Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two Poems by Lucien Stryk

For the December Red Eft video, our first guest writer is Dan’s own father, poet Lucien Stryk, who became a spiritual father to me.

I have a special feeling for “Memo to the Builder,” the first poem in this video. When I was still a teen, my mother snipped it out of 
the Chicago Tribune for me — she knew I’d love it.  And I still do.  In it, Lucien metaphorically imagines an architectural space with 
no enclosures to shut out the living world.  In the second poem, “You Must Change Your Life,” nature becomes the protagonist in 
the parable of a backyard squirrel (undistracted while fulfilling its vital needs). I find it remarkable that Lucien is able to say so much, 
so powerfully — yet in so few words — about the essence of the natural world, which, if grasped, might truly change the way 
we see it  . . .  
                                                                                                                                                                               — Suzanne

[For more about Lucien Stryk, see the bio and links below.]

"Memo to the Builder" and "You Must Change Your Life"


    Memo to the Builder

. . . and then
After the roof goes up
Remember to lay the eave trough
Wide and deep.  A run
For squirrels and a river
For my birds.  You know, I’d rather

You made the trough
So, than have the rooftop
Tarred and shingled.  Keep
It in mind, the trough.
Also I’m not so sure of glass
In every window.  But let that pass.

Still—and there are
Reasons enough, believe me—
It would please no end to be
In and out together.
And how it would thrill me should a bird,
Learning our secret, make a whir-

ring thoroughfare
Of a room or two.
Forget the weather.  To
Have the wild, the rare
Not only happen, mind, but
Be the normal is exactly what

I’m after.  Now
You know.  Perhaps you
Think I’ve made your job too
Light?  Good.  Throw
Caution to the beams.  Build me a home
The living day can enter, not a tomb.

   You Must Change Your Life

Of all things one might be:
a squirrel lopes by

busy at being himself
in a tough nutless world,

cats at his young, rain
slanting in his nest,

night falling, winter
not provided for—

no question to ask
of himself or anyone.

  “Memo to the Builder” and “You Must Change Your Life” were published in And Still Birds Sing: New and Collected Poems by Lucien Stryk (Swallow/Ohio University  Press, 1998).

Lucien Stryk (1924-2013) published more than thirty books over his career, both of original poetry and Far Eastern translations, including Collected Poems (Swallow / Ohio University Press), The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry (Penguin Books, London), and Of Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho (Penguin).  He also won numerous awards and honors, such as a Ford Foundation Fellowship, Illinois Author of the Year, and a Rockefeller Foundation award.  In 2009, the American Literary Translators Association announced the inaugural Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, in honor of his admired collections of Zen Buddhist literature. 

For more about the Lucien Stryk, visit Dan’s article about his father at: http://www.connotationpress.com/featured-artist/november-2010/628-emeritus-artist-lucien-stryk

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Shuffling of Layers

The longer I live, the more I realize that I’ve merely glimpsed into the layers of the natural world around me.  For this reason 
I was drawn to create a visual response to Dan's own thoughts about this concept in his poem "Layers."
                                                                                                                                                                     — Suzanne



              In the spirit
             of E. O. Wilson  

A buried secret that I’ve
stumbled on below life’s
muzzy noisiness and
haste, distracted hours
of too-often-blustery
day:  there’s something
lurking silent under
every mundane layer,
waiting to arrest
the jaded eye . . .

                      I  watch
the thrasher picking
through the gravel
near our shed, wonder
what’s beneath the
thrasher’s layer?  I

        probe into its puffed

cream belly underneath
brown quills.  Find
one large beetle,
gleaming.  But now
I wonder

        what’s beneath

the beetle’s chitin
layer?  I’ve poked
beneath that layer
once before . . .
                         to light
upon the milk pearl
of a maggot!

come to call life’s
“a shuffling of 

An early version of  “Layers” was published in The Mississippi Review (University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg).  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Homage to Appalachia

This new video attempts to express our wistful homage to Appalachia.  Dan and I have lived here among the Blue Ridge Mountains 
longer than in any other place — so long now that we no longer feel like outlanders from the flatlands of the Midwest!

But to create this film, I needed some authentic barn imagery.  So I asked Bristol artist Val Lyle — admired for her own exhibits paying 
homage to the tobacco barns of Appalachia — for permission to use two of her paintings that appear in the second segment of the video, 
after my own mountain and cicada images.    
[To learn more about Val, visit  www.vglyle.com]

"Appalachian Spirit"


   Appalachian Spirit

   Strolling parched hills
    in late August

        I come upon husks
                           of cicadas . . .

                    Past molting
       they cling hollow to the scaly
            bark of pines;
      shaped like
empty alms bowls,
            those bowed & brittle

      that once bore
      the secret of  
Life’s fragile pulse
allures me
          all the time.

