The Weather Diaries: 18 June 2017 “The Voice of the the Rain”


         The Voice of the Rain

        And who art thou? said I to the soft falling shower,
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as her translated:
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d altogether changed, and yet the same,
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin, and make pure and   beautify it;
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering,
Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns.)

Walt Whitman


In this poem, the speaker recounts a conversation he had with the falling raindrops. He asks the rain, “And who art thou?” and strangely, the rain answers, calling itself “the poem of the Earth.” The rain goes on to describe how it rises intangibly (as vapor) out of the land and sea and floats up to heaven, where it changes form and becomes a cloud. Then it falls back to Earth to refresh the drought-filled land, allowing seeds to grow into something vital and beautiful. The speaker the equates the role of the rain to a poet’s role in crafting this “song” (or poem, because Whitman refers to his poems as songs throughout Leaves of Grass). He goes on to write that the “song” is born in the poet’s heart. It leaves the poet’s soul and changes form, but is always the same at its core and eventually returns to the poet as love from his readers.

Similar to most of Whitman’s poems, “The Voice of the Rain” does not follow any specific form, rhyme scheme, or meter; it is written in free verse. It is made up of one stanza with nine distinct lines, but some of the lines are so long that they bleed into the next. The first two lines contain the speaker’s question to the rain (“And who art thou?”). The rain’s response makes up the remaining six lines. Whitman places the final line in parenthesis in order to separate the speaker’s words from the rain’s.

At the end of the poem, the speaker compares poetry to the rain – equating art with Earth’s most essential element. Here, Whitman reveals the high level of importance he put on his poems (and poetry in general). Whitman treated his poems like his children. He put all of his emotional energy into his work and then released his poems into the world like water evaporating into the air. Each reader then has a different relationship with Whitman’s words, which changes the effect of the poem while maintaining its spirit. Then, the readers rain praise, criticism, love, and hate back down onto Whitman. After that, the poem occupies a different role in the poet’s life.

Whitman’s comparison between poems and rain is demonstrative of his transcendental beliefs. Rather than associate his poetry with something modern and manmade, he instead chooses to associate it with the eternal cycles of the natural world. He wanted his work to be affecting, vital, and eternal – like nature.



Today is Diane Dammeyer 2017 Fellow Ervin Johnson’s Panel! Hope to see you there!

Ervin Johnson”s #InHonor: Monoliths: Special Exhibition on view May 2nd – May 7th 2017\

Join us for these Special Events:

Ervin Johnson

SUNDAY MAY 7th, 12-4pm Closing Reception

1-2pm Panel Discussion  with artists: Ervin Alex Johnson, Max Sansing, and Juan Fernandez, moderated by Jennifer Murray Executive Director of Filter Photo

2:30pm SLAM Poetry performance by Osiris Khepera and Mojdeh Stoakley

 Gallery19 is very excited to be collaborating with Chicago Artist Ervin Alex Johnson to present #InHonor: Monoliths, an intensely personal mixed media photographic exhibition. Mr. Johnson’s art deals with identity, disenfranchisement, and legitimacy. His work speaks to self-acceptance and social acceptance. The artist describes his project in this way:

 “#InHonor is a series of photo-based mixed media portraits made to honor blackness as it exists in its various forms. More specifically, it speaks to the violence and destruction occurring across America, in the form of police brutality. The skin color is removed from each portrait and then aggressively renegotiated. Pigment stands in for an idea or preconceived notion about a particular type of human experience. That experience is culminated and summed up in a word: Black. Questions of tangibility and digital approximations of an entire race are raised. What does a digital approximation of skin color mean and what does it mean to physically remove it and reapply it? The faces are forever transformed, just as our world is, with each loss of life.”

 Ervin A. Johnson was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from the University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign with a bachelors degree in Rhetoric he began work on his second bachelors at Columbia College Chicago in photography. Most recently he completed his MFA in photography at Savannah College of Art and Design. Ervin utilizes photo-based mixed media to re-imagine cultural and racial identity via photography and video. In his most recent body of work, #InHonor, Ervin pays homage to the lives lost to police brutality and racism.

Ervin Johnson: Diane Dammeyer 2017 Fellowship: Exhibition reception, artist talk and panel & poetry slam info.

