Postcard from Rome, Italy: “Graves are all too young as yet to have outgrown the sorrow”

Stop and consider! life is but a day;
A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
From a tree’s summit.

“Sleep and Poetry,” John Keats, 1816

For someone raised Catholic, visiting the Non-Catholic Cemetery in a city with such an incredible wealth of churches meriting attention seems almost heretical. But I am drawn to cemeteries.

This one has a reputation as a particularly soothing one, one where cats choose to live out all nine of their lives. And, as an act of advance penance, I posted a “genuflection” to Santa Maria Maggiore first.

The Non-Catholic Cemetery is a pilgrimage must for many because here lie the remains of John Keats (1795-1821). Plagued by tuberculosis, the medically trained poet traveled from England to Italy in hope the climate would result in a cure. Some believe he was self-prescribing unsafe dosages of mercury at the time, perhaps to treat venereal disease. The combination proved lethal, and Keats died in Rome at age 25.

Shortly after Keats’ death, his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) penned “Adonais” as an elegy:

… Go thou to Rome, – at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise,
And flowering weeds, and fragrant copses dress
The bones of Desolation’s nakedness
Pass, till the spirit of the spot shall lead
Thy footsteps to a slope of green access
Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread;

And grey walls moulder round, on which dull Time
Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
And one keen pyramid* with wedge sublime,
Pavilioning the dust of him who planned
This refuge for his memory, doth stand
Like flame transformed to marble; and beneath,
A field is spread, on which a newer band
Have pitched in Heaven’s smile their camp of death,
Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath.

Here pause: these graves are all too young as yet
To have outgrown the sorrow which consigned
Its charge to each….

“Adonais,” Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1821

The ashes remaining from the scandal-ridden life of this productive young poet joined his friend Keats amongst the young graves scarcely more than a year later.

In the summer of 1822, the Courier, a leading Tory newspaper in London, carried a brief obituary that began: “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned: now he knows whether there is a God or no.” From this moment on, the dramatic death of Percy Bysshe Shelley in the Gulf of Spezia was set to become one of the most powerful of all Romantic legends. And also perhaps the most misleading.

“Death and Destiny,” Richard Holmes, The Guardian, January 24, 2004

Shelley had been sailing during stormy weather with two others aboard his small racing schooner, The Don Juan, on a return trip to Lerici from Livorno after visiting Lord Byron (1788-1824), who, too, would perish at an early age. But we have killed off enough romantic poets for one day, and Byron’s bones do not reside within the shelter of these walls.

Shelley’s death left a young widow, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), behind. Although their marriage was a rocky one, some claim Mary sentimentally and literally retained Shelley’s heart, which sounds nightmarishly apocryphal save she is the literary birth-mother of Frankenstein.

Why did I not die? More miserable than man ever was before, why did I not sink into forgetfulness and rest?

Death snatches away many blooming children, the only hopes of their doting parents: how many brides and youthful lovers have been one day in the bloom of health and hope, and the next a prey for worms and the decay of the tomb!

Of what materials was I made, that I could thus resist so many shocks, which, like the turning of the wheel, continually renewed the torture?

But I was doomed to live….

Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1818

*And the incongruous presence of a pyramid by the graveyard? Things Egyptian became fashionable in Rome after the conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C. (No, I am not getting waylaid by the story of Anthony and Cleopatra.) At 118 feet-tall, this pyramid of marble-clad brick and cement is the tomb of Gaius Cestius Epulo, a wealthy Roman who died about 15 B.C. The unlikely landmark survived all the subsequent years of development in Rome possibly because of its incorporation into the city’s fortification walls.

Artist Foundation unleashes another round of creative fervor…

zach-dorn-puppetry

A city teeming with talent. Artists whose creative juices flow constantly, filling them with visionary dreams of projects that will enrich our lives.

If…. If only they had a boost of support. A grant of $5,000 can jumpstart a project, freeing the artist to complete it and share the finished product.

