Went for a walk this morning, shortly after sunrise. Grey sky, no wind, occasional blue jay and squirrel chatter from the branches. Slight chill, with temperature in the high 40s. And the smell of wet oak leaves on the ground. Such a rich smell. I love fallen leaves. The moist decay unlocks deep scents, like heated herbs in a skillet, or more like wet tea leaves in a cup.
It’s not just the smell, though. Fall and leaves recall lines from one of Wendell Berry’s poems: “a million leaves / alive in the wind / and what do we know.” This time of year we let things fall, we watch them fall. We let them lie. When all has fallen that will fall this season, what’s left? What remains? What do we know? We can’t grasp everything. We can’t do everything. We have limits, and autumn reminds me of these.
Several days ago during our ThanksGiving visit with family, we saw an exhibit of Joan Miro’s art, paintings and sculptures from his last two decades, “Miro: The Experience of Seeing” at the Nasher Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina.
When I visit an exhibit, I usually write little bits in my notebook–a small palm-sized notebook for jotting down phone numbers, websites, poem ideas, opening lines, etc. I think of my Miro notes as an answer to Wendell Berry’s question, “what do we know?” Berry’s lines remain as the epigraph on my personal stationery because they serve as a measurement of sorts. Writing down these Miro notes helps me preserve ideas and phrases that trigger recognition in me. They signal something I know.
Here are my notes, some of which come from the exhibit’s explanatory plaques. My own associated thoughts appear in italics.
constantly evolving universe
As a teacher/educator, I like to think of my work with students as constantly evolving. What I see in the young people and in our institutional environment certainly changes over time, and I like to think it is also evolving.
[in] last two decades Miro synthesized and took stock–fruitful time
Above all, I want the time students spend in school to be fruitful in a variety of ways. More and more, I want the same to be true for the time I spend with them and colleagues. The students need models of and practice with synthesizing. Even more, given their age and today’s culture, they need time set aside to take stock–in other words, to reflect.
repertoire of signs and subjects
As a writer, what are my signs and subjects? What is developing as my particular vocabulary? Our recent ThanksGiving visit gave me a chance to walk through my stepson’s art studio and see the signs and subjects emerging from his work.
found objects as a starting point–then integrate and expand on them
Many of my poems begin the same way, but often with a single found object–wet oak leaves, for example. My essays, on the other hand, tend to start by integrating/synthesizing several found objects or ideas. The essay helps me connect them and thereby see in new ways. Much of the work I give students grows from this same drive to weave apparently separate subjects into a larger vision/understanding.
immobile movement–in an object–soundless music
This idea of Miro’s intrigues me. It has a certain Zen quality. Paradoxical puzzle that invites immobile movement of our mind. We have to be still to consider it. Hegel helps here, as we need thesis and antithesis to reach a third, synthesized way.
primary colors–red, yellow, blue–a painting should ignite the imagination
And Miro’s paintings and sculptures do this. Days after seeing this collection of his work, I feel free flight. He gently guides, while offering the door to your imagination. Seeing new things, imagining other worlds is clearly important to him, and to me. As a teacher, I want to bring students into relationship with the primary colors of language and literature study. They need room to imagine themselves and others with these basic tools.
“Femme en transe par la fluite des etoiles filantes” (1969), acrylic on canvas, tension of dark figure and sparse sky
I love the tension in this painting. If I could take one of the exhibit’s paintings home with me, it would be this one. Its title translates to “Woman entranced by the escape of the falling stars.” The falling stars represent freedom of imagination because they are escaping. Miro’s experience of Fascism under Franco, no doubt, increased his need for free artistic expression.
photo credit: http://www.joan-miro.info/images/works/62.jpg