December 9, 2001
I can now look back on my first week at the ceramic studio. The introduction was made easier because of all the days of class work that I had had here, but still it was an adjustment to be here alone and to find my way into my own work. I did some ceremony making a space for my guides and spirits and settled down to seeing what I would do in this new place.
Having once had my own studio I knew the hours and dollars it took to get a place outfitted as this one was. Never had I had an electric wheel and all the weeks of working in my garage had rather exhausted my ideas for hand-built pieces. I had no ideas for thrown pots but I was so excited about having a wheel available that I sat right down and threw two pots. The one in raku and cinnamon clay was my old familiar teapot shape but the second one in A-5 stoneware was a shape I had never done – a steep cone like the top of a funnel. As I put the new pots on my shelf I wondered why I had thrown these two. Neither one was anything I wanted to have. I decided I had picked this as occupation while my soul settled down in the new place. In the few minutes before my hours were up, I glanced at the library shelf and got the idea of taking a book. Somebody had recently looked at the one on raku and instead of putting it back properly had just laid it on top of a shelf. So I decided that was the one I wanted without further thought.
At home, a bit tired from the strange afternoon, I laid on the couch, snug under the down comforter, and read the book. I hadn’t realized I was looking for ideas until I saw one sculptured piece. I have always wanted to make a pair of earrings that served as clothing. Earrings so gorgeous and so huge that they could cover nakedness. I had never gotten this made for myself but suddenly I realized I could make a figure in clay and make the old idea of earrings for it. The clay sculpture would, in effect, be a stand to hold up these very elaborate earrings. The round pot shape would make a perfect base, I could roll a slab cylinder and then put the cone shaped pot on top. On the side I could fasten lugs into which the earrings would go. It would not be a human figure, and maybe then the earrings would not seem like earrings on such an abstract shape of feathers and beads – but whatever.
Friday I was so eager to get back I rushed though my regular writing and put off answering some letters again and flew up the hill at top speed to see if the pots were dried enough to begin building with them. And they were. I rolled out the cylinder carefully making one end wider than the other so it would fit properly on the lip of the round pot. My first surprise was finding out the narrow end of the cylinder fit the pot perfectly so I up-ended it as I accepted that in this moment the piece was now beginning to assert itself. When "things go wrong" with my designs I accept this occurrence as the time the clay has begun to dictate how it wants the piece to be made. Now I had to work more slowly because after each step I had to listen to the clay to see what to do next. As I watched, I saw the cylinder was a bit too soft and that it was already settling down into the pot. Quickly I turned the thing over so the air trapped inside helped support the column of clay. This meant that the round bowl was now on the top. I knew the clay needed more time to firm up, especially in the cold, damp winter room. Needing a rest, I idly picked up the scraps of clay from the cylinder and rolled them into a ball. Pulling out a chair I sat down and dozed a bit with my eyes unfocussed. My hands automatically patted and pinched the clay into a small bowl. As I walked back to the sculpture rested, I found I had carried the bowl with me instead of placing it on my shelf. Then I was given the idea of cutting a hole in the cylinder and putting the bowl half in and half out of the side. I turned it back upside down to its original idea. There was something rather fountain-like in my feeling so I placed it as I thought water could run into it. But cutting into the cylinder and working on it weakened it so that I had to turn it over again to stop it from collapsing. Suddenly the now upside down pinched bowl looked like a belly! The round pot on top ‘felt’ like a head. I was making a woman to wear the earrings! But the protruding lump of her belly seemed odd on her long straight body. She needed boobs. A few more scrapes and two pinch pots later she had great proud boobs.
Now, how do I add the white cone-shaped bowl? I thought of having her emerge from earth in a cone of light but this did not work. The end of her body was too abrupt. She needed to be sitting. What about adding it to the other end of her? As a hat? I got the bowl down off the shelf and carefully placed it coolie hat style on her. Emotionally I felt I was ‘capping her off’, containing her goodness, covering up her style, pressing her downward. To remedy that feeling I only had to turn the bowl over so it was at once a bowl carried on her head and a receptacle for who knows what or the emanations from her crown charkra. To my surprise the bottoms of my two bowls were exactly the same size. So this was meant to be. I made some holes to be able to insert some wiry hair made of copper but as I welded the two pots together the holes filled themselves up. So much for that idea. Obviously all she needed was to carry something and to not get caught up in fancy hair. I added the lugs to the sides of her face to hold her earrings thinking how wise not to have ‘hair’ to compete with them. Now even more tired and seeing the clock was closing down my allotted time, I lit a stick of incense and welcomed the spirit of the piece into manifestation with my gratitude. I put her up on my shelf, washed the tools and swept the floor.
