Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 26, 2014

Happy Imperfection

My husband has been enjoying taking pottery classes with Tiffany Hilton, and I recently visited her studio for an open house to watch them spin clay into something useful and beautiful. I admired many cups, teapots, plates, and bowls on Tiffany’s shelves, like those in the photo below, but she humbly said, “I always see some little thing that I could have done differently that makes me want to make the next piece.”


Beauty is like that. It can almost always be different. We have to learn to see both what’s graceful in our work, and the way it could take another shape. We can learn to see the gap between what is and what could be and not be bothered by our choice, but move forward. Experiment some more.

In the introduction to Ask Me: 100 Essential PoemsKim Stafford quotes his father as saying, “I would trade everything I have ever written for the next thing.” William Stafford wrote every day before dawn and published fifty books in his lifetime. In “You Reading This, Be Ready,” he wrote: “What can anyone give you greater than now, /starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?” His poems are beloved for what he saw, which might be so common that people can and did say, “I could write that.” And he encouraged everyone to write what they saw, too, which might always be changing. So we keep going, trying and beautifully failing to get it right.


And here’s Peter’s work from the evening: twelve bowls to be glazed, fired, then filled with soup to benefit the Amherst Survival Center.

09-19-14 twelve bowls made at TIffany's request for charity thing2 crop sm

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit Laura Purdie Salas, at Writing the World for Kids.


  1. I love that these are “essential” poems. Love the essence of your post, too, Jeannine, that the now, the next is holds such possibilities. And envious of that pottery student of yours. Getting back to pottery is a bucket item list for me (a next thing). Enjoy your weekend!

  2. It must have been something for William Stafford’s son to choose from thousands, marking what would have been his 100th birthday.

    Hope you get to the pottery! Peter liked taking a class in college, and is happy to be back at it — it seems something you can pick up again. Tiffany is a fabulous teacher as well as a great potter. She’s in the Arts and Industries Building in Florence, where they have a big open house and sale in November! –hope you have a good weekend, too!

  3. So much to love and relate to in this post. We are never completely satisfied with everything we write, are we, but then, as we turn it this way and that, we recognize that there were glimmers of beauty – some even realized.

    • I love how you put that, Tara! Making things takes such balance. We see what we want it to be and strive for that, but have to keep forgiving ourselves, too.

  4. Beautiful post — love how you wove together different art forms, touching on the essence of creativity. The beauty of now, the beauty of the next thing. Love Stafford’s poetry — must find that book of essential poems. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jama. The book out this year is well worth finding. The short intro by his son is elegantly written, a sort of poetry, too. And gems within — a few that made me laugh (a poem in which he quotes his mother saying “If we can stay out of jail, God will be proud of us.” And many with wisdom within ordinary events, and a heart breakingly gorgeous elegy for another son.

  5. This shorter post today, Jeannine, packs enough artistic punch for a lifetime. I do think creative drive/living in the present moment are intertwined. Thank you for sharing Tiffany Hilton’s work (& quote!) and the William Stafford wisdom.

    • Thanks, Robyn. Does this mean my work is over for the day? I think not, but your kind words are sending me back to my laptop with more sense that I can create something worthwhile — with just enough loose lines or cracks.

  6. Magnificent! This spoke to me as I am engaged in shaping a hulk, hoping to see better and better.

    • Good luck with your shaping, Sarah! I’m certain you’re finding something of beauty.

  7. Jeannine, I could just zip through the ether to hug you right now! This post comes as so much light – thank you. I agree with Robyn: there is enough inspiration here to last a lifetime! Bless you for all the beauty you share here. xoxo

    • Amy, that’s a lovely image, you zipping through the ether to give me a hug. Thank you! I can feel the warmth.

  8. Lovely. 12 bowls in one night boggles the mind!

    • I know! All before supper, and he even stopped to chat with me (though not for very long)!

  9. “So we keep going, trying and beautifully failing to get it right.” Thank you for this, Jeannine. I needed to hear it today.

    • You get so much right, Laura, but it does seem good to remember how much we can learn from lapses and surprises.

  10. I love the idea that seeing what could have been done differently drives the next work. Thanks for this inspiring post.

    • Thank you! I loved that idea, too, when Tiffany said it. It means we’ll never run out of work or hope, while looking all around for new ideas.

  11. A Poet

    to think our hands
    have molded words
    into bolls of knowledge
    for others to fell with
    inspirations of life

    poem by Jessica Bigi

    • What a lovely gift! That poem almost looks like a cup I’d want to hold in my hand, and keeps a cup’s circle, too. Thank you!

  12. Wow, I think the post and the conversation that ensued are things of beauty, Jeannine. I am in awe that 12 bowls can be made in one evening, and they seem destined to be loved. I love William Stafford’s work, and have used the poem you mentioned, “You Reading This, Be Ready,” more than once for inspiration in our Continuation ceremonies. It is a favorite, so thank you again for all!

    • Thank you, Linda. I love knowing that you use that poem in a ceremony!

  13. There is a fine line between being perpetually unsatisfied with our work and being accepting of our work but eager to try something new to enhance it. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Jeannine, which has helped me to distinguish one from the other.

    • I agree, that is one of the finest lines to balance, right up there with being too harsh or too complacent. So happy to hear these words helped with our work!

  14. I like how your post and mine kind of talk to each other this week.

    That Stafford book has been in my Amazon cart (“save for later”) for months now. Maybe it’s time to finally buy it!

    • Yes, I liked your reminders to breathe! You won’t regret buying this book. The short introduction is a beautiful lesson in how to write an introduction — I’ve read it a few times and will reread it again, along with most of the poems. Linda Baie noted above they use “You Reading This, Be Ready” in some ceremony, so there’s that, too!

  15. “So we keep going, trying and beautifully failing to get it right.” As someone who constantly needs to be reminded of this wisdom, thank you for this line and this post.

    • I think we all need to be reminded of that. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  16. This is lovely on so many levels, Jeannine. I love the richness of this blend — beauty, the creative process, Stafford’s words … and that pottery. 🙂 Wonderful. I’m reminded, too, of the Beckett quote:

    Ever tried.
    Ever failed.
    No matter.
    Try again.
    Fail again.
    Fail better.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Karen, and the very applicable Beckett quote!

  17. hello dear friend, what a feast you offer us! I’ve put Ask Me on hold at the library and look forward to being immersed in his poetry. Just as I am always immersed in your poetry here. Much love ❤

    • Dear Lorraine, I’ll be glad to think of this book in your hands, reading and writing together across the miles. Sending love back to you.

  18. “We can learn to see the gap between what is and what could be and not be bothered by our choice, but move forward. Experiment some more.” Lovely. Thanks for these inspiring words. = )

    • Bridget, thank you for writing. I hope you stay inspired!

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