Guest Post: Poems Inspired by VCCA by Beverly Sky

I’m just back from three weeks plus residency at my home away from home: the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  I’ve written before about residencies and I’m sure I mentioned that one of the best things about them are the people. You meet amazing people at these places. This stint was no exception.

I’d like to share some poems written by Beverly Sky. Beverly Sky, Fiber Artist (and wannabe everything else) has a studio at the Boston Center for the Arts. A fellow at VCCA, her morning walks on the way to her studio in the Virginia woods have engendered a few poems.

She shared them with me and  we were both tickled that her poems complement my photos and my photos complement her poems. I asked if I could share them here and she generously gave me her permission. So here then are poems by Beverly Sky with photos by me.

Poem 1, Day 6

Walking Through The Unknown Woods In December

Brown leaves
trimmed with
hoar frost’s crystalline ice,
crisp in the early morning
as I start out
on the poorly blazed trail
to the pond.

Bare trees stand silent
against the blue sky
sentinel witnesses to time passing,
the crunch of fallen branches
under my footsteps,
flash of a Cardinal,
red in the bushes.

I hear the Geese call
and look up to see the
gaggle, all crowded together
along the water’s freeze line…

and then, the bench by the shore…


The trail,
now camouflaged.
The blazes, bits of shredded ribbon,
tied to occasional branches are
weather-beaten and scant…

I have no compass.

Then, the small wooden arched bridge
over the brook
in the near distance
and I follow.

For a time,
I watch the sparkling stream
flowing through its
well defined path.

Up the hill
the narrow trail
of delicately flattened leaves,
is barely visible
and then,
the bright green moss mound
parted down the center.

A sign,
as I pass through,
that others have tread here too.

I hear the call of a Crow
And then
a train passing
in the far away.

Thoughts pile up
like kindling twigs
set aside for winter.

Further up the hill,
the way is blocked with bramble,
violet Raspberry branches
thorny, twisted and arching,
and the Bittersweet berries,
catch my coat and tangle my hair,
I stumble on the dead logs.

And then,
a ray of sunlight
the clearing ahead is illuminated.

I push my way through
and out to the meadow,
the sunny morning meadow.

Poem 2, Day 7

The Next Day

Past the great Nordmann Fir
ferns still splay their emerald fronds
on the leafy brown earth.

The geese are gone this morning.
It’s Monday, off to work, I guess.
I pick up a verdigris lichen covered piece of bark
to take back to the studio
so I can remember the moment.

Passing the clear stream
riffling along it’s banks,
light sparkling the surface.

New moon last night
brought out all the heavenly stars.
Shining bright ! Pleiades, Orion, Cassiopia
twinkling, dancing, celebrating
the darkest night of the year.

Walking up the steep hill
takes  my breath away
and clears my mind,
yet, I miss the subtle signs
and find myself in a bramble of bushes.
I have lost the way.
I stand still.

Turning back
to find the path,
a blue Jay flies by.
In the distance,
the call of it’s mate,
and then,
the tattered orange blaze
hanging on a slender branch
I am out of the woods.


Poem 5, Day 8


On my way to dinner
through the woods
here and there
a tired cricket chirps.

Pink lenticular clouds
float against a pale blue sky.
The abandoned shed,
part lean-to with faded
celadon green siding,
is filled with broken tools and memories.

The cook told me
there is a secret garden nearby.
I find the opening
between the high Boxwoods.
Three cracked, mossy stone steps,
overgrown with Ivy,
lead into a grassy circle
with a small octagonal stone pool.

Five Goldfish, (actually, deep Orange-fish)
slumber under the black water’s surface.

To the side,
an ornately carved, round
cast iron table,
is covered with pine needles
and leaves.
Two matching chairs,
all tilting in the wet ground,
waiting for company.

Small clearings
are home to sculptures.
Totems made from rock, ropes,
concrete and iron,
they too, wait for company.

Out into the parking lot,
the blue Shenandoah Mountains
rise over the rosy horizon.

The 5:25 train clickety clacks by,
Whooooooo, whoooooooo!
A bumper sticker on a fender asks:
“What would Walt Whitman do?”

Poem 6



No poem today.

