Sunday, November 16, 2008

Paintings & Poetry

Ekphrasis refers to an artistic device whereby one form of art is used to describe another. These poems were inspired by the abstract paintings of Francine Schrock. Their titles match her titles. More of her work can be found at

Abstract Poems by Annie Seikonia
Inspired by the Abstract Paintings of Francine Schrock


yellow peach-red
furnace fire
in the essence of flower,
beach dawning
metal twisting
in the floating foreground
of a candling night

mud & jewel

craggy prints
amongst primrose pine –
dark palette of a
sapphire dirge


rusty echoes of
the room behind the periwinkle
room sing,
strings quiver up from
a covert place behind
traces of skin,
knicks and wrinkles
of ghostly gloved hands


lemon and orange duet
in a tropical patio
coerced by green

beguiling knife edges smooth
shadows of days
ladders of stars

hearkening the red magic

more inkleined

neon indigo peacock Parish blue
and sky breath blue
remembering the scenic precision
of pastel balustrades
and ochre walls:
ceilings and beaches
now buried in flowers
saturated by violet tones
smothered in late sea
singing the frameless square


the boards of the red palace
ghost building, a nocturnal capture,
glinting now in the daylight of the café,
quietly absorbing the gossip and runes,
the ladders and mines, in their
violet looms


an Arctic geometry
sings through the shattering
windows of sleet.
the whisper of the ancient blue plain
beneath the scree
escapes even here, now,
from the painting

The Annual Shoestring Puppet Theatre Halloween Parade

Although it's already November, memories of Halloween are still resonant. Every year the Shoestring Puppet Theater hosts a Halloween Parade featuring drums and horns and puppets of various sizes. There's even a stiltwalker. People line the streets of the West End to see the little carnival go by and it's always great fun. This year was a gorgeous balmy evening with the usual consort of incredible costumes (including a zebra woman and an elaborately dressed Viking). I foisted a huge crow puppet with wings that flapped up and down as we walked along the leaf-strewn darkened streets. I forget from year to year how heavy and unwieldy the puppets can be, especially by the time the parade snakes from Pine Street to Emery Street to Taylor Street to Tyng Street and eventually up Brackett Street back to the puppet theatre. But we still had energy to do a wild puppet dance to the beat of accelerating drums in the parking lot at the end of the parade. Exhilarating, celebratory and great community fun, it's one of the highlights of the fall season.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two Expansive Movies

One great film I saw recently was Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008), a lyrical documentary about French high wire walker Phillipe Petit, who stunned the world at age 24 with his death-defying walk between the World Trade Center Towers on August 7, 1974. A death-defying film as well, this absorbing movie is unforgettable. Between the back story of the complex plan that went into the stunt, the counter story of Petit's relationship with his girlfriend, Annie, and, most of all, the vertiginous and miraculous images of the walk, this film has instantly become one of my all time favorites. He crossed the wire eight times and even lay down on it. The story is inspiring; it proves that even the craziest dreams are attainable and may indeed result in works of great genius. Though it would seem self-destructive, Petit insists his walks are not reckless ventures and are planned in great detail, a result of years of training. Rather than being depressing (due to extensive footage of The Towers) the film remains light and buoyant, and by not mentioning the Towers destruction or Petit's reaction to that event, becomes a graceful and appropriate memorial.

Petit, who is almost sixty years old now, has survived his many walks on the high wire (including 500 arrests, mostly for street juggling). He lives outside Woodstock, New York, where he has been working on a hand-built performance barn for roughly 15 years, using 18th century tools. He is also the author of the autobiography, To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers.

Perhaps it's not surprising that Petit is a friend of Werner Herzog's, which brings me to great film number two: Encounters At The End of the World (2008) by the master himself. The tag line "Off the Map, Things Get Strange," is not suprising to those of us familiar with Herzog's films, which tend to veer off into strange territories (both literally and figuratively). This one is set at the Arctic's McMurdo Research Station, where Herzong interviews everyone from volcanists to plumbers (finding a fair number of offbeat personalities along the way). Herzog's usual pessimism about the world doesn't for a second ruin the supernatural, otherworldly footage of this outpost, which is tempered by his considerate, accented narration and sense of humor. A feast for the eyes and for the brain, this latest foray into unusual territory, Herzog-style, is a mind-expanding journey to the center of nowhere and everywhere.

