15 Questions With Paulus Berensohn

Paulus Berensohn reveals the origins of life, art, and his role as a fairy godfather

Nayeli E. Rodriguez

Berensohn, who refuses to wear shoes, gets inspiration, and pain, from these pebbles.

Paulus Berensohn, author of “Finding One’s Way With Clay,” recently came to the Harvard Dance Center to lead the workshop “Clay Body, Human Body: the practice of art”. The self-described weaver, bookmaker, journal-keeper, poet, doodler, dancer, and teacher doesn’t have a cell phone or e-mail address, but FM was able to catch up with the multi-talented guru—but only after he attended to a mass of adoring fans, the last of which presented Berensohn with an apple in thanks. Clad in a flowing white outfit and sporting a snowy ponytail (but no shoes), Berensohn was finally free to enlighten FM.

1.

Fifteen Minutes: Do you ever wear shoes?

Paulus Berensohn: Wearing shoes cuts us off from the earth. I try not to.



2.

FM: You were a dancer for a while. Now you weave, keep journals, make pinch pots from clay...What made you want to be an artist?

PB: I’ve always wanted to be an artist, to make things. I am very dyslexic and wasn’t a good student in school, so I would doodle while the teacher gave arithmetic assignments. I would put 2 and 2 equals 8 and doodle all around it.



3.

FM: What kinds of things did you doodle?

PB: Doodling comes from the ecological unconscious. I just start by making a dashed line, and I go from that line to another line. I don’t know where I’m going, but suddenly it begins to speak to me.



4.

FM: Growing up, did you ever resent being “very dyslexic”?

PB: It’s a gift. I could never have gotten into Harvard because I can’t think logically, I can’t reason. But I’m rich in imagination, inspiration, intuition. That’s the gift of dyslexia.



5.

FM: Father of wildlife ecology Aldo Leopold said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Could give us an example of what you think tends otherwise?

PB: In Tasmania the government is cutting down these 300 year old pines to make toilet paper for the Japanese market.



6.

FM: You’ve been at Harvard all weekend. What do you think of it?

PB: I would love to come as a freshmen student in the class of 2012. I’m ready for it now. I would take one or two classes a year. It’s a little stimulating here, and the temptation! All the great music concerts, bookstores. I’m very interested in slow time. But if I could just take one or two courses…I wouldn’t mind coming here, there are some great teachers.



7.

our time. He does wood carving. He is one of five children in Detroit, the only one in his family to graduate from high school.



8.

FM: What’s so special about clay?

PB: You didn’t hear my talk? Clay is the source of life on this planet. The first DNA was formed in the crystals of clay.



9.

FM: Why is poetry important?

PB: A poem carries juice to touch your soul. That’s the reason for poetry. Not to dissect it, like in literature classes.



10.

FM: As a poet, what’s the word or line you’ve found most beautiful or affecting?

PB: I made up a word. It’s “efflubiation.”



11.

FM: That’s E-F-L-U—can you spell it out for me?

PB: I spell it differently each time.



12.

FM: Is it a noun?

PB: The fourth definition is “to efflubiate.” I use it to express my need to exaggerate, to fluff up, to embroider upon something I experience as wonderful. I use it when I want to encourage the sense of awe. That’s what you can say about my work; I’m interested in wonder and awe, and I think we’re losing that—I’m tired of talking. You can listen to my tape, no more talking.



13.

FM: I understand. Wow, you must be exhausted. Can I ask you one more thing?

PB: Sure.



14.

FM: You said before that German psychologists found that kids were losing their senses by 1 percent per year. If you had to lose all but one of your five senses, which would you keep?

PB: I have 62 senses on my list. The most important sense to me is touch.



15.

FM: And if you had to lose just one of your 62 senses, which would it be?

PB: I would not grieve over losing the sense of sight. In the last century, it has totally dominated all the other senses even though it has the least receptors—the eye has one-tenth the sense receptors of the ear.