Dating My Wardrobe: Space Poetics of Innisfree

I have to admit, I am a space snob. I break-out into a cold sweat if I so much as glance at spotty window panes, with dusty Red Rose tea figurines lining the windowsills (watching me with glazed eyes!), or a muted room with popcorn ceilings, and diabolical fluorescent lights clinging to its pocked surface, shedding an ill-light. I have freaked-out on outings with perfectly lovely friends who are more hardy, and genetically made to withstand harsh lines, and sallow lighting. In the middle of a friendly conversation about suggested books, I will tell you now that I am not listening. If I’m in a disorderly place, my mind will wander, fixed on a point of particular ugliness, and focus on that ugliness until I blurt out,” I’m sorry, what were you saying? I think I have to leave….immediately.”

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marsh mallows, and rock walls of Innisfree

And this is why I visit beautiful places, and choose to be romantically involved with my clothes. Sentient beings just don’t understand me the way that my darling wardrobe does. Maybe it’s because they just don’t have any brains, but I believe it’s because my clothing is the most accommodating companion that I know.

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Moi, pre-heat stroke

To celebrate my long-lasting relationship with my wardrobe, I decide to take my dear 1960s gingham skirt, and yellow silk shell on a romantic romp through one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth– Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY; The early twentieth-century country residence of Walter Beck, and wife Marion Burt Beck. This is a romantic poetic space, where my senses are refreshed at every turn.

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cup garden view 

Innisfree Garden is known as a cup garden– a term which Walter Beck coined to describe the intimate garden vignettes which existed within the larger scheme of a more naturalistic garden landscape. During the 1930s, Walter Beck came across scroll paintings of 8th century Chinese artist and garden creator, Wang Wei’s Wangchuan Villa design.

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portion of Wang Wei’s painted scroll of Wanchuan Villa

Utilizing the natural shape of the landscape as the foundation, and creating inward focused and hidden gardens within the overall landscape was a departure from western garden philosophy, which sought to create a uniform and open design scheme. Struck by a concept which encouraged exploration and discovery, and working with the indigenous plants on the property, Beck, along with his gardener wife, Marion, began the fifty some-odd-year development of Innisfree Garden.

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While the theoretical framework, and botanical bones of the garden were in place, it wasn’t until landscape architect Lester Collins came into the picture that the space really began to take shape. The Becks and Collins met in 1938, as Collins was studying English at Harvard University, and traveling with fellow student, John Ormsbee Simonds, to Asia. It was in the balmy breath of spring in 1938 that the fruitful partnership between the Becks and Collins began– a collaborative effort which would produce one of the most profoundly gorgeous spaces on the planet.

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Upon his return from the “Far East,” Lester Collins enrolled in the Master of Landscape Architecture Program of Harvard’s School of Design, receiving his degree in 1942. Here he was met with blossoming ideas of American modernism, which quite naturally complimented “Eastern” design philosophy. However, his career would have to wait, as World War II engulfed whole societies in its growing wake. Collins served in the British Eighth Army from 1942-1945. After which, he returned to America and became a professor of landscape architecture, and later the Dean of Harvard’s School of Design.

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Lester Collin’s quest to expand his breadth of knowledge was a lifelong passion. In 1954, he studied traditional Japanese Garden design and construction methods as a Fulbright Scholar, working with a Japanese scholar to translate the eleventh-century Japanese text Sakuteiki–literally “records of garden making.” This detailed record outlined the styles of gardening in the Heian period, defining gardening as a poetic aesthetic endeavor, in which the designer created from feelings, and responded to the physical characteristics of the site. This ancient methodology was artfully employed by Collins as he worked on the gardens of Innisfree from the 1940s until 1993, responding to the natural character of the terrain with sensitivity and whimsy.

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Innisfree is a space which meets at the intersection between emerging American modernism, ancient Chinese and Japanese aesthetic philosophy, and the Hudson Valley’s inherent natural beauty.  At this point of intersection, I decided to rest a while. The day which I visited in late July boasted 100 degree temperatures, and maximum humidity. The air around me felt like the inside of the moist mouth of a giant dog. Only the cool mist of the modern water fountain, and the shade of a teacup nook could rescue me from this dog-day of summer.

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Despite the air quality, the garden was so beautiful that I wandered from one garden vignette to the next without even noticing that I was massively dehydrated, and overheated. I may be a great lover of my wardrobe, and a fantastic date, but I have never gotten the hang of hydrating. I can drink a cup of coffee or tea, but it never occurs to me to drink water until my cells are shriveling-up, and my tongue feels like an old dried-up piece of hard tack from the Civil War era.