This is what the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, a nonprofit organization founded by Bettie Ward and Patricia Pratchett, does. And does well.

Since 2006, the Artist Foundation has granted 102 artists residing in Bexar County $570,000. And the Artist Foundation recently completed another round of awards.

zach-dorn-performingZach Dorn, self-described as “a theater artist who aims to rediscover the suspension of disbelief from the six year-old within all of us and use it to reexamine life as an adult,” received both the Alan Beckstead Award for Original Production and the Tobin Grand Prize for Artistic Excellence.

Dorn writes:

This delicate resuscitation of the audience’s imaginative spirit has invoked the use of puppetry, live cinematic experimentations, fast-paced storytelling techniques, and reinvention…. Like unruly children, my ideas rebel against traditional performance techniques. My live puppet productions have moved away from conventional staging by transforming entire theater spaces into new and unfamiliar worlds.

Support from the Artist Foundation arrives atop earlier seed money Dorn received from The Jim Henson Foundation, and we will not need to wait long to appreciate the results. An Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater Show will be presented by S.M.A.R.T. and Miniature Curiosa at their new Toy Theater Parlor inside 1906 South Flores at 8 p.m. on March 20, 21, 27 and 28; and April 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18.

 

last-skin

 

 

Poet Barbara Ras received the Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Literary Arts. Recently published collections of her poetry include One Hidden Stuff and The Last Skin.

In an online “conversation” on Granta, Ras offers this description of poetry:

Poetry, like all creativity, is an antidote to despair. Even the darkest poems are beautiful. For me, poetry is the only way to express what seems to me to be the essential quest: searching in the dark for answers to questions that are unanswerable.

Ras, the director of Trinity University Press, will read selections from The Last Skin during an evening of poetry beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, at The Twig, 306 Pearl Parkway.

stephen-gaethThe Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Choreography will assist Stephan A. Gaeth, a founder of The Uptown Studio on Fredericksburg Road, in his efforts to:

…broaden my choreographic horizons by challenging myself to mix genres and styles and learn new ones, while creating and directing the plot and themes of the show.

Expect to see and hear more of Daniela Riojas, a vocalist and autoharp player with Femina-X, who received the Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Media Arts.

 

The artistic statement for the “avant-garde power-pop band,” reads:

Using a blend of electronic beats, atmosphere, and foundational live instruments, the music stems from a hunger to evolve and merge magic with blues, trip-hop, jungle, and pop. Through a primal-meets-modern hybrid of machine and (wo)man, it actively hones in on the colorful space between any and all labels, while creating unconventional fusions – taking from sounds of nature, ancestors, electricity, modernity, and visions of ecstatic living.

Known for his mastery of danceable Latin-infused yet experimental beats, Alex Scheel from local psych-rock band, Pop Pistol…. conducts electronic programming while skillfully toggling from voice to guitar to laptop…. Jeff Palacios, deepens the overall landscape with the unique task of being a rhythmic yet melodic counterpart to the electronic bass and sub-bass movements. Chris Cooper humanizes quantized beats with frenetic poly-rhythms and four-on-the-floor power. Daniela”s chameleon voice has the range to both coo and siren, lull and frighten, always reaching from a place of passion, imagination, and child-like playfulness….

With a 2014-15 season that includes singing with Opera National de Paris, the San Francisco Opera, the Greensboro Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, Erich René Barbera still thinks of San Antonio as his hometown. The only artist to ever receive three top awards at Placido Domingo’s Operalia in Moscow in one year, the winner of  the TNT Award for Classical Singing is eager to expose children in San Antonio “to such a wonderful art form and encourage them to pursue their dreams like so many others encouraged me to follow mine….”

 

The Founders Award for Music Composition went to a faculty member of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Matthew Dunne. A frequent collaborator with The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, he has recorded three compact discs: Forget the Alamo, Music in the Mission and The Accidental Trio. Dunne’s grant will help him embark on his first film score project.

