3 signed copies available
Nov 30, 2017 - Jan 01, 2018
3 signed copies available
Nov 30, 2017 - Jan 01, 2018
Here’s me entering an MFA program in 2008 because I thought I wanted to write fiction. Here’s me emerging in 2010 fully committed to poetry. We don’t always know who we are; the trick to finding out is to put one foot in front of the other, to travel along the road to discovery.
Here’s a photo of my mother as a young woman enjoying a night out with girlfriends, cocktails and dinner, at a place called the Loendi Club in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District.
Harlem Renaissance poet, Claude McKay, dubbed The Hill, “Crossroads to the World,” because it was home to Billy Eckstein, Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Art Blakey and Joe Harris, to name a few greats and including entrepreneur, Gus Greenlee, owner of the Old Negro Baseball League Team, The Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Here’s me submitting a manuscript titled Good Dirty Down to The National Poetry Series 2017 Competition. On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, I received an email announcing winners and informing me that from 1,500 manuscripts, my collection Good Dirty Down was chosen as a finalist. The email concludes, “Many congratulations again on an extraordinary manuscript.”
So I’m thinking, what made me a finalist and not a winner. These thoughts prompted me to rethink, revise and refashion the collection. During the extensive reconstruction, I realized that, among other things, the title was wrong. It did not capture the essence of what I wanted the poems to reveal.
My mother began speaking. She was aggressive and gentle; she pushed and soothed until finally the magic clicked. I thought about that haunting photo of her, my Christian, upstanding community member mother (the mother I knew) sitting in an after hours club with friends, relaxed and enjoying food and cocktails. I think by studying the photo, my mother gave me permission to dig deeper, to dismiss the obvious, to linger long (a phrase my friends and I used to say during heated Bid Whist parties at my house back in the day) on the blurred and uncertain in order to make sense of the seemingly senseless, thereby discovering or rediscovering the valuable.
Here’s me realizing that the poem I’d written about my mother needed to take a front row seat, if not in placement, then certainly as the needle and thread that would anchor the collection. After reworking and improving her poem, everything else fell into place.
I wrote an earlier post about a collection I’m writing called The Book of Spells. In my mind, The Book of Spells was supposed to be my next published book. But, we don’t always know what we are doing; the trick to finding out is to put one foot in front of the other, to trust the process, to travel along the road to discovery.
Daughter Mouth Blues (formerly Good Dirty Down) will be published by Blacksmith & Bones Press, sometime before the end of 2017 or early 2018.
I think Daughter Mouth Blues articulates signs and symbols of our time, including magic; the differences between prophecy and divination; the change from ancestral analysis to sculpted concealment; and the ramifications of profit or passage.
Daughter Mouth Blues reveals necessary work at the crossroads, the “sudden transformation, sudden certainty, sudden articulation, long legged talking finally foaming from [our] daughter mouth blues.”
The idea of “still life,” (the representation of inanimate objects, such as fruit, in paintings or photography) intrigues me. One day, I set out arranging and rearranging items in pleasing manners to take photographs. Maybe for quilt ideas, or if the images came out real good, to frame and hang on my walls. The image I liked best is this one: my shoes, hat, guitars, quilt, water, glass, magic leaves.
If you are a fledging musician, like me, and your timing is cockeyed, and you can't get your fingers to move fluently over the guitar strings, from one chord to the next, my advice is to study Tupac (Gangsta Party and California Love; both music and video) and Muddy Waters (Champagne and Reefer, and Too Young To Know. Search youtube for old footage of Muddy.)
Both of these artists radiate music through voice, timing, and percussion. In Gangsta Party, there is no slide in, no pause: "Picture perfect," before we realize the verse has even begun. In Too Young to Know, Muddy sings/narrates, but the conversation is between young girls and the more mature women who knows very well. Both are lightening and thunder. Spontaneity, exaggeration and craft. I honor them. They are more than inspiration, they motivate me to add my voice to the conversation.
So, the mind as mixture, seemingly askew, but not, simply bubbling excitement, and these artists, with our shared origins, led me to go back further, to research other artists and was there such a thing as homemade stringed instruments. This is a sampling of what I found.
