Wading Through Joy in Royal Heights

Across the street and a few houses down from mine, the owners of a typically ‘relaxed’ Cleveland Heights home have made their front yard into a child’s story-time playground of the imagination.   Grass and flowers have been replaced by a jumble of stones across which are assembled an ever-shifting ramble of scenarios, played out in miniature; toy cowboys and Indians, Storm Trooper and Super Hero action figure battles, tiny tea parties and idyllic farm scenes.

Little Green Men

Scout Pig.

These scenes change on a regular basis so on weekly walks around the neighborhood you are invited to stop and see what’s new.  Have the Storm Troopers encountered the cowboys?  Did the tea party get overrun by farm animals?  What new stories have been suggested by the Lego creatures now climbing the rocky cliffs or the green army men lying in wait for the sheep?

While these scenes change, one area of the yard has not – the serene Japanese pebble river that winds around and down from a green hillock in the middle of the yard, in the center of which a shark’s fin rises in mock menace, heading toward the sidewalk – and you. 

This is the most inventive and out-of-the-box front yard I have encountered on my walks around the “Royal Heights”* neighborhood, but not the only one where residents have taken a playful attitude to landscaping.  A row of painted sports balls (bowling, soccer, basketball) on broomsticks instead of flowers blooming below a front porch.  A delicate Victorian teacup and saucer on a small pedestal, nestled among a glorious spray of lavender just at the sidewalk edge of the driveway – a delight for the passerby, more than the home owner.

I could go on and perhaps will in future postings.  The point I want to make, however, is that there is something special about Cleveland Heights that invites creativity.  The City itself has a tag line; “Home to the Arts” which refers in part to the fact that so many of the people who support and deliver the arts to the community live here.  We abut University Circle where the Art Museum, Orchestra, Natural History Museum, Botanical Garden, Case Western University and nearby the Cleveland Clinic, are located.  So we are rich in artists, arts workers and educators as well as doctors and scientists – all people for whom imagination is key.

And it is clear that this attribute of imagination and its partner, a sense of play, have permeated the culture of the community.  Here, no one would bat an eye if you planted your whole front yard in wild flowers, or set out a bucket of sidewalk chalk and invited all passersby to leave a message or a draw a picture. (Actual examples I have encountered.)

I love this eclecticism.  It speaks of tolerance, inclusion, and a kind of shared joy that sustains me as I wade through the shared creativity and generosity of spirit spilling onto the sidewalk on my daily travels through my “Royal Heights.” (Named informally by the residents on Queenston, Kingston, Princeton and Canterbury Roads.)

A motley crew

Babes in the Weeds

 

 

 

 

The Whining of Autumn Lawns

DSC00979As I write this, the leaf blowers are out in full force in the neighborhood, filling the air with complaint.  From this observation you might assume this post is about noise pollution.  Well it is, but not in the way you may think. The air – in particular the media airwaves and the atmosphere surrounding our private conversations this past week – has been filled to overflowing with a complaint of a far more serious and toxic nature.

I am not a political writer.  But I cannot let the events of the past week and the alarming unfolding of their consequences go without comment.  The noise of negativity that has blared so deafeningly this autumn (and summer and spring) electoral season feels almost like a physical burden. The weight and volume of its decibels have piled along the curb of reason so deep that it is hard to see any sign of a familiar or a safe path ahead.

It is hard to know what to think.  Impossible to know what to do.

Friends have forwarded links and essays that either raise the level of alarm and despair, or suggest a kind of urge toward ‘wait and see’ that threatens a descent into complacency – the first step toward capitulation.

I was sitting in a meeting the other day and I overheard the person behind me say he was quite satisfied with how the election had come out.  Suddenly, I did not want him breathing on me. I didn’t want to share the same air space. And although I was ashamed of this reaction, I did not know how to overcome it.

I do not do well with confrontation.  I know my default impulse, in the heat of the moment, is to lash out, hit back, insult and belittle.  Or (what I usually do) say nothing in fear of letting loose my impulses. Neither reaction is useful. But even if I could muster a reasoned response, a calm, nuanced argument, would it make a difference?  Can we even hear each other anymore? And if we can’t, do we now face a future where the angry whine of the engine of fear will always drown out the quieter hum of civil and truthful discourse?Withered Leaf, Dry, Autumn, Branch

It is early, I know.  But it feels like an ending.

