterdays. It’s not only about the dreams. It is about the feelings. I can still have those feelings when I listen to songs like this. The video is especially good because of all the pictures of the artists and musicians. I enjoy the photos casting the dark rainy nights.

https://vimeo.com/45249782

Dance Me to the End of Love (Leonard Cohen, 1984)

When I first heard this song, it came to me as a beautiful love song that could ride through eternity. Is there an end to love? Later, I learned that Cohen’s inspiration for the song was the Holocaust. He’s spoken of the string groups that played as others were gassed and burned. That changed the song for me. But did not the victims have love? Weren’t their loves in this life being cut short?

While I’ll never forget that Leonard Cohen wrote this song because of one of the most profoundly sad times in history, I cannot let go of the love and how it is a forever thing. Love and its beauty (with Leonard’s haunting voice) is what this song is about.

The video doesn’t betray Cohen’s inspiration, but it clearly implies long time love. Except for flashbacks, the people in the video share more yesterdays than they will tomorrows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGorjBVag0I

music3Music mines deep into the treasures of our minds, hearts, memories, hopes, and dreams. It changes as we change, while it stays the same. May we enjoy music and the love songs that evoke our emotions. Let’s all find ecstasy in the music that makes us who we are; be we happy or sad, in or out of love, young or old. Let’s all dance to the end of love. And may that end be an eternity away.

Final Topics on Creativity

Creativity and aging

There’s too much information available to cover this area adequately. My research indicates that we become less creative as we age. Perhaps we do. But I would not say ‘less.’

creative old2

We change with age: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I think we also change creatively. I don’t think we become less creative so much as our creativity becomes altered as we adjust to all changes in our lives. Certainly, significant aging and mental problems (dementia) and physical illness have their effect.

Blocks to creativity

Creativity is an attitude. Our curiosity sleeps with our creativity. The more curious we are, the more creative we seem to be.

creative old3There are too many blocks to mention each one. We all sometimes have blocks.

When I tell people that I am not as creative as they are, they often want to fix me – to give me advice on how to be more like them (do as they do, believe as they do, be as ‘open’ as they are). They would also advise me to be myself, blinking not an eye at the irony.

I don’t say that I’m not creative. Of course I am. Everybody is creative. But we are not all the same. My creative nature is more sensitive to that of other people, thus they are my preferred source of inspiration. I confess: I struggle with creativity. Many of us do. So what?

I think the blocks to our creativity begin at birth. We are born creative. As far as we know, it is a uniquely human trait. Children are wild with the creative process (in most cases) based upon the behavior we can see. We don’t know what we can’t see. We do not know the thoughts of others. We only hear what they tell us. Over time, our creativity struggles with life, society, judgement, our own human condition and nature, as well as that of others.

We don’t know what creativity is (no, we really don’t). We only know when we have it or when we do not. We can see it in the work or behavior of other people, but we cannot see into their minds and hearts. Like quality, we know it when we see it.

Value of music in creativity

I can read while listening to classical music (no lyrics), but no other genre. I must write in virtual silence. But I also find music as stimulating to my own creative process as anything. I have no idea how it would go if I did what a so many other artists do with music. But I know this: it helps in two areas.

One is in the magic of creativity itself. The other is in the execution of the work. Think of these two aspects as you watch Jonas Gerard (age 75) in the video below, creating with live music at his studio in Ashville, North Carolina.

“The rhythmic influence of music is an important part of his (Jonas Gerard’s) artistic process…. The music allows him to work unpredictably and intuitively, kicking it into another mode and bringing it home to a subconscious space where he can respond to the rhythm, and the direction the paintings suggest to him.” (from http://www.xanadugallery.com/2013/Artists/ArtistPage.php?ArtistID=7399)

The following is good regarding music.

“In addition to stimulating creativity, music can help contribute to the development of a more creative mind.”

“Creativity is within each of us and the very reason the world exists.” ~ Frank Fitzpatrick, Why Music, Part 6: Music and Creativity

creative old1Einstein was interested in both creativity and music. He tied the two, even suggesting he would be a musician, were he not a physicist.

“If I were not a physicist,” he once said, “I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music … I get most joy in life out of music.” ~ Albert Einstein from Alice Calaprice, The Expanded Quotable Einstein (as quoted by Fitzpatrick)

Afflatus [əˈflātəs/] (n)

Afflatus is a divine creative impulse or inspiration. The word literally means inspiration. It does not refer to the usual sudden originality, but to the staggering and stunning blow of a new idea, an idea that the recipient may be unable to explain.

Add music to this and creativity becomes limitless, in my opinion.

Duende [do͞oˈendā/] (n)

Your Duende?

Your Duende?

Duende is the mysterious power of art to deeply move us. It’s a quality-level of passion and inspiration that may be felt by anyone. It can be the artist as they work. It can be the observer of the piece, the reader of the text, the listener of the music, the watcher of the act or dance.

When you are next moved like this, speak to the spirit within you, “Ah, my Duende, you feel it too?”