Ervin Johnson Diane Dammeyer Fellow 2016 Exhibition opening and panel info

It is my privilege, as faculty mentor of this extraordinary award, established by one of my favorite previous students who is a great philanthropist, humanist, and photographer, to invite you all to join me in celebrating Ervin Johnson’s powerful completion of his award that takes the form of an incredible exhibition at Gallery 19 in Chicago on May 4 5-8pm with Ervin giving an artist talk at 6pm. There will also be a important panel and poetry slam as part of the closing reception on Sunday, May 7.

Look forward to seeing you there!

7 April 2017: The Ever-Changing Role of the Artist: An ongoing conversation & sources of inspiration –– W.S. Merwin

In preparation for facilitating the public screening of the 2014 documentary film on W. S. Merwin,  Even Though the Whole World Is Burning on May 8 at the Film Row Center at Columbia College Chicago in conjunction with the Merwin Conservancy, The Canary Project, and the new American Writers Museum, I’ve been reading Merwin’s collection of essays The Ends of the Earth. In the essay “The Tree on One Tree Hill”, I found particular inspiration from this: “his words convey a sense that he is not standing outside the world he is portraying but is an intimately and endlessly concerned part of it…”. (p150).

Merwin was once asked what social role a poet plays—if any—in America. He commented: “I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time. I think that’s a social role, don’t you? … We keep expressing our anger and our love, and we hope, hopelessly perhaps, that it will have some effect. But I certainly have moved beyond the despair, or the searing, dumb vision that I felt after writing The Lice; one can’t live only in despair and anger without eventually destroying the thing one is angry in defense of. The world is still here, and there are aspects of human life that are not purely destructive, and there is a need to pay attention to the things around us while they are still around us. And you know, in a way, if you don’t pay that attention, the anger is just bitterness.”

The Poetry Foundation:

The Ever-Changing Role of the Artist: An ongoing conversation.

Recently, I was invited to give two lectures at Syracuse University; one to Freshman and one as part of a visiting artist lecture series. Delighted with the invitation (SU was my first teaching gig!), I revisited a number or previous lectures I had given in the past, presuming that one of those would suffice.

But times have changed, rapidly and radically since November 11, 2016.


Over the years I’ve asked myself the question “what is the role of the artist” or perhaps a better way to say it for me is “what kind of artist do I want to be?”. Then I try to step outside of my preconceived notions of what I think an art career is, and let the answers shape, direct, and sometimes redirect my artistic practice. I’ve also wondered about what the perfect balance might be between art, activism, politics, and aesthetic pursuits.

These questions have continually dogged me, but recently, they have been plaguing me more than at any other time in my life, and I know many others as well. The inauguration of the Trump regime has been making it increasing difficult to do “business as usual”. As a socially engaged artist committed to using my work as a point of engagement, I realized I have a platform, everyday, every week in my classroom, and as a visiting artist speaking with aspiring artists around the country, providing me with the perfect opportunity to ask questions and offer encouragement to step up to the plate and challenge ourselves to not be silent, and to make art that matters.

Even though SU wasn’t a prestigious venue perhaps, like speaking at Yale or Harvard or metaphorically “loud” like the Golden Globes (love you Meryl), my talk wouldn’t be posted on the TED Talk website or YouTube, and it wasn’t going to televised. The first lecture was to a group of freshman in the class “Context Studies” taught by DJ Hellerman, the innovative and energetic new curator at the Everson Art Museum, and the second lecture was to a collective of undergrads and grads required to attend as part of their curriculum. Also in attendance was a smattering of dedicated faculty due to either loyalty or wanting to support artists in general, or their own art curiosity, despite the crush of responsibilities that makes their own personal and studio time very precious and no doubt, dwindling.

So, for Syracuse University, I created a new group of lectures that emphasized our responsibility to speak up, to invite my “young” audience to join me in questioning the role of the artist today, and to use whatever means necessary, (for me that includes the power of the image and the emotional arrows of art) to go straight to the heart of the questions of what is happening today. The enormous ripples of consequence these actions cause will be felt for years to come, and we must utilize every opportunity to invite others to join us in conversation that challenges and questions.

