4.22.2015

Farewell Ellen Kort





Last March, at the Appleton Public Library, I saw Ellen Kort for one of the last times.  I hadn’t known her very long, but what I knew was that she was full of love.  I could tell by her smile.  I could tell by the joy of her poetry, her soft voice evoking images mined from bone marrow. 

When I go to the grocery store and stand

in front of the shelf filled with jars of honey

every brand spells the word Mama
(from Ellen’s Over and Over Again)

When I moved to Appleton in 2010, one of the first places I went was the little bookstore across the street from the Radisson.  I was appalled that they weren’t selling any books by Ellen Kort.  I had just discovered her poem Over and Over Again, sent by a friend when she heard I was living in a house once occupied by Wisconsin’s First Poet Laurent. 


Mama told us how bees

need strength to fly from one plant to another

how their little bodies grow fat from the dust

of pollen when they enter the open house

of flowers how they have to regurgitate

a sip of nectar 200 times in order to turn it

into honey Mama naming what cannot

be named the pure grace of hard labor

the soft hum of gratitude Mama

(from Ellen’s Over and Over Again)

I couldn’t help myself.  I stalked her, called her up, explained where I was living.  She was guarded, until I told her I was a writer too, and then she told me a great little story from when she was living in the house, about a strange woman she didn’t even know who barged in when she was writing, and how this woman got accosted by a ghost, in the very spot where I was sitting, put into a headlock and held there until she was so scared that she ran off and never came back again.  “So, have you seen any ghosts?” Ellen asked. 
For a short time, we both taught at Renaissance High School.  In the spring, students signed up for poetry with beloved Mrs. Kort, but by fall, Ellen decided against teaching, wanting time to work on a poetry collection, so the students were stuck with me. Towards the end of that semester, one of the girls in the class told me that Mrs. Kort used to give the best prompts.  “Like one time she let everyone pick a rock and then we got to write about it.”  Not just anyone could hand out a rock and change a person’s life.  But Ellen could.
I stood in a crowd at the Atlas Mill Coffee Shop one evening a few years back to hear a whole room full of poets testify in beautiful waves of words their love for this teacher.  It is my great loss that I was never her student, that I never got to record her reading her poems and telling her stories.  I only encountered her a dozen or so times.  Still, I feel the profundity of her impact. 

I’m beginning to understand how the long

Years unwind how stories come back

On the wings of memory simple things

Locked together an offering of recurring

Echoes Even now your voice sweet as honey
(from Ellen’s Over and Over Again)

         Last March at the Appleton Public Library, sharing the stage with her former student, Cory Chisel, Ellen told us a story about how, when she was a little girl, staying at her grandparents’ farm, sometimes the phone would ring and it would be the neighbors alerting that the cows were out again.
Ellen recalled sitting in her grandpa's truck driving the country roads all day long trying to round up those cows.
By the time they finally got them herded back to the barn, Ellen knew her grandpa was mad.
He told her to count the cows, and she did, afraid of what was going to happen.
When she had them all counted and went to tell her grandpa, she flinched, anticipating the blows to follow.
And Ellen told about how her grandpa went up to that first cow, lifted his hand, brought it to her forehead, and gave her a kiss.
And then he went around and kissed every cow in the barn.

After that, I saw Ellen only three more times, last August at Mile of Music.  We kept running into each other, on the bus, on the front steps of The Chapel, Ellen with her two daughters, me with mine, all of us exuberant with all the music and all the poetry of those sunny days. 





4.21.2015

A Walk through City Park with Ronald Wahl





Listen to the latest Imagine City Park podcast here:




Ronald Wahl at the historic Temple Zion, former home of both Houdini and Edna Ferber,
current home of Wahl Organbuilders






Temple Zion at the corner of Harris and Durkee in Appleton

Footprint of the Monarch Oak, City Park



Pieces of bark that flew as far as eighty feet
when the Monarch Oak was struck by lightening





4.20.2015

At the San Diego Public Library





A gallery on the ninth floor.




An old gum ball machine that dispenses books for a buck.












A present for those with wanderlust.






4.19.2015

Thank You Note to Our Dear Cousins




Hello and thank you!
It was so nice of you to invite us to stay at your fine house!
(I didn't even see any mice!  Haha!)
It was a true delight to share a slice of your L.A. life,
and the true spice of your lives:
Zacko Wacko Mimbo Zimbo Slimbo Limbo Zachary Zoo!
Come and visit anytime,
(Ice with your slice of lemon?
Maybe we can have rice, twice!)
But remember,
no matter how you splice it, 
we remain imprecisely,
The Danes
(I hope that will suffice.)





