The Tree of Life

“The Tree of Life,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Take This Life”

The previous owner barely used it,
only took it weekly to the grocery store for years.
It will run for miles; all the records are legit.
The upholstery is clean, and undamaged by tears.
The windshield-wipers stick a little, just a little bit.
It runs a little hot when you give it unleaded fears.
But it will run for miles more, with drivers’ hands that fit.
And take the turns that come—bends and brakes and veers.

Take this life and drive it hard, coast to coast.
Take it on the ferry, and to the furthest desert outpost.
Share it with a friend in need, but always take it back.
Paint it anyway you want—polka-dotted, rainbow, black.
Just use it well, without neglect; that’s what it needs the most.
To be driven all it can, to be used to the utmost.
Not to live in a garage, or on one boring track.
To be used for all it can, despite a little clunk and clack.


A Flame

Oils on 60 x 90 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Playing in the woods with friends”

Together we stumble, laughing, getting dirty
and sometimes hurt—brambles, poison ivy, strange bites.
My mother warned me about this, but she was wrong.
Every time I run into the woods with new friends,
instead of losing a piece of my soul, I gain—

maybe it is a hollow after all, this place
where loves grows,
laughter echoes,
something is lost
to make room
for yet more joy.


Sunday Rilke and Writing

Walter Kaufmann so spoiled me with his excellent Goethe translation, I’m struggling to get back into my Oxford World Classics Rilke. The translations (Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland) are not comparable. The meter is missing. Plus, when I read the German and then the side-by-side English to Deutsch lernen, and then check what I’ve written cribbing from the Rilke, my own poetry doesn’t mean what I thought it meant! How am I supposed to steal from the best with bad translations? So much for authorial intent…

Here are a few Rilke poems from that collection, and my crib thereof. Happy Sunday—and please don’t hesitate to correct my German.

Aus: Larenopfer


Der Träumer (II)

Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—
So wie jene sind sie bunt und reich.
Aus dem Riesenstamm der Lebenssäfte
ziehn sie just wie jene ihre Kräfte,
brüsten sich mit dem ersaugten Blute,
freuen in der flüchtigen Minute,
in der nächsten sind sie tot und bleich.—
Und wenn Welten oben leise gehen,
fühlst du’s dann nicht wie von Düften wehen?
Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—

From Offerings to the Lares

The Dreamer (II)

Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—
Like them brilliant and opulent, 
like them drawing through the giant stem
of living sap the juices of their strength, 
like them flaunting an absorbed life-blood, 
[sic] revelling in the fleetness of the minute, 
then, in the next, pallid as the dead.—
And when, softly, worlds pass overhead, 
do you not feel their winds, flower-scented?
Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—

And Aus: Advent (from Advent):

Das ist mein Streit:
durch alle Tage schweifen.
Dann, stark und breit,
mit tausend Wurzelstreifen
tief in das Leben greifen—
und durch das Leid
weit aus dem Leben reifen,
weit aus der Zeit!

This is my struggle:
dedicated to longing,
to wander the paths of days.
Then sturdied, strong,
with thousand rootlets grasping
deep into the terrain
of life, through pain
to ripen far beyond life and
far beyond time! 

So much Romantic poetry can be read through lenses of despair. I love how Rilke can go darker than the darkest, but still end up saying (as above): Here I am, I am vagabonding but not fleeing, and I am going to take root when it is time, and endure beyond limits.

The word choices are interesting even to me, knowing so little German as yet. Of course Hitler would have chosen a harsher word for struggle than Rilke’s Streit in his Mein Kampf. Kampf sounds more like it could mean punch—while Streit sounds like it could mean straight or street, or a bright light in your eyes. Perhaps uncomfortable in the distinct “Str,” long I of “ei,” and definitive ending “t.” But not aggressive like “K,” and almost flatulent or uncaring (imagine a sighing person saying it) like “ampf.” They’re synonyms, but I wonder if their sense is exactly the same, and only the sound differs? If that’s even possible in language, as far as connotation and felt sense can be separated.

Here’s mine (or maybe my German poetry will be Felicia Faust’s)— blatantly stealing, as poets do, from my friend Rilke:

Bunt und reich,
stark und breit—
neue Kleiden—
tragen Tageseiden.

Colorful and rich,
strong and broad—
wearing new clothes—
wearing days of silk.

Mitleiden is more precisely co-suffering (mit + leiden) than fellow-feeling, but poets will be poets… I suppose I could argue the co-suffering in the German is sarcastic, and sarcasm doesn’t always translate? Oy. I mean it though, in a way, even while it’s sarcastic. Part of a beautiful life, of wearing days of silk, is having community and empathizing with others’ struggles.

I shall call it: “Thinking of Shopping for a Sundress while Sunbathing without and Butchering the Pronunciation and Probably the Sense Also of Rilke”… (Title to be used while wearing a beret, smoking a cigarette, and trying out a new stand-up bit on being a poet, if I ever get around to it.)


