Posts Tagged ‘Ezra Pound’

Morning Coffee with Dave & Ezra

August 31, 2018

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Relaxing in a Coffee Shop with Ezra Pound’s Literary Essays

There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this brief recapitulation and retrospect.

In the spring or early summer  of 1912, ‘H. D.’, Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon the three principles following:

  1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

. . .

It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works. 

. . .

To begin with, consider the three propositions (demanding direct treatment, economy of words, and the sequence of the musical phrase), not as dogma–never consider anything as dogma–but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it is some one else’s contemplation, may be worth consideration.

Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”, in Pavannes and Divisons, 1918

I have returned to Ezra Pound because of recent reading of Hemingway and poems by William Carlos Williams. When I taught English long ago, I learned that Imagism was a popular movement in literature that has been associated with these writers and others. Williams was famous for saying “No ideas but in things.”

At any rate, while on a road trip yesterday that lasted for hours, I enjoyed what I refer to as “windshield time”–allowing thoughts to drift through my mind while watching the landscape drift by. I thought of Hemingway’s early writings from Paris (I referenced this in my last blog) when he settled on the notion of beginning with one true, direct sentence, and building from there. I then recalled that Pound laid down the three principles I’ve just posted above, about the necessity of addressing something directly, with as few words as possible, and following a musical phrase rather than a metronome. As I drove, I thought about the possibility of applying this literary theory to visual art. Why not give it a try?

At one point, I saw a high rocky mesa along the highway, and on impulse, did what I frequently dream of doing–pulling the Jeep over, getting out my art supplies, and attempting to paint/sketch the landscape en plein air. I decided to address the same principles I recalled from Pound’s theory of Imagism in writing–approach the subject directly as observed, use as few strokes of the brush as I can get away with, and not follow pre-set rules of sequence.

Setting up the easel, I decided to render the mesa first, with quick broad strokes of neutral color, then move to a foreground tree later, and finally lay in the sky (I have had so many “arguments” with other artists who insist that a legitimate landscape always begins with the sky). As I worked quickly (spent only about 30 minutes in the 97-degree heat), I recalled these principles of Ezra Pound, and smiled to think I was applying his literary criticism to plein air painting.

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Pleasures of a Road Trip–Stopping on Impulse to Paint

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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Finishing Touches

September 26, 2016

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An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, to eschew violence where it is a fraudulent substitute for power, to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

Ezra Pound, Literary Essays

Rising early this Monday morning, I decided to try and finish this piece I began as a demo for a workshop last Saturday. As I looked over the composition, I decided the lower right-hand corner needed more grass and texture work. Then, I decided to build an “action line” leading the eye from the lower right corner up to the barn in a serpentine fashion.

Thanks for reading. I’m ready to start a new one!

 

Escape Velocity II

February 5, 2016

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My work comprises one vast book like Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed.

Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody

Today, I gave in to yesterday’s wanderlust. I booked my favorite room in the Spur Hotel in Archer City, Texas, Larry McMurtry’s hometown. I packed last night, and loaded early this morning, so as soon as school let out for the weekend, I pulled out of the parking lot, angling north for the two hour-plus drive to this quiet, spacious part of north Texas in Archer County.  Population of this town is 1,848 and that is just about right for me. In the cold winter evenings here, the clouds emit the most marvelous array of blues and lavendars, much like what I experienced in Colorado evenings, looking across the front range of the rockies. I tried to take a picture above, but I’m not a photographer, and there just wasn’t much light left for me to accomplish what I wished.

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Larry McMurtry’s famous bookstore, Booked Up Inc., has been my mecca for shopping for over a decade. Today I found a first edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos and could not resist the sale that was running on books currently. I’m proud now to own it and read it.

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Dinner tonight in the cafe made me feel I had retreated in time to the days of Kerouac rambling the open roads across America. With this being Friday night, and a strong Catholic presence in Archer County, fish was on the menu, and the taste was just as delightful as the aroma that filled the diner.

And now, as I write this, I’m settled into my third-story corner room, overlooking the intersection of highways 25 and 79, with a flashing red light governing the four-way stop. The light flickers patterns across the interior brick walls of my room, and the swish of traffic below will probably lull me to sleep later tonight as I soak up some coveted reading.

