2020 Haiku

Lynn Cline just interviewed me for KSFR about the free haiku workshop I’ll be teaching on zoom on May 4th (email me for info/registration–msagan1035@aol.com). The show will air on Friday. She asked me to read some haiku written during the pandemic. This simple thoughtful request let me put things together–the haiku create a surprisingly cohesive whole.

Some appeared previously on this blog, in Creatrix, and Bear Creek. The one about pastels is currently on display in the NJ Botanical Garden! Please enjoy.

a pair of geese
make us feel
less lonely

despite everything
planted with pansies

forest fire
good news, bad news

I yell “be nice”
at Echo Amphitheater—
the hikers laugh

“graveyard monuments”
on a weathered sign—next

marigold tea
in a watering can
16-month old

lonely, but why?
red umbrella
pouring rain

writing on aspen
lost loves
illegible now

wild raspberries
suddenly I see
the bear in you

so many friends gone—
writing haiku in the old
address book

I should have brought
my pastels—
garden before rain

clouds over Baldy
still I wish
to be somewhere else

threw out
my one-line daily journal
forest fire

saying kaddish
on zoom—pandemic

cooking dinner
for the homeless shelter
I eat a bowlful

a friend I never see yet think of—empty mailbox

walking our
usual loop, our
usual quarrel

bonsai pine
bent by an unseen wind.
as to me…

Pessoa and A Poem’s Odd Journey

About fifteen years ago, I read a call for poems about Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet who wrote not just as himself but as several fully developed poet personalities. I read some of his work to refresh myself, wrote a poem, and submitted it to the anthology.

I never got a response. Time passed, and I included it in my book MAP OF THE LOST. More time passed.

Last week, the poem was accepted by what seems to be new editors. The anthology has no publisher, so the journey is not over. The submission was so long ago that it was a typed copy I had to retype and send electronically. All of this is amusing, and worthy of Pessoa. But the thing that struck me was how old–how different–the poem seems from what I’m writing now. I don’t usually reflect on this incremental changes in style that can build up to a different approach.

I don’t hate the poem, though.

After Pessoa

“To be a poet is not my ambition,
It’s my way of being alone”—
Secluded among a multiplicity of selves
Like a child who traces the vast oriental carpet
With a finger, or who runs the little car model
Along the tendrils and medallions
As if they were the streets of some unknown city

A mirror is not a window and yet it might be
A passerby in the window is a fragment
Of the rainy street—one person
Contains the bits of other selves
Like a run-down theater
In a shabby neighborhood
Performing Shakespeare, or Brecht.

Night falls with its algebra
Not just subtraction and division
But the idea that X
Signifies one thing, Y another
Looking for correspondence, still you say
“Nothing returns” in defiance of physics—
And like light, “everything is real.”

Miriam Sagan
Published in MAP OF THE LOST, University of New Mexico Press, 2008

Defaced Graffiti

Couple Who Defaced $400,000 Painting Thought It Was a Public Art Project
The vandalism of a piece by the graffiti artist JonOne at a gallery in South Korea has prompted a debate about contemporary art.

SEOUL — The couple saw brushes and paint cans in front of a paint-splattered canvas at a gallery in a Seoul shopping mall. So they added a few brush strokes, assuming it was a participatory mural.
Not quite: The painting was a finished work by an American artist whose abstract aesthetic riffs on street art. The piece is worth more than $400,000, according to the organizers of the exhibition that featured the painting.
Now it’s hard to tell where the artist’s work ends and the vandalism begins. “Graffitied graffiti,” a local newspaper headline said last week.
Either way, the piece, “Untitled,” by John Andrew Perello, the graffiti artist known as JonOne, is now a magnet for selfies. And on social media, South Koreans are debating what the vandalism illustrates about art, authorship and authenticity.

Why You Did—Or Did Not—Paint Your Masterpiece During the Pandemic by Miriam Sagan

Why You Did—Or Did Not—Paint Your Masterpiece During the Pandemic

Social media seems to have two divergent views on the pandemic. One is—if Isaac Newton could invent calculus during a plague you should be able to at least learn Urdu.

The other is—stressed, suffering, and sad people are not creative.

Both of these views are so extreme as to seem silly to me.

On the one hand, Malcolm X learned to read and write in prison, by copying the dictionary. Dissident Irina Ratushinskaya wrote poems she smuggled out on soap—from a Small Zone camp for religious prisoners within a Soviet gulag.

On the other, a bunch of rowdy children is a notorious creativity drain. The critic Helen Vendler, when asked if the flowering of women poets from the mid-20th century was due to feminism, said. “No. Birth Control.”

