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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lake Michigan: lines and curves, with Beat poet William Everson

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I hope you enjoyed a beautiful Christmas and are resting warmly in the afterglow, as I am. Stay snug and comfortable while I share some scenes of winter here.

In our world that is filled with straight and rigid lines constructed by men, it is needful to find balance in the feminine, curving complement of Nature. In their rectangular New York apartment my daughter and her husband grow a pot of basil, its mouth-leaves open to the sun on a wide kitchen windowsill. Nearly all the concrete streets of our towns and cities are softened by trees, their round domes curling up and down curb-shores as if avenues are rivers. Trees grow straight, like roads and buildings, yet they are simultaneously round in girth and leaves.

Nowhere could the contrast between Man’s straight architecture and Nature’s roundness be more evident than at Lake Michigan a week ago. I walked the woods and beaches of Grand Haven and Hoffmaster, up and down hilly dunes that rise like a woman’s hips (and I felt the strain in mine). At Grand Haven (photos below), the yardstick-straight concrete pier with its iron catwalk reaches out into the teal water with a cherry red light tower in the middle and lighthouse keeper’s cottage at the end. The pier withstands violent storms, and sadly people have been swept away while walking there. (I posted photos of a more dramatic winter scene three years ago here.) Even on the man-made pier, Nature festoons circular knobs and curlicues on the steel. Waves curl around metal. Sand, water, wind and freezing temperatures wrinkle and pile circular sculptures on the beach.  I find man-made structures more intriguingly beautiful when Nature has weathered them with her own patina.

There is a poet of the Pacific Northwest who respected Nature and tried to live in its rhythms as much as a person can.  William Everson (1912-1994) spent three lifetimes writing about Nature's seasons and the tension between man and Nature -- three lifetimes because he dramatically changed his circumstances twice, leaving a secular life to become a Dominican monk – “Brother Antoninus” -- and then returning to secular life again. He was haunted by the violence we are susceptible to in the world of Nature, and in our own hearts; he was a conscientious objector in WWII. After becoming a monk and one of the original Renaissance Poets – which came to be known as the Beat poets (he was “the Beat friar”) -- he began the third part of his life when just after taking vows for the priesthood, he publicly read his love poem to a woman “Tendril in the Mesh,” threw off his monk’s robe, and chose Nature's dance with her as his spiritual practice. William Everson, aka Brother Antoninus, was a farmer, a fine-press printer, and the only monk among the Beat poets. Everson’s poems remained often erotic and mystical throughout the phases of his life, including the period in the Dominican order. (He famously and controversially wrote erotic poems about his soul's relationship with God, as shown in Dark god of Eros.) There is a very nice bio of him at the Poetry Foundation site here. A few of Everson's poems that can be found online are here.

I'll post one lovely poem of Everson's.


San Joaquin
by William Everson

This valley after the storms can be beautiful beyond the telling,
Though our city-folk scorn it, cursing heat in the summer and drabness in winter,
And flee it—Yosemite and the sea.
They seek splendor, who would touch them must stun them;
The nerve that is dying needs thunder to rouse it.

I in the vineyard, in green-time and dead-time, come to it dearly,
And take nature neither freaked nor amazing,
But the secret shining, the soft unutterable sundowns;
And love as the leaf does the bough.


Accompanying Lake Michigan photos from last week I'd like to share a further peek into Everson’s mind-heart, from a book transcription of his “meditations” presented in his year-long course on the poet’s call he taught at Kresge College (UCSC) in the 1970s. The book is titled Birth of a Poet, and these quote-meditations are from Chapter two: Identity. At the foundation of my writing life in the early 1990s, this book helped give shape to my own poet identity, as well as my perspective of Nature and its rhythms.

I would be remiss if I did not mention how very present George's images of beauty in unexpected places were in my mind this day at the beach. If you have not yet visited George's blog Transit Notes, I highly recommend it for more along these lines (and curves) of living in rhythm with Nature.
 