I cannot describe the deep-seated satisfaction settling in over me, leaving the city and school behind, the noise, the deadlines, the endless prattle. Now there is no agenda. I have a stack of books on the table beside me, and a large carry-on bag stuffed with watercolor and drawing supplies. My journal is at hand, and I am ready now to settle into a quiet posture of reading, thinking, writing, drawing and painting. This quiet space has been so long overdue for me, and I am thankful to the depths of my being that the gift has finally arrived.

Thanks for reading.

The Dawn has a Pulse

January 4, 2016

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When one reads these strange pages of one long ago one feels that one is at one with one who once . . . 

James Joyce, Ulysses

Today marks my return to school, though students do not arrive for two more days. Monday and Tuesday are designated for work in the classroom and attending meetings. With a 33-degree temperature outside, I knew my room would be frigid, but I am layered up and my mind has finally percolated along with fresh coffee, and ideas are flowing.

I awoke at 5:00, and decided not to come to the classroom till 8:00. The hours spent at my writing desk proved fruitful as I continued to read from James Joyce and write in my journal. I love this writer’s love of language and his playful manipulation of it. He already has me laughingly describing my attempts that don’t hit the mark.  Now, when a watercolor or drawing doesn’t reach my standard, I can say that I “almosted it.” I like that better than “blew it” or “failed”. Last night I posted on the blog a failed watercolor attempt and only captioned “Oh well.”  I now think “almost” would have been more fitting.

On a more sobering note, my reading of Ulysses is dredging the silted-up canals of my own personal history, and the debris rising from the dark floors to the surface of these brackish waters of my surroundings holds my attention now. And I am grateful for this opportunity to evaluate and recalibrate where my life is going. Though my biological years classify me as a senior citizen, I am at heart still a schoolboy, only now I am more engrossed in these daily lessons. I know the idea of a New Year is manufactured, but I’ll still take it seriously. This is a New Era, a New Chance, a Fresh Chapter. A New Resolution.

When I rose from my desk to leave for school, I was shocked at what I saw out my bedroom window–a blue/lavender sky with a network of winter trees lacing the horizon. Last week, while at breakfast with my dad at Dave’s Diner in High Ridge, Missouri, I saw that same network of winter tree branches against a morning sky and thought “What a watercolor that could make, if done properly”. So, this morning at my school desk, I am trying. And I certainly don’t have an algorithm for painting winter trees, but I’m chipping away at this small composition with sincere delight, while listening to an excellent PBS “Voices and Visions” documentary on the work of Ezra Pound. I’m so glad I’m not teaching today. There is so much waiting to be discovered.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Feeling the Festive Mood

September 24, 2015
Laguna Madre Field Station

Laguna Madre Field Station

Beauty in art reminds one what is worthwhile.

Ezra Pound, “The Serious Artist”

The combination of school responsibilities, outside social appointments and organizing my inventory for the weekend’s art festival should be grinding me into the ground. But actually, I am feeling energized. I’m not sure if it is the cool pre-dawn temperatures hovering around the low 70s (unfortunately they’re forgotten by afternoon–yesterday climbed up into the mid-90’s!), or if it is the sight of my new greeting cards and prints coming into view. Whatever it is, I’m glad to feel so alive this week, anticipating the show.

Recalling Oliver Wendell Holmes "The Chambered Nautilus"

Recalling Oliver Wendell Holmes “The Chambered Nautilus”

I have already printed out scores of Laguna Madre images of my paintings and drawings created over the past three months, formatting them for 5 x 7″ greeting cards that I sell with envelopes and plastic sleeves for $5 each, or 5 for $25. I’m also creating 8 x 10″ images to place in 11 x 14″ white mats, backing and plastic sleeves for $25 each.

View across my Island on the Laguna Madre

View across my Island on the Laguna Madre

After months of painting and drawing, I am finally feeling excited about getting this work out into public view.

