Guest Post, Dixie Salazar: Dippity Don’t

Dixie Salazar picture

        “Imagination is More Important than Knowledge”   Albert Einstein

Growing up, I always felt different. Of course I struggled with this, trying desperately to fit in, reading in the dark, trying to strain my eyes so I might need glasses because one of the “popular girls” wore them and I thought they would give me access to her status. When the surfer girl look came along, I was again, out of sync, with a mass of kinky/curly hair that only went straight when I set it on huge orange juice cans slathered with Dippity Do, even attempting to sleep on this torture contraption, so I’d be acceptably straightened for school the next day, only to have my smooth cap of hair spring back into a froth of frizz as soon as the morning fog hit. Next came ironing—my hair, that is. I wanted that parted in the middle, straight down the sides Cher look, with a long, silky rope of hair that swung down to my waist. But I gave this up after singeing the side of my face, not the in look I was going for.

I’ve now made peace with my hair; in fact, I celebrate my hair, along with all the other differences that plagued me growing up. It turns out they are all the best things about me and they help me to appreciate and participate in the arts. So here’s my rant against uniformity, and I don’t think it’s overstating the fact to say that uniformity is a danger facing our entire country. Just look at the current state of national politics.


Rant #1 Uniforms: Parents and teachers love them, but aren’t they the first step toward cookie cutter soldiers, mass-produced to join the ranks of the corporate/military assembly line? I don’t know how I would have made it through school or my first mind-numbing job without the crutch of daydreaming my next day’s wardrobe. I loved putting together unique colors and styles and being creative with fashion. I still do. And unlike teenagers and gang bangers, I don’t want to look like everyone else.

Rant #2 Paint Nights: Where everyone pays a fee to put on a smock and follow a stroke by stroke demo from a so called artist, to supposedly unlock their hidden talents. And they each go home with an almost exact replica of the leader’s painting, and they are all the same and they are all happy and brag the next day about discovering the artist lying dormant within them for so long. Please! All they unlocked was the hidden copyist lurking inside. This is just wrong…on so many levels it would take several more blog posts and a lot more ranting to deconstruct.

Rant #3 MFA poetry products: O.K. This one may make me unpopular, but I can’t be the only one who feels this way. I’m talking about MFA produced/work-shopped poetry.  I swear that it has a smell (not fragrant). Three lines into reading one of these poems, my nose is twitching and my eyes begin to glaze over. It’s obvious the writer has mastered quite well the template for pleasing his/her professors. Granted, there may be imagination at work at times and even adept writing, but it remains static within the normalizing template. They were very smart, industrious students and they’ll become smart, industrious teachers and editors who’ll direct the next generation down the same rutted path of boring mediocrity. And we now have a tautology, a closed self-perpetuating system as well as a love fest. The students give their professors glowing evaluations so they can keep their jobs and the professors in return give the students glowing recommendations so they too can get jobs and …and they publish each other and read to and applaud each other. And most people who don’t understand (read) poetry accept it and go away reinforced in the fear that they just don’t get it.


Granted, the hot mess that is current politics won’t be easily solved by eliminating uniforms, paint nights, and MFA poetry, but unless we change our intrinsic value system and promote creative individualism and critical thinking over the mass consumption of acceptable, locked in place ideas, we are doomed to be ruled by those who would have us all look, think, talk, dress, act and vote alike.

One of the side effects of creativity is empathy. It’s impossible to relate to someone who is different from you if you can’t begin to imagine their situation or their plight as one you might experience yourself. Nurturing imagination in children is a crucial step toward creating a world where we value differentness and otherness. Walt Whitman said, “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I become the wounded person.”

And finally, in the words of Alice Walker, “This is a wonderful planet and it is being destroyed by people who have too much money and power and no empathy.” I would just add that it’s being destroyed by people who have no imagination.

Guest Blog Post, Elizabeth Bradfield: Here/Now/There/Words

Elizabeth Bradfield I’m on a sailboat, traveling north from Mystic, Connectictut, reading the Odyssey.  I’m on the boat because a friend asked for help (and I love boats, miss boats, miss the essence of myself that enlivens upon them).  I’m reading Homer because I’m mentoring a low-residency MFA student, and we’re exploring on “the long poem” (and I haven’t read Homer since I was an undergraduate, and I love boats).

