Plein Air Poetry

Today is for poetry at Old Frog Pond Farm. This afternoon, twenty-four poets will gather and walk the trail around the pond and through the woods, along the orchard, to the meditation hut, with a stop at the rock turtle, and back to the dam. The poets will be reading the poems they began writing earlier in the year inspired by a visit to the farm.

We need poetry to mine the subtle, the tenuous, the painful, the ecstatic, and elegiac feelings of our humanness. We need poetry when we are tired, hurt, hassled, and missing connection to our own heart. “I come to the farm,/having very nearly forgotten myself,” begins Lucinda Bowen. “And here blooms a memory. . . my surprise at improbable sweetness.”

Early in the year, Susan Edwards Richmond, organizer of the event, and I, choose a theme. This year’s subject, Memoir, “invited the poets to dig deeper, to go beyond surfaces, and draw, sometimes unbidden, wells of feeling from the landscape,” wrote Richmond in her introduction to the chapbook of poems. 

Susan Edwards Richmond, Plein Air Reading, 2013

Susan Edwards Richmond, Plein Air Reading, 2013

Poets sign up to participate. Throughout the spring and early summer, they visit the farm and walk the paths. When they come upon a view, a place, a tree, or a sound that awakens their muse, they stop and write. They return home, work on their poems, sometimes visiting again. In mid-summer, they submit their poems to Richmond, editor of the chapbook. For some, Richmond responds with suggestions, working closely with the writer to enhance the poem; others’ work arrives fully fledged. Then Richmond orders the collection, giving shape not only to the book, but to the walking event. Our slow-moving herd of poetry appreciators can’t be running from the dam to the orchard to the bell; then flying to the meditation hut and back again — or the walk would take us far into the evening hours.

Sometimes it is one of the outdoor sculptures at the farm that moves the poet to words. For poet David Davis, the ringing of Paul Matisse’s Olympic Bell brought back memories of Nepal. “Forty years ago in Katmandu/I heard a monk ring a temple bell/That shook my chest and opened my ears.” Polly Brown begins her poem with, “A sculpted figure by the pond,/gathering sky in her round arms,/Is my mother—alive but so lightly tethered/to the place and condition of her body.” She, too, mentions the bell, “hauling on the hammer I sound the bell/in the woods,/ and they [her mother and father] fly to me.”

Some poets invite us to feel the plight of the greater world. Linda Fialkoff writes, “So many refugees/choked into one small boat/fueled by a damp, ragged/body long held hostage.” It is as if she knew that Alicia Dwyer’s Suspended Encampment, a hanging sculpture behind the Medicine Wheel, would be arriving for the sculpture exhibit. Dwyer’s sculpture not only refers to the plight of Monarch butterflies, but to the migrations of people, the refugees throughout Europe, and now, the homeless millions in the aftermath of the recent violent storms and earthquakes.

Suspended Encampment , Alicia Dwyer (partial)     Photo:Robert Hesse

Suspended Encampment, Alicia Dwyer (partial)     Photo:Robert Hesse

bg Thurston picks up a stone and hears, “Sometimes sorrow/sits like a stone in your heart/and you are unable to lift it.” For Heather Connelly Bryant, the raspberry patch evokes a strong memory, “Yet I was wrong—now there is new life, new love, new/hope— infidelity no longer hangs in the air, everywhere.” Richmond, also wrote near the raspberries, “each of us now with our own green past, red stained fingers. Only rarely/was there enough/but we were always sated.” 

Richmond and her husband brought their children to pick raspberries at this farm years before I moved in, and she was so happy when she learned that I would continue to care for the patch and open it for public picking. Since that time, Richmond and I have collaborated on many projects — Wild Apples, a journal of nature, art, and inquiry, five years of Plein Air Poetry at the farm, and our most recent collaboration, a children’s book, Where’s My Bonkers? about a girl, her mother, and an apple. It’s always about collaboration at the farm. We share, inspire, and co-create together.

Cover Art & Design:  Lynn Horsky

Cover Art & Design:  Lynn Horsky

We invite you to join us this afternoon, Sunday, September 17 at 2pm to walk and listen to the poets read their poems. I guarantee you will be sated.

If you can’t make the event, a limited number of chapbooks will be for sale at the farmstand and on the farm’s website. The walk is free and open to the public.

All About Art

A friend of mine paints barns. That is, she makes paintings of the same barn over and over, in all seasons and at all times of day. The angle of her view may shift or the size of her canvas, the palette, or the medium, but the barn remains, a presence in the landscape. In fact, it feels inseparable from the earth, as if she was a painting a mountain or a great tree. Brenda Cirioni’s barns are rooted and alive.

But the real barn, the barn that she connects with through her painting, no longer exists:

When I was sixteen years old my family home burned to the ground. Memories of that experience – both visual and visceral – surfaced in 2012 and found expression in Barn Series.

It was years after the event that Brenda realized that she had never truly mourned that frightening loss. Painting is a way to heal our wounds, even the hidden, unarticulated ones.