Watercolor Image with Journal Entry

Watercolor Image with Journal Entry

For the first time, I have also formatted my combination journals and watercolor sketches to fit 5 x 7″ cards. I’m not sure I should be writing this, but I was so upset when Office Depot merged with Office Max, discontinuing their card stock and envelopes product. I had used them faithfully for years. Now, I discover that Hallmark Cards creates a much superior product for about 30% less the cost. I now chafe that I did not explore options sooner, but am pleased now to see the quality of my greeting cards and envelopes far exceeding what I used to produce. For any of you creating greeting cards of your own, consider Hallmark.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Day of Contemplation

September 6, 2015

imageIt is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.

Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”

I open today’s bog entry with this word: I may be blogging with less frequency these days, but with time spent away from social media, I am discovering more quality time for reading and journaling. Hopefully this will result in a blog with greater quality, and not just a daily quota of words flung into the chattersphere, hoping for relevance.

Reaching the halfway point of a three-day Labor Day hiatus, my soul is awash with sentiments of gratitude–I needed the rest from the daily school grind, though school has only ground for two weeks. I must be aging and slowing. I have laughed and cried my way through 150 pages of Don Quixote. The book is an excellent mirror I suppose for any reader, but particularly for anyone who has devoted most of his/her life to public school teaching. I don’t believe I speak only for myself when I confess to living in a world partially constructed after my own imagination. Daydreams and fantasies aided me in coping with my own public education which I found largely boring and unimaginative. It would seem that karma induced my return to the public school arena once I completed my education. And now, twenty-seven years later, imagination and fantasies still aid me in coping with much of the boredom that surrounds me daily.

Sancho Panza mocked his noble Don Quixote of La Mancha with these words:

Sancho, my friend, know that I was born, by the will of heaven, in this our iron age, to revive the one of gold, or the Golden Age.

Anyone wishing to parody my persona could chant those same words in derision. But I own them. Classical studies and forays into the humanities saved my life at the university, and by the time I entered the high school classroom as instructor, they had become the blood that courses through my veins. When I was growing up in public school, some of my teachers tried to be cool, drawing daily soundbites and lesson ideas from Leave it to Beaver and later M.A.S.H. Pop culture didn’t mature me then, and it doesn’t feed me now, nor does it nourish the students of today, as far as I’m concerned. No student in my classroom will hear me reciting anecdotes from Miley Cyrus, lyrics from Justin Bieber or soundbites from Donald Trump. Pop icons such as these are not worth my time, and they contribute nothing of value to one wishing to improve life, as far as I am concerned. As a fan of Rene Descartes, I have always enjoyed leading my philosophy classes through his cogito ergo sum–“I think, therefore I am.” I used to have a bumper sticker on the window outside my classroom door that said: I think. Therefore I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh. I came to school of course one day to find it had been removed. Sometimes I wonder if the one who removed it thinks and finds a reason to be.

When it comes to course content, I am grateful that I get to select and share the works of those minds who tried to improve society, tried to challenge young minds to become better. I make no apology for anchoring my course content in the humanities. Talking heads of education can lay out all the data they please, crow about job training all they please, and lay out social programs all they please. But these days, I still glean value from the works of Emerson, Thoreau, Cervantes, Eliot, Pound, Aristotle, Augustine and Shakespeare, and will continue bringing ideas to my classes from these great minds who dared to think big, dream big, imagine big.

At the top of this post, I quoted Ezra Pound, and with his challenge launched my latest watercolor, begun this morning, always with the hope that this could be my best Image produced during my lifetime.

Working on Foreground Foliage

Working on Foreground Foliage

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Buried in the Work, and Ecstatic

June 2, 2015
So Little Time. So Many Books

So Little Time. So Many Books

An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, . . . to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man

I found an amazing thread of continuity among some of the divines I’ve been reading lately: Ian Roberts, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and Andrew Wyeth. Each in his own way addressed the notion of getting at a subject directly and honestly, with no decorative scrollwork. Hence my recent interest in creating “vignette” compositions with my watercolors, leaving plenty of undefined boundaries so the viewer can have imaginative room to enter the composition. Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams addressed this in literary fashion with their “Imagism” theories. Andrew Wyeth addressed it when he said the strength of a composition is not what the artist puts into the picture, but what s/he leaves out. Hemingway, during his early years of writing in Paris, acknowledged that he created his best work when he cut out all the ornamental prose as so much scrollwork, and returned to the truest sentence that always began his writing. And so, in recent sketches and compositional studies, I have been creating simpler works of art, and plan to do that when I get to the Gulf later.

