Why I Am Not a Painter

August 20, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

Why I Am Not a Painter

by Frank O’Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

posted by Heather McShane

ailuromancy: divination by the actions of a familiar cat

aleuromancy: divination by flour or messages baked in cakes

armomancy: divination from the shoulders

capnonmancy: divination by smoke, or bursting poppy heads

clauguscience: divination from the taste or smell of a food that isn’t present

gelomancy: divination from laughter

gyromancy: divination by spinning in a circle until dizzy

idolomancy: divination from movie or rock stars

logarthmancy: divination by logarithms

maculomancy: divination from the shape and placement of birthmarks

myomancy: divination by squeaks of mice

nephelomancy: divinations by appearance of clouds

oneiromancy: divination by the interpretation of dreams

onimancy: divination using olive oil to let objects slip through the fingers

pegomancy: divination by bubbles in springs or fountains

philematomancy: divination by kissing

retromancy: divination by looking over one’s shoulder

rhapsodomancy: divination by a book of poetry

stichomancy: divination from random passages in books

thumomancy: divination by intense introspection of one’s own soul

transatuaumancy: divination from chance remarks overheard in a crowd

xenomancy: divination by studying the first stranger to appear

Four Corners

August 1, 2010

posted and written by Heather McShane

Below is the first chapter of Four Corners, a short book I wrote in the fall.

At first, I proceeded cautiously with a story about a harlequin—

Lucera rounded the corner at dusk. What looked to be a box sat propped against a trashcan. As she walked closer, the brown of the box became the back of the box, the delicately papered back of a picture frame.

She noticed dirty cobwebs, around the edges, mostly in the corners. She brushed them off, flicking then shaking her fingers to get them unstuck. The webbed mess floated down onto grasses that sprung through the cracks of the alley. Without really thinking, Lucera used both hands to bring the top of the picture frame to rest against her thighs.

In the dimming light, her eyes searched for a pattern in the picture; she could tell immediately that it wasn’t abstract. She saw the outline of a human figure, a face.

She thought of her sister who had slept on the top bunk in their childhood home. Lucera remembered the first time she saw her sister’s face speaking upside down from the top bunk. It had scared her so much that she laughed.

This memory incited Lucera to turn the painting around in an effort to examine it upright. It was ungainly. After setting it down, she lost her balance a little as she took a step back. She saw the painted figure’s clothing of diamonds connected to diamonds and recognized it as the costume of a harlequin.

Lucera’s thoughts flashed to illustrations of harlequins and sketches of spaces between apartment buildings and to the words “bound and gagged,” which caused her stomach to turn. She wondered, could this be a clue?

Lucera thought about her luck—was it good or bad?—and about how, had she found the picture in the days previous, she might have dismissed it as of a clown or a jester. However, she reasoned, the picture wasn’t then discarded. It still might have hung on someone’s wall, perhaps almost invisible, because it had become so much a part of the surroundings. It was just there, in that space. Lucera asked herself, Why wasn’t it there now? Did that person’s eyes now stop on the brightness in color of the wall where the picture was formerly displayed?

In her limited view of the sky, Lucera noticed the increasing darkness. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and stood transfixed as the phone’s ringing tone filled her head.


July 27, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

I have been feeling nostalgic lately, and the following event at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
1 PM

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Gather downstairs outside of the performance space, room 012

25 participants of the three-week summer course devoted to abandoned practices and endangered uses have been engaged in research, performance, installation, and writing projects, with teachers Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson, and Mark Jeffery, and TA James Smith. You are invited to attend presentations on Wednesday, July 28, devised in response to the form of the Chautauqua Assembly, a traveling rural adult education institution, the popularity of which peaked in the late 1800s. Sharing the theme of useful knowledge, the four presentations of 18 or 21 minutes in length each weave a series of strictly timed original responses to subjects such as “the concussion theory of rainmaking” and “the ducking-stool,” in alternating presentational modes of expert lecture, traveling exhibition, educational performance, and entertainment performance. An informal reception will follow.

—reminded me that a former professor of mine named Dr. Carrol Peterson had a great influence on me as an undergraduate at Doane College, a small liberal arts college in Nebraska.