4.17.2015

Improvisational Duets Class. April 17, 2015. Renaissance High School for the Arts, Appleton, Wisconsin.



Instructions:

1:  Find a spot outside to sit in a circle. 

2:  Designate a Facilitator.

3:  When everyone is settled, the Facilitator reads:




Sit tall.

Close your eyes.

Listen to the sounds all around.




4:  Sit for 5 minutes.

5:  Notice your breathing. 

6:  Add vocal sounds to the breathing cycle.  Be free.  Try playing with the sounds that you hear by mimicking sounds, creating sound patterns, veering off into new patterns, being silent and listening.  Always listening.  Try to see how deep you can go into the sounds, as if you are diving to the bottom of a pool.




7:  Discuss:  What did you hear?  What came to mind?  How involved did you become in your thoughts?  What happens to our listening when our minds become involved in thought?   Is there a state of being that is devoid of thought? 




8:  Create a Duet Circle:  Place a rock before two people on opposite sides of the circle.  Listen to the breath.  The two people with rocks, add vocals sounds to the breath.  Respond to sounds from all around.  At any point a person can decide to pass the rock counter clock-wise (since this exercise attempts to dissolve a sense of time by becoming completely present.)  Try to avoid passing rocks at the same time.  Try to create meaningful sound conversations by listening and responding without being critical or defensive.  Go around as many times as feels right.  After once around, anyone can raise a hand to indicate that the next full time around the circle will be the last.  (Three times around minimum.) The last circle around leads to the ending.  Always end at the beginning so everyone gets the same amount of turns.  Always end with an ending.



9: Discuss:  What did you hear?  How does your listening experience change when you are involved in making sounds?  What connections did you make with others in the circle?  How much of your listening was compromised by emotions brought on by insecure thoughts?  How deeply were you able to listen?

Listen to the first Improv Duet Circle created spontaneously at FREEA in Appleton:







4.15.2015

Imagine City Park Vision - Gypsy



From:

"Interviews with Interesting People"
Comes:
"Imagine City Park: A Neighborhood Study in Creative Collaboration"
Listen:




After the Imagine City Park meeting on Sunday, I was feeling frazzled 
because I had thought everything was going to come under control,
not grow more chaotic.

I was sitting in the sun with OSangjin and Christoph asking 
what should we do about the very tiny house competition*, 
when Gypsy walked by and said how great he thought the meeting had went.  

So I invited him in to record what he'd said 
so I could go back and listen to it again.




*Turn it into an invitational.  Thank you Christoph!




4.12.2015

Imagine City Park Vision - Elyse








Elyse under a tree, drawing in her hand bound journal the happenings of the day.  

What will be in your Imagine City Park journal?  

Make a journal and bring it to City Park to discover!

Saturday, May 30th

Sunrise to Sunset




4.10.2015

Writing Class on the First Day of Spring



He walks in circles tapping on his laptop.

The class goes outside.

The teacher writes instructions.

She raises her hand to ask if she may leave early.

His pencil lead breaks.

The wind blows the leaves, distracting her.

He lies on the grass even though it is wet.

She wonders what he is writing.

He wonders what she is writing.

There are 15 students in the class.

One does a cartwheel and wipes her hands on her pants.

A crow sits on the wire and caws.

He is walking in circles tapping on his laptop.

She is listening to her favorite band.

She is worrying that she isn't doing the assignment correctly.

The assignment is to write from another character's perspective.

She races across the wet grass.  She has a big smile.
She stubs her toe on a rock.

She puts her arm around her friend.

He can't stop thinking about the shoes.

She can't stop picking at her fingernails.

He is day dreaming about skipping school.

One of the students refuses to go outside.

Students inside the building open the windows.

As soon as the sounds of cars going by almost fades away,
more cars come from the other direction.

Many students with cameras come outside.

She is annoyed because one of the students with a camera
is standing very close to her while she is trying to write.

He is happy because a girl he likes to look at
is in the class with the cameras and
she is yelping and jumping across the wet grass.

The old teacher wearing a red shirt and black pants
eats popcorn and shares it with a student,
letting him put his hand inside the bag.

Now they are locked out.

Now the teacher says she is lazy.

Now she is on a roll.

Now he is distracted by a game.

Now the teacher checks the time.

The flag makes dancing shadows across the school.

The bell rings.

He is both relieved and disappointed.

No one is quite satisfied with what they wrote.

Everyone goes back inside,
except for one student who does not.