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Heat Stroke, or swooning from passion???

I had to apologize to my dear ’60s ensemble, and sit down in an ivy shrouded nook to rest for a while. I collapsed against the cool stone of an outdoor staircase, my gingham skirt swooning as I reposed. And while I retired like a sweating lump in the most gorgeous garden in the Hudson Valley, I looked out into the verdant landscape, and felt a sense of complete tranquility. Perhaps it was the heat stroke which made me feel as if I was in a lucid dream, but I truly was transported.

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I was a million miles away, in a poetic space, which is never bound by the physical parameters of the land. It is here that I like to dwell, along with my sweetheart wardrobe. This is the space where I stay a while.

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Hot Date With Myself (or Dating My Wardrobe), No 8. Kaaterskill Falls

Well, if you have been reading my posts thus far, you’ll detect a sickening smidgeon of sadness to my narrative. Apparently, it takes about a year for my brain to process and come to terms with the fact that ANYONE would ever want to dump moi! How could they?! Fast forward to one year later, and I don’t give a damn…in the best possible way. I realized that, after a year of what I supposed was dating myself, was really a long romantic engagement with my vintage wardrobe. I hand selected only the luckiest of my dated threads to accompany me on my journey to historic sites, beaches, waterfalls, you name it! My relationship with my vintage wardrobe has proven to be the most durable and faithful of all past relationships– weathering athletic trips over fences and guardrails, occasional mood swings, and loooong car rides, listening to Iggy pop’s “Passenger” on loop.

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For date number 8 in June, I decided to wash away the old sad-sap Laura. Cleans myself of any residual remorse, or tendency to feel sorry for myself, and rise like a 1970s disco inferno phoenix from the proverbial ash heap which I had become. I decided that a world renown waterfall, and some brightly hued 1970s garb would be the perfect symbolic materials for my rebirth as a slightly cantankerous, but stylish lady of letters. Nestled somewhere in the Catskill mountains of New York existed my salvation!

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Thomas Cole, oil on canvas, “The Falls of Kaaterskill.” 1826

Why did I choose Kaaterskill Falls to wash away my sappy sins? Because it’s an absolutely stunning place (if you can arrive early enough in the morning to avoid the crowds), and there are two tiers of deliciously cold, tumbling white water which spill from a Crescent-shape shelf of rock, as if it were the rim of heaven! Artists, photographers, and writers were drawn to this area, centuries before I showed-up in a 70’s crop top with a psychedelic peacock print. The Hudson River School of the 19th century was particularly fond of Kaaterskill Falls, with the likes of Thomas Cole capturing the falls in his oil painting, “The Falls of Kaaterskill,” 1826.

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In 1836, poet William Cullen Bryant was inspired by the mists of the falls to write the romantic poem, “Catterskill Falls.” It begins quite accurately,

“Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps,
From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;
All summer he moistens his verdant steeps
With the sweet light spray of the mountain springs;
And he shakes the woods on the mountain side,
When they drip with the rains of autumn-tide.”

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Bearing the romantic words of Bryant in mind, I ascended the rocky, root-riddled trails– and eventual staircases– of Kaaterskill Falls, making sure to hike-up the lengths of my 1970s vintage maxi skirt. As a word of advice and caution, always hold-up your maxi skirt when you’re hiking-up a steeply graded mountain. You’ll trip, and slip otherwise! So, proceeding in a romantic mood, and with safety, I finally reached the falls. Because I began my trip early in the morning, there were only a hand-full of tourists at the bottom falls. When I reached the rocky pool of the top-tier waterfall, I realized that I had entered into a prime area of passion: the waterfalls were heavy with rain waters, and I was all alone with my lovely vintage crop top and skirt set. Swoon!

 

 

Aside from taking a few photos of me flirting on the shores of the waterfall, I did eventually go for a swim, thus completing my ritual task of cleansing myself of sad Laura. The Laura who called her fiends-up late at night for consolation, after watching Steel Magnolias in her bed. The old Laura who felt foolishly sentimental every time she saw orange juice in the supermarket, because it reminded her of her ex. The old Laura who was getting really exhausted by the full-time job of feeling sorry for herself. Bye, babe! Gone!