I am a huge Herzog fan. Born in Munich, shortly before World War II, he shared a house with his friend and nemesis Klaus Kinski (their love-hate relationship is documented in the great movie, My Best Fiend) when he was only 13 and even then was confident he would become a film director. Herzog has worked in a Mexican rodeo and welded steel to finance his movies. His quality of tenacious obsessiveness is evident throughout his best movies, especially Fitzcarraldo, a film that created its own story during the making of that story and featured a lunatic playing a lunatic. (During Fitzcarraldo, he moved a 320-ton steamship over a mountain without using special effects -- see Burden of Dreams, a documentary about the film). Aguirre, the Wrath of God, is another scenic journey into madness, with Klaus Kinski revelling in an outrageous role he may or may not have been acting. My least favorite film (and there are plenty I haven't even seen) was the satiric comedy Incident at Loch Ness, which I found just plain silly, but rather than veering off into art house obscurity, his vision has flowered, resulting in the picturesque The White Diamond, the quirky Grizzly Man (probably his most "mainstream" entree) and now a plumed trip to the innermost workings of the cosmos itself -- expect a royal Mayan ancestor and neutrinos, among other wonders.

In August 2008, Esquire Magazine interviewed Petit and Herzog together ("Werner Herzog Walks the Rope"), which is good for a laugh.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Common Ground Fair 2008

Common Ground Fair, held by The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardiner Association in mid-September, is an annual extravaganza of animals, food, crafts, demos, music and more. Heralded as a celebration of rural living, it features hundreds of vendors and events that range from sheepdog demos to lectures on composting, with everything in between, including "Burma -- A Time for Change," "Raising Goats 101," "International Folk Dance & Baltic Women's Choir," "Cigar Box Guitars" and "Monolithic Heated Slab Foundations." It's huge, it's three days and it's all stunning.

This year, gorgeous weather graced the fair. The only huge drawback was the traffic, which gets worse every year. We got a late start on Saturday and, after a stop for breakfast and to drop our dog off with my sister, arrived at the 3.5-mile road that leads to the fair around 1 p.m. It was a slow crawl along that road -- an hour journey from the intersection to the fair parking lot, which was so crowded we wound up squeezing into a space at the bottom of the south lot, virtually in the campground area. A pleasant stroll through a demo forest led to the fair. The vendors shut down around 6 p.m. so our plan was to leave by 5:30 p.m. to beat the crowd. Of course we dawdled on the way out and reached our car at 6:00 p.m. From there we sat for a solid hour, engine off, waiting for the cars to inch up the hill and out onto the road, about a quarter mile away. At last we began to make creeping progress. In all we wound up spending about an hour and forty-five minutes in the parking lot, because cars in the rapidly emptying parking lots kept cutting into our lane from the rows, which prevented the cars trapped in the bottom parking lot from moving at all. Eventually passengers walked up to cars in the cross rows and stood in front of them to keep them from cutting in, in order to let the trapped cars move out. Some of the drivers were none too friendly or pleased, which didn't exactly make for common ground. The drivers that got stuck included volunteers and a woman with a young baby.

Sadly, a drive that should have taken roughly three hours round-trip took six hours round-trip, with only four hours spent at the fair. Not sure what the solution is -- enforced carpooling? There was a satellite lot you could bike in from, but we had a small car with no bike rack. Just too many people wanting to partake in a great Maine event. Nonetheless, we got to eat some great food, watch sheepdogs in action, visit lots of beautiful animals, hear some amazing music and spend an afternoon in a halcyon gathering with colorful people.

