About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com). The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

Dyslexia by Miriam Sagan

I spent a big chunk of last week locked in to room 132 in my go-to motel at the south end of town. I revised a chapbook length memoir currently called “Stash.” I’ve been writing it–and ignoring it–for several years. This seems to be my process of late, maybe since I retired. I’m usually working on several books at once, and some projects go more smoothly than others. This one seems to finally be jelling, due in large part to the editorial hand of my spouse Rich Feldman. His belief that continuity in details leads to meaning and theme in the whole seems to be right.

Here is a piece from “Stash” about a favorite topic of mine–dyslexia. I’m happy to finally have some overview on my experience.

Dyslexia

In the first grade, I taught a boy named Bruce how to tie his shoes. It was natural to me to explain what I knew, but the teacher praised me for being kind. I didn’t really like Bruce, and didn’t feel very kind. It just seemed wrong for me to know and him not to.
That was the last praise I got. Shadows of bare branches wove in and out on the ceiling on my childhood bedroom. Bird tracks in snow. Patterns were everywhere, but I couldn’t read them. The black words on the white pages squiggled away…the letters slipped off like crumbs swept from an oilcloth. I was afraid and alone. It was like looking at hieroglyphs—symbols stood for the word. Pretty soon I was in the “slow reading group” with, of course, Bruce.
I really couldn’t read at all. Consonants, vowels: they swarmed across the page like ants. If was lucky, I could count and figure out what sentence I’d be asked to read. I might know a few words, or letters. Then I’d listen carefully to everyone else. If they read “See Spot” I tried to find something similar in my sentence.
My parents lectured me. My father, the Freudian, said I was afraid to grow up. I wanted MY PARENTS to keep reading to me. My mother yelled that I was not paying attention. Then the lecturing began. I was not living up to my potential. Soon they would be saying I wouldn’t go to college or get married because I wouldn’t “meet anybody interesting.” I was too dumb.
So I was “tested.” I saw two squares in the machine instead of one. Everyone was upset and angry. I was diagnosed with “mixed dominance”—when I grow up I’ll find this funny and say: “this isn’t as sexy as it sounds.” People now say—surely you got help, had a kind tutor, were given…something. Nothing. This was my brain, and I was going to have to get used to it.
However, the summer of fourth grade I did begin to read. I had no idea why. Suddenly it came together. I was still not doing well in school and people were still yelling at me but I now had the most beautiful secret worlds into which I could escape.
Reading remains unusual for me. I can read extremely fast, and sometimes words light up in different colors. However, I still cannot spell. All of these things have names and a diagnosis. But to me this is just how things are.
I managed to do well in high school. I went to Harvard. I graduated in three years with honors. Aiming at a Master’s Degree, I took the GRE General Test in Memorial Hall, at a spot on a long table. In the language portion, a bizarre thing occurred. The correct answers lit up. I was working on paper, but if the correct answer was C, the C appeared to start blinking with a colored light, so I checked it. I get an almost perfect score. I was aware that no one else would be able to see these blinking lights, so I did not mention them.
My first husband (proving my mother wrong, I’ll have two) attempted to teach me to spell. He put words on stickies and strewed them around the apartment on Rose Alley in San Francisco. When I reached for the doorknob I saw “hassle.” When I sat on the toilet, I encountered “Bodhisattva.” However, I never learned to spell. My second husband simply proofreads everything for me.
All errors here are my own.

 

Rosetta Stone

Artist Angela A Young Lee

I recently met this artist on zoom during a series of presentations at World of Co. I was lucky to attend World of Co this past summer, and continue to follow what they are doing. An on-line residency based in Bulgaria, they bring together international artists in many disciplines. https://worldof.co/ (Highly recommended–affordable, educational, and full of personal attention and support. I finished curating the opening of my Poetry Yard with their help and feedback).
One of the reasons I was interested in Angela A Young Lee is that her work has a huge literary component–it is based on a private typography. I can also see how this derives from written Korean. I was in Seoul more than twenty-five years ago. It was exciting to be in Asia for the first time, and yet the energy of a great city that never sleeps brought back vivid memories of the first four years of my life in Manhattan. I find the rumble of garbage trucks, blinking neon, and traffic white noise utterly soothing!
A Young Lee is based in Seoul, Korea. Her works use a typography and a new language she created. It feels similar to asemic writing–and like that form it is open to interpretation. The artist says: Lee’s works do not suggest certain ways to read nor meaning behind her paintings because she respects and welcomes all the experiences and feelings people had, just like verbal communication does.