Dr.  Peterson encouraged me to write and to teach writing from the very first English class I had with him, which was compositional writing my Freshman year. But it wasn’t until the spring semester of my junior year that I realized I hadn’t the patience to memorize scientific names and data and should therefore not be a biology major—I was more interested in the biology experience (the stuff that appeared under microscopes; the organisms floating in formaldehyde in jars as well as the cadaver in the room where I had cleaned test tubes, Erlenmeyer flasks, Petri dishes, etc., as a work/study student; the “head” room, a small wood-paneled conference room on which walls hung the heads of various ungulates)—and I became an English major, taking around six literature courses taught by Dr. Peterson and attending parties at his and his wife’s house, most notably the one given after a reading by poet Hayden Carruth, whose book Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey gives you an idea of Carruth’s predilection.

And with the announcement of the Chautauqua event at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I remembered with fondness seeing Dr. Peterson perform as Jack London and Walt Whitman in the Great Plains Chautauqua. (First he would perform as the literary character then answer questions as the character then answer any further questions as himself.) I found the below video of him as Thomas Paine:

Dr. Peterson has since retired from teaching (not from performing in Chautauquas) and lives in Maryland with his wife. I am still in contact with him and actually owe him a letter(!), which I plan to write after attending the performance event on Wednesday.

posted and written and drawn by Heather McShane

a foot on the first page, possibly my first visual poem

an interpretation of Plato’s The Cave

man with bird

a sonnet, published in Xanadu, my college’s lit mag
which was named after the Xanadu in “Kubla Khan”
by Samuel Coleridge, not the movie of the same name
starring Olivia Newton John

the last page I marked in the dreambook


July 24, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

I recently discovered ubu, which, first of all, is a pretty satisfying word to say over and over again (ubu ubu ubu ubu ubu ubu ubu ubu) and, second of all, hosts a large collection of visual, concrete, and sound poetry—and other avant garde delights. For example, you can find this video about Ruth and Marvin Sackner’s amazing archive of concrete/visual poetry, featuring Tom Phillips (artist of The Humument); in the video, Phillips plays ping-pong with Marvin Sackner!


Text message stories

July 21, 2010

posted and written by Heather McShane

I am encouraging the writing of text message stories! Limit yourself to 160 characters. Also: Don’t forget to send them to someone. Here’s a story I wrote the other day:

An 80-year-old woman lost
230 pounds so she can get her
knees replaced and then go to
Africa and fly in a hot-air
balloon over zebra


July 14, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

While at Ox-Bow for two weeks, I finished writing and drawing a book called For the Love of Beatrice. I like calling this book an illuminated manuscript, which means that it’s a book written and decorated by hand (however, the strictest definition of an illuminated manuscript means the manuscript is decorated with gold or silver). Although I did hand-write and draw the book, I have intended since its inception for the book to appear online (it has sound and video components as well as links to Websites).

While creating the book, I wasn’t really thinking about it being an illuminated manuscript; I was merely inspired to make it. I showed it to my friend Carmen Price who subsequently lent me Carl Jung’s The Red Book, which Carmen happened to have at Ox-Bow with him.

I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Carl Jung before Carmen let me borrow The Red Book. I knew about Jung’s former friend and mentor Sigmund Freud, especially Freud’s theories about dreams and his ideas about the uncanny. But, for example, I didn’t know that concepts as familiar to me as the archetype and the collective unconscious are attributed to Jung and that his theories indirectly brought about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Alcoholics Anonymous. And I really wasn’t aware that Jung wrote an illuminated text. Here’s just one page of the 205-page book:

Jung worked on this mystical book written in calligraphic text with painted illuminations for 16 years. According to an article titled “Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious” in the New York Times, The Red Book tells a story about a man searching for his soul. Was this man Jung himself? Carefully, with clean hands, I looked at each page, noting that the book ends with the word Möglichkeit, which means “possibility.” What did Jung intend to happen with the book? He did keep it a secret.

To read more, see here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/magazine/20jung-t.html

New and Old Friends

July 8, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

My new friend Tanya Fleisher showed me this part of a documentary about Christian the lion, an old friend of the younger men in this video. So dated but so great.

Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.

June 29, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

Amos is one of the characters I’ve met while at Ox-Bow this summer. There’s a whole documentary about him. Here’s a clip: