Circus of life

Damn everything that won’t get into the circle.” — e.e. cummings

I’ve been a fan of the big top as far back as I can remember. It was the highlight of every spring when I was child. Later, as a local freelance reporter, I was thrilled when I was assigned to interview the lion tamer when the traveling Shrine Circus came to town.

And I love how E.E. Cummings (also spelled e.e. cummings) uses the circus as a metaphor for a rich and juicy life — a life bursting with color, sparkle, muscle, and magic.

In another poem in this series, Rumi reminded us to seat ourselves next to our own joy. Along these lines, Cummings rallies against the safe and the dull. His poem is a warning against those who run around putting holes in other people’s balloons. So let’s hear three cheers for the risk-takers and joy lovers — for the fearless ones who dance on the tightrope of life. — CL

Damn everything but the circus!
By E.E. Cummings

…damn everything that is grim, dull,
motionless, unrisking, inward turning,
damn everything that won’t get into the
circle, that won’t enjoy, that won’t throw
its heart into the tension, surprise, fear
and delight of the circus, the round
world, the full existence…

— Reprinted from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904 – 1962; Liveright; Revised Edition; 1994

— Detail from “Damn everything but the circus!” (an altered book) by Cindy La Ferle —

Gotta have art

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” ~Georgia O’Keeffe

Until recently, I was a bit shy about entering my altered art pieces in contests and competitions. More complex than my writing, my artwork is intensely personal — a messier way of making sense of my fantasies, doubts, fears, and dreams.

Writing is work. When people ask me what I “do,” or if they insist on labeling me by career or profession, I usually tell them I’m a writer or a journalist. While I dearly love to write, I also admit that it’s incredibly hard work. The business savvy required to get published and paid for it — pitching new material, marketing, promoting, building a platform, facing rejection, and starting over again — is enough to make me seriously doubt my sanity for choosing a writing career after college.

But making art is pure pleasure, my recreational sport. Of course, there’s a huge difference between a viable profession and a crazy good hobby. And I know that if I ever opt to sell my artwork or get it published, I’d have to add yet another layer of complexity to the whole collage. So, what I’m really trying to say is this: I’m incredibly stingy with my artwork.

My artist-husband, whose paintings have been accepted in many top competitions, is my biggest cheerleader. He pushes me out of my comfort zone. At his urging, this year I entered the 28th annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center — and two of my pieces were accepted. When this sort of thing happens, I’m always honored and surprised.

Becoming,” one of the pieces in the show, was inspired by May Sarton’s poem, “Now I Become Myself.” If you’ve been following my poetry series, you know what an uplifting and validating poem it is.

“Becoming” originally served as a greeting card box. I altered the interior and exterior of the box with layers of acrylic paint, prints, tissue paper, and “found objects” from my flea market raids. I added a copy of May Sarton’s poem to the back of the piece.

Using more found objects — junk jewelry, sea shells, old buttons, a religious medal, and my old Girl Scout pin — I created a 3-D collage inside the box. Botticelli’s “Venus” was clipped from a magazine print to represent the self reborn. Just as we’re all the sum of our life experiences, Venus rises from a pile of junk and treasure and becomes herself. Life, like art, is all about working with what you’ve got, and sometimes mining gold from the broken parts.

The other piece in the show, “Renaissance Woman” (top and bottom photos) is an altered children’s board book collaged with vintage dress patterns, sewing notions, broken costume jewelry, feathers, and old prints. I’m thrilled that both of these pieces were chosen for the show, as together they work as a tribute to all creative women.

The BBAC exhibit runs from April 2 through May 7 and is open to the public. For exhibit hours and directions to the BBAC, please visit the Web site.

— Cindy La Ferle

–For a larger view of these art pieces, please click on each image. Photos and artwork are copyrighted (2010) by Cindy La Ferle. —

“What Came to Me”

Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.” ~Carl Sandburg

Amazing, isn’t it — how small things can hold so much? With the precision of a haiku poet, Jane Kenyon delivers a heart-load of emotion in this short but powerful poem. Anyone who loves the domestic arts will fall in love with Kenyon’s poetry. She had a gift for revealing the sacred in the mundane, reminding us that even the most ordinary objects we own can represent a wealth of memories, stories, and lessons. –CL

What Came to Me
By Jane Kenyon

I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.

-Reprinted from Jane Kenyon Collected Poems; Graywolf Press; 2005–

— Kitchen photo by Cindy La Ferle —

This post is part of a weekly poetry appreciation series. Want more? Check out Poems to Inspire in the CATEGORIES column at right.

Spring things

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

It’s officially spring today, but our weather reporters in southeast Michigan tell us we’re in for snow showers this weekend. Regardless, we’ve enjoyed sunshine and unseasonably warm temps all week. Our tulips are already pushing their leaves through the soil, and the neighborhood kids got a chance to dust off their roller blades.

And just in time, the April issue of Body and Soul arrived on the stands with several fresh articles on adopting a healthier diet, managing stress, and celebrating Earth Day. But what really sold me was an especially good piece by Amy Maclin on the deeper meaning of housecleaning. I enjoyed the issue so much, in fact, that I started a subscription.

Being an optimist, I’m also starting to plot my herb garden. But since I can’t start digging outside yet, I’m methodically purging the useless stuff I’ve accumulated in previous seasons — one drawer, one room, at a time. My new “Somewhere in the Middle” column in Michigan Women’s Forum offers a few tips for spring-cleaning your own closets and dumping shabby attitudes. Click here to read it. Here’s to fresh starts and a happy spring! — CL

–“Spring” collage detail by Cindy La Ferle–

Hallmark moments

A friendship can weather most things and thrive in thin soil; but it needs a little mulch of letters and phone calls and small, silly presents every so often — just to save it from drying out completely.” — Pam Brown

Shopping for sympathy cards recently, I realized I’d fallen away from my old routine of mailing hand-written cards and notes. And I don’t mean birthday greetings, which I’m pretty good about remembering.

I’m talking about the “thinking of you” cards we send for no reason other than to cheer, entertain, or surprise the recipients. I’m talking about beautiful, heartfelt snail mail. Signed, sealed, delivered.

Now, like everyone else, I rely mostly on e-mail to keep in touch. It’s miraculously fast and convenient, and I use it to full advantage. On the down side, I get overwhelming loads of e-mail every morning — spam filter be damned — and most of it isn’t personal. Some of it is good e-mail, but by the time I’ve sorted through half of it, my eyes have glazed over.

I get pitches from publicists who want me to review new books or products, and newsletters from the various clubs and organizations I belong to. I get the dreaded e-mail chain letters and recycled jokes, too — those “pass this along to 25 of your best friends if you really care about me” messages.

When I was an over-scheduled mom several years ago, writing notes and mailing cards seemed a good way to cultivate the garden of friendship. And I enjoyed the creative act of finding the perfect card for each loved one. A former college room mate, for instance, always appreciated off-beat, off-color humor, and I once spent half a morning laughing aloud at the crazy cards I found for her at the local card shop. Of course, my greeting card ritual included writing a short note with a favorite roller-ball pen, and sometimes adding an article or a column I’d found in the paper.

The beauty of mailing these cards was that nothing was expected in return. The notes I jotted by hand were too short to qualify as letters, and they didn’t require an answer.

Like ironing pillowcases, mailing hand-written cards isn’t mandatory. Yet it makes life a little more beautiful, and, sometimes, more bearable. As author Phyllis Theroux said, to send a card or a letter is “a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” I wonder if I’m the only one who misses that sweet, old-fashioned practice. — Cindy La Ferle

— Garden photo (copyright) by Cindy La Ferle —