Stunning beauty and creativity all around the African continent and the Diaspora. The second photo is not of a homemade instrument; just wanted to show her excitement. The images are excitement and contagious. The artists have the nerve to create, are in possession of the artists' way. Create, no matter what. So I thought, what if? The following is Blue Belle, my homemade cigar box guitar.
I’m writing a book on my experiences using Tarot, and want to dispel the notion of negativity as relates to magic, spellwork, and divination. What is the etymology of the word “spell,” what does the word really mean and what are its origins. From the American Heritage College Dictionary:
My next burgeoning project began as songs, just me playing around with lyrics and guitar chords. One of the songs that emerged, White Night Falling, seemed a strong contender for the main voice of something. I just didn’t know what.
Artists, you know that in these times of seemingly jumbled information, the thing to do is wait, listen to day and night dreams, believe and ask the question, what if?
So I thought--
What if the project was poems and music?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if the project expanded to include other written forms?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if the title and book cover had to do with trance states, magic words, the awesome-ness of still lives, those inanimate objects that portray the power of seemingly motionless form?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What of heterodoxy, the challenge of taking the least walked or new path?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
What if you include a cd of musical forms and selected poems?
I’m writing, I’m writing.
The project birthed itself as The Book of Spells, became a bubbling cauldron, a mixture of picture perfect swerving heterodoxy, something like Tupac and Muddy Waters making low down music on angel harps. Make. Do. Become. “Lick candle wicks. Wish. Work spells. Pounce.”
Coming soon, maybe by autumn or winter.
CD coming later, later.
Berthenia Belle is now available on amazon.
Berthenia spoke to me in my dreams last night. So the next step is to create an artist made book. You can see examples of artist made books here.
Berthenia's book will document the process/journey of her life in print.
That's the thing about creativity. It's never over. One step will lead to another.
The following image, The Cabin, is my original watercolor/charcoal rendering for the book cover. When you read Berthenia Belle, you will understand the importance of the cabin.
Thank you for supporting and appreciating my work!
Berthenia says, "Good luck to you. Create! This is how we make things happen."
#poetry #survival #magic #leaving
Steps one through five on one version of creativity:
The following shows how Steps 1 -5 can be translate into actual production:
1. Initial inspiration.
One day I searched goodreads.com for something to read and found a book titled All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, The Feminist Press, 1982.
2. My feeble attempt to create something.
The title, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, inspired me to write a poem about how I think black women are, and are not, seen in the media, particularly television and movies. It was an OK poem.
3. The actual inspiration.
One day, as I was looking for an image online, instead of the image I was searching for, the ancestors gave me the following image:
The image shows a little girl. She is no older than 10. She and the other children are slaves. While the mothers of the babies are working the field, the older child watches the children. She is the babysitter.
4. Listening ears
A tiny, soft voice began talking to me. She spoke in a tiny, soft voice, but as a rebel, with clear, concise, emotionless directions. She woke me up. I reached for my notebook just in time to catch her initial thoughts: "Of all the dandelions, it’s me, I am the most beautiful.”
5. Free-flow writing
I said, “Yes Berthenia. You are the most beautiful. I sat at the computer. She continued to speak and I transcribed her words. She even sent me back to retrieve the initial OK poem I had written inspired by the book title, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.
It was an easy fix. Berthenia showed me my mistakes, and how to re-imagine the poem so that it could take its rightful place in her story.
The name, Berthenia Belle, entered the session in the midst of Berthenia's narration.
Berthenia is an artist: songwriter, musician, craftswoman. She gave me the lyrics to one of her songs, and she created her own Diddley Bow.
Back in 2016, I was beginning to teach myself how to play guitar because some of my poems wanted to be songs. In researching early musicians, especially Blues musicians, I wondered what they played before the guitar, as we know the guitar today. One of the instruments they played was the Diddley Bow.
The following pictures show my Diddley Bow. It is nailed to a door frame in my kitchen. The door frame surrounds my Ilé `Ọrun (my family ancestor shrine or altar).