“Cyclical time is very jealous of itself. When you enter its world of myth and dream, of ritual and wonder, there is an innate revulsion from the processes of linear time.”




“Often, the most profound signature of cyclical time, the spoken voice, simply won’t communicate into linear pattern of print. . . . The page simply can’t register what the voice is saying.”




“When your whole life is structured around winning and losing as key to identity it becomes, literally, a crucifixion.”





“Emily Dickinson wasn’t mad, because she possessed her vocation. It enabled her to skate on the brink of insanity, yet retain her complete integrity. All the hell the Victorians were trying to deny through the accumulation of wealth, she lived out in her beautifully skeptical intelligence. She took nothing for granted, but possessed the sovereign right to see everything to its essential core.”





“Even after eighteen years in a monastery, I can’t claim to be an angelic man. I don’t have the particular kind of vision called the angelic intelligence. I am a sensual man, and my sensual needs become the law of my being. I live out the physical vibration as the impulse of my life, and through its exercise, rather than its denial, I fulfill what I am. That’s a terrible thing. And a terrible beauty.”



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“All great art is gauged on that dimension, and, setting aside the collective liturgies, and the detachment of contemplation, it is the most direct means we have of bringing us back into harmony. Art is the aperture through which we slip inside the threshold, momentarily at least, to gain a vision of the two points of view as they come together.”




"I am trembling a bit just going through all of this in my head. I'm like an escapee who trembles when he reapproaches the Iron Curtain, with all its barb wire, electrical charges, and hidden explosives. But the Iron Curtain is really only a symbol of that threshold. We must penetrate it in order to obtain our wholeness, our beatitude. You possess both worlds within you, they are each yours by right. You must not let that outside world, with its emphasis on the linear, deny you your deeper self, which is of the cyclical mode. Your course in life must always be to hold both realms in your being. Your vocation is the process by which you bring them together."


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59 comments:

Sarah Lulu said...

Oh how lovely that photo of the pier with the red lighthouse and snow!

I can't imagine the snow like that at the water's edge. I hope I get to see that one day.

xx

Abraham Lincoln said...

I can't imagine the cold off that lake. Whew. The photos are lovely. I can't deal with such beauty in one dose. Got to take it slowly. Love it.

kamana said...

that looks mighty cold.. but so beautiful. lovely words to go with them.

Bonnie said...

Ruth, this is an inspiring post on so many levels. I have taken note of the book, as it seems like one I must possess!

Love Everson's words:
"Art is the aperture through which we slip inside the threshold, momentarily at least, to gain a vision of the two points of view as they come together." Art truly is a process of 'slipping through a threshold'. I intend to do a bit of slipping today!

I have always felt that the 'secret shining and the unutterable' of the romantic and the sexual (as well, of course, of Nature) can be a door to the spiritual. I was inspired and amused to read that Everson knew there were many ways to 'worship' -and had the courage to sip from many cups!

The texture and depth in your photographs reflects beautifully the range of topics you have provided for us to ponder. Thank you.

The Solitary Walker said...

Sorry I've not more time to comment in greater detail - and it deserves a long and considered evaluation - but I found this post absolutely terrific ...

kenju said...

Phenomenal images!

Raquel said...

Just beautiful--in word and image. Lake Michigan is really the only thing I miss about living there. What a beautiful place all up and down the coastline.

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, Ah Lake Michigan in winter, nothing better. Dave and i have walked thru the Grand Haven woods, it is a nice hike. Beautiful town. YOur photos are just superb and make me want to visit GH again.The poem inspirational. I have never been one for a linear look or for that matter reading linear works. As i get older it is more of a consideration for me as i can now see the beauty in more things and am more open towards it.

George said...

What a fabulous posting, Ruth! I loved the the brief biographical sketch of Everson, and the poem and quotes you provided were magnificent and thought-provoking. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but I seem to recall seeing some photos of Everson in a recent show of Allen Ginsberg's photos at the National Gallery of Art.

