Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Masterworks Series: La Danseuse Au Bouquet


“Lady would you kindly remove your hat?”
Was a line
From comedy routines
And the admonition of slides in movie theaters
Back in the early days of motion pictures.
We all paid our money, we came to see the show.

But then there are those
Who came to be see 
And be seen.
As I sit in the audience,

The lady’s fan
And dangling earring
Distract my eye from the beauty and grace
Of the dancer on stage.

We all bring our own diversions
To the stage of life,
Creating a visual collage
And a cacophonous din,
Distracting us from the main event.

Is only partially seen
In quiet moments
And in those rare times
When seeing beyond the distractions
We catch a glimpse
      of the grace, 
                    and movement
                            of the dance.

And the dance is a wondrous thing
Even if seen only fleetingly.
Our essence,
And our true connection, is found
In that series of rare moments
When we can look past the commotion
To the center.
Those are the luminous times
When distractions fade briefly from sight
To reveal the dance
Of the universe.

                                                 ~ CK

Image: The Ballet (Danseuse au Bouquet) at the Rhode Island School of Design
Artist: Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Medium:Pastel and gouache over monotype on paper
Date: 1878

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Music: Ring Them Bells (Gordon Lightfoot)

Gordon Lightfoot has had a long and successful career as a singer-songwriter. An early contributor to the folk music scene in the 1960s, his hits included "Early Morning Rain,"For Loving Me," and Canadian Railroad Trilogy." In the 1970s he had hits on the Billboard Pop charts with "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown," and "Carefree Highway," among others. He continued to record and perform through the 1980s and 1990s, recording this Dylan song in 1998.

"Ring Them Bells" was first recorded by Bob Dylan on the album, "Oh Mercy" in 1989. It has been feature on this blog twice before with Ron Sexsmith, Sheryl Crow, and Elvis Costello in a post titled, T.S. Elliot and Bob Dylan Ring the Bells; and later with a young artist named Hope Waits.

Lightfoot had a life threatening aortic aneurism in 2002 and a light stroke in 2006, but has continued to perform. His most recent recording was "All Live" in 2012.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Dylanesque

a distant railway
traces of Woody and Pete
songs that stir the soul

                                               ~ CK

Image: Train Tracks
Artist: Bob Dylan
Date: 2009
Medium: Acrylic


Friday, July 24, 2015

The Day I Took Down the Flag

I remember my first awakening to what the Confederate battle flag meant to African Americans. It came remarkably late, but illustrates the endemic Southern culture and how we white folks can be so blind to "other people's histories," as the late Rev. Clementa Pinkney put it. I was a seminary student at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in Mill Valley, California. The year would have been 1978, and I would have been 23 years old. My roommate in the men's dorm was from east Tennessee and I was from central Alabama. One day we were out somewhere in San Francisco and happened to see some small Confederate flags in a shop. We thought it would be a real hoot to show our Southern heritage back on campus at our dormitory, so we each bought one of the flags.  They were small, only about 3 or 4 inches, attached to a stick that was 8 to 10 inches in length.

We mounted them on the door of our dorm room for all to see, crossing one over the other to make an "X" with the flags draping down. To us, we were affirming our regional heritage in a place that had students mostly from the western states, but there were some from all over the country and even other parts of the world. We were outsiders on the California West Coast, in a part of the country that was far from Southern in culture, and we were affirming our heritage. 

A Quick History Lesson

Just down the hall from us was a fellow student a little older that we were (he was 29 or 30). Willie was from Mississippi and was African American. One afternoon when I came in from class, Willie called me aside and asked me to come to his room. He wanted to know why we had those flags on our door. I told him why, in similar terms as I have just related. He then told me about how the Confederate flag was viewed by the black community and what it elicited for him. I heard from him of the pain of racism and the fears of violence from white supremacists that he had grown up with.