4.07.2015

Dear Peter Turchi,


When we got to Pasadena, I was tired of the pop music and the trivia and the traffic and declared I was going out walking and wound up at the public library at 5:25, closing at 6, I browsed the new nonfiction and from all those spines lining the antique shelves, your name emerged, and I pulled your book and had a seat and read all I could, relieved to find this delightful reprieve from the thicket of the family vacation, attempts to be loving and kind foiled by old habits even in these new places that are no longer ever truly new, the landscape abloom with Macys and Chevrons and Targets and Godivas and Nissans and Disneys and Goodyears and 7Elevens, (etcetera).


Sheltered at the library, 6pm came too soon, and I reluctantly returned your book to the fine and thin librarian and asked where was the closest bookstore, and she directed me to Vroman's on Colorado Street, and I walked there, happy, but arrived a bit dizzy and dry and hungry with the lingering remnant of last week's flu, a headache (or a new illness?).  I looked for your book but the store was huge, so I asked and the man searched on his spiffy computer and led me through the crowded store to the writing section, and there it was, I apologize, on the bottom shelf.  I grabbed it and wandered upstairs where there was a room full of chairs and greeting cards and one book perched at eye level, a bird on the cover, waiting for me, poems and drawings by Leonard Cohen written, some, while staying at a Zen monastery.  I've heard a few songs, know his name, and had no intention of buying another book, but how strangely books present themselves, like magic!  It was obvious that I must buy it.


[I knew your name, by the way (and so recognized it on the library shelf) because some years back someone on the radio was talking, you? I can't remember now, about Maps of the Imagination, so I ordered it and read enough of it to love it thoroughly before getting distracted by some other. Recently, I came back to it, plucked from my shelf of books "most significant", I thank you.]

And another strange thing:  On the way to the bookstore I passed a movie theatre and studying the offerings was astonished to see a documentary about the Sagrada Familia!, astonished because just that day, on our drive from San Diego, caught in traffic, we heard a radio program about Gaudi and his magnificent church.  The movie started at 7:40 and I knew I had to have dinner first, deciding on that light cafe full of salad a block back.  It was getting close to 7.  But while making my way to the register I paused in the world religions section and there (again on the bottom shelf) were several copies of the Tao Teh Ching which I have been wanting to read.  So I bought that too.


Now, tonight, back home in my own bed, a bit sleepless with jet lag, three new books stacked beside me, my head still aching, this mystery emerging, why these three books?, why that movie?  Perhaps it is silly to make something out of mere coincidence(?), but it feels wildly more significant, if only because everything is connected, the attraction of primes and opposites and flocks of similar kinds.  Have you ever considered the puzzle that is you and Leonard Cohen, Gaudi and Lao Tzu?


3.26.2015

Dear Weird Thing,




I've been a bad friend, I'm afraid, and neglected to send a letter.  
I think about you often and wonder about when you are going to be home.  
I've fallen ill.  Regardless, we off to California!  

Wishing you a safe journey. . . . 


Here's a song for the road:





3.24.2015

Are you Ready for the Improv 2020's? Guideline #10: Listen to IsabelleDuthoit and Franz Hautzinger



When I played this video for the students in the Improvisational Duets class at Renaissance High School for the Arts they were annoyed.



I, though, was fascinated and had the good fortune to see this duo perform the next week at the Paradigm Coffee and Music in Sheboygan.  After the show, I interviewed Isabelle and Franz, hoping they could shed some light on their music for the students.  Indeed, they did.

Listen here:



Thank you Isabelle and Franz and best of luck on the the rest of your tour!
Thank you Heimo and Jon and for your lovely accompaniment.
Thank you Tad and Ellen for the ride and your help with the recording.



Isabelle Duthoit and Franz Hautzinger at Paradigm


with special guests Heimo Wallner (above with a ceramic homemade horn) 
and Jon Mueller
(photo by Cameron Wittig)


3.17.2015

Are You Ready for the Improv 2020's? Guideline #7: Cultivate a Practice


(listen)



it takes a lot of practice to realize that it doesn't matter what you practice

(as long as the practice does not harm)

it is the act of practicing that is the essential art

(without practice there is nothing)

so why not practice that which brings the most joy

(practice requires frequency)

so that practice becomes the joy

(allowing the practice to evolve)

so that when we notice it becoming drudgery

(we can change our practice)

and practice what feels best to practice

(and never be ashamed)

 by giving others permission to practice whatever they want

(we receive permission)

by allowing delight

(when shown a new creation)

we are free