Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Rhythm. The Rhyme

Someone recently asked on facebook “What do you potters want from a workshop?”  It was a timely question because I’d been thinking about that myself for some time.
In part I’d been thinking about it as a potential presenter.  “What is it about what I do, or the way I do it that would be compelling enough to attract clay-minded people for a day of listening to me?” was the thought circling my brain. 

I thought about workshops I’ve attended and tried to figure out what I’d gotten from them, what I’d come away with, what I enjoyed, and maybe even a little of what I thought had been a waste of time.  I concluded that even though I couldn’t point to immediate pottery-changing inspiration(s), on balance I came away from each workshop with a good feeling.  And it was a feeling that tended to linger a bit.  Maybe it was inspiration.  I don’t know.


Then a couple of weeks ago I had the World Series playing on the TV in the shop.  Though I’ve had the television in the shop for a long time, It’s rarely ever on.  I learned a long time ago that I’m too easily visually stimulated to be capable of working while the TV is on.  It’s hard for me to use TV as simply background noise.  I’ll too often stop what I’m doing to watch.

But during the series it was exactly that – background noise.  I could follow the score.  I could anticipate if there was something worth stopping work to watch.  Heck, through the magic of instant replay, I didn’t have to miss a thing, even if I couldn’t immediately tear myself away from the wheel.

But there was something very compelling and familiar about that background noise.  Those modulated announcer’s voices.  The cadence of the count.  The sing-song repetition of familiar phrases uttered in good stead for rhyming patterns.  It struck me:

I was listening to poetry.  I was listening to music.

It could have been any game.  The music would have been the same.  The cadence.  The count. The phrases.

Poetry.  Music.

It was as familiar as church.

Please turn in your hymnal to number 355.  A Mighty Fortress .  All stand.

The count is two and oh.  Brock will take a pitch. Runners on first and third.

There’s comfort in the familiar.  We return to the songs we love.  We buy albums and wear them out.  We listen to them so many times we not only learn the lyrics, we learn the song order.

We read Robert Frost even though we know his view on fences and roads not taken.  We want to hear about them again.

And we go to workshops.  We like to hear the familiar.  We want to see others who participate in this song of our life.  Maybe hear a new verse or two ….or not.  The new doesn’t matter as much as the poetry.  The cadence.  The familiar phrases with those words like kaolin and silica and ball clay and feldspar.  They don’t rhyme, but they do.  Said often enough, they do.

 Please turn in your hymnals.  cone 10.  A Tenmoku Glaze.  All stand.


  1. Love your writing! If you can put that same voice into your workshops, you'd have an appreciative crowd.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and for taking the time to write!

  2. This was great, John! I think I will inscribe the words "The new doesn’t matter as much as the poetry" above the entrance to my studio. The poetry IS what matters. This was a great essay! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thanks, Carter. Whatever you do, don't move the lucky horse shoe just to put that above the entrance. I don't want to be held responsible for anyone's loss of good luck.

  3. I just stumbled on your blog this evening, and I have to say I love your writing. I didn't realize it until you started talking about listening to poetry, but since I started throwing (and fell in love pretty much immediately) a couple months ago, I almost always have a song in my mind. It changes all the time, too. I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the way the wheel sounds - it's very rhythmic, and then there's the way the pulling action is so full of rhythm. A couple of times I've been shaping a piece on the wheel and it just feels like the crescendo in a symphony...those pieces have been my best work, I think.

    1. Hi Sloan,

      I'm embarrassed to say that I don't check my blog often enough, so I often miss folk's comments. Thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to read my blog and respond.

      When I'm at the wheel I often find myself writing poetry. If I think it's going somewhere, I will stop, dry my hands, and take a stab at putting it down in writing. Sometimes I'm pleased. Most times the result isn't as pleasing as the concept and I give up on it for now. Sometimes I come back and revisit old ideas.

      I attended a song writing workshop with Pierce Pettis once. He said something that, at once should seem so obvious, but hadn't really struck me as concretely as it did when he uttered it.

      "A lyric (poem) doesn't have to be done when you're finished with it for the time being. Oh, sure, if you commit it to recording or publication there will then be a fixed version for all time. But even then there's no reason it can't be revised."

      That freed me up more than I can say. I no longer feel the need to complete the meanderings of creativity. And, curiously, once freed up, I find myself completing thoughts more easily with the pressure off. Ironic, huh?