His concern was that he wondered if people who waved the Confederate flag were in support of the white supremacists' legacy of subjugation of blacks. I told him that was not at all what we were thinking. I'm not sure he believed me at that moment, but I went immediately to my dorm room and removed the flags. When my roommate came in, I explained to him that we could not have those flags on the door. He was a little put out, but I told him about the conversation I had with Willie. My roommate was not immediately convinced. After all, the country had enacted civil rights, voting rights, and equal opportunity – we were not wanting to go back to the 19th century. We were just celebrating the place of our birth. Nevertheless, I told him, we cannot have these flags on our door. My own understanding at that point was only about 30 minutes ahead of my roommate's.

Seeking Equity

My roommate and I had lived our entire life in the South with very little knowledge of the different world that our African American neighbors lived in. It would be many years later before I would even begin to comprehend that while my childhood in the rural South was quite idyllic, my black neighbors just a few miles away lived in what would have to be termed a dystopian terrorist state – because of the Jim Crow laws that were in effect. We were all citizens of the same country, but our experiences were so very different.

In that moment back in 1978, it was more important for me to hear someone else’s story than to proudly proclaim my own story. Hearing about another person’s history began to open my eyes to my own actions. It was far more important for me to inflict no further harm and to eliminate any cause for ill will than it was to celebrate some half-remembered heritage. I remain a citizen of the South to this day, but my hope is for a South that can celebrate its present and future possibilities more than some idealized remembrance of the past.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Apollo 11's Historic Lunar Landing

NASA photo from Buzz Aldrin's Facebook page
“As I made my way down the ladder, I partially closed the hatch, being 
careful not to lock it on the way out (there wasn’t a handle on the door).” 

Over at The Vidalia Onion, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reminisce about working for NASA. Check it out at


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Masterworks Series: Sunflowers

Sunflower Celebration in Blank Verse*

She walks along the dampened garden path
To gather flowers for the entrance room.
The morning sun shines softly on the hill
Where grass still glistens from the heavy dew.

On ordinary days, the garden walk
Would calm her mind like gentle summer winds,
But on this day her thoughts are soaring high
Considering the guest to grace her home.

Her thoughts are set on welcoming her friend
Returning after years of work abroad.
That sweet connection latent in her heart
Now wakens with the thoughts of friendships past.

Shared memories would be the common ground,
Yet even in their separate stories from
The years apart, the glad communion would
Remain to forge new days of caring trust.

So now her eyes behold the yellow blooms
That call out beauty, friendship, life and peace.
She chooses boldly – nothing subtle here –
A lively brightness in a single vase.

                                                                    ~ CK

*Blank verse: "Unrhyming iambic pentameter, also called heroic verse. This 10-syllable line is the predominant rhythm of traditional English dramatic and epic poetry, as it is considered the closest to English speech patterns. Poems such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, and Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning,” are written predominantly in blank verse." (Definition from The Poetry Foundation)

Image: "Sunflowers" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artist: Claude Monet (French,1840–1926)
Date: 1881
Medium: Oil on canvas

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Music:Life's Railway to Heaven

Here is classic Southern Gospel from a recording session for Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol II (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). Johnny Cash and the Carter Family, along with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (and Earl Scruggs), give us a rendition that is top of the line.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Respite

afternoon shadows
the respite of a shade tree
cloudless summer sky

Image: "Central Park Landscape #8, New York"
Artist:Tony Bennett
Date: 1988
Medium: Oil on canvas


Friday, July 17, 2015

Harper Lee and the Hero's Journey

[Note: The following essay is not a review of Go Set a Watchmen but rather it is my take on how Harper Lee's own journey was similar to what Joseph Campbell described as the archetypal hero's journey. My essay also appeared at AMERICAblog]

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the screen version of TKAM
There has been an abundance of talk this week about Atticus Finch, the fictional character in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The release of Harper Lee’s earlier novel, Go Set a Watchman has created quite a buzz. Go Set a Watchman was Lee’s first submission which the publisher’s rejected and encouraged her to go back and rewrite, focusing on young Scout’s point of view. The publishing of that first draft has not been without controversy. The buzz now that it has been released is all about the portrayal of Atticus Finch as a racist. He looked upon blacks as though they were children, not yet ready for the full equality of citizenship. He was even a member of the White Citizen’s Council and didn’t like the idea of the Supreme Court meddling in the affairs of his Southern town.

Many seem to be feeling dazed over the fact that Atticus Finch, or probably more accurately, Gregory Peck’s cinematic version of Atticus Finch, could be so much a part of the Southern racist mindset. Much will be said about the literary value of Go Set a Watchman, and much analysis will be given regarding the protagonist of both of Harper Lee’s novels in light of the new information that has now been made public. Instead of literary criticism, I would like to take a look at the literary dilemma of Watchman in light of Harper Lee’s own journey. I see it as what Joseph Campbell has called, “the hero’s journey.”

The Traveler Comes Home

In Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise (whom we knew previously as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) is a young adult woman who has been living in New York City, and returns to her Southern hometown to be dismayed by the racism she sees in her beloved father.  It has long been noted that the gentlemanly Southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, is based upon Harper Lee’s own father who was an influential lawyer in the small southern town of Monroeville, Alabama.  In Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise’s experience is too similar to the author’s own life not to wonder about the autobiographical nature of the writing.  After all, Harper Lee had left Monroeville, Alabama to live and work in New York City.

Remember that this was the 1950s, when the South was still under Jim Crow laws, fully segregated, and resisting implementation of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The paternalistic view seen in the Atticus Finch of Go Tell a Watchman is characteristic of many educated whites of the time, and a view that might have been considered “forward thinking” by fellow Southerners. The problem is that Jean Louise has seen the world and now sees her own town and townsfolk in a different light.

I am a Southerner, born and raised in a small town in Alabama, and I can speak to the effects that travel can have upon one’s perception of things back home. I first went to the big city to go to college, and then I went, not to New York, but to the San Francisco Bay Area for three and a half years. My trek was in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and I can attest to the feelings of shock and dismay when revisiting one’s hometown with a renewed vision and seeing the racist attitudes on display. Those attitudes had always been there, they were part and parcel of my own upbringing, but I could not see them clearly until having spent some significant time out of the South.

A Hero’s Vision

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, talked about a common archetype in mythology in which the hero makes a long journey to a distant land. He is changed in the process of that journey by the things he encounters (in mythology, it is often a magical realm of unsuspected challenge and/or danger). Eventually the hero returns home with a new vision and gives hope and courage to his people based upon the transformation that his journey has wrought within him.  Psychologists tell us that these mythological archetypes are present in all of us, and that we each live out these various archetypes to some extent.  I would submit that Harper Lee made that hero’s journey and while her initial return home is reflected in Go Set a Watchman, her transformative work is seen in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Having made my own journey out and back home again, I can attest to the dismay in realizing that the people I revered and who nurtured and taught me so much, could also exhibit racist tendencies.  I cannot claim to be on a hero’s journey, but I think I understand some of the things at work in that archetypal expression.  I can see how Harper Lee would have been frustrated by the mindset of her friends back home, but since these are her loved ones, there is more than frustration.  When our travels break us free from those regional bonds and drop the scales from our eyes, so to speak, our first impulse is to demand that that everyone else “see the light” just as we have. The problem is that they have not left home; they have not been on that long transformative journey. The returning hero, as mythology points out, must then find some way to open the eyes of his people.

The Transformative Power of Story

Harper Lee found a way to open the eyes of her people and was able to craft the transformative work that would enable all of us to see ourselves in a new light. In other words, she completed the hero’s journey when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.  She found something redemptive in that racist Southern culture that would give us all hope that things can be better than they are now.  When To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, most Southern whites were denying that there was a problem. Resistance against civil rights was widespread throughout the South. Harper Lee, however, not only gave hope to the movement for racial equality, she also showed the white people in power that there was some decency within them which meant that they did not have to be trapped in an evil racist system.  Not only was there hope for blacks to throw off the shackles of oppression, there was hope for whites to throw off their own shackles of bitter racism.

We were not there in 1960. Though we have made some progress, we are still not there in 2015. Thanks to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (which we now see came about by way of wrestling with the harsh realities of a racist culture in Go Set a Watchman) we have a transformative gift given to us by that hero with a thousand faces. Harper Lee took a hard painful look at the racist South and she found that element within our own culture that could save us from ourselves. That gift, it turns out is universal – it is not just for the South. That saving grace in the midst of injustice and oppression that we see in To Kill a Mockingbird has resonated through the years all over the world.

