"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The rhythm of water--a review

The rhythm of clear water moving over smooth stones, shining in the sun or lost in fog, filling your senses with sight and sound and memories.

How else to describe the new book with a unique pairing of watercolors and poetry, "The River White,"  by brothers Duane and Ken Hada? 

This graceful 104-page  volume from Mongrel Empire Press mongrelempire.org  is a work of art in itself in design along with 46 poems and double the number of watercolors tracing the White River for 700 miles, from source in Northwest Arkansas to the Mississippi. The title of each poem is a location on the river. It and a small watercolor on the right pages face a full page watercolor on the left.  Twin brush strokes--words and color. A masterpiece of publishing and talent.

Poetry and watercolor have much in common--Economy of brush and pen stroke and words, vivid imagery, and emotion and meaning beyond the surface. But less is more. It may be a small book, but the poems reach deep and the paintings shimmer. How better to capture the spirit of a river and its wildlife and a humid atmosphere than with transparent watercolor?  On the back cover, there's a photo of the two brothers as kids in 1970 along the banks of the river, a creel and fresh caught fish in front. Today Ken's a professor and poet in Ada, and Duane a watercolor artist and fisherman in Mountain Home, Arkansas. I expect they've been working on this book all their lives.

There's more than a touch of literature in Ken's words. 
A touch of William Carlos Williams' "Red Wheelbarrow"--Ken's words in Parker Bend, Beaver Tailwater
"So much depends on red
canoes, on water
purling past white rock."

A touch of Shelley-- Ken's words in Rosey:
"If winter always comes
do we not feel certain
our bareness is destined?"

There's outright Zen in the closing lines of the opening poem The Source at Boston:
"You cannot see
700 miles  until you
muse the bubbles
before you. Truth 
more than what is,
but also, what
likely will be."

There's more than a touch in the entire book of John Graves' "Goodbye to a River," though Graves was looking backward as he floated the Brazos, and the Hadas are looking inside themselves and downstream in life.

Obviously I'm hooked. I'm not a fisherman, though  there's a forward by a fisherman. But as a watercolorist, once a canoe paddler with a red Old Town canoe, a traveler of rivers and backroads and a lover of being alone, the book takes me on journeys.

It'll take you on journeys too, especially if you're an aging male, I suspect. The brothers are a little young, I think, to feel the mortality flowing in this book, but going down a river will do that, awaken and feed the muse. If there's an underlying theme, I suspect this is it. It's not morbid though--it is full of life. You can't escape that theme with the quote from Norman Maclean in "A River Runs Through It" on the opening page.

Some favorite excerpts (already underlined in my twice-read copy) follow.

From Headwaters Near St. Paul:
"Often we need 
to  be reminded of
depths below the surface."

This book does this on every page.
My favorite--Duane's painting of Morning Fog: State Park
Some of Ken's words on the opposite page:

"Be honest now-you
feel what you cannot name,
you fear to articulate what you feel--"
Partee Shoals:
"We're just wildflowers
blooming on a
sandy bank."
Cotter bridge:
"Dreams, like rivers, are forged
in valleys of desire."
Poetry and painting...the confluence

"the rhythm of water"
Shipps Ferry:
were used by men
to transport their
as bards float words
but in truth it
is the river
that moves us...
so much more than metaphor."

Upper Boswell:
"Do you see the tracks 
in the soft shallows'
where life has preceded
Boswell Shoals:
"I am shadowed
though I bathe in sun. 
We live the rays between
pigments of history."

The Bend at Oil Trough:
"I have journeyed far,
my life's canoe seems
spent, feels flexed, old
But an end is not yet.
These tired oars, scarred by
use, rise and dip in
disciplined measure."

Newport Bridge:
"If you go with me far enough
you will recognize yourself
swinging through the coils of 
Jacks Bay:
"There is one current
 in us, keening
beneath various faces."

I had one wish as I read the book--that the authors had included a rough sketch map of the river and the location of the paintings and poetry. I grew up with National Geographic and love maps, and Graves' book also had sketched maps. So I started pulling up maps from the Internet, trying to find them all. Alas.

Then I remembered Ken's words in Rim Shoals:
"I always feel
like I'm on top
of a world here
like teetering 
at the edge of 
things unnamed
a place unmapped."

Maybe you can't map the emotions in this book, except with poetry and watercolor..

In View from the Mississippi, he writes
cannot imagine life
without a journey."

I'm ready to go. You will be too, and the book will take you on unexpected journeys as well. You can order it signed by Ken Hada at his email, from Duane's gallery website,  or from Amazon.I'm getting two copies for friends and relatives who know the river and live not too far from the headwaters. I've reviewed his earlier poetry on this blog if you want to sample his prolific work, just search his name.

Thank you, for the adventures.


