Poetry for April?

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[This post is pinned to the top of my blog for April. Scroll down to read other stuff.]

Looking for some poetry to read during April? Consider buying the ebook of one of my collections of poetry:

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-3-59-28-pmThe Mansions of the Moon

In this collection are a series of poems celebrating the twenty-eight angels and traditional astrological images of the positions that the Moon cycles through every month. In this collection, you receive twenty-eight poems in the traditional ode format.

Based in part on a close reading of Christopher Warnock’s Mansions of the Moon (a remarkable book in and of itself, with brilliant illustrations by Nigel Jackson), this is effectively a collection of hymns or prayers to the angels of the Mansions, asking for their assistance and focus in the life of the reader.  It can be read aloud as part of a magical and spiritual practice, or simply as a way of reflecting on the ways in which the Moon spoke to ancient and medieval peoples, and told them stories based on the sky.

I’ve found that this collection has been quite useful to me, personally, and not just because people have bought it.  It’s spoken to me personally, even though I wrote the poems — and part of it had to do with the process by which they were written. I waited until the Moon was in the part of the sky associated with the particular Mansion, and then wrote the poem while ‘listening’ to what the Moon seemed to say; I also made an effort to write each poem when the Moon was waxing or full, and depressed the particular power of the moon at that time of each month.

510f0dXWciLThe Sun’s Paces: Poems for the Decans

This is another collection of astrological poetry.  At least since ancient Egypt, the sky has been divided into twelve signs of the Zodiac… but also into thirty-six sub-signs called Faces or Decans (because they’re each ten degrees of arc across the sky).  The Sun’s Paces is a collection of thirty-six poems to the thirty-six Decans or faces of the Zodiac. About every ten days, the Sun passes from one of these decans to the next. More refined and subtle than the Zodiac, the Decans can help zero in more clearly and particularly on the elements of a horoscope; and they also demonstrate that some times of year are better for working on particular problems or issues than others.

And, of course, each planet is also in each Decan at some point during its ambulation around the Sun. Each planet also gets reflected through the powers and capacities of each Decan, and these are explored in gentle ways through the poems in this book.

Based in part on Austin Coppock’s elegant book, Thirty-Six Faces, you’ll find that this is a great collection of poetry to round out your poetic, magical or spiritual library.
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The Tai Chi Poem

Although you can download a copy of this for free, here, you can also also buy one for your Kindle reader. You’ll also be supporting my work as a poet.

This collection of poetry is not actually a collection — it’s a single poem, where each verse is a sonnet, running to some sixty-three poems describing the sixty-three movements of the Tai Chi form I learned at Star Farm in the late 1990s. I attempted to create a guide to the postures and positions based on my own practice of the form for four years.  I don’t know that you could learn Tai Chi by reading this poem and then doing it, but my goal was to create and celebrate the way in which martial arts manuals celebrate movement and spirituality through poetic language.  This book was an attempt to capture and realize that mindset in a standard form so celebrated in English-language poetry.

51zuU7LxzcL.jpg Festae: Poetry for the Roman Calendar

This is a collection of hymns or odes for deities associated with the Greco-Roman pagan calendar. Here you’ll find celebrations of Neptune and Salacia (the goddess of brine wells, used in ancient and medieval Italy for curing cheeses and making Parma hams, among other things).  There is a hymn for the Feast of All the Heras, and festivals for the three weeks in June dedicated to Vesta as the keeper of the hearth-flame.

The collection of poems is organized by month — Each of the twelve months of the year is marked with at least three festival dates that more or less match up with our own calendar.  There are several dates for Dionysius/Bacchus, both as the wine-god and as the patron of the theater; here are poems for Artemis as the goddess of the Moon, and as the patroness of trance-states achieved through music.

As with nearly all of the poetry in these collections, these are composed as odes: three-stanza poems of thirty lines in length, that speak to the gods and goddesses of old with an awareness of their traditional imagery, and their modern relevance.

51j6AYSu8zL-1.jpgPoems for the Behenian Stars

The last collection of astrological poetry I intend to create for a while, this was the first to be published in 2017 (this year!).

