Calvino’s Sixth: The unwritten memo – consistency

A Consistent Inconsistency by Maria L. Berg

This week completes my study of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Calvino died before writing this final lecture in his series on values of literature. So I get to extrapolate from the other memos and imagine his ideas of consistency as a literary value.

I found Andrei Codrescu’s attempt to do just that: On Consistency: Italo Calvino’s Sixth Memo.

AND

In her article “Calvino’s Values in Literature” in The Journal of Educational Thought Vol. 24, No. 3A, Marylou Miner presents her belief that the sixth memo would explore harmonious structure explored in a musical sense. She also presents the image of consistency to be a circle or a wave.

Let’s start with the word “consistency.” It has two different meanings that could each be a value of literature:

  • a degree of density, firmness, viscosity, etc: the condition of cohering or holding together and retaining form; solidity or firmness

OR

  • steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.: agreement, harmony, or compatibility, especially correspondence or uniformity among the parts of a complex thing

I had only been thinking of consistency in the latter definition before I looked it up. Now, I’m thinking of the viscosity of my images and the density of my images.

Yesterday I tried to explore consistency through staying in one place and only creating shapes with the light on the waves. I wasn’t excited with the results, but the practice with a focus on consistency led to exciting results today.

Using Marylou Miner’s ideas for forms, I pulled out all of my circular, spiral, and wavy filters and found some fun ideas for improvement.

An Inconsistent Consistency by Maria L. Berg 2022

ModPo

This is also the first week of ModPo, a free online introduction to modern and contemporary U.S. poetry offered year round through the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania and Coursera.org. It is also a yearly ten-week symposium for poetry lovers. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. I attended my first “office hours” session today and really enjoyed the discussion. The first live webcast to kick off this year’s symposium is Sept. 7 (tomorrow at noon) at 3PM Philadelphia time.

New Poem

For today’s Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub, Mish challenges us to play with some unusual words.

In my aliferous dormiveglia

empyrean orenda arrives as
reflections upon late summer leaves, as
gleams in glittering eyes, as
glints upon the waves, pushing me
to querencia—a timeless space, an
ephemeral place—where
I am sustained by isolophilia.

My logolepsy borders on the obscene
in this foggy pause
as I wake from the dream.

Multiplicity: the dot that becomes a universe

Bursting by Maria L. Berg 2022

Let’s continue to explore that smallest thing–the dot, the pixel, the eye mote, the speck of dust, the atom, the cell–that when multiplied “spreads out, encompassing ever vaster horizons, and would end by embracing the entire universe. (Calvino)”

In an old set of geometry tools, I found two compasses: one regular with a point on one end and a place for a pencil on the other, and one with two pointed ends. I’m not exactly sure what this tool was made for, but I find it is perfect for puncturing interesting dot designs in paper filters.

Pointy Compass

Inspired by the white details in Georgiana Houghton’s paintings (found in the great book World Receivers) and the intricate moving dots in James Whitney’s films Yantra (1957) and Lapis (1966) and the pixels in his brother John Whitney’s film Permutations (1968), I created several filters of dot patterns, and some of random dots.

Jeremejevite by Maria L. Berg 2022
Secret Writing by Maria L. Berg 2022

New Poem

It’s Open Link Night (OLN #322) at dVerse Poets Pub which means anything goes, so I thought I would try a new inspirational tool/form I came up with inspired by Calvino’s “scheme of the network of possibilities” and my net lights.

Here’s my quick sketch of my “net of possibilities” (which I apparently called the net of connections yesterday):

I recently pulled out a bunch of stuff left over from the puzzle company. I found many card-stock labels from the small puzzles with pictures of the artwork on them. I cut these images into circles, cutting slightly different sections from the image for three circles of each image. Then I put all the circles in a bag, and pulled them out without looking and placed them in my net. Here is my net of possibilities now:

Each image can inspire in so many different ways and on multiple levels:

  • subject
  • setting
  • time
  • color
  • texture
  • metaphor / simile
  • sensory detail
  • a word
  • a phrase

And then the net creates connections between the images, and repetitions of images could inspire word or phrase repetition, or other rhythm. I’m exited to see where this goes.

