Why I write….
I remember reading Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars’ Club, more than 20 years ago and thinking, “Now that’s writing!”
Karr writes with a clarity and depth that allowed me to become fully immersed in the ideas, emotions, or reactions she was evoking. I was there, in the moment, engaged. I felt what she felt and had a visceral reaction to her story. Her choice of words was so perfect and so illuminating I couldn’t help but be one with the page.
I write mostly about the visual arts, so that kind of emotional narrative is less required of me, but what Karr showed me was the power of choosing the right words, using them in the right way to convey an idea and not overdoing it. (Too many adverbs and adjectives can kill a sentence.) It gives me pleasure when two great words find one another and then link with a series of other great words to communicate a thought, stimulate a reaction, or evoke an emotion. It’s what George Orwell called Aesthetic Enthusiasm in his great essay on writing…"the pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story."
And yes. It is possible to do that when writing about a work of art. Works of art have the power to stimulate emotion, provoke thought, and elicit a response if and when a viewer engages with it. It’s my job as I write about works of art to find the words that best communicate my reactions to the work and why I am having those particular reactions. I am called upon to contextualize the work within the time it was created, the broader expanse of art history, the cultural influences effecting the artist, and evaluate the work on its technical merits. I also impose upon myself the condition of making my “critique” be readable and understandable to anyone who might choose to read it. I hope I am successful in satisfying that condition more often than not.
What inspires me to write is my desire to strike up a conversation with a reader over a work of art. It’s not a literal conversation, but a hope that my words may result in their further consideration of the work; stimulating an interior monologue. My goal is to translate my perceptions into a pattern of words that elucidates an idea expressed in a two or three-dimensional format by the artist. What was Willem de Kooning saying in his aggressive handling of paint and brutal deconstruction of female figures? What was the broader message in Edward Hopper’s eerie paintings steeped in silence and estrangement? And what did Alberto Giacometti’s stark, elongated cast bronze and plaster figures say about the human condition? Making those connections and opening those doors for viewers to step through in hopes they find a greater meaning in what they are seeing, is both a challenge and a reward. But that’s why I write.
Katherine Rushworth is the former Director of the CNY Institute for the Arts in Education and the Michael C. Rockefeller Arts Center at SUNY-Fredonia. She has also held executive positions with the Procter and Gamble Company and Oneida Ltd. She was the fine arts writer/art critic with the Syracuse Post Standard for 22 years and is currently a freelance writer and regular contributor to the CazArts newsletter. She has lived in Cazenovia with her husband, Jim Ridlon, for 35 years.
Kathrine Rushworth is a regular contributing writer to the CazArts Newsletter .
Her past articles can be read in the CazArts Newsletters archives.
Pushing Words Around
by Carol Radin
James Longstaff revels in “pushing words around. Feeling the way they bang together and fight each other!” In his 2004 collection of short stories and poetry, Wapsipinicon, the banging and fighting appear effortless, as Longstaff casts a keen eye on small town life and the complex encounters with family, strangers, and the canvas of nature. Several of the book’s individual works have garnered recognition from the Central New York Book Awards, the Pushcart Prize for small press publications, and Plainsongs Magazine.
Longstaff polished his craft during decades as an advertising writer, coming to realize that “good copyrighting and good story writing have much in common—compression of language, clarity, verbs as metaphor.” Bringing life to those skills in stories and poetry, however, is less understood. “I don’t know where the process begins and ends. It’s like a spring coming out of a hill!”
It is a spring indeed of crisp details, hidden yearnings and fears. In his story “City of Buicks,” a teenage boy from a working class family aches for social acceptance and discovers the complex shifts of being both an insider and an outsider. In “Let It Lie,” a boy hunting pheasant with his father confronts a dilemma his father had experienced in his own youth.
In Longstaff’s poetry, “Things are often a starting point.” In a poem addressed to a motorcycle, he chides, “You overdo demeanor.” In another, a boat for sale is
“Sixteen feet of salty, hard-chine sloop
Aground on two saw horses in the dust.”
Longstaff also embraces the multi-faceted possibilities of art and music-- “Rhythm, cadence, improvisation, the unexpected.” In his latest collection, Dimension Poems, verse is embedded in “visual surrounds” of sculpture and paint.
Longstaff has resided outside of Cazenovia for 34 years, on “four hillside acres” where he enjoys open space, nature, and the regional creative energy. “Art matters here,” he says. “It seems as basic to the day-to-day as the post office...”
Carol Radin's articles have appeared in CNY 55 Plus and Syracuse Woman magazines. Aside from discovering great people to write about, she likes tai chi, Green Lakes State Park, and reading fiction.
As I walk, words come to me
by Carol Radin
In wonderfully different images of how her poetry looks, Yvonne Murphy calls her writing “a palette of colors,” “a forest,” and “a puzzle.” At the same time, she is fascinated by the “architecture of writing,” which seems more about precision and blueprints.
“I come from a family of engineers," Murphy remarks, when she explains her appreciation for order and methodical structure. Amidst the order, she finds parallels in disparate structures. Her current work-in-progress, for instance, deals with the book as a forest. “There are pathways through the book, as there are pathways through a forest. A walk through Highland Forest is like a walk through the Book of Kells!” she exclaims, referring to that 9th century gold-illuminated Latin Gospel manuscript which she once pored over in Trinity College, Dublin.
The natural world also assumes prominence in Murphy’s published collection of poetry, Aviaries, as she features birds in all their forms and flights, as well as other denizens. Yet Murphy emphasizes, “It is located in the specific world of the city.” That does not seem incongruous.
Murphy spent most of her adult life in New York City, where city architecture and other manufactured constructions exist in a natural environment that was there long before the skyscrapers. Thus, in her poem, “Hummingbirds” she juxtaposes a confining linear space with a vaster world and spirit.
