DailyHaiku - A Daily Shot Of Zen


Special Feature 6—An Unsuspecting Lump of Clay

An Unsuspecting Lump of Clay
by Angela Kublik

— February 26, 2010 —

For all my pottery teachers, especially Susan, Elli and Bibi.


Beginner's Mind. I do not know what the clay is capable of—what is possible. This lump terrifies me, and suddenly I am in grade one again, learning to hold a thick red pencil, writing my first sentences. More than technical knowledge: it's intuition, this ability to manipulate language and build the shape I want with the ease that the instructor opens the clay and brings up a cylinder before shaping it into an elegant vase.

my six year old voice
on the radio:
a story without plot


Wedging. The clay cool in my hands just before it slams against the canvas table, again and again, loosening the molecules, softening the clay, making it ready, more malleable, as I take revenge for my frustrations on this unsuspecting lump.

I empty my mind until I too am ready.

the blank page . . .
nothing to do
but spoil it


Centring. The wheel turns at high speed. One hand dips the sponge into a pail of water and squeezes it over the clay. Hands on the clay, pushing—the clay pushes back. A flat tire's ker-thunk, ker-thunk, ker-thunk.

The jarring against my hands escalates as I try to will the clay into submission. Only when I stop thinking—focus on my hands, arms, elbows—will there be that moment when everything is perfectly aligned, when the clay is still although in motion.

cold tea
ink fills page after page


Opening. A hole emerges as I push my fingers down into the clay. Suddenly, this lump transforms itself into a pot, however rudimentary. As my hands work, it takes shape. At first a simple cylinder, carefully controlled—walls grow taller and thinner; then, a curvaceous vase emerges. Always, hands on the clay: lifting, shaping, collaring. Always, the wheel turning. Always, the mind whirling.

cut from the wheel
the vase sits on a board


Revision. Once you throw a pot, you're done. Not like writing, where you can rewrite a sentence a dozen times before moving on. If you work with a bowl too long—push the clay past its limits—it will collapse. You can't keep making the piece more and more perfect: you can only take it off and try again.

the poet walks for miles finds solutions leaves crunching underfoot


Failure. I imagine a graceful bowl with clean lines. Unable to will my hands to create that shape, I struggle with the clay until it falls. I take a new lump and begin again, knowing that most attempts will be marred by some mistake, by the mark of learning. So why do I come to the page with the expectation that each poem will survive?

the visiting potter—
thin as lace


Trimming. The bowl is cool, leather hard in my hands. I turn it upside down on the wheel, pin it with lumps of clay, and spin the wheel slowly, trimming off the excess weight. As the wheel turns, the clay peels off in soft curls to reveal the final shape. The tray of the wheel fills with shavings I will soak in water, run through the pug mill, use again, and still I keep trimming, until the bowl is light in my hands.

Once, in a writing workshop, a respected poet said, "the poem starts here," and lopped off surplus words with a single pen stroke. What was left was strangely improved, lighter somehow. So I have learned to trim, to use no more language than necessary to build the vessel that contains my meaning, before holding it out to the reader—an invitation to drink.

Japanese tea ceremony—
meaning in every movement


Glaze. That this soup of powders and water will turn into glass in the extreme heat of the kiln amazes me, as does the collision of science and art in these chemical reactions. There is no parallel in writing. It is always just the poet and her pen.

northern lights
across the sky
my breath clouds the air


Fire. A potter I know built an anagama kiln on her farm, in the Japanese tradition. The kiln, as large as a shed, holds hundreds of pieces. Ash from the wood fire settles on the pieces, becomes part of the glaze as the potters stoke the kiln for six days. The intense heat tests the clay, adds its unique signature to each pot.

in envelopes
trial by fire


Emptying the kiln. At last the temperature has dropped. The finished work is lifted out, inspected, brought into the light.

Christmas Eve . . .
waiting like a child
to see inside


Crazy bottles. Lately, I've been making these strange bottles, with thrown bases built up with coils before adding a neck and mouth. One has seven handles, another spiky fins, yet another a decorative but useless spout. There is joy in experimenting on these impractical vessels, in creating something that does not need to fulfill a purpose. Sometimes you just have to play, without worrying about the final shape of the piece.

spelling out limericks
with fridge magnets
the eggs burn

Angela Kublik

Angela Kublik

Angela Kublik is an Edmonton based writer whose poetry has appeared in The Prairie Journal, Legacy, and FreeFall. Her haiku appeared at DailyHaiku as part of Cycle 3. Angela edits blueskiespoetry.ca, an online poetry journal. She is also the co-founder/publisher of House of Blue Skies, and co-editor of the best-selling poetry anthologies Home and Away: Alberta’s Poets Muse on the Meaning of Home and Writing the Land: Alberta through its Poets, with Dymphny Dronyk.

Past Special Features

"What is a special feature?" you may ask. The DailyHaiku special features section is dedicated to innovative collections of haiku and related forms that work very well as a thematic unit, bring the reader a new perspective on the form, explore the seasonal nature of haiku, or push the bounds of haiku in novel directions. Special features will be posted throughout each year (usually as a surprise) and will also be included in the yearly print edition.