More pictures can be viewed on Flickr.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Shimmering City

Here's some samples of the work I've been doing for my latest project, a book of Portland haiku with illustrations. I started it as part of an excellent class I took recently on illustrating picture books for children and adults.

under the
full August moon
slicing carrots

reflections dance
in the world
below this world

blossoming branch --
exotic monasteries
cling to fragile life

the city’s sparkling
white jewelry disappears
in spring rain

invisible crows
speak from within the
Fairy Tale Kingdom


Update! I called Sparks Arks, where the seagull went for rehabilitation and David Sparks told me he was fine and going to be released soon!

Photo Credit:US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Free Photo Accessed Through Gimp.Savvy

Last week I was involved in an intense seagull rescue. On my way back to work with a cup of coffee, walking downtown, I noticed people staring at something. That something turned out to be a juvenile (you can tell by the gray feathers) seagull that had something caught in its beak and was attempting to fly but going in half circles in the middle of traffic in a busy downtown area. I went into the street, stopped traffic (which resulted in much honking of horns and general road rage) and after several futile attempts (more honking of horns) managed to herd the creature towards the curb. Once there it cowered and I yelled, "Does anyone have a blanket?" A kind woman had a blanket in her car and brought it over. I wrapped the seagull in the blanket as a crowd gathered.

Officer Dan, a bicycle cop, arrived. He dialed up animal control only to find out the person didn't come on duty until noon. Meanwhile the person parked right by the seagull had to leave. I hoisted the seagull up onto the sidewalk. The bird was relatively calm and not struggling very much. A pair of pliers and some wire cutters were procured and I held the seagull and held its beak while a brave man attempted to pull a three-pronged fishing lure hook out of its mouth. It was quite a process and very difficult but he finally did it. After that I got him to bend back the hooks and then someone else used the wire cutters to cut the entire hook structure off, so the bird wouldn't get hooked again. Unfortunately the large fish-shaped lure had a lower hook that was stuck in his side. After some probing we agreed it was best to wait for animal control at that point. It wasn't stuck in deep nor was it bleeding, but it was really stuck. Although the seagull had thrashed a bit during the hook removal from its beak, overall it was amazingly subdued. One bystander thought it had been hit by a car, but when I was herding it I noticed both wings were out and looked functional and it didn't seem to have any major problems other than the hooks.

After we removed the hook, it's bill began to bleed a bit and another bystander said it would choke on its blood and die, but the bleeding didn't seem heavy. I asked if anyone could find a box and someone found a nice large box with flaps, so I lowered the seagull-in-a-blanket into the box and moved him near some storefronts away from the street. Eventually everyone wandered off except for an art student and I. We kept vigil while we waiting for Animal Control. The beak stopped bleeding and the seagull seemed alert and responsive and fairly calm. A couple of times he started to move around and then we talked to him and held the flaps in place. Most of the time, though, he just sat in the box without us having to hold him in there and after awhile he settled down into it like it was a nest. Beth, the student, and I sang songs to him and talked to him. We named him "Icarus." It was very hot and I figured he was thirsty and hungry but didn't dare give him anything to eat or drink in case it wasn't the right thing to do. Finally, after an hour, the Animal Control woman arrived and put him in her van. She was going to drive him to a wildlife rehabilitation center in the country, run by a couple who rehabilitate animals and provide educational workshops to local schools. She told me they had a whole pen full of one-winged seagulls. This one seemed like it had a better chance.

Usually I agree it is best to let nature take its course, particularly with regard to baby wild animals, which will usually die without constant expert care, or may be waiting for their mother to retrieve them. In this case, though, it seemed possible to save its life and spontaneous action led to its (hopeful) survival. Of course, many people will scoff at the idea of saving a seagull or a pigeon, but even these creatures have brains and nerves and living, beating hearts. These cases can often pose ethical dilemmas. If it had indeed been hit by a car the best thing to do probably would have been to just let it get run over by another car, putting a swift end to its misery. Even so, if it had died after we rescued it, at least it would have died more naturally, in a warm place without a fishing lure stuck in its beak.

In any case, hopefully Icarus will survive and be able to fly the ocean skies once again.

