Saturday, September 24, 2011

One Hundred Thousand Poets For Change - Me Too!

One of the poetry groups I love spending my time with, Westside Women Writers, had a scheduled meeting today, the last Saturday of September. We were to meet at Georgia's home, bring one poem each, do a workshop, you know, the usual. (We means: Georgia Jones-Davis, Kathi Stafford, Susan Rogers, and Millicent Borges Accardi, the founder and spiritus movens of the group). But then, Millicent, our fearless leader, said: "Wait, did you know this Saturday is the Hundred Thousand Poets for Change event? We have to do something." So that something we did was to read poems, of course, one extra poem each, on the topic of peace, or the transformation that is needed in the world to change its evolution from the current downward slide into chaos and violence.

So it would be peace poetry, anti-war poetry, environmentally-friendly poetry, activist poetry, involved in fixing the evils of this world. The trouble is I do not write this sort of stuff, at least, not obviously so. The closest I get to war themes are my poems for the paintings and art of Manzanar - inspired by art created at the annual Plein Art Workshops of painters conducted at the site of the former detention camp for Japanese Americans and in nearby mountains. The artists have a group show at the APC Gallery in Torrance, curated by artist and gallery owner Ron Liebbrecht. Poets on Site come to write poems and a wonderful book gets published.So every hear, I get closer to the heart of Manzanar, step by step. At the beginning, I studiously avoided the topics of barbed wire and watchtowers, focusing on sunsets instead. I thought that poetry should be more subtle, more ethereal, more of the sky than the earth, and then I found this digital collage by Beth Shibata, photographer and poet, connected to the topic of Manzanar through her Japanese-American husband.

Entitled "What we saw, what we dreamed," Beth's piece is a stark photograph of sharply outlined bare mountains and a pink sky above filled with paper cranes. I thought that they were dancing and called my poem "Skydance." I also dedicated it to Henry Fukuhara, the blind painter who was imprisoned at Manzanar as a child and established these workshops 14 years ago to help heal the wounds through art and keep the memory alive. Henry's friends, Ron and Beth, are doing exactly that, as the workshops and poetry writing goes on.


~ to Henry Fukuhara and the prisoners of Manzanar

the mountains rose and fell
with their glory useless –
trapped in time they did not
think they’d make it –
days so long, stretched
to the horizon, mindless

and the sky danced above them
avalanche of paper cranes

it was not a time for joy
the landscape said –
bleak, unforgiving,
it was not that time yet –
in gaps between minutes
a shadow rose, a breath

and the sky danced above them
spring dreams of paper cranes

contours remembered,
felt in the fingertips
filled the world with color
faded pastels, knowing,
pale rainbow, hues
of distance, peace, serenity

and the sky danced above them
paper cranes, oh, paper cranes

What is a paper crane for? In a Japanese tradition a thousand origami cranes, held together by strings is a wedding gift; apparently after making a thousand of cranes a real crane will come and grant you your wish. They mean that your wish will come true and that you will a very long and happy life. Beth Shibata's artwork places these strings of cranes in the sky, like semi-transparent shadows they are a wish that a wish would come true.

But is this my wish? I'm not Japanese, I'm barely American, having become a citizen only in 2009, after having lived here since 1996. What would my wish for change be? I am not one to speak up about politics, to go to demonstrations. I've learned my lessons from a childhood spent in communist Poland, where you had to hide what you thought, never admit to what you knew, and, in general, make yourself invisible, so you would not be noticed by police and get into trouble.

I know it is impossible to change the system when you need to change it. It will, eventually, evolve, like a dinosaur, moving slowly through time, too slowly for an individual life. The only change we can make, the only transformation we can control is the personal one: we are all challenged to evolve on a spiritual scale, to become more enlightened, better people. I have written a lot of poems about this and will keep writing, but is it something to share in public? I wanted to read a different poem for A Hundred Thousand Poets for Change, a poem about the only change I can make, I can control: my personal quest for light.


- to Theilhard de Chardin in gratitude for his visions of cosmic fire

Brown, muddy, dirty –
the river rushes down its course
to the ocean. The rains pass,
years go by, centuries, ages –
silt into stone into sand.
The circle turns – grinding, crushing.