I attach again the poem I wrote at the start of it all – an ekphrastic poem in response to Gray and Gold, a painting by John Rogers Cox, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art.  His 1942 painting was  a response to the United States entering World War II. Crossroad

Gray and Gold

 

 

All In, June 19, 2016

‘Tis the season of gifts.  Summer starts today.  Last night was the first ‘strawberry moon’ in 70 years – in my lifetime; full moon on the solstice.  And the Cavs are the NBA champs.

I am not a basketball fan.  My preferred sport is baseball – its timelessness, the absence of do-overs, letting the moment stand, the beauty and rarity of an unassisted triple play, the green of the grass in that bowl of space …  I could go on.

But I am a Clevelander and how can I not be a fan of the Cavs at this moment when they gave this city a spectacular, redeeming gift.

I have always championed my city – even in its darkest days.  I have defended it on airplanes when the guy behind me got vocal about ‘having’ to come to Cleveland for a meeting.  Smiled smugly when staff from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations left Severance Hall after a Cleveland Orchestra performance shaking their heads in admiration and saying “I’ll never hear Schubert played like that again in my life.”

And though I have not been a follower of basketball, I have been keenly aware of the community impact of this game at this moment in my city’s life cycle.  We are on the rise – this time, I believe, for real. So the promise – the hope – of finally putting our 50 year long sports disappointment to rest was important to me.  And so I watched the game.  Rather, I flipped back and forth between the game and whatever was on PBS, because I am a wimp when it comes to being a witness to potential disaster.  (I can’t watch figure skating or gymnastics in the Olympics for this reason  either.) But I watched the final moments of Game 7.  I felt I owed it to this amazing team – and in a way, to LeBron, to stick with them to the end, no matter the outcome.

I will make no attempt to comment on the game itself – that would be foolish, because, so many others have done such a beautiful job of it. In fact, I have always been impressed with how stunningly beautiful and moving much sports writing is.  Take the essay “Is this Heaven?”  in this morning’s Times by John Hyduk. As a rabid fan of just plain, good writing, I must say that there’s a lot of sports writing that touches the human in us as profoundly as that of any other genre. Roger Angell, of course, Jonathan Schwartz, Roger Kahn and John Updike as well, to name a few on the national/international level.  But local writers have their day too; Bill Livingston and Bud Shaw often write stunningly evocative columns.

And if you are a fan of baseball and beautiful poetry, I recommend Steve Brightman’s chapbook, ‘In Brilliant Explosions Alone’ published by Night Ballet Press.  From the Press’ website; It is a “breakdown of the 2008 season of former Cleveland Indians pitcher Jeremy Sowers…it is a chapbook about individual struggle with expectation, the desire for success in the field in which you show talent, and about how others perceive you in that struggle.”

Well, this is more than I intended to write this second day after the glow of our Cav’s great gift to my city.  I couldn’t restrain myself from adding my kudos and my excitement to this moment though.  I’ll just end this brief post with two baseball poems I’ve written – one a haiku. Read them here: Aria  and Benediction.

 

Ekphrastic Celebration

balloonsMilestones should be celebrated.  Graduations  – ‘tis the season, Solstice – coming up, and birthdays.  For art lovers in Cleveland there’s a big one of those happening right now. Our illustrious Art Museum is 100 years old this month.

I don’t normally use this blog to promote things, but since I get to be a teeny, tiny part of this great celebration, I am taking a liberty. And my part has a lot to do with the ‘paying attention’ focus of this blog. During the Museum’s Summer Solstice weekend coming up (June 25 and 26), the good folks there have invited local artists of all disciplines to come and showcase their work for the public – inside and outside the Museum.

I will be there Saturday as both a local poet/artist and representing Literary Cleveland, a new organization dedicated to “serving writers and readers through a collaborative network of services that inform, advance and elevate the literary arts for the benefit of all in Northeast Ohio” according to the mission statement.

My task will be to compose ekphrastic poems, inspired by favorite works of art in the Museum. If ‘ekphrastic poetry’ is not a familiar term, I will tell you that ekphrasis is from the Greek.  It is a form of rhetoric that attempts to bring the experience of an object to a listener or reader through highly detailed descriptive writing.  Ekphrastic poetry is as old as Homer’s description of the shield of Achilles in The Iliad.  It has become an established poetic undertaking, with poets responding in verse to their experience of a work of art (usually) in another medium and most often a work of visual art.

For this event I will be paying close attention to some of my favorite works in the Museum and to my own experience of them.  I’ll try to translate my experience into poems which I hope will honor the artwork and resonate successfully as creative efforts of their own.