As was the custom, Berthenia's Diddley Bow is nailed to the front porch post of the cabin where she lived with the babies.
Berthenia Belle, the most beautiful flower. Thank you for your life, your power, your struggle, your creativity.
I thank God for Berthenia Belle, this brave child, this wondrous woman baby girl.
Some of the ancestors are children.
Berthenia Belle spoke her story to me as one long, book length poem.
Look for Berthenia Belle, a poem, on amazon and on this website on or before July 1.
Follow the progress of Berthenia Belle, a poem, here.
This is how we listen. This is how we create.
Read more about the Diddley Bow
Hear Mr. One String Sam, below singing My Baby Don't
Mr. Moses Williams playing Diddley Bow, 1984
Photo Credit: Graham, Andrea, Collector. Moses Williams playing the diddley bow - Orlando, Florida. 1984. Color slide. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 28 Jun. 2017.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/121981>.
Children Creating Music on Didley Bow
This morning at 6 a.m., I was awakened by the sounds of screaming. I looked out of the window and saw nothing. Then I noticed what I thought was a white garbage bag lying in the street. But suddenly, the bag moved and I heard the awful, in-pain screaming again. The white garbage bag was a woman lying in a fetal position in the street, not the sidewalk, in the street. Oh God. Her intermittent moans and screams. A woman alone and in distress. Then I heard the man's ugly voice, "Get out!" and remembered, not lying in the street moaning, rather, in my bedroom on the floor. At least I had the privacy of brick and mortar. But it wasn't privacy, it was the luck of the draw. I called 911.
I wrote on my calendar, on the June 21 block, “go back to work today.” I figured, first day of summer, refreshed by the newness of life. In this blog, I have written about artists needing to feed their creative wells because, well, ideas get used up. I was feeling used up and took a long stretch of time off, decided to do some reading. I consulted goodreads. But what does reading have to do with quilting? With layers, texture, background, character, plotting (thinking), color, surface design, interior grace, letting go of ego, letting in of Spirit, and it was so beautiful yesterday. Perfect. Sun. Gentle breeze. A trip to the library and Gwendolyn Brooks’ first and only novel titled Maud Martha. “Copyright, 1953, by Gwendolyn Brooks Blakely. Copyright, 1951 by The Curtis Publishing Company.”
There is a description of Maud Martha added to the inside, glued onto one of the book’s front pages, typed with a manual typewriter:
BROOKS, GWENDOLYN. MAUD MARTHA.
The story of Maud Martha Brown, a colored woman -daughter,
wife, and mother - who lives in Bronzeville, a neighborhood of
Chicago, told with the intimate understanding of a woman who
has made a life-long study of negroes.
The book is so old, and I think, valuable, that it is housed in the third floor restricted section. Someone has to go back and get it for me. I look at the book’s old fashioned reddish brown hard back cover, the back in the day check out card stuck on the inside pocket documenting that the last time someone checked out Maud Martha was September 13, 1972, when fines were “One cent a day on juvenile cards and two cents a day on adult cards for each book kept overtime.”
In Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks opens with:
“What she liked was candy buttons, and books, and painted music (deep blue, or delicate silver) and the west sky, so altering, viewed from the steps of the back porch; and dandelions.”
In Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks ends with:
"But the sun was shining, and some of the people in the world had been left alive, and it was doubtful whether the ridiculousness of man would ever completely succeed in destroying the world—or, in fact, the basic equanimity of the least and commonest flower: for would its kind not come up again in the spring? Come up, if necessary, among, between, or out of—beastly inconvenient!—the smashed corpses lying in strict composure, in that hush infallible and sincere."
I go into my sewing room, look at the Redwork in Blue quilt hanging lonely on the design wall.
I finger my hand embroidery, remember my numb fingers as I told myself, just 20 minutes more, then you can take a break. I try to remember where the quilt wanted to go and why I had stopped driving it there. “Hmm,” I say aloud to no one. Or maybe I am apologizing…to the quilt for her loneliness, that fact that she is unfinished.
Next, I am reading Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton, BOA Editions, Ltd, 2000. In Blessing the Boats, I am reminded of honesty, the integrity and fearlessness needed to create. You just gotta put it out there. Say, “Here, this is what I made.”