 

 

Du Fu KFC

Editor’s note: I revere the Chinese poet Du Fu, although have only read the poems in translation. On the other hand, I’ve never been in a KFC. But this incredible story caught my interest!
***
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/du-fu-kfc-poetry
A KFC honors an eighth-century Chinese poet with holograms and verse.
Du Fu, the eighth-century Chinese poet now lauded as one of the greatest wordsmiths who ever lived, resided in a humble thatched hut in Chengdu at the peak of his literary life. He wrote lyrically about cooking cold noodles garnished with the leaves of the scholartree, but he never had a fried chicken sandwich or a Pepsi. Yet at a KFC in the heart of Chengdu, a holographic pyramid beams 3-D images of his hut in spring, summer, winter, and fall.
A surprisingly elegant scene greets those seeking fried chicken here. Tables are covered in poems by Du Fu in the handwriting of the Qianlong Emperor, while tiles on the wall and brush paintings display rich designs of the Tang dynasty, Du Fu’s milieu and the era widely considered to be China’s poetic golden age.

Intergenerational Love: a poem by Judy K Mosher

I’m 70, Evan is 6
his smile is earnest, respectful
his laugh ripples through his body
contagious to the very walls.
Over dinner, he asks Aunt Judy,
do you have any questions for me?
Oh, yes, I do, I reply warmly.
our Q and A go on a long time
I learn of riding the yellow school bus
with Lydia from across the street,
with Conner his seatmate, and
recess play with friend Arseem,
and how this fall
the leaf sucker comes down
the street and sucks all the leaves
raked into curbside piles.
You wait, I’ll show you he grins,
anticipates sharing this wonder.

his brown eyes dance, reveal
his lightening quick mind
followed by rapid speed of
tongue-twisted words, giggles.
my aging brain only vaguely
recalls such sensations.
Not vague however, is the warmth
of his small hand in mine as we
cross another snowy street.

Mystie Brackett: Fire

I met Mystie in San Francisco in the 1980’s. Recently I’ve been following what she is doing as a painter.
She says: When I was in 7th grade, we were learning to oil paint. I had painted a vase of flowers on a table. When the teacher, an old Southern woman, came around to look at my work, she took the brush out of my hand and painted on my painting to‘correct’ the perspective on the table. I never took art again, as she was the only teacher in the small school I went to through high school.
I went on to become a custom picture framer so my days were literally and figuratively spent around art. Many of my artist friends wondered why I didn’t paint. About 15 years ago, a friend posted about a great class she’d just started for ‘experienced painters and daring beginners’ taught by a wonderful teacher who was a student of Chogyam Trungpa. It was an open  studio with support and the perfect place for my artistic expression to re-emerge. The class was in the spring and there was no class over the summer. Having just reconnected with art, I couldn’t bear to stop so I asked the man whose studio it was if we could come Wednesday afternoons and paint for a small fee and he agreed. Been painting there Wednesday afternoons since!!!
My style tends to be non -representational, ‘process’ painting~I don’t have an idea of what’s going to happen; I just start, guided by something that doesn’t feel like ‘me’. I am more fearless when painting than ‘I’ am usually; pushing  the mediums, not sure where I’m going but proceeding till there is…resolution, some sense of ‘this is it’, or at least ‘I should stop for now’.
Numerous people have joined our Wednesday afternoons over the years but there are a core 2 others who are most consistent. We have a strong group field and frequently ask each other if our piece is done or what it needs. I love painting in a group field.” 

