MT 2-3 Monkey Visits the Poisonous Snakes

MT 2-3
Monkey Visits the Poisonous Snakes

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Monkey Visits the Poisonous Snakes

A swift death
was never their style,
the cobras, the vipers,
the adders and subtractors,
the bean counters and snatchers,
the diminutive dudes.

They prefer death
by blow-gun
their poison dart
injected through
hollowed fangs

or Chinese Water Torture,
the slow drip after drip
of poison inserted into ears
and veins, a drop at a time,
and slowly gathering …

… until their victim slows down,
ceases to struggle,
stands there, eyes open,
unable to move,
poisoned and paralysed.

Comment: with all the exciting things that are happening concerning my new poetry writing, I forgot all about my monkeys. It seems they have been bouncing up and down, fretting in their cages, bounding all over the ruined, broken-down temple, poor little blighters. Apparently, on their last visit to the rest of Bristol Zoo, they left the big snakes and decided to visit the little, poisonous ones. I guess they didn’t like them at all. Does anyone? I hope there are no ‘snakes in the grass’ near you, and I don’t mean grass snakes. And watch out for snake charmers, some of those snakes believe more in harm than charms.

PS Let me know if you want a voice text. I haven’t recorded this one yet.

Loss of …

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Loss of …

By the time I remembered your name,
I had forgotten your face. Then I couldn’t
recall why I wanted to talk to you.

I trace dark landmarks on the back of scarred
hands: blood maps, unremembered encounters,
dust covered photographs, grey, grim, anonymous,

not belonging in any family album.
At night I cruise among islands, emerald green
against sapphire seas. Why didn’t I visit

some of these places? Golden sand trickles through
night’s fingers and time’s hour glass, as stars
sparkle and planets dance in Platonic skies.

My memory fails. I wake each morning
unaware of where I have been the night before.
I track the sails of drifting ships, white moths.

I think I have caught them in overnight traps,
but they fly each morning in dawn’s forgiving light.
I give chase with pen and paper, fine butterfly nets

seeking wild thoughts waiting to be caught, then tamed.
I grasp at something just beyond my fingertips,
but I can’t quite remember what it is.

Comment: I first published this poem on July 31, 2018 (click here for the original post). Here it is now, in revised form. I find the revision process to be totally fascinating: the polishing of old ideas, the arrival of new ones, a different structure, a reshaping of the poem’s internal logic. So much happens in the revision process. Many great poets wrote and rewrote their poems, again and again.  I consider Francisco de Quevedo and Juan Ramón Jiménez to be poets who continually revised. A perusal of the variants to their poems (28 versions in the case of some of Quevedo’s poems) gives the reader an understanding of how the great poets think, of how they purge, intensify, sometimes simplify, usually improve their initial instincts. We lesser poets can learn so much from the greats. Above all, we can understand that poetry is a life-long practice, that it is a love of words and emotions, that it is a desire to catch and preserve the uncatchable that can never be completely caught. The critics say that the reader can never know the writer’s intentions. I agree with that, to a certain extent, as I never know why I am writing what I put down on the page. I guess I often have no intent. More important, my original intention can change as I write, and what I write is by no means what you understand I wrote when you read, for each of us processes the imagery, especially metaphors, in a different, and very personal, fashion. That said, when I rewrite a thought pattern emerges and my intentions become that much clearer, not from the words on the page, but from the footpath that led me in different directions until the final version emerged on the page.

Lost

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Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
walk through them all. Your shadow dances on walls,
in mirrors, and your breath brushes my cheek

every time I open doors or windows. That silly cat
looks for you and hisses when I bring her kibble.
I move from room to room, but when I seek you,

you are no longer here. I knock, nothing opens.
Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I know
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Sometimes your voice seems to break the silence.
You whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,

that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,
the days, embracing dust motes. I find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

Comment: Regular visitors to this blog will probably recognize this poem. It is a rewrite of an earlier one, also bearing the title Lost (click here for earlier post). I rewrote, or rather, reorganized the structure of the poem, added some words, and subtracted others. I did this earlier this summer while Clare was in Ottawa visiting our daughter and grand-daughter. And yes, I missed her. I always do when she in not present or I am away. Comments on either version will be welcome, particularly if you prefer one version over the other.

Knowledge

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Knowledge
Thursday Thoughts
9 August 2018

In response to yesterday’s post, The Curse of Cursive, I received this comment.

“I have always blamed my own illegible (except – well sometimes – to me) scribble on the hours sitting in college lectures attempting to make a record of what was being said. Consequently, I could only ever record about every 3rd sentence. Something which I claim accounts for all those gaps in my learning.”

This comment merits a Thursday Thought.

First thought: the whole process of note-taking. One of my professors in Bristol University, where I did my undergraduate degree, was in the habit of sipping Harvey’s Bristol Cream while munching his sandwiches, consequently his post-lunch thoughts were always most enlightening. Here is his post-lunch declaration on knowledge: “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without passing through anyone’s head.” This statement was followed by a closing of the drowsy eyes and an enormous hiccup.

For me, the art of note-taking goes way beyond the copying down of another’s ideas. As  note-takers, we must sift the incoming information, break it into salient and important features, and get the main drift of the argument down on the page. And not just the argument, but our own questions and challenges as well. Much of what I was taught at the various schools I attended was, frankly, nonsense. However, I learned a great deal about teaching from those who taught me that nonsense. A dictated note from an early geography class, preserved for ever in the young student’s mind: “The earth is geoidal, ie, earth-shaped.” Good one, teacher. “Please sir, if the earth is earth-shaped, what shape is the moon?” “Don’t be cheeky, boy, I’ll see you afterwards.”