The Behenian (or ‘root’) Stars are a list of fifteen traditional stars from Arabic and European astrological and astronomical lore dating back at least a thousand years. Mostly, they’re the brightest and most distinctive stars in the northern hemisphere, all through the year: the terrifying Caput Algol, the head of Medusa; Aldebaran, the eye of the Bull; Sirius the Dog Star; Regulus the heart of the Lion; Algorab in the Crow’s wing; and many others.  In astrological lore, the presence of a planet in close conjunction with one of these stars signified a particular eminence in the person born at that hour.

Yet I’ve found that knowing and naming and celebrating these stars is a way of connecting to the sky above us, and a way of becoming both more human, and more humane.  The lore of the stars has extraordinary things to teach us about how ancient and medieval peoples saw the sky above their heads, and the world around them.  This collection of poems speaks to those truths.  As a special for April, I’m reducing the price of this collection from $9.99 to $2.99… You can also buy it in a printable format through my website at Etsy.com.

And thank you, always, for your support!

Sonnet for Shakespeare on his 453rd Birthday

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Really, he doesn’t look a day over 380…

O Bard immortal by the Avon born,
in humble cottage to ambitious dad:
I give you greetings on your birthday morn
with tidings: The world so wide still is glad
that the work of your life and pen yet lives.
The curtain never comes down in this globe
but there is applause; each hearer forgives
some tin-tongued actor in a worn-out robe,
when your Hero emerges from the grave
or Hamlet drinks down the pearl of great price,
or Hotspur leaps to war, foolish and brave,
or Antipholus’ friends see him twice.
The faeries in their revels bless us still,
and your fame? Endures forever, sweet Will.
Composed 23 April, 2017.

Quilts: finished

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Two quilts finished in three-ish half-days. The top one is the penguins from earlier, the bottom one in pink is the owls quilt.  Both are already spoken for, you can’t buy them.

Really, it’s three quilts but I’m having my doubts about the arrangement of materials for the third quilt. I think I could get the third done if I could get some feedback on whether or not people think it’s a good layout.

Here’s the third quilt. Tentatively, anyway.  I’m worried that the dark blue of the starry swirls doesn’t really match the green or the blue of the top of the quilt; and that the baby-blue trim doesn’t match either.  I suppose I could tie it all together with some thread of the right color… but it still makes me a little nervous.


What do you think? Leave me a comment.

Quilt: penguins 

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I find that I’m enjoying a great deal the process of laying out a quilt, and then sewing the rows and columns together to make the quilt.  These squares are 5″ to a side for this quilt with a penguin theme. The quilt is going to be much wider than a typical crib quilt, but about the same length.

Unfortunately, the dark blue fabric is polyester and slippery.  I don’t know if this is going to work.  I’ve found conflicting opinions about quilting with polyester fabrics — some people love them, some people hate them.  I’ve decided on a 100% cotton backing fabric, though, so if the baby winds up being sensitive to poly they can always flip it over and display the quilt top to the world and wrap the baby in two layers of cotton away from the artificiality.

Why use poly at all? Do you know how hard it is to find penguin fabric to begin with?  I also didn’t choose the fabric, in this case. This is a custom order, and I’m not sure that we knew it was poly when we ordered it.

In any case, there’s this delightful process that you can see in the third photo, where the rug gradually vanishes behind the fabric as the quilt takes shape. This one should be done later today, or at least it should be done later today.

There’s another thing that I quite like about quilting with these sorts of prints.  When you look at the whole fabric, it’s very hard to admire it — it’s the same pattern repeated over and over again.  It’s mind-numbing in its regularity.  And it’s often dull to look at.

But then something happens when you cut it up.  As the fabric is sliced in two directions, the pattern becomes more randomized. Sometimes it’s the father and mother penguin in the foreground, sometimes it’s in the background, sometimes it’s the large line of penguins in the middle ground that becomes prominent.  The pattern’s regularity becomes irregular, as the rotary blade cuts and slices the repetitive imagery into squares that don’t respect the pattern’s repeat mode.  And so something new emerges.  It’s the original cut-and-paste, in some ways.  Except that with quilting, it’s cut-and-baste.

Quilt: arithemtic

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Increasingly, I find myself making diagrams like this. It’s a tentative layout for a quilt I am making for a friend; it’s one of two that she commissioned for some of her nieces. This one will be fairly simple, just 5″ squares sewn to some batting and backing with a bound edge. The accent fabrics are nice. I’m worried whether I have enough blue for the quilt; the fabrics that fill in the squares that are currently empty — I don’t know yet if they’ll be random or in neat rows. I don’t know if thequilts will be on diagonals or just crazily assembled.