One thing I couldn't figure out was how it wound up downtown in the street with a fishing lure in its mouth. A friend of mine and I came up with the theory that it probably had the hook stuck in its beak and was flying away from the waterfront, when, near the downtown area, the second hook became stuck in its side, making it impossible for the bird to navigate or fly.

One lucky bird. One very long coffee break.

Photo Credit:US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Free Photo Accessed Through Gimp.Savvy

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Lammas Celestial Poetry Evening

Thanks to my dear friend, Lunden, I attended the Lammas Celestial Poetry Evening at Southworth Planetarium last night. It was cosmic, to say the least. Sitting in reclining chairs in the celestial dark, illuminated by a facsimile of the night sky overhead, as well as occasional shots of the sun, moon and various astronomical events, we were treated to readings of poetry by Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Nanao Sakaki, Rabidranath Tagore and a number of local poets, by a number of local poets. There was even a song, sung in a plaintive lunary voice with accompaniment on a resonant parlor guitar.

The evening was divided into "Canto I: Earth and Sky," "Canto II, Moon and Worlds," "Canto III: Stars and Space" and "Canto IV: Cosmos." During the intermission we were treated to granola, cookies and delicious bread and butter, compliments of Big Sky Bakery. The evening wrapped up with a stunning performance/poem entitled "Micro-Macrocosm," that encouraged the listeners to follow a meditation paralleling the microcosms of the body with the macrocosms of the skies. COSMIC!

According to Wikipedia, "Lammas is a neopagan holiday, being a cross-quarter holiday between the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Fall Equinox (Mabon). It is opposite Candlemas or Imbolc, in early February. Lammas takes place with the Sun near the midpoint of Leo." "Loaf-mass" Day is also a celebration of the first wheat harvest of the year in olden times, back when we all had wheat harvests to celebrate. Apparently (also according to my friend, Wikipedia), "neopaganism" is any one of a variety of religious movements influenced by pre-Christian "pagan" religions. I think, at this moment in history, that being a neopagan, or at least celebrating a neopagan holiday, is not a bad thing by any means.

During the intermission my friend and I got to explore other cool things at the planetarium, including a holographic "ghost" whose head will turn to follow your movements, a portrait of the Mrs. Southworth who inspired the planetarium in memory of her husband (she looks like she's wearing a copper hat ), a machine that will give you a measurement of your weight on other planets and a bunch of cool old maps.

Remember: "lunatic," or "lunatik" in Middle English or "lunatique" in Old French, comes from the Latin lūnāticus, meaning moonstruck.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


bright orange moon
dream roads

Friday morning
on an island
no cubicles

two larch trees
part of the harbor's
intricate music

meadow of sighs
rich forest scents
crows above

sun tastes
wild meadow

such loud silence
to city ears -- lone
fog horn

summer rain
garden snails inch
the dusk

Thunderstorm Over Lake Saint George

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Mystical Nature Diary of Opal Whitely

My friend Lunden lent me the book The Mystical Nature Diary of Opal Whitely by Opal Stanley Whitely and Benjamin Hoff. It is amazing. Born in 1897, she lived in an Oregon logging camp, where she started composing a diary at the age of six. The diary chronicled her adventures with various animals (such as William Shakespeare the horse, Peter Paul Rubens the pig, Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus the wood rat and Brave Horatius the dog) as well as flowers and trees, which she also imaginatively named. She established an animal and plant nursery in the forest, where she planted flowers, cared for sick mice and birds and held services in the forest "cathedral," where she would say prayers and sing. Unfortunately, this behavior garnered more punishment than praise from her mother, who was not generally impressed with Opal's shenanigans and explorations. Filled with sweetness and occasional tragedy, her diary is utterly unique.

"All those trees are my friends. I call them by names I have given to them. I call them Hugh Capet, and Saint Louise, and Good King Edward I--and the tallest one of all is Charlemagne, and the one around where the little flowers talk most is William Wordsworth; and there are Byron, and Keats, and Shelley."

