"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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Moon and the Manzanos cabin

Moon over the Manzanos, 14" by 11" watercolor, 140# d'Arches
 Solitude allows you to see things, and this painting came to me recently in one of my quiet times. One of Dad's masterpieces, an oil painting of sunflowers and the Manzano Mountains near our old cabin southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico,  hangs over our fireplace mantel.
A smaller winter scene of his is also in the living room.
I've noticed that these mountains keep appearing in several of my  paintings. They're not the tallest nor most dramatic in New Mexico nor my life, but they certainly, along with the paintings, have influenced me and seem to be in my consciousness.
I saw them in the moonlight, in the snow, with a cabin, in my head.
One of Dad's paintings

The pages of February

Watching gentle, large flake snowfall out my window this morning, sipping coffee, thinking of travels past and future, I journeyed in other worlds this month, in the pages of eight books, five of them completed, one sampled, one mostly read, and one underway.

Five of the books came from friend Jeanetta Calhoun Mish's Mongrel Empire Press in Norman, poems, short stories and a fictional novel, all with strong Oklahoma roots and subjects. 
The other included Longmire creator Craig Johnson's "Wait for Signs," a collection of short stories, purchased from friend Joe Hight's Best of Books in Edmond.
The books of poetry were "The Walmart Republic," J.L. Jacobs' Streets as Elsewhere," and Carter Revard's, "From the Extinct Volcano-A Bird of Paradise."
"The Long Rifle Season" by James Murray is a bunch of short stories, appropriately titled "Tales," most of them set in southeast Oklahoma, and including a fictional view inside Timothy McVeigh's mind. The fictionalized novel by William Cunningham is "Pretty Boy Floyd."
The seventh book is Natalie Goldberg's "Loving Color--Painting, Writing and the Bones of Seeing." Writer-teacher Goldberg lives in Taos, doing what I dream about, and I bought the book thinking it would be about writing. Instead, it is a book about a writer taking up painting, filled with her art and prompting. I found it has a chapter on Cezanne, my favorite artist, which means it's a must read to complete.
The eighth book was OKC Mayflower UCC church pastor Robin Meyer's book, "Saving Jesus from the Church," a discussion prompt in our Sunday night "Soul Detox" group. He has lots to say about the difference in institutionalized Christianity and what Jesus taught.
Reviews and comments on most of these are coming. The poetry books are the most difficult, as you can see from my previous review of "The Walmart Republic."


Friday, February 27, 2015

Journeys on maps of imagination-The Walmart Republic

Journeys of a different sort beckon when winter makes your body sluggish, when your soul seems half awake, when your imagination is  mired in the traditional map of Oklahoma.
I found new maps and soul journeys this February in a blizzard of new books from Mongrel Empire Press, (click the link to view and buy) a small independent press known for publishing poetry and prose of culture and politics and life deeply rooted in Okie.
Like any maps to new places, these were full of surprises and mysteries, discoveries and disturbances. The first two were "The Walmart Republic" by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Christopher Stewart and "Streets as Elsewhere" by J.L. Jacobs.
Don't expect a traditional review from me on these, because there's nothing traditional about them. I've had to read them more than once to even approach doing them justice.  I  even wrote the publisher, poet and friend Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, to ask questions so I could try to write intelligently.
These are deep maps of imagination which will stretch your mind and understanding of who we are and who we are not.
All I can do is give you a sampler, and a brief look at the poets--the storytellers and their narratives.
What can you say about a book that has two poems entitled "The Will Rogers Turnpike" by two friends, one from a small Texas town, the other from Enid, Oklahoma, who met and live in Chicago?
They found their Walmart title in a classroom comment when at OU, a disparaging term of our commercial culture. The poems include more than Oklahoma, as the cover with a weird map and Big Tex on fire more than suggests. There is fire in this book, speaking of the superficiality of our "culture,"  and the truth of common people, in 45 poems, stories in 87 pages.
My favorites?--A few.
 "The Suit" by Stewart, about a man bringing in his suit to the cleaners for his wife's funeral, and a conversation with the owner. Two lines:
"She is old as well, her body crooked
 from years over a stitching machine."

"Bible Belted: Found Two" by Ali Lansana
"oklahoma   the birthplace
of the dawes act    tulsa race riot
the reservation   a 900 foot tall white jesus"

"Will Rogers Turnpike," by Stewart
Two lines:
"A waitress fondles  trucker music with her wiry, spellbound
ears as I leave this scene."

"Will Rogers Turnpike" by Ali Lansana
A few lines:
"these roads my  veins dry red
clay body  sun-smoke wafts heat
tired of itself  wheezing semi-trailers
alfalfa between cheek and gum"

"Sunday at Mutha's" by Ali Lansana
Opening lines:
"we could hardly wait for crusty ol' reverend
jenkins' final Amen so the real sunday afternoon could commence.
"fried chicken and fresh catfish.
aunt maudell's potato salad.
aunt bonnell's cakes.
"fresh corn on the cob and green
beans from mutha's garden."

