“Salting the earth and other updates”



Writing in real time! Things move so fast; the words need to get out there before reaching swift obsolescence. The newest visual work is done – a series including Dominant Spheres, a large four-paneled acrylic painting on gessoed paper and the related Dying Spheres group of collaged, gessoed papers. The Dying Spheres in particular are not easy – I long to hide them in the drawer. A sudden realization – the deeply organic asymmetry of these latest spheres disturbs and causes me uneasiness, while the clean circles of the earlier Spheres of Destiny & Variants, Swingeing Spots, Big Looming Assemblages, and Spots of Retribution are the outcome of pleasing geometric play and design-based color despite conveying their own darkness.

Three new poems are posted as well here.

This post is not easy to finish – it has been in progress for several days. Words pour out, so much to say. The difficulty is removing the rant, offering a piece of reality which somehow doesn’t pierce, drown, suffocate – and some hook to grasp as we try to hoist ourselves up out of this sordid cesspool. Here goes.

So the race has been called and Trump has lost (does he ever really lose?) despite all the crazy noise and destruction. We can hope he’ll eventually recede into a nightmare memory. Right now, how hard it is to loosen trauma’s grip. A genius trickster – we are still being messed with, because the trickster still deals. It is an empty hand. It is a big fist.

The quiet on the street and within was palpable immediately after election day. I truly had no idea how much frenzied static had been absorbed and internalized. Trauma! Trump is a rapist. He has raped the US – knocked it up, given it syphilis, robbed it blind, tarnished its reputation, spit on and severed it from family and friends, and thrown it out on the street. The country has a lot of recovering to do. Each and every one of us.

This is what we must absorb:
Steve Bannon saying he wants Dr. Fauci’s head impaled on the White House fence…. slippery snakes, clattering beasts hoofs tapping out orders shrouded in transparent code…

…Trump refusing to concede – predictable, but what next? His government refusing to be part of a transition, obstructing, destructing; some few rats jumping ship but most holding fast, some of the lemmings possibly backing off from the precipice…

but only to where we all were before. The chasms and anger that brought this on in the first place are wider and deeper than ever. Will the center hold? Is the center the answer?

As sometimes happens, circumstance and the challenge of the moment can bring someone to a higher place. We can only hope this will be the case with Biden. All the terrible problems have fused into one great disaster; to repair one problem necessitates the repair of all. It is certainly a gargantuan task Biden faces, after the past four destructive years of division, theft, lies, hate, and death. If he cannot successfully bring sanity, health and a modicum of security to the country, it won’t be a pretty picture. The backlash to such a failure to fix would be ferocious. Meanwhile, here we are in this bizarre moment when the loser digs in his heels and punches out in every direction. What happens if he refuses in the end, to leave? That’s the million dollar question on everyone’s lips, tormenting everyone’s brain. What more, with lightning speed and subhuman cruelty will he do to us, to the country, to the world? Truly he is salting the earth.

Will the US Senate return to a Democratic majority? Two January Georgia reruns will tell. American democracy always hangs by a wire, but now it’s by a thread, a hair. Will Bernie Sanders become the Secretary of Labor? One can guess. Will the Republican Senators remain lockstep in the footprints of their former leader if and when he’s gone? Whatever the outcome, it won’t be what we wanted but may be just barely enough – or is it too late?

However this all plays out, the most fearful aspect is the roughly 48.3% who support this madman, apparently gone twisted mad, kool-aid in hand, ready to follow the menace of mirage, merging into a blur of evil. Or is it “just” ignorance and banal moral laziness? Either way, the knowing mind shudders. We have already seen where this ends.

The impossible impulse to flee rises repeatedly in the gorge – how primal, how embedded – but to where? Will we ever again have that freedom of movement or funds or strength for that matter? Who knows how things will devolve or mutate around the world. What will be left of our earth? What part of our now longed-for past life was freedom, what part profligate?

Meanwhile the virus, like a grossly unwelcome guest or conquering brute continues to intrude and invade everywhere. In Vermont the numbers are still relatively low but suddenly spiking, while elsewhere they soar. Why should they not? The masked and maskless go about their business. Denial is everywhere, masquerading as rage or optimism. Scorn the messengers.

Absorbing these intense realities is daunting. We are not built for this. I continue to work, which helps the balancing act although new realities penetrate and what is made mirrors these realities. It is painful to bear such fruit, but to hold back is impossible.

I open and close my poetry books, looking for words that speak to my soul. Brecht comes closest, for obvious reasons.

The last few weeks lingered warm, echoing early September. Like a vertigo, the strange warmth disoriented since we had already had snowfalls of some significance and tending the wood-fire had become a regular part of our routine. But now it truly is November; windows have been shut, the weather is a cold grey and the wood-stove is hot. Nothing in the garden but parsley and collards, the elderberry syrup is done.

Ending now with a poem by Bertolt Brecht and another by Attila József :


What use is goodness …

What use is goodness
When the goodly are at once struck down or else those are struck down
To whom they are good?

What use is freedom
When the free have to live amongst the unfree?

What use is reason
When only unreason will procure the food that a body needs.

Instead of merely being good, exert yourselves
To create conditions conducive to goodness, or better still:
That make it superfluous!

Instead of merely being free, exert yourselves
To create conditions which make everyone free
And make the love of freedom

Instead of merely being reasonable, exert yourselves
To create conditions which make the unreason of the few
A poor business.