From Blessing the Boats:
How painful is insecurity. In not knowing. In our intermittent moans. I pick up my guitar. Her name is Ice and she talk to me, said, “So what you just decided to learn me last year. If you listen, really hear me, I will sing to you and you can mimic me.” And so I became accepting, like a child, and thankful that I stopped listening to insecurity, just in time. Insecurity woulda ran me over again, its booted foot kicking me in my ribs, leaving me on my bedroom floor in a fetal position, muddy footprints all over my soul.
From Blessing the Boats, Gwendolyn Brooks writes in “study the masters,”
So maybe I'm misinformed. Maybe this isn’t a blog about quilting, only.
I decided to listen to the masters, Gwendolyn Brooks and Lucille Clifton. This is a blog about us and our internal Maud Marthas and Aunt Timmies. A blog about how to iron, perk up, our own dried edges, how to dream, how to remember and decipher them, how to think in multiple languages, how to hope and ritual chant so we can better recognize, our hot irons need to strike.
This is how we make things.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located in Ohio, invites teaching artists to develop arts activities that connect with the Park Association's interdisciplinary environmental education curriculum. Artists live in a cottage in the forest for 6-8 weeks and besides teaching, have time to work on personal art projects. In 2001, I accepted the invitation and enjoyed the end of summer, fall and the beginning of winter.
The children and I created a narrative, mural quilt depicting Ohio environments from the early 1800’s through present time; we wrote theater pieces that documented Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and created structures in the forest using only material that had fallen to the forest floor. To see more, click images below.
While I was there, the environment inspired me to create a quilt titled "Cuyahoga Forest Spirit." The surface design was created using a technique I call abstract positioning. It is the same technique used in Bebop in the Small of Her Back.
Other techniques include machine quilting, machine embroidery, beadwork, and stamping. Materials include cotton and synthetic fabrics, found objects, wood, paint, glitter, beads, sequins, and threads.
The stick included at the top of the quilt was waiting for me one morning on the steps when I went outside to drink my coffee. A gift.
Our Name Is Memory is a reissue of my collection of poems (first published in 2013 as Wild Howling Woman). The new and improved second edition will be available in June.
I decided to use Cuyahoga Forest Spirit as the cover, and with a little manipulation with filters came up with the following image.
Read more about Our Name Is Memory here.
Some years ago, I curated a quilt exhibition inspired by former slave, Sarah Wilson, who though elderly, said, "I Can Still Quilt Without My Glasses." Artist and exhibition designer, Elizabeth Asche Douglas, and I installed the exhibition at the Associated Artist Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA. (2000)
Click the newspaper article and exhibition card below for better viewing.
Because of the marketing surrounding the exhibition, a lady in the nearby town of New Alexandria, PA, contacted me wondering if I would like to have a box of quilt squares she inherited from her mother-in-law, Mrs. Hargnett, who’d just passed away. Of course, I said yes, and in a few days a box arrived filled to the brim with Mrs. Hargnett's work!
This post describes Mrs. Hargnett's Nine Patch Blocks. Click the two images below for better viewing. You will see that a nine patch is 3 small squares at the top of the block, 3 in the middle, and 3 at the bottom. The combination of 3x3x3 and alternating color, makes the Nine Patch Block. See Redwork in Black to see another version of the Nine Patch.
During As We Mend, I shared Mrs. Hargnett's quilt blocks with my students. Of course, I was inspired to finally do something with them, but at the same time, remembered a quilt I created sometime after 2000 and before 2008. I forgot to sew a label on the back of the quilt, which is very important. We quilters have learned that we must document our work for future generations.
The quilt I will share with you now combines Mrs. Hargnett's antique quilt blocks with contemporary fabric, technique and surface design.
While I'm writing this I have decided to name the quilt, "Nine Patch in a Nine Patch in a Four Patch." I'll go back and make a label to attach to the back of the quilt later.
Let's start with my reinterpretation of one of Mrs. Hargnett's Nine Patch Blocks (above). The quilting is done with stippling, the overall, rambling, sort of doodling you see throughout. Then I added hand embroidery with pearl cotton threads and glass beads. That's the Nine Patch portion of the quilt title.