There's a lot of our world here we don't or won't notice--sadness, humor, black and white and in between. Steward says in one poem, "A poet's job is to remember, he thinks...." Ali Lansana writes in one poem of "the bone of your words."  There's remembrance and bone in their words.

I wanted to write about both of these books together, but there's too much here. "Streets as Elsewhere" next.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Barn again

"Oklahoma Memories," 14" x 20" watercolor, plus frame
Old barns grab my attention, as did this one in eastern Oklahoma County a couple of years ago. It demanded a painting, with some artistic license. Excuse the reflections on the glass.
The current issue
I'm proud and excited that our official state magazine,  Oklahoma Today, paired it with a poem by poet and  my friend and small book publisher Jeanetta Calhoon Mish of Mongrel Empire Press inside this current issue. 

Go buy a copy. Poets and painters see differently I think, but both see things that others don't. The poem and painting together have a rich flavor.   This is an honor for me because Jeanetta is a full time poet, writer, teacher and publisher, and to have a part-time painter's work accompanying her professional work is a validation of my work. I've written for the magazine before, and plan to again, but this is a really big deal for me. This version shows reflections, but the magazine's copy is a clear scan. P.S. Yes, it's for sale.
I found this old barn driving around on the backroads east of here one Saturday--one of my favorite pastimes. It was decaying away, and the light wasn't good, but it helped me be free with color, and I could embellish the composition as I wished.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I'm "published"--an inside look at tenure and academia

Publication is a big thing in academia. Professors are supposed to do research, write about it, and submit articles to "scholarly journals." That means they're "peer reviewed"--several professors in the field will review the submission to see if it acceptable.
Major universities require it as part of your career--"adding to the academy" as one prof at the Indiana University School of Journalism told me a long time ago. Most major universities (called "R1" for research, doctoral-granting institutions like OSU and OU), and those that are not so major like UCO (MA- and BA-granting schools)--require publication for promotion and tenure. For the record, those universities put as much emphasis, or more, on research than they do teaching, and profs usually only teach one or two classes a semester to allow for it. At UCO we require it, even though we're a teaching university, and profs teach four classes a semester. (By the way, as a former newspaperman, I am not complaining--this is a great job.)
Fortunately, I'm at a school, and in one of those fields where creative work, or publication within my discipline, also matters. The doctoral degree is my union card, and yes, I've earned tenure, but those of us in journalism, and the arts, are often looked down on because we may not be published in the journals. And we shoot back that we publish writing that people want to read, not in snooty journals full of bloated academic language that nobody reads. And I contend, anybody who can meet my editors' demands is more than "peer reviewed."
We're both a little full of ourselves, and also defensive.
Tenured curmudgeon
By way of explanation, most people are hired as assistant professors, and depending on the school, have a certain number of years, about six, to be granted tenure and promotion to assistant professor. That's where the publication comes in. If you don't get tenure, you have one year before you're gone. If you get tenure, you have a certain number of additional years, and publication, service (You're supposed to serve on committees, etc. As someone who abhors meetings and committees, this has also been difficult for me), teaching and whatnot, to be promoted to assistant professor. The step is repeated till you get promoted to full professor. Then you're a "silverback" or "old dog" like me, and are still supposed to keep producing.
Tenure is terrific, but it's not complete protection against being let go. I suspect that in Oklahoma, at least, if the president of a university and other higher ups want you gone, you'll be gone. Obviously sexual harassment and other factors can affect it.  I know the system has protected poor teachers, but remember, those people are expected to do more than teach. There's also an increased fear of lawsuits.
I've said before that  I don't need tenure, because I can make a living doing other things,  unlike some professors who have done nothing else but straight academics. But I'm happy to have it. Among other things, it helps me speak my mind more freely--which somehow I've developed a reputation for as a curmudgeon.
I do have journalism professor friends who have published in journals, but alas, I have not. My research and writing has been much more practical through the years. I have "presented papers," and attended conferences, but I haven't written a book (which I do regret), nor been cited by others' research, nor  used a footnote in my writing (I don't think that I can remember).
But I know the power of a byline, for my students, and myself. For a young student, seeing your name in print is a huge boost, a validation of your writing skill and importance. It doesn't change with age. And publication and creative results, of some sort, are important for professors--how can you teach if you're not setting an example.
That's probably why I have written this blog for more than five years, and have written a monthly column for The Oklahoma Publisher, trade newspaper for the Oklahoma Press Association for 19 years. I'm still excited to see my byline in Oklahoma Today and Persimmon Hill magazines.
That's only one reason it was great to see my byline this week under "A letter home," the personal column "Coffee with Clark," in the new Waurika newspaper, the Waurika News Journal.
I'm published.