Foggy outside,
Foggy inside.

Beverly Sky
©copyright 12.7.15


Virginia Center for the Creative Arts: What Makes a Place Special?

The fine folks at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts are harboring me once again.

I’m working. Editing and thinking about where to put music in the film, and what music. I’m “composing” temp music, which means I spend a lot of time noodling on the guitar, since the soundtrack will be guitar based. You’re surprised, I know.

I’m more than halfway through the residency and it’s been very productive. But instead of showing you the fruits of that productivity, I’d rather show you what makes a place like this special. Oh sure, it’s bucolic and serene, but I realized a long time ago that if you are in the most bucolic and serene place on the planet but surrounded by the wrong people, that place isn’t so special.

Here then, what makes this place special.

The previous resident left a few things on the studio cork board. I kept this poem, since it spoke to me.

Reconcile by Sarah Vap

Joining the poem on the cork board is this—


—given to me by friend Jane Deschner Waggoner. “For your corkboard,” she said. The dog reminded her of photos she had seen on my Facebook page. It does look like my old friend Bruno.

Also, there’s this—

Nectar of the Gods

—which writer Paula W. gave to me when she found out I coveted a blue one (and accidentally “borrowed” it from a forgiving fellow, Roger K). I love this red one though and I think it will be with me for a long time.

In the lunch room some lovely person anonymously taped this list of local birds spotted to the refrigerator (next to three anonymously penned poems about mac & cheese)—

Birds of VCCA

One day after lunch, Caroline W. took a bowl of shells that sits on the table and spread them out before me.

Shell reading.

Several people began interpreting the shells and what they meant. The reading was inconclusive and my future not clearly peered into, but we had a lot of fun all the same.

My future writ in shells.

I have fallen in with three other artists who sing and play musical instruments. We play some nights for our fellow residents. That’s my contribution to this new and temporary family. I know I’m getting the better half of the bargain.


Let my friend Jessica Rosner sum it up. This is her writing on a wall inside the VCCA telephone closet, where fellows are encouraged to make marks, leave impressions, whatever.

Jessica Rosner


A Present for You – More Classical Guitar Music!

VCCA silo

When I was at VCCA I made a couple of recordings of me playing some classical guitar music, one in the field on a beautiful summer-like day (listen to it here) and another in the silo. Its circular shape and glazed clay walls make this space reverb-a-licious.

vcca silo guitar


My guitar in the VCCA silo.

It was not a beautiful summer-like day when I recorded in the silo. It was a cold, winter-like day, and the silo, though obviously swanky, is not heated. So, I was cold, and my fingers were cold. But it had to be so, because when those beautiful summer-like days happened, so too did the wasps, who swarmed in the silo on those days and a few afterwards. (To know how I feel about wasps, click here.)

But after a few winter-like days, they died, and wasp corpses, hundreds of them, carpeted the concrete floor and made a crunchy sound when you stepped on them. Not surprisingly, I didn’t mind this sound too much. I didn’t record it, though. But I did record this, me playing Bach’s Prelude, BWV 999, originally composed for lute.

I hope you enjoy it.

Want more classical guitar music? Click here.


Music Is Fun!

When I was at VCCA, I had a conversation with a very fine writer, Randon Billings Noble, about our pasts as musicians and our presents as something other than musicians. Randon  played violin, practiced 6-8 hours a day, and from our conversation I could tell she must have been a very good one, though she was modest about this. We both confessed that though we still play music, and at a level that some nonmusicians might find impressive, we don’t think of ourselves as musicians.

“I’m musical, but I’m not a musician,” Randon said. Neither of us thought of playing music as a hobby, though; so it was something more than an avocation, but not quite our vocation, either.

Last week I was catching up with one of my guitar students, L.C., also a very fine writer. We spoke about the frustration that comes with being a writer, the impossibility of setting down in words the ideas, characters, events, etc., that reside so perfectly in our heads. We talked about the drive to get the work out there, to have it published, read, and appreciated, and how when that doesn’t happen, we feel miserable. I mentioned that once I felt that way about music, but I didn’t anymore, even though I practice (play!) for an hour or so a day. And though I do “perform” for people, for friends and others, it is without the expectation that comes with a professional performance. Now I do because it’s fun.