So, let’s take a look.

Some memes tell you not to berate yourself for lack of productivity—going so far as to equate creative effort with the values of capitalism. I don’t know what non-Marxist doofus invented this idea. Here’s my take.

  1. An emergency is not the best time to create good creative habits. Hopefully you already have them in place. If you started to develop such habits during the pandemic, you are not yet ready to judge. It will take more than a year.
  2. Creativity is not particularly special—everyone has it. Therefore, it does not need a hothouse circumstance to thrive. I like a peaceful writer’s retreat as much as anyone, but let me emphasize—it is in no way a necessity. The idea that a chunk of free time will yield art is erroneous. Only practice can yield that.
  3. A relationship with your Muse is like any other. Maybe you got divorced during the pandemic—from a real person or an imaginary friend. Maybe you fell more in love. As a rule, we don’t assume tragedy will divide us from others, or make us love them more. Maybe both things will happen, or neither.

PS. The Muse does not care if you berate yourself or not, have healthy emotions, smoke, or eat cheese doodles. All the Muse wants is your attention. The Muse does not care about your self-care any more than a toddler does. These are two separate issues.

The pandemic has been a crisis, a tragedy, a disruption. So is everything from war to serious illness to economic breakdown. We, as human beings, are designed to function through and with these darker experiences. Why should the pandemic impact our creativity differently?

Antonio Machado fled Franco and died of TB as a refugee. In his overcoat pocket was the fragment of a poem. He had enough poetic juice to write it, but not enough energy to complete it. That seems contiguous with his life experience and personality.

I can wish no more for all of us.

Difficult Things by Linda Zwick

Are there things which were difficult for you when you were younger that have remained difficult?
As a child, I was reticent and not confident about my abilities on any front. When I was 11, my parents enrolled my siblings and me on a swim team. I was never competitive and the team ultimately dropped my sister and me from the team because we were “too slow”, but offered to keep my brother on the team. In anger, my mother signed us up for a different swim team that did not have pretentions of greatness of individuals or the team as a whole, but the original failure to be a faster swimmer stayed with me as just one of several personal faults. I always felt I needed to be perfect in every way, but I don’t now know whose measure of perfection I was trying to satisfy.
While I was one of the better students in elementary and high school, I often felt like a failure – that I could have done my schoolwork better and more imaginatively. In college, I was an average student who discovered I could not successfully complete Chem 101 on the block plan, and maybe not even on a semester plan at a different school, proving that my mother’s assertion that I could be anything I wanted to be was incorrect.
Even now, when I participate as a board member of a nonprofit, lead a project in the book arts group, or work on writing, making books, quilting, painting, drawing, learning Spanish, I feel insufficiently capable of performing well. My husband once said that he thought I joined and made commitments to some many boards and groups because I seek approval from others. I recently realized that I’m actually seeking approval from myself, and only rarely receiving it.

Difficult things that have gotten easier?

When I was a child, and through my college years, I was incredibly shy. Most of the time, I spent alone. Even at home, I was usually in my bedroom, reading the current book in which I was engrossed while the rest of my family watched nonsense on television. I was inordinately shy at the high school (which was 7th grade through 12th), I went to one dance at the school, during 8th grade. because a boy (who admitted he wanted to be my official boyfriend) had encouraged me to go. I danced one dance with the boy and then spent the rest of the evening hiding in the girls’ restroom, relieved when my father came to pick me up. I never attended another dance at school again, even prom – and the boy rapidly gave up on an exclusive relationship, much to my relief. In 8th grade, I tried out for the cheerleading squad; in front of the other girls and the gym teacher, I barely got into the routine I had worked hard to commit to memory, only to not remember it – I immediately gave up in disgrace. A few years later, in 9th grade when I was on the high school speech team I memorized a speech I had written for one of the competitive events; my turn came and I started my speech, then sputtered to a stop, asked if I could restart from the beginning and when granted that request could get no farther on my speech, again retreating in disgrace.
Sometime after college, something changed in me, ‘though I don’t know how or exactly when. I became comfortable talking with others, individually and in groups, speaking both off the cuff and more formally – I think I reached a place where I didn’t care what people think of me. I became an officer in the Legal Assistant’s associations in Utah and later in New Mexico. Since that time, I have needed people in my orbit, as friends, as confidants, as co-workers and co-participants in many activities. I have become known for my story telling about events throughout my life, much like my father. The on-going virus crisis has proven that I am no longer a shy loner; I mightily need unremitting contact with my many friends and others.