Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Holidays, whichever you celebrate


Words: Alex Ness
Images: Marc Kleinhenz

(copyright 2009)


Bells and sleighs and winter snows
Pine forests and silent nights
Are frames for the photos
Of celebrations of life

Of the world in slumber
To receive the blessings
Of the new child of wonder
Of a new year of living

We bow down before
The majesty of the king
For the new year

New life in our veins
Wipes out the clutter
That presaged our ways
The child is redemption

We know it is true
We recognize the promise
That we can renew
So we bow down and rise


What is there in our sleep
The winter is our dream
We huddle down tightly
To warm from the days
We huddle to sleep through the nights
The season is our reminder
That there is a cycle
We are part of in life
Birth in Spring
To dance in Summer
To quiet in Autumn
And to sleep in the depths
Of Winter’s embrace
But in the midst of that
Though the cold
We have warmth and hope
For a season of giving begins
To remind us all of the gifts
We are given
And the hope for a world
To awaken with joy


Sending cards
Sending prayers
Sending thoughts
Lighting candles

Children laughing
Paper ripping
People singing
Fires warming
Life is good

Christmas songs
Trees decorated
Presents wrapped
Food prepared
Remembering lives

Every moment
Every hug
Cherished and saved
For the year’s slog
Through event and trial
Each year an endeavor

Time for endings
Time for beginings
Time to share
Loving within
Every bond

Never ending love


Every moment spent together
Is a promise to be moral
Kind, and simply better
For in sharing we become kin
For in loving, we become good

In the midst of the year’s coldest weather
We are called to join together in love
We give gifts
We love and share
We wait for sounds from above

Of footsteps upon our roof
So children can know
That love is more than familial
That love is the truth

It comes from within but grows only
When shared with others
Who are in need

Father Christmas is proof
That we are bound
That when we love as if loving forever
Our lives become sacred holy ground


To the children of African skies
Who dreamed of a better day
He brings love and hope

To the children of Europe
Who long to feel in a world so modern
He brings hope and love

To the children of North America
Who forget if never taught his truth
He brings gifts of dreams

To the children of Asia
Where so few know his name
He brings the love of good

To the children of South America
Where hope is bound with morning
The children will rise and be surprised

To the children of and in worlds unspoken
Father Christmas is love
And is a promise unbroken

Marc Kleinhenz interviews Alex Ness about the project...

How did you come to be involved with the project?

As Marc Kleinheimer asked me to collaborate with him, it was really not a question of if but of do I have the time to do it. I have respect for him and thought it would be nice. As it turned out, from the time he asked to the time I finally finished, my life experienced some turmoil. A good friend of a dozen years passed away, my mom had ended a very sad visit here in my home, where she spent nearly the whole of it in bed, sleeping due to her Alzheimer's, and the aftermath of a big fallout with a publisher/artist was going on to depress the life out of me.

So when facing the poems, I had to consider the subject, the Christmas holiday, versus my own sorrow. But I did it.

With that said, how much of that sorrow do you think bled through? And of that quantity, how much was intentional?

Intention is different, I think, than result. My intention was to channel the glory of the season, and if there is sorrow in it, it was neither purposed nor desired. However, I am not saying any of the work for pic was something I wasn't happy with. The fact remains, however, that the message is receiver-driven, and whatever the voice of the creative talent, the receiver is bound to receive the message through their own particular mindset, circumstances, beliefs, hopes, fears... A perfect example of this would be the number of poems I've written in worship for God but, having not named God in the work, is received as worship from an adoring lover. It is all good, mind you -- I hope my love for God is so true as that -- but beyond that, if a person has only a hammer, they tend to see everything else as nails.

I find that a very interesting response; in a previous interview you did last year, you said: "I have dropped the view that the message is with the receiver. That is a cultural myth we hold."

Well, there is an amazing amount of suggestion that it should be true, almost saying that the receiver is so much more important than the work or voice of the work. I think that it should just be noted that, whatever the receiver brings to the poem or prose or movie or song, if the subject is about Godzilla, the receiver is free to interpret, and will interpret it however it will. So my point is that, when dealing with creative works and the reception of the same, you both create a work, and allow it to be interpreted. The fact is, the creator of a work is not hostage to the interpretation by the receiver, but the receiver is under no onus to do or think or feel anything that the creative person wishes. I knew someone who got a perverse thrill out of masturbating to nude photos done in an artistic and non-prurient fashion. He said he wanted to teach the photographers and models that he could do whatever it is he would do. I am not saying that the actual message is receiver-bound, but that the receiver is unbound by anything to accept what the intended message is.

Two of the biggest thematic motifs throughout both your work and your conversations about your work are religion and the nature of and value in art. So let me ask: where does religion end and spirituality begin? And where does spirituality end and art begin? Or is there any connection between the three at all?

Religion is a set of beliefs that have a code based around them. It involves ritual, standardized patterns of worship, something you can say I am -- and someone will have at least a clue what you are saying you are. Spirituality is both more than and less than that. People who follow a religious belief are not all spiritual, but most of them are. But not all people who are spiritual follow a religion. I think religion is more of a template to believe and spirituality is living and believing in what you believe.