Another theme I am trying to work out is that which involves the boundary or tension between two features. I’ve been reading Paul Tillich this week, fascinated with his focus on the littoral zone separating ocean from beach, and how he continually applied this to his studies in philosophy, theology, art and psychology. He once wrote that “the border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.” I have always enjoyed working this idea in my philosophy and art history classes, but now wish to push it in my own theories of aesthetics as I pursue my watercolor attempts.

In closing, I’m going to post this crayon drawing I dug out of my closet last night when I was foraging for watercolor paper for my next project. I didn’t know I still had it: the earliest “work of art” from my personal collection. When I was in third grade, my teacher entered this drawing in the districtwide art contest, grades 1-12. I still remember entering the high school gymnasium and seeing my matted work hung on the wall among hundreds and hundreds of student works of art. If the Presocratics and Aristotle were right in saying “the end is in the beginning,” then perhaps I ought to look at this one more closely and see if I recognize any of my own features in it.

My Earliest Saved Artwork--Third Grade

My Earliest Saved Artwork–Third Grade

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

First the Blade, then the Ear, after that . . .

August 31, 2014

My High School Classroom, First Day

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

Mark 4:28 (King James Version)

Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been.

 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I want to offer a few thoughts about “a little at a time.”  While regarding life’s growth in small, unobservable links, Thoreau wrote that he himself was developing as “corn in the night.”  Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast, revealed that he could write for an entire morning, and finish with only “one true sentence”.  when experiencing fears associated with writer’s block in Paris between 1921 and 1926, he found ways to speak sternly to himself:

“Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”

I am now reading with great delight Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire.  I have read nothing from Nabokov before, though I acknowledge that his greatness has been sung in my hearing for years.  As it took me until this summer to read Melville’s Moby Dick in its entirety, I now turn, in my later years, to another legendary author and his work.

Pale Fire, in the Foreword, speaks of the meticulous work of John Francis Shade in constructing his final poem in four cantos.  As I read of his meticulous daily work, I recalled testimonies from Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, men devoted to the meticulous craft of writing.

Today, over the Labor Day holiday, having finished my first week of high school and second week of college, I am thinking of the necessity of working daily and consistently on my projects, even though it means incremental gains.  At least there will be something to show when my projects roll off the assembly lines, whenever that may be.  I do have some deadlines one week away.  My painting, my reading, my journaling, my writing, and (hopefully) my publishing shall be completed, only if I am willing to give them daily attention.  For a couple of weeks now, I have felt overwhelmed at the projects I have wanted to accomplish, and all of that has translated into an inertia, and nothing was done from day to day aside from the chronic demand and grind of accomplishing my classroom responsibilities.  I am just as busy now as I have ever been before, except that I am not managing to get my “artful” projects accomplished.  But I shall, little by little, and will watch with delight as my work grows “like corn in the night.”

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Imagination

September 7, 2013
Saturday Morning in the Studio

Saturday Morning in the Studio

I do recall one time when I got to know him a little better, he called me in the office one day and he says to me, “Brownie,” he said, “Can you give  me your idea of what imagination is?”  And I said,”No I don’t have any idea.”  He said, “Well, why don’t you think about it a couple of days and come back and we’ll talk about it.”  But he never brought the subject up again.  I’m very thankful, too.

Lynn Brown Jr., recalling a conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while working at Hartford Insurance Group.

Sleep did not come easily last night.  Though darkness had descended, this watercolor, along with its possibilities, was burned into my retina, and I really wanted to return to it, but I have really become attached to the natural light.  Before falling into sleep, I turned the light on one more time, and scribbled in my journal a reminder to check out the ideas of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound on Imagism.

Waking at 5:30 this morning, without an alarm, I rose to a dark, pre-dawn world, and, waiting for the studio window light, I took out my copy of The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound.  In the early summer of 1912, he agreed with H. D. and Richard Aldington on three principles which would later be called Imagism:

1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.

2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

I used these words as a reaffirmation of my current philosophy of watercolor composition: (1) to paint my subjects as directly as possible, (2) to purge ornamentation from my compositions, and (3) to work all over and around my painting, instead of following paint-by-number compositional steps from start to finish.

