Fractals | Artistry, Magic, and Song

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About five years ago, my friend, international poet and scholar, Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr., published a collection of poetry entitled Fractal Song. I have yet to speak with Ward about the title of the collection. I assumed it was connected to his interest (and degree) in mathematics. If you’ve been paying attention, you know my relationship with mathematics is an only-when-necessary one. For that reason, I gave the title and cover (which features a fractal) only cursory acknowledgment until I started playing around with my own fractal art.

The poems, which deal primarily with Black experience, possess cadences akin to traditional Black music forms–jazz and blues and maybe, even hip hop. At times, the words mimic the woeful whine of a saxophone, just grazing the deep ache of our longing. At other times, the poems hit the wry tone and rhythm of blues. Reality is matter-of-fact. We note it and we find ways to go on, laughing to keep from crying. Then, there is in some of the poems the flippant, unapologetic, unvarnished truth-telling, which makes hip hop so appealing.

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The word fractal has its roots in the Latin fract-, “broken” from the verb “frangere,” which means to break. When I look closely at the fractals created from my photographs, I notice there is a slight break or opening that begins or disrupts (?) the pattern, so I’ve been thinking about the etymology of the word and how it impacts my reading of Ward’s poems.

There is much in Fractal Songs that opens and “breaks.” Traditional and experimental lines break. Time breaks as the poet traverses various historical and literary moments. And, certainly, there is his handling of much that is dark and broken in the African American (particularly) male experience.

Ward’s poems will not leave one feeling warm and fuzzy, as some expect when they encounter poetry. The poems in the collection are gritty and rugged. However, like fractals, there is artistry, beauty, and magic–even in the brokenness.


fractal song coverYour Voice
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

It’s a magic thing
Sun and rain and poetry
Flooding in my memory,
But all I can remember
Is how you got over
A deep river
With amazing grace
And cursed your blues
With natural rhythms.

A Moment with Eric Carle

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar story is about hope. You, like the little caterpillar, will grow up, unfold your wings and fly off into the future. –Eric Carle

Beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Eric Carle, passed away May 23 at 91 years of age, but I learned of his passing just this morning. I spent today’s joy break revisiting Carle’s books and illustrations and thinking about moments I spent with my little one reading and rereading his books. I even listened to the recording of my son “reading” Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (1967) that I mentioned in a 2018 post (linked below).

It’s sad that we lost Carle, but it heartens me to know that he will live on and on through his works and in the memories of generations who were mesmerized by his colorful books.

If you’d like just a little more of Eric Carle, here are two more posts which feature Carle’s work:

Take a moment to (re)visit Carle’s work this weekend and have joy!

The Sacred | #PocketPoem

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Image by Lisa Runnels from Pixabay

I’m back with a poem in my pocket!

What am I carrying? “The Sacred” by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Stephen Dunn. The poem speaks plainly and authentically about an everyday occurrence in which we (can) find a small, sacred moment of freedom.

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

Life gets so busy, so complicated, so crazy at times that I look forward to those small moments in the car alone with my thoughts, my music, my podcasts. One of my colleagues gets in her car and drives to a parking lot to get work done. I get it. That cramped space with windows “uncurtained” is the perfect hiding place from the world.

Did you share a poem on your blog today? Be sure to drop your link in the “Comments” section below.

Student Post 9: The Eye

Image by Gerd Altman on Pixabay.

We’ve reached the final “student post.” In Student Post 7 I mentioned that sometimes the students’ blog posts start with an exercise in class. One such exercise was “stream-of-consciousness” writing for 3-5 minutes in response to an image by Hipgnosis artists, Thorgeson and Powell, who designed cover art for English rock band Pink Floyd.

To see the image, click here >>>–The Eye–in the blog post, Ten Artists Who Will Change the Way You Think.

To read my students’ writing on the image, click the links below:

If you missed any of the student blog posts, be sure to backtrack and read all of them. You will find their blogs delightful, and they’ll be encouraged that you dropped by to read and say hello!

Student Post 3: Three Poems and a Tea

Red and White TulipsThe weather is not being nice to me today [imagine that in a whiney four-year-old voice]! We went from gorgeous, breezy, 80-degree (Fahrenheit) days to a chilly, windy 30/40-degree day!

The temperature thwarted my plans to take long walks between tasks and classes, but it gave me an opportunity to pause, sip tea, and read poetry. Don’t you want to join me?

Well, just grab a cup of your favorite tea and settle in.

I am sharing a few poems written by Na’veh of The Bloggings of V.  Na’veh is one of our department’s most prolific poets, the self-proclaimed favorite student, and my homegirl (from NOLA).

