Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Poem - About Blue

Hello. I'm back after having been away again - life keeps taking unexpected turns. Maps don't exist for certain uncertain territories so it's been a case of staying present to the moment, being vigilant, trusting my gut; the upside is that by 'taking our waking slow and going where we have to go' (I'm scrambling Theodore Roethke dreadfully here. . . apologies ;) ) we discover new ways to keep our rudder more-or-less straight in the water; we pick up new tools for our toolboxes, learn better fire-building skills, come to know better where to look and what for, what to bring and what to leave behind. And we discover to our relief that there are ways to introduce light and warmth to dark, unfamiliar landscapes.

My older son Daniel spent last week enjoying in the physical world a number of maneuvers I was finding challenging in my emotional and spiritual one. . . jumping out of airplanes with flimsy parachutes, crossing deep river canyons on spaghetti-thin steel cables, surfing white water rapids. . . From soar to dump to tumble, he loved every moment of it and returned home glowing with health; I swear he looks taller, more tautly muscled and bright-eyed because of his adventures. I, on the other hand, feel a little puffed and out of breath on my separate marathon and have a way to go yet before I can untie my laces and lie back on soft, cool grass. 

But enough of that for now. . . It's Tuesday and I'm already seven days overdue with last week's poem. I don't want to miss another week. 

Just a few quick words about my boat-making process, because the exhibition's opening an hour from now. Making these boats has been enormously soothing during these past hectic weeks. I finished mounting the installation in the Blue Oyster gallery yesterday. . . they're in a room of their own, occupy one full wall from North to South and West to East. For many reasons, I have more depth of feeling for this piece than any other I've made in thirty years of art-making - which says something, doesn't it? It has peeled back the shadows and opened up a myriad new spaces; has contained me and taken me traveling in ways no other 'static' piece has. I've come to see myself and my loved ones more clearly as a direct result of my involvement with this work; these are truths to be grateful for. My hope now is that Drift will go on to bring a sense of calm and replenishment to others who come to experience it. 

As I mentioned, the exhibition, titled A Museum of Obsessions and curated by Jodie Dalgliesh opens to the public at 5.30PM this evening (please come along, anyone who's near enough?). It will be up until 24 December. (You can read more about this group collection here and here.)

(I was thrilled to find that the paper boats become transparent when the film is projected across their surfaces; they look as though they're made of ice or glass. This allows for all kinds of intriguing spatial ambiguities.) 


For today's TP, I've chosen a poem that relates to this current project quite by chance. I wrote it years before embarking on these bamboo and paper flotillas and years before Antarctica was anywhere in the frame. . . (Don't you love it when your unconscious runs up ahead of you, showing you the way forward even though you might not know it at the time?).    


Blue is vagabond amongst colours.

Reckless, untamed, it disembodies
whatever becomes caught in it.

Once, I brushed the surface 
of a boat blue; within moments 
there were the ocean and sky - 
no longer a boat in view. 

And have you heard? Blue 
has an appetite for monsters.
Stampeding and bellowing 
like shapes fall into themselves
slip down the throat of blue 
into water the inside colour
of glass.

Imagine a slow drunkenness
on vapours of blue. Easy it is 
to spin dizzy just at the thought
of it coupling some distance 
from shore, at sea with rose madder 
or gold. If you close your eyes
tightly, I think you will find blue
coiling a wind rope, coaxing lines 
of water and air from currents 
of emerald and indigo. 


For more Tuesday Poems, please visit the hub where Brian Turner's wonderful poem Fisherman begins. . . 

"When the fisherman found
he could no longer row his dinghy
the tide went out with his heart . . . "

Sunday, November 21, 2010

DRIFT - snippets

Oh yay, what I'd hoped to be able to post today turns out to be do-able (doable?). . . 

I want to share three very short excerpts from the film sequence that accompanies the paper flotilla. . . The film 'proper' is now finished (it's not very long - 11 minutes or thereabouts, and silent - but it'll be looped to become a kind of visual mantra that has no beginning and no end). I haven't quite settled on the configuration for the installation part of this piece yet, but it seems to want to be a circle; ie. a mandala. 