"Aphrodite [a pig] has got a nice blue ribbon all her very own, to wear when we go walking down the lane, and to services in the cathedral. . . On yesterday, when I was coming my way home from school, I did meet with Sadie McKibben [a person]. It was nice to see her freckles, and the smiles in her eyes. She did have me to shut my eyes, and she did lay in my hand the new blue ribbon for Aphrodite that the man that wears gray neckties and is kind to mice did have her to get. I felt glad feels over. I gave her all our thanks. I did have knowing all my animal friends would be glad for the remembers of the needs of Aphrodite for a blue ribbon."

"I ran a quick run to the pig-pen, to show it to Aphrodite. I gave her little pats on the nose, and long rubs on the ears, and I did tell her all about it. I did hold it close to her eyes, so she could have well seeing of its beautiful blues, like the blues of the sky."

"When I did have her a nice bed for bracken fern, and some more all about her, I went goes to get the other folks. back with me came Brace Horatius [the dog], and Lars Porsena of Clusium [a pet crow], and Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus [a velvety wood rat], and Lucian Horace Ovid Virgil [a toad], and Felix Mendelssohn [a pet mouse], and Louis II le Grand Conde [a pet mouse]. When we were all come, I did climb into the pig-pen and I did tie on Aphrodite's new ribbon, so they all might have seeing of its blues like the sky. I sang a little thank song, and we had prayers, and I gave Aphrodite little scratches on the back with a little stick, like she does so like to have me do. . .
"Now teacher is looking very straight looks at me. She says, 'Opal, put that away.' I so do."

As an adult, an edited version of the diary was published by The Atlantic and garnered accolades, followed by criticism, as reporters and critics questioned whether or not the diary was actually written by a child or Opal as an adult. Opal eventually traveled to England and India, but suffered from a mental illness (probably schizophrenia,) which grew worse as she grew older. She spent nearly the last 50 years of her life in an asylum in England. Benjamin Hoff has done a remarkable job of researching Opal's life and his book of her diary also includes rich historical background and photographs. This is a book I will never forget.

More info on Opal can be found at the Opal Whitely Memorial website and the Cottage Grove, Oregon website.

Sadly, Benjamin Hoff (he is also the author of The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet) had less than inspiring experiences with the multinational corporations who now own a large chunk of the publishing world. His essay, explaining why he decided to leave the book-writing profession, is quite interesting.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rilke's Letters on Cézanne

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters on Cézanne, aptly translated by Joel Agee, is a treatise on seeing that manages to remain startling. Rilke lived in the late 1800 and early 1900s and the letters, devoted largely to responses to Rilke's viewings of Cézanne's work at the Salon D'Automne in Paris in 1907, comprise a strange meandering essay that reflects Rilke's own unique brand of spirtual aesthetics refracted through a prism of meditations on Paris and the painting process.

Rilke's writing style is both old-fashioned and timeless. Above all there is a sense of intellectual acuity and innate innocence combined with a sense of adventurousness that it would be all but impossible to recapture in our overexposed, oversaturated, cynical times. Although at times the theme linking the letters together seems a tad too strained to engender a unified book, the letters create a fascinating window into another mind in another time that is worth cohabiting.

Some excerpts:

"Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger,of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further."

". . . all the summer flowers, the dahlia and the tall gladiolas and the long rows of geraniums shot the contradiction of their red into the mist."

"Perhaps one has to have a clearer insight into the nature of one's 'task,' get a more tangible hold on it, recognize it in a hundred details."

"If only one had nothing but work memories from the beginning: how firm the ground would be under one's feet, one would stand. But this way, there isn't a moment when one isn't sinking in somewhere. That it's this way inside, too: double world -- that's the worst thing of all."

". . . with this disposition, which was completely developed now, thanks to his strangeness and insularity, he turned to nature and knew how to swallow back his love for every apple and put it to rest in the painted apple forever. Can you imagine what that is like, and what it' like to experience this through him?"

"Although one of his idiosyncrasies is to use pure chrome yellow and burning lacquer red in his lemons and apples, he knows how to contain their loudness within the picture: cast into a listening blue, as if into an ear, it receives a silent response from within, so that no one outside needs to think himself addressed or accosted."