When I received my first important teaching award I realized that it came to me on account of what I had avoided (all those inadequate lectures and lessons) and that what I was doing was engaging students and challenging them to challenge me by developing their own questions and ideas, by doing their own background checks, and by establishing their own thought processes, rather than trying to imitate somebody else’s dictated and regurgitated notes with their partial pictures of (in)complete and often antiquated knowledge, and all this often dredged up and recycled in the form of ancient, dusty scrawlings from pre-historic graduate courses.

I realize that this is unfair to several lecturers I encountered over the years who were able to deliver riveting and thought-provoking adresses. However, these were few, very scarce, and much appreciated. Their names and ideas are engraved on my mind. They and their methods are not forgotten, even now, but, as I say, there weren’t many of them.

As for knowledge, it is so personal and becomes an integral part of who we are and what we do. I know people who received everything they knew about life with their first degrees. They thought they possessed everything, the complete tree of knowledge in one rolled up certificate. Alas, many of them spent their lives never progressing, standing still and contemplating their known world, neither learning nor needing to learn anything else.

Our knowledge is incomplete. If we are at all ‘thinking people’, we know this. We also know we can never get enough knowledge. A PhD is great: knowledge Piled higher and Deeper. But often it is Reinforced Ignorance, the false knowledge that this knowledge is the only knowledge, well, the only knowledge that matters to the individual who, at a substantial living wage, ekes it out with great care and tests other people on their ability to reproduce it in its exactitude. “And I never-ever thought for myself at all” (I am the Monarch of the Sea, the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy, HMS Pinafore).

And here we enter the world of clichés: life-long learning, an everlasting thirst for enlightenment, for more light, more knowledge. The only real knowledge that we simply must transfer to our students, our followers, is how they can gain knowledge and even more knowledge for themselves. A love of and a desire for life-long-learning is the teacher’s greatest gift. If the teacher can pass that on, then the world of ideas will not fail, knowledge will not become carved in stone, set in concrete, entrenched in notes ‘that pass from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head’.

Here ends my Thursday Thought. A rant, really, and a very satisfying one. Thank you, Roland of Roland’s Ragbag, for turning on the tap and allowing these refreshing waters to once again flow.

Comment: Opening photo, knowledge set in stone. One of the Bulls of Guisando (Province of Avila, Spain), with graffiti carved by a Roman legion.

Purple

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Purple

I write poems
in green ink,

but I prefer
purple.

Bruised clouds
on an evening sky,
dark depths
of a rainbow glow,
Northern Lights
singing at the deep
end of their scale …

or just a desire
to be different …
slightly different ..

as if that one thing,
the color of my ink,
might tip the scales
and turn me
from mediocrity
to celebrity

with a wave
of a violet wand.

or the click
of a pair
of ink-stained
fingers.

Curse of Cursive

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The Curse of Cursive
Wednesday Workshop
8 August 2018

It appears we will no longer teach cursive writing in our schools. Instead, we will teach our children to print. I will not pass judgement on this decision. Quite simply, my handwriting has always been bad. Very bad. I have never worked out why, but I suspect that it is because I think very quickly and my hand tries to keep up with my brain, and the result is the scrawl that I call my handwriting.

I type with two fingers, too, and stare at the keyboard as I am doing so. I tried to follow a typing course one year. I worked at it for two months. At the end of that time, I tried my touch typing examination and managed a rate of 78 words a minute with an accuracy of  82%. I did the same test with my trusted two fingers: 114 words a minute accuracy rate 98%. Oh dear. I still type with two fingers and I still write badly and no, my thoughts have not slowed down.

Just glance through the above photograph, taken from the journal I keep everyday. “Almas de Violeta,” it reads, “an early poetry book by Juan Ramón Jiménez, the Nobel winning poet, was first published in violet ink. I have a copy of his complete works, Obras completas, in which these early poems still appear in purple, or violet rather, to match the color of the title. He published in green ink too, but personally I prefer the purple. Bruised clouds on an evening sky, dark depths of a rainbow glow, Northern Lights singing at the deep end of their scale … or just a desire to be different … slightly different, as if that one thing, the color of my ink, might tip the scales and turn me from mediocre to celebrity with a wave of a violet wand or the click of a pair of ink-stained fingers.”

Now, wasn’t that easy! And there’s so much personality in tone and color, ebb and flow, the link of a poet to the words on his page.

Once, in a faraway library in a distant, magical land, I was studying an autograph manuscript, written by Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645). The hand-writing began very steadily. Then I noticed a red dot or two on the page. Then a larger stain. Our poet was a notorious drinker. The letters grew large and loopy. The paragraphs sprawled. Punctuation marks and accents, slashed and splashed, and missed their targets. By the end of his evening, with his bottle surely empty and gone, I could just about make out what the good man had written.

When I turned the manuscript folio, from recto to verso, it was a new day and the original handwriting was back, small and neat. I have noticed the same phenomenon when I write late at night. Unreadable words, occasional wine splutters, spelling and grammar mistakes, disjointed readability … but the thoughts and the ideas are still there, still clear. Sure, I need a bit of hard work to interpret some things, but that’s the curse of the cursive, I guess.

Welsh Miners

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Miners

What has become of the caged
canary who lit up my life?
I hear the pit pines creaking.
Now nobody dares strike a match.

Birds descending in an iron cage,
our lungs blackened and scarred,
scared, we sing dark hymns
knowing we are doomed.

On hands and knees, we crawl
to the coal-black altars of our gods.
Blind from birth, pit ponies
trust us in their solitudes.

Don’t they know that when
the canary falls from its perch,
we’ll abandon them and claw
our way, anywhere, to safety?

Within the chalk tomb-tunnels
of my calcined skull,
a lone thought searches
an abandoned mine for a memory
it can no longer find.