Questions the clay has asked

bone white stoneware minaret

You work with what you are given,

the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.
Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.
This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.
As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.
The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.
How can I enter this question the clay has asked?
—Rebus by Jane Hirshfield

stoneware pendants

Ta da! These are the very first objects I have ever made with grown-up clay (that is, bisqued, glazed, and kiln-fired stoneware clay.) Jacksons is Darwin’s main supplier of clays and ceramic materials/tools, so I bought a bag of whit stoneware and took it home after work about three weeks ago. My lovely manager, Ingrid, is a professional ceramist and a wonderful sculptor, so I picked her brains every day for tips and guidelines. Also watched a few videos and read Ingrid’s books. Then I cautiously, hesitantly opened my bag of clay up, made these tiny little things, and promptly fell in love.

I wanted to see what the fire would to my first little offerings; when Ingrid gave them back to me today, and I saw that none of them had cracked, exploded, warped, or stuck to the kiln shelves, I knew that here was something I wanted to keep doing, and that I wanted to grow in mastery and make bigger and more complicated pieces over time.

I adore working with the stuff. The sensation of working with my hands—getting slicked up to the elbows with the wet white mud, playing with the slips and glazes—feels a bit like a homecoming to me. I have never worked with the stuff before, but I felt as though I have always known how to work with it. Something about it takes me back to memories locked in my DNA, maybe. It comes so naturally and it feels so good.

And then the pieces go the kiln and get fired at incredible temperatures, emerging hard as rocks, glossy with the silica, and making little clinking musical sounds as I hold them, like fancy pebbles or seashells, in the cupped palms of my hands.

I didn’t need yet another medium to fall in love with, or another craft to pursue, but this really is a special one, and I’m glad I let it seduce me.

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14 thoughts on “Questions the clay has asked

    1. A-ha-ha, my childish little pieces, but yes it is wonderful to feel young again, and find myself “falling in love” with a medium that is a complete stranger. I look forward to following you back, and your fabulous rings of stacked blue titanium! Your pieces have a quiet strength.

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  1. Nice clay pieces. Those are pretty unique, not to mention the poem itself. I probably wouldn’t have been able to write much about clay. (The first line sets it off to a good start, BTW.) But I guess when you find something that has meaning to you, the words just come out as they may.

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    1. Whoa, hey, the name of the poet is at the bottom of the poem, I didn’t write it! I just have hundreds of poetry books, and a photographic memory, so any topic I write about usually brings a poem I have read before to mind. Flattered that you think I wrote it, but I would never take credit for someone else’s words.

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    1. It’s amazing…clay is cheap, and you don’t have to use fancy glazes, some oxides and a clear gloss glaze go a long way. And, as I’m just starting to grasp, there are a million way to work and shape it…it’s not just about wheel throwing. I think you’d really enjoy it. 🙂

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