Thanks for the the link and compliments on some of my abstract photos. If my work did anything to inspire yours, I am overwhelmed because these new photos of yours are among your best, and they reflect a new sense of daring. Each is beautifully composed, and I love the way they are unified with the browns, greys, and blacks of winter. Your soul and spirit can be seen in these photos, no less than in your always fine writing.

J.G. said...

It's my own prejudice, but the organic forms are so much more beautiful! Lovely photos! I feel like I've been there (without the chill).

Margaret Bednar said...

Took my breath away, this post of yours today. So much to contemplate. Everson is interesting, and I have to think about why he took vows when he knew inside it wasn't for him... Will come back when I have a bit more time. Still have to post our thoughts (Will's and mine) about your previous post!

Char said...

lovely shots and how brave you are for braving the cold cold shore for this beauty. it reminds me that i've grown rather soft and lazy that i don't dash out to embrace this light flurry activity we are having.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

This is an enthralling post in every way, Ruth. The photographs are absolutely stunning and reward each new look with fresh revelations. Some, indeed, stike me as "abstract expressionism" at its finest and thus make for a fine continuum with the post on George's Transit Notes that you link to. It takes a sentient eye to see such beauty around us.

As for Everson, I first heard of him from you in a recent exchange and the quotes you bring here stike me as bright little lights on a path that will lead me to the books you cite. In the poem, I particularly like the idea of taking nature neither as "freaked or amazing", but rather feel comfortably at one with its marvels as with the soft and unutterable "secret shining" of the sundown

Ruth said...

Sarah, you are headed to the coast in Australia, quite a different prospect!

Ruth said...

Hi, Abraham, yes, at the pier in Grand Haven it was bitterly cold, with a biting wind. Thank you for your kindness.

Ruth said...

Kamana, it was very cold, especially when I got down on my knees . . . :)

Ruth said...

Bonnie, thank you.

I feel that this life and the manifestations we encounter have parallels in the soul. Everson lived trying to dissolve the boundaries between worlds, and that seems a beautiful task.

I'm pleased that you found much in his words that resonate, and that you enjoyed the photos.

Ruth said...

Robert, thank you for pausing to tell me your initial response to the post. I look forward to the results of that "long and considered evaluation" very much.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Kenju!

Patricia said...

Ruth, your post today is a thoughtful and beautiful gift. The images of ice on the pier are sublime. Curves and diagonals are always good partners.

Ruth said...

Hello, Raquel. As much as other parts of the world call to me, I don't know if I could ever permanently leave Lake Michigan. In fact I wouldn't mind living closer . . .

Thank you for your kind comment.

Ruth said...

Hello, Cathy. Do you know I believe I've been to Grand Haven and Hoffmaster more in the winter than in the summer. I mean to get there more often in all the seasons now. There is a little java place downtown I enjoy . . .

I appreciate your comment, and I was struck by your response at the time of your son's wedding, how non-linear and non-stressed you were, letting it flow in the moment. It was beautiful.

Ruth said...

George, I thank you for your very kind enthusiasm. I'm sure it's quite possible that a photo of the Beat Friar would be among Ginsberg's photos at the show. In fact Ginsberg looked a bit like him at times in his long flowing beard.

I feel just as pleased at your response to my photos as if I had just finished a photography course with you as instructor, and you had given me an A, because with each composition and extra attention to point of view I had your photos in mind as a standard. Thank you, Sensei. :)

Susan said...

All of the photos are astounding, Ruthie, but that one right under the quote ".....The page simply can't register what the voice is saying" is...I can't even find words to describe it. I can't tell up from down and it looks more like a detailed watercolor than a photo. You should enter it into a contest, because it would win, hands down. "The page simply can't register" the perfection of that picture.