A spark in the cosmic fire
I rise upward, striving
to shine above the murky waters
that have to flow down,
pulled by gravity.
I’m free to choose – right or wrong,
good or evil. My anger’s gone,
burned by the flame,
that left only ashes
falling into the darkness below.

I ascend through constellations.
Higher, lighter – regrets fall off.
The weight of nightmares lifts.

The crystalline sphere sparkles
as I waltz into the ever greater,
ever brighter blaze of holiness,
spreading above the void.

Tranquility expands, singing
“Consummatum est.”


The last words of my poem, "It is done," are the last words of Christ on the cross, in the old-fashioned Latin. I studied it for a year in high school and three years in college. I like quoting Latin, it is a part of my world, that unique sphere of ideas, memories, thoughts, dreams, and things I've done that marks my place in the world.

My wish for the new world is simple: if everyone did what I'm trying to do, ascend into the light of love, there would be no wars, no violence, no greed, no theft, no betrayal. Maybe then people who run countries now would apologize for what their countries did to other people at other times. Just look at Japanese-Americans, how they were suspected of being secret enemies of the state, how they got three weeks to pack up their lives and go to live in some desolate place, with one of everything, one doll for the child, one pair of shoes. . . But then my Polish family when they were kicked out of their property in the land that was Poland but became Soviet Union, were given 24 hours to decide what to take and what to leave.

They lost everything, except their lives and their heroic, noble spirit. Short on money, long on nobility - virtues grow in poverty, so maybe being poor is not so bad, after all? Why did my grandparents have to run, sell what they can, sew the gold coins into the lining of my mother's coat, see it ripped apart by the guide who was to take them to safety on the other side of the river Bug.... Why? Because Hitler signed a deal with Stalin in 1939 and Roosevelt and Churchill signed another one in Teheran in 1943 and again at Yalta in 1945. They sold Eastern Europe to the despot and murderer. They sold my grandparents lives, and those of millions of others.

And what about the British Queen? The Polish pilots from RAF Squadron 303, who defended her country in the Battle of Britain, wrote a desperate letter to her in 1944, begging for British intervention to save Warsaw at the time of the Uprising against the Nazis. After the initial victory and through the 63 days of fighting, the Russian troops stood idly by and the city burned. Over 200,000 people were killed there, including 170,000 civilians; when the underground Home Army capitulated, the city was emptied of all residents and dynamited, street by street... Where is the Queen's apology for not intervening?

Polish people are resilient, they know how to rebuild and rebuild again. They decided to remake the old Warsaw based on 18th century paintings by Bellotto Canaletto. The Old Town came to life, filled with cafes and jewelry shops selling Polish amber and silver. The Royal Castle remained in ruins for more than twenty years. I used to walk by on the way to my music school three times per week right by its last standing wall with one window opening into the night sky. The rest was a pile of grass-covered rubble. Now, the Royal Palace is again magnificent, even better for being made new.

What can the poets do to change the world? Remember, inspire, and love.


Poetry and Photos of California sky (c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk
Beth Shibata's "What We Saw, What We Dreamed" (c) 2010 by Beth Shibata

Monday, September 12, 2011

Poetry Audio Tour of the Pacific Asia Museum

When you are tired and have a headache - write a poem. When you are happy you do not know what to do with yourself - write another poem. When you look at a beautiful piece of art - write a poem again. Then, burn the first poem, hide the second, and record the third...

This is how we - over 30 California poets - have created the amazing new Audio Tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

This Poets on Site Project was created under the guidance of the Museum's Education Director, Amelia Chapman, and thanks to the good graces of the indefatigable poets and artists, Kathabela and Rick Wilson - who organized, coordinated, and recorded the entire set. The poets have completed describing over 50 artworks from various Asian countries that are currently presented at the Museum. Their voices are accompanied by Rick Wilson who plays some of his amazing flutes from around the world. The instruments are named after each poem on the recordings.

All the poetry stops are now uploaded by the museum and can be heard on the phone from anywhere! How to listen? First dial 626-628-9690 then the number and the number sign, #.

