phanaerozoic

Musings about life on Earth in all its aspects…

Category: Uncategorized

Skies Scattered with Stars

Living in a large, well-lit city means losing sight of the stupendous night sky. I think something fundamentally wrong with our worldview comes with that absence. We no longer see ourselves as part of something so much bigger than we and our dazzling civilization. We no longer see ourselves and all we have built as minuscule specks in the midst of a seemingly infinite world; we and our lives become all too important, become foremost in importance.

I grew up in a small town, back in the days when the dark was complete: black velvet, deep and light-absorbing, with stars that crystallized out of the depths of that absence of light, that sparked and glistened, that led you to believe you could never count them all. And in summer, our home galaxy arched up from the southern sky across the bowl of the heavens, waves of phosphorescence, stars and star systems dense with color and brightness. Small wonder that we spent so much time outdoors, our eyes directed skyward.

Back when our son and daughter were in elementary and high school, we spent most of our summer vacations backpacking in various mountain ranges in the western United States. We loved to hike above tree line, and camping up there always left us awestruck at the immensity of the sky, at the unparalleled clarity. The whole night sky took on a three-dimensional feel. Those vacations were healing for many reasons, the night sky one of them.

Our kids and their kids are now well along on their live’s trajectories. It has been many years since my wife and I experienced the night sky; with old age and infirmity and absent-mindedness we let things go, complained to one another about not having seen the stars for so long. The acceleration of our perception of time contributes to that feeling of something valuable escaping us, I believe, and we finally made our minds up to find a dark place and enjoy the sky, buoyed on by the prediction of clear skies (except for the smoke from the California fires), a recent new moon, and the waning days of the Perseid meteor showers.

We drove thirty miles out of town, found a place to park (too close to the highway, but traffic was sparse enough that it worked out), and reclined on a blanket beneath the starry night. It was good for our souls. We gasped to one another about how magnificently the Milky Way wound its bright swath across the sky, identified barely remembered constellations and planets (Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were arrayed along the ecliptic like beads on a necklace), and felt how we are certainly all too finite (an idea acknowledged recently by an untimely death in the family), felt blessed that we could still take this all in through these old and less than perfect eyes.

Here are two less than wonderful images I took with my camera. Both show the southern sky, the Milky Way. In the first, Mars is the bright spot of red light to the left. Saturn is visible over toward the right, a little higher in the sky than Mars, and located just at the right edge of the brightest patch of galactic light. The second is cropped in on a tighter portion of the sky, Mars out of view, Saturn now the brightest object visible, and there are two faint meteor tracks visible well over to the right of Saturn and nearly directly above the telephone pole. These, of course, do not capture reality very well. I only hope that they inspire you to stay up late some night soon, drive out beyond the lights of your city, town, or homestead, park, find a grassy spot to loll on and recapture your childlike awe at the wonder of skies scattered with stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~Roy Beckemeyer, August 12, 2018

 

Redolent and Baroque

I have always loved words that are rich in sound and texture, words that resonate, that contain in themselves some raw element of their meaning, unusual words that add spice to a poem. I keep a list of them in my notebook and look at them every so often for inspiration. Of course, they can be overdone, unless used by a master like Albert Goldbarth. So for the rest of us mortals, it is wise to use them sparingly, in simple, short poems at first, where they can stand out without overshadowing.

So, here’s an example. Titled “God rode by,” it is a short poem I wrote and first recited at a jazz/poetry reading where a jazz combo improvised around the poet’s words. Not sure about the poem’s origins, but as a kid I repainted my bike every spring. I would go to the hardware store, buy a small can of some appealing color, brush it on, oil up the chain, and the next day I would be off riding toward adventure on a spiffy new steed.

Two words in this poem were taken from my list of Special Words: redolent and Baroque. I had used Baroque before. It is an adjective meaning “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a style of artistic expression prevalent especially in the 17th century” (Merriam-Webster). So it is fairly easy to use and fairly straight-forward for the reader to interpret. Redolent is just a lovely word. It starts out with you pursing your lips (“reh”), touching your tongue on the roof of your mouth for that hard “d,” pouring that “oh” out over your tongue, then rolling it and “len” around, then your tongue goes to the roof of your mouth again for the more sprightly “tuh” at the end. Its primary meanings relate to exuding a fragrance or aroma; I used it in terms of its secondary meaning, “conveying an aura,”  “tending to suggest,” or “evocative” (Merriam-Webster again).

Here’s the poem:

God rode by

on his bicycle today.
It was painted red, a rich shade,
redolent of Baroque oils,
reminiscent of the candle-
lit cloth of de la Tour’s
Penitent Magdalene.