 

Mental health and Creativity

This is confusing, and for some of us, maybe a bit dangerous. No one is more artistic, creative, or on a higher creative plane because they suffer a mental malady. We can be both mentally ill and creative. How one effects the other is unknown.

There is sufficient research to indicate some correlation between the two. But nothing indicates that being drunk, high, depressed, or any other mental condition causes people to be more creative. Normal healthy people can be, and are creative. Throughout history, the same can be said for troubled artists and creative souls. It’s the difference between ‘because of’ and ‘in spite of.’creativity1

Letting Go

I can now move all books on creativity from my writing table to the bookshelf from whence they came. I want to thank Elizabeth Gilbert for Big Magic and I am grateful to my friends and fellow artists/writers who suggested it. While I still have a lot of issues with what Gilbert proposed, I wouldn’t have taken the time to do the work had I been in total agreement with her.

From whatevCreativity2er source your creative ideas flow, may they flow to you in abundance. May you be orgasmic, chilled and thrilled with ideas, concepts, and plans. May you make the best of all your days being creative and doing your thing (art, writing, music, etc.) and enjoying the universal gifts shared by others. May the spirit of duende haunt your heart and mind, thus bringing you to a spiritual bliss as only we humans can experience.

Suffering, Love, and Creativity

suffering5

I don’t think I suffer more than average. When I find the enthusiasm to write about myself, I’ll include those painful and dark times from my past, along with the many good ones. I will be unable to link any of it to my creativity because I see no connection.

WebI do believe that to a degree, suffering is optional. I’ve seen people suffer unnecessarily, and I’ve seen those same people get over it.

In my blog tagline, I intend rain as a metaphor for my dark side, but it could also be for pain, suffering, or difficulty in life. The reaching for the sky is either embracing our human dark side or recovering from painful times. Such painful times often come with lessons making them valuable.

Until I read Big Magic, I gave little thought to suffering’s association with creativity, talent, and giftedness. I thought Elizabeth Gilbert’s treatment of the topic was a bit condescending (maybe it’s not). Perhaps it’s me, but telling alcoholics (or drug addicts) to get over it has limited success. On the other hand, many alcoholics told me that the painful consequences handed them by life at the bottom was motivation to recover.

suffering6I think that what Liz bemoans is using suffering as justification to be creative, talented, or gifted, thus making an excuse for hanging on to the bottom. We shouldn’t suffer just because we think it improves our work. I’m concerned because I know people die on the bottom. I’ve experienced great things from living artists, suffering or not – nothing from the dead ones.

I don’t take the relationship between our creativity and suffering too seriously, but I am less apt to dismiss it as some others may do. Conversely, I believe talented people do not need to suffer to be talented or creative. I am a happy guy who loves dark poetry, stories, and the dark side of human nature. Following my review of a memoir recently, I told the author “This is a sad story. Your job is to make me cry.” I’m advocating emotional writing, not suffering, hers or mine.

I avoid pain and consider that normal. Just ask my nurses when I’m having surgery — higher is better. And don’t even talk to me about my dental appointments.

suffering11

While researching this topic, I discovered that I’m not the only person who finds this subject interesting. The available resources on the topic are sufficient for a doctoral dissertation, followed by two books.

I found this link to a blog (here) and a video of a talk (here), both involving Sharon Salzberg. Both are pretty good and not too long (the video excerpt relates to happiness and creativity).

And who does not love this song by Don McLean? It certainly relates to suffering and art.

 

I also found a site (here) with a collection of information on this and associated topics. It links with other sites and pages for developing creativity and personal growth. Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in any challenges to a creative life.

“Creative artists are fifth in the top 10 professions with high rates of depressive illness. But does depression attract them to the job? Or does the job make them depressed?” “…the reality for the sufferer is that depression is so debilitating it’s impossible to create anything at all.” ~ Helienne Lindvall

suffer6To love what you do, and the love of doing it, even when it is gruelingly difficult (and maybe more so when it is) may be the answer. What I’ve read seems to recommend this. Love your art! Do it for the love of the work, the art, the creativity, the experience. As Stephen King says, do it for the “buzz.”

The concept of a reciprocal relationship with our art was also introduced to me in Big Magic. Doing the art because we love it and love the act of doing it, despite the challenges is one thing. The idea that our art can love us back took me some pondering. Liz Gilbert says “why not?” I’m on board with her. Why not? Maybe not always and forever (although our art will likely outlive us), but at least sometimes.

Gilbert balks at calling our work of art our ‘baby,’ but this seems totally normal to me and many others. We don’t equate art to human babies. But it does vocalize the love we may have for our hard work, often more than nine months worth.

From "Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon

From “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon

In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon provides two excellent graphic depictions. One describes the challenges and difficult process of creating from an idea. The other depicts that love relationship we have with our creations.

From "Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon

From “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon

May you be lucky in your love with people and with your work. As Austin says, “Do good work and share it with people.”

Have a wonderful weekend and be happily creative to your heart’s content.

Whatever works for you

Whatever works for you