From the End of the World to the New Year: A New Start for the Living Poetry Project

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My new poetic journey (0r obsession) is on location–locating oneself in time and place–the power of proximity and the efforts of exchange. The temporal as a gift and curse of every moment lived.

I am located in the Antelope Valley–meaning, I am situated between religious compounds, prisons, schools, aerospace, and Joshua Trees. This isn’t an easy place to live, but I love it. It is a place that reminds me of my favorite poet, Stephen Crane, who writes:

I walked in a desert

I walked in a desert.
And I cried,
“Ah, God, take me from this place!”
A voice said, “It is no desert.”
I cried, “Well, But —
The sand, the heat, the vacant horizon.”
A voice said, “It is no desert.”

The desert where I live is much like a Crane poem–a voice without answers, but a constant unraveling of complications. My favorite Crane poem reads:

In the desert

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter — bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

I carry Crane with me. Everywhere I go, his poems go with me. I sometimes wonder if this is an exchange of time and proximity–if we are all homes to the ghost and dreams of another.

Another artist who helps me understand the desert is Noah Purifoy. Noah Purifoy was introduced to me by poet Ching-In Chen. Ching-In is a great friend and gifts everyone around her with dreams. When I saw what Noah Purifoy was able to achieve with desert trash–the transformation of shadows into sculpture–I found poetry. Poetry is words transformed to images.

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I often have my students study Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet Vs the Goddess. Shlain claims that alphabet literacy reshape the human brain making us all left hemisphere dominate, which he sees as being more masculine in its function. An unbalanced brain he says, is the reason for the decline of feminine power. He explains:

Extrapolating the experience of an individual to a culture, I hypothesized that when a critical mass of people within a society acquire literacy, especially alphabet literacy, left hemispheric modes of thought are reinforced at the expense of right hemispheric ones, which manifests as a decline in the status of images, women’s rights, and goddess worship. The more I turned this idea over in my mind the more correlations appeared. Like a dog worrying a bone, I found this connection compelling and could not let it go until I had superimposed it on many different historical periods and across cultural divides.

This year, I want to bridge the left and right hemispheres–I wanted to forge words and images together–to stitch the mind and body together. In 2013, I’m on a quest to investigate what I’m calling, “the people of stars and the people of the earth.” I want to know what stories the horizon has to tell about the convergence of these two groups.

To begin this journey, I asked my dear friends Jason Hughes, Laura Bautista, Larissa Nickel, and Robert Fisher to help me make a 20 foot woman out of desert trash. I stayed up for a week sculpting paper flowers out of a phone book and cut feathers out of Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet Vs the Goddess. Jason, Laura, Larissa, and I, set out to erect the structure on December 21st (the end of the world) with the intent of revisiting our twenty foot woman in the new year. Jason took these amazing pictures of Laura, Larissa, and I as the 20 foot woman. Jason has a keen eye and an understanding of the high desert that I admire. He knew the abandon silo, ridden with bullet holes, would shine like stars as the sun set.

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Photo by Jason Hughes
Modeled by Laura Bautista
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Photo by Jason Hughes
Modeled by Larissa Nickel
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Photo by Jason Hughes
Modeled by Nicelle Davis
photo
Photo by Robert Fisher

Then we left her, in the desert, to be found by others.

I wanted to see what people would do to her. We left her in a place where she could easily be destroyed. I expected her to be used for target practice or burned to nothing. What I found both delighted and broke me.

She was left untouched. Untouched! All around her was evidence of others–a hallo of empty bullet shells, fresh graffiti, and messaged written in sand by the god kids. Most tender and shattering was an empty paint can and dirty towel. A group of huffers had gathered at her implied feet–burn their heads by breathing fumes. What did the see? Whatever they saw, she remained untouched as a holly relic. “They” who found her, are a voice without answers, a voice without answers, but a constant unraveling of complications.

You Made a Ghost of Me, so I Made a Story of You

I pattern my breathing to a bird’s wings;

I see my breath as flames upon the air;

I see flames like wings against your flesh;

I see myself as pulse-efforts turned

to snow. Without you, I let little light in,

afraid I’m made of just enough to cup in-

hand. Drink again. No more of this, again.

Instead, I tell myself, this time I’ll be drank

by slow sunset. Fly fast. Fly faster. Fast to-

ward orbs of wings and arms unraveling.

Again. I think of again. We’ll know better.

We’ll pluck feathers to strum music. We’ll

want this wanting. Like song. We’ll change

repetition to refrains—sing ourselves sane.

–Nicelle Davis

3 thoughts on “From the End of the World to the New Year: A New Start for the Living Poetry Project

  1. What an amazing project! I’m so inspired by your creativity. It really makes me happy that the other visitors to the silo didn’t destroy the goddess. What a great way to celebrate the Winter Solstice — leaving poetry/art for others to enjoy in random, unexpected places!

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