The first Barn Series Painting, 2011, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

The first Barn Series Painting, 2011, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

As artists, we are fortunate when we find a subject that captivates us. Like many people, I have an attraction to the natural world, to old objects and worn tools. Growing up with an anthropologist mother and traveling with her to Mexico and Guatemala, as well as to India and Papua New Guinea, I learned to respect material culture and appreciate how it reveals information about people and their worlds. I have a natural affinity for old objects and textiles because they connect me to my childhood and early adolescence. I use them in sculpture, often combining them with small figures. I play.

I think of art as a form of play that connects our inner and outer worlds. Children play naturally. Children like to arrange things, to build towers, to line up stones on a beach, or arrange a series of stuffed animals on a shelf. Artists, when painting a landscape or making a sculpture, also arrange objects. Brush strokes form buildings or trees, people or abstract shapes. If I want to paint grasses that are dark green at the bottom and become pale above, I stroke the canvas with color in a particular pattern and with an intensity and intentionality to recreate the density of green below and the lighter colored, thinner reeds above. It’s the way I imagine Brenda paints a barn, filling her brush with color and forming the angles, the light, the textures — all with intuitively complex decision making that no one else can replicate. It’s authentic playing — the playing of an experienced artist.

When we are self-conscious and trying too hard at this art making, it feels all wrong. It’s only when we find the sweet spot that has similarities to child’s play that discoveries happen. I have a friend who has recently become obsessed with mosaics. She has a tree stump on which she hammers stones to break them down into small mosaic pieces. She then fits them in patterns, setting the stone shards in cement. She loves this work — and can’t find enough time to spend at her mosaic table. She is tapping into her true self. As she breaks these rocks from the earth into small pieces and arranges them in a specific way with colors and shapes, I feel like she is breaking down difficult places in the world and creating peace — like she is breaking down the hard places inside of herself and turning them into art.

Untilted, Shea Ikusei Settimi

Untilted, Shea Ikusei Settimi

Children play with stones, soil, sand, containers, the contents of the kitchen utensil drawer, anything that they can pick up. When we become an artist, we reconnect with that innocent and serious play. Many of the sculptors exhibiting this year at the farm’s annual sculpture exhibit play seriously in this way. Barbara Andrus strung curly willow twigs across the pond. Is this so different than lining up teddy bears? Of course it is – and there is much more work involved and commitment to her vision, but the essence is still there.

We’re fortunate when we find a medium that appeals to us and that we can work and develop. Alicia Dwyer’s Dyads are eyes that peer out from among the forest trees. They seem to be staring at us as we walk along the path; we have the uncomfortable feeling of being followed. Painted on aluminum flashing, the Dyads were made eight years ago, her first time working with aluminum. She has continued with this medium, creating armor women, and this year, a new piece in which beautiful butterflies suspended in captivity remind us of the refugee problems in many parts of the world.

My daughter, Ariel Matisse, has found that wire is her chosen medium of expression. For the sculpture exhibit, she’s making a willow tree growing out of a hollow tree stump. The willow trunk is a twisting shape made from a fistful of long wires, where one end forms the branches and the other the roots. She uses a ball peen hammer to flatten and make the branches reflect light. She grew up watching me drag tree trunks home from the woods or from a trip to Cape Cod. I can easily see my influence on my daughter and also how her own truth leads her in a new direction.

On Samantha Pasapane’s website she writes, “I love steel.” Samantha will be bringing a new sculpture in her Savaging Series to the farm.

Savaging, Smantha Pasapane

Savaging, Smantha Pasapane

Lydia Musco has already installed her sculpture, Organizing Echoes with Ash, on the concrete pier in the middle of the lower pond. The title of her sculpture suggests ‘creating order.’ Lydia’s column is made of ceramic tiles that she combines and stacks. Her sculpture, though abstract, entices the viewer to linger with its physicality. I see a figure or even two figures together, and then when I look again, it seems to be echoing the play of light on the rippling water. 

Organizing Echoes with Ash , Lydia Musco, installed at Old Frog Pond Farm, 2017 Photo:LH

Organizing Echoes with Ash, Lydia Musco, installed at Old Frog Pond Farm, 2017 Photo:LH

Art making connects us to something original inside us, to a truth about who we are and how we relate to our world as human beings from our very origin. Brenda Cirioni’s most recent paintings are what she calls Spirit Houses.

Spirit House I, 2016, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

Spirit House I, 2016, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

They seem a natural progression from the Barn Series. In these paintings, the landscape with identifiable trees and grasses is gone, but the body of the barn remains without the old story. In the painting above, the white shape is floating as if on a sea. It’s haunting and surreal, yet familiar, a space we have all inhabited — one where we just don’t know. That’s when there’s nothing left to do but find a medium that resonates — words, paint, wire, clay, even fruits and vegetables — and get down to some serious play.

Old Frog Pond Farm's outdoor sculpture exhibit opens on Friday, September 8 and will be open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through Columbus Day. Hours are 11-5pm and admission is $7. Join us for an opening reception and meet the artists on Sunday, September 10 from 1-4pm. In the next few weeks I will be writing about more of the artists and fall activities. Join us at the farm!