I do know that the quilt will have to be 9 squares wide by 11 squares long. Ninety nine squares. There are 42 in this array; another ten on the cutting bench— I need 47 more. In some ways it’s pointless to lay out the squares before the cutting is done. In other ways it helps refine the thought processes that go into planning the quilt and figuring out if your next steps will actually work.

Entirely abstract processes in quilt design should work, in theory. In practice, just using theory doesn’t work.

Quilt: crib squares

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I received a commission for a baby quilt, to go in a certain niece’s crib. The bedroom of his niece has an owl theme, and so my patron scavenged up some owls fabric; I did the cutting and assembly. The assembly of the quilt front is now basically done after a day’s work. The backing is cut, and the batting.
What remains, is the quilting of the three layers together, and the attaching of an edge binding. The quilting will take the morning tomorrow; I can have the binding done by late afternoon.

It bears saying, though: not including the trips to the fabric store, or the discussions with the patron, a “simple” baby quilt is a 10-to-30 hour project. It is akin to a student research paper or a project for the county science fair. It takes as long to make a quilt, as it does to read a book, write several papers about it, and deliver a final oral report.
It’s for this reason that so much of what comes out of school MakerSpaces is, essentially, junk.  It’s rarely beautiful or complete — the child may be able to communicate a lot of truths by building and assembling a model of the thing — but a finished thing usually involves dozens if not hundreds of hours of labor.

Which is part of the reason why the rush to 3D printers and laser cutters and CNC milling machines in schools is so dismaying to me.  All of these sorts of high tech tools do amazing things, of course. But many of them put substantial amount of intermediate work between the student and the finished product —

  1. design a thing
  2. input the design as a vector graphic into a computer
  3. dial in the amount of cutting to be done, layer by layer
  4. Run the finished 3D model or graphic through some sort of confirmation process
  5. print ( CNC carve or laser-cut) the design
  6. Note mistakes
  7. Edit design
  8. Re-print (CNC carve, laser cut) the design again.

So much of that work involves hands-on… the computer.  Not with the materials.  Not with the machine itself. Students are effectively learning to do a small range of things only, which is to transmit designs from their brain to a computer screen, and then edit those computer-compatible designs to a specific range of functions on one type of robot.  Which is fine, if you’re training robot programmers.

And don’t get me wrong. Seymour Papert and Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez are right — computers allow you to do things that you wouldn’t normally be able to do.  So do robots in the classroom.

But a human being is more than a robot — and in schools particularly, we have to privilege human beings above robots.  A human being is more important than a robot, and deserves to be more than simply a tool for transferring human creativity into less than humane designs.

But I’m drifting far from quilting.  A sewing machine makes clothes, makes quilts, makes bags, makes fashion, makes hats, makes accessories, makes banners, makes stuffed animal shells, makes art.

And they require a substantial amount of basic mathematics.  My squares were cut on a rotary cutting mat, to be exactly 5 in.² The seam allowance is 1/4 inch. This means that the square is in the middle have an apparent size of 4 1/2  in.²  So, each square is losing a quarter inch from the top, bottom, left, and right.

The quilt is nine squares across. So, 9×5 = 45. So the materials for the quilt edge are 45 inches long. But every two squares sewn together means a loss of a 1/2″ or 3/4″ along the way… because quilting is not a perfect art.  So if I want a quilt to be such and such a number of inches wide, I have to plan for the loss that accumulates from sewing the squares together.

And so, slowly but surely, the quilt gets assembled from a variety of pieces.  It’s possible to observe the progress of the work from beginning to end. There’s something to put in a bin at the end of the day, and something to take out from a bin at the start of the working day.  The project picks up steam along the way, too, as the work trudges along toward completion.  Little by little, the work gets done.

Which I think is one of the things that I admire and notice about sewing as a form of Making.  Sewing, ideally, produces not junk, but actual and useful things — blankets to keep people warm, clothes to keep them dressed and fashionable, bags to put things in and store them, banners for celebrating all the seasons of our lives, and more.

If your MakerSpace and Maker program doesn’t have a sewing machine and sewing supplies in it… well, what are you waiting for?

