Ostraca, Ekphrasis and the Magnificent Pile - Part I

For this one,I am too impatient to endure a prescribed story telling process,  beginning at the beginning of this Spit-love story, moving on to the middle and finally arriving at the present. So, let’s be unchronological and disorderly. The Leslie Street Spit has its own way of ordering things anyway. That’s how it has been between us all along.

First, you’ll need a little background information. By 2012, I had been tracking the creative instinct on The Spit for five years. I took off for New York to give a talk about it, closing that chapter of my work.  When I returned to Toronto knowing it was time to revert to Spit recreational tourism, I made my farewell bike ride.

I almost missed it! Small and unassuming, it waited on the rubble cliff edge.


The Spit entices with serendipities.  Instead of dissolving our relationship, it was extending an irresistible invitation to embark on more complex involvement and deeper appreciation.  Delighted to be wrong about our good bye, I slammed on the brakes, hopped off my bike and made straight for that pristine bookended slab.

There are material constraints but there are no rules for creative expression on The Spit.  Freedom to do anything can stop me from doing anything.  I needed structure. 

I made two rules.

  1. Add nothing other than text on whatever surfaces are at hand.  

  2. The text must address The Spit or whatever Spit-inspired artwork I find myself in the presence of.

The first rule meant that I would write using the archaic practice of ostracon writing.   Several societies voted in this way, writing their preferences on shards of pottery (ostraca) and stones, then tossing them onto a designated stack.  The largest accumulation for a preference would win.  Eventually poetry, letters, recipes, small stories, found their way onto shards and stones.  What could be a more appropriate writing surface inspiration? 

The second rule was in deference to our synergistic relationship.  The Spit contributes synchronicities and inspirations and I see my role as a conduit.  I needed to use ekphrastic writing. Ekphrasis was initially practiced by the ancient Greeks.  If you’ve ever studied Ode on a Grecian Urn, in which John Keats addresses the urn rather than writing about it, you know what I mean.  Originally published anonymously, you can read it here

Both rules applied looked like this:

The Text:

Here we are, you and I
For this moment the only markers
On this rubble cliff – right here, right now
Both of us fragile, vulnerable
You in your way, I in mine
Your smooth tablet
     calling to my writing pen
Well, almost smooth…
My pen will never be the same
     after this meeting!
Did you know that you and I are
     standing on an edge?  Not simply
     the rubble cliff. But on an edge
     at this very moment in time?
Can you see the past, the future?

Hush, look again, hush.

All week long back in the urban world, the anticipation of what I might find next on The Spit was excruciating.   When the day finally came, the closer I got, the faster I rode until I arrived breathless, pitched my bike and there it was:  the site, creatively interrupted in my absence.  (I’ll tell that story another time)

For the most part we’ve continued this way, The Spit, the artworks, the builders and me. We have collaborated anonymously, responding to one another’s work with the tacit agreement that others build and I write. Together, with our reciprocal actions and reactions, we’ve created many story-conversations out there on The Spit’s point ― where there is not much space between heaven and earth. 

―to be continued―

If you’d like additional information about ostraca, you can read more here.

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