Here are three of her poems–because poems should be read in threes:

If you need more poetry for your tea, you can find Na’veh on her blog or at thewritingsofv on Instagram, where she shares her poetry with complementary imagery.


About the Image: The red and white tulips are from one of my very early spring walks. I was surprised to see the “field” of tulips in a hardly peopled area of campus. Na’veh selected the tulips for this post because she “loves roses.” [Inside joke] 😉

The Sistren: Their Words Filled Me

“The Sistren: Black Women Writers at the Inauguration of America’s First Sister President.” Photo: (c)
Susan J. Ross. 1988. Used by permission.

Can you name these women?

I cannot remember life without these sister-poets and writers. It seems their words have been with me all my life.

I was young–a preteen in most cases–when I was introduced to Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mari Evans, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Cade Bambara. I don’t remember how I came to meet them, other than through my thirst for books, which often led me to my mother’s or older siblings’ book collections.

I encountered others later–when I was in college and in graduate school. I even met some of them in person.

Their names and words became part of my literary vocabulary, reserved for sacred moments, quiet time. Me and my sister writers. Their words filled me and spoke to an experience akin to my own–of black women speaking, loving, empowering–alive and thriving in their own spaces.

Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’ —Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South, 1892


How many did you know? Top Row: Louise Meriwether, Pinkie Gordon Lane, Johnnetta Cole and Paula Giddings. Middle Row: Pearl Cleage, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Toni Cade Bambara. Bottom Row: Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Mari Evans

Many thanks to photographer Susan Ross [website] who gave me permission to share her photo on my blog. You can find also find her on Instagram and Twitter @photogriot.

“In This Here Place…”

Emilio Cruz. Figurative Composition #7, 1965, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection, 1980.137.21

We are nearing the end of discussion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in one of my classes. My favorite part of the novel (and perhaps the reason I love it so much) is the sermon Baby Suggs, holy delivers in the Clearing. Instead of an actual Bible verse, love is her text. To those newly loosed [one way or another] from the chains and nightmare of slavery it is a reminder of their humanity and a call to release the atrocities of the past and imagine a new reality. After exorcising their demons through dance, laughter, and tears, Baby Suggs delivers a love letter to their beautiful souls. For me, this is the most powerful part of the book:

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.  –Toni Morrison, Beloved

I cannot locate a quality clip of Beah Richard’s phenomenal [understatement] performance of the second part [above] of Baby Sugg’s sermon, but here’s the first part.


About the Image: The artwork featured above is the work of Emilio Cruz, an African American artist of Cuban descent. You can see more of his work by clicking the link. It is one of the postcards in Paintings by African-Americans from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Berries.

I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them reason enough and–I wish to live. –Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

“A Valentine”

A Valentine (1906)
Priscilla Jane Thompson

Out of the depths of a heart of love,
     Out of the birth-place of sighs,
Freighted with hope and freighted with fear,
     My all in a valentine, hies.
     Oh, frail little missive
            Of delicate texture,
     Speed thee, on thy journey,
            And give her a lecture! 

Fathom her heart, that seems to me, cold,
     Trouble her bosom, as mine,
Let it be mutual, this that I crave,
     Her ‘yes’ for a valentine.
     Oh, frail little missive,
            In coy Cupid’s keeping,
     Oh! speed back a message,
            To set my pulse leaping.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Focus on Black: Click the link and learn a bit about Priscilla Jane Thompson.

Favorite Moments of 2020

My blogging friend, Akilah of The Englishist, recently posted her favorite moments of 2020. I’m “stealing” her idea because I think we all need a reminder that despite the icky, crazy of this year, there is also a lot of good. Plus, as you know, I love making lists.

So here are some of my favorite moments of the year of (mostly) sheltering-in-place and almost running out of toilet paper.

Trip to New Orleans. Along with my dad’s three sisters, the guys and I visited New Orleans and returned to ‘Bama just before the Coronavirus outbreak. It was a desperately needed trip for all of us. I am so glad we were able to see my parents and some of my siblings before the pandemic forced us all to stay put. I am missing them like crazy, so I’d probably be out of my mind if we hadn’t taken that short trip.

Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project. As you read in an earlier post, I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook to Brooklyn Arts Library. Here’s the link to my mini sketchbook of doodles and quotes if you’re interested: #facethesun: Sunflower and Her Friends.

Try not to judge me too harshly. I’m so not a sketch artist. I didn’t realize I should have only doodled on the front of the pages. I’m definitely going to participate again, with a full-size book and my photography—the art medium with which I’m most comfortable.