“Nice paint job!” I called.
“Thanks!” He yelled back.
“Can’t stop now.
Maybe later.”

He turned, noticed
the pothole in the road,
swerved around it with
a certain grace
I could only describe
as Divine.

This poem begins with the preposterous and presuming image of God coming by my yard on a bicycle. I then make sure that things are a bit more serious by setting his choice of colors on a more celestial scale. Notice that the line “redolent of Baroque oils,” can actually be read as relating to aroma, especially if you have ever painted with oils; it brings to mind the mellow odor of linseed oil rather than the sharp smell of the turpentine that would be used to thin the kind of enamels you would use for a bike. I went on to elaborate on the imagery, referring to a specific painting by a Baroque artist, and added what I hope is a touch of humor in that the painting is titled The Penitent Magdalene (since she was a central figure in Christ’s life). I then took a turn back to the ordinary, taking it on myself to congratulate Him on the bike’s appearance, then noting again at the end that He has, even in these ordinary endeavors, extraordinary abilities.

Here’s an image of de la Tour’s The Penitent Magdalene (click on the image for an enlarged view). The painting can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

 

~Roy Beckemeyer, July 12, 2018

Making the Poems You Read Your Own

My good friend Dan Pohl teaches English at Hutchinson Community College and writes delightful poetry. He also knows how to truly own a book of someone else’s poems. I first got to know how Dan approaches a new book of poetry when he showed me his heavily annotated copy of my first book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014). Dan reads with a pen and notebook, usually in a deck chair or comfortable easy chair, tea or coffee at hand. And he really digs into each poem, Thinks about it, underlines words and phrases that catch his attention, adds little notes and side comments and does research on unfamiliar names or places. He finds things in poems that have meaning to him and jots them down, there on the page.

I always like to see what he writes about my poems, as I find it fascinating what other people take from my poems. Some of it I knew was there, other things I might never have seen or suspected. So I gain insight into my writing that I can’t get any other way. As a result of seeing how Dan approaches reading, I have been trying to up my game and get much more involved when I approach others’ poetry. I have a long way to go before I get as good at this as Dan; he has had a lot of history and experience at this.  I can’t yet formulate how to do this: it involves a bit of critique, a bit of free association, a bit of self-psychoanalysis, I suppose, and definitely a deep background of reading widely and voraciously.

Rather than try to explain the process, I prefer to illustrate it with a few examples of how my poems look on the page after Dan has read them. These examples are from my latest book of poetry, Amanuensis Angel (Spartan Press, 2018), which contains ekphrastic poems inspired by abstract and other artists’ depictions of angels.

This is the first poem in the book, “Angel of Chaos.” It was inspired by a Salvador Dali painting.

This poem, “Jacob and the Angel,” was inspired by Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture depicting a scene from Genesis, Jacob wrestling with an Angel. Epstein’s figures were massive, and reminded me of sumo wrestlers, so I keyed off them.

Look these over, and note how Dan goes off at times to wherever the words or images lead him. To Japanese characters, sketches. He notes questions that arise when he reads, makes his own interpretations. I hope these few examples will inspire you to grab a pen or pencil from your desk and a poetry book from your shelf and own someone’s poems using Dan Pohl’s marvelous annotation techniques.

Good Luck and Good Reading!

~ Roy Beckemeyer, May 28, 2018

[My book, Amanuensis Angel, and other of my books are available on my Author’s Page.   Dan Pohl’s Anarchy and Pancakes (illustrated by his daughter Jessie Pohl and published by Spartan Press, 2018) is available on Amazon.]

Stephen Hawkings 1942-2018

Stephen Hawkings passed early in the morning of March 14th, 2018, at the age of 76.

Here is my poem, “Cerebellum’s Fire,” from 2016. It won the overall poetry prize in the Kansas Voices competition that year. It is my small contribution to honoring Hawkings.

Cerebellum’s Fire:

The bold but dim-browed ancestor of ours
who first gathered up in glowing embers
lightning’s gift to man to light the hours—
the first true man none of us remembers.

The sight of Mongol ponies, wild and free,
sweeping, massed, across the wind-blown plains,
the dream of warriors following his lead,
that sparked Genghis Khan’s ambitious brain.

From the crucible of Isaac Newton’s mind,
revealed, from alchemy’s dim and gloomy gleams,
the way God’s planetary gears toil and grind,
bare and bold, and not the mystery it seemed.

From a body pinned in place by ALS,
in Hawking’s mind the bright universe expands—
this man who is all but motionless
sees how the world was born and how it ends.

