Category Archives: Poetry

IT’S A POLITICAL AGE

Gelatin silver photographic print of stumps titled "Remains"

Remains, 2012, gelatin silver print.

Though I consciously have avoided the political in my photographs (and my poems), more and more I am drawn to projects that involve moral issues. Confronted daily with images that convey the dismantling of our human values, the death of society, destruction by killings and war, the collapse of our planet, I am led to wrestle with my own notions of what it means to bear witness and to create work that matters. What will I make of this pounding on the doors of perception, this battering of rationality? Increasingly, I think these things must work their way into my image-making. And I find myself excited by the idea of engaging new directions.

I am reminded of a poem by a brilliant poet, whose work I love:

Wislawa Szymborska

CHILDREN OF OUR AGE

We are children of our age,
it’s a political age.

All day long, all through the night,
all affairs—yours, ours, theirs—
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.

Even when you take to the woods,
you’re taking political steps,
on political grounds.

Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it’s a question, as always, of politics.

To acquire a political meaning
you don’t even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,

or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months:
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one.

Meanwhile, people perished,
animals died,
houses burned,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

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ART FOR A BETTER FUTURE

Yesterday, June 8, was world Oceans Day.

Seals napping, Sonoma Coast

Seals, Sonoma Coast, California. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

Wave crashing at Somoa Dunes, Arcata, California

Wave, Somoa Dunes, Arcata, California. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

World Oceans Day “is a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. This year’s theme is ‘Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet,’ and individuals and organizations across the planet are taking action for prevention of plastic pollution in our ocean.”

Immediately, brilliant northwest artist and friend Karen Hackenberg of Port Townsend, Washington, comes to mind. She paints gorgeous seascapes in which she juxtaposes man-made detritus she finds washed up on the beach.

She describes it best in her Artist Statement:

In my ongoing painting series, Watershed,
I take a light-hearted yet subversive approach to the serious subject of ocean degradation, presenting a tongue-in-cheek taxonomy of our new post-consumer creatures of the sea. Influenced by the ideas of Pop artists Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, and the high-contrast light of Edward Hopper, I meticulously paint seascapes in oil and gouache, lovingly crafting beautiful images of conventionally ugly beach cast-offs, and aiming to create provocative visual juxtapositions of form and idea.

The Watershed paintings are inspired by the incongruity of the man-made detritus found washed up on the otherwise pristine shores near my Discovery Bay WA studio; the plastic shards and PETE water bottles, plastic bags, the mismatched running shoes, the foggy plastic water bottles, the throw-away lighters, the frayed lengths of nylon rope, the spent shotgun shells, to name but a few. I collect this local flotsam as it bobs in on the waves from far and near, and with my ear to the sand for a close view, I pose and photograph it on the beach where it strands. The resulting seascape compositions depict the beach trash as monolithic, thereby providing a visual metaphor for the overwhelming magnitude of the issue of marine debris.

 

Along with global pollution, over-consumption of fish have resulted in drastically dwindling populations of species.

Fishing boat, Fort Bragg, California

Fishing Boat, Fort Bragg, California. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

Jeweler and painter Kathleen Faulkner of Skagit Valley is another artist I greatly admire. She, too, is doing beautiful work that engages with the issues of our time. And, of course, there are so many others.

In my own photographic work, the landscape dominates, and though it may not always be explicit, the changing landscape is a beneath-the-surface theme. A new project just underway, inspired by W. S. Merwin’s poem “For a Coming Extinction,” responds to the earth’s advancing desertification due to global warming.

World Oceans Day give us a chance to ponder what personal action we might take on behalf of this disastrous consequence.

Though many argue that the function of art isn’t to take on the responsibility of altering opinions, art does awaken sensibilities. For that alone, art matters. It makes the world a better place.

Artists are important to society. I believe we should be weighing in on the times in which we live.