D.J. Hellerman states “one of the most significant [ways that art is important] is the way art brings people together to talk about critical issues that are impacting our lives. For me, it’s about making connections that deepen our understanding of the world and sense of community. Art instigates our imagination and that is where possibility can lead to real change.” Pretty good place to start for a conversation with formative artists.

To be continued….



Earth2Trump info


Resistance Roadshow
A cross-country tour to resist Trump

Jan. 15, 2017earth2trumpmap1140earth2trumpmap1140earth2trumpmap1140earth2trumpmap1140
Live Music • Send a message to trump • Join the national movement
6 – 8:30 P.M.
Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center
4046 W Armitage Ave, 60639
The Earth2Trump roadshow is rallying and empowering defenders of civil rights and the
environment to resist Trump’s dangerous agenda. Stopping in 16 cities on its
way to Washington, D.C., it will bring thousands of people to protest
at the presidential inauguration.
!e shows feature national and local speakers, great musicians,
and an opportunity to join a growing movement of resistance
to all forms of oppression and all attacks on our environment.
We must stand and oppose every Trump policy that
hurts wildlife; poisons our air and water; destroys our
climate; promotes racism, misogyny or homophobia; and
marginalizes entire segments of our society.
Join us in your community to send a powerful, unwavering
Earth2Trump message that oppression and environmental
destruction will not be tolerated.
A Project of the Center for Biological Diversity


My dear friend Christine Skolnik at the Center for Biological Diversity, has asked me to spread the word:  Earth2Trump Roadshow of Resistance Rally in Chicago, under the auspices of, …hope to see you all there!

January 15th, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people and text

More information here:


The Weather Diaries: Stormy weather, robots and the will to create


With my ritual of coffee and Sunday New York Times in full swing, I texted a photograph of a playful mention of robots to my dear friend Scott McCarney, brilliant visual book artist in Rochester New York who shares my quirky sense of humor that balances precariously with the reality of life and love of all things robot.  His response resonated with a quip “I think robot and space alien themes will be big this year”, in an oblique reference to the Presidential election outcome and our collective dismay.

Teju Cole sums up my feelings beautifully in his “On Photography” column of Taryn Simon’s recent photographs about how power works. He states:

“The shock of that morning’s election result was not mine alone. I lay in bed in grief and confusion. I was not merely ‘sad’. I was derailed. All of my work suddenly seemed pointless. It was so difficult for me to organize thoughts into language that I felt as if I’d had a stroke…The return of the ability to write felt like resistance,the reclamation of an insight: Even at the worst of times, there is nothing pointless about the work we do as critics or artists.”

04mag-04onphoto-t_CA0-master1050.jpgFrom the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital by photographer Taryn Simon 2016

Simon’s photographs seemed perfectly and poignantly funerary. Her powerful use of color paired with the utmost minimalism and simplicity of the backgrounds allow us to contemplate the flowers as metaphors of both beauty and mortality in the same fraction of a second.

Cole states “Powerful men (it is usually men) meet to sign some papers. Afterward, the world is not the same. And yet few of those whole lives are altered by whatever was signed could conceivably trace their circumstances to that event. All they know – all most of us know – is that there are powerful forces in the world that shape our day to day realities. Simon’s project brings the scattered light of those forces to clear point of attention.”

I am grateful for Cole’s insistence and clarity. Getting on with it, making art that matters, that touches lives, that reveals fundamental truths; Cole reminds me to just get on with it after weeks of paralysis.  Back to work despite predictions of stormy weather.


Clouds of Uncertainty


Much like weather systems that move around the globe, the ripple effects of the events of the past couple weeks will be felt around the world.

Most of the people in my everyday world – students, friends, colleagues, family, and professions working in the arts – I’ve been stunned and saddened by the events in the last few weeks. I don’t and can’t presume to know what and how the ripple effects of the election will play out, but I can  try to understand the ever widening impact will be touched by America’s choice to undo the check and balances that have historically defined our democracy.