The exhibition and the audio tour stops are divided into several categories, as follows:

The Art of Daily Life
• Tibetan Rug - Nora DeMuth, Sharon Hawley 404#
• Tibetan Table - Kath Abela Wilson, Monica Lee Copland 405#
• Rhini Horn Cup - Kath Abela Wilson Pauli Dutton 406#
• Thai Bowl - Constance Griesmer 407#
• Thai Bottle Vase - Constance Griesmer 408#
• Vietnam Charger with Myna Birds - Constance Griesmer, Pauli Dutton 409#
• Bilim (Bilum) Bag - Taoli-Ambika Talwar, Erika Wilk, Mira Mataric 410#
• Ink Box and Stand - Taura Scott, Kath Abela Wilson, Pauli Dutton 411#
• Horseshoe Chair (China) - Pauli Dutton, Alice Pero 412#

The Beauty of Nature
• Eagle in a Snowstorm - Sharon Hawley, Chris Wesley, M. Kei (read by Just Kibbe) 415#
• Persimmon and Pine Trees by a Stream - Christine Jordan, Erika Wilk, Deborah P Kolodji 416#
• Plum Blossoms in the Moonlight - Nora De Muth, Janis Lukstien, Kath Abela Wilson 417#
• Mt. Fuji in Clear Weather - Kath Abela Wilson, Nora DeMuth, Liz Goetz 418#
• Landscape after Snowfall - Ashley Baldon 419#
• Ducks and Lotus - Christine Jordan, Ashley Baldon, Deborah P Kolodji 420#
• Monkey Performing the Sanbaso Dance - Mira Mataric, Just Kibbe 421#
• Origins of Life (Korea) - Janis Lukstein, Sharon Hawley, Taoli-Ambika Talwar 422#

Wisdom and Longevity
• Yam Mask (New Guinea) - Cindy Rinne 426#
• Incense Burner - Nora DeMuth 427#
• Fukurojin - Nora DeMuth 428#
• Shou (Longevity) - Richard Dutton, Ashley Baldon, Joan Stern 429#
• Canoe Prow (New Guinea) - Cindy Rinne 430#

Religion and Faith
• Bodhisattva in Yab-yum Embrace - Genie Nakano 435#
• Vishnu and Garuda - Ashley Baldon, Christine Jordan 436#
• Daoist Priest Robe - Nora DeMuth, Pauli Dutton 437#
• Buddhist Five-point Crown - Genie Nakano, Mira Mataric 438#
• The Goddesses Durga and Kali Fighting the Demon Hordes - Pauli Dutton 439#
• Kensui (waste water bowl) - Peggy Casto, Kah Abela Wilson 440#
• Le Genie San Noms. CorĂ©e - Mel Weisburd, Monica Lee Copland, Joan Stern 441#
• Bodhisattva (Tibet) - Sharon Rizk, Nancy Ellis Taylor 442#
• Yamantaka Mandala - James Won 443#
• Bodhisattva (China) - Susan Rogers 444#
• Buddha (Pakistan) - Maja Trochimczyk 445#
• Seated Buddha (Korea) - Susan Rogers 446#
• Lohan and Attendant - Radomir Vojtech Luza 447#
• Goblins and Ghosts - Liz Goetz 448#

Status and Adornment
• Courtesan Reading a Letter - Deborah P. Kolodji, Monica Lee Copland 450#
• Kogo (Incense Box) - Sharon Hawley 451#
• Netsuke: Mask of Danjuro - Mel Weisburd 452#
• Netsuke: Pomander - Mari Werner 453#
• Netsuke: Horse - Joan Stern, Mari Werner 454#
• Gau (Protective Amulet) - Maja Trochimczyk 455#
• Female Figure - Mel Weisburd, Beverly M. Collins 456#
• Prince (India) - Kath Abela Wilson, Genie Nakano 457#
• Charger (Celadon) - Alice Pero 458#
• Charger (Qilin) - Mel Weisburd 459#
• Marriage Bowl - Rick Wilson 460#
• Earrings with Crab Motif - Susan Rogers, Nancy Ellis Taylor 461#
• Pair of Sleevebands - Erika Wilk 462#
• Pair of Bound-Foot Shoe - Chris Wesley, Taura Scott, Nora DeMuths 463#
• Ji-fu (Man’s Semi-formal Court Robe) - Maja Trochimczyk, Mari Werner 464#
• Head Ornament (New Guinea) - Cindy Rinne 465#


I wrote three poems for this exhibition and like the most "A Box of Peaches" (no. 455#), but its "thanksgiving" theme makes it more suitable to the month of November. Of the other two, "An Embroidery Lesson" focuses on an ornately decorated courtier's robe, called Ji-Fu. The same robe has also inspired Mari Werner to write about embroidery. Here is my poem.