I see this as a meditation piece, an invitation to step outside the noise and bustle of every day and into an ambiguous, dreamlike space. By stepping outside and away, we are sometimes able to re-enter our ordinary experiences more fully, returning to them refreshed or replenished? 

In my imagination, the boats sit away from the wall, packed closely, hull-side up in the lower hemisphere and gradually inverting and separating out as they rise. This is what happens under the ice - - - in order to drift, the boats have to flip themselves over, capturing an invisible cushion of air as they do. It's the air that then carries them through the water, transporting them upwards till they come to rest on the under-belly of the ice. I'm playing around with the idea of creating a circle out of the static or 'frozen' boats, with a 'still centre' that becomes the container for the film's activity - rather like an 'eye' within whose 'iris' the drifting boats come alive, journey and tell their story. Hopefully they will reveal something to us about our story, too, as they act out their small boat drama. 

Heaven knows, we're on this journey together and it's sure as nuts unpredictable. There are passages of great turbulence, heartache, ecstasy and calm - not to mention everything else in between. We must make our solo voyage within our communal one. . . and, too, the other way round. Drift (I think that's the name of this piece) alludes to these themes. If we were to liken this business of living to a piece of complex music, I think we'd all agree that playing it with both technical facility and full feeling requires years and years of practice; some bits we have to go over and over and over again in the hopes we might some day get them right. Some passages are a breeze and we can sail through without batting an eye lid; others, we might have to accede, are better played by someone else with a different skill set or instrument. One thing's for sure - no bar of it is dull. 

Kate's sad, but rich and triumphant funeral yesterday illuminated again how life is urgent, precious - and now. 

Underwater film footage captured in New Harbor, Antarctica, by Henry Kaiser and Shawn Harper; boats released under the sea ice by Sam Bowser; concept and direction by moi (as part of an ongoing collaboration; 2005 - the present) 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

When in doubt

. . . add another boat or ten to the flotilla

(I think I have just about enough now to create my wall poem)

Friday, November 19, 2010

When the heart

from A Confession - by Michael Leunig

"Once upon a time I used to be a political cartoonist. I worked for a Melbourne newspaper called Newsday but I had trouble making witty, incisive jokes.

One Saturday morning in 1969, struggling towards a deadline and trying to draw a cartoon about the Vietname war, a strange thing happened to me. In an act of merry insolence; as a small rebellion against deadlines, punchlines and politics I sidestepped my obligations and the grave topic in hand and drew what I thought was an absurd, irresponsible triviality. Tempting fate, I presented it to the editor for publication.

It showed a man riding towards the sunset on a large duck. On his head he wore a teapot. Not a 'proper' cartoon by conventional standards, quite loopy in fact, but a joyous image nevertheless.

The editor told me he didn't know what it meant but laughed, shook his head and published it. I suspect that deep down, to my good fortune, he understood.

Many years later I was able to interpret the meaning of this drawing with certitude.

The man was most definitely me and the teapot, worn like a fool's cap, symbolized warmth, nourishment and domestic familiarity. The duck represented feelings of primal freedom and playfulness; qualities sadly lacking, I thought, from the world of political commentary and critical awareness.

Innocently I had drawn my impending departure from political cartooning, my flight to freedom. In a moment of perversity and release I had drawn my liberating image.

In the wake of this drawing I at once began to express my most personal self with less embarrassment; to play with my ideas more freely; to bring warmth into my work; to focus on modest, everyday situations and nature as sources of imagery and to see my work as nourishing rather than mocking or hurtful.

I experimented my way onward with feelings of mischief and fertility and as I found my feet I began to find my symbols and characters. A small, wide-eyed creature with a huge nose evolved off the end of my nib; a naked angel; wingless, ageless, genderless; an innocent messenger-fool presenting no possible threat and therefore permitted to state any case or express any feeling shamelessly.

Years passed and Mr Curly arrived on a bicycle, a large perky curl rising frond-like from his head; drawn that way because it felt right and looked funny. But the curl turned out to be the tender, unfurling motion of nature's growth; the unfolding consciousness; the way in which the heart reaches out into the world.

And sailing over the horizon in a battered armchair came Vasco Pyjama, the brave searcher who left all that was understood and safe to circumnavigate his own world.