I was particularly struck by her recent work on Colorado fires.
She says: I use painting to metabolize traumatic events so this fire painting was started to help me process the winds and fires of 12/30/21 in Colorado, known as the Marshall Fire, that burned 6000 acres, destroyed 1000 homes and took 2 lives. At my house, 20 mile NW of the fire, we had sustained winds of 60+mph with gusts over 100mph. Just the wind was harrowing!! And then, Fire. Watching the grass fire spread at an unbelievable speed and take out home after home, a Target, a hotel and then, whole neighborhoods. No words.
So, I painted. And, as happens when I paint to metabolize a trauma, many of the aspects of the traumatic event arise as I paint. With this painting, there was lots and lots of water, not being able to ‘capture’ the ash and smoke and having to surrender and let it take its course.”

The painter adds: These are in order, top to bottom, of how the painting progressed. I was using alcohol inks and India ink, primarily but by the 3rd picture, had added some grey acrylic to ‘anchor’ the ash.

 

The framed painting is available in an online art auction to benefit the fire victims through firehouseart.org or on the Auctria app as Marshall and Middle Fork Fires Art Auction.

Peace Cranes

This image from Gail Rieke helps usher in the new year with a hopeful feeling.

http://ridetheflyingcarpet.blogspot.com/

It brought to mind a visit to Hiroshima four years ago:

Hiroshima
today it’s just a station
on the bullet train

Or, more than that, it’s a lovely city with great food and shopping. I don’t know why I expected it to be frozen in the past, a smoking ruin. That’s as foolish as expecting to be met by Puritans in black hats at Boston’s Logan Airport. Still, it is a pilgrimage, different than a Tokyo neighborhood of food stalls or the earthly delights of Hakata Station in Fukuoka. We get an AirBnB near the Peace Park.
Everything is an adventure. This is Japan, after all, and I’m traveling with my daughter and son-in-law. I adore them, but they are millennials, and different than me. Three futons are laid out, and we all sleep in one room. I could never have done that with my own mother.

Peace Park
a twig broom sweeps
the wind

One of the more upsetting pieces for me is a memorial to the girls’ school where the students died. Because Japan was still under occupied forces when it was built, the U.S. said that the sculptor could not reference the atom bomb by name in this plea for peace. So “atom bomb” is replaced with “E=mc squared.”

no sleeping
on park benches, pigeons,
the funeral mound

tailless black cat
on its own
mysterious errand

tourists weeping
and snapping
cell phone photos

A giant tortoise, memorializing Koreans, is surrounded by Japanese sparrows.

We’re from New Mexico. An hour from Los Alamos where the A-bomb was birthed, monstrous, into this world. And somehow I feel more implicated by this more than by being an American. Even though these events happened before I was born. But we talk about Robert Oppenheimer and Los Alamos as we enter the museum. And there are shocked to find not one mention of either name. No New Mexico. No father of the bomb. A great deal of accurate and interesting history, and from the Japanese perspective. Melted roof tiles. Photographs of disastrous ruin. But not our own guilt terrain.
I feel I need to apologize to someone but nothing here demands apology. Instead, the greatest focus is on peace.
At the neighborhood shrine after I bow and drop my coins in the box I’m surprised to have a Shinto priest appear and shake a branch tied with white cloth over my head. But I feel better. I can’t just leave the Peace Park and go looking for lunch without a transition.

the word for “gods”
and “paper”
sounds just the same

I buy
origami sheets to fold
cranes for a friend.

Range

Here is a one-line haibun, written about a decade ago when I was in residence in Great Basin with Center for Land Use Interpretation.
Paired with a photograph by Isabel Winson-Sagan, taken recently in Canyonlands/Moab, Utah.
Range

Numbers 1-15 on the shooting range out on the salt flats–the magic of numbers in a landscape: sequence, meaning, or the appearance of meaning.
I drew
this mountain range
with one line.

Artist PeiXin Liu

https://www.peixinliu.com/about

I met PeiXin Liu at a residency with Ayatana/Art Loves Science

Her website says: Through applying unexpected material onto existing forms, she creates a narrative that demonstrates a particular aspect about social relations. She is often inspired by her multicultural identity(Chinese/Canadian).

I was immediately drawn to her work, but this piece created from crochet particularly got my attention. The artist’s mother, Hua Mo, is an avid crocheter, and Pei grew up in a household adorned by her work. Her mother fabricated this piece to Pei’s sculptural specifications.

A fascinating—and very unique—collaboration.