Back home I saw the shape of the bowl in which she should sit and how, if she is still soft enough on Tuesday, how I want to redo her belly. If the clay is too hard then she wants her belly as it is now. If she wants it changed she will accept my attempts. A small thrill of excitement runs down my life as I hold myself open to doing what she needs to have me do to accomplish her being. And I know that I am also manifesting myself as a person and as a clay body. I realized that making things in clay is not what I want to. I really don’t need another clay pot in my life or living space. But what I do want to do with my day is to follow the journey of inspiration. Therefore it is important for me to be in this studio, to be alone, to have the time, leisure and freedom to listen to my inside voices as well as the expressions of the things existing around me. I do this while my hands are wet and earthy again with the clay.
Then, this morning I had this dream. I see the clay work as what I do while I wait at the table.
I was visiting some old European city with a group of people. The tour was almost over but I had decided that I still had time for a business conference with an editor. So on this the last day a meeting was arranged. I felt I could easily give up an hour for such an important-to-me date while others packed and prepared for the trip home. It was arranged that we meet at a small restaurant near my hotel which I found very helpful. Not wanting to be bothered with eating and doing business, I went early to eat my dinner. Right on time, just as I was finished and had begun to ‘wait’ the woman I wanted to meet arrived. She was a typical California business woman, tall and elegantly dressed in a casual way with silks and a flying coat. Her face was radiant with the joy of life and her pleasure in every thing she did. I was excited by her appearance and looked forward to the time together with her. She, though, had been planning on having her dinner and the meeting at the same time and was ravenously hungry. She was a bit surprised that I had already eaten, I felt I had committed a social gaff, but she was already thinking of what she wanted to eat instead of my manners. The restaurant served cafeteria style, so while she whizzed off to get her food, I laid out my papers, reviewed what I wanted to say, underlined some important points and prepared to wait calmly for her to eat. I sipped a second cup of coffee, which my pounding heart did not need, and was gratified to see that she ate as rapidly as she did everything else. So the delay would not take long, I told myself as I pretended I was calmer than I was.
When she pushed away her tray, though, she continued to chat and to look at the clock. Finally I asked her if we should get down to business so she could return to work. "No," she said, "we have to wait on Edna." I had no idea who Edna was or why we had to have her be here, so I said nothing while telling myself to just go with the flow. Soon a small wiry woman came rushing in the restaurant. I wondered if she had Italian ancestors as she looked so very typical. I had plenty of time to wonder about her heritage and every thing else as the two women seemed to have a lot to say to each other and no word for me. I sat with my calm on the outside as she took off her gloves, her hat, her coat, and fussed with her hairdo. Inside I was commanding her to "sit down, shut up and get on with it". I could not believe my ears when I heard that she, too, was expecting to eat dinner and was very, very hungry. I understood that even though she was very late to the meeting, there was no way she could be coerced into forgoing her food. I groaned inwardly and shut my eyes as she dashed off to get her dinner. The California woman was now quiet. I had the feeling she had decided the meeting could not go forward without Edna but she was not telling me this except with her patient acceptance and her waiting. As we sat there in our combined silence there was a terrible crash. As we looked up we saw that Edna had dropped her tray! Waiters came from all around with mops and buckets to clean up the mess. She was apologizing profusely and offering to pay for the food and dishes, but the people reassured her that these things happen and that she should just get back in line to get her dinner again. This time, she went down the line even more slowly as she considered the merits of each of the items. My impatience was growing so large I was afraid that it would force my groans out of me. I gritted my teeth as she slowly reconsidered what she wanted to take this time for her dinner. I would have, in my embarrassment, either given up on dinner altogether, taken just one item to nibble or taken all my previous choices. Not Edna, she saw this as a new opportunity to plan a new meal and she had all the time in the world to do it.