It’s day two of our sail.  There are four of us aboard.  It’s spring.  Cool on the ocean, lilacs blooming on land.  It’s morning. We’re having coffee before leaving Cuttyhunk Island.  Common eiders moan in the harbor, a crèche of chicks following three females (they nest here?  Holy shit.  They nest here.  This is not in the books.).  Oystercatchers cry overhead, pairs scribing the early sky.

My friend asks me if I’ve read Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar.  It’s just the two of us on board.  The others—her girlfriend, her girlfriend’s father—have taken a morning stroll.  Yes, I’ve read it… but it’s been years.  I can’t dredge up a single thing.  In the book, she says, past lives speak.

The book she’s reading is about past lives and being in the present.  She is a healer.  She is a seeker.  All lives, she says, are also with us in this very moment.  I am woefully untuned to her world, but I’m reading.  I’m reading of sailboats in the Mediterranean while I’m on a sailboat.

I turn a page. Odysseus is sharpening a stick to thrust into the eye of the Cyclops.  It’s gory.  The boat.  The wine-dark sea.  The Westwind Odysseus wants to take him home….

We’d welcome it.  We’d welcome any breeze other than one on the nose, because it’d let us sail instead of use the engine as we head north to my home.  I am heading home.  To the tip of Cape Cod.  Odysseus is trying to head home, too.  He’s not making very fast progress.

My friend is laughing.  I am laughing.  She is reading a book about being in the present, and she can’t concentrate because… well, because it’s a beautiful morning.  She’d rather be in the present than read about being in the present.

When she talks about being in the moment, about all those pasts converging, David Byrne’s lyrics come to mind.  I sing to her:

Oh my brother, I still wonder, are you alright…

Everything that happens will happen today.

 Nothing has changed but nothing’s the same

and every tomorrow will be yesterday,

and everything that happens will happen today.

Past lives. Tomorrow.  Today.  The ducks are breeding.  The boat floats on the tide. We read.  We rouse ourselves to the morning. We are distracted and awake.  The world feels limpid and clear and of this moment.

Odysseus carried his lives with him.  The past, the past, the past, his wrongs and hurts and the gods that he must cannily anticipate and placate.  He’s with the goddess/monster on the island. He’s in Troy. He’s on the boat.  Today is about yesterday. Determined by yesterday.  It’s about stories and how they are told.  It’s about layers of disguise.

Where do poems come from?  The world insists itself.  A common tern chirrs and dives for fish.  The tide seems, in Cuttyhunk, to never rise or fall.  We are alongside a dock and have set our mooring lines to allow the tide to lift and drop us.  We can see the seaweed and barnacles on the pilings, but we seem to never rise or drop.  Is Cuttyhunk one of the magical isles of the Aegean?  Is there a goddess at work?  A god?  Dawn arrives on her gold throne.  We put on sunscreen and hats.

A goddess arrives and addresses Odysseus.  He lies to her.  She likes it.  On the beach, oystercatchers play their game of broken wing, luring walkers away from the nest.  I like it.  I like it more than the page.

Odysseus.  Homer.  Alice Walker.  Then. Now.  Now.  Now.

The world is so fucking insistent.  And that’s what I love about it.  Rose-fingered dawn.  There are poems about dawn.  There are poems about boats in harbors.  It is dawn.  We are in a harbor. Soon, we will cast off.  Odysseus will come with us, shut in his covers, riffled by wind.  I might open him if I’m bored.

We will scout for rocks.  We will watch the buoys set out to warn us against grounding—are they our gods, the things Odysseus would have poured wine to placate?—we will sail the tv glow-blue sea.  We will not be lured by sirens.  We will sing of a woman and of a voyage.  We will make our short journey.

Words will travel with us from Homer, from Byrne, from Walker, from sage minds that help us find our way.  We will invent words to detail what we see and what gives us wonder.

The currents will eddy around us.  The currents of what we’ve know, what we’ve read, what we’ve learned.

Odysseus, the wily, the brave, the canny, is going home.  I am going home.  I am carrying a huge horse full of lies and trickery with me.  I am carrying those ducks, those birds, the fact of the narrow entrance into Cuttyhunk.  Alice Walker, temple-maker, you are with us, too.  We are traveling together.

Everything that happens will happen today.  Look up. Look up from the page.  Everything that happens…