My Worm, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden 2013
“A worm has zero legs.” You can see why I’m enjoying this week’s lettering task. Ada’s poem is one of sixteen winning entries in this year’s Hudson Highlands Land Trust expanded River Of Words Poetry Trail. Half the winners will see their work hanging on muslin banners along The Constitution Marsh Trail (opening here this Sunday.) The other eight works will be fluttering in October at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum.
It’s good for an artist to have such tasks. And when it comes to the severe judgements we can level at our work, an internal child-mind is a handy companion.
Take guidelines. Over the years a Nile of ink has flowed through my calligraphy and I’ve resented guidelines the whole length of it. So tedious, making them yourself. My lettering felt crushed in these stony canals, for the impossible standard of perfection they implied. I used them, but grudgingly.
In the 80’s I found a sentence in Jane Robert’s Seth Material that became my motto:
Spontaneity Creates Its Own Order. What liberation! I went wild. I developed my cursive and invented a capital alphabet which I still rely on for speed and delight. I was able to write lively straight-ish lines without a net.
But I secretly felt a pebble, a burr, a thorn in my work–a catty-wonkiness of discomfort with formal commissions.
I move forward anyway, as I did this week. The letters were dear, the lines straight enough, but still the old dissatisfaction. Child-mind asks questions. “How could like your work better?” “I guess if the space between lines were more regular. “
“Yeah. Spacing’s boring. A frame, not a picture.” Never saw it like that, but my eye did. A crooked frame harms the best picture.
And it was I, not the guidelines, who held the impossible standard: Space lines well without any guide. It can be done, but it’s hard. Why make it hard?
I cut a card, made a spacer, pencilled pinpoints at the start of each line to show just where to step on to the tightrope, where my kinesthetic balance carries me along without the net. Such confidence puts a spring in my letters. Children always know they are growing. We forget that we are growing too.
I smile at these young poets. Boring grammar will help them frame their thoughts eventually. But buoyed by fresh vision, spontaneity creates its own guidelines. And those wasted frustrations? Ink under the bridge.
Have you freed yourself from an old dissatisfaction?
Poetry gift for you:
As you read last week, I am offering to record public domain poetry to be posted in place of my regular posts while I am out of the country for the month of September. I have gotten delightful suggestions! If you are interested, please be sure the poem was published in the US before 1923 and that the poet slipped from us before 1942. Please get it to me before next Teuesday so I have time to record them all before I leave–Thanks!