Many have left the South and have been changed by the experience of living somewhere else – tracing the hero’s journey. Many left and never come back and some returned. While others have come back home and tried to make a difference, only Harper Lee has returned to the South and given us something so astounding as To Kill a Mockingbird.  Rather than mourn over the clay feet of a fictional character, or fret over the awkwardness of literary first drafts, I choose to be grateful for Harper Lee and the hero’s journey that she has demonstrated to world.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Masterworks Series: Mont Sainte-Victoire

Unbound View

That one span of human engineering
Traces the valley floor
Bringing railway to the village
And symmetry to the eye.

Sheer mathematics of stone and mortar
Make a straight line excursion
Across the gentle lively curves of fields and hills.

What did they see,
Those builders who labored
As they put the viaduct in place?
Did their eye catch the expansive flow of the valley?
Did they view the stark unchangeable rising of the mountain?

Yet that human endeavor
Would change the perception
Of the eye that would come to
Look out over the valley –
Where tree and viaduct
Divide the seen world
Into four equal corners.

Without the intrusion of human structure
The scene would flow
Uncontained by form or thought.

Only now the human eye
Makes a quadrant
Where everything finds its place
In one box, or another.
And the whole is contained
In a singular notion.

But when that viaduct crumbles
The eye will once more see
A world unbound by constructs and corners;
A world unbound by constructs and corners.

                                                                                ~ CK


Image: Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artist: Paul Cézanne (French 1839-1906)
Medium: Oil on canvas

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Music: Franz Liszt: Liebestraum cello and piano

Note from the You Tube site:
Cellist Seeli Toivio and her brother, pianist Kalle Toivio perform Franz Liszt (1811-1886) "Liebestraum" at Festival Servais 2007. Halle Basilica, Belgium, June 6, 2007. Festival Concert: Bicentennial Commemoration of the Belgian cello virtuoso Adrien François Servais (1807-1866).


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Gathering

friends gather and wait
breezes rustle summer leaves
cares are forgotten

Photo by Peggy Farmer


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Masterworks Series: The Third-Class Carriage


Quietly he sleeps at my side
In the jarring respite of
Our journey by rail.
I think back to the days
When travels took more time –
Time afoot
Or time harnessing the horse
For the carriage
(If one had a horse and carriage).

Now we ride on steam and promise,
Hoping to find a better way
To put food on the table
And more secure shelter
For our living.

We travel farther and faster
With steam and iron
Than my own parents could have imagined.
The boy rests easily
While the train moves forward.
He finds work in the city.

                                                        ~ CK

Image: The Third-Class Carriage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artist: Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879)
Date: ca. 1862–64
Medium: Oil on canvas

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Monday Music: Travelin' Shoes (Ruthie Foster)

The amazing Ruthie Foster with a live version of "Travelin' Shoes." The song, also called Death Came a-knockin', is an old Negro Spiritual. I heard this one first on Penny Nash's blog, One Cannot Have Too Large a Party.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Leaves Will Dance


when clouds pass
light pervades the day
leaves will dance

                                             ~ CK

Photo: Japanese Red Leaf Maple by Charles Kinnaird


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Masterworks Series: In the Park

Three Sisters

Three sisters guard my dreams:
Constance, Hope, and Grace.
For years their presence
Has been my peace and joy.

In waking or sleeping
At every crucial moment
They guide my heart
As I make my way forward.

Constance never forgets
The path that leads us home.
Like the morning star
Her beacon shines from within.

Hope looks forward.
Though she sees no ending,
She has given life to my steps
At every uncertain turn.

Grace inspires and moves with ease.
Like a soothing wind
She offers assurance
That all shall be well.

Three sisters guard my dreams:
Constance, Hope, and Grace.
Without their presence, 
How empty the world would be.

                                          ~ CK

Image: In the Park, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Artist: Marie Laurencin (French, 1885 - 1956)
Date: 1924
Medium: Oil on canvas

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