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I emerged from those frosty June waters as a newer, wiser, wetter woman. And while the cotton of my vintage dress clung to my newly born form, I went out into the summer of 2018 with a vengeance!

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William Cullen Bryant’s Complete poem:

“Catterkill Falls”

Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps,
From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;
All summer he moistens his verdant steeps
With the sweet light spray of the mountain springs;
And he shakes the woods on the mountain side,
When they drip with the rains of autumn-tide.

But when, in the forest bare and old,
The blast of December calls,
He builds, in the starlight clear and cold,
A palace of ice where his torrent falls,
With turret, and arch, and fretwork fair,
And pillars blue as the summer air.

For whom are those glorious chambers wrought,
In the cold and cloudless night?
Is there neither spirit nor motion of thought
In forms so lovely, and hues so bright?
Hear what the gray-haired woodmen tell
Of this wild stream and its rocky dell.

‘Twas hither a youth of dreamy mood,
A hundred winters ago,
Had wandered over the mighty wood,
When the panther’s track was fresh on the snow,
And keen were the winds that came to stir
The long dark boughs of the hemlock fir.

Too gentle of mien he seemed and fair,
For a child of those rugged steeps;
His home lay low in the valley where
The kingly Hudson rolls to the deeps;
But he wore the hunter’s frock that day,
And a slender gun on his shoulder lay.

And here he paused, and against the trunk
Of a tall gray linden leant,
When the broad clear orb of the sun had sunk
From his path in the frosty firmament,
And over the round dark edge of the hill
A cold green light was quivering still.

And the crescent moon, high over the green,
From a sky of crimson shone,
On that icy palace, whose towers were seen
To sparkle as if with stars of their own;
While the water fell with a hollow sound,
‘Twixt the glistening pillars ranged around.

Is that a being of life, that moves
Where the crystal battlements rise?
A maiden watching the moon she loves,
At the twilight hour, with pensive eyes?
Was that a garment which seemed to gleam
Betwixt the eye and the falling stream?

‘Tis only the torrent tumbling o’er,
In the midst of those glassy walls,
Gushing, and plunging, and beating the floor
Of the rocky basin in which it falls.
‘Tis only the torrent–but why that start?
Why gazes the youth with a throbbing heart?

He thinks no more of his home afar,
Where his sire and sister wait.
He heeds no longer how star after star
Looks forth on the night as the hour grows late.
He heeds not the snow-wreaths, lifted and cast
From a thousand boughs, by the rising blast.

His thoughts are alone of those who dwell
In the halls of frost and snow,
Who pass where the crystal domes upswell
From the alabaster floors below,
Where the frost-trees shoot with leaf and spray,
And frost-gems scatter a silvery day.

“And oh that those glorious haunts were mine!”
He speaks, and throughout the glen
Thin shadows swim in the faint moonshine,
And take a ghastly likeness of men,
As if the slain by the wintry storms
Came forth to the air in their earthly forms.

There pass the chasers of seal and whale,
With their weapons quaint and grim,
And bands of warriors in glittering mail,
And herdsmen and hunters huge of limb.
There are naked arms, with bow and spear,
And furry gauntlets the carbine rear.

There are mothers–and oh how sadly their eyes
On their children’s white brows rest!
There are youthful lovers–the maiden lies,
In a seeming sleep, on the chosen breast;
There are fair wan women with moonstruck air,
The snow stars flecking their long loose hair.

They eye him not as they pass along,
But his hair stands up with dread,
When he feels that he moves with that phantom throng,
Till those icy turrets are over his head,
And the torrent’s roar as they enter seems
Like a drowsy murmur heard in dreams.

The glittering threshold is scarcely passed,
When there gathers and wraps him round
A thick white twilight, sullen and vast,
In which there is neither form nor sound;
The phantoms, the glory, vanish all,
With the dying voice of the waterfall.

Slow passes the darkness of that trance,
And the youth now faintly sees
Huge shadows and gushes of light that dance
On a rugged ceiling of unhewn trees,
And walls where the skins of beasts are hung,
And rifles glitter on antlers strung.

On a couch of shaggy skins he lies;
As he strives to raise his head,
Hard-featured woodmen, with kindly eyes,
Come round him and smooth his furry bed
And bid him rest, for the evening star
Is scarcely set and the day is far.

They had found at eve the dreaming one
By the base of that icy steep,
When over his stiffening limbs begun
The deadly slumber of frost to creep,
And they cherished the pale and breathless form,
Till the stagnant blood ran free and warm.