The job of these arrivals however was matched by the pain of sudden, unexpected departures, depressions and loss of confidence when the hand and the heart could not draw or refused to draw: errors, failures, and humiliations when everything seemed to collapse into foolishness and squalor.

And in the gloom of these interminable periods friends and comrades leaned close to whisper prayers of encouragement and comfort. Others came from behind to steal and wound and confound. It's traditional. The best drawing ink is bitter and sweet and salty.

Yet my moon always hung faithfully in the sky: constant companion, luminous and remote, gentle symbol of mystery, femininity and noctural wisdom. . . "

If you haven't yet discovered Michael Leunig and his generous blend of creative and philosophical wisdom, I am sure you will want to. . .  Continue the journey on his website - www.leunig.com.au


When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open

Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sing.

Let  a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring

from The Prayer Tree, HarperCollinsPublishers 1990 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Small miracles

I'm on the lookout for small miracles and find there are plenty around, just waiting to be found.  Take this tiny white flower; it's no more than 6mm across in any direction

and these haloed grass heads, flowering in their gazillions down near the harbour's edge.

These Katherine Wheel seed heads belong to what I think is a Virginia creeper sprawling exuberantly across the sidewalk just below my house 

and these micro-magnets arrived in yesterday's mail. . . magnets are a miracle any day of the week, but these are exquisite! A kind-sounding man named Gordon from dangerousmagnets.co.nz sent them to me to trial with my boats. I have to find an invisible way to mount the flotilla to the gallery wall and thought magnets might do the trick. These are much tinier than I'd imagined, despite being given the diameter measurements over the phone. Would you believe there are 23 magnets in this tiny wee stack?!

They're remarkably strong (they'd think nothing of taking possession of my hefty bunch of keys were I to inch them a tiny bit closer). Separating the key head from the magnets with a match calms the energy field down a bit. . .  

This afternoon I recalled another small miracle that happened a little while ago and that still makes me smile. I was in Tasmania at the time. Apparently cowries are a rare-if-at-all find on Tasmanian beaches. I was reminiscing about my childhood in Africa where I'd spent hours and hours searching for baby cowries on the South Coast beaches. I had just spoken the last few lines of my Give Me Thunder poem out loud to my friend Rupert  - 'give me white-ribbed cowries, an amber ball to roll beneath my feet, down to sand and salt water's edge. . . '- when I looked down and there one was sitting between my feet; on a coastline almost entirely barren of shells. But that isn't all. Unbeknown to me, a friend on the other side of the world had spotted a lone cowrie on the ocean floor in Florida, USA. We had not spoken to each other for over a year; a plain manilla envelope arrived in the mail a week or so after I returned home; inside, a small cowrie sellotaped to a piece of white card. 

Look out for small miracles. . . and may they find you, if you don't find them first.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Phuque II

Therese - known to many of us T., T.Clear or Premium T - posted a link in my comments box while I was out this afternoon (I do, on the very odd occasion, leave my home and brave town to do chores; PO, bank, supermarket, ink cartridge place (they didn't have the cyan I needed today, of course. . . and my printer spits the dummy and refuses to print when just one of its cartridges is low on ink. . . talk about temperamental.). 

Anyway,  I've just got home, poured a glass of wine (yes, it's early, but it feels late), unpacked my bits and pieces and opened up my computer. T's video link is just the ticket. The narrator, with his beautifully refined voice - almost as gravelly and gorgeous as Garrison Keillor's - makes it all the more entertaining. Thanks, T ; ) 



Tuesday Poem - Phuque


Yesterday I went walking,
words kicking in my head, against
my ribs, beneath my soft-soled
feet. And on the way, I stumbled
on a top in a shop with FUckfu
ckfuckFUcKfUCkfuck printed
all over it, back and front.
In 'Wild Pair' it was, white
on black; no splash of colour
to distract or dilute the impact.
And oh, I wanted it. Plain
and simple. Black and white.
I wanted those hot, hard words,
their angular passion sprawling
across my skin just this once
scattering my old school nuns
into corners. FUcKfuckFuc

F u C k.

A fine fierce word.
A pleasure to practice.