The Net of Connections I.

In the deep shadows under the metal erection
ballerinas spring in sprightly toile, swirling
pastel dots like the spots of spring colors
bouncing off the structure and filling the sky
through a cubist’s window, its shutters
removed to create a unicorn enclosure
in a hotbed of literature where every
captured unicorn sees the world as a jumble
of cubes–inanimate, sleeping, lying upon and around–
while the men of metal erect towers–monuments to
their masculine powers that birds will break
their bills on–while underneath, somewhere
in the shadows, curling and coiling like golden scales
of dragon tails, and ebbing and flowing like the tides,
the ballerinas echo the shapes like a bridge over
a lily pond, the spring flowers floating in patterns
only understood in the abstract, and the mighty
dancers set sail to new worlds like viking conquerors
while the sleepers sleep
the metal erection stands.

Mr. Kitty working on his poem (or not helping)

Calvino’s 5th Memo: Multiplicity – The finite in the infinite and the infinite in the finite

Knitting Light by Maria L. Berg 2022

“Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement. Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function. . . . the grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various ‘codes,’ into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world.” ~Italo Calvino

So here we are in the final days of August and the last completed memo (lecture) from Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Though the contradictory abstractions aren’t as clearly stated in this lecture as in the first three, I found four to examine this week:

  • The singular in the universal and universal in the singular
  • Connection in isolation and isolation in connection
  • The infinite in the finite and the finite in the infinite
  • freedom in constraint and constraint in freedom (which I looked at before I read Six Memos)

August has been a month of synthesis for me. Everything I’m studying in art and poetry and literature are all working together to inform and inspire. Calvino’s ideas about the least thing being seen as the center of a network of relationships, “multiplying the details so descriptions and digressions become infinite” reminded me of an interview with abstract film maker, John Whitney, whose work I discovered in the fabulous book World Receivers which I highly recommend.

The idea of the dot or pixel as the smallest denominator to line, then shape, then form is not new, but expanding the ideas through all the connections to everything in the universe through eternity is a fascinating thought experiment.

Calvino begins his memo on Multiplicity with a section of writing by Gadda. He says that Gadda represents the world as a knot, a tangled skein of yarn. This got me thinking about the final segment in Whitney’s film “Catalog” that looks like moving elongated loops to me, which makes me think of yarn or thread. So for this week’s images I started by cutting paper “loops” and taping them around a square. The result was really fun. It was like knitting with light.

Light Knots by Maria L. Berg 2022

Fractal Verse

I am reading Feeling as a foreign language: the good strangeness of poetry by Alice Fulton. Her ideas for a form of free verse called “fractal verse” appears to fit Calvino’s definition of the value of multiplicity:

“a literature that has absorbed the taste for mental orderliness and exactitude, the intelligence of poetry but at the same time that of science and of philosophy . . .”

I’ve been interested in fractals for a long time. I even designed a puzzle with pieces that made fractals. So I’m enjoying the idea of searching for fractals in free verse and creating fractal verse. This morning I found a couple more resources to explore fractal verse:

Fractals in Poetry Activity
Fractal Poetry examples

New Poem

Today’s Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub fit perfectly (as often is the case) with this week’s study. Christopher Reilley offered a great post about choice, and challenged us to write a poem about choice. Choice is such a great topic for fractal verse. I couldn’t help but give it a try.