 

 

 

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My Muses: Erato and Anais Nin

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Erato. The muse of love poetry. If I were to assign a mortal woman to Erato’s position, I can’t think of any gal more suited to inspire romance than Anais Nin—writer of erotica, memoirist of passion. Born in France to Cuban parents in 1903, Anais began her life amid the peaceful haze of the Belle Epoch (between the tumult of the Franco Prussian War and the First World War), but the modernization of post WWI west would sweep her away into a world of desire and liberation for women.

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Anais was not one for conformity. She left school at age sixteen and later became an artist’s model, thumbing her nose at “lady-like” behavior. It was at this time that she also left the Catholic Church in the dust, drawn instead, perhaps, to the temple of love! However, Nin did not cultivate her sense for amore until she happened upon a tantalizing collection of French erotica, belonging to an American man (living in France). While she and her family rented this American man’s apartment for the summer, Nin could pore over steamy sentences of his naughty book collection. The fates had thrown Anais and “smutty” novels together. She would never be the same.

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Beyond reading fiction, Nin cultivated a sense of her own sexuality through her various high-profile romances. She was the lover of Henry Miller, and wrote of her desire for his wife, June, in her diary. Clearly, the scope of passion and love were ever growing in Nin, as was her sense of self-possession. Anais Nin had also been keeping a diary since she was eleven years old, and would continue to keep it for over sixty years. Her penchant for writing came in handy when she was strapped for cash during the 1940’s. It was at this time that Nin, Henry Miller and her band of merry writer friends began writing erotica, for an anonymous collector, at a dollar a page. Decades later, Nin published these lust-filled narratives in two books: Delta of Venus and Little Birds.

 

Here are a few selected excerpts from her erotic novels:

 

“He was in that state of fire that she loved. She wanted to be burnt.” – Delta of Venus

 

“He had not touched me. He did not need to. His presence had affected me in such a way that I felt as if he had caressed me for a long time.” – Delta of Venus

 

“With her eyes alone she could give this response, the absolutely erotic response, as if febrile waves were trembling there, pools of madness…something devouring that could lick a man all over like a flame, annihilate him, with pleasure never before known.” – The Little Birds

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Significantly, Anais Nin became the first woman to publish true, fleshy, lusty erotica in the west. As a pioneer of boundless female love in fiction, I honor her as my muse of love poetry. She is the perfect flesh and blood well-spring for inspiration in the bedroom and beyond. Causing readers to stir with lust and leave them dripping with wet anticipation, Anais Nin would make Erato proud.

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My Muses: Euterpe and Sappho

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Euterpe is the Greek muse of lyric poetry, and while she’s really great and all, she is made of mythic material. Sappho, on the other hand, was a real flesh and blood (well, now, soil and worms) gal who wrote honest to goodness lyric poems. Sappho was born around 630 BC, on the Isle of Lesbos. She was a Greek lyricist, and one of only a handful of female poets known to the ancient world. Supposedly, Solon (Athenian lawmaker and poet) was so moved by her work that he desired to be taught a song by Sappho “so that I may learn it and then die.” Now, Solon is either prone to emotional outbursts, or Sappho was one sweet lyricist.

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Unfortunately, we may never know which of Sappho’s lyrical poems had whipped Solon into a frenzy of drama, because much of her work has been lost through neglect.  Medieval Byzantium dropped her works from their standard curriculum in the process of modernization, and copies of her poems ceased to be reproduced by scribes. As if her work hadn’t suffered enough, in an act of textual terror, copies of her poetry had been destroyed in the burning of the Library of Alexandria. Gasp!  

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Here’s a lovely adaptation of a poem by Sappho, as translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

One Girl
 I 
Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the topmost bough, 
Atop on the topmost twig, — which the pluckers forgot, somehow, — 
Forget it not, nay; but got it not, for none could get it till now. 
    II 
Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the hills is found, 
Which the passing feet of the shepherds for ever tear and wound, 
Until the purple blossom is trodden in the ground.

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In modern times, Sappho is known less for her written work, and more for her image as a symbol of female homosexuality. Her romantic poetry, involving female subjects, has made her the darling of lesbian circles. The English words “sapphic” and “lesbian” both refer to Sappho, thus, preserving her in writing, after all. Her ability to morph herself centuries after her death into words which exist in the English language is almost as astounding as her poetry. Truly, Sappho is one inspiring babe, and she has been operating as a muse for many a year.

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