My newspaper died, but not the smells, the memories

Waurika's red brick streets
Memories have two edges, and the recent death of the Waurika News-Democrat brought them back, things long forgotten or repressed. Yes there is nostalgia and smiles for the good ones, but also regrets and tears for the tragedies and "might have beens." There's no use living in the past, but it's good to be reminded of where you've been, of who you are deep down.
The late great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury said that everything that happens to you becomes compost that will eventually bring forth something new.
Waurika added a lot of compost to our family's lives--we would not be who we are today without those dozen years of memories.  They  cobble unevenly like tires over the red brick streets of Waurika.
We bought into the  News-Democrat because we knew there was promise there. Waurika Lake was a-building; the town seemed to be growing; we were young and dreaming of owning our own newspaper; there was a good church; pretty good schools; friendly people. 
The iconic red brick Rock Island depot, now the library, from the caboose
So here are some of the piecemeal memories that jumped back into my consciousness when I learned the paper had been killed. The old red brick building at 117 W. Broadway with large windows open to let some circulation int0 the high metal ceiling's dusty interior. 
Only one room was air conditioned for the new offset typesetter, with old type tray racks converted to pasteup stands.
Out front was a huge counter, behind which were shelves of office supplies.  Don Morrison had a typewriter and a typewriter table out there for his "office," where he wrote most of the news and his weekly column, "Keynotes."
That was the front shop. Behind a divider that rose halfway to the ceiling was the majority of the building--the "backshop" where the old newspaper press had once been before the conversion. The press pit was filled with sand. That's where we spent many Thursdays and Fridays after the paper was "out," running  the offset Chief 15 and Heidelberg letterpress job presses, printing jobs for merchants and the county, school and city--much of what today would be done on a copier machine.
The red brick newspaper building at 117 W. Broadway
Most of all I remember the smells--a combination of dust, years, stacks of printing paper of different sizes, ink, presswash and lead type and the heat of a still functioning Linotype, the standby letterpress typesetter where "hot metal" was literal.
When I walk into  the "backshop" of almost any small newspaper, or a print shop, I'm immediately back home, yet I can't describe that smell. I've asked for years what the smell of printers' ink and presswash and paper smells like, and nobody has been able to tell me. Usually, you can compare the smell of something to something else. I'm stumped.  
You can add the smells of the darkroom too. Developer, photoflo, hypo, fixer, film. The News-Democrat's darkroom was in the back of the building, where I spent many hours developing film and printing photographs, or using a vertical camera to make negatives for offset printing jobs.
Next to the darkroom in one corner was the toilet, partitioned off  with a wooden stall, and outside a big ceramic double sink, with scrubbers and grit to try to clean your hands from the ink  on your hands from offset job printing, and trays for washing photos. It was almost impossible to get the ink out of the grains of your finger tips and from under your nails. I think it's still there, deep inside me.
In the other corner was the old caster room, where the "hellbox" had been to remelt the used metal type for the Linotype. Now it was home to decades of yellowing copies of the newspaper, bound by year, termites and time eating away at the brittle pages. That smell is also distinctive.
The once vacant red brick Rock Island depot  is now the town library. The once active red brick News-Democrat building is now vacant. Red brick streets cobble many more memories to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My paper died--II, history

The News-Democrat, after we closed the big windows for air conditioning, carrying my design for the flag as a sgin
1972. I came to Duncan, Oklahoma, to work for the Duncan Banner, because Harrington Wimberly would pay me close to what I was making in Clarinda, Iowa, at the Herald Journal. I think I got $165 a week. 
I was  hired as "area editor," which meant I traveled the rural areas around Duncan where the Banner had circulation in Stephens,  Grady, and Jefferson Counties. Rush Springs, Marlow, Bray, Central, Velma-Alma, Comanche--where my Dad was born, Addington, Waurika, Hastings, Sugden, Ryan and Terral.
We--my wife Neysa and I, with three small children, Vance, Travis and Dallas--came back to family territory with the dream of eventually  owning a weekly newspaper.
That's how I met Don Morrison, his sister Mary Lacy Snider and her husband Brick, at the Waurika News-Democrat in the sweltering summer of 1972.  I was building sources for stories, and knew somehow, that weekly newspapers knew more about their towns than anyone else.
It was an old brick building, on brick streets. Only one room was air-conditioned, because the new Compugraphic-I required it, the paper recently "converted"  to offset printing from hot metal. The Duncan Banner still was letterpress...and a few years earlier at the University of Iowa I'd learned to run a Linotype--which was still in the backshop of the News-Democrat for "job work," an important part of a country weekly's income, on Thursdays and Fridays after the paper was "out."
I think that helped endear me to Don. I think, years later, he saw something of himself, in a "young journalist," as he said in a column.

