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Guest Blogger Kris Farmen: Alma Mater

49 Writers - Wed, 01/27/2016 - 5:00am
Now I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds, said Krishna to both Arjuna on the battlefield and Robert Oppenheimer of the Manhattan Project.  These words, for not entirely obvious reasons, rattled around my head yesterday as I wandered the trails behind the University of Alaska, Fairbanks with a long stick.  My purpose, among other things, was to knock the snow from all the nearby spruce trees as I walked.  A childish pleasure, admittedly, but with gunmen on the streets of Paris and the Far North falling apart due to climate change, I felt a specific need to flee to the woods.  The forest, after all, cares not a whit for our human vanities, and on a good day you can forget you have any ties to the human world.

I’m back on the UAF campus in the Tanana Valley because I happen to be madly in love with a lady in the MFA creative writing program up here.  The experience has been something of a Fairbanks redux for me.  I formerly lived in the Golden Heart City for ten years, starting with my college days here at UAF.  Then came the good job I was promised by my high school counselors if I majored in something other than art.  This phase of my life was truncated by a move overseas to a far sunnier place, then a move back to my home ground of Cook Inlet.  I must confess that I was not precisely thrilled to come back for more 40 below winters.  I’d been here, done this, and bought the t-shirt.  For a surfer like myself, Fairbanks is just too far removed from Mother Ocean for comfort.  Going too long without smelling the sea salt leaves you feeling like one of your major organs isn’t functioning properly.

Thankfully, love is a powerful force in the world.  Cook Inlet is where my heart resides, but it has been nothing short of delightful to reacquaint myself with my old forest haunts:  The big stands of aspen and white spruce, the peeling of birchbark in May, the gold leaves of September and the ruffed grouse hunting that comes with it.  The minty taste of dry cold air on the tongue and the blue of the sky reflected on the surface of the snow.  The hills between Fairbanks and Nenana are still my very favorite stretch of forest anywhere in the world.  There’s lots to eat here—blueberries, crowberries, the aforementioned ruffs.  Fairbanks still has the irksome tendency to consider itself the center of the universe, but then most every town does that.  Beauty abounds in this world, and the Tanana Valley has more than its fair share.

One of the great pleasures of being here has been getting to interact with a completely different community of writers, many if not most of whom are MFA students.  I should have been an art student, but I hated English classes with a passion.  At twenty years of age I wanted to work in the woods looking for old bottles and arrowheads, so I studied archaeology.  Twenty years later, as the significant other of a member of the English department, I get all the fun of hanging out and talking about books and writing, but with none of the responsibility.

But today is not about hunting and wild fruit, nor books and English degrees.  It’s about childish fun in the face of the onslaught of the madness that dominates our world, to say nothing of the difficulties of trying to make a life in the arts in a country that seems to consider my calling little more than a childish indulgence.

I walk along the narrow footpath, my hood pulled up.  This is not a trail of memory, just a path in the woods.  I never spent any time on these specific trails when I lived here before, but now with an apartment on campus, they’re the closest available woods.  Over the trail hangs a tall slender black spruce, bent over like a wedding bower from the weight of the accumulated snow.  It might be the fabled portal to another dimension, perhaps a world where a democratic socialist who understands hunting as a way of life can be elected president.  Sadly, it’s just a tree bent over the trail.  Two firm whacks of my stick brings the snow cascading to the ground in a series of muffled thumps.  It’s a delicate dance to keep from getting a splash of frozen water crystals down my face.  Water, cries the marooned surfer, water everywhere and not a drop to paddle out in.

It would be the most impotent of sentiments to say that campus has changed so much since the mid-nineties, but the dry bite of the November cold surely hasn’t.  Nor has my pleasure at reading animal tracks in the snow.  Knocking mounded snow off of spruce boughs is still as much of a cheap thrill as it was when I was a nine year old samurai warrior, about the time reading and books became the dominant features of my life.

PLEASE DO NOT WALK ON THE SKI TRAILS, says the sign.  I’ve never been very good with rules in the forest.  I smack the sign with my stick, saying “Please do not ski on the walking trails, bitches.”  The raven in to top of the nearby tree watches the hairless ape, deep in marginal territory for his frail species, his progress across the earth marked by cascades of falling snow and the upspring of newly unburdened boughs.

Kris Farmen is a novelist, historian, and award-winning journalist whose books include Weathered Edge, Turn Again, and The Devil's Share.  He is a semi-regular contributor to The Anchorage PRESS, and his work has also appeared in Alaska magazine, Mushing, Russian Life, and The Alaska Dispatch News, among others.  Blue Ticket, his new novel, will be released in early 2016.  He divides his time between Homer, Fairbanks, and Anchorage.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Did I mention…

What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Tue, 01/26/2016 - 3:47pm

…that I started an MFA program in May of 2015?  I’m finding it quite amazing that I’ve not posted since October 2015 despite a very productive writing period.  Glad to be working through draft after draft with the talented and generous Zack Rogow.  He’s so generous he’s giving away his sage advice on his blog.