Writing Is Fun?

And then cinematographer Andy Bowley emailed me a link to David Foster Wallace’s essay, The Nature of Fun,  about perfection and imperfection and the “fun” of writing (or whatever it is one creates), how when we begin as writers, we do it for fun, to get ourselves off. And then we achieve or long for some kind of idea of success and writing becomes something we do to seduce other people, and it becomes less fun. And then, if we’re lucky, we realize this and return to it for that initial sense of fun, and then when we do write it becomes a deeper, more profound kind of fun because we have new knowledge.

Something is in the ether.

For a related post, read Why Do I Keep This in My Wallet? 



Imperfect Life, Perfect Record of Life

I met Karen Ramos, a most excellent singer-songwriter, at Blue Mountain Center in 2010. We played music for each other. I happen to know two songs, Girl from Ipanema and Moon River, and they worked for her so I played guitar and she sang and we entertained the other residents a few times. We killed ‘em, but they were an easy audience.

When Karen asked me to accompany her at a fundraiser, I was flattered, and more than a little nervous. We rehearsed. I knew Girl from Ipanema like the back of my hand — I’ve been playing it for more than 30 years now. But Moon River was another story. We rehearsed some more. I practiced the song a lot.


The night of the fundraiser, in the middle of Girl from Ipanema, I became wrapped up in Karen’s spectacular voice and I lost it in the middle of the song. I had to stop and I apologized profusely. We finished the song. The crowd of friends and supporters were very forgiving and applauded. We then nailed Moon River. People came up to me afterwards and told me how much they enjoyed our songs. I believe they were sincere.


vcca silo imperfect guitar
My imperfect guitar in the VCCA silo.

Yesterday, I was in the VCCA silo. There’s tremendous reverb in the space because of its circular shape and glazed clay walls, so I brought the guitar and my portable recorder in there and played a few things. And I played them over and over because I wanted them to be perfect, and it occurred to me how when we see or hear something live, we don’t expect perfection, but when we watch something that’s been filmed or taped, or listen to a recording, we expect perfection. (Artists strive for perfection during live performances, but that’s another story.)

Suddenly, it seemed especially strange to me that when it comes to documentaries, which are supposed to be documenting real life in all its messiness, we expect perfection. Yes, you’ll see documentaries with some blips in them, but more often than not, these are intentionally included to give a sense of “reality.”

Do we go to live performances to experience the surprise of  the “imperfect,” and here I mean a deviation from the recorded version? And why do we expect perfect recorded versions?

Help me out here, people. I know many of you will have interesting things to say on this topic.

 More classical guitar music coming soon. In the meantime, you can access the music files on the blog by clicking here.


Why Artist Residencies

Here’s a post from the early days of the blog, December 2009. It was written at VCCA, where I am right now, though I am typing this in C2, a composer studio, and not in the corn crib. I think it’s as timely as ever and worth reposting. And this one has especially good comments.

Last week I had the honor of being asked by Sheila Gulley Pleasants, Director of Artists’ Services at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, to screen my film Tango Octogenario to the VCCA Board of Directors and say a few words about the value and importance of artist residencies. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like this.

A name tag I didn't mind wearing at all.
Here’s one name tag I didn’t mind wearing.

Time and space are the most obvious gifts a residency provides, but just as important is the interaction between artists of different disciplines. I storyboarded Tango Octogenario at Centrum Arts and Creative Education. Could I have done that in my apartment? Probably. But while I was at Centrum I met a choreographer and told her I was making a dance film. She invited me to her rehearsal and asked me to videotape it. As I did, the ideas were buzzing in my head like bees in a hive. Many of those ideas then made their way into the storyboards. Could that have happened in my apartment? Not very likely.

Here at VCCA, I met a poet, Alex Chertok. I told him about A Life’s Work and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and he told me that his father owns a collection of rare jazz films. Did he have any gospel? I asked. Alex put me in touch with his father and sure enough, he does. Will I be calling on him for footage? It’s very likely.