The Multiplicity of Choice

A simple choice        to put pen to paper
to pen a poem        about choice is choice
but a poem is        a multitude        of possibilities
a network of eternal connection
each a choice        each choice made
opens a new dimension of new
possibilities and new choices ahead
each person creating choice-dimensions
every moment        every day
and one choice contingent on another's
creating dimensional portals 
to pet Schrödinger's poor cat
before it chooses to hiss or purr,
lick or scratch        if one arrives
in the box where it's alive
but all of that implies
there is choice        which negates fate
and steals the threads from the Destinies,
runs with their scissors toward
bad cuts and bruises
mistakes and bad choices
How many dimensions have blipped into existence
or popped out of possibility because of this poem?
How many unseen cats clawed out of their boxes
or met their doom        due to word-choice
and white space?
Within the knot of creation, the network of connection,
the web of words that make a poem
there is no easy choice.






			

Visibility: Fantasy in Reality, and Reality in Fantasy

Emerging Pegacorns by Maria L. Berg 2022

This week I’m looking at Italo Calvino’s fourth value of literature: Visibility. After reading the lecture, I still wasn’t sure what he meant by “Visibility,” but after some time with my dictionary, I think I figured it out. Visibility, or visibleness, can mean “conspicuousness” or “conspicuity”–which I like the sound of–which means: Easily discovered, seen, or understood by the eye or mind. This definition fits well with his discussion of the importance of being able to close one’s eyes and visualize vividly. it

His lecture leads to the contradictory abstractions and exciting study for this week: fantasy in reality and reality in fantasy.

When I first started playing with bokeh shape photography, I thought of it as a way to put fantasy into the real world. I cut detailed filters of pegacorns, dragons, mermaids, aliens, and monsters and had them fly among the flowers and over rooftops. But my work has turned toward abstraction and I’m wondering how these fanciful creatures fit into my new reality (and floating studio).

The mermaids liked the floating studio. I had thought I needed to re-cut the filter, but today, I like it.

Mermaids by Maria L. Berg 2022

New Poem

Today at dVerse Poets Pub it is Quadrille Monday. A quadrille is a poem of exactly 44 words and today’s prompt word is “Morning.”

Is Today Fantasy in Reality or Reality in Fantasy?

This direct-to-swimsuit morning arrives sweaty, hot as dragon’s breath,
and hoarding treasure.
Its tentacles reach across the sasquatch-hair grass, coarse and brown
under my feet as I watch
fish jump like mermaids, their ripples sparkling with tiny sun-promises,
each glint a world of possibilities.

Tentacles by Maria L. Berg 2022

Calvino’s 3rd Memo: Exactitude – Crystal & Flame

Party of Crystal by Maria L. Berg 2022

I’m continuing to find inspiration in Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino. This week I’m looking at Exactitude and Vagueness as contradictory abstractions.

Let’s start with some definitions:

exactitude: precision, accuracy, meticulousness

vagueness: unspecific, imprecise; obscure, hazy, shadowy

Calvino uses the symbols of crystal and flame, so I decided to start there.

“The crystal, with its precise faceting and its ability to refract light, is the model of perfection that I have always cherished as an emblem, and this predilection has become even more meaningful since we have learned that certain properties of the birth and growth of crystals resembles those of the most rudimentary biological creatures, forming a kind of bridge between the mineral world and living matter. . . . The contrasting images of flame and crystal are used to make visible the alternatives offered to biology, and from this pass on to theories of language and the ability to learn. . . . Crystal and flame: two forms of perfect beauty that we cannot tear our eyes away from, two modes of growth in time, of expenditure of the matter surrounding them, two moral symbols, two absolutes, two categories for classifying facts and ideas, styles and feelings.” ~Italo Calvino

For today’s images, I sewed a new pool noodle sleeve to change my color palette, since I wasn’t enjoying the predominantly white one. The new sleeve is shades of red. I cut two new “transformer” filters (my designs that have folded sections so can make more than one shape): One to represent flame and one to represent crystal.

Curious Fish by Maria L. Berg 2022

While I was making my images a curious visitor swam into my studio.

