Late in the afternoon, the voice
of a black-billed cuckoo in the rain
July 15 (Saturday) 12:00 pm - August 11 (Friday) 4:00 pm
The Bird Project Bird collages by Gabrielle DietzelBird anthology by Howard Norman July 15 through August 11, Wednesday – Sunday, noon – 4pm. Opening reception Thursday, August 3, 5-7pmPoetry reading: in the
The Bird Project
Bird collages by Gabrielle Dietzel
Bird anthology by Howard Norman
July 15 through August 11, Wednesday – Sunday, noon – 4pm.
Opening reception Thursday, August 3, 5-7pm
Poetry reading: in the theater, 6pm
Readings by Tom Absher, Jane Shore, Nadell Fishman, Scudder Parker,
Mary Elder Jacobsen, and Jody Gladding.
The one-winged soaring blackbird
Above the firewall, Paris
Is the background
In the poem
– Paul Celan
Moon officiates wedding
between a crow
and a scarecrow
You see me as ugly
but my wife sees me as handsome
I stumble, I awkwardly hop along the ground but
soon beautifully I glide in wide circles in the sky
I’m not afraid of death
it keeps me alive
I had these thoughts
while flying in circles
high in the sky
– Crow Indian. Translated by W.S. Merwin
below flower, above flower
undeterred by rain
pollen on the tongue
the angles of approach
to what we desire
– Michael McClure
The Old Testament
for that matter
The New Testament
and having thoroughly studied theologian-authors
I can say with confidence
probably in the Next Newest Testament
(and even in the yet-to-be discovered
Testament Older than the Old Testament)
they all got it wrong
because Adam and Eve
(better to have been named Dawn and Dusk)
before getting talked up by a serpent
and tasting an apple
were each what we today know as the
Old World Warbler (Sylvadae)
from my monkish devoted studies this is an indisputable fact
Old World Warblers begat Adam and Eve
(I sure would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that miracle
though there weren’t yet walls)
in my desert cave I live in isolated silent suffering and yet unfailing conviction
that the result of my scholarship is correct
and another thing, it doesn’t matter if the Old World Warbler’s song
is not sweet to your ear
it is only important that its song
is sweet to another warbler’s ear
which leads to begatting amongst warblers
when my notebooks are discovered it will be known
that I wrote extensively on such subjects
– Djamila Ali born l978
The Bird Project
This collaboration with collagist Gabrielle Dietzel and myself began with a shared sense of hope and promise, that we could help each other stay emotionally and intellectually engaged during the Coronavirus pandemic. I first began to send Gabrielle various quotations from poems, memoirs, natural history writings, novels, each having to do with birds. These were from thirty-some years of notebooks and diaries. She chose which quotes she wanted to think about, experiment with, obsess over, and perhaps most importantly, determine the distance she needed from it, to carry out her own artistic vision.
In all weathers, I’d sit bundled up on Gabrielle’s porch, she would bring me a coffee, and then show me found and researched images, all the while keeping me informed as to her thinking. Gradually, we moved to her kitchen counter. I noticed her light-filled house filling with books about birds, and carton after carton of cut-outs. A spilling-over abundance of collagist’s materials. “Look at all these woodpeckers!” I might say with incredulousness.
During these months, I certainly felt we talked about everything under the sun. The world was, to quote Camus, “under siege from an invisible demon,” and sitting at the kitchen counter seemed a solace and reprieve, at least for a few hours. And slowly but surely, Gabrielle’s splendid, melancholy, humorous, vivid, and original — I refer to them as ornithological dramas — materialized one after the other.
Over time, these works moved from the most sequestered and private mental space, to an audience of just the two of us, to the occasional friend or curator, and is now exhibited to a larger audience. Truth be told, while I merely provided quotes and captions, at best prompts, Gabrielle Dietzel invented whole provocative worlds in frames and boxes.
The disequilibrating experience of the 2020 pandemic and lockdown was unsettling and found many of us bewildered and solitary.
But here came my friend Howard Norman with the splendid idea of collaborating on a project, as a diversion, to do something, to use the time, to engage, to continue to have community. He would send poems and other writing about birds, and I would turn them into three-dimensional collages. Would this work? I chose a poem by Paul Celan, about a one-winged blackbird above Paris, and made a collage box – my visual translation of the written word.
We were both captivated by the result. The bird project was born. At this point, it was meant to just be an exchange between the two of us. “I’m going to make ten of these”, I said. Well, engagement – if not to say obsession – followed and there are now twenty-seven pairs. With his deep appreciation and knowledge of both writing and birds, Howard kept sending beautiful, interesting, challenging writing for me to ponder – rich geographically, chronologically and historically broad writing, from haiku to folk tales, poems, and quotes. I had lots of questions for Howard so I would understand more about birds: habitats, behavior, mythologies, geography. Needless to say, this also led to hoarding bird books.
There was a constant flow of ideas – lots of talking on the phone – visiting, (outside, masked, six feet apart, holding on to hot cups of coffee to stay warm); emails, letters; a refuge into just talking – why did he select this or that poem? Why did I decide that I wanted to interpret one but not another? Howard being a person of words could eloquently do this. For me, the long, contented hours of pondering and cutting images – to create a new something out of existing somethings – had always been very private, with enjoyable introversion and concentration, while wallowing freely in the internal gibberish most visual artists fall into. Collaborating with Howard meant finding an intelligibly articulate way to think and talk about my pieces; we created separate footnotes for one another.
The boxes are not meant to be narrative, although some more directly complement the words or atmosphere of the writing than others. There might be a poem that is ‘still,’ but I found something exuberant or funny in it. This is especially true for the haiku. I visually exaggerated whenever I wanted to. Sometimes I needed to deconstruct the writing so I could get to the visual essence of it – as I saw it. I added and subtracted images. I never felt restricted by the words – they were guides.
The project is finished but lives on. It was a grand adventure, and it sustained both of us living with and in the pandemic. We still drink many coffees together now: anywhere, without masks.
Howard Norman is the author of novels, (including The Bird Artist), memoirs, books for children, radio dramas, and the episodic graphic story Detective Levy Detects. He was awarded the Lannan Award in Literature. His forthcoming novel is Come To The Window; he is working on a collection of ornithological travel diaries, A Theology of Birds, for Yale University Press. He lives in East Calais, Vermont.
Gabrielle Dietzel started to cut out images and glue them together at a very young age, much to the consternation of her family members, who found that their books and magazines had provided her with source material. She has endeavored to refine the art of collage ever since. Her collages have become predominantly three-dimensional, considering space, depth, light and shadows, layered in found boxes or constructed frames. She lives in Montpelier, Vermont,