The Auld Enemy

The Auld Enemy

Divide and Conquer

They divided us into houses, Spartans and Trojans,
and encouraged us to compete with each other,
single combat, and then team against team,
house against house, eternal, internal civil war.

We divided ourselves into Cavaliers and Roundheads,
Monarchists and Parliamentarians, Protestants and Catholics,
and we continued those uncivil wars that marred the monarchy,
brought down the crown, and executed the Lord’s anointed.

We fought bitterly, tribe against tribe, religion against religion,
circumcised against uncircumcised, dorm against dorm,
class against class, territorial warfare. We defended our bounds,
bonding against all outsiders to guard each chosen ground.

With it came the denigration of the other. Not our class.
Scholarship boy. Wrong end of town. Wrong accent.
We don’t talk like that here. Speak the Queen’s English, you…
and here … we inserted the appropriate word of vilification.

Our wars never ended. We carried them from prep school
to junior school, to senior school, sometimes changing
sides as we changed schools or houses, always clinging
grimly to our best friends, protectors, and those we knew best.

After school, all those prejudices continued to hold us down,
haunted us through university, red-brick or inspired spires,
Trinity Oxford, Trinity Cambridge, or Trinity Dublin,
each gilded with the white sniff of snobbery that gelded us.

Alas, we carried them, piled in our intellectual rucksacks,
through university, into grad school, out into the wide world,
infinitely small minds based on prejudice and pride, continuing
our tribal warfare, unable to understand anything at all,
other than us or them, shoulder to shoulder, divide and conquer.

Comment: My thanks to Brian Henry for publishing this on Quick Brown Fox.

Click here to listen to Roger’s reading on Anchor.
The Auld Enemy: Divide and Conquer

Lists

Lists

We all have them somewhere,
we few, we few, we privileged few,
sent away to boarding school
before we even knew what was
tucked away in old school trunks,
or locked away, cobweb-covered,
in the dark recesses of parental minds.

This is my ‘back-to-school’ list.
It contains everything a young boy
needs, or can think of, when leaving home:
shoes, shoe polish, many brushes for shoes,
hair, clothes, teeth… everything: name tags,
shirts, socks, underpants, trousers,
jerseys, ties (of a quiet color),
sheets, pillow cases, hankies,
sports shirts (house and school),
pen, pencils, ink, blotting paper.

So many memories spring out
from this list, so many skeletons
shake their fists, or wag a finger, or wave,
hello, farewell, from that old trunk.

Look: the safety razor to shave
that first hint of hair on a juvenile face.
Bible and prayer book, too,
though I never used them.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor
Lists

Revisionism

Revisionism

Chalk on a blackboard.
Black, red, blue, green markers
on a white board.

Here comes the eraser.
The board is wiped clean,
or almost clean, figures,
letters, blurred, just about
ready for the next class.
This happens again and again.

What remains?
Notes in a student’s book?
Memories of a lesson
in tedious boredom,
the teacher droning on and on.

“Knowledge:
that which passes from my notes
to your notes,
without going through anyone’s head.”

Yesterday’s lessons:
dry dust of a doctoral thesis.

Revisionism:
“What color is the blackboard?”
“Last year, it was green, but
this year, the blackboard is white.”

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Revisionism

Into the Sunset

Into the Sunset

So, the writing is back. I have reformatted The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature and am now checking it through one last time before I send it to the publishers. This feels good. I haven’t stopped painting though. Luckily the original, hanging on the wall, looks better than the photo. My angles are all wrong and the colours are definitely not as sharp as in the original. As I always said, when introducing Spanish Art via slides and photos: “Do not trust the imitations. Go back to the original.” Easier said than done, especially when the original may be tucked away in a foreign museum hidden in a small town. As Dylan Thomas once said of Swansea Museum: “it’s the sort of museum that ought to be in a museum.”

As for the Introduction of Art, and please note I do not write ‘the teaching of art’, here’s my article on my career as an art facilitator! ‘In the beginning was the picture and the picture was in the book.’ I guess my art career ran parallel to my career as a facilitator of Spanish literature, prose, theatre, and poetry. Some things you can present and introduce. But no, you cannot teach them, not unless you are completely without humility and understanding.

Now that’s what it is meant to look like!

