I’m always happy to find any published information about the imagination. This piece, from The Conversation, has the added benefit of the presence of the ever-interesting Yoko Ono and a (too rare) mention of Art Therapy- albeit Art Therapy is treated rediculously superficially. I was additionally taken by this article because of the mention of the late composer, Stefan Volpe, with whom I had taken a music class in 1962.

Yoko & John- Susan Wood/Getty Images

Yoko Ono’s Vision of Self Care (from The Conversation)

Brigid Cohen February 17, 2022 8.11am EST

Light a match and watch till it goes out. Go to the middle of Central Park Pond and drop all your jewelry. Scream against the sky. 

When a young Yoko Ono formulated these actions in the 1950s and 1960s, they heralded a bracingly quirky vision for the arts as a therapeutic practice of everyday life – a vision that anticipated an ethos of self-care that’s widely embraced today.

Self-care, which refers to what individuals do every day to stay mentally, emotionally and physically healthy, has diverse origins in medical research and in the Black liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The practice has become more popular over the past decades, so much so that the beauty and fitness industries have co-opted it as a powerful marketing tactic.

To Ono, however, self-care means more than just spa indulgence. Instead, it possesses myriad dimensions: focusing the mind, gathering energy for action, connecting one’s imagination with the world, finding empowerment by connecting with others, and stimulating thought through humor and play. 

The young artist and the refugee

Ono’s celebrity marriage to John Lennon has often overshadowed her individual work and career. 

When I came across a cache of poems that Ono had written as a young woman in the 1950s, I knew almost nothing about her personal history and philosophies. The works were mysteriously stashed in the archives of a German-Jewish refugee classical composer named Stefan Wolpe, whose life and work I was studying.

As a teenager after World War I, Wolpe had lived on the streets of Berlin until he made his way to the Bauhaus, the experimental progressive art school, where he embraced ideas of art therapy espoused by social worker-psychotherapist Steff Bornstein and artists Friedl DickerJohannes Itten and Gertrud Grunow

Wolpe, forced to flee Germany in 1933 as the Nazis came to power, was separated from most of his family, including his daughter, who spent World War II in a Swiss orphanage.

After the war, Wolpe drew on his education as a resource, turning to music composition as an imaginative realm to model the wonder of fragile beginnings in the midst of dire constraint and unfathomable loss.

Man holds two fingers in the air
Stefan Wolpe. Archiv der Akademie der Künste, BerlinCC BY-NC-SA

Around 1957, Ono befriended Wolpe, who was over 30 years her senior, and his wife, the poet Hilda Morley. Ono enjoyed tea in their Morningside Heights home in New York City, indulging in “the intellectual, warm, and definitely European atmosphere the two of them created.”

Ono would later write that she was “surprised by how complex, precise, yet emotional his works were. I don’t know of any other composer of the time who represented atonal music so brilliantly.”

United by trauma and displacement

Ono’s poems, which evoked scenes of hunger, terror and beauty in a snow-filled landscape, seemed strangely resonant with the life of Wolpe, who was haunted by his traumatic flight from Germany. Later, I realized his experiences were connected with Ono’s own story of displacement and violence. 

As an adolescent, Ono had begun to discover her own calling as an artist in the cold countryside outside of Nagano, Japan, where she and her family had fled as refugees after the Tokyo fire bombings in 1945. 

This was the imaginative terrain of the poems she shared with Wolpe: 

  the snow swallowed the sunset
  the bright sadness has ended
  only insane fingers frozen remained lying
  in the field
  like landed fishes 

Without food or adequate shelter, she had spent her days with her younger brother conjuring alternatives to the hopeless circumstances around her. As she recounted in an interview with curator and Asia scholar Alexandra Munroe, “[l]ying on our backs, looking up at the sky through an opening in the roof [of a barn], we exchanged menus in the air and used our powers of visualization to survive.” 