Ghost Tree, Salton Sea. Photograph © Jane Alynn.
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LOOKING AT PHOTOGRAPHS

Apples on the tree in Tieton, Washington

Apples, Tieton, Washington.

For the past week, I have felt this intense need to look at photographs. I don’t mean to look at photographs-in-the-making, those being exposed; I mean to look at photographs that are printed images.

Truth is, I haven’t been out with my camera for awhile, so mining my old files, looking at photographs made by me or someone else that inspires me is the next best thing.

To see them with expanded awareness—Minor White’s approach to seeing, which is akin to meditation or “being still with yourself”—is a way for me to stay sane in the face of my growing apprehension about some health issues. Even though it’s hard to relax into a soft focus when I’m anxious, if I can bring myself to a heightened state of awareness, and look at images from that place, my vision is as creative as the act of making the image in the first place.

Reading poetry, like looking at photographs, can change you.

This poem by Jane Hirshfield comes to mind:

Bad Year

Even in this bad year,
the apples grow heavy and round.
Three friends and I trade stories:
biopsy, miscarriage, solitude,
a parent’s unravelling body or mind.
What is reliable? What do you hold?
I demand of the future, later.
The future–whose discretion is perfect–
says nothing, but rolls another
apple loose from its grip.
A hopeful yellow jacket comes to hunt
the crack, the point of easy entry.

© Jane Hirshfield, from After

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THE NATURE OF CLOUDS

Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series (1841)

Dawn sky in Walla Walla, Washington

Morning came.

I stumbled into the dawn. It was an unusual sky, a strange firmament of flame-shaped clouds against the still-dark yonder, a display so strange it was as if the northern lights had slipped southward to put on an aurora show.

As I stood there, looking, Minor White’s words came to mind: “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.”

Flames, waves, or maybe wings, I gave the heaven’s grand spectacle a few moments of my time. And then the sky changed.

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ROAD TRIP!

Rural Road, Douglas County, Washington

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.


Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass

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THE SILENCE IS NEARLY PERFECT

Causland Park, Anacortes
 
Today I found myself thinking these negative thoughts because there is so much craziness happening in the world now! The danger, of course, is overlooking the positives—a concord of flowering trees, early daffodils, returning birds, the sun getting it right—just outside my window.

I’m glad to be brought back to the present moment.

And to a breath of silence.

*

Starlings and the Cormorant

Not yet dawn
I walk in a soft rain
unprepared
for the cloudburst
of starlings
that drop
from powerlines and houses
by the thousands
into a spruce tree;
their song, twittery and bright,
is something miraculous—
Swelled from a few
once let loose
they sing with continual freedom,
no fear, no ambition,
running the gamut naturally
in trills and tremolos,
warbles in an unbroken litany.

And when I leave
the birdsong behind to return
to my quiet room, wondering
what to do with words,
I stand there in the darkness,
drenched, arms outstretched
like a cormorant drying her wings.
I try to hear, if there’s a voice,
what she would sing
but the silence is nearly perfect.

© Jane Alynn
from Necessity of Flight (Cherry Grove, 2011)

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POETRY & DANCE PERFORMANCE THIS FRIDAY

Alynn Event

Friday, February 19th, A.C.M.E Creative Space, in Anacortes, is hosting this exciting performance: an evening of poetry and dance!

I have always been interested in the synergy between the visual arts and poetry. And because in my earliest career I was a classical ballet dancer, movement (and music) has always figured extensively in my work.

So, I love this collaborative performance in which I will be reading from Necessity of Flight, my latest book of poems, and then The Fidalgo Dance Works Performing Company will interpret in dance two poems they selected from my book. All this, surrounded by an exhibit of my black and white photographs. It amazes me how all this came together.

There will be two showings on Friday: at 5 and 7pm.

Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets or from the gallery, 705 Commercial Avenue, Anacortes, WA 98221. Questions? Feel free to contact me or the gallery.