I didn't know about Everson, but he sounds like a fascinating person and I want to learn more about him and read more of his poetry.

Just when I think you couldn't possibly get any better at photography, you prove me wrong.

Ruth said...

Margaret, thank you, I'm glad you found something here to contemplate.

Apparently Everson had a profound and intense religious experience in church on Christmas Eve in 1948 that led him to become a monk. It was not until 1969, after two decades as a monk, when he was to take vows as a priest that he also found himself in love with a woman and he knew he must return to that possibility secular life where he could be with a woman.

Ruth said...

Char, the first outing in Grand Haven was bitterly cold, and I felt daunted. I warmed myself at a favorite coffee shop with corn chowder, and then I was ready to head back out, this time into the protected woods of Hoffmaster. By then the temperature was a perfect 30 F for a winter hike. Thank you for your kind comment.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I feel very gratified that you find these photos "worthy" of George's post on beauty in ordinary and unexpected places. I only want to do justice to the inspiration I have found in all his photographs, and especially the ones that are abstract. I've told him I would like to see his in book format.

This poem "San Joaquin" touches me in its simplicity and restraint, as much as in its point of view. It's an instance when form reflects meaning, and I admire him for it more than I can say. And like you, I also feel that his prose pulls me into wanting more of his mind-heart. I'm so glad you find him special too.

Ruth said...

Patricia, thank you for adding your artist's eye to this post, and for your kind words.

Ruth said...

Susie, how kind you are! You touch me with your enthusiasm. I think you chose my favorite of the photos too. I am so grateful for a camera so that I can share the beauty of that place where I was all alone, and no one else to say, ohhhh, look at that (and ohhhh, it's so cold . . . :).

Everson is such an interesting character! I wrote a paper about him in college, wish I could find it.

Happy New Year, my friend.

Gwen Buchanan said...

oh what beauty greets my eyes when I come to visit you Ruth.. everything so Gorgeous .. all the best..

Terresa said...

Stunning, solitary, gorgeous, as only winter beauty can be.

Merry post-Christmas buzz.

Dutchbaby said...

It is clear you have entered The Zone, dear Ruth. The Zone where you belong. You mentioned in previous posts that poetry has been tumbling out of you and now your photos are tumbling right behind. Breathtaking! My favorites: your opening photo, Susie's favorite plus the two that bracket it, and the one with the feathers. The lighting on the last two are also wonderful. Brava!

I was not familiar with Everson. Very interesting reading - like Muir meets Ginsberg.

Oh said...

whew! what a trip, looking at your photos! egads, they go beyond what they actually are, don't they? beyond ice and dirt and a feather and cold stalactites.
Just wonderful.

Don't know how I don't know about Everson. Intrigued, I am! also by his poem that you shared here. The line about the nerve being awoken only by thunder.


Such wonderful real stuff.
hello and hugs to you and yours in this beautiful holiday season and may the Merry in everyone's Christmas extend throughout the rest of the year and in the coming ones.

PS Here's a poet referral "swap":(take a time out to listen to listen to Dylan Thomas' CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES (it's on CD)if you haven't already because I'm sure his language and details will make your head spin with delight - it's just so darn rich and so ...right.)

Oliag said...

When I am really touched by a post I have a hard time commenting on it...funny huh? It seems so little to just say I loved your photos! I am very attracted to what appears to be abstract paintings and sculptures in photos...the beauty in what is not normally considered beautiful...peeling paint, rust, ice...

Somehow I never heard of William Everson...each of his quotes is worthy of a long "think"...and the poem you shared...well he may be talking about the California farmland but his appreciation of the less flamboyant touches me....like my love of the female cardinal's colors...

What a beautiful cold icy field trip you took all by yourself!

Julie said...

Ruth , I love that last picture of Lake Michigan, thats how I of think of it. Thanks for posting. Julie in Holland ...

partialview said...