Goethe Before Carroll

Goethe writes (Faust, 1808, trans. Walter Kaufmann):

Seht, da kommt der Dudelsack!
Es ist die Seifenblase.
Hört den Schneckeschnickeschnack
Durch seine strumpfe Nase.

Now the bagpipe’s joining in,
A soap bubble it blows;
Hear the snicker-snacking din
Come through his blunted nose.

Carroll follows (Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871):


’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Goethe was writing well before Carroll, raising the questions: Is snicker-snack onomatopoeia? Was Carroll referencing Goethe? Or are both possible?



Red Flower, April in Berlin

“Red Flower, April in Berlin,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). From this spring flower photo series from Gärten der Welt. 

“Spring Art”

Everywhere in spring, you can see the painters run amok.
The tulip leaves’ brushstrokes bend like canvas in the wind.
The cold, white sun is cutting golden angles on tree tops,
measuring and marking halo after halo, ray on top of ray.

Some people say the colors are too bright—unrealistic.
But the artists of the earth and air, water and sky, insist:
There is no limit to the vibrance.
The sweet softness will continue to shimmer and overflow.
If you get up close, every bloom is a perfect paper swan.
Every fold in blossom and bend in branch offers its art to the sky.


Reviews, Trips, and Sketches

Lots of art, little blogging! It’s a good life. Here’s a brief bloggular update on the reviews, trips, and sketches I’ve been up to lately.

Cornelia Schleime, Female Kingfisher,” 2016, acrylic, asphalt, and shellac on canvas. 

My next half dozen art reviews appeared on the new art criticism website The Delicious Line:
– #
3/Cornelia Schleime at Berlinische Galerie,
– #4/John Bock at Berlinische Galerie,
– #5/Fleischeslust: George Grosz in dialogue with others at Galerie Deschler,
– #6/The Field Has Eyes: Images of the Surveillant State at the Museum of Photography,
– #7/Watching You, Watching Me: A Photographic Response to Surveillance at the Museum of Photography, and
– #8/Adrian Piper’s Probable Trust Registry at the Hamburger Banhof. 

A few people have said they saw exhibits I reviewed, didn’t get them at the time, and so really enjoyed my criticism because it shed light on the substance of the art. That makes me really happy. One of the best feelings in the world is making art or writing or doing activism, and hearing that “ping!” somewhere in the world, where you had an impact, however small, although you were sort-of minding your own business attending to truth or watching the sun set, which sometimes feels like the same thing.

Sunny, art-filled Frankfurt. 

Since I moved to Berlin in Nov. 2015, I’ve been asking gallery owners and artists how to make a living here as an artist. Everyone says you live here—”poor but sexy” Berlin—and sell elsewhere. So last winter I visited Munich and talked to some wonderful people, but didn’t find the art scene there bustling. I continued remaking my oeuvre from scratch after having to leave all my art in the U.S. when I immigrated. My ridiculously supportive and talented partner helped me make a proper portfolio book showcasing my new art, and this-here beautiful new website filled with proper, high-quality photographs in its beautiful, working webstore. Then last week and this, I finally took the proper portfolio book to pitch galleries my paintings. I’ll probably blog next week in the format of my old gratitude lists (e.g., CCCLisbon, Amsterdam/Berlin, Hack 42…)—about this recent trip to Nuremberg/Frankfurt. I also need to schedule next pitching trips to Hamburg and Cologne/Düsseldorf, if anyone knows nice artsy people there…

Finally, the past few months I’ve been accidentally accumulating sketches of ridiculously beautiful women to paint from. But I’m greedy and I want to sketch more (and better) before developing a painting series out of these… Some of the sketches reflect motion, the fast movements of subjects who are enjoying conversation or life rather than posing. In some, I was able to begin instead to capture the beauty of the woman, which always feels like a magic trick and a privilege. As always in art, I want to do more/better before sharing what I have—but that’s not what working artists do.

So maybe next week I’ll also start blogging a selection of those sketches, along with short poems inspired by my ridiculously kind, smart, sweet model-friends… Like this one.

“Although you won’t listen, I will say it again as if to myself”

Run away from your fiancé.
Run away from your boss.
Sit on the dock of the bay.
Don’t worry about the cost.


Poetry Brothel Berlin Launch Success

Photo: Philipp Bögle.

Poetry Brothel Berlin launched last week, thanks to writer and Madame Nathalie Dewalhens‘ years-long masterminding, show shepherdess Jos Porath’s careful herding, and a whole lot of creativity and effort from a whole lot of other talented people. I had so much fun. Friends are still thanking me for the invite, some saying it was the best party they’d been to—combining high art (e.g., opera, naked cello, classical piano) with intimate poetry readings and a generally informal atmosphere, with fancy costumes and lots of moving around, different things going on… We imagined it might be what the theater was like in Shakespeare’s day, when what we now consider high art was actually mass entertainment and people moved around being social (eating, drinking, talking, flirting) while enjoying it. It had that vibe of “something special is happening and I am here for it—and damn, is it fun.”

Photo: @ucalelelady.

There were too many remarkable artists to name. Among others, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing singer and harpist, and experiencing her perform. If you don’t know Gillian Grassie—you will. She plays the harp like a jazz pianist plays the keyboard. And sings her own stuff with the voice to match. She made me wish we already had in place the technology that will be common in 10 years, where LED screens form a sort of a word threshold over live performers so you can read the lyrics (coming on the left, current above, just done on the right) as they sing. So as you’re gobsmacked by the beauty of the music and the performance, you can also get every word. It also made me grateful we didn’t have time for my own singing…

Although I prepared my two current favorite poem-songs (Raggedy Thing and Stain Louis) to sing with the pianist, I didn’t sing during the Brothel performance. My wonderful singer friend and vocal coach Ines Theileis helped me be sure I was ready the day before… With her guidance, I can hear my voice get where it can get, and feel I could carry a room like that with my back open, the right bits relaxed and tensed in turns, swell where it needs swell and soft where soft goes. Or, as Zadie Smith as Lady Day says in The New Yorker this week:

something in the modulation of your throat leaps up, like a kid reaching for a rising balloon, except most kids miss while you catch it—yes, you catch it almost without expecting to—landing on an incidental note, a perfect addition, one you never put in that phrase before, and never heard anyone else do, and yet you can hear at once that it is perfection. Perfection!

But the evening as a whole was unrehearsed, and I didn’t get a chance in the flow of it to do that thing among my things. It might bear mentioning here that I attempted to do everything I could conceivably get away with doing: I came early and left late, washed windowsills before, tried to get the very drunk girl home safe after, and brought my sweet hot man for sound engineering in-between. One artist was sketching, so I brought a pad and pencil, and sketched. Poets were reciting, so I prepared a performance manuscript and recited. When I learned at the planning meeting there would be music, I tried collaborating with the pianist to join in that, too. I am a greedy, hungry artist, and I want all the things.

Photo: Nathalie Dewalhens. This is btw how amazing the Tangoloft normally looks. 

So I came home and (after sleeping something like 12 hours?!) started learning Noteflight, a program that does many music things I’ve dreamed of for years. It closes the loop between hearing something that sounds right, and writing it in proper music notation to play with rewriting and then learning it. It closes the loop between hearing something and transcribing it for a different instrument or key (like I’ve been dying to do Tori Amos-style with a few Rage Against the Machine songs). And it closes the loop between my chicken scratch music notation that I like to draft stuff in, and the proper staff notation that I like to learn/read music in. I’m hoping my song binder that I left in Boston when I left the U.S. will get here someday, and then I can properly notate and revise/relearn some old favorites I wanted to work on some more (e.g., “Warm Tidings,” a Christmas song about climate change, and my song version of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope“).

It will be better to perform these poem-songs when I have my own, proper piano accompaniment written, rewritten, and learned, with the help of Noteflight, to play myself while I sing. And at that, probably at an open mic, where I can play with my performance anxiety among other people who are afraid they’ll manage to light themselves on fire while choking at the same time. (After hearing me laugh out loud at myself imagining this outcome in vivid detail while attempting to take a much-needed nap, my ridiculously sweet boyfriend developed a two-tier plan for what he would do if that happened… ) There are performers who are consummate musicians first. And then there are performers who are poets, and some of their songs happen to have melody and need to go through the whole process of coming out that way; and I am the latter. But I still need to do it and do it right.

I did a lot of preparation like that, that was probably more for me as an artist than for this one night. Like printing out and reading through a performance manuscript of the best of my old and new poetry, so I could perform it not off-book but with a felt sense of it, fresh. This all resulted in me having a short introductory poem (“Raggedy Thing”) memorized to perform at the beginning of the Brothel, as the Madames introduced their Poetry Whores. Some “customers” wanted my website to find what I had read them and see more of my work. One group made my night returning at the end to tell me that my performance was the highlight of their evening. Maybe it was just for this one night, but maybe the Brothel will have other performances… Plus, now I have a performance poetry book to take to open mics, that looks nicer than sheets of paper.

Also, I managed to not light myself on fire while choking in front of 100+ people.

Photo: Philipp Bögle.


Behind the Moon

“Behind the Moon,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Behind the moon and under the sea”

Behind the moon and under the sea,
the seasons change quite differently.
The currents run quick with no light to bend.
The leaves don’t fall and the blooms don’t end.
How does the rose know when it’s been a year?
Or the hunter when it’s time to seek the deer?

Under the sea and behind the moon,
the dish runs away with the fork and spoon.
Some things are different, but some are the same.
Dishes and spoons still play their old game.
Singers take songs from the water, and sing.
Artists take in and pour out everything.

Builders make houses and homes and walls.
Farmers make food, and crow-scaring dolls.
People make friends and babies and foes.
Friends share friends and stories and woes.
Behind the moon and under the sea,
when we choose we can live quite happily.