Okay, so today I'm a little rough around the edges. Ragged times can bring out the rebel; I feel like sticking my tongue out and behaving badly. Hence my choice of poem this week. . . I wrote A Manner of Speaking over a decade ago. The F-word - phuque - was definitely not a regular part of my vocabulary back then (I was a conscientious Catholic-then-Anglican boarding school girl; you get the picture. . . ). I envied people who could casually toss the word into conversation without apology and without needing to rush off and say seven Hail Mary's. This poem marked an arrival for me! The first time I read it to my writing group, they applauded and didn't send me from the room to go and wash my mouth out (this is a decade and a bit ago, remember. Times they have a-changed!). Chrissie loved this poem. For some reason it made her laugh till she snorted. Kate, too, would have egged me on. Take me with a pinch of salt today, won't you? ; ) 

For more Tuesday Poems, please click here.  

And here's a small rogue angel. . . also one of Ali's. 

Monday, November 15, 2010


companion 1 |kəmˈpanyən|
nouna person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels his traveling companion• a person who shares the experiences of another, esp. when these are unpleasant or unwelcome my companions in misfortune.• a person with similar tastes and interests to one's own and with whom one has a friendly relationship drinking companions.
• Astronomy a star, galaxy, or other celestial object that is close to or associated with another.
ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French compaignonliterally ‘one who breaks bread with another,’* based onLatin com- ‘together with’ panis ‘bread.’

*Seems to me we break bread together daily out here, friends -
I am glad of your company. 


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Circle Song

It's Sunday here. I'm naming it because I seem to live more and more off the calendar these days and every so often need to look up what day of the week it is. Since nothing seems to unfold in a straight line any more, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Time should be all a-muddle, too? 

On Wednesday evening we received the shocking news that our singing friend Kate had collapsed in Australia after a brain aneurysm and been admitted to hospital for emergency surgery. She subsequently suffered two heart attacks. On Friday morning, doctors pronounced her brain dead. Yesterday morning, medical staff switched off her life support system. Can this really have happened? I'm finding it difficult to get my head around. . . On Wednesday morning, Kate rose lightly to a day like any other and forty-eight hours later, her entire world had crashed to the ground. 

What can I - what can anyone - possibly say? After all, this is not reportage; this is flesh and blood and love and loss and rage and grief and ache. There are people hurting - three children have lost their Mother, one has lost his step-mother. Anything I say is going to come out thin and inadequate. 

'Stand in the heart. Stand in the heart. . . ' has become my mantra in recent months. I find myself repeating the words, over and over again, sometimes silently and sometimes out loud. The urgency of their message reverberates in my chest cavity.  

Last night, during a power outage, I lit a grove of candles and spent a few hours at my desk in my safe lap of a house, wandering through iPhoto libraries in search of mandala images for Kate and her family. 


For the past fifteen years, a group of five of us has met on a regular basis to sing a cappella - there have been times when we've met twice a week (if, for example, a festival was on the horizon) but mostly we'd gather weekly or fortnightly. Fortified by companionship, food and wine, we talked a fair bit (rather a lot, actually) but we sang a lot, too. Over fifteen years we gathered up a rich repertoire of songs and shared life stories. Way back when, we named ourselves As Is - these two words/four letters seemed enough to describe who we were; no bells or whistles or fancy shenanigans. Just us, as is; women who loved - still love - to sing.   

Kate was one of our original five, as was our dear and splendid friend Chrissie who died last December after a four-year wrestle with cancer; both lived with their hearts wide-open and wings spread wide. They left this world in full flight. 

Not long after we all met in the early 1990s, Pam wrote a song about the shared journey of friendship. Such young voices we had back then. . .  

I don't know what else to say. Kate, Chrissie - most excellent women - this is a song you know well (Kate, alto; Chrissie, soprano). We embrace you. 

In the circle of joy, in the circle of tears
where we've shared our journey, our laughter, our fears
let's acknowledge what we gave and what we're receiving
for the gifts will live on past our time of leaving.

And now as we journey from our meeting place
not knowing the future or the turnings we face
we go out in boldness and courage that we will be
true to our calling to be all we can be, will be true
to our calling to be all we can be.

