dimanche 18 août 2019

What Children's Stories Have Taught Me - The Reformation

Story 1:  The Reformation

I had an epiphany this week: I am fearful of following my heart.

After 20 years of presenting research at conferences the same way: preparing the method, analysing the data, and presenting the findings in a powerpoint, I was tired. Uninspired. I wanted my participants’ voices to be the centre of the research, to have their authentic words be what people left remembering.
No more boring powerpoints. This time, I was going to represent their findings entirely in their voices. I was going to write my entire paper in narrative, a story of their world.
I spent weeks on the writing. It was more difficult than I realised, like exercising and expecting a muscle you had never used to perform. I revised again and again. I admonished myself for breaking back into the same old expository form that I was trying to shatter. Then it was time for the conference presentation, presenting these voices, in an unconventional narrative, to colleagues I wanted to belong.

I had not thought about how to convey the same voices to a traditional academic audience. No powerpoint. Would I simply read the stories? Shouldn’t something visual be up on the screen? How long would it take to read the 15 page paper aloud? Wasn’t that going backward to the 1950s? Just reading?

I panicked on the day. I had nothing! The chair asked me to load my powerpoint. I said I didn’t have one; I was just going to read the narrative. She looked at me with scepticism. I felt fear. My session was scheduled at the end of the day: 17.30. Surely no one would be there? It would be a good time to experiment with this form. Why not try it? What did I have to lose? Aren’t I always asking my own students to take on Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’? Who was I if I could not even risk modelling the mindset: Just risk, try something new; learn from the failure.

More and more people arrived for the session. People came that I did not want to fail in front of: the editor of our national journal, a professor from our largest rival university, the chair of a research group I wanted to be part of! Why were they all there? For goodness sake, why did they have to come to this one?

I was announced, and began to explain the paper I was about to give. I explained it in expository form! My face felt hot. It was red. My chest tight. I started to read from the paper, but then realised there was no framework for them to put it in – only the words. I explained again. My face went crimson. I lost my place. I searched for the next section, the next narrative. I continued to read, to stutter. I looked at my watch and my time was almost up. I looked at the chair. She shrugged.
I gave another explanation and tried to sum everything up, ‘well, that is a taste of the narratives within, and the important thing here is that…’ I stopped embarrassed.

It had not gone well.
Are there any questions?’ the chair asked.
An older professor, not sure of his name, but everyone seemed to know him. Quantitative I think…
‘Where are the statistics about the students? Your title says you were going to be presenting on students!’ he accused me.
My face went red again. I was taking it all in. He didn’t like it. I could tell he didn’t like it. No one in the room said anything. There was stunned silence at the assault. At the question? At me?
Humiliated publically, I stumbled awkwardly, ‘well, it’s a narrative, I mean, it’s presented, or written, as one narrative. There are no statistics on students. It is just the voices.’

Okay, that’s all we have time for at the moment,’ the chair said. Either saving me from further humiliation, or admitting defeat.
Hurt, I retreated to a table at the far side of the room. I wanted to cry, but simply pretended to be busy. I have ruined my career, I thought, what will these people think of me now? Why did I do this?

I went over and over the session on my way home, and none of it good. I should have done this,…if only I had said this… In the end, living through the failed attempt made me realise what my own students must feel. They want to belong as well, and yet I have far less to risk than themselves. If I cannot reflect upon this, and overcome such adversity, why in the world would I expect them to?

Why did I hate myself so? Who is more important? A room full of respected strangers, or my own heart?

I went for a walk that evening, and happened across a set of stain glass windows in the lady chapel in Bath Abbey.
I sat and continued to reflect upon the day. I looked up at the windows. In them, was a familiar reformation scene (even though the windows were not created until the 20th century). The King’s guard or soldiers look as if they are ready to seize control of the church (the knight has his hand on his sword; there are keys with the sword between), and the priests are standing on the other side of the altar with the ‘word of God’ open in defence, golden slippered feet slightly off the ground in the stars.  The caption below states: ‘In memory of Sydney Adolphus Boyd…faithful guardian of this church.’

It must have been courageous indeed to stand up against armed men in defence of the church as you believe it should be. You could have been hanged, burnt at the stake, your very church and all you have worked for desecrated. I have always believed this to be the very epitome of integrity. And yet, on this day, looking at that window, I thought, But why should there not be change, once and while? There must have been an underclass who suffered under the church as well. Why and what are these men guarding? Why should the people not have a say in reforming their church, their own spirituality?

It struck me that there are men guarding my profession as well. They stand with ancient ways in defiance of difference and opposition as well. And these are the men I most fear. I always thought it would be the soldiers I would fear, taking away my church. But as I sit here tonight, my church lies within my heart. It is the traditional guardians I fear more. I fear that they are not open to new members; that myself and my divergent ways are unwelcome.
I fear the opposition to the path I feel, in my heart, is the right way (for myself, if no one else.)
In the end, following one’s heart may be more fraught with fear. Yet, that is why the path less travelled is so rewarding.