Now both the California woman and I waited while she ate. Instead of just eating, she felt she had to entertain us with stories and incidents of her life. Naturally she could not chew and talk so she would lay down her fork as her hands moved faster than her lips. Just as I rearranged my tired legs and butt once more on the hard chairs, a door opened and in walked the grandfather of my children – Sidney Steiner. He walked rapidly straight toward me with barely a hello to the other women at the table. In a loud voice he began to ask me where Heidi was. In a small voice that was telling him in code to lower his own voice, I told him that she was staying at Cordelia’s and that Martin had said that he would look in on her to make sure all was okay. Instead of accepting this, he began to reprimand me for not taking good care of my child. I would try to argue with him in my quiet voice, but I was sure that the others heard his version of truth and not my replies. I was so embarrassed. I was sure I had taken care of my daughter as best I could and there was no sense in listening to him giving others a wrong impression of me, so I turned my attention back to the women to show him I was not listening to him. He disappeared and during this nasty performance Edna had finished her dinner.
So, now we could talk about the book contract. I spread out my papers on the table and asked my first question. To my surprise, Edna answered, not my question, but began to talk about her own books. This is not what I expected, but I decided to listen as I felt I would surely learn something from her experiences. It seems she had had several books published by this company. The longer I listened the more I learned of her importance to the company (it was the sale of her popular books which allowed the company to consider publishing my surely non-profit book of poetry). She knew everyone in the company and delighted in telling stories about each one, so I tried to learn about who I was working with by keeping track of her comments. As much as I appreciated learning about the people I would be working with, I felt some pressure to get my questions answered, my issues addressed and to get some signatures on the lines. When both of the women finally began to answer to me, I found I could not hear properly. Important words just dropped out of their sentences. I would ask them to repeat the comment, I would lean forward to hear over the noise of the other diners, and I thought I was going mad because I simply could not hear their answers. Finally, I simply asked them to give me a written contract on which they all agreed. Within minutes I was able to walk out of the restaurant which had become a prison to me in one afternoon.
On the street, I saw that it was approaching dusk and the city looked very beautiful as the old stones were gilded with the gold and rose of the last light. The air was fresh with the coming of evening and yet still warm from the day of sun. Looking to the left I could see my hotel so I set off walking toward it as I drank in the atmosphere of this place. At the hotel I saw that the other members of the tour were standing around on the sidewalk just waiting on the bus to pick them for the ride to the airport. I had the feeling of just having gotten every thing done on time. As I looked for a place along the marble wall to wait, an older man scooted toward me one of those camp stools made of canvas and three prongs and invited me to sit down and take it easy.
December 4, 2001
I do not know if I can write this – or anything. I have run into a brick wall of recognition over which I can no longer fool myself. I feel as if I have taken a blow to the head. In this new land of swirling stars and sinking ground I want to reach out to grab onto a piece of reality but there is nothing there, here or anywhere.
Okay, so it is no big deal. And it is surely not a reason to invite your sympathy – something which I do not wish to do. But for myself I need to first recover from my jolt and secondly find my own path again by writing through the jungle.
You see, last night, in working down through my piles of unread mail, I came to the current issue of The Tanka Journal, edited by Hatsue Kawamura, in Tokyo Japan. Being a little tired from a noisy clay class, having gotten a chill for working too far from the sunny window, I read the pages of tanka much more slowly. I’ll admit that often when a poetry magazine comes, I mostly look at the author’s names to see who is publishing still, or how much and with which focus. I’ll look at the articles to see if the authors agree or disagree with what I think or know. I never read my own stuff and carefully avert my eyes from even accidentally straying into my words. Often the people who are published on the same pages with me get the most cursory reading in the avoidance of the lines under my name.
It could be that getting out of the house, driving off to the studio, being with other people, thinking about something beyond poetry for a half-a-day freshened me, sharpened me and opened me anew to what we were doing with the tanka form. Or I should say what I was doing. Since beginning to take tanka seriously in 1988, and then discovering the various tanka translations, I have felt I had in mind a fairly clear idea of what tanka was. As I began to publish the tanka of others in English, I again felt fairly sure of what was happening in the form and as I practiced writing my own tanka, I had the feeling that "I can do this". And I did. And I enjoyed it immensely. And tanka became a very important part of my life.