Reading further in Pound, I was moved profoundly as I contemplated the Subject, or Image, that I always chase in my watercolor pursuits:

An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . . . It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously wihich gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits, that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.

And then I laughed out loud when I encountered these words:

It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.

Wow.  In all my paintings, I am confronting some kind of Image that has held me spellbound, making me want to linger over it and use every means possible to capture its essence and put it on the page.  When viewers tell me they are “held” by a painting of mine, I’m gratified, knowing that what moved me got to them as well.  But as to presenting that “one Image” versus a great volume of work–well, how can one accomplish the former without the latter?  Frankly, I have no idea which painting from my past is my “best”, nor do I lose sleep wondering.  I find my deepest satisfaction in being prolific, and when my final painting issues from me, I can only hope that something in that “volume” can approach the notion of Quality, can meet the standard of Image in its ability to reach out to someone else besides me.

The “volume” is where I find my satisfaction, and for years now, I have enjoyed the process of painting much more than standing back and looking at my finished, framed work hanging on a wall or positioned on an easel.  My joy comes in the act of painting, and much of my struggle currently as a schoolteacher is the knowledge that the majority of my daily hours now is given to the classroom, along with all the attendant “stuff” necessary to support the classroom hours.  My reality this weekend is an enormous stack of papers to grade, because after all, I am paid to produce numbers on a spreadsheet to give an indicator of a student’s educational growth.  No pressure there.

I did manage about ninety minutes of uninterrupted, slow-moving work on my watercolor.  Using purples with some yellow, I worked in the shadows beneath the truck, finished the front end of the truck, worked on the curbing in front of and behind the truck, and then did further corrections with pencil, trying to make the drawing portions of this work as accurate as possible.  I’m still working on the complementary balance of a lavender pavement in the foreground against a warm gold background.  The complementary greens against the reds are also a constant challenge.  I’m enjoying these matters of composition and decision-making, and it was a good ninety minutes.

Now, wIth reluctance, I lay down the brush and wade through the stack of papers, hoping to return to the Image before the weekend runs its course and I begin the next five-day round in the classroom.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

Robert Frost

Thanks for reading.  It has been a lovely Saturday morning.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Coffee and Cigarettes

April 18, 2013
Beginning a Cafe Still Life Late at Night in the Man Cave

Beginning a Cafe Still Life Late at Night in the Man Cave

. . . the arts give us our best data for determining what sort of creature man is.

Ezra Pound, “The Serious Artist”

Years ago, I watched the film “Coffee and Cigarettes” when it first came out.  I had seen the trailers and was mesmerized, thinking this was a must-see film.  I didn’t finish the movie, thinking it was totally vacuous, and a waste of my time.  But I never forgot it.  And I always wondered what it was in the trailers that led me to think it was a great film.

Two mornings ago, getting ready for school, I scanned the TV channels over breakfast, and saw that “Coffee and Cigarettes” was airing.  At 6:00 a.m.  So I tuned in.  And immediately, I saw what had nailed me on the trailers.  The black-and-white cinematography of the arrangements of cups of coffee and saucers on cafe tablecloths from a high angle were exquisite.  I got excited.  I saw that the movie was re-airing at 11:30, so I set the DVR to record it.  Coming home, I sat through another thirty minutes of the film.  Again, I was knocked over by the still-life shots of the arrangements on the table.

So.  Today after school, I went to an antique store, found some pillow cases with a cafe table generic design on them.  Bought a pair of Ultima China diner’s mugs, and returned home, feeling I had hit the lottery.  I spent part of the afternoon setting up several arrangements on my drafting table, till I finally settled on this one of a mug on the checkered cloth, an antique pair of spectacles with their case, and a yellowed envelope with a 1961 postmark and 4-cent canceled postage stamp.

All I have had time to do was sketch the composition, darken a background, and lay in some wet-on-wet shadows on the table top and coffee mug, and stain the envelope.  It got pretty wet and soupy, and I still have some school work to complete for the morning.  Already it is 11:51 p.m., so I figure it is time to put this on the blog, finish my school work and head for the sack.  Glad tomorrow is Friday.  The weekend promises to be beautiful and I have received a plein air painting invitation that is too good to turn down.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.