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, where “Downhill…” begins, its we presumably includes her Plumb Lane buddy Kitty Houghton, a companion presence 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, Dept. of Commerce foreign service officer with global postings, small plane pilot on volunteer missions (e.g., Angelflights), active member of the 99’s (group of women pilots), school trustee & mentor….
As Virginia’s lifelong friend & son’s god-mother, 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 all crowded together heading east to a 99’s gathering (with a film Kitty had a hand in about the Nepali women’s daring missions).
Kitty’s mother, Edda, was an artist, activist & university supporter. Her father, Sam, was a Harvard grad who’d served a time in some 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, forcing the family away from Plumb Lane (twice) in the process, first to Hawaii, then the Pacific northwest.
It’s an amazing story in Nevada & American history, referenced in national news coverage, though not yet fully told. It may have had a profound effect on Virginia’s sense of fairness, justice, and right action. The effect might be best attributed to her father’s example, and that of other ‘good people’ who joined in the fight, including (besides neighbors) some well-known luminaries in literature, academia & the judiciary.
Such people became part of her sense of identity, along with others she knew from the page, but did not leave there. She took them off the page, both into herself & sharing with others, as with Anne Frank, whom she played in a high school production. Like the people with whom she felt shared identity, places also became part of her, starting with Plumb Lane, nearby mountains & deserts, & Hawaii….]
one more hula
under the blue sky
So she spoke near the end, facing a near last dawn, her arms moving with gentle grace, one of the last times sitting up, writing in the air. Her son put her words on paper. A few days earlier, she’d recalled the sense of springing from a high diving board, with the flash of mountains upside down soon after. Wherever she was, it seems, she absorbed that place deep into herself, including Cambridge, Paris, Spain, North Texas, India, Japan, &, for nearly a half century, northern New Mexico–the town of Las Vegas &, twenty miles north, “the land.”
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 only art she practiced professionally, though without putting that in the way of direct relating with students, parents, & colleagues as people. The teaching came first, but she also put in the time necessary for managing the paperwork & other responsibilities, in contrast to her work in the arts practiced as an amateur, i.e., unpaid, purely for the love of it.
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, or person, that feeling-thinking-sharing being responsive to experience. The poem becomes the voice of the experience, speaking to writer & reader while becoming an experience in its own right, an artistic adventure, any & all aspects of the medium potentially at play, mostly self-arising elements.
Guided by the attentive seeker, the pen links inner & outer, poet & page, friend & friend, partners moving in response to the experience, what’s discovered, revealed, shared, feeling its way. Seeking what? Not necessarily anything more than the openness itself, inner listening, with feedback to feeling & thought from line & layout, sound & sense; mood, color, visual image, texture & form; rhythms of movement & stillness; imagination & memory….
Picking up the pen & setting it in relation to a page was an invitation for Virginia to pay attention, like opening the door & setting out–a process rich with active discovery, whether memorable or not, unusual or not, intentionally focused on discovering the path more or less step by step. Not necessarily “where it led” so much as the path itself. 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–without commentary, nothing extra. (There are lots of such entries on the Pen-Play page.) Unlike some loggers, she rarely spoke about her feelings or even 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 so fully worth our attention. For us, as for the poet, the rewards of such tuning in are direct & tangible, experienced in particulars–the feeling of a line, the connectedness of a perception, the empathy of experience, the integrity of relationship. Craft & concept emerge together feelingly, part & whole reinforced by dancing together.
Something similar seems to be emerging from the growing body of work being found & transcribed. We knew she was a master of the Basho moment, the keen perception overflowing with more than is said. We knew she was a person of integral relations–with the land & other people, caring & sharing, so the many poems that are letters shouldn’t perhaps be such a surprise. Even those who knew her love of music may not have realized how much her experience of the classical repertoire meant to her, or the depth of its connection with some of the poetry made in solitude, listening….