Spirituality and art are connected in that we are made in the image of the creator, and, from what I can tell, the manner in which we worship, understand, grow is to create. Some people create and raise children. Some create arts. Some create paradigms to understand reality. I am sure not everyone agrees that when they create they are being spiritual, but I am suggesting, whether they realize it or not, creation is an act of spirituality that celebrates the creator/ creation. I am a Christian, but some suggest I am a universalist. I am not that, but the truth is I am much more emotive, organic in belief, than religious. So I am more spiritual than religious.

When you sit down to write, is there a conscious decision to include spiritual or religious overlays to your work?

Well, in the case of Christmas poems, I certainly didn't avoid such messages or imagery, but the best answer is no, it is not usually a conscious decision.

How closely do the Epiphanic poems resemble what you had originally intended? Is there usually a lot of variance in the writing process for you?

Okay, this gets into just what the poem is about and why I am doing it. Generally speaking, my creative form involves three sorts of beginning places. I get a word combination or am inspired by an image or idea and it burns in my head until I write about it. I read and research a subject, think deeply upon it, then let my words fall where they may. Or I have a subject I am to write about, and I simply write from a Zen place, hoping what results is poetry. In all cases, the original intent is to create something, not a specific item, really, but something. In that case there is no variance between what I wanted and what resulted. In a very real sense, I almost never know how my effort will result, but I am content that if it is a poem, it is good.

How often with your poetry do you go back and rewrite? Not just edit or tweak words, but actually redraft and re-contemplate?


That's interesting. That's quite the opposite of someone like John Keats, who could literally spend years writing and rewriting and rewriting just one poem. Do you think there's any inherent advantage or disadvantage to either approach?

The reality is that you can achieve perfection both ways. I think there is evidence that the first blush is often as good as the end result of hyper-revisionist tendencies. So, the advantage, of course, to less edits is that you get the original intent; the advantage to more edits is that you may reach the perfect formula of words. As a creative person, I understand the desire to achieve perfection and think it is a good thing if you can arrive there. The vast majority of people I know, however, who do the hyper-critical editorial eye are never happy, ever, with their work. The vast majority of people who are one-run-and-done might be more prone to flaws, but they appreciate their result.

How often do you feel you've reached perfection in your work?

I am not a perfectionist, so I've never considered it. And, frankly, a prophet who interprets his visions is a fool, and an artist who assesses his work or its importance is a bigger fool.

This may be a silly question, but are you happy with the way the Epiphanic Heirophanies poems came out?

I don't let anything be published in my name that I am not happy with. Any poem I write that you see I am happy with. I have had works in numerous anthologies that the book itself I am unhappy with (Mysterious Visions After Hours, for example) but am happy with my own work and that of others.

In that case, are you happy with the way the photographs came out?

I've worked with many artists and photographers and only once have I felt that their work was wrong. I guess it is because I let others interpret as they will. I might well have taken or used more black and white images myself, but that is a personal preference, and I am not the one doing the interpretation. The answer is yes, I am happy with the photography accompanying the words.

How did the word-picture process work? Did you write to the pictures or vice versa?

I've no idea, really, how others work, but more than anything else, if I see an image, it causes words to form in my head. It always has. Some people are moved by music, and I love music, but more images bring tears to my eyes than songs. So, for me, while I don't write to an image, there is always one in my mind. I've been told my work is highly visual, so perhaps it is because of that.

So you wrote the poems first, then Marc added the pictures?

Very much so. On two occasions he asked me for a response to a pic, but that is the only time.

Generally speaking, do you think the pictures added to or subtracted from your original intent or internal imagery? Or were they completely off-base to what you had in your head?

I think the pics worked, and they were Marc's interpretation, so I am content with how they worked. Any time I enter into a collaborative effort, I fully allow the partner to do his or her thing.

Has there ever been a time when you thought a collaboration with another artist, for whatever reason, just fell through or flat?

Fell through? Ha! I had two books promised to me to come out by July 2009 that never happened, and one of them was originally promised by October 2008. Collaborations fall through more than happen. Fall flat, though? I am sure it happens, but I've been extraordinarily lucky every time with projects that happen. Marc Kleinhopper included.

Given the infinite medium that is the internet, what is poetry's future?

The future of poetry is ever more bright with the existence of the internet. People are able to share 100 times easier, get feedback, get published, even if it is self-publishing. Places like,, and more popped up and you can get your work out there.

Can you make money at it? I can't, but that doesn't mean I will stop trying.

That leads perfectly to the next question: what's your future in/with poetry?

I have 3,000 unpublished poems. Most are good work. If I don't publish them or have them published, it will be up to my wife or son to do so. I never stop writing. If I did, I'd die.

I plan to write until I die. Whensoever that occurs.

What is your favorite type of poem? Iambic pentameter? Haiku? Free verse?

I love all forms of poetry, probably especially if I understand them. There are people who throw this and that and the other thing in a list of demands and it has nothing to do with form, style, or, in the end, enjoyment. I like free verse, but blank verse interests me, and haiku is magnificent.

If the life and biography of Alex Ness were written as poetry, what form would it take? And how long would it be?

I could do it in a haiku. Let me see:

Falling upon rocks
I scream at indignities
And people applaud