Blood and White Wash

Blood and Whitewash
A Thursday Thought

2-September-2021

Blood and Whitewash is the title of this painting. It has a subtitle: My Plan of Attack.

The origins of the title, and hence of the painting, go back to the Goon Show, with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and of course / wrth gwrs, Harry Secombe, the Swansea Comedian and Master Singer. Away in boarding school back in the late fifties, one of my greatest pleasures was listening to the Goon Show on one of the dormitory’s transistor radios. As a teenager, I found the jokes and the accents incredibly funny. Still do. That’s why I painted this painting. Alas, it is silent, and you cannot hear the accents.

The following snippet of dialog occurred on one such Goon Show, I cannot remember which.

“What are we going to do?”
“Well, this is my plan of attack.”
“That’s not a tack, it’s a nail.”
“No it’s not. It’s a tack.”

So above you have my painting of My Plan of Attack, resurrected after all those years. I throw my mind back to the First World War.

The General:
“He’s a cheerful Cove,” said Jimmy to Jack,
as he walked to Arras with his pack on his back.
But he did for them both, with his plan of attack.

And there in essence is the history of the painting. First, the plan of attack, then the failure and the blood-letting, and then the white-washing of the whole history, a white-washing that turns failure into success, defeat into victory, and loss into gain. But in WWI, it was the poor Tommies who bore the burden, and all the other front line troops who obeyed orders, went blindly over the top, and charged unbroken wire with fixed bayonets.

“If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are,
If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are.
They’re hanging on the old barbed wire.”

Singing as they marched to their deaths, obeying orders, like sheep, and nipped on by the eternal sheep dogs. Things were so bad at Verdun that instead of singing, the men marched, bleating, like sheep. “Sheep unto the slaughter.” There was so much ill-feeling and rebellion in the face of orders and certain slaughter, that French regiments were decimated, one man in ten shot for mutiny, as they marched bleating, instead of singing, to their deaths.

“Oh, we’ll hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line,
have you any dirty washing, Mother dear?”

“Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” So, tell me, “where have all the young men gone, gone to graveyards everyone, when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

And that, dear friends, is my thought for today: The History of My Plan of Attack. When, indeed, will we ever learn?

Sense and Nonsense

A whole lot of pens. But will they write one word of poetry?

Sense and Nonsense
Wednesday Workshop
18 August 2021

Iterative Thematic Unity

            Iterative thematic imagery is complicated term, used by academics, for a literary device that is really very simple. When the same or similar images are used again and again in a text this is repetition or reiteration, hence iterative. When they are bound thematically or within the associative fields already present in the poetry, then the repetition is said to be thematic. A work’s unity may be found within the three classical unities of time, space, and action, or it may be found within the imagery that links and unites. It seems complex, but it isn’t really.

“Now you are a river flowing silver beneath the moon. High tide in the salt marsh: your body fills with shadow and light. I dip my hands in dappled water.” The key images fall into two categories, (1) water: river / high tide / salt marsh / water and (2) light: silver / moon / shadow and light / dappled. Now the sense of the words becomes clear. You / your body is likened to a river seen in the moonlight. It can be touched: I dip my hands. This adds an extra sensory dimension and the depth of the images is apparent. And no, it is not a simple message, but it can be decoded and enjoyed because now you can make it yours.

Sense and Nonsense

            When we talk poetry, what do we mean by sense and nonsense? Let us begin with automatic writing. Automatic writing is nonsense. Put your pen on the paper, do not let it off, write for five minutes, whatever comes into your head. The Surrealists published these thoughts, however distraught and distracted as meaningful poetry. Major poets (Lorca, Paz) have used these techniques to engender metaphors and images. However, they have searched among their subconscious thoughts and have rejected the dross to choose the genuine images that enlighten the inner world.

            Sense or nonsense? “Eye of the peacock, / can you touch what I see / when my eyelids close for the night?” Key images: eye > see > eyelids > and these are linked to the eyes of the peacock, as displayed on his feathers, and this links to the ancient tale of the Argos and the Argonauts, and to the person who closes his eyes to sleep for the night, and the sense that we can touch (tactile) when we dream (visual), a mixing of the senses. The straightforward logic of the nightly news? Definitely not. But the logic of the subconscious world, of the dream world as defined by Carl Jung? Definitely. These words contain internal meanings that are different for each one of us. Logical meaning? Definitely not. Internal sensation that may generate ease or unease? Definitely. Sense or nonsense? That will depend upon the readers and how they react not in their logical minds but in that deep-seated region of subconsciousness where all imagery is related to what Carl Jung calls the racial subconscious.