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LEAPS OF LIGHT

 
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned my upcoming exhibit of black and white photographic prints, at ACME Creative Space, in Anacortes, an honor that sends me over the moon! Then, as if that were not enough excitement, there is more I want to tell you about.

In addition to the exhibition of my photographs, there will be a special event happening on Saturday, February 19, at the gallery: a performance of Poetry and Interpretive Dance. I will be reading some of my poems, and The Fidalgo Dance Works will interpret two of them. I cannot wait to be a part of this brilliant performance.

There will be two seatings for this event, one at 5 p.m. and again at 7 p.m.

What makes this all so thrilling is that the synergy among art forms has always interested me. I wonder, what are the correspondences between various forms of expression? How does one enlighten the other?

My photographs have always been an expression of seeing, a visual reflection of experience more than a depiction of subject matter.

Once I started to write poems it took me no time at all to realize that they were quite imagistic. They came into being through the act of seeing, and the experience, once breathed in, was expressed in concrete images, honed and shaped with concentration and concision.

Here, at this confluence is yet another stream. I was a classically trained ballet dancer even before I was a photographer. Movement to this day serves my creative expression; the body still informs my work.

So, this exhibition of photographs, poetry, and interpretive dance brings me to that meeting place I so welcome.

Exhibit
“Half-Remembered Dreams”
Opening Reception February 5, starting at 6 p.m.
ACME Creative Space, 705 Commercial Avenue, Anacortes

Poetry & Dance Performance
With Poet Jane Alynn and The Fidalgo Dance Works Performing Company
February 19
Performances at 5 p.m. and at 7 p.m.
Tickets $12. Search Brown Paper Tickets. Seating is limited.

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SPECIAL DAY

Youth Among Elders

Youth Among Elders. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

Today is a special day. To celebrate I give myself (and you, dear readers) the gift of a poem by Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets:

A Birthday Poem

Just past dawn, the sun stands
with its heavy red head
in a black stanchion of trees,
waiting for someone to come
with his bucket
for the foamy white light,
and then a long day in the pasture.
I too spend my days grazing,
feasting on every green moment
till darkness calls,
and with the others
I walk away into the night,
swinging the little tin bell
of my name.
_____

It is special for another reason. With great pleasure I mention my friend and poet Lucia Galloway’s winning manuscript, The Garlic Peelers, recently published by Quills Edge Press. Of this chapbook Barbara Crooker writes, No good recipe is complete without garlic, and no poetry shelf is complete without this fine book.

The recipe she references is for aioli, which my husband made for Galloway one summer we visited. Galloway, being the creative poet she is, took it from the mortar and pestle and made it delicious on the page in “Aioli: Stealing the Genie’s Fire,” a poem from her new book.

_____

P.S. I apologize for the wonky look of my website. I have been having some problems, and while they are not yet resolved, I am working with WordPress and Photocrati’s theme developers to get them resolved as quickly as possible. Please be patient. Thank you!

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ON THE SOLSTICE

Umptanum Canyon

I am always filled with a bit more optimism on this day. To know that days are now getting longer and that soon I will wake in the light rather than the dark is heartening. The sun (and light) is such an integral part of my psychic lift. It is from this place that I offer a poem and two photographs.

Beginnings

~ after lines from Jane Hirshfield

The winter solstice is upon us. Under the darkest of night skies
I think not about the blackness, sorrow, perversity,
or the certainty of earth’s destruction. I think about beginnings:

the return of the swans, like little gods, their bodied grace
rises out of the dark; the emergence of snowberries
on winter twigs, white-light switched-on, bright spots of hope

some genius invented for the greatest possible glow;
or the opening fanfare of winter pansies in my garden
which, by solar-sense, turn their little faces to follow the sun.

And in the dark I move closer to you, to become a single thing,
all desire, warmth, breath, flesh glowing sweat, giving
everything. And everything in us wants to begin

the whole thing again from the beginning.
Wrapped in these heavenly rhythms, we, too, turn
towards the light to wake with the sun on our faces.

Sol, Nevada City

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