My Worm

My Worm, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:Ink Under The Bridge

“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:


Spontane-ing 1986

 Spontane-ing, 1986, Phot0, artwork and all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

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!

WonderTrail, photos & all text © Irene O’Garden 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:Wording the Wordless

How often we seek words for the wordless. There is so much wordlessness in our universe I sometimes feel like the miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin: “Spin this impossible heap of straw into gold!” (I’m not complaining, really.)

While last weekend’s storm delivered ample length and breadth and depth of snow, in our neck of the woods it was less weep-eyed blizzard and more happy-handed snowglobe. It kindly slowed and stopped in plenty of time for Saturday dinner guests to arrive and depart in utter confidence.

When Sunday’s blazing blue sky shouted through the windowpanes, I strapped on my cross-country skis and headed into the foot-deep snowscape surrounding our house.

Bright dunes and mesas appeared in the glowing white topography contoured by Saturday’s winds. The snow was fluffy, but so deep that rather than charging around the fields as is my wont,  I kept to a small loop, establishing a smooth run, instead of struggling over the acres.

What tells us wordlessly to loop this way and not that? What tells us to look up, just there, just now?

In a moment I was nearly swept off my skis by the surprise, the power and the meaning of a bald eagle circling over our neighbor’s forest and field. Here, sixty miles north of New York City.

I stood gape-jawed, watching the serene, unmistakeable being. I wanted to fetch my husband, but feared that if I moved, the eagle would glide away. If eagle ears were sharp as eagle eyes, the excited thump of my heart might have driven him off.  Couldn’t tell my husband, couldn’t call a soul. I thought of you, dear reader, and knew a few days hence you would join me in the moment, but then and there I stood alone and wordless for a full five minutes of wonder.

I shot the picture of my trail this morning. The eagle’s you must picture for yourself here in the rhomboid of blue above our potting shed.

Rumplestiltskin aside, I’ve discovered I cannot help leaving a trail in words anymore that I can help leaving a trail in the snow.

An eagle needs no trail, leaves no trail, wears his own down jacket, needs no skis, no words. I was going to say he needs only a brilliant day and an upward thermal.

But an eagle needs territory. He, too, needs to arrive and depart in utter confidence. How miraculous that so many people have worked so hard to preserve this for him and for us.

I just made a spontaneous donation to the Hudson Highlands Land Trust.  You may have some local people you want to thank for gifts in your area. (Or perhaps The Natural Resources Defense CouncilThe Audubon Society, or Clearwater.) Sometimes the best words for the wordless are actions.


Publishing Update:  Spoke with the folks at Holiday House, publisher of my new children’s book, “Forest What Would You Like?”.  Turns out the pub date is indeed March 1, the date by which all the reviews should be in. They plan to launch the book that day, and a secondary launch on Earth Day. If you are a Goodreads reader, you should know I will shortly be having a giveaway of the book. When this goes live, I’ll update this blog, Wednesday or not!

A note: I’d like to see this book in arboretums, National Parks, botanic gardens and green places of all kinds. If you have any suggestions I’d be delighted to see them. Many thanks. Incidentally, my ebook “Glad To Be Human” will be coming out, but we’re waiting till after this launch.

Back To The Petal, photo and all text c Irene O’Garden 2012

If you’d like to listen to this post, note that alas, due to file size limits, you’ll have to click again at the end to hear the poem. For the post itself, please click here:A Little Lettering

Poetry has been requesting my attention quite a bit lately. Above you see a fragment of a child’s poem, one of ten I hand-lettered on muslin for an upcoming event this Sunday at Constitution Marsh. If you look near the upper right corner of this page, you’ll find the link to my Calendar page, which goes into more detail about The Hudson Highlands Land Trust River of Words Poetry Trail (as well as the other upcoming poetic events which have buttonholed me.)

A moment of digression before the pith of my post: For the last few years, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust  has sponsored a regional River of Words program. River of Words is an national environmental literacy organization which seeks to connect children with their watersheds via poetry and art, and I am part of a great Land Trust team which offers free workshops in our local schools.

I was asked to choose ten poems from the hundreds generated in our programs and to help find a way to display them throughout  the exquisite landscape of the Marsh. I decided to letter them simply on large pieces of unbleached muslin, which will then be driftwood-weighted, twined and hung along the trail by my teammates.

I’ve had a sense of Christmas all week, knowing that the children who come on Sunday have a happy surprise in store. Seeing their poems floating in the trees and thrusting out of the ground will help them treasure their poetry and their landscape, and remind parents why both are so important.

It’s been a while since I have practiced calligraphy, and I’ve savored it this week. It’s been fun to be so close to fresh poetic imagination, and satisfying to letter the poems I midwived in the classroom. But the best part was this dawning realization: one of the fruits of age is the progressive retirement of the inner critic. In the heavenly silence that ensues, we can go back to enjoying the process, as children do constantly. I relished exploring the letters themselves. As designer Eric Gill said, letters are things, not pictures of things. Making them felt like putting forth little round berries and pointy leaves of my own.

My poem, Nonfiction, describes my earliest pleasure with letters. (This is the poem which recently won a 2012 Willow Review Award.) If you would like the written text of the poem, please contact Willow Review for a copy of the issue in which it appears.  If you would like to hear me read it now, please click here: Nonfiction


Is there a process you particularly enjoy?



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