In the weeks to come, this series will reflect upon those children’s stories that have guided me in my life. Perhaps the guidance is not always what was originally intended, but a message has assisted me, nevertheless, in the telling.

mercredi 26 juillet 2017

I'd like Pancakes for Breakfast

I’d like pancakes for breakfast
with an orange juice sun and lime sherbet sky.
Bring me the lemon grasses and the
maple syrup streams.
Do you have any bacon tree branches and
black pudding ponds?
I’d love some fragrant green mosses and
massive mushroom munroes;

Yes, I’d like pancakes for breakfast.

mardi 25 juillet 2017

WHW: I am walking home

I am walking home
50 years and 154 km away
Heavy legs dragged by Muddy Ground have kept me
The road in front myself I choose now; no longer walking in someone else’s
I am walking home
Crowds of ferns part to greet me, palms raised in high-fives, clapping me along the way,
Bluebells and buttercups open their glow to light my path
I am walking home
Jock  Tamson’s Bothy is always open, fragrant with peat fire singing, and hot tea for wet feet
The Tortoise may win the race, but the Hare, at least, has paused to share food, enjoy laughter with friends along
the Way
I am walking home
Grandfather’s stone granite braces me in a jumper of rock, shielding me from the edge
Brother Wind nudges me from behind when legs tire, and Sister Rain cools blistering
I am walking home
Grandmother’s long, leafy limbs reach forward in front of me.
I walk down slopes,
she takes my hand and leads me down the rooted steps of
Her home.

I am walking home

samedi 25 février 2017

SharonBergBlog.WordPress on The Artists of Crow County

From SharonBergBlog.WordPress.Com :

