Guard Your Wildness
When Performers Swim, The Dice Are Cast
Poems by Judy Katz-Levine
When performers swim, the dice are cast sounds like a piano
doing ragtime. Echo of the voice of a clown across the sea.
When performers laugh, the trees whistle as if hearing.
Jugglers on sand dunes remember.
When performers tango, stages turn into bridges. An aster in
a garden blooms.
When performers teach, a taut drum vibrates. A Native
American flute holds its breath, then come the long notes
haunting an audience.
When performers die, the oceans leap up and keen as seals
emerge and fly.
c.2009 Judy Katz-Levine
You can order this chapbook,
“When Performers Swim, The Dice Are Cast”, poems by Judy Katz-Levine
Small Press Distribution
1341 Seventh Street
Berkeley, CA 94710-1409
Writers get asked the same questions a lot. Do you write on a computer? With a pencil? It is possible to answer these politely, but really I don’t find this to be of any serious concern.
Recently I had the good fortune to be asked some very different questions.
KIRPAL GORDON: I first discovered your poems in the indie magazines of the late Seventies and early Eighties. Your lines produce a sense of the profound and what knocks me out about your style is that, though it seems inspired by Asian meditation practice, it’s “just so” without the cultural “scaffolding,” as if you’d grokked a tao-buddha-nondual appreciation of life in a hard-won American voice, the antidote to fawning imitation and authoritative replication. Philip Whalen once said that religions get weirder the further they travel from their home, but I wonder if you aren’t giving meditation practice a good name by not putting “legs on a snake.”
MIRIAM SAGAN: First of all, thank you. What a great thing to say. Phil Whalen was a very important person in my life. My then husband Robert Winson (died 1995) and I came to Santa Fe in 1984 along with Phil–they were setting up a zendo. Phil needed cossetting–he wanted to eat hamburgers and watch Dr. Who on BBC. We spent several years carting him about. He was never a teacher in a formal sense, but I learned a lot from him. He’d mark lines in my poems he hated with skulls and crossbones.
But what you are noticing is that I had some poetic practice before I ever encountered Buddhism. As a child I’d had raw experiences of just sort of accessing reality–they were surprising but secret. At 21 I almost died from a lung infection and spent months in the hospital. After that, reality as I knew it was very shaken and I went questing. Then poetry came along and I tried to match experience with language. Ideas in Buddhism–before that similar ideas in art (cubism, Merce Cunningham, John Cage)–would sometimes line up with my experiences.
I’m always amazed/amused when anthologized as a Buddhist poet because I’ve never thought of myself that way. Maybe a poet who was around a lot of Buddhists?
To read the whole interview:
LETTER BY LETTER ACROSTICS: THE OPPOSITE OF FREEWRITING
HOW TO WRITE BY STIFLING CREATIVITY
Humble outcasts water tributaries
over white, ripe ideals.
Total eventuality begins yearning selfish totalitarianism:
influencing formal lunch invitations nearest God.
Cancel redundant, extra additions to injustice—
vital information tainted yellow.
Hold onto weak threads over waterways rich in telling erosion.
Bite youthful sonnets tagging insults
false, lying, insincere, nothings grounded crudely.
and tyranny infiltrates voiceless individually tightening yarn.
Hobble outside windows tinted orange.
Wash reality into traveling expectations born young.
Suffocate tears in flower leaves,
inch near gravity,
cut raw animal trash into vial industrious, torturous yells.
Editor’s note: I needed help finding the form here. Casey told me: Every word of the poems begins with the corresponding letter of “how to…” so the first word begins with H, then O, then W because it is letter by letter based on the title.
Starting in ten days! Inspire your inner poet!
Julia Deisler says: In poetry-writing classes I teach, I try to replicate what I (as a writer) seek out when I join a writing group: good writing prompts that get my imagination and my pen going, response from fellow writers that helps me transform what I first write into well-crafted poems, the opportunity to read others’ poems and get a broader sense of language-craft, and (maybe most important) the opportunity to join the larger writing community through the writing group.
Along with working with form (not just forms of poetry but formal elements like rhyme, rhythm, imagery, and the effect of a poem’s shape on the page), we’ll be using Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, which is purportedly for beginning poets but which I have found useful for thinking about my own poetry and ways to “repair” it. Typically, we’ll do more writing to prompts on Monday nights (with some discussion of form) and work to give shape to what we’ve roughed out on Monday to bring to class Wednesday. We may go on a few field trips for inspiration.
Be Prepared or Three Wishes: No Sausage on my Nose
As a child I read the fairy tale of a woodcutter granted three wishes by some magical imp in the forest. First, hungry, the woodcutter wishes for a sausage. His wife is furious–he should have wished for gold, jewels, etc. So, now angry, he wishes that the sausage dangle from her nose. And of course is forced to use the last wish to remove it.
Did I learn not to be greedy or angry or foolish? No. Like the devoted Girl Scout I was, I learned to be prepared. (And no wishing for more wishes, by the way).
For much of my life, I’ve put myself to sleep at night preparing ten–count ’em–ten wishes to have handy.
Now that I’m older, I like to quantify my wishes. I don’t want to be “rich” or have ten million dollars. No, I’d like to have a magic wallet that daily produces $40.00. Doesn’t that sound good? Enough to take a friend to a nice lunch, or buy a hardback, or join the Botanical Garden. Every day. And not enough to quit my job or have to buy a bigger house.
So I don’t wish for fame–rather that my blog’s hits double. Or my Amazon sales go up 10% a week. That I get a really fun gig. That there always be boursin cheese if the refrigerator. Sometimes I feel magnanimous and wish that a particular friend get her or his wish.