 

~Roy Beckemeyer, 14 March, 2018

Blue-winged Angel

“Blue-winged Angel” An ekphratic poem inspired by artist Carl Dahl’s porcelain “Blue-winged Angel, Female.”

You open your wing

explosively, as if cyclonic

winds had whisked your smalt-blue,

your Delft blue, your ultramarine blue,

your essential-essence-of-blue cloak,

had thrown it out as if it were

the only sky in all the world,

your un-pigmented body suddenly,

blindingly, lightning-white, and

cracked as if by thunderclap.

The vacuum left by that whip-

snapped mantle exposing breasts,

ribs, navel, thighs, letting us know,

oh, God, letting us truly know, that angels

are only all too human.

 

 

~Roy Beckemeyer

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Artist Carl Dahl’s work may be found on his Website.

“Renaissance” – Collaborative Poetry/Art Broadside – Malissa Long Wilson, Artist, and Roy Beckemeyer, Poet

Here’s another of my collaborations with Malissa Long Wilson. Malissa did this textile piece in response to my poem, so it is an ekphrastic work in reverse. I think she captured the soul of the poem here.

[Note: for a larger view of the broadside, click on the image.]

~Roy Beckemeyer

Broadside art and text copyright by Malissa Long Wilson and Roy J. Beckemeyer. Original 18 by 12 inches with 17 by 11-inch crop lines.

“Solar Flair” – Collaborative Poetry/Art Broadside – Malissa Long Wilson, Artist, and Roy Beckemeyer, Poet

The Wichita Broadside Project sponsored by HarvesterArts, River City Poetry, and the Wichita Arts Council, was the brainchild of April Pameticky. Final results were held as the opening event of Poetry Rendezvoux 2017.  This collaborative effort, in which I wrote a poem inspired by Malissa Long Wilson’s great piece of art, is titled “Solar Flair,” and it was one of the broadsides chosen for distribution.  We hope you enjoy this.

[If you google “squaring the circle,” you will find it is an ancient geometry problem – constructing a square with the same area as a circle using nothing but a geometer’s compass and a straightedge.]

~Roy Beckemeyer

Broadside art and text copyright by Malissa Long Wilson and Roy J. Beckemeyer. Original 12 by 18 inches with 11 by 17-inch crop lines.

Check out Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s Monthly Newsletter “The Writing Life”

Proud to be the featured writer in Kansas Poet Laureate Emerita Caryn Mirriam Goldberg’s “The Writing Life.”

She has writing prompts, tips, and alerts of new books and workshops.

Check it out, please.

Thanks, Caryn.

Poetry and Art Broadsides Revisited

Thought I would post a second “unchosen” broadside I submitted to the Wichita Broadside Project for which I did both the poem and the art – in this case a photograph of our cat, Dusty, who is a fair purrer and a great ham when it comes to having his picture taken. Here, then, is “The Yellow Cat Purrs.”

 

~ Roy Beckemeyer, Oct. 4, 2017

Poetry and Art Broadsides

Back in April (appropriately) of this year, April Pameticky initiated a joint art/written word project: The Wichita Broadside Project. A series of monthly mixers were held to bring poets and artists together to see if anything clicked, then a call was made for submissions of 11 by 17 “broadsides.” A broadside here is a digital representation of graphics and text bringing together art and words into a whole more complete and meaningful than either might be on its own. Submittals would be evaluated by folks from Harvester Arts and River City Poetry; winners would be chosen by the jury would be printed and the prints provided to the artist/poet collaborators to distribute for posting around Wichita. The aim:  to promote poetry and art for public consumption.

The project was successful; more entries were received than expected. All entries will be displayed at Harvester Arts’ venue during Wichita’s monthly Final Friday Arts event on October 27th; that exhibit will also be the opening event of the 2017 Poetry Rendezvous. Seventeen entries were chosen for mass production and distribution. The teams whose work was chosen will each receive prints of all the winning entries, and ten copies each of their winner for distribution.  I was lucky enough to be a team member on four of the chosen pieces: one with Malissa Long Wilson entitled “Solar Flair,” one with Pat Beckemeyer (my talented wife) titled “If She Came to Me with Flowers,” and two with artist/poet Skyler Lovelace: “Early Onset,” and “The Mystery of Disappearing Bees.”

The piece I am showing here today was one I put together myself with a drawing I had done on a walk through Wichita’s Pawnee Prairie Park of some Indian Grass; I added to it my poem “Tallgrass in the Fall.” Not one chosen for distribution but it will be on display on the 27th, and I hope it inspires you to attend the event. Much great poetry and art singing together in harmony.

 

~Roy Beckemeyer, 3 October, 2017, 07:06, Revised 13:56.