An Embroidery Lesson

Tonight we’ll count the clouds
The blue splendor of courtier’s robes
Awaits them

We’ll take a long silk thread
And wrap it with a filament of gold
Until it shines like ocean sunrise

We’ll catch the bright flames of the fire
Of red-eyed dragons that prance
And snarl on the hem

Their talons stretch towards a mandala
Resting above cobalt swirls
Of midnight rain

This, an unspoken secret
The serpent eats its tail
The end is the beginning

Look, it moves across the sky
Chasing a flock of gold-rimmed clouds
Let’s count them


Rick Wilson improvised on the following flutes from his personal collection:

  • Japan: A shakuhachi was used to accompany poems about Japanese
    objects. The instrument is a little over 21 inches long and made of thick, heavy bamboo. It is held vertically and sounded by directing the breath towards an straight edge carved out of one open end. The instrument is very expressive.

  • China: On the recordings of poems about Chinese objects, a xiao was played. This instrument is held vertically and has a notch carved in one end. It is made of bamboo; it is lighter than the shakuhachi, but longer. It has a mellow sound.

  • Korea: A Korean danso was played for the poems about Korean
    objects. This instrument is a notched end-blown flute like the xiao but is smaller and higher pitched.

  • India: The bansuri is a bamboo flute played transversely (horizontally) in India and nearby regions. A large bansuri of the type played in Northern India was used to accompany poems on objects from this nation. The instrument is mellow sounding and is played legato with frequent portamento.

  • Tibet: A small transverse flute made in Nepal, a type of bansuri, was used for poems on Tibetan objects.

  • Vietnam: A small transverse cane flute purchased in Hanoi, a sao truc, was played for poems on pieces from Vietnam.

  • Indonesia: A suling, a traditional flute from Bali, was played on the recording of poems from Indonesia. This flute is a an example of a duct
    flute, which produces sound like a recorder or whistle.

  • Thailand: A wide-bore recorder was used as a substitute for the Thai khlui,a duct flute, on the recording of a poem about a bowl from Thailand.

  • New Guinea: Flutes are not common in Papua New Guinea, and a bamboo mouth harp made in the Philippines is played, in lieu of the traditional bamboo models found in the former country, for the poems on New Guinean pieces.


    At the end, though, Rick Wilson switched from music to describing his beloved wife in a poem inspired by The Marriage Bowl (460#)- comparing Kathabela to an elegant, golden, and magical dragon. She recently celebrated her birthday, and I honored her with a little birthday-wish poem, also describing her magical abilities:

    For Kathabela

    Hail to the Queen of Many Hats!
    The Sprite with multicolored notebooks
    collecting treasures, pictures, smiles.
    Let's laugh with the pixie sprinkling magic dust
    on each minute and gesture. Let's hear
    the weaver of words, spinning poems
    out of tea cups, necklaces and clouds.
    Long live the Queen of Pentacles,
    presiding on the Throne of Earthly Riches
    over her court of jesters, knights, and lovers.
    Let's praise the wisdom of a sage,
    the charm of a dancer,
    and the devotion of a whirling dervish -
    hidden in her secret name, revealed
    in the kaleidoscope of her art!


    The pictures are from Japan (Kathabela and Rick Wilson), from the courtyard of the Pacific Asia Museum (with Erika Wilk, photo by Kathabela Wilson), from recording sessions at Kathabela and Rick's salon in Pasadena, and from another exhibition of Poets and Artists at Susan Dobay's Scenic Drive Gallery in Monrovia (at 125 Scenic Drive, by appointment only).

    Invited to contribute to the Poets and Artists Exhibition, I made two collages, one with a digital art piece and four "klosy" of wheat, illustrating my poem, "Tiger Nights." I made and framed this collage as a gift for Kathabela's Birthday (it is above her head in the photo). So here's a poem and an artwork, as a tribute to the spiritus movens of the Poetry Audio Tour at the Pacific Asia Museum.