James R. DeLisle writes “Hurricane Katrina forever changed the lives of individuals and the way we think about natural disasters. As the recovery efforts continue – 10 years post-Katrina – so do the debates over what went wrong, what went right, and what to do about it. These debates have several dimensions. First, there is the national security issue and what we need to do to improve our hazard-response systems. Second, there is the issue of how to deal with the people and businesses whose lives have been shattered or disrupted. Third is the question of what, where, when, and how we rebuild public and private infrastructure and facilities in the devastated regions. Finally, there is the debate over the question of how much this will cost, how it will be financed, and who will bear the costs.”

What is particularly numbing is when I contemplate the ripple effects that the choices that will be made in the next 4 years will wrought.

Trying to fathom the unfathomable


Today is a very unusual post since I originally created this blog to write about my work, its environmental themes while attempting to unravel and share my creative process. But I, like most artists, consider ourselves cultural authors along with a lot of other things, and we are deeply and profoundly enmeshed in world.  I am compelled to offer this as some sort of explanation for my foray into politics.

This past weekend, my friends – Icelander Sigrun and her German husband Mathias – visited me while vacationing in the States.  They spend half their year in Iceland, 20 km from Solheimer Glacier, running Sigrun’s ancestral farm as a B&B (what is know as a farm-stay in Iceland), and the other half of the year they live in Berlin, where Mathias is an assistant principal of a special needs school. It was wonderful to see them and spend time together.

However, it seemed that no matter who we were meeting up with, or sharing a meal with, the conversation always turned to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Sigrun and Mathias repeatedly tried to discover an explanation for what most of the rest of Europe, if not the world, wondered: What the hell is going on in America with this election? No matter who joined the conversation over the weekend, we all admitted we were baffled and could not actually grasp how someone like Trump could emerge as a serious presidential contender and actually be taken seriously.

A horrifying echo of history emerged this morning while I was reading the New York Times Book Review’s analysis of the new book Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich. The reviewer, Adam Kirsch, begins by explaining that Hitler was a unremarkable loser who never made a mark on the world by his 30th birthday in 1919. Kirsch explains further: “Ever since Hitler came to power in 1933, writers have been trying to fathom him, and he is already the subject of [thousands of] major biographies. He goes on: “The goal of these books is to ‘explain’ Hitler…because even when we know all the facts, his story remains incredible, unacceptable. How could so insignificant a man have become so potent a force for evil? How could the world have allowed it to happen? And always, the unspoken fear: Could it happen again?” (my italics).

Kirsch describes Ullrich’s book as he maps “Hitler’s ruthless maneuvers to unravel the unpopular Weimar Republic, aided by the widespread despair over hyperinflation and the Great Depression, until his triumphant elevation to the chancellorship. Notably the Nazis  never won a majority of the vote in any free election. Hitler came to power because other, more respectable politicians thought they would be able to control him.” Sound familiar?

Kirsch goes on: “Once in office, Hitler quickly proved them wrong. With dizzying speed, he banned and imprisoned political opponents [think of his threat to do this to Hillary during the last debate], had his party rivals murdered, overrode the constitution and made himself the center of a cult of personality…”. Sound familiar?

More: “These moves did not dent Hitler’s popularity. On the contrary, after years of internecine ideological warfare, the German people went wild with enthusiasm for a man who claimed to be above politics.” Sound familiar?

Anyone, or any party, that thinks they can control Trump is dead wrong. If they haven’t been able to control him during the presidential campaign, what makes them think they can control him after, should he win the election?

If they think Trump will follow the script they are wrong. The six million Jews, and the tens of millions of soldiers killed in World War II, had never seen or heard a script like the one Hitler wrote, and they seemed to never quite fathom what was happening to them while the rest of the world slept. We are currently living echos of history: what is now gingerly called the Great Recession, joblessness, huge masses of people forced from homes running for their and their children’s lives displaced, societal and political upheaval; all lay the groundwork for unrest, instability, and despair in our society, creating a perfect storm that is ripe for a sociopath like Trump. We know this based upon the millions of words written to fathom a sociopath like Hitler. Trump is walking in his footsteps ready to take advantage of anyone and anything. How do we know this isn’t just “locker room banter”? His is a life long pattern of egomaniacal behavior that consistently displays a total and complete lack of conscience. Lie, cheat, and steal is his modus-operandi, and pathetically, its usually those less fortunate that he preys upon.

We still have not been able to fathom the unfathomable. Could it happen again? Never forget. Never Trump.




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