22 July 2015

The Art of Motherhood


“Life affirms life. Plant your gardens. Make your art.” –Rose Chessman (1964-2004)

I don’t know where this phrase originated, “the art of motherhood,” but we see it in magazine ads, in books, in stores or doctor’s office posters, as if a fancy, loaded, upscale word, “art,” attached to motherhood will pacify us. Like we won’t see the reality of the mundane: the diapers, the tantrums, the lonely, frustrating world of motherhood because, they tell us, it’s an art. Our art. Yeah right. Here is why I do not believe motherhood is an art (although I wish I did because I’d like to be an artist, and also this artist mom is pretty rad at showing her art of motherhood).
I read a book called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by Davie Bayles and Ted Orland. According to these art critics, to call something art, it must include self-expression. Does this sound like motherhood to you? Is motherhood a form of self-expression? More like a form of selfless-expression! I’ve never once—not while changing a horrendous blow-out diaper, or rushing to have dinner ready before my toddler explodes in a hunger tantrum, or nursing all night, every night—stopped and thought, gee, I’m really expressing myself here. Granted, I have used motherhood a great deal as a theme in my art and poetry, but I would not go as far as to say that the act of motherhood in itself is an art. Mothers still need our own creative outlets. Yes, giving birth is a major act of creativity, and motherhood can propel us into creative endeavors, but if we want to make art, we should paint, write poems, sculpt, blow hot glass—any medium will do. Motherhood is not an artist’s medium.
If we must use a creative metaphor for motherhood, why not call it a craft? According to Bayles and Orland, craft is doing a technique with an attainable goal of perfection; doing it over and over, repeatedly, in hopes of producing the perfect piece. Now, I know and you know there is no such thing as the perfect mother. But our culture still promotes this myth. If only we would just get it right, no one would end up on drugs, or commit crimes or suicide. We have hordes of books and experts telling us how to do it right. Even the experts on attachment parenting, the follow-your-instinct crowd, tell us if we do it that way we, and our kids, will be perfect. No matter what parenting theory you subscribe to, it’s all the same message: do things right, and everything, and everyone, will be right. And even though we know this to be false, we still work toward it. I want my child to grow up to be secure, well-adjusted, happy, healthy, loving, empathetic, socially conscious, and smart. In short, almost perfect. Who doesn’t want this for her child? So I breastfeed, I baby-wear, I feed him nutritious, organic food, I use cloth diapers, and so on in search of perfection, even though I know it is a myth. Over and over, day in and day out, I do the work of mothering, secretly wishing for perfection.
Here’s my conclusion: On days I want art, I make a collage, write and read poetry; on days I crave perfection, I make, and devour, The Best Chocolate Cake.

Cake
2 ½ cups unbleached white flour
1 ½ cups sugar (I use a little less)
½ cup cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups warm water
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons white vinegar

Icing
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
8 Tblsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour two, 8-inch layer pans and set aside. Thoroughly combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

2. Pour in the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar and stir until combined. Pour into the prepared pans. Bake 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool completely. (For a quick, vegan treat, I usually stop right here and omit the frosting. It’s done in no time, and tastes amazing when warm!)

3. Buttercream frosting: melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then remove the top pan. Let the chocolate cool until tepid. In a medium bowl, cream the butter, using an electric mixer. Add the egg and beat until blended, but not smooth. Pour in the chocolate and beat until just combined.

4. When the cake is completely cool, spread some icing on one layer. Top with the other layer, then spread the remaining icing all over the cake. Chill the cake at least 30 minutes, then bring to room temperature before serving.


Babies are not paintings—works of art mothers create from air, imagination, canvas and brushes. Babies are not cakes that we mix and measure in perfect union of key ingredients. Babies are people, and people are far from perfect. Life is not perfect. That chocolate cake? Go ahead. See for yourself. I have to go self-express some toys off the floor.



05 February 2015

Poem Inspired by an N.C. Wyeth Painting, 2/5/15

N.C. Wyeth, "Herring Gut, 1932" oil on canvas.                    

In this world
is loneliness
and love. The two
exist together.

What we fill
our lifeboats with
is up to us.


02 January 2015

PoemCity 2015 Call for Submissions


We Want Your Poems for PoemCity 2015!


Do you live in Vermont and like to write poems? You're invited to submit your original poems for publication in PoemCity 2015, a city-wide event in Montpelier, Vermont, now in its sixth year.

PoemCity publishes and displays Vermont poetry on local business storefronts as a way to celebrate National Poetry Month. Chosen poems will appear throughout the downtown district of Montpelier for the month of April 2015.

“Poetry has an important place in the lives of Vermonters,” said Kellogg-Hubbard Library Program and Development Coordinator Rachel Senechal. 

PoemCity collaborates with many organizations, schools, and individuals, to read, hear, write, and discuss poetry, the language of the soul. With the many poems displayed in our downtown windows, it is our goal to make poetry accessible to our community, and to inspire new readers and writers of poetry,” she said.

Along with displayed poems, PoemCity will also offer poetry workshops, public readings, panel discussions, and visual poetry and art displays throughout downtown. The month-long schedule of events and programming is free and open to the public.

Poets of all ages are welcome to submit up to three poems no longer than 24 lines each for consideration of public display. Each poem should be original work by the author, who must be a Vermont resident or student. Deadline to submit is January 31, 2015.  