Yes, I still wrote haiku and as anyone who reads these blogs knows, haiku is one of the fulcrum points upon which I move my day. But tanka was special to me. For the tanka I had to work. An idea would come to me but it demanded a grinding, a polishing, a search and more revising. In haiku, an idea comes clothed in its own words which mostly seem to be the ones which make it a haiku. For tanka, I have to dig deeply, uncover something unrecognizable, scratch out and rewrite, reshape and reform. The tanka come slowly – often the sad result of days of intermittent thought. When I think of my brain, I am sure there is a pocket there, all gray and fuzzy with lint, where I carry my budding tanka. It must be like the kangaroo pouch where the half-formed infant lies warm and suckling and unable to bear being in the outside world yet for many weeks. A place that partly inside of me and yet outside my body enough to contain a part of me that is preparing to enter the world without me.
Haiku come to me as snow on a winter night seems to form and fall out of nothing but the world around me. Only by dressing warmly and buckling on my boots of another place, the haiku fall onto my head like blessings with the gentleness of a wind-still snowfall.
Tanka are a lot more demanding. For them I haul in potting soil, spade deeply, thickly spread the compost of my life, and in the garden of all my knowledge I plant a tiny seed of inspiration. Even when and if it sprouts, it still needs the trellis of goals, and the much pruning of revision before even the first small flower comes forth.
Over the past four years I have been working on translating tanka from the Japanese to English, with the expertise and kindness of Hatsue. This has resulted in the books of White Letter Poems, the tanka of Fumi Saito and Heavenly Maiden Tanka, a collection of the poems by Akiko Baba. Somewhere in the bowels of the computers and printing presses of Peter Goodman of Stone Bridge Press, in Berkeley is our latest collaboration, A String of Flowers, Untied – Love Poems from The Tale of Genji. Thus, I have been immersed in the finest poetry of three very talented and special women with Murasaki Shikibu fitting right in. As the deep wonderment of poem after poem had unfolded before me, as Hatsue has, line by line opened new vistas on the possibilities of the form I know my own idea of the richness of tanka has exploded. In my concentration of following the minds of these other persons to their poetry, the path over which I push the wheelbarrow of my work has seemed to swerve. I was not trying to follow any or all of them but I was ready to explore the wide fields they had opened up for me.
Once upon a time I was pretty confident that "I knew how to write a tanka" and could "do it" to my satisfaction. While doing the translations, my own work had to be pushed to a back burner to simmer and cook, which was okay with me because I felt I was having such a great opportunity to get to know, first-hand, and at a depth so much deeper than simply reading, some of Japan’s best tanka. Occasionally I would sniff my own stew of poems, and under pressure from a friend I would quickly take out a couple that seemed ripe and juicy enough to be sent off to be published.
This kind of action several months ago resulted in my looking at issue #19 of The Tanka Journal and finding some of my tanka neatly folded in between Father Lawrence, Laura Maffei, and Sanford Goldstein. On other pages I found the tanka of persons whose work I have published: James Kirkup, D.L. Bachelor, Pamela Miller Ness, Fujio Tachibana, Sumiko Hamlow, Amelia Fielden (she just won a big tanka prize in Japan and her poem in the Tanka Splendor Awards got the most votes), Chjoko Ishigaki, Sumiko Koganei, Jack Galmitz, Aya Yukhi & Anna Holley. Since it is usually nearly impossible for me to read my own poems in print so I don’t even bother in my eagerness to see what others are doing. But last night was I tired enough to be reading slowly and snuggly warm enough by the stove to want to linger over each page and each poem. By looking at the poems instead of the names at the top of the page, I was able to immerse myself in the works instead of the personalities. This included myself. I was able to read my work as if it was written by someone else. At least these were the tanka from the person I was about a year ago who seemed a stranger to me tonight. I found many tanka that I really liked and wished that my name had been above some of them. But it wasn’t. My name was dragging, like a five-part tail, poems that I wondered if one could even call them ‘tanka’. I would read a column of one person’s tanka and then flip back to the page of my thumb holding down my place in the magazine. Back and forth the glossy pages slipped through my hands.
By the time I heard the cat groan as he was throwing himself down on the floor with his legs held stiffly in the air – his sign that he has had it, is tired, and wishes to be carried off to his basket-bed, I was still trying to figure what had hit me. In the dim glow of the candles in the windows, the lights for Solstice are already in their green cushions, I walked around the still house trying to figure out where I had gotten off the track. Because I had. By reading what others were writing as tanka, I realized that what I was trying to say with my tanka – the way I was saying it, and the way the rest of the persons were writing tanka was very different. My first thought was that everyone had abandoned me, but the truth was that I had deserted everyone else. While I had been tunneling through my mountains, they had been papering their walls.