Bertolt Brecht
Uncollected poems 1934-1936

The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht
Translated and edited by Tom Kuhn and David Constantine
Liveright Publishing. 2018



Be a Fool!

Be a fool! Don’t worry, freedom in this age
is only for fools. We are imprisoned
by our ideals, jumping like frenzied
apes rattling the bars of their cage.

Be a fool! Benevolence and peace
are only for fools. An order of some kind
will come to settle over your heart
like scum in a riverbed.

Be a fool! If you are slandered, don’t whimper.
You cannot win, but you won’t be a loser.
Be as idiotic as death will be, at last.

This way you will never speak a false word,
you will be calm, collected, strong, and free –
a welcome tableguest in future and past.

Attila József
Winter Night. Selected Poems by Attila József
translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki
Oberlin College Press. 1997


That’s today’s update from one corner of our careening world.

– Diane Sophrin
  Vermont. 11.16.20




“Time, in the Great Collapse – new works, thoughts and poems”





Time, in the middle of the Great Collapse, to post new works and another small poem entitled When the Heart Bleeds; also, some thoughts on Budapest artists, contemplations on fascism and more Brecht.

The new works, Swingeing Spots, can be seen here. What are these circles and why do I keep doing them? They began in 2019 with the Black Spots of Winter and I have been doing these ever since. Am I taking the easy way out by continuing to follow this thread? I do see the obvious referencing of natural structure, reflecting an ailing nature. Now we are at one with nature. But is that enough?

The form and content begin with a simple attraction of the eye. It’s the eye that guides now, not arbitrary yet not consciously meaningful. Is it just automatic form-making? I don’t really need to know this. The point is that I have neither used up these forms nor this particular media, although under different circumstances other forms, other media could do the job equally well. Not arbitrariness but fluency?

But why this apparent invisibility of the hand? There is no brushwork, little gestural mark-making. The application of color and tone, the creation of texture are all created by basic printing processes – offset, relief, stencil, transfer. Is this legitimate? Why not? The essence of a print being pressure rather than duplication (although that sometimes occurs), in this case simple pressure of the hand itself is where manual expression comes into play, the physical assertion of a human hand at work. I am satisfied.

It’s been nearly two years since visiting the Budapest studio of László Alföldi (here) and Éva T. Horvath (here). Éva’s powerful relief collages and 3D constructions and László’s nuanced paper prints both left a strong impression. I was particularly drawn to László’s technique of layering multiple sheets of freshly inked papers under pressure, then peeling the layers apart to create compelling visual textural effects. I don’t know if I have unconsciously revisited his process in my newest work or if I, following my own independent thread, have found myself in an overlapping spot of commonality. I don’t really need to know this either. It’s enough, I think, to point with acknowledgement and appreciation in his direction.

Suddenly and inevitably the mind swings without warning from Budapest back to Vermont – and to what has become My American House Arrest. Being forced to cancel the fall flight (the fourth cancellation) with no idea of plan or future stuns. I have yet to inform my Hungarian friends and colleagues but that will happen next. Alternative ideas for my fall Book of Chaos exhibition at the Nyitott Műhely (Open Workshop) emerge slowly and must be explored.

Meanwhile, It’s always there – an imperative to write about this mammoth realignment of reality. Navigating this new and strange present continuous, absorbing this many-pronged assault consumes an undefinable portion of the psyche. Last night, exhausted by the day’s events, a sense of being unmoored took over. The mind churns in the substrate, trying ceaselessly to comprehend, define and respond appropriately in both personal and political contexts.

“Call to Arms- new assemblages, new poems, new decade, more Brecht”



Time for more words, on the start of an eighth decade. What a heavily weighted time to face such a marker – not so much for celebration though we tried our best. So I put the bookmark between the pages and now re-opening to the paper stub, can observe how far in this book I have progressed.

The newest works are titled Big Looming Assemblages – not so much because they loom. I have just posted a new short poem titled Big Looming which tries to describes what in fact does loom.

Some logistical questions surfaced this morning over breakfast; where and how to obtain what food. Still not ready to post Brecht’s Dream of a Great Bellyache. That well may come later, when it is felt.

Following that conversation, more significant questions percolate and clamour from the depths. I seem to be calm about giving up small things in life, but how many of these small things does one give up before the fabric of self starts to fray or tear? Of what is the self composed? How much change gives opportunity to challenge and expand the self, at what point does the scale tip and compromise identity? Some rise, others fall. We are not there yet, far to go, but are moving with startling speed towards the bend in the road that others in the past have traversed, beyond which there is no return.

Questions that are about small challenges, but of course then there are the big ones, those that truly loom. About the common good, about the big plans, about movement, about freedom, about history, about fascism.

On that note, one part of a long poem by Bertolt Brecht:


Call to arms

We hear, you have been taken sick with tuberculosis
We entreat you; see this
Not as a turn of fate, but
As an attack by the oppressors, who
Exposed you, poorly clothed and in damp housing
To hunger. That is how you were made sick.
We charge you take up the struggle at once
Against sickness and against oppression
With all possible cunning, rigour and tenacity
As a part of our great struggle, which
Has to be waged from a position of weakness
In utter misery, and in which
Everything is permitted which will aid our victory, a victory
Which is the victory of humanity over the scum of the earth.
We await your return, as soon as possible
To your post, comrade.

– Bertolt Brecht. Svendborg Poems. 1939.
  Translated by Tom Kuhn and David Constantine