Book Talk. Literally two days before the University decided to transition to online learning because of the pandemic, I had the pleasure of coordinating a panel discussion on the book, When Saints Sing the Blues for Wednesday night services at the University church. It was well-attended and well-received. I enjoyed listening to the stories of each of the panelists and speaking with attendees afterwards.

Lettering with the Creator of Cuteness.  Thanks to the gift of time due to the pandemic, I joined Creative Hand Lettering and Doodling with Lindsay. For the first couple of months (or so), I watched Lindsay’s informative and humorous live videos, practiced lettering, and downloaded her free Corona coloring pages and other goodies. The photograph to the left features one of my first projects. The assignment was to use “tinker toy” lettering with a line from a song. This was the perfect creative outlet for our “Corona times.” I don’t have much time to view Lindsay live, but a friend gave me a gift of the workbook, Creative Hand Letter with Lindsay, so I practice whenever I get a chance.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff, who coordinates Love Notes, also hosts Write Together, Art Journaling, and other classes. I joined Write Together one evening, and it was such a healing, soul-filling experience that I rode the high for weeks. Life got in the way for a few weeks and when I found time again, I felt a little weird about joining after having missed so much. If Jennifer continues to host next year, I hope to join at least twice a month.

Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt. My son’s (middle school) teachers assigned a “pandemic-style” scavenger hunt for the students. They had to find a list of items in their own neighborhoods. We had fun running (and driving) up and down the street looking for the items, and of course, I took advantage and captured some roses.

Eighth Grade Graduation. My not-so-little one “graduated” from 8th grade! So many things were canceled for the students, but the school administrators decided to hold a scaled-down graduation program with social distancing measures in place. It was held in July–almost two months after the planned date–but we were all so happy for this moment of celebration and to see other people! 🙂 My son, as class president, delivered an excellent speech. This was a proud Mommy (and Daddy) moment.

Spectrum Publication. One of my blog posts was reprinted in Spectrum Magazine (online).

The Chair. I accepted the role of Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages. This isn’t exactly a moment, but a shift. I’d served as department chair at another university for several years. I’d also served in other administrative capacities, but even though I enjoy administrative work, I’d made a decision not to go down that road again (for many sound reasons). God had other plans and He let me know very clearly in a moment that can only be described as an epiphany. I don’t know [yet] why He called me to this task, but I promised to walk in obedience, so here I am.

Three Sundays with David Whyte. David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, hosts poetry seminars via Zoom, typically three Sundays in a month. I participated in three–The Courage in Poetry (April); Just Beyond Yourself (May); and Half a Shade Braver (September). In each session, he shared poetic wisdom, stories about his travels, anecdotes about his friend John O’Donohue, his own poetry and the poetry of others. The sessions were life-changing, and I wrote so much poetry as a result.

A Moment with Raven. One of my former students, Raven, came into town to visit family, and she took a moment out to visit me! We met just outside campus at the Farmer’s Market. It did my heart good to see her and know she is doing well! Of course, I tried to get her to leave California and come and work with me, but she makes more than we can pay her. :-/

Sunflowers in My Backyard. My guys planted sunflowers right outside my office window. I watched them grow from seedlings to 6-7 feet tall. They brought so much joy to my days. The sunflower pictured here was the first to bloom. I have many, many more to share, but it’s so difficult to choose!

Moulin Rouge. You read about my encounter with the Moulin Rouge sunflower in an earlier post. This might be one of my top ten favorite moments of the decade.

Sunflowers in My Mailbox. Sunflowers in my mailbox always create a “favorite” moment, and my friends have kept me and my mailbox happy with sunflowers. In addition to the lovely cards and postcards, I received a number of sunflower packages–a boxful of sunflower goodies from my bestie, a personalized sunflower Starbucks cup from my “niece,” Christian, sunflower stickers from Raven, a package full of sunflower postcards from Debbie T, and a beautiful sunflower teapot from Christine B, two of my Love Notes friends.

Christmas Card Lane. I shared the Christmas Card Lane experience a couple of days ago. I needed that strong dose of Christmas joy.

When the year started, we had grand plans, but before many of those plans could be executed, without much warning, everything changed. Instantly. For everyone. In the entire world. As the days rolled on, things got stranger and more complicated and more twisted, and here we are at the end of all that crazy. And I am grateful for these favorite moments and for the many, many beautiful, everyday moments of 2020–(almost) nightly movie nights with my guys, Zoom calls with family, long walks, putting up lights and balloons for birthdays, trying new vegan recipes, opening a mailbox full of happy mail, drive-by visits with relatives and friends, singing and praying with my guys, listening to them play various instruments, and church services in pajamas.

I’m not sure what next year will hold, but “I know Who holds the future.” Therefore, I am looking forward to new moments–ordinary, extraordinary, and beautiful.