So for the sake of bringing some recent work into the light, here’s one from the fall that’s nearing completion.


Nevermind the stillness— / the deep sleeps to awake.
–Nazim Hikmet from “The Epic of Sheik Bedreddin”

To get out
of the deep, first
go down

work that furious club-tail
through tunnel twists,
down, then up, then out.

Out of the deep-den,
beaver through waking,
through mist music,
light deep like black spruce
down at roots but rising.

Brittle sap floored-forest,
so many needles dropping,
daylight falling but trapped
in drooping night-net.

Rise, emerge,
outside den
and water warp, sight
swarms as translucent eyelids lift
forest and fractured light
come into focus.

Swim beaver, wet still,
become day, walk now,
spit spruce sap, build.

Filed under: Poetry
Categories: Arts & Culture

Artists-in-Residence Have Officially Landed in Tulsa

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Mon, 01/11/2016 - 12:29pm

Nine of the 12 chosen for the inaugural Tulsa Artists Fellowships during a reception at 108 Contemporary in the Brady District in Tulsa, OK, Jan. 8, 2016. (front, from left) Molly Dilworth, Chris Ramsay, Alice Leora Briggs, Nick Vaughan (back, from left) Clarissa Rizal, Eric Sall, Akiko Jackson, Rena Detrixhe and Crystal Z. Campbell. Not pictured are Gary Kachadourian, Monty Little and Nathan Young. Photo courtesy: Michael Wyke/Tulsa World

Now that we have been caught on camera and advertised in the local newspaper “Tulsa World”, everyone can agree that we have officially landed in Tulsa!  Click here to read about the inaugural Tulsa Artist Residency 2016

Categories: Arts & Culture

Checking Out the Philbrook Museum

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Fri, 01/08/2016 - 12:43pm

We rode the trolley to the Phibrook Museum

Only recently in the past few years have I come to appreciate museums.  We must understand that I was not born to a culture who kept old objects staging stagnant in an old building.  In fact, when I was a child, I literally thought museums were haunted houses.  They were dark, windowless, lifeless nooks and crannies where all the objects collected dust which made the pieces even look older and scarier!

The ceiling of the Philbrook entry

Fortunately, with every generation of new directors and curators, we have evolved to where we are today with museums being much more active, inviting locals and visitors alike to partake in rotating exhibits and special events in spaces that have included much more light!

The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an art museum housed in part in a 1920s villa, situated on 23 acres of formal and informal gardens.  The original structure is the former home of Oklahoma oil pioneer Waite Phillips and his wife Genevieve (Elliott) Phillips.

The museum opened October 25, 1939. It was known as the Philbrook Art Center until 1987, when the name was changed to Philbrook Museum of Art.[2] The collection housed at the Philbrook Museum of Art includes works fromGiovanni Bellini,[3] William-Adolphe Bouguereau, William Merritt Chase, Leonardo Drew, Arturo Herrera, Charles Loloma,Maria Martinez, Thomas Moran, Pablo Picasso, Fritz Scholder, Tanzio da Varallo, Rachel Whiteread, and Andrew Wyeth. A satellite facility, Philbrook Downtown, opened on June 14, 2013 in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District.

Curator of Modern Art at the Philbrook, Sienna Brown, introduces the “Camoflauge” hand-silkscreened prints by Andy Warhol

The Philbrook Museum is beautiful.  How come; did anyone warn me about its beauty?  I don’t remember.  The history of this museum is just as fascinating as the Gilcrease Museum here in Tulsa too (of which I will include a blog post about when I go visit the Gilcrease (

The outdoor garden of the Philbrook Museum, Tulsa, OK — the fountains were fantastic!

I am always fascinated by the design of buildings.  I especially enjoy old architecture influenced by Europe, especially Italy.  Instead of posting photos of some of the beautiful art in the Philbrook Collection, I have posted a few shots of this building.  You must visit the collection of art in the Philbrook.

Click here to read about the fascinating history of the Philbrook Museum

The Italian-style architecture of the Philbrook

In the near future, I intend on doing a couple of presentations/demonstrations in Chilkat weaving both at the Gilcrease and at the Philbrook.  I just have to get settled into the vibe of Tulsa, talk to the directors, and set the date(s).

Christina Burke explains the old dance floor that changed colors every few seconds in the Philbrook Museum

Notice the dance floor colors in these three photos.  Golly, I’d love to design and build a home/studio/ballroom that has a dance floor with changing colors!

Categories: Arts & Culture


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