The Raven

On this date in 1845, Edgar Allen Poe published:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Heading to Hafer

The narrow path home
I can walk through our neighborhood and down a path between houses and through woods to arrive in Hafer Park. With the mild winter, it's hard to come up with a legitimate excuse for not going there to walk, and to observe the multitudes who use the park.
I go without listening to an ipod plugging my ears, and by the time I've followed the trails and come back home, it's a two mile jaunt, filling the senses with sounds of birds and bugs and squirrels, and mental photos of all kinds of people enjoying life.
There's ample space to be alone and think and wonder as well.
You see young  parents with babies in strollers, or watching children climbing on playground equipment, girls and boys swinging, kids on skateboards, teens playing guitars on a sunny day, and talking to the opposite sex, youngsters and no-so-youngsters fishing, children trying to feed the ducks, joggers of all ages, some huffing and puffing and seating and others not even winded, people picnicking or reading, and walkers like me galore, some talking, some as families, lots with their dogs. And more images than "you could shake a stick at."
Here are a few.

A walk in the park makes you smile, lowers your blood pressure, and stimulates all your senses, no matter the season.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weird weather

It's like March out there--Texas dust filling the air, about 60 degrees, a good day for a walk in Hafer Park. And not too many days ago, I took this photo in Edmond. What do you suppose they know that we don't?

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Moonset, 6 by 10 inches, on a scrap piece of 300 pound d'Arches paper
Inspired by the photo at the top of the blog, taken on the first day of class at UCO, and by step-daughter Alexx Reger who said I should paint it. Thanks, Alexx!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cattle trucks and Alaska

Almost done booking our May trip to Alaska--thanks Uncle Mike. Doing it on our own--don't want near a cruise ship. Set our own schedules. Why?

Follows is my interpretation with three  quick sketches.

Have you ever been stuck behind a cattle truck on the highway?

Tell me how a cruise ship is different, other than 4,000 humans are herded on and off board rather than cattle--all of them headed to market?

Here we go:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Freedom, failure--turning pages in January

Freedom--two books this month, about different kinds of freedom.

Hillerman country...if you're from New Mexico, or Oklahoma, I suspect you've read a lot of Tony Hillerman, his mystery novels of the Navajo Nation. I've got lots of first editions and a few signed ones. 
But  I found two I hadn't read, that are broader in interest in case you don't have the passion for New Mexico I have. I've finished them both since ordering them very late late last year.
I've already commented, about his memoirs Seldom Disappointed.

Just finished Finding Moon, set at the very violent end of the Vietnam war about a "mediocre editor at a mediocre newspaper" in Colorado, who goes searching for his death brother's child in SE Asia and finds freedom from self and the past and for others. Hillerman mentioned this novel in Seldom Disappointed. (Lots of terminology and narrative about the rigors of putting out a newspaper to spice it up for you journalists).

 Great line from the master storyteller and descriptor from the book: 

"Beyond her in the clearing skies beyond the skeletons of the murdered trees along the riverbank, the moon was rising."

 BTW, you can find these books on abe.com--an "aggregator" of used book stores and offerings you don't want to miss.

The second book is by Mel Stabin, renowned watercolor artist--Watercolor--Simple, Fast and Focused--about a different kind of freedom, the freedom to create and not control. http://www.melstabin.com/

My watercolors are stuck. I'm not growing as an artist. Most of that is my fault for not painting enough, but I need help--since I didn't go to art school, I've had to improvise my own, and there's not been much lately.

So I started looking at summer workshops to attend. I need to get outside of my comfort zone, so an art trip to New Mexico probably isn't the answer. I started searching, first at Cheap Joe's cheapjoes.com  in North Carolina. Joe is my kind of guy. Quit pharmacy in mid-life and now runs a huge supply store for art, and he's a terrific watercolor artist. But none of the workshops I'm interested in fit my schedule (late July, very early August).

I kept looking and found some up on the coast of Maine, and one in upstate New York, one taught by Stabin. He's also my kind of guy--mixing a career as an advertising art director in NYC with his painting. So I bought his book--also from abe.com, and already have ideas.

I particularly liked one sentence of his book--"If my watercolors are more successful than yours, it is because I have failed more often than you have."

Not quite true, since there are so many degrees of talent--but the lesson I even preach to my writing students. But if there's anything I as  "seasoned" type-AAA Capricorn needs, it's direction into what I love about watercolor...the freedom and lack of control that keeps me humble and allows me to paint great skies.  I've already taken his advice on big brushes trying to paint the picture at the top of this blog of moonset--and failed twice. I will keep trying.

And I'm trying to figure out how to afford the week-long workshop of Stabin's this summer.
The pages keep turning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Circumnavigating the sun

A new semester brings fresh faces into the classroom, full of energy and questions.

The first day of class is the easiest of the term. The to-do list is detailed, the books and thoughts and words well-designed to provoke, challenge and intimidate.

Previous students know  what to expect and contribute to a unique community, because no class is ever alike. Each will develop its own personality--some vibrant, some subdued. The professor is primarily a guide, no longer a sole source of subject knowledge. Experiences  and wrinkles from living earn more respect.

A birthday slips by, a new circumnavigation starts
The days grow longer, the months and years shorter
Friends gather and memories multiply
Breathing deeply replaces short gasps.