Charing Cross Bridge: Making Sense of Brexit

It’s been said that once you’ve lived in a place it never leaves you. It seeps into your blood and stays just beneath your skin in an accumulation of memories that never truly fade.

I suppose this is the argument for travel because with each new place we live, we expand. But this is where it is important to make the distinction between visiting and living. When I was a junior in college, I attended the University of Lancaster for a semester. I lived on campus from January to May and because I was twenty one years old at the time, those five months might as well have been five years in terms of the impact the experience on had on me.

Today, Britain is back on my mind, and yes, it’s specifically Britain because while I visited (there’s that word again) Scotland, Ireland and Wales during my stay in the UK, I didn’t live in any of those places.

While wandering around the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) today, an ocean away from Brexit, I came across the painting Charing Cross Bridge by Claude Monet.

It’s a gorgeous, fluid painting, as is the case with much of Monet’s work. All pastels and swift strokes, it looks as if the the paint is literally moving across the canvas. It’s an impression of something concrete.

It strikes me that Monet’s painting is not unlike a country’s identity also fluid, constantly shifting. Often those shifts are chaotic and messy, but the results of that chaos can be really beautiful.

I know from taking groups of students to the IMA that Monet’s paintings don’t make sense to everyone, and I imagine that at least 46.8% of Brits are thinking the same thing about Brexit.

I’m not an economist or a politician. I’m not even British, but I do deeply admire the country and the people what I can say is this: I don’t completely understand Charing Cross Bridge either, but that doesn’t stop me from looking and it doesn’t stop me from loving.

 

Missing in Medea: Looking for Glauce

So my sister and I are writing together this summer. We’ve written on and off prompt and shared some drafts and it’s been pretty great. Sometime last week, she sent a text reading:

You are a private investigator. You’ve been following a c heating husband for a month. Write a report to your client-an emotionally unstable wife-telling her what you did and what you learned. 

I would like to take this opportunity to say that when I skip off a prompt, I skip hard, which is what happened here, but I ended up drafting a poem anyway, so win!

I started thinking about cheating spouses and then I started thinking about famous couples in literature and my mind landed on Medea. This isn’t as random as it may sound. I teach a section of World Lit every other semester, so this past spring I was deep in this very play for a few weeks. I like Medea for a lot of reasons, but what it really comes down to is that I find the portrayal of women to be both fascinating and terrifying.

It would be fair at this point to make the assumption that maybe I drafted a poem about Medea, but that’s not what ended up happening, because as it turns out, there’s another woman I find even more interesting.

Glauce, Princess of Corinth, who is to marry Jason, turned out to be the subject of my poem. This woman, who dies at the hand Medea, for doing nothing other than what she is told, has no lines in the entire play. As a result, she is not listed in the list of characters nor is she really acknowledged in way other than from the words that come out of other character’s mouths. Incidentally, most of the characters who speak of her specifically, are male.

Whenever I teach this play, there’s always heated discussion about Medea as victim or perpetrator and my students always have interesting things to say about her, but no one ever speaks of the princess. It’s as if she is nothing more than a plot device

This is all to say, I started thinking about how Glauce may have felt upon seeing Jason and Medea and their boys arrive in Corinth. What would she know of Jason? Of Medea? Would she be afraid? Would she trust her father? Would she resent him? Would she admire Medea? Would Medea disgust her? Would Jason?

As a final note, after reading the play again, I surfed around online and was able to find several, beautiful, haunting depictions of Medea in classic art, but none, not a one of Glauce. Voiceless and faceless, this young woman who died wearing a dress made of gold.

 

 

Writing in a Roofless Church

This is how my husband explained my trip to New Harmony, IN to his sister: “Yeah, she’s going to this place in the southern part of the state where there was this religious cult…”

Rest assured, friends, I’m back and I did not join a cult. I did spend a week in the small town of New Harmony sleeping in a bunk bed, wandering around in the rain and writing. I did a lot of writing. This opportunity to stage my own mini-retreat came in the guise of chaperoning a group of twenty some honors students for their “domestic travel study,” a requirement for their degree.

New Harmony is a fascinating place, and while I’m not going to get into the history here in this post, because it is long and convoluted and really odd, you should totally spend some time there if you ever get the chance. The way I explained it to my parents was, the Harmonists started off in Pennsylvania waiting for Jesus. He didn’t show up, so they moved to Indiana. He didn’t show up there either, so they went back to Pennsylvania, at which point they all died out because they believed in celibacy. The result is this beautiful, bucolic, kinda creepy little town in southern Indiana that was restored starting in the 1970s. Obviously there’s more to it, but you get the idea.