Black and white vintage photo of father, mother and child.
A 2-year-old Yoko Ono pictured with her father and mother in 1935.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Ono came to recognize imaginative acts as necessities in life. Under these desperate conditions, she wrote, “we needed new rituals, in order to keep our sanity.” 

Around the time she met Wolpe, Ono was estranged from her parents after she had made the unconventional choice as a woman to pursue a career in the arts.

Later, writing and sharing poetry with Wolpe would be one example of such an imaginative ritual – an instance of care both for herself and for her émigré friend. Wolpe and Morley preserved Ono’s own typewritten poems as cherished documents, even rescuing them from a terrible apartment fire.

Sharing rituals of care

Ono’s commitment to regenerative rituals would form the basis for her career in the arts. 

At first, these exercises were private and personal. Imagining a menu would stave off hunger. Screaming against the sky would give shape to extreme emotions. Lighting a match and watching its flame extinguish would quiet the mind. 

Eventually Ono would come to disclose such rituals to the public, inventing a new form of art in the process. Equipped with these exercises – what she called “instruction pieces” – she established herself as a founding mother of the 1960s performance and conceptual art movements. As a Japanese woman artist and peace activist, she frequently confronted gender and racial bias. But her ethos of art as survival sustained her.

Ono’s book “Grapefruit,” first published in 1964, is a cult classic dedicated to the idea of art as a form of self-care. Written in the imperative mood, it instructs readers in how to realign their perceptions, imaginations and actions in relation to the world. 

Ono’s directions mix together the earnestly mindful, the psychedelic and the wry: 

“Imagine one thousand suns in the sky at the same time. Let them shine for one hour. Then, let them gradually melt into the sky. Make one tunafish sandwich and eat.” 

The art of survival, then and now

Ono’s ideas are often far out and witty. Yet the relevance of her ethos of art – and even her instruction to eat a sandwich – is serious. 

According to the American Psychological Association, in the U.S., “32% of all adults are so stressed” that they “cannot make basic decisions such as what to eat or what to wear.” 

These numbers are far higher for people of color and young adults who, like women, face disproportionate economic insecurity and other forms of hardship. These facts call out for rethinking what self-care actually means and how it pertains to the arts.


During the current pandemic, it is no surprise that art therapy has become a focus of debate and experimentation. The tools of this practice, which include coloring books and emotion wheels, may seem galaxies away from the museum world that celebrates Ono’s legacy. Yet, from a certain perspective, it is oddly close to her spirit. 

In an era of political turmoil and economic instability, I believe such an accessible vision of art as Ono’s can be a resource for psychic survival, community and resilience – connecting people with prior struggles in ways they might not have imagined. 

Such an approach to engaging with the world can help individuals to shift perspective to simply get through the day, or it can lead to dazzling, incongruous visions that transform ideas about what the future may hold.


John Keats on his deathbed. The Print Collector via Getty Images

“…Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason — Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge.”

With this statement in a letter to his brothers in 1817, John Keats, the singular English poet, describes his concept of Negative Capability. It seems clear that this concept describes a condition in which the potential for creativity is optimized.

See also this post from Richard Gunderman in The Conversation.

John Keats died 200 years ago tomorrow, February 23, 1821.

Beautiful, moving essay on fencing, poetry, and so much more. Here is the link to the original with the accompanying photos.



by Sarah Blake
The Los Angeles Review of Books – August 2, 2012


Picture the fencers. Picture them, without their gear, covered in bruises. All the weapons leave bruises, from thrusts, flicks, and the sabre’s slash. They leave welts as well.

When I fenced in high school, we were proud of the marks. Mostly, it didn’t hurt to get them. Hurt isn’t the right word because it feels good to hit someone, to be hit, in a bit of flesh that gives to the point.

I don’t mean to sound masochistic or sadistic, but the pleasure exists. And I was never interested in fencing for the grace or technique of it. I was competitive, physical, and enjoyed the fight.

Even now, some 10 years later, I remember how it feels to land the point of my foil in someone’s side, to turn my hand, to push so the blade bends out to the side, to understand the belly anew, as a soft target.