My newspaper died--I

I had the "stuffing" knocked out of me.
Our last issue--address label to our son Vance, a student at Lubbock Christian
So much so that it's taken me this long to overcome avoiding writing about it.
I'm still recovering, as a matter of fact, after learning of the death of "my" paper, the Waurika News-Democrat at the first of this month.
I was surprised that after all these years--29 to the month after we sold it--I was so raw for my 12 years there.
John Dunn's poetry comes to mind: "No man is an island…any man's death diminishes
me." Any newspaper's death does the same.   I am always sad when a newspaper fails, and I know what a paper means to a town. But this made it very personal.

Clark, with the Don Morrison School of Journalism
The notes and thoughts have been piling up, and it's helped that I wrote a little about it in The Oklahoma Publisher this month. And now  folks in Waurika have started a new newspaper, The Waurika News Journal. It's backed by people I have know a long time, and the editor, Curtis Plant, graduated with my son Travis.
Curtis asked me to write a monthly column for them, and so I put one together, named "Coffee with Clark," from this blog, and  the descendant of my long ago column "Trail  Talk." It appeared this week, 29 years after I quit writing the other one.
That got me started, breaking the logjam of emotions and thoughts. I've also heard from old newspaper friends like Ray Lokey in Tishomingo, Gloria Trotter at Tecumseh,  Ken Chaffin of Healdton and Barbara Walter at Hennessey, Nell Largent of Waurika and others. A weekly newspaper guy in Minnesota wrote about it, and changing my old opinion about broadcast news, the old and new paper even made the television evening news twice on KSWO.
So my excuses are past, the roadblock has been removed.
I go back to Waurika every Mother's Day and plant flowers at Mom's grave, and then drive down those red brick streets, past the old paper office, through the neighborhoods, remembering raising a family there. It can be depressing, as the town has dwindled some. More telling are all the names I know on gravestones in the cemetery.

We gave these away as subscription promotions. 

Still, I want to share some of those memories...they are so much a part of who I am. In fact, those dozen years in Waurika may have been more formative in my life than any since, including raising four wonderful children. That's where I graduated from the Don Morrison school of journalism. Waurika is the closest I have to a home town, having grown up in a city.
Those thoughts and images are brewing in my coffee pot and in future posts. Ironically, when talking about this blog--billed above as an old-fashioned newspaper column, a good friend said to me once, "You've got your newspaper back."
Lots of stories to come--backshops, cut and paste, darkrooms, selling advertising, and more--a salute to the Waurika News-Democrat, the town's oldest business.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A two roadrunner, back road kind of day

Finding yourself on the back roads, wizened, gnarled, shaped by the years...a survivor
Cooped up from work, routine, city traffic, mild winter blahs. Sunshine, south breeze, open the windows,  get out of the house. Cold front coming.
Time flows past on the back roads
Coffee cup in the holder. Camera phone ready. Not much color out there. Oklahoma drought, mental drought. Roll down the car windows, open the sun roof, turn off radio and turn on thoughts and imagination, head for the back roads northeast of town.
Too many fancy new no-individuality Dallas-Style houses and elaborate gates going up everywhere in the rolling cross-timbered hills, but the farther you go, the narrower the roads, the more house trailers, frame homes. 
The traffic and the noise disappear. You can stop on the edge of the road, get out and take a photo or two, and nary a car goes by. Only the sound of the breeze, the birds.
"When peace like a river..."
On one corner, a roadrunner pauses in mid-pavement, hears the car engine, and gingerly heads off into  the underbrush. The other way up a gravel road, another one skitters across the road.
Good omens, you think, and keep going, finding more of yourself. 

Out of coffee and area roads not yet explored, you find old US 66 ahead. First noises are the motorcycles out on this day, cruising the mother road. The transition back to city life.
Refreshed, it's a two roadrunner, back road kind of day.
Where greening wheat, grazing cattle are the only traffic

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The twisting, uphill Road to Los Alamos--framed

Road to Los Alamos, 8" by 10" oil
Framed!  It's amazing how getting that done boosts my attitude. 
It's been sitting here drying for weeks, and I put on a light coat of retouching varnish this week. It'll have to dry another five months before the final varnish. But. First oil. Hanging! There's a slight bluish tint to the photograph I can't seem to correct, but this was exciting.
A month ago
"Do you like oils," a friend asked. "I don't know," I replied. Not sure. Don't dislike them, but I'm out of my comfort zone here. Yes, there are advantages compared to watercolor, but it is so different. And I have so much I don't know. 
I'm hesitant to start another, because they take so much time, and I'm short on that right now. I do know that when I'm painting, the rest of the world goes away. 
With each brush stroke, I'm experimenting, and growing in wonder at what my Dad and other oil painters have accomplished. 
I guess it's fitting that the road to Los Alamos, New Mexico,  is a twisting,  uphill journey in beautiful country.