Pam Morrison 
Dunedin, 1995

My daughter Ali's Recoleta (Buenos Aires) angel  
Acrylic on board c. 2006


Saturday, November 13, 2010


drift |drift|verb [ intrans. ]be carried slowly by a current of air or water the cabin cruiser started to drift downstream figurative excited voices drifted down the hall.

adrift |əˈdrift|adjective [ predic. adverb(of a boat or its passengers) floating without being either moored or steered

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . . . . . ~ . . ~ ~ ~ ~. . . . ~ ~ ~ . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . . . . . . ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . ~ . . . ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . . . . . . ~ ~ ~ . . ~ . . ~ . . ~~. . . . . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . . . ~ . . ~ . . . . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . . .

Certain themes seem to be recurring both at home base and out here in the blogosphere. Walk. Run. Leap. No don't. Wait. Oh-oh. Splotch. Slowly now. . . r e a c h. No, sorry, I meant to say crouch. Ouch. And so on and so on. Bumpity, bump, bump. . . bump, bump. As Marylinn wrote in her recent post, wake me up when it's not stupid any more? 

Meantime, while things are as they are, we do as we must to keep ourselves on course. I am finding work really helpful at the moment. My focus is on getting an installation together - its various components need to be conjured up and completed within the coming ten days or so (instal date, Sunday 28 November; official opening, Tuesday 30th). I think I might have mentioned this idea here before. . . basically, my task is to produce +/- a thousand paper boats (made in three different sizes to create subtle spatial tensions) and a silent film showing a similar flotilla adrift under the sea ice in Antarctica.

The film part of this installation will be circular in structure; by that, I mean it will loop, and therefore announce no obvious beginning or end. There will be no familiar points of reference, nothing explicit in terms of 'statements of context' or intent. There will be no narration and no music; nothing but the play of light and dark and an ocean of static (on the wall) and floating (in the film) boats to draw you in and hold you there. You will be able to float underwater for hours or days if you feel like it, and you will not have to hold your breath while you're there; neither will you need to come up for air. And, guess what? You won't be expected to wear swimming togs or a wet suit. . . and - you have my word on this - your skin will not resemble a wrinkly old prune when you emerge.

The paper I'm using to make the boats is 300gsm cotton; sheets left over from the printing, in 2007, of my poetry collection. Piles and piles of proofs would ordinarily have been tossed aside and renegaded to the rubbish tip but thankfully I was there at the time the book went to press so was able to rescue (literally, hundreds) of beautiful, large sheets of creamy, acid-free paper for future projects.

In a way, these small boats are messengers, each one carrying a fragment of our common story on its surfaces - a lithographic drawing, a few lines of poetry.

Making paper boats is a wonderfully steadying exercise. I highly recommend it. It has a similar effect (on the mind, at least) as yoga does. There's something about the repetition and focus and the accompanying head-clearing rhythm that does it, I think. It feels a lot more like meditation than obsessive industry or - heaven forbid - indulgence (although I can see how it could easily take on the appearance of either or both, given how many hours - no, days - I'm spending at this.) My intention? To say something about community - how we're a kind of constellation composed of many parts - and at the same time to create a space that loosely references T. S. Eliot's line 'at the still point of the turning world is the dance'. And then I want to invite people in to partake and participate for an extended moment. Does this count as a 'reason'? And is it reason enough? I'm not sure. All I know is that I feel compelled to make this piece.

Measure, rule, cut, stack; mark hull joints, puncture axes with compass point, cut to midpoint using scissors; score, crease, fold, glue, peg x 653 (so far). . . As a process, it's kind of numbing, kind of nice - or, ecin of dnik, gnibmun fo dnik. (Siht si tahw deneppah ta eht dne fo eht yad, detpmorp yb Alemap dna Epolenep aiv liame dna Koobecaf. Ti dah em gnihgual flesym yllis. Uoy dluohs yrt ti, yllaer uoy dluohs. Eht erom uoy od ti, hte reisae ti steg. Dna eht reinnuf.

Sdrawkcab gnitirw smees ot tif htiw s'yadot ddo erehpsomta, t'nod uoy eegra?

Os, owt sgniht ot yrt. . . (1) evititeper gnikam-taob dna (2) gnitirw sdrawkcab. 

; )

147 boats packed together make a mandala, a paper buoy, a kina (sea urchin). . . 


PS. You can find out more about this group exhibition at