For submission guidelines and to submit, go to https://kellogghubbardlibrary.submittable.com/submit


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ABOUT KELLOGG-HUBBARD LIBRARY


The Kellogg-Hubbard Library is a public library that is the focal point for cultural, educational, and intellectual life in Central Vermont. It serves as a resource to encourage lifelong learning, acts as a catalyst for the free exchange of ideas, and promotes literacy for community members of all ages. Learn more at http://www.kellogghubbard.org

12 April 2014

Spring Villanelle

Thanks to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Montpelier Alive for hosting my Modern Villanelle Writing Workshop today as part of PoemCity 2014. We had four participants: poet and poetry therapist Mary Rose Dougherty, Indiana transplant & writer John Fox, film instructor and Sestina master Rick Winston, and Veteran and Vermonter George Druin.

We had a lively discussion of the form, its history, and its contents, while also reading a few great poems by Sherman Alexie, Dylan Thomas, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name a few.

Books about Villanells I recommended and used as a reference are Villanelles edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012); and The Teachers & writers handbook of poetic forms, edited by Ron Padgett (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2000).

Thanks to our poets who participated today, five new Villanelles have been birthed into the world (I wrote one, too).

Here I'll share with you my own villanelle I wrote this morning, and also here is the form to give you a sense of how to write your own:

A1
b
A2

a
b
A1

a
b
A2

a
b
A1

a
b
A2

a
b
A1
A2


Spring Villanelle 
        by Samantha Kolber


It's been too long since we've seen the sun.
We stumble blind
as if out of the dark cave we've come.

Ready for laughing and fun,
warmth on our skin.
It's been too long since we've seen the sun.

Ready for fingers in dirt, planting a garden.
The ground not harsh, but kind
as if out of the dark cave seeds come

up, released from Hades. Not a son
but a daughter reunites.
It's been too long since she's seen the sun.

And as for mothers and fathers you only get one.
If your childhood's been unkind
it's out of the darkness you've come.

Winter breeds darkness, and spring the growing season.
Mom, dad, I'm really trying
to see the sun.
Out of your dark cave is where I've come from.

10 April 2014

Modern Villanelle Writing Workshop with Samantha Kolber: a PoemCity Event

It's that time of year again: National Poetry Month! To celebrate, I have joined the PoemCity 2014 movement in Montpelier, Vermont.

Not only do I have a poem displayed in the window of Julio's restaurant on State Street...


....but I am also teaching a free Modern Villanelle Writing Workshop on Saturday, April 12. Here is the program description:

Come learn about villanelles, and write your own!

“The villanelle is one of the most fascinating and paradoxical of poetic forms, quirky and edgy…prone to moods of obsession and delight; structured through the marriage of repetition and surprise… No wonder it is currently enjoying such a powerful, post-modernist blossoming,” from Villanelles: Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets


We’ll read aloud examples by poets such as Sherman Alexie and Sylvia Plath to get inspired; then we’ll get busy creating our own villanelles. All levels and ages of writers are welcome.

Hayes Room, Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main Street | 10 AM


Hope to see you there!

07 October 2013

Walk Poem at Norwich University

for ENV 299, thank you

I wish I had sunglasses
on these short
annoying stairs.

I see Meg's dark eyes
much worse, the sun shines
and her smile still sparkles.

Looking up is fruitless.

The wind makes the leaves dance
and I wish they wouldn't
distract me so.

Stark shadow on the ground
is me getting out of my own way.

The bark eye of the tree
is underneath all things.

I smell asphalt on the wind.
I wish I didn't smell asphalt
but I wish I could smell wind.

Vibrant colors too clean and
bright and if we go down the stairs
I'll fall or not write as much.

The poet's obstacle course
can't make me jump the hoops
of all time.

Smelling green grass that grows fake
seeing gold chairs that feel hollow
why is it man-made life and
nature can both be so beautiful?

The newness mixed with the old
means nothing ever really dies.
It just changes shape.
Like this path that changes
from cement to dirt back to
cement again. Which one is the
true path? The way for poets?

I crashed my snowboard on this--
more stairs
steeply down
if I could wander down stairs,
across fields, in the sun toward a
glowing mountain of autumn leaves
forever, then I'd always know
I am alive. This heat gives life. This
bright green grass beneath my feet
that sparkles here and there with
leftover dew, tethers me to the ground.
Without ground, I'd float off
into an abstract sky.

Why call this fall when all we do is
stay? Stay here on the earth with
its crunchy leaves underfoot. Stay here
on an endless train track, forever
in both directions.

Moving into nature
say hello. Question.
Why this dirt?
Why that pile of hay?
Why that dead birch right there off
the path? Why do we veer off the path?

Listen! There's a sewer and underneath
a river flowing, I can hear it
shushing and lulling like a waterfall.

The crow caws, the sun makes me
glint and it hurts my eyes.

I run to catch up.
A gun shot far off in the hills.
I take a deep breath
a thousand breaths to make
this afternoon last forever.

Grab a hold of that light bulb
one flash and it's over.

17 August 2013

I just found a poem I wrote in 2005 on an old hardrive, and I revised it into this new poem. What do you think?

-->
I want the weight of you,

not just your hand like a delicate shadow
on my belly;

Not just your open mouth on mine,
your scruff on my neck,  no

this won’t do.
I don’t want pieces of you.

I want the cool finger of vision,
your hands down my spine.

Our bodies wading shallow,
naked in a reflective pool. Two

puddles coming together,
the meniscus of our crescent

figures like droplets
returning from the waterfall.

On your lips I tell you this,
taste our stolen kiss.

You don’t hear me
through the rush.




© 2013 Samantha Kolber