Those who knew the person will recognize the spirit, personality, character, and qualities of attention found in the poet being discovered here. Even those closest to her, who’d known the poet all along, lacked sense of the full scope, rich range & artistic achievement of makings she’d leave behind. Even she wouldn’t have known, one making at a time, part of living, not of a literary or artistic ‘program.’
She respected, & even loved, the craft of whatever she did, dance, music, visual arts, but arguably the writing most of all, though substance & essence were what drew her–called sincerity, in some old Chinese texts, meaning without pretense; not the concept, but the practice of wholeness, attentive to what is (worlds within, around, connected).
Her visual artwork, especially later, was mainly a kind of meditation, in this case a way of getting in touch, discovering, realizing, & expressing in outer color, movement & form what was primarily inner reality–visual, emotional, & dynamic. The variety is often startling–yet even more so in the writing being discovered, one folder, notebook, page, pile at a time.
Only a small sampling or her writing has made it up on-site so far, most being transcribed (&/or, in the case of finely penned or brushed pages, scanned) into off-line files for organizing (in time; by type; for whom; on what; within her musical & thematic sequences). A few who knew her well were familiar with her Basho-like gifts–gems of attention, sometimes called ‘haiku moments,’ a long practice, mostly in the background.
Fewer knew her deep love of music & dance, and of how these could play together in her poetry. No one knew how many musical meditations & letter-poems she’d written, let alone the artistic tours de force finished & set aside in a drawer while going on with life. It was not that she hid them, or held back from sharing, but felt no need to push them forward either.
Here are two surprising, exhilarating, energetic, deeply playful examples, each taken somewhat out of context from a different grouping. ‘divinity‘ comes from a sequence she wrote to & for her mother; ‘Downhill from here…‘ was part iv. of a gift called “Mahalo…my husband,” in this case her breath-taking take on the last stage of a shared lifecycle:
Downhill from here
Whew! Besides the over-the-hill couple about to experience an imminent decline, the we in the last presumably includes her Plumb Lane buddy Kitty Houghton, a companion presence beside her throughout the poem & much of their childhood, starting in the same nursery (born days apart), country neighbors thereafter, part of each other’s family. Odds are it’s Kitty being quoted in “Look ma, no hands!” before their last leap–
[The Catherine Houghton Arts Center at New Hampshire’s White Mountain School is named for Kitty–downhill skier, classical organist, jazz musician, doctor of linguistics (fluent in 6 languages), Peace Corps Nepal & U.N. Bangladesh veteran, Dept. of Commerce foreign service officer with global postings, small plane pilot on volunteer missions (e.g., Angelflights), active member of the 99’s (women pilots), school trustee & mentor…Virginia’s lifelong friend & god-mother of her son).
Kitty dropped in every so often, in later years quite literally from the sky. Landing at a little strip at town’s edge after waving at the house, one of her last stops, included 2 young Nepali women in the little cockpit, heading east to a 99’s gathering with a film on their daring mountain missions.
Kitty’s mother, Edda, was an artist, activist & university supporter. Sam, a Harvard graduate, served a time in a state elected body. Virginia’s mother was university trained in biology. Her father, a college camping friend of Ansel Adams, had been chair of the university biology department–before becoming a national figure of historic import in the early to mid-1950s, having to leave Plumb Lane behind (twice) in the process, first to Hawaii, then the Pacific northwest.]
Like the natural world, the arts were part of Virginia’s daily living, nourishment received & experience shared. That was also part of her teaching–the art practiced as a profession, without that ever getting in the way of direct person to person relating with students, parents, colleagues.
As a teacher of the ‘gifted,’ Virginia believed that each & every child–as well as many, if not most, adults–, had been endowed with creative gifts that deserved encouragement. Notable among these is the urge for discovery. She knew that looking closely was never a matter of the eyes only, or even primarily; seeing into the heart of things involved qualities of attention & relationship that informed her science, poetry & teaching alike, expressed also in ethical example, friendship, good will & respect.
People are accustomed to associating the sciences with search & discoveries–those in the past prelude to the all the more exciting ones on the verge & in process, just being made. Poetry, for Virginia, was equally so, starting with paying attention, from which many discoveries happen as if by themselves. Poetry provided vehicles for paying attention, making discoveries, and sharing with friends–& not one kind only.
Attention involved her whole person & could operate in various modes, sometimes simultaneously–from photographic detail out of time to sensuous movement; gem-like moment snapped from the flow to inward exploration & musical reflection. Often, the adventure was just seeing where the path might go–though sometimes, she had a particular person in mind, being written to &/or for, whether still in this world or not.
Poetry provided ways for both tuning one’s instrument & communicating more fully. The instrument tuned can be called, attention, awareness, the whole feeling-thinking-sharing being, or personal experience. As voice of the experience, the poem speaks to both writer & reader, while becoming an experience in its own right, an artistic adventure with all aspects of the medium potentially at play [line & layout; sound & sense; mood, color, visual image, texture & form; rhythms of movement & stillness; feelings & thought; imagination & memory…], mostly self-arising elements in response to the moving experience, guided by the attentive seeker. Seeking what? Not necessarily anything more than the openness itself, inner listening.
Picking up the pen & setting it in any motion on the page was an invitation to pay attention, like opening the door & setting out–to a process rich with active discovery, whether memorable or not, unusual or not, intentionally focused or to discover the path more or less step by step. Many writers have noted that it was only by writing that they knew what they thought. For Virginia, thought might not be what others think thought means.
At Inspiration, for example, the family’s one-room refuge in the northern New Mexico mountains, each visit involved a log-book entry. Hers were often a shining moment or two, images arising from the land tuned into, saying more than the words–with nothing extra or commentary. (There are lots of these entries on the Pen-Play page.) Unlike some loggers, she rarely spoke about her feelings or about what she’d noticed or thought, presenting these in the snapped moment, feelings embodied not objectified.
Now it’s we who get to make discoveries, including the excitement of finding a major poetic voice fully worth wider attention in its own right, for its own value to those who may appreciate such. Reinforced by the growing body of work, that discovery takes place in particulars–line, perception, craft, concept & experience of each part & whole.