 

"The everlasting light bulb," 2014 painting/performance by Christie Blizard

“The everlasting light bulb,” 2014 painting/performance by Christie Blizard

Another professor at UTSA, Christie Blizard received the Rick Liberto Award for Visual Arts. The artist writes:

Much of my work is about exploring the space between painting and interventionist practices. These two fields are usually at odds, but I find it to be a rich pairing to negotiate new contexts, humor, and poetry.

"H," 2014 graphite on paper by Fernando Andrade

“H,” 2014 graphite on paper by Fernando Andrade

Graphic designer Fernando Andrade received the Linda Pace Foundation Award for Contemporary Art. The artist’s abstract paintings “deal with human emotions,” while his drawings often reflect social issues.

His Jugando a la Guerrita series of drawings:

…depicts a combination between my upbringing and adulthood memories in regard to the violence (of northern Mexico) and how it has corrupted society…. Through the images here, I hope to show a glimpse into the life of children growing up around violence and the emotions like revenge and anger that those children are likely to take into the adult world.

 

"God of Carnage," set design by Jeremiah Teutsch

“God of Carnage,” set design by Jeremiah Teutsch

The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund Awards went to Jeremiah Teutsch in the category of set design and Marcus Cerda for costume design. Teutsch describes his recent focus:

Most of my subject matter of late has been on the topic of and the consideration of death and terminality, and how society moves itself around the nasty business of dealing with the dead and the emotions that are inherent in regarding someone else’s mortality. This common fiber is present in my paintings, sculptures and, more recently, my set designs. It is my goal, in life and in art, to figure out what in the hell is going on.

"Dancer in Red" by Marcus A. Cerda

“Dancer in Red” by Marcus A. Cerda

Cerda’s recent work merges his background in the classical concepts of fashion design with his collage style of synthetic cubist paintings. He explains:

This convergence is applied by creating asymmetrical patterns and drapery to express the human body in a nonconforming and lyrical style. An intricate dialogue where each house has its own agenda but cannot help to feed off the other yet neither can successfully consume the other. Thus, the art for the human form is derived from – inspired by – dictated to – and produced with a strong sense of the radical non-conformist of the individual.

An incredible array of talent is represented by these San Antonio artists. To support the efforts of the Artist Foundation to enable artists to pursue their dream projects, visit the foundation’s website.

The Recipe for ‘Unchopping a Tree’

unchopping

But actually, without branches
or roots, it wouldn’t be a tree.
I mean, it would just be a log.

Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre, 1981

Unchopping a Tree.

The title of the book published in 2014 by Trinity University Press immediately conveys the message inside.

Despite the promise of the title and your wish for it to be possible, you know it is not. W.S. Merwin almost could have stopped there – a perfect reduction of words to express concern for the environment.

But your desire to believe a toppled tree could be healed in a magical way that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” failed to achieve for Humpty Dumpty and the lyrical prose of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer entice you inward:

Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nest that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall….

The soothing silverpoint drawings illuminating the inner cellular life of trees by Liz Ward, a professor of art at Trinity University, lessen the fear of approaching the immensity of the task of righting a tree.

inside

Finally the moment arrives when the last sustaining piece is removed and the tree stands again on its own. It is as though its weight for a moment stood on your heart.

Walking the Mission Reach along the banks of the San Antonio River as it wends its way southward makes one wish all the towering trees that shaded the river for centuries before mid-20th-century bulldozers eradicated them for flood control could be “unchopped.”

Alas, the dictionary fails to include the word in its inventory of things that can be undone for obvious reasons.

So great patience is required as the San Antonio River Authority painstakingly strives to restore the natural habitat, sapling by sapling.

tree-sign

A Chinese proverb reminds us:

One generation plants the trees;

another gets the shade.

For, to heal our environment, as Merwin advises in Unchopping a Tree:

Everything is going to have to be put back.