Using Mrs. Hargnett's Nine Patch Blocks as alternating color, I created the second part of the quilt title. In the image below, you can see three different blocks at the top, 3 in the middle, and 3 at the bottom which give us the Nine Patch in a Nine Patch.
Below is the final design.
So now, if you look at each section (orange, yellow, green and black) you will see four sections of Nine Patch in a Nine Patch as described above. Here we have our final quilt title explanation -- Nine Patch in a Nine Patch in a Four Patch.
The following images show more detail of quilt blocks. Each using a combination of old and new quilt blocks, acrylic paint, hand and machine quilting and embroidery and beadwork.
Well, that's it for now. Don't forget to sign up for automatic updates. Use the handy contact form at the top of the page to contact me. You can also comment in the "Comments" section at the end of this post.
Happy Quilting! or whatever creative endeavor you are doing or thinking about doing.
The train will not find you. You must find the train, its pulse, its way of being beyond obvious rock and sway. The train’s pulse is deeper than movement.
If you listen, you will hear the song of the train, and when you find the song, you will find the engine, the heart, the blood, the pulse.
You ride the train. It is the Iron Horse Without A Saddle: silent, strident, gentle, strong. Everyone must stop for the Iron Horse. The Iron Horse owns right of way.
CALIFORNIA: San Diego, Los Angeles, Fullerton, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Barstow, Needles; ARIZONA: Kingman, Williams Junction, Flagstaff, Winslow; NEW MEXICO: Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas, Raton; COLORADO: Trinidad, La Junta, Lamar; KANSAS: Garden City, Dodge City, Hutchison, Newton, Topeka, Lawrence; MISSOURI: Kansas City, La Plata; IOWA: Fort Madison; ILLINOIS: Galesburg, Princeton, Mendota, Naperville, Chicago; INDIANA: South Bend, Elkhart, Waterloo; OHIO: Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland, Alliance; PENNSYLVANIA: Pittsburgh.
From San Diego, California to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three trains, two and one half days, three nights, me at a window seat, marveling.
The southwest is shades of dark to light and everything in between of brown, green, black, pink with very little white. The white is ancillary and too obvious, out of place, except for snow covering mountains in the distance.
I thought of my camera in my bag, yet found myself relaxed beyond need, perfectly peaceful and serene that the camera became an afterthought.
If creative people are not careful, they will find themselves bereft of ideas and unable to create with highest authority. This is called being all used up. This is the time when artists must fill the creative well. Three nights on a train became another filling the well opportunity for me and I am grateful.
Three nights on a train is not luxurious. Shame on you Amtrak, the train needs a thorough steam cleaning front to back, top to bottom. The bathrooms are wiped down but never really cleaned, obvious muck. But I’m a camper and allowed myself to think of the train as a moving campsite. I listened to that small voice prior to my departure date and brought along Clorox wipes, also body wipes, snacks, water, pillow and other comforts and decided to enjoy the experience. I’m glad I did.
I still have a romantic notion about trains. The clean train I’m looking for is out there somewhere. I’ll find it. Nature is already there, waiting for me.
Well, that’s it for now. God has refilled me, can’t wait to get back to work quilting, writing, painting and whatever is next. Happy Quilting! or whatever creative project you are dreaming of and working on.
Each time I introduce myself to a new art form, the process of discovery, in that art form, mirrors what I need to discover intellectually, emotionally and spiritually in my own life.
As We Mend became a 10-session quilting workshop for beginning quilters after Bonnie Laing and Renae Green asked if I’d be interested in teaching.
As We Mend led all of us on a journey of discovery. Fabric, threads, poetry and color became signposts and conductors so that "Can I?" remained on our lips, as well, the sure answer, "Yes.”
Our affirmations, declarations, insights and discoveries transitioned into poems, prose and journal entries.
Summer 2016 students and their work.
Renae Maree Green, 2001
Roy G. Biv
Bonnie Young Laing
That's it for now. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Quilting!
This is a blog about how we make things.