            Are there words or ideas here that you do not understand? Names and theories that you do not know? Literature in general and poetry in particular take you to places where you have never been and to places that you might never have thought of visiting. However, these are lands that will open their delights before you, if you deign to open up heart, mind, and eyes, and venture out to explore them. Use your dictionary, your thesaurus, your google search tool, and expand your verbal and linguistic horizons. Poetry is not an advert. It doesn’t sell you anything. But it can and does open new worlds and it encourages you to explore old worlds set within you. It will not persuade, cajole, and limit your mind and your choice, rather it will embolden you and help to open new horizons.

Thursday Thoughts

I’ll have to think about this.

Thursday Thoughts
29 July 2021

Thursday is thought day, but what on earth am I thinking about? Well, yesterday I talked about open and closed imagery in poetry. I also talked about direct meaning and indirect meaning. So today’s thought is in Spanish and I have taken it from a poem of Federico García Lorca (1898-1936). “En la noche, platinoche, noche que noche nochera.” Sense and nonsense: what on earth does this mean? A literal translation gives us “in the night, silver-night, night which en-night-ens (more?) night”. Sense or nonsense? We shall find out. First, I would like you to read this article: https://moore.lib.unb.ca/Scholteach/platinoche.htm

Quite simply, the article discusses the difference between plain speech and poetic language. However, language has a tendency to simplify itself, to reduce itself downwards. Sentences become shorter. Ideas are simplified. Slogans replace thought. Emotion replaces reason. How and why this happens is a mystery, but I can assure you that it has happened throughout history. Just think of the breakdown from Classical Latin to Vulgar Latin to the various Romance Languages and Dialects that have replaced Latin in the areas where it used to be spoken. Break down, eliminate, simplify.

Thursday’s thoughts: why does this happen? How does it happen? Is it accidental? Is it deliberate? Should we follow meekly along and reduce our own thought and verbal processes? Should we just go gentle into that dark, but simplified, night? Should we resist? How can we resist? The answers to those questions will vary considerably. Each person who takes the time to read this will have a different set of reflections. That said, those answers are important, not just to each one of us as an individual, but also to us human beings as an inter-linked chain in society. All poets, all philosophers, all those who care about language, must reflect deeply on how they can preserve it, care for it, and make it mirror the depths, not of their own education, because not all of us privileged enough to be deeply educated, but our own intelligence. I have lived in places where people neither read nor write. It is so easy to dismiss them as ‘stupid’. I can assure you that they are not ‘stupid’ and to think of them is such is to ignore totally the oral tradition, the wisdom tradition, the cultural traditions from which these people come. We underestimate them at our peril.

What can we do? As poets, we can preserve the traditions and dignity of the depths of meaning, logical, emotional, sub-conscious, that is included in poetry. As writers, we can concentrate on using words with care and attention, of making our meaning clear, of elaborating our thoughts in such a way that others can follow them. As readers, we can look at inner structures, the deeper meaning of words, the emotional forces that try to persuade us, sometimes dishonestly, that this or that is best for us. As human beings we can extend our vocabularies, pay attention to words and their effects, and we can stand up for the linguistic and cultural traditions into which we were born, or in which we have chosen to live.

Now, always with your consent and permission, I will offer you the link to yesterday’s blog post https://rogermoorepoet.com/2021/07/28/22862/ Here you will find, if you choose to click on it, and it is always your choice, a discussion on meaning in language that will run parallel to this one.

Letters and Words

Sometimes there are no words!

Wednesday Workshop
30 June 2021
Letters and Words

            Words are formed from a combination of letters and sounds. Join them together and they will march like Roman soldiers, in groups of meaning. A cohort, ten words, ten men, commanded by a Decurion. One hundred words, a century, commanded by a Centurion. Six thousand words, a legion with six thousand possible implications attached. I use the image of the Roman Legion because meanings in poetry are Legion and our Western Poetry tradition, of which I am a part, goes back more than two thousand years to Roman times and beyond. Tolle, lege: Latin for take and read. Sortes Virgilianae: fortune telling by chance words drawn, originally, from Virgil’s Aeneid and now from this poetry book. Choose your words and sentences at random. Interpret them as you will.