So, I will be at the Museum, in a tent somewhere around the lovely Wade Lagoon, Saturday, June 25 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, working on my poems.  So far I’ve chosen two pieces to write about; a painting, Gray and Gold, 1942  by John Rogers Cox (American, 1950 -1990) and an ancient, ‘flame style’ Japanese cooking pot from the Middle Jomon period – about 3,000 BC.  Here’s the images.  Gray and Gold

CMA Jomon Pot

If they turn out well, I’ll post the poems after they are done.  Come visit if you can.  It’s free.

Stonecoast in Ireland

Ted, Kathleen, Jeannie and Annie at Dingle Bookshop (1)

Ted, Kathleen, Jeannie and Annie at Dingle Bookshop

Reading in the Dingle BookshopThis July (2015)I had the great privilege of participating in the Dingle, Ireland summer residency for the Stonecoast Creative Writing Program of the University of Southern Maine, as an alumna of that program. There are two residencies offered in Ireland for up-to ten students each term; July and January. I was further privileged to co-host one of the workshops during that residency, with Jeanne Marie Beaumont, my former mentor at Stonecoast. The Ireland residencies are under the fine leadership of Ted Deppe and Annie Deppe.

In addition to the hard work of worshops for the students to advance their own work, the residencies feature daily lectures and evening readings by the faculty and by amazing guest Irish Writers. This residency we reveled in the wisdom and art of guest writers Harry Clifton, Kevin Barry, Angela Patten and Daniel Lusk, all of whom were most generous in their teaching and social interactions with us.

Dingle Bookshop readingI was also honored to give the first of the evening readings which take place in the Dingle Bookshop on Green Street. The readings are open to the public. And they came. Each evening the book store was filled with locals as well as the students in the residency program.

Being in Ireland was an amazing experience. I was able to go early and stay late, and over the next weeks I will be posting several short blogs about my experiences while getting to know a bit about this remarkable peninsula on the far western edge of the European continent. I will also post some more photos.

Cleveland Arts Prize

On June 26, 2014 I was honored with the Robert P. Bergman Award from the Cleveland Arts Prize. I am very excited and deeply grateful to have been chosen, along with my stalwart colleague, from the George Gund Foundation, Deena Epstein, for this very prestigious award. Deena and I have worked – separately and together through our respective foundations – for more than two decades to strengthen Cleveland’s remarkable arts community and open the doors of the arts to everyone in our community. I was proud to share the stage with her that wonderful evening. Here is a link to a 12 minute interview of Deena and me on WCPN, ideastream Public Radio.

And some photos from the wonderful awards ceremony at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Me with venerable arts patron, advocate and leader, Barbara Robinson and Wayne Lawson, former renowned Director of the Ohio Arts Council.  (Other gentleman unidentified.)  Jill Snyder, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art introducing me and Deena Epstein with whom I shared the award.  Getting the medal from Jill, and all the 2014 Awardees.

For those who care about such things, the  dress is from Paris via a wonderful small boutique, You Two  a block from my house.  The shoes are Ivanka Trump – two words I never expected to be associated with my personal wardrobe.

Me with fellow honoree Barbara Robinson and Wayne Lawson, Former head of the Ohio Arts Council.  Don't know the gentleman on the left.Deena Epstein and me being introduced by Jill Snyder, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, ClevelandReceiving the Robert P. Bergman Award of the Cleveland Arts Prize2014 Cleveland Arts Prize winners

A Humbling Honor

I recently received word that I have been named the recipient of the Robert Bergman Prize by the Jury of the Cleveland Arts Prize. I share this honor with my long time colleague in arts philanthropy, Deena Epstein. The Bergman Prize is especially meaningful to me as I counted Bob Bergman as a friend, and as I was serving on the Arts Prize Board at the time of his death, had some influence in creating this prize. Bob was larger than life and in his brief time as Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, turned the institution inside out – opening doors, welcoming the community in and giving personal tours, in his sneakers, to members of the Rotary, the Elks, the Kiwanis – community folk that he invited to visit him in ‘his house.’ I’m not exactly sure how the Jury saw that I fit the criteria for this award but I must say I am humbled and more deeply honored than I can say.

Engaging the Future

Engaging the Future is the Cleveland Foundation’s audience development initiative aimed at helping our vital arts institutions adapt to shifting demographics, technologies, and tastes, and attract the younger audiences they need to survive. The Cleveland Foundation has partnered with EmcArts to work with 11 Cleveland cultural institutions as they create innovative approaches for engaging younger and more diverse audiences.

  • Read this Plain Dealer story about Engaging the Future.
  • Watch this video from the first daylong seminar for the initiative.
  • Check out audio postcards from the participating organizations as they explain their starting conditions and current priorities.
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