Party of Flame by Maria L. Berg 2022

New Poem

As is often the case, the prompt at dVerse Poets Pub fits with this week’s study. Sarah’s Poetics prompt is to pick one of the four elements (earth, fire, water, or air) as the subject of a poem.

Playing With Fire

Blue and orange tongues
licking the night
crackle, pop, and hiss
desire for oxygen,
an all-consuming passion,
a chaotic flickering
of internal agitation
released as light and heat.

A relentless, voracious consumer
leaping indiscriminately
from fuel source to fuel source,
dancing destruction’s arabesque.

Our eyes, seared
from the beauty,
travel among
crystalline structures
of glowing coals
like cities at sunset
that fool us into thinking
a creature so wild
could be tamed.

Quickly Capturing Lingering Light

Lingering in Quickness by Maria L. Berg 2022

It’s amazing how energizing one cool, cloudy day was. Today, was back to hot and sweaty, but it didn’t feel as oppressive. I finally set up my new mobile mirrorworld to my satisfaction, and played with an interesting purple and green light palette.

And They Dance by Maria L. Berg 2022

I find it amusing that these random globs of dried hot glue in different shapes look like people dancing to me.

Today was the first time I tried using the net-lights with the reflection balls in the fabric-covered pool noodles. I like how nature adds to the abstractions. I’m seeing lots of potential.

Bursting by Maria L. Berg 2022

New Poem

The poetry form prompt at dVerse Poets Pub is to write an Octelle. The focus of the form is to use personification and symbolism, so that sounded fun.

Quickly Capturing Lingering Light

When light escapes and comes to play
I know I’ll have a busy day
Free of night and free of fears
as glaring white she appears
but in our game I calm her
and coax each color forward
when light escapes and comes to play
I know I’ll have a busy day

The Values of Literature

A bokeh shape image of feathers in house shapes.
Gathered Feathers by Maria L. Berg 2022

Last week I stumbled upon Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium which are a series of planned lectures about literary values he was working on when he died. He died before he finished writing the sixth. His six values of literature are: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity, and Consistency.

In each of his lectures he discusses his ideas of the stated value and its opposite which inspired me to use these values as my contradictory abstractions for August and into September.

First, I considered the word value, and its many meanings. When I looked at value at the beginning of this study of abstract nouns in April, I was thinking about value in terms of exchange. Calvino appears to be using the seventh definition for value in my Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary which is “something (as a principal or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.

Three pool noodles covered in patterned spandex and tied together in a triangle, creating a cage for six reflection balls floating on a lake.
My Floating Summer Studio by Maria L. Berg 2022

Artistically, what I was desiring was a changeable color palette for my floating photography studio. So I chose some garish spandex I had collected from bargain tables over the years, and sewed colorful skins for my pool noodles. The results were surprisingly subtle, yet interesting.

Colorful Cogs by Maria L. Berg 2022

Calvino’s first value, “Lightness,” he sees as the opposite of “Weight” as in the weight of the world, or gravity of thought. When he discusses lightness as a quality of literature, he describes it as “the sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher.”

Calvino says that lightness in writing is precision and determination, not vagueness and the haphazard. Then he quotes Paul Valery who said: “Il faut etre leger comme l’oiseau, et non comme la plume” (One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather).

This idea really appealed to me. Where I live, I am constantly surrounded by birds, from tiny hummingbirds and dark-eyed juncos to great blue herons, osprey and bald eagles. The mystery and grace, flight’s sheer defiance of gravity is exciting to watch.

I had already collected some small feathers the neighbor’s cats so kindly left on my porch. so I tried using them as filters.