Consider this blog post your permission slip (just be aware you need an ironing board, an iron, some scissors for fabric, some rotary cutters, and some rotary cutting matts too — I can help you figure out what tools you need, and I can even come teach your class.  Let me know.

 

What I Do: Vision Statement #makered

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My friend Stephanie challenged me to write a marketing plan for my business (Watermountain Studios), in sonnets.  I don’t know that I can write a marketing plan in sonnets, but I can write two that qualify as a vision statement, I suppose.

The human hand used to shape all our needs
and make all our wants from creche to casket;
the old factory is now choked with weeds,
and we mock those who can make a basket.
Robots build cars, machines sew our raiment
and the sweat of slaves dapples our plastic toys…
our children sit idle, workshops vacant —
we test to exhaustion both girls and boys.
Yet numbers and letters can still be learned
through artisan’s arts of loom, forge, and press.
By hand and eye’s labor are truth discerned
and concrete order made from abstract mess.
Children learn best when their hands learn to make,
for artistry helps our minds to awake.

To start a MakerSpace right now is hard:
we sold off the shop tools and burned the scrap,
put abstract thought on every student’s card,
and put computers in each student’s lap.
We tested for phonics and random facts,
and jumped for joy at every new reform —
yet abstraction has been a kind of trap
to make a man who thinks instead of acts.
Ask me — I’ll guide you through these thickets,
to where your students thrive with tools in hand
making theater props, posters and tickets,
costumes, the stage — instruments for a band.
When children make, they become more adept
at fixing the world that broke while we slept.

 

Paper: 2D to 3D

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One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is the sort of principles one should adopt in a MakerSpace.  And one of those critical principles is this one:

Principle #2: 2D makes 3D

What does that mean? It means that a student or an adult should take a 2-dimensional material, such as paper or fabric or plywood or sheet metal, and turn it into a 3-dimensional object. (I watched a video of Adam Savage making a box using a metal brake recently, and it was inspiring to see a box made so easily. [see about 6:33 and following]).

It’s better if that object has a fold or a bend or a twist in in, or has some sort of functional purpose — but just folding or bending or shaping a piece of paper in a deliberate or conscious way can turn a flat thing into a product. Sometimes it’s a box, sometimes it’s a house-shape, sometimes it’s a bag, sometimes it’s a yarn-winder. Sometimes it’s a question of folding or stacking pieces, sometimes it’s bending them.

What does that look like?

How do we know when a student’s efforts at working Principle #2 have succeeded? How do we know when our own efforts have succeeded?

How do we succeed if we don’t have a metal brake in the workshop (or a hundred bucks of leather for each and every student to make their own Chewbacca bandolier??).

It’s worth remembering the cheapness and versatility of that key material:

Paper

Paper is enormously versatile.  I think I got a sense of that with the Paper Roller Coasters people, and the work of Rob Ives.  You can do amazing things with paper.  But pop-up cards have tremendous versatility as a way of teaching the basics of 2D to 3D thinking. In these few cards, you can see one that turns into an easel, several that turn into steps, and several that turn into folded panels. There’s even a Japanese envelope-letter: write on one side of the paper, and then fold it, and it becomes its own envelope.

What are the benefits of working with paper first, before working with metal or leather or cloth? First it’s a lot cheaper.  A sheet of paper starts at around a penny a square foot (though it can get more expensive), while fabric starts at around a penny a square inch.  Paper is the place to teach conservation of materials, 2d to 3d, and the principles of cutting and measuring carefully. This is where the work begins. This — and drawing.

If you have to equip a MakerSpace, and you only have a $100 budget for the year, start with a lot of paper in a lot of weights, and invest in cutting and folding tools like Xacto knives, rulers, and bone folders.  You can download all the origami and pop-up card designs you could possibly want from the Internet.  Measure, cut, fold — make templates ,and cutting and folding diagrams, and set up production lines.  Teach the industrial revolution, Hallmark card-style, and reinvigorate letter-writing culture at the same time.

(While you’re at it, teach students to make the Platonic and Archimedean solids — geometry learning should go along with Maker learning. That’s practically standard).

Remember: No matter what you build, it’ll be a beginning. And everything you teach about folding, cutting, bending and scoring will ultimately be useful when you do get around to having a metal brake.

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