I suddenly felt very sorry for Hatsue. I wondered if she regretted knowing me, if it was her innate kindness that prompted her to publish my work regardless of how uneasily it sat among the other poems. I have always admired her uncharacteristic ability to appreciate many different concepts of what a tanka can be in English and to go out on the publishing limb to support the work of persons who do not write as she does.
Picking up the magazine again I leafed back and forth among the pages and the poems I began to ask myself "Would I rather have written that poem – or do I prefer my own tanka?" The exercise proved to me that my own path was the one I wanted to be on but it also showed me how far from the straight and narrow I had wandered.
I guess, that for the reader of this who lacks this issue of The Tanka Journal, I should give an example. To avoid setting up a false climate, I will show you the first stanza of the two poems opposite each other on page 4.
by Laura Maffei
In the cubicle
on a hot workday morning
the details of a phone call
to my gynecologist.
Porches of Waiting
by Jane Reichhold
all of her flesh
broke its mold for a humbler kind
a floor plan
as if steel girders could clean
or uncover the invisible location
December 1, 2001
With the new month only hours old I was awakened by the force of the next winter storm. The wind was howling like an animal cornered in my bedroom, the force of the rain against the glass sounded like a gravel truck dumping its load into the air and the boom of the surf felt like an on-going earthquake. The tarpaulin over the woodpile, just below my open window, had freed one corner of itself so it flapped and whacked as if learning to play a drum. I closed the window but the sounds became only more ominous as they mixed together. When I finally decided there was no more sleep in this night for me, I began to look forward to participating in my very own storm watch. Soon the cat and I were snuggled in the chair in a circle of the light from one lamp.
three a. m.
the roar of rain
substitutes for sleep
Either storms blow across our land with more force than elsewhere or our power poles are more slender or maybe we just have more trees to topple over on them, but it seems most storms truly announce themselves by turning off the electricity. I often think they want to have all the power for themselves.
the power of the storm
As the house creaked and groaned, Buddha would jump down to check to see if anyone was walking on the porch or trying to look in at the window. He would saunter up to the glass, on legs as stiff as his tail. When he is ‘hunting’ his whisker pads enlarge so that his whiskers arch and wiggle like an extra pair of hands. He was all business and as my great watch dog he would scan the night scene with a professional manner.
the cat’s bushy tail
standing up straight
After checking only a few seconds, though, he would then, with a racing leap, hurry back to my lap.
the gladness together
warm and dry
to a rush of rain
a purring cat
I turned on the porch light just thinking that if I could see no one was on the porch, Buddha would accept my knowledge and calm down. I hadn’t counted on the beauty in the display of fireworks as the silver slivers of roof drip and rain drops sliced the night.
black and white
the storm rains down
hours of the night
The noise of the pounding rain reminded me of sleeping in Heidi’s cabin only the week before and how much I had enjoyed her low roof bringing the sound of the rain down to my level. I thought of Heidi up at 6,000 feet, the pitch of a roof and the angle of mountains and realized:
into your snow
It is always a surprise that houses have limits. Somehow when I am warm and dry inside, this atmosphere extends to the farthest universe of which I can think. Yet when it rains, when the rain pronounces itself with a sound, the limits of my roof become a visible surface – even in the dark.
a cave of sound
and then the rainstorm
leaves the roof
For me, storms end too quickly. Just as I begin to really enjoy their majesty, they begin to recede – it seems.
the need for sleep returns
with the storm’s end
I thought I was too awake to go back to bed, but I realized I had been sleeping when a strange sound woke me.
the old woman sleeps
in her snoring
With the coming of the morning light, the storm renewed itself in intensity. By the time I could look outdoors, the driveway was a river, the grass on the lawn was turning to islands and once-upon-a-time river to the sea in which the foundation of this house is centered, had returned.
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2001.
Continue reading at:
November 30 - 11, 2001
November 9 - 1, 2001
October 31 - 21, 2001
October 20 - 11
October 1 - 10, 2001
September 21 - 30, 2001
September 11 - 20, 2001
September 1 - 10, 2001
August 22 - 31, 2001
August 11 - 21, 2001
August 9 - 1, 2001
July 31 - 26, 2001
July 25 - 18, 2001
July 17 - 11, 2001
July 10 - 4, 2001