Now all I need is for an imp to appear and grant me three wishes. I’m ready.
Have you ever set specific creative goals for yourself?
Yes, all the time. Setting specific creative goals helps me to give shape to different projects and move through the stages and work plan of creating and presenting a body of work. Sometimes the goals are loose and unstructured – they don’t necessarily have hard deadlines attached to them but help me to conceptualize a bigger picture and vision for moving a project or a body of work forward so that it doesn’t languish in a drawer or file and I can feel continually connected to seeing that work clearly.
For my most recent book AUX ARCS, I knew that I wanted to include visual images in the book, which involved going back through several years worth of photographic work and curating the images into the written collection. I often set goals around completing manuscript projects, working through a first draft and layout to the final concepts and themes that tie a book together, so that it can have a cohesive shape and intention behind it. Right now, I’m writing non-fiction essays – prose work which is farther afield of my usual comfort zone. I set goals to finish drafts and show them to my writing group for feedback.
On the general subject of creativity – I am a lifelong learner and have taken paper-making, book arts, photography, digital storytelling, and cooking classes to help me deepen my understanding of creative processes that often show up somehow in my written work. I try to set a goal for myself to learn at least five to ten new recipes a year. I enter into occasional collaborations with friends and fellow artists where the goals and structures are provided to me. Goals and structures are hugely helpful to my art-making process.
Did you “succeed” or “fail”?
I tend to set reasonable and achievable goals – process-oriented goals – to circumvent failure. It’s hard to set a goal like saying to myself that I will publish two or three new personal essays this year, when that is a process that is largely out of my control. I sometimes take a little longer than I would like to accomplish a goal or to push through or beyond a challenge that I’ve set for myself – while procrastinating or struggling, this can sometimes feel like a “failure” but there is a value in letting the process take the lifespan that it dignifies. Sometimes projects do get shelved or go back to the file cabinet, where these experiments in process and thinking are archived until I am ready to examine them again. Some of my cooking experiments have been disastrous, unpalatable – I am always trying to master new techniques and tools while being realistic about my capacity to learn certain technical skills and pre-existing aptitudes.
How have these goals changed over time?
In the early part of my career, I was very eager to get my work into the world. To have an audience. To “accomplish” things. To not feel left behind or eclipsed by my contemporaries in some ways. These days, I am invested in doing justice to my work. Producing work that feels complete and finished to me, that reflects and represents my interests and commitments. I care about making beautiful books and objects that readers will interact with deeply. I care about the process from inception to finish and executing a complete vision. Sometimes, I need to include others in my goals – collaborators endowed with the skills that can help me to execute a vision.
How successful have you been at publishing or showing your work?
I’ve been very fortunate in being invited to publish my work in journals and anthologies and getting curated into shows by invitation or submission. I’ve been included in a number of anthologies on Buddhist-influenced poetry like The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry and America Zen: A Gathering of Poets. Last year, I was invited to contribute work to a visual poetry exhibition at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. Maria Mazziotti Gillan curated some of my photography into a group show at the Paterson Museum a few years back.
I’ve had very strong and dynamic collaborative relationships with many of my publishers who have been very open to my ideas for how I would like to present my work. I’ve also had a good track record of identifying venues and opportunities to present my work that have been a good fit. I am very lucky to have met many artists, writers, and curators who have been supportive of my work. Some of my more complex/ambitious visual-text projects still need to find homes due to the costs associated with producing or publishing them, but overall, I have had many and diverse opportunities to share my work with the world in many different contexts.
In the past decade, have you been able to bring your work out into the world?
I’ve published four full-length collections of poetry in the past decade, alongside a number of smaller limited-edition artist book projects with a few smaller independent presses and projects like Convivio Bookworks, Booklyn Artists Alliance, and Press Lorentz. My work has inspired radio pieces featured on Studio 360 and my poems have been set to music by the Chinese composer Gao Ping.
Are you satisfied with your ability to engage with new technology?
I’ve been blogging since 2002. A few years ago, I took a digital storytelling class with Agnes Chavez and have experimented a bit with making video poems that include audio and visual elements. One of the poems in my most recent book AUX ARCS (La Alameda, 2013) called “The Iron Chink” is an example of this new direction. I’d like to do more with video/moving image, but I’m also very fond of the old technologies – pen and paper, and SLR film cameras.
Shin Yu Pai is the author of AUX ARCS (La Alameda, 2013), Adamantine (White Pine, 2010), Sightings (1913 Press, 2007) and Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003). Her limited-edition artist book projects include Works on Paper (Convivio Bookworks, 2006) and The Love Hotel Poems (Press Lorentz, 2005). Her work has appeared in publications throughout the U.S., Japan, China, Taiwan, the UK, and Canada. She has been a featured presenter at the Montreal Zen Poetry Festival and the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival. She served as a poet-in-residence for the Seattle Art Museum and has received grants from 4Culture and the City of Seattle for her work. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and studied also at Naropa University. For more info, visit http://shinyupai.com.
San Marco Shares its Grace
Secrets strong, bounty full,
whispering tales upon the morning,
spitting them back into an azure sea.
… They will ne’ er be lost
for they are etched upon the souls
of all who leave their print upon
the powder- white.
Mysterious, she groans an eternal song
for all to memorize.
Sweet Bird of Paradise, my island flower.
Beauty born upon blue.
Wafting essence upon wings
of sea birds- sweet duet across
as stepping stones to the Gods.
They smile upon her beauty,
this island Marco,
speaks of miracles not yet seen