#1 decembrance 2021

Welcome to another series of my decembrance project. Each year the accumulation of 21 images is part memoir, part ode to the light as we count down to the shortest day of the year. It is a glimpse of the pots I have been making, the growing and browning things that catch my eye mixed with poems or quotes that resonate with the moment. Each year as the calendar shifts to December I wonder, Is it darker this year? The leaves have piled higher and deeper. The wind registers a different chord. By writing I remember that my task is to pay attention to the moments of light no matter if it is sunrise, flat noon, sunset, or candle light.

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

–Mark Strand, The Coming of Light

equinox 2021

When I talk about my work I often use analogies inspired by seeds and gardens. Today as I dug through photographs of myself while pregnant to share with my daughter — who is due to have her baby a day before her own birthday — I thought more about roots. I came across so many images of Warren and I building our house, studio and kilns. We have collaborated to bring up our child, fire our kilns, exhibit our work and dig our roots. The land was pasture when we bought it. We have planted trees and flowers, vines, vegetables and ideas. It took me a long time to feel like Virginia was my home. Many cycles of the seasons have turned their heads. I can look back to see how we have grown our roots and admire the passing summer and welcome the fall.

Dahlia in cw bowl with wf wire sphere

As I dig for wild orchids
in the autumn fields,
it is the deeply-bedded root
that I desire,
not the flower.

-Izumi Shikibu

#21 summer summit 2021

Tonight, June 21st, marks the end of this series. Technically, yesterday may have been the accurate marking of the solstice. But the 21st is what I think of as the the longest day of the year here in Virginia. It really feels like true summer. Hot, humid and still we worked in the depths of the kiln. I am grateful for the long hours of daylight. It’s hard to find a poetic sense of completion so I write as if I had the last pencil on earth to capture evening glimpses of light.

Write as though you had in hand the last pencil on earth,

-Charles Wright, from “Body and Soul,” A Short History of the Shadow, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002

#20 summer summit 2021

I often describe firing the wood kiln as akin to steering a large ship. It takes a long time to gain momentum, to load, and then to change direction. The pandemic has skewed my sense of scale and time. It has left me thinking about the things I miss and making work for the kiln has me asking what is missing from the accumulated body of work. The desire to fire the kiln is like a boat that is parked outside my studio with a captain who has been blowing the signal-horn. Every time I walk by our whale-shaped kiln it shouts out, waving bright flags instead of the reality of mouse nests, crickets, and spider webs. I have been checking my inner timetable. Today we opened the door, cleared out the crickets, chased the mouse away, and began to load pots. I have always loved the sea, but this whale-shaped kiln set into the hillside calls my name.

Missing The Boat

It is not so much that the boat passed
and you failed to notice it.
It is more like the boat stopping
directly outside your bedroom window,
the captain blowing the signal-horn,
the band playing a rousing march.

The boat shouted, waving bright flags,
its silver hull blinding in the sunlight.

But you had this idea you were going by train.

You kept checking the time-table,
digging for tracks.

And the boat got tired of you,
so tired it pulled up the anchor
and raised the ramp.

The boat bobbed into the distance,
shrinking like a toy—
at which point you probably realized
you had always loved the sea.

-Naomi Shihab Nye, Different Ways to Pray, Breitenbush Publications, 1980

#19 summer summit 2021

I used to imagine the day I was born but later I realized all the images I pictured were from my father or my older brothers’ perspective, not from my Mom. When we cleared out my parents’ NYC loft we had huge arguments about who should house my mother’s journals. Eventually my oldest brother agreed that I should keep them on the proviso that I also took the years of Museum of Modern Art date books my parents always used to keep track of their lives. Last year I paged through to look at my Mom’s notes leading up to my birth. I found these little daily notes had way more information about my history than I had imagined. There were the dates of when she had been exposed to German measles and when it was no longer a threat. There were doctors appointments and end of school celebrations for my brothers, visits with her siblings. These specific events are what shaped my life. My mother taught me to celebrate the everyday, the flowers on the side of the road, the city gallery, the candle at dinner, and the fireflies off the porch. She taught me that we are making this life up as we go along, between sunset and the clay between my hands holding tight.