"To achieve the conviction and substantiality of things, a reality intensified and potentiated to the point of indestructibility by his experience of the object, this seemed to himto be the purpose of his innermost work. . . "

". . . it was Balzac who had foreseen or forefelt that in painting you can suddenly come upon something so huge that no one can deal with it."

"Landscapes, very light pencil outlines and, here and there, as if just for emphasis and confirmation, there's an accidental scattering of color, a row of spots, wonderfully arranged and with a security of touch: as if mirroring a melody --."

"The night cafe [by Van Gogh] I already wrote about; but a lot more could be said about its artificial wakefulness in wine red, lamp yellow, deep and utterly shallow green, with three mirrors, each of which contains a different emptiness. "

"Just as in the mouth of a dog various secretions will gather in anticipation at the approach of various things -- consenting ones for drawing out nutrients, and correcting ones to neutralize poisions: in the same way, various intensifications and dilutions take place in the core of every color, helping it to survive contact with others."

Post Mortem: I bought the hardcover volume for $2.00 at an annual local library booksale. The library does not retain a copy of the book. It was lightly marked with some pencil and probably hadn't been checked out in years. It is an excellent library, which I use all the time. Still, I wonder about the lack of a replacement copy and the decision to exile it in the first place.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Polaroid Archive


Indian Summer


Autumn Beguiles the Fatalist

Winter Zazzle

The Ice King

Recherche de le temps perdu

La Bicyclette

On February 8, 2008, Poloraid announced it would discontinue production of all instant film by August, 2009.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Trees Series: #4

Drawing With Imagination

I find it a challenge to draw from imagination, though I want to develop that ability. Illustrations and graphic novels are very appealing to me, and I would like to write and illustrate a graphic novel some day. I've perused countless drawing and creativity books. Most of them look interesting on the surface, but either present daunting schedules and exercises or long philosophical diatribes about "how to be creative" that leave me feeling more inept and unmotivated that before. Ironic that books about creative motivation should have that result. Most of the "how-to" books don't appeal to me either -- the technical approaches are often illustrated by the highly stylized artwork of one author and/or are technically dazzling but emotionally sterile.

Last year, however, I stumbled across a marvelous book called Keys to Drawing with Imagination, "strategies and exercises for gaining confidence and enhancing your creativity" by Bert Dodson. I found out about it from the lines and colors blog, my favorite art blog, which is filled with intriguing entries on fine art, drawing, illustration and more.

Keys to Drawing with Imagination is beautifully designed with a hard-cover wrapped around a spiral bending, so you can keep easily keep it open for reference. Best of all, though it contains delightful observations and insights, it isn't drowning in advice, but is mainly focused on fun, free-ranging exercises that plunge you straight into a world of creative experimentation. Besides featuring Dodson's lively illustrations , it also features examples by other artists (Steven Guarnaccia, Michael Mitchell, Zelme Loseke, R. Crumb and others) so you dont get stuck in one particular vision.

I've been working on "Doodling Algorithms," part of the "Doodling and Noodling" chapter. Though they sound silly, for me these are very liberating and instructive exercises.

Speaking of alogirthms, math is other thing I'm fascinated by but not very good at. An algorithm is basically a list of well-defined instructions that yields a result. Sounds simple. But they can be very complex. Also known as "calculation method," the term comes from a mis-translation of the name of the Persian astronomer and mathematician Al-Khwarizmi. What's even better is that no formal definition of an algorithm even exists! Algorithms are closely related to computer programming, flow charts and mechanical automation. Generative Art is a genre referring to art constructed by automated or programmed computer algorithms.

Dodson's algorithmic exercises utilize structured patterns, constructed in simple steps, such as waves, ropes, geometrics and shape clusters.

Another of his approaches, "building blocks," is reminiscent of fractals, patterns created through fragemented shapes composed of miniature repetitions of the whole. Naturally occuring fractal-like forms include lightning bolts, snowflakes, clouds and ferns.

Soon I'll be taking a class on creating picture books for children and adults, which covers everything from pocket art books to graphic novels, where I hope to put some of the ideas garnered from Dodson's excellent book into practice.