Coffee House

Roger poster 1

I have not been very active on the reading scene for some time now, so I welcome this chance to appear in public behind a microphone and with a book in my hand.

My thanks to Jane Tims for organizing this reading and creating the poster.

If anyone is in the area, please drop in and visit. I’ll be on my best behavior.

I promise.

Identity: Wednesday Workshop

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Identity
Wednesday Workshop

5 July 2017

Today’s workshop settles on the question of identity, loss of identity, and the attempt to recover any form of cultural identity that one feels one has lost. These questions are particularly important in the current age when so many differences are so easily erased. Language, culture, identity, music … they are all tied closely together.

The search for identity runs parallel to the search for the poetic voice (or the writing voice) that is so unique to each good writer. In fact, one can distinguish between good writers and lesser writers merely on the basis of voice. Lesser writers rarely establish a distinct voice while good writers usually have voices that are uniquely their own.

What to do we mean by voice? When we read Shakespeare or Miguel de Cervantes we know almost immediately whose work we are reading. The same is true of the great musicians. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, all have sequences and styles that are individual to them, as do Scarlatti, Brassens, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilles Vigneault, Edith Butler … their style, their voice is established. We listen to them and we know who they are.

Cultural identity is also very important. It is tied into language, childhood beliefs, fairy tales, myths, the basic culture that we receive as children. When we all listen to the same radio stations, or download the same ITunes, or watch the same TV programs with their infinity of ad nauseam advertisements, then we are socially engineered to be the same or, if not the same, remarkably similar within a series of very limited and extremely limiting patterns. When we establish our own identities, — and this is always difficult both for people who have had their culture taken from them and for immigrants, or the children of immigrants, who want to retain their culture at the same time as they blend in and fit in socially — then at the same time we develop our own voices.

When I hear the poetry of Lorca, of Antonio Machado, of Miguel de Unamuno, of Octavio Paz, of Dylan Thomas, of Gerard Manley Hopkins, of Wilfred Owen, I hear their very distinctive voices and recognize their individual styles and the cultural / poetic identities that they have established. The goal that we, as writers, are aiming for is to establish our own style, our own voice. To do this, we must listen to ourselves and discover how we think and how we feel. Then we must listen to others of our own generation. We must make comparisons and establish what we do differently, why we are different, what forms our differences … our own individual voice may come from speech rhythms, from language usage, from the establishment of a certain form of narrative, from the use of imagery or metaphor … there are so many different ways in which we are, each of us, different … or capable of being perceived as different.

When we write often enough and frequently enough, we at last begin to recognize those words, those phrases, those rhythms, those ideas, that are ours and nobody else’s. This is when we start to discover our own voices and our own personalities. It is a goal worth striving for … step by step … poco a poco … little by little … and a step forward everyday … until we grow into the type of writer or poet, fully established (or establishing), that we were always meant to be.

It is never easy to capture oneself and place oneself on the page in readable form. It’s a bit like trying to draw Picasso’s blue vase using only one blue pencil: not easy. It’s much easier to take a selfie with a flashy cell-phone.  Cell-phone selfies are easy, but verbal selfies are what we are seeking for. They take much longer to ‘produce’ and it is only when we finally achieve them, that we realize how difficult they are to actually achieve. But remember, read and re-read my earlier postings: don’t give up; don’t get off the bus!

 

Middens by Jarea

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Kingsbrae 25.4
25 June 2017

Middens by Jarea

Garbage dumps they are to us,
filled with childhood treasures,
shaped flints, arrowheads, spear
tips, scrapers for deer hide,
so many castaway items.

Garbage dumps to us, maybe,
but for the Passamaquoddy
who first settled this area
and lived on this shore,
these precious middens
are anything but dumps.

They are guide posts,
lighthouses in the moonlight,
signposts to point the way
for wayfarers and wanderers,
at high tide, low tide,
and especially when the mudflats
bathe beneath sun and moon
and the channels twist and turn,
serpentine labyrinths in their wanderings.

Garbage: we dig up what they have left,
expose past lives to scientific theories,
and destroy their navigational knowledge,
the science they left behind.

An Angel at Jarea

15 May 2002 Pre-Rimouski 141

Kingsbrae 25.3
25 June 2017

An Angel at Jarea

An angel moves through the room
in the silences between our chatter.
He fills the interstices of speech
with the wonder of feathers
enlightened by rainbows.

Tranquil his footsteps
as we sense his presence.
He places his hand on an arm,
his arm around our shoulders,
and now, commanding silence,
a finger on his lips.

We sit here
scared by our intimate inadequacies,
scarred by the fierceness of his immanence
as we sense the vacuum
of his soon-to-be absence.

Trinity

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Kingsbrae 22.4
22 June 2017

Trinity

A coming together of cultures,
these three statues, placed
equidistant, an equilateral
triangle, all things being
equal and none more equal
than others; three brothers;
mother, father, child; father,
son, and holy ghost: no women
there; perhaps three founding
cultures: English, French, and
Indigenous,  in alphabetical
order; and there they stand,
face to face to face,
a triangulation, in profile,
silhouetted, sharing positive
and negative space; and, at the dead
center of their union, at the spot
where all is still and nothing moves,
a living space, that takes away
your breath when you breathe
in air and light and sun and
a renewed hope; then faith runs
tingling round your body with
joy and life and love reborn.

Wollemi

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Kingsbrae 21.3
21 June 2017

Wollemi Nobilis

To see you on this day,
the summer solstice,
when time and the sun
stand still,
is to recall you as relictus,
then to acclaim you
as Lazarus,
risen from the dead.

Your fossil footprints
walked for so long,
two hundred million years,
and you walked with them,
unknown, unrecognized,
lost in the wilderness.

What poverty in language:
we either describe you
in impossible scientific Latin
or else we reduce you
to a chocolate coco pops
breakfast cereal.

Hand-cuffed, chained,
your feet rooted within
this immobile crockery pot,
you will never leave us now.

You are your own solstice,
a stationary seed,
growing to adulthood,
sown in a circle
of never-ending time.

Comment: I have been trying since Sunday, 5 March 2017, to write this poem. But what are four months in the life of a seventy-three year old poet or a pine tree that was thought to have become extinct 200 million years ago. I do not have the words to express how I feel looking at this throwback to the time of the Dinosaurs. And maybe that is how this poem should start for it is, after all, Wordless Wednesday … “I do not have the words …” and thoughts, too, jam in the brain and refuse to cycle, let alone re-cycle. So, I’ll leave this poem for now. That said, I will probably come back to it. Meanwhile, do I ever feel so absolutely, totally, and completely inadequate.

Rain

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Kingsbrae 20.4
20 June 2017

Rain

Hand in hand, we walk
beneath black umbrellas.
Grass beneath our feet is wet
and water seeps through
our shoes, soaking our socks.

Cold and numb in spite of the date
(the summer solstice draws near),
my ears strain against the pitter
-patter of falling rain to catch
the nearby robin’s song.

He has mislaid his voice
and I can no longer translate
his liquid notes into soul music
that might lighten mind and day.

Clouds gather and empty themselves
over our umbrella-covered heads.
In spite of damp and dark that rule,
thoughts abound and hop around,
like frogs in a summer pool, while
light bulbs explode in my brain.