Ah! Now I know how and why your posts have such expressive images! It has to be your interest in photography (your previous blog) and your D40! Lovely views and beautiful words and images, as always, Ruth!

Amy @ Soul Dipper said...

This takes my breath away, Ruth. Colour, words, character, cold, contrasts...

Thank you for feeding me today!

Ginnie said...

This trip must have been Thanksgiving and Christmas all wrapped up in one, Sister. I can just see you with your camera, in awe...and capturing it. I loved the feathers, too, but all the images are of another world...one we don't see often enough.

I read this Emerson quote, “When your whole life is structured around winning and losing as key to identity it becomes, literally, a crucifixion,” and thought, how very true. When will we ever learn to just be human...like Mother Nature is!

Ruth said...

Gwen, thank you . . . and the truth is, you bring beauty with you.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Terresa. I do enjoy winter solitary, with an occasional romp in the snow with loved ones.

I hope you are enjoying wonderful times with your family.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, thank you so much. There were so many interesting beach sculptures that if it weren't for the cold I would have tried to capture more. The ones you like were shot in a small radius the size of your dining room. The last two were my view after the long walk through the Hoffmaster woods, my legs and hips aching from the ups and downs and slippery slopes, and coming up over the dune . . . there was the lake, and the sun reflecting warmly.

"Muir meets Ginsberg" . . .yes. I envy you your locale, though I love Michigan. My hikes in northern California and southern Oregon told me enough to know why Everson loved the Pacific northwest.

Ruth said...

Oh, you've paid me a grand visit, thank you.

Yes, all that ice and sand created little universes that I could only begin to explore, as I was daunted by the cold.

Don't feel bad not knowing Everson. Not many are familiar, I find. I was lucky that a friend gave me Birth of a Poet when I first started writing. He also used the same press as my poetry mentor: Black Sparrow Press (also Charles Bukowski's), which is now defunct, sadly. I'm glad you like the poem too, and yes, that is a great line.

Your New York Christmas was tantalizing and has prepared me for a couple of days in the Windy City with just the right anticipation.

The book of Dylan Thomas' that you mentioned is fresh on my mind, after Garrison Keillor quoted from it Christmas week. I was so taken with the language, humor and point of view! I haven't read anything so delightful in a very long time. Then I remembered that I have that volume, another book gift from a friend, and I looked high and low for it and have not found it yet. :( I wonder if it's in a Christmas tub . . .

Ruth said...

Oliag, you and I share so much . . . finding what is beautiful in ordinary things, and finding ordinary things beautiful, and appreciating restraint. It's lovely to share these things with you, knowing our hearts hum in the same key.

Ruth said...

Julie, thank you for visiting Michigan through my post. I hope you are enjoying your wintry Netherlands.

Ruth said...

Hello, Priya. Yes, the D40 and I go back a ways, but I am afraid I use her mostly as a point-and-shoot, so I feel a bit sheepish. My friend George is a true photographer. Thank you for your kind visit.

Ruth said...

Amy, it is a good day when I've fed another soul. Thank you for your kind visit.

Ruth said...

Boots, I thought those feathers told quite a story.

Everson's whole chapter of meditations on identity is replete with that sort of quiet wisdom that comes from experience. Contemplating Nature daily is one way to let the win-lose structure of Society slip on by.

Thank you, Boots.

Margaret Bednar said...

The quote Ginne uses up above is lovely. Have been thinking about Emerson these past few days and what an extra struggle he had in his life. To have to make a choice between two such things one feels strongly about, I can't imagine. It is too bad the Catholic Church does not allow priests to marry. It is after all, a discipline, not a doctrine. I won't debate it over the blogosphere and I guess you feel the same, but I have come to a point in my life where I don't follow blindly in religious matters anymore. I admit, I have limited knowledge of religious matters, but I do investigate and question and have to, in the end, go with what my reasoning. And I am open to other views and don't expect everyone to believe my views. With all that said, I am Catholic (I have been told by some that I am not ... Gotta love it) but as long as I can search my heart and know I have done my best to follow my conscience, not what others think I should do, then that is the best I can do.