Some parts of the body are protected. Women wear a chest plate, made of plastic, and shaped like breasts, as if women wear perky Victoria’s Secret bras while they fence, instead of sports bras that flatten them. Even in the Olympics you can see these rounded cups through the lame and jacket.

As a poet, sometimes I feel this way, that I’ve geared up like a poet, but that my lines about motherhood, about sex, my method of engagement, my very words, have flagged me as a woman poet, and then I’m standing there with plastic breasts that are the same size and shape as every other woman poet.

But if our breasts matter at all, our breasts are different.


Only one person, that I know of, has died from fencing. Vladimir Viktorovich Smirnov. He was the gold medalist in men’s Individual Foil at the 1980 Summer Olympics. In 1981, he won the World Championships. In 1982, he returned to the World Championships and fenced with Matthias Behr.

During the bout, Behr lunged, landed his point on Smirnov’s chest, the blade bent, as it should, but then snapped, and Behr’s forward motion continued, driving the broken blade through Smirnov’s mask and into his brain. While death was not immediate, death did come.

Safety precautions changed. So changed the metals of the weapons, the mesh of the masks. But I know, maybe all fencers know, it could happen again. The full force of the body, the power of forward momentum, the frequency of broken blades, the mesh still only mesh, and our fragile faces.


Poetry is dangerous. It can be. We don’t typically use the word danger. We use words like risks and stakes. The risks of the poet and the stakes of the poem. But danger is implicit, sometimes explicit.

I’ve always valued the danger in poetry. I might value it above all else. Be it a weakness or a strength, it is a symptom of my fighting heart which led me to fencing in the first place.


When I fenced, I always felt the connection to sword fighting, to duels. The fights to the death, or just to first blood. A mere scratched arm. Honor and disgrace doled out at once.

Sometimes the Olympics, with its rules and lights and wired bodies, hides this connection to fencing’s history.

On July 30th, 2012, the rules required a young woman sit on the piste for about an hour while she waited for the results of an appeal. She cried much of the time.

Articles said she “broke down in tears,” “was reduced to tears,” “was in a flood of tears.” Some mock her and some defend her.

To me, she sat as if at the foot of the world and hid nothing from it. And while challenges of judges are common in most sports, it was still brave of her to compel the deliberations, to sit and continue sitting.

But for a time, her seated, weeping body, lit up on the piste, ruined my romance with fencing.


This year, I’m watching most of the games with my 14-month-old son. I’m happy to report that fencing had him transfixed, at least for one bout.

The first time I watched Olympic fencing was when my coach played VHS tapes of men’s Individual Foil. I thought they had special foils, different from my own, because theirs whipped about wildly as if they were not made of metal. But it is just the strength of the men’s arms. I was in awe.

I read today, “the tip of a fencing blade is widely considered the second fastest moving object in sport, behind a marksman’s bullet.” Awe is still the right word. And perhaps awe is what my son experienced as he watched that bout from my lap, quiet and still.


I pretended to fence my son with my finger. “Chh, chh, chh,” I said as I moved my finger between four and six. Then I poked him.

I asked him, “Are you going to be a really great fencer one day?”

And he answered, “Uh-huh” — a word, a perfect sound, that he’s only been making for a few days.

It will not be hard to encourage him. Peter Pan’s dagger against Captain Hook’s sword.The Princess Bride. When he’s older, The Three Musketeers and Cyrano de Bergerac.

It will be harder, I worry, to foster a love of poetry in him. But another part of me thinks he will find poetry as I have found it: threatening, urgent, and utterly magnetic.


Wallace Stevens Birthday

October 2, 2009


Today is the 130th birthday of Wallace Stevens the great modernist poet born in Reading, PA, USA.



One must have a mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs

Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time

To behold the junipers shagged with ice,

The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think

Of any misery in the sound of the wind,

In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land

Full of the same wind

That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

From The Poetry Foundation