On Wednesday morning I took my students to a series of spots around town and we read some poetry: “Sleeping in the Forest,” by Mary Oliver, “Water Picture,” by May Swenson & “Bringing Things Back from the Woods” by David Shumate (to name a few). One of the places we visited was called the Roofless Church, and when I scouted locations for possible poetry drafting, this place seemed perfect.

The church is essentially a large, open area courtyard and it is roofless because the benefactor, Jane Blaffer Owen and the architect, Phillip Johnson, decided that “only one roof—the sky—can encompass all worshipping humanity.” The space is primarily dominated by a dome that “was built in the form of an inverted rosebud, tying it to the New Harmony Community of Equals, whose symbol was the rose.”

The students and I talked craft for about fifteen minutes and then I sent them off on their own for about twenty minutes to see what they could come up with on their own. It’s important to stress we were just free writing, so I encouraged them to write about whatever they wanted as long as it had something to do with our surroundings. We repeated this process at two other locations and then shared some of what we wrote.

I was so taken by the roofless church that I went back the following morning and wrote for two hours. By the end of my time, I had the sketch of a poem and by the time we left New Harmony on Friday afternoon, I had a full draft. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but I’m a notoriously slow writer, so the speed at which this poem came to me made me happy. I worked on the piece a bit more this afternoon and I’m really liking it so far.

The moral of the story? Apparently traveling to once strange, utopian communities can be be good for the creative mind. Of course, it could be the simpler idea that a change in scene and some time to think is usually a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

PHV: April Stats

The end of the semester brought a whirlwind of activity, so this post is a bit late, but still check it out along with the other bloggers.

I took a trip with some fellow faculty and a group of honors students to New Harmony, IN, and I basically used it as a mini writing retreat, so there’s more to come on that front in a few days. The picture below is of the roofless church where I spent some time writing while I was in New Harmony.

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My sister (check out her blog) and I are also going to be writing everyday this summer in a effort to generate drafts, so I’ll be blogging a bit about that experience as well.

It’s summer, folks and I can’t tell you how glad I am that it’s finally here.

 

 

 

 

Sharing the Love

It’s not uncommon for lists of writing advice to pop on my Facebook and/or twitter feed. I follow a lot of writers and they have much wisdom to share. This week’s offering came in a list from Sherman Alexie via Tin House.

Alexie’s poem, Avian Nights, is one of my all time favorites:

The starlings mourn for three nights and three days.

They fly away, only to carry back

Insects like talismans, as if to say

They could bring back the dead with bird magic.

I have a slight obsession with birds and I find Starlings particularly interesting. I wrote a poem, aptly titled Starling, that appeared in The New Plains Review and was recorded by the lovely Katie Woodzick.

Anyway. Back to the Alexie’s list of advice.

There’s a lot of solid common sense mixed with wry humor. For instance, #10: Don’t google search yourself, followed closely by #9: When you’ve finished Google searching yourself, don’t do it again. But when I got to #1 I felt myself nodding and muttering, “yes, I need to do that more:

When you read a piece of writing that you admire, send a note of thanks to the author. Be effusive with your praise. Writing is a lonely business. Do your best to make it a little less lonely.

I read a lot of poetry online and often I find myself saving links or printing poems or sharing the piece on the seemingly endless number of social media platforms that I’m currently trying to juggle (I caved the other day and created a tumblr page. I know. I’ve got a problem). But what I don’t always do is reach out to the author through email or Facebook or Twitter and tell them how much I loved their poem(s).

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Indianapolis Museum of Art

My students and I talk a lot about community as it relates to writing, especially in the context of a workshop. I tell them the importance of being honest and candid in their critiques and feedback to their fellow writers. Writing is extremely personal. Every time a student brings a draft of a poem or a short story or an essay to class, they are bringing a piece of themselves, so while it is important to be candid, it is also important to be kind and respectful.

It’s also vital to praise a piece of writing that knocks the wind right out of you.

I’m not big into New Year’s resolutions and seeing how it’s February, I’m a bit late to the party anyway, but February is the month of love, so what better time to up my efforts and take Alexie’s advice?

One of the best parts of social media and the internet in general is that I have access to so much brilliant work, and guys, there is a lot of brilliant work out there, so the next time you read a poem you love, let the poet know. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely business.