Feathers on the Mat by Maria L. Berg 2022
A Bird in the Dry Grass by Maria L. Berg 2022

This week I am looking at Calvino’s second value Quickness which he sees as the opposite of Lingering and Digression. Yesterday, to begin my study, I tried a technique I found in Abstract Explorations in Acrylic Painting by Jo Toye. Jo used hot glue to create stencils to create resist patterns in her paintings. Now that I am look at my filters as both positive and negative space, I saw the potential for this technique with my photography. Here’s my first attempt:

Sudden Agile Leaping by Maria L. Berg 2022

What’s fun is it’s similar to something I tried a long time ago with wire:

Wire Lines by Maria L. Berg 2019

Guess it wasn’t that long ago, but it sure seems like a very long time ago. I think the changes in the thickness of line from the glue are much more dynamic.

The reason I chose to try the glue technique this week is because once the glue gun is hot and I’ve cut the basic filter shapes, I can create many different designs with quickness, then linger in all their image possibilities.

New Poem

Today’s Poetics prompt from Merril at dVerse Poets Pub is to write a poem about a restaurant. The example poem by Margaret Atwood “They eat out,” was an odd surprise, opening the prompt to all sorts of possibilities.

Restaurants bring up so many memories fraught with conflicting emotions. I think Lightness and Weight, and Quickness and Lingering can all find their way into a restaurant.

Gathered at Another Steak House

Restless in this restaurant, her eyes rest
on the fake, flickering candles and cloth
carnations, on the bleached tablecloth and
folded cloth napkin swans swimming
in place on gold waves rippling
at the edges of shiny plates waiting
for waiters to replace them with
appetizers, strengthening hunger’s desire.

Tense utensils clang in past and future tense
Tumblers topple, ice tumbling, sliding across
tabletops, and topics are quickly tabled as
secrets spilled splatter saucy and juicy
stains that will never completely come out
and after desserts are devoured
no one lingers to feel sated.

Thinking About August

Last week, as I continued my study of contradictory abstractions, I looked at freedom in constraint and constraint in freedom. Studying opposites inspired me to think about photo negatives and negative space, so I tried putting the sections I cut out to create my filters into their own filters, creating negatives of my filters in a way. The result was exciting.

Man in a Box by Maria L. Berg 2022

My further study of freedom and constraint led me to attempt using flowers considered weeds over a piece of clear plastic, so I wouldn’t get pollen or petals in my lens. Again, to happy results.

Free to be Appreciated by Maria L. Berg 2022

Today’s Poem

The Poetic’s prompt at dVerse Poets Pub was to write a poem about August. I didn’t get the poem done on Tuesday, but it got me thinking. Today, is the Open Link, so I gave it a go.

Here in the Puget Sound we just endured an extensive period of excessive heat (for here), so I’m actually looking forward to a cooler August. Even today, the coolest day in a while, I have the fan going because it’s humid.

One of the things I love about ExperienceWriting is it acts as a record of my work over the years. I looked back at what I was posting in August the last couple years expecting one or two posts, but it appears August is a time of discovery for me. Last year I was working on my first bokeh and poetry video “Pathways.” That feels so long ago. The year before that, I was writing and revising a short story as part of Writers in Motion. If I didn’t have this record of it, I wouldn’t believe it. So what is August deep in my bones? Work, exploration, discovery, and sweat.

Another August

The fan whirs in the window
chopping boat motors
and children screaming
into beads of sweat

suntan lotion coconuts
and pineapples fight
UV rays breaking through
ozone and the odor of scales

working outside in the shade
every break a dive in the lake
and yet somehow I burn and yearn
to create which makes more heat

sweat drips on the page
under my breasts and down
and allergic to myself
I recognize the coming boils

and pain like an anniversary
of a coming storm swirling
a time to reevaluate
wind and water and fire

Calm in Agitation and Agitation in Calm

Heron Tree published my poem “Repent” as part of a series of poems created from materials published before 1927. Their call for submissions inspired me to explore a book of fairy tales I’ve had for a long time that was published in 1907. I talked about it in my post A Fun Found Poetry Project when I first started working on it back in January. Please check it out, and enjoy the great work they do at Heron Tree.