And then there’s the deep stuff. Listening to the readings, looking at the sculptures and paintings, casually conversing in the bucolic setting or around the dinner table about art, travel, food, histories, who knows what’s seeping into our subconscious and how it will manifest itself in our work down the line? And the friendships that develop may be fleeting or lifelong, but they are always significant.

I hope that I give back half as much as I get from my fellow artists at residencies. I hope, too, that I can someday give back to these havens that have given me so much. For now, my screening and talk will have to do.

Thanks again for the opportunity, Sheila.

Sweet Briar College – Guest Artist, The Guy Making A Life’s Work

I did my stint as guest artist at Sweet Briar College and I’m happy to report that it went very well. After consulting with the teacher, Paige Critcher, we decided it might be more beneficial if I showed my earlier, shorter work. Showing the 36-minute sample didn’t seem like the best use of a one-hour class where I was supposed to talk about where ideas come from, how to make your first film, etc. So it went a little something like this ….

Sweet Briar College Students
Sweet Briar College Students Watch 8 1/2 x 11.


8 ½ x 11: First Film, Film School

I showed 8 ½ x 11 and gave my spiel: the inspiration for the screenplay, how I found cast and crew, and how making that film was very much my film school. I was a little anxious, because I have shown this film, which is about going on job interviews, to college students and it’s fallen flat—they couldn’t relate to the experience. But these Sweet Briar College students got the joke and laughed at all the appropriate places.

Tango Octogenario: Second Film, Unlike the First

I then introduced Tango Octogenario, telling them that I wanted to challenge myself and make something very different from the first film. Here again, they totally got it, and I heard someone say at the end, “So sweet.” I liked that.

After Tango screened, we spoke about the challenges that film presented and how different it was from 8 ½ x 11. Then …

A Life’s Work: My Life’s Work (so far)

The hour was going by quickly, so we showed the trailer for A Life’s Work. After that, one of the students asked me an excellent question, one I had never been asked before. “When you’re preparing to interview someone, how do you know that you’ve accumulated all the questions you should ask?”

Kind of a stumper, isn’t it? I said you really don’t know, not until it’s too late. But I usually interview people at least twice, over a span of some time, so I have time to go over the transcript and if I see that I missed a question or an opportunity for a follow up, then I’ll ask that next time.

It was a great experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, next time I’m at VCCA (if I’m so lucky), I will try to do it again.

Special thanks to Sheila Gulley Pleasants of VCCA for connecting me with Paige Critcher at Sweet Briar College. Extra special thanks to her awesome students. 


Guest Artist: Me!

On Wednesday I’ll be a wearing my visiting artist’s hat and showing A Life’s Work to a group of BFA students at Sweet Briar College. It’s something arranged through VCCA as a way to expose students to work and artists they might not normally have access to.

Trees at Sweet Briar College
Five beautiful trees on the Sweet Briar College campus.
Old Hat

I’ve done this before in NYC (thanks Professor Beskin!) and after the initial terror of showing my work wears off, it always turns out to be a lot of fun. I’m always curious about how 18-23 year olds respond to a film dreamed up by a middle-aged man, and there’s usually at least one question asked that I’ve never heard before. (For a fantastic guest blog post by a college student, make sure to read Why Would a 21 Year Old Be Interested in A Life’s Work by Haroon Butt.)

And Something New

This time I will be doubly curious because not only will I be showing it in a very different geographic place, on a campus that is vastly different from one in the city, but Sweet Briar College is also a women’s only school.

Will they respond differently to A Life’s Work than the city kids? I’ll let you know next week.





Off to VCCA

I’m off to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I’ve been there twice before and it’s always been good to me.

Why am I going this time? To write. I’ve been working on the film all summer  and need a break. So I’ll spend the next three weeks working on the writing.

But I am also going because Jeff Stein told me to go.


VCCA - the view from my windowIn September, I learned that Jeff Stein, AIA, president of the Cosanti Foundation, was coming to NYC in the fall and I was excited to interview him in front of the camera. But then the residency at VCCA came up. Jeff and I were coordinating dates and I was worried we’d miss each other. Finally, after a number of email exchanges, we worked it out and he signed off with:

“Get thee to Virginia, sir.”

How can I defy such an order? So, to Virginia I go.