Associative Fields

            While each word has an individual dictionary meaning, words are much more powerful than the dictionary. Each word is surrounded by a network of associations, called an associative field, and those connections are different for every reader. This means that each word and its associative field have very personal emotional strings attached. When you understand this, you will also understand that each reading, each interpretation, is your own and nobody else’s. This is not a grade school classroom. Here, there are no poetry thought police to tell you that you are wrong, that you are mistaken, that you do not understand what the teacher is telling you.

Take the word ‘grandmother’. The dictionary meaning is clear. Your grandmother is the mother of your father or the mother of your mother. Each of us has, if we are lucky, two grandmothers. Some of us have more than two. The emotional ties between you, as reader, and your own ‘grandmother(s)’ will determine your own personal version of the word’s emotional and poetic tones. Now you must apply these individual meanings to each word you read. Reading poetry in this fashion will allow you to create your own personal world of tone, meaning, associations, and emotions. This is what poetry brings to you, not a handful of information to be scanned for knowledge, but a series of sights, sounds, memories, all personal, that are triggered in your mind by the impact of the poet’s words.

Comment: Wednesday Workshops are my attempt to express some of my ideas and theories on writing in general and on poetry in particular. Hopefully, the will encourage other writers to think about their writing and to deepen their knowledge and understanding of what we do best: think and write. By all means add your own thoughts to what I have written here.

How to read poetry

How to read poetry
A Wednesday Workshop

The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature is a book of poems each one of which celebrates humanity’s relationship both with the natural world and the way that world is recreated by artists in so many different forms. In order to read these poems and receive full value from them, it would help to know how to approach them.

Preparing to Read

First, de-clutter the mind. Poetry cannot be hurried or rushed. Remember, it is better to read one poem a hundred times than to read one hundred poems once. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for your reading. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. Concentrate your mind on something you find peaceful: a sail on Passamaquoddy Bay, a rose in Kingsbrae’s Rose Gardens, a butterfly in the Butterfly Garden, or a fine white cotton cloud in a cerulean sky. Breathe in and then breathe out. Now slow your breathing down. Breathe in, count up to four, slowly, breathe out, counting up to six. Breathe in, count up to six, slowly, now breathe out, counting up to eight. Breathe in, counting up to eight, and breathe out, also counting up to eight. How long will you sit there? When your breathing has slowed and your mind is clear, you will be ready to start. You will know when that is.

            Open your eyes. Take your book and begin to read. Don’t start on page one and rush through. Dip in, here and there, find a title or a first line that you like, and read that poem. Read it two or three times. Then move on, randomly to another poem. Select individual lines, phrases, sentences. Savour the words. Roll them around in your mind. Read them to yourself, quietly. Then read them out loud. Try to capture their essence, their rhythms. Taste them, as you would a fine Spanish Manzanilla wine. Select another word, another line, another poem. Seek and you will find some sequence that you like. Return to it often.

Comment: I will restart my Wednesday Workshops. The Nature of Art, the manuscript on which I am currently working, has an Introduction on The Nature of Poetry. I will put this up in installments. The handwritten opening page comes from an online video on Creativity and Writing Poetry during the Pandemic. This poetry video is the first one in the series. Click here for link. Other workshops on writing can be found by searching Writing Workshops on the Blog search (top right hand corner) or by going to this link Poetic Creativity and Thoughts on Writing

Painting the School Outing

Spotify
Don’t forget to scroll down to appropriate audio episode.

Painting the School Outing
Beaver Pond, Mactaquac

The yellow of the school bus is easy, but
what colors do you give the rain of school
kids descending? And how do you portray
their energy, their noise, the tones of French
and English? What colors are their vowels,
their consonants, their high-pitched voices?

You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack
on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks.
But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans,
the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips
released from packets and popped into mouths.

Running round after lunch, they drive the wild
birds wild with their unorganized games of tag,
their impromptu dances, their three-legged races,
their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows.
Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls,
boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey:
incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but
how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?

Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup.
The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence.
Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back,
of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their
green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky
where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial
flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.

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