Calming Agitation by Maria L. Berg 2022

Calm & Agitation

This new way of studying abstractions really appeals to me. The idea of spending a week with contrasting abstractions and immersing myself in them is exciting and fun.

I finally figured out how to use the reflection balls in the lake. I made them a floating barrier by threading rope through some pool noodles. The color added by the pool noodles was I nice surprise. I like the effect so much, I ordered four more reflection balls of the same size. They arrive tomorrow. This weekend is going to be fun. Now I’m thinking of pool noodles as a color palette.

dVerse Poets Pub

Today was Open Mic Live (online) at dVerse. I always want to attend, but never make it. It starts at noon here in the PNW, and today it was 1pm before I finished making my filters and taking my photos. But I can still join in by posting a poem, so here’s today’s exploration of calm & agitation:

He says calm is the wind

I ask him what he thinks of
when I say calm
he waves his arm
majestically and says this

I turn from him, taking
in the entire day:
the sun, the lake, the sky
the warmth, the waves, the houses and trees
the moment we are sharing
as he pauses in his constant labors

Do you mean the lake?
Or the sun? Or? I prod
always wanting more
Actually, wind, he says,
Calm is the wind

I think of the gentle breeze
that guides a floating lounger
where I don’t want to go
I think of the wind that steals
my papers and pushes them
into bushes I think of the angry
wind that lifted the glass table
and threw it through the sliding door
I always think of the hurricane
that stole everything

I ask him what he thinks of when
I say agitation
He laughs, as if I should know?
Or he doesn’t want to say?
A disagreement of some kind
he answers, turning

That’s funny, I say, because
I always think of wind as agitation
because it makes things move
he moves on, and we both
continue our labors

Contrasting Abstractions: The next phase in my study

The Writer’s Games have ended! I sent in my final story yesterday. Guests have left. The family is busy. I might get a full day to myself. And the sun is out. 😎

Hope and Despair

Last week, inspired by some abstract art books:

and a writing tip from the Shaelin Writes video below, I started a new phase in my study of abstract nouns. Each week I’ll choose two opposing abstract nouns and attempt to create an image representing both. To inspire my work, I’m expanding my research from studying the words, history, and philosophy, to collecting music, paintings, photographs, poems, stories, scientific studies, and anything else I can find that represents the two abstractions, immersing myself for the week.

Using the statement, “Find the despair in hope, and the hope in despair,” I created several filters and tried different techniques. Here is one of the images:

Hope & Despair by Maria L. Berg 2022

Calm & Agitation

This week, expanding on the idea, I am exploring “Find the agitation in calm, and the calm in agitation.” Let’s start with some definitions:
agitate: 1. a. to give motion to b. to move with an irregular, rapid, or violent action 2. to excite and often trouble the mind or feelings of: Disturb 3. to discuss excitedly and earnestly
calm: 1. a period or condition of freedom from storms, high winds, or rough activity of water 2. a state of tranquility: free from agitation, excitement, or disturbance

So what could possibly be the agitation in calm? It depends on the person and situation. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to lie still for long, so my own thoughts are often the agitation. On the beach, the agitation could be the sand fleas; at the lake, the music from the boats going by, or mowers and chainsaws. The waves themselves are the definition of agitation, though the sound of them hitting the shore may be the calm in agitation.

For today’s images, I noticed light glinting off spiderwebs, and experimented with creating my shapes from that light. It worked! And with the very cool effect of making smaller shapes than the light on the leaves behind the webs.

Agitation in the Calm by Maria L. Berg 2022

dVerse Poets Pub

For today’s Poetics prompt, Lisa challenges us to consider fractals in relation to poetry in subject or form.

Rapid Irregular Movement

agitation nags                               it's tickling                               through the calm
little bits build                      to agitate with malice                      while lying calmly
in the sun                               even after the years                            have passed to
a calming age                             all is distraction                dizzying feelings of ions
commingling                                 I see them                              behind closed lids
and the gate creeks           commensurate to the spots                             gyrating