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

-Lucille Clifton, won’t you celebrate with me, from “Book of Light,” Copper Canyon Press, 1993

#18 summer summit 2021

I love the momentum of making pots for the wood kiln– a long cycle of throwing and building and imagining how each piece will fill the organic space of the kiln. At the end when I have to quit I feel as if I have scraps of ideas that roll around my brain like incomplete poems. It’s always hard to say, “ok this is it, no more for this cycle.” There is excitement for the firing but a wave of sadness for the unmade.

& then there are those scrap poems, the ones too beautiful to finish writing, ones that would bring us too great a sadness if we ever thought they could really end. There are many of those.

-J. Todd Hawkins, from “Hooks Brothers,” in This Geography of Thorns: Blues Poetry from the Mississippi Delta & Beyond, Poetry Society of Texas, 2020.

#17 summer summit 2021

I am at the end of the cycle of making for the wood kiln. I have had intuitive lists of things to make. Some shapes take more effort and forethought but at this point I cannot second guess what I make. Often on the last day of wet work I feel like I don’t have enough tall narrow things. So I make a final series as supports for other objects; it feels like I am making aesthetic kiln furniture. This time around the last things in process are coming from my artistic ancestors. I can see the influences of native American pots or Silla dynasty Korean forms. There might be a bit of the syntax of Japanese Shigaraki storage jars or Chinese Han dynasty compositions. But there is always the influence of the Virginia clay soil that grows so many flowers as well as the porch dinners where pots are used and shared, arriving at completion.

Every poem has poetry ancestors. My poetry would not exist without Audre Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival,” without Mvskoke stomp dance call-and-response, without Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck,” without Meridel Le Sueur or N. Scott Momaday, without death or sunrise, without Walt Whitman, or Navajo horse songs, or Langston Hughes, without rain, without grief, without—
 
-Joy Harjo, from Every Poem Has Ancestors in The Paris Review [Link]

#16 summer solstice 2021

Last night visiting friends we lingered at dusk picking blueberries. Their bushes were brimming with berries.Today mid-afternoon we went back and filled more small containers. We felt rich and lucky, loving the ease of the southern high bush berries versus the tasty wild low bushes in Maine. At our house we are between harvests. The earliest is all done and the mid-season has not yet ripened. Our bushes are somewhat shaded. The deer and birds often snack, but to my knowledge the bears have not discovered them.

Some berries fall:
those are for squirrels.
Some are unripe, reserved for bears.
Some go into the metal bowl.
Those are for you, so you may taste them
just for a moment.
That’s good times: one little sweetness
after another, then quickly gone.

Blackberries by Margaret Atwood

#15 summer summit 2021

In 2012 we did an exhibition of plate and bowl sets with Omen-Azen in New York City. When we were working on the calendar/catalog Mikio felt that each set should have a poetic name. Warren and I tended to give our pots pragmatic names like fat vase or iron brush strokes. Mikio suggested thunderstorm or moon vase. We had to listen hard to hear the names the plates used to refer to themselves. Since that year we have tuned our ears to hear the names of the pots.

Give me the names for things, just give me their real names,
Not what we call them, but what
They call themselves when no one’s listening —

-Charles Wright, from The Writing Life, in “Appalachia,” Farrar, Straus Giroux, 1998

#14 summer summit 2021

I try not to repeat myself in a given series either in the pots I photo, or the flowers, or veggies, or quotes. But sometimes I work as if I was touching the undersides of pots. So the plants in the garden and the objects all need to be touched again.

I’d rather be loose fire
Licking the edges of all things but the absolute
Whose murmur retoggles me.
I’d rather be memory, touching the undersides
Of all I ever touched once in the natural world.

-Charles Wright, from Bicoastal Journal, in “Oblivion Banjo,” Farrar, Straus Giroux