“around the perimeter of the yard
the mountainous backdrop of the world
so huge to our ministrations.”
Murphy calls herself a “poet of place,” very affected by the places she goes. “I’m a perambulating poet,” she adds. “As I walk, words come to me….I hear music in ordinary things.”
Currently, Murphy is a Professor in the Arts and Media at Empire State College. Though Cazenovia might appear very different from her former urban landscape, she has found her creative footing here, be that in the natural parkland and forests or the area’s history and artifacts. A Rochester native, Murphy grew up going to the Madison-Bouckville Antique Show with her antique-collector parents. “The world,” she marvels, “is a cabinet of curiosities!”
Aviaries, Yvonne Murphy, Carolina Wren Press, 2011.
You’re lots of different people
by Carol Radin
Deeply personal and yet universal, the poetry of E.J. Evans grapples with the challenges of identity, the inner life, and our inherent solitude. “Trying to explore this mysterious, fluid sense of self,” is how Evans explains the process. “A person’s identity is a rather elusive and ill-defined thing. The person you thought you were is not who you are now. You’re lots of different people.”
From his difficult home life coming of age in Los Angeles, to four years of active duty in the Navy, and a position as a computer system administrator at Cornell University, Evans’ own life experience is “You’re lots of different people.” Now retired, he resides in the village of Cazenovia quietly finding fulfillment in his daily writing, his community work in the arts, and his mastery of the shakuhachi, the Japanese flute that transports Evans to the music and spirit of the Zen Buddhist temples.
His writing styles are fluid, too. Sometimes Evans is meticulous with structure; sometimes he lets his mind go. His 2019 published collection of poetry, Conversations with the Horizon, is a volume of prose poetry he created by “letting myself go into a very spontaneous mode. Some of it surprised me.” The result is a stream-of-consciousness examination of self and identity conceived as one long work, which took final shape after a year and a half of revision. His next collection, Ghost Houses, with a 2021 publication date, is very different. Evans describes the work as “more conventional free verse lyric poems.”
Part of the quest for identity, Evans reflects, is to ask oneself, “What kinds of things nurture your spirit?” For Evans, community is one of those. He is active on the Board of the Arts Branch of the YMCA, which houses the Syracuse Downtown Writers’ Center, as well as the Planning Committee for Caz Counterpoint. Evans is also a frequent presenter, reading his poetry at the Downtown Writers’ Center, the Cazenovia Public Library, and in New York City.
Conversations With the Horizon (Box Turtle Press, 2019)
Ghost Houses (Clare Songbirds Publishing, 2021 release date)
Chapbook - First Snow Coming (Kattywompus Press, 2015)
The Sustainable Arts Foundation
supports artists and writers with children.
Grant Application opens February 1st 2021
Deadline to apply February 26, 2021, 5pm ET
These are locally written books
that you can get through the
Cazenovia Public Library
The Color of Wounds
Taking on Lucinda
Reflections of Faith and History
Peter Smith of Peterboro: Furs, Land, and Anguish
Ballots, Bloomers, and Marmalade: the Life of Elizabeth Smith Miller
Cousins of Reform: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gerrit Smith
Whatever it takes: the Antislavery Movement and the Tactics of Gerrit Smith
Practical Dreamer: Gerrit Smith and the Crusade for Social Reform
Greene Smith and the Wildlife: the Story of Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsmen
When We Get to Heaven: Runaway Slaves on the Road to Peterboro
The Zulu Curse
Mongolia and the Golden Eagle
Inca’s Death Cave
Golf Sayings: Wit and Wisdom of a Good Walk Spoiled
Dog Sayings: Wit and Wisdom from Man’s Best Friend
Snappy Sayings: Wit and Wisdom from the World’s Greatest Minds
Cat Sayings: Wit and Wisdom from the Whiskered Ones
A Woman Unknown in Her Bones: Poems
Stati Zitta, Josie [Be Quiet, Josie]
The Brother inside Me
Teeny Tiny Tino’s Fishing Story
An Arc of Light: Poems
I like Ike: the Presidential Election of 1952
The Presidency of George Bush
The Hill: an Illustrated Biography of Syracuse University, 1870-Present
Betty Ford: Candor and Courage in the White House
America in the Sixties
The Presidency of George H.W. Bush
The Sting Man: Inside Abscam
Seasoning: Following Nature’s Season
John P. Kennedy
A Look at Cazenovia: Images and Memories from the Heart of New York State
Some Beauty: Images from Central New York
The Pier: Lakeland Park in Cazenovia, New York
Upstate Textures: Images of Central New York
Cazenovia, New York: Multiple Exposure Panoramic Photographs of Cazenovia, New York
Wapsipinicon: Stories and Poems
Poems from the Hills
Poems from the Hills: Book 2
East of Nelson: the Welsh
These Hills, and I: Cazenovia Miniatures
Walter Van Tilburg Clark
The Track of the Cat
The City of Trembling Leaves
The Ox-Bow Incident
Toward the Flame: a Memoir of World War I
Toward the Morning
The Forest and the Fort
It was like this: Two Stories of the Great War
Action at Aquila
New Legends: Poems
Israfel; the Life and Times of Edgar Allen Poe
Editor: Geoffrey Navias
Copy editor: Kristi Andersen
Production consultant: Shawn McGuire
Subscriptions: Cathy Savage
Articles this month: Katherine Rushworth ~ Geoffrey Navias
Barb Bartlett, Samara Hannah, Lauren Lines, Shawn McGuire,
Geoffrey Navias, Buzz Padgett, Colleen Prossner, Cathy Savage, Kim Waale
All inquiries, feedback, ideas for future articles: info@CazArts.com