What first struck me in this unusual book of poetry is that it wrestles with art in more than one way, providing colour pictures of seven paintings, seven photographs, and two drawings as well as the poems. These colour images set between the texts make for an appealing, if quixotic book. The reader gains a sense of fullness as they move through the pages, the images playing with the reader’s impressions, and interacting with the poems. This book is both chimerical and suggestive, the lines of poetry sometimes suggesting visions.
Kara Ghobhainn Smith is not a simple person. Smith was the Chatham-Kent Writer in Residence for 2016. In addition, working in more than one realm, she is an award winning university teacher, a book review editor, an author of two academic texts and a memoir as a hockey mom, a poet, and a blogger. She is also a devoted wife and a mother, living in the Chatham-Kent district Southern Ontario.
Smith is to be admired for what she has done, working in multiple languages, exploring history and culture in North America and Europe. Her work ‘in the real world’ seems to invade her writing appropriately. She appreciates art as a human expression. She writes involved poetry.
When human beings first began to make art, it was not immediately appreciated as something separate from the utilitarian and ceremonial vessels it adorned. In fact, image-making was understood to be a transfer of mystic powers that were interwoven with day-to-day life and rituals. It took thousands of years for art to be separated from the daily lives of ordinary people. Smith appreciates this, looking backward in the way of an archaeologist, but drawn forward in contemporary exhibitions. She draws upon ideas that paint an older function of art, while weaving her poetic inspiration with descriptions of contemporary, local paintings.
The images she creates are ethereal. There are several poems that evolve with ripe, unusual imagery, use of breath, and juxtaposition (Where Rhinos Fly, Flats♭ and Sharps♯, I’m growing things. A baby and vegetables).
‘I’m growing things. A baby and vegetables’:
First, a wee heart of hemp,
beet by beet with the 
sweet liquid of the sun. 
Innate food of the earth seeping into
small passageways to
transfigure the seed into 
lungs of leek, and carrot-coloured
kidneys, tiny turnip 
branches of our family
(I’m growing things. A baby and vegetables)the-artists-of-crow-county
There are also poems that demonstrate the strength discovered through combining the arts She shows how a painting can inspire fluid poetry through the artist’s interpretation of the visual arts, using the paintings like a map to describe a personal journey:
The movement leaps and
jumps around the altar as the 
colours search for their counter 
points and partners across the 
cave’s centre.
(Melanie Morgana)
Smith demonstrates her skill in using this combination to enrich both the painting and the poem. Yet, it is not only by interpreting the visual arts that Smith demonstrates her own connection with the process of creation. A poem can also offer an interpretation of both the action and the elements that create glass art:
Jason, like Gepetto before him,
gently gathers a gob of swirling 
zygote, like honey on the end of
a wand, turning to keep it latched.
He dips it into a petit bundt
mould, giving it edges, a core
of ridges to form a heart
and life.
(Glass Birth)
One sees a theme in these poems. I found the title of the book evocative. The Chatham-Kent area is resplendent with crows, suggesting part of the reason for the title. While a gathering has poetically been called ‘a murder of crows’, perhaps where large numbers proliferate most other species simply vacate. Crows are drawn to urban centers, using their ability to communicate combined with problem solving to out-pace other species, dominating the area. In the fields of magic and art, crows are credited with mystical importance, much of it associated with dark deeds on All Hallows Eve.
First Nations consider crows to be Keepers of Sacred Laws, a Police force in the natural world, or a Trickster that warns you to beware of deception. Indeed, if Crows have a weakness, it might be their affliction for collecting, their thievery of shiny objects. Science has recently proven the crow is smarter than the average bird – its forebrain organized into clusters rather than layers – the size of its brain compared to body mass distinguishing it among bird species. Yet, Chatham-Kent is not distinguished by large urban centers, which leaves one asking, what is it that draws crows to the region? How has it become known as Crow County?
You will not find the answer to that question in this book. A glance through this book suggests Chatham Kent also has a number of important artist galleries that feature the work of important artists. The poet is not speaking of classic paintings but contemporary art shown in local galleries. She writes about her impressions of a variety of paintings at openings for exhibitions. These facts might suggest a different part of the answer to how the title for this book was arrived at, but simple answers are often not sufficient to tell us why such a reference was created.
There is much to admire in this collection. Smith speaks to specific exhibitions in May, September, October and November 2015 in Chatham-Kent. She includes poems about images shown in local galleries in January, February, March, April, May, June, July, and August 2016. Her social life must be very busy! Throughout this books, she makes references to writers, gallery curators, several species of birds, architecture, the strife of working in education in the past several years, seeing older relatives reflected in her son, the development of her child’s social mask, being a foreigner, wine-making, exotic foods, music, being Canadian, foreign cities, and the making of art. Her poetry, and her personal operation in this world, seem to exist in so many places at once!
There are some rough edges in this collection that slice like paper cuts though. Those slices are a collection of annoyances that add up to something larger, an over sight. I admit to being a stickler for expressing the important truths. It bothers me to find there are inconsistencies with a story that presents itself as a truth. The first poem and painting in the book suggest Smith has tried to provide an answer to the issue of crows in the title. It faces a painting by Leonard Jubenville, who created a snowfield inhabited by crows gathered on A Patch of Grass, with a tree and fallen snow fence. In her poem, Kara Ghobhainn Smith tells us:
Our stake in this
landscape is steadfast.
Faithful as le vieux pays,
for 20 million years we have
watched rows of gladiolus, conifer
and corn reach and recede
alongside the frozen waters
of the Erie-Thames.
(Crow County)
Her poem seems to assert the proper order of things, including the inherent supremacy of plant and animal entitlement to exist in their natural habitats. The problem is that the list of facts she supplies is wrong. Crows existed in North America before settlers arrived, but were found only in the east, their population growing and spreading west with European colonization. In addition, Gladiolus may have appeared in settler gardens, but they are native mostly to Africa with just 10 of 260 species found in Eurasia. What’s more, though corn was developed from a wild grass called teosinte in Central Mexico about 7,000 years ago, it could not have arrived in the Chatham-Kent region until after the retreat of the Ice Age glaciers some 9,000 years ago.kara-smith
Another example of those paper cuts is found in several titled works (e.g., ‘The Canadian’ in Eight Movements) and a few untitled poems (e.g., “She could tell you were English”). I reread those pieces, several times, in an unsuccessful attempt to decipher their meaning. I simply could not find a satisfactory resolution to my questions. Then there is the error in possibilities presented when she says, ignoring the time frame for either gardening or fashion:
Still under,
their smooth white steps
carry children playing,
Potted geraniums or
women in red stilettos.
Expertly unchanged
for 3,000 years.
(Agape Grounded)
Yet, Smith should not be over-looked as a poet She is not afraid to experiment with her phrasing, line breaks, spacing, form, or line direction. At times I am amazed by the beauty in her phrases such as “triggered blood-tie ripples into the world” (I Walk the Hypersurface), “silk-spun eyes” (Homegrown), “in an earth untorn/ by cultural clear-cutting (Splitting Worlds).
Smith is keen to draw on history and bring it forward, to articulate a blend of cultures, and to interweave time gone by with the present as she does when observing that same glassmaker create his art:
Colours are added from the sulphides
and oxides of the Earth: blue
from the cobalt, sun yellow from
the cadmium, and a red of
Mesopotania’s ancient gold
(Glass Birth)
This is a book that is worth the paper cuts. It points to what Kara Ghobhainn Smith will accomplish in the future.
- By Sharon Berg, February 17, 2017