                         It beckons
             like abandoned shacks
of lost tobacco-farms
passed on the
     slumped by their rust-
     crowned barns . . .
                   so tranquil now
            & timeless,
like the rest of the world
            before it falls

                                    Southwest Virginia


“Appalachian Spirit” was first published (under the title “Fading Spirits”) in the Appalachian Journal [ASU], Boone, NC.  
The present version is forthcoming in Back to the Source: Selected Poems & Parables (San Francisco Bay Press, 2015).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Monkeys and a Millipede

Monkeys and a millipede — these are the chattering and quiet characters in Dan’s suggestive poem, “Earthworks.”
(Chattering or quiet . . . reminiscent of another species?)  When creating the video, I chose also to contrast
our pristine planet, as seen from space, with the scrambling life upon it.  And, yes, if you sense a resemblance,
my painting of the millipede in the transparent sphere was inspired by the haunting globe image in Bosch’s
Garden of Earthly Delights.
                                                                                                                                                  -- Suzanne




Staring from the moon
in dream,
                I watched
small monkeys hopping
from close
         cavities: faster,
slower, dragging
         their thick brooms
         over dry
sands . . .
in late evening
        beyond their hunched
        & bickering                                                           
in one great
swarm, the planet
              now grown
         calm —
                     I saw
a single giant
         shell vibrant
              crawl out
from the moist
of its hidden
              to sweep
        with silent feet
along the


                          “Earthworks” was published in the Winter 2009 issue of the Notre Dame Review.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lions and Doves

Our first video in this post arose from the poem “Sketching the Assyrian Reliefs, with My Wife, at the British Museum.”  Let me just say that
each time Dan and I stand before those ancient lion-hunt friezes, we wonder: How could an artist have sculpted these exquisitely sensitive images
of such a brutal ritual of slaughter? This paradox says so much about that haunting dichotomy of human nature.

I chose the second poem for our companion video before fully realizing how much it balanced the violent mood of Assyrian Lions. In his
“Moore’s Doves” piece Dan sees some local birds in a fresh light after contemplating Henry Moore’s sculptures — bringing to mind Oscar Wilde’s
quip that “nature imitates art.” And isn't it true that what we perceive in art museums so often influences our vision of the natural world?
Another paradox in our human experience . . .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    — Suzanne

"Sketching the Assyrian Reliefs, with My Wife, at the British Museum"

"Moore's Doves"


                                Sketching the Assyrian Reliefs, with
                                   My Wife, at the British Museum
                                    Were it not mere alabaster, hewn
                                      the better portion of 3000
                                        civilizing years, the Dying Lioness
                                         of Nimrud, writhing in the grey
                                          spew of an archer’s flank-sprung
                                           shaft, would continue,
                                             year on year, to writhe
                                              on the black friezes
                                                of tossed sleep, to nudge
                                                 with her bruised snout
                                                   and dark closed eyes
                                                    into our dreams, like
                                                      painful words
                                                       that sputter eons to rekindle
                                                        in the corners of
                                                         the mind, like hunters’ fires
                                                          verging on our harmless
                                                           seekers’ lives — stalking
                                                            the beautiful, found rarely,
                                                             never uncombined
                                                              with pain.

                   Moores Doves
                                   IN MEM. Henry Moore (1898-1986)

         Soft sculpture of the morning.  Sunlight rose on their swollen breasts,
                  where they roost on the hard blackness of the power
                        lines.  Coo gently as we pace upon our 

          early walk, beneath.  Who says an artist's vision, true enough,
                 can't change the living world the way, forever after,
                        that we see: merging craft with blood's

          warm living pulse?  Round soft breasts, like Moore’s globed forms,
                 against the rising light.  Or like Cycladic women, small
                       heads & rounded bosoms tiny fecund

          sculpture, in glass cases, that he surely saw, as we had, in the British
                 Museum halls.  And thought, as we, how they’d reminded
                       him beyond their ancient lore of sun-tinged

          hills / or the soft breasts of cooing doves / before the rush of day.


*“Sketching the Assyrian Reliefs, with / My Wife, at the British Museum” first appeared in the literary journal, Epoch (Cornell University Press), and later in Dan’s
first full-length volume of poems, The Artist and the Crow (Purdue University Press)  //  Moore’s Doves” first appeared in the final issue of the Massachusetts journal 
Diner, and was later reprinted in the International Poetry Review (UNC, Greensboro) in its original form.  This revised version will appear, alongside “Assyrian Reliefs,”
 in Back to the Source: Selected Poems & Parables [San Francisco Bay Press, 2018]

Monday, July 21, 2014

We Find a Spotted Salamander . . .

Welcome to Red Eft Editions!  We've chosen this logo for our venture in mixed-media collaboration because the Red Eft (or Eastern Newt) has long intrigued us with its ability to pursue a uniquely “double-life” on land and beneath the water.  So in our own pursuit of artistic adaptation in the digital age, we’re here presenting our personal blend of naturalistic poetry and painting in the contemporary “habitat” of the internet.

Here, then, is our first video-collaboration inspired by the visual wonder and moving fate of another member of the salamander world, the Spotted — a local
species we've ritually walked to witness mating in our flashlight beam, on those first warm nights of February rain, in a neighbor’s temporary pond.   

We Find a Spotted Salamander, Drowned . . .

                               Before you praise Spring’s advent note
                               What capers the mad wind may cut:
                               To cast the flowers to the waves
                               And overturn the fishing boat.
                                                                      — Tu Fu

We find a spotted salamander
in violent storm the night before,
                                   tail stiffly poking
from its matted bier of risen silt
          and weed.
                              Odd surprise to spot
her rubbery coldness—there:   
                          in the vernal pool
we walk to on spring evenings
       to observe new life.
                                         Now rake
       its bloated corpse to pondside
with a fallen branch
               through sable sheets
       of floating scum  in the twilit
glimmer of the stirred-up pond 
                              to probe its fate
       more closely.  Amazed
by the luminous stream of eggs
                                 still oozing 
       from her birth canal
              and clustered round her limp
back legs and slate-blue tail,
                                     like perseids
      bejeweling the numbed heavens
after chaos.

*An earlier version appeared in Dimming Radiance: Poems and Prose Parables
[Wind Publications, 2008]  //  The present version is forthcoming in Back to the Source: 
Selected Poems & Parables (1980-2013)  [San Francisco Bay Press, 2015]