I will have to get my hands on a copy of Emerson's work. Do you know there was a time (maybe 8 years ago or so) I would have been afraid to read his work. My previous comment about his vows was just wondering why, if he had such strong feelings for the woman, he took the vows. But I have a feeling it was quite complicated.

Will commented below on your "poetic avalanche" ... My interpretation was a bit like Will's - I found an undercurrent that wasn't so warm and fuzzy. A facade so to speak, that the joyous season doesn't stay with us and extend out into the far corners of world like it really is meant to.

sonia a. mascaro said...

So beautiful photos of winter, Ruth! Lovely words too!

Happy New Year!
Feliz Ano Novo!

Loring Wirbel said...

I was totally unaware of Everson as a Beat until your essay. Thank you. And the photos, the photos, the photos....

Barb said...

Your images of water sand, and rock in all their different forms is a lovely photo essay. Sometimes, focusing on the particular gives a new perspective. Happy New Year, Ruth.

rauf said...

first thing that crossed my mind was Benoit Mandelbrot. Very stunning designs of nature, hidden from the common eye, only you can see it Ruth.

Jeanie said...

You have captured again with such elegance and grace the beauty and complexity of our world - and how those who understand it can so eloquently communicate that. I am unfamiliar with Everson and look forward to learning more about him.

Sending you warm post holiday wishes. You know -- I know this part of our state -- its west shore -- is so dazzling regardless of season. But by introducing it to the many who read your work -- well, it just makes me feel good to know they are seeing the Michigan we see -- not the empty factories and desolate cities. It is beautiful -- and no one captures it better.

Sandy said...

So beautiful and no wonder the great lakes are called another ocean...

This was a wonderful post Ruth, I enjoyed it. And I was cozy the whole time reading it and seeing the icy cold images.

Bella Rum said...

Oh, my. It looks so cold. I can't imagine. Beautiful photos.

Pauline said...

What a splendid post! Thanks for the imagery both of camera and of imagination.

deb said...

Can a person have Stendhal syndrome from a blog post?

Vagabonde said...

Your words and pictures are truly beautiful. I wish that people who are not interested in nature and the environment would read your blog and look at your photos so they could appreciate the beauty of our planet. Alas they will not and I am afraid for the future of nature. I just heard that a highway is planned through the Serengeti which will destroy 75% of wildlife and stop the great migration. This road is needed to get easily to the material needed for cell phones, I do not see this on the front pages of newspapers and I worry.

Brendan said...

Ruth, this is exquisite in a dozen ways -- your fine introductory comments, Everson's poem, your beach in winter photos, the quotes from Everson's prose ... Now I remember him. I attended Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington for my consecutive years of schooling, and my poetry prof was seeped in poets of the Northwest. It's how I got to love Roethke, and I recall him reading some of Everson's poems, as well as William Stafford. The line from "San Joaquin" that soars is "The nerve that is dying needs thunder to rouse it" and contrasts so wildly with the next line, "I in the vineyard, in green-time and dead-time, come to it dearly," which makes me think of slow monastic life. Did you know there is a monestery in Three Rivers, Michigan? My father made several retreats there and I went along once. The world-deep silence of those who had taken that vow was as strong as the scent of incense in the chapel where I attended matins and vespers ... Those beach images are stunning, so full of the rural roundness of the heart ... I absolutely loved Everson's observation on Emily Dickenson that she "wasn't mad, because she possessed her vocation": reminds me of Jung's distinction between James Joyce and his made daughter Lucia, where the former dove to where the latter drowned ... The last two images in this post are absolute postcards ... how I love the beach in winter .. Dark God of Eros is now on my list -- Thanks so much for this gift! I feel like last night's moonlight somehow gave birth to this. Such is life in the quantum blue! - Brendan