Spotlight

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Spotlight

Imagine a spotlight of sun peeping for a moment through dark, cool woods. Then this glimpse of wood texture beneath the bright, creamy butter color of these fungi. A moment’s magic caught by the camera and preserved forever, or until the computer crashes, or the funds for this blog page run out. So much potential beauty lost in the impermanent mists of time.

Old, ruined buildings. Churches and barns, their people moved on, their roofs crumbling, their windows boarded up. A heavy snowfall and, back-broken, they fall to their knees and yield to the weight of snow. A storm-surge of age and ailments break over them. Wildflowers creep up and in. The names on the gravestones slowly vanish, layer by layer, letter by letter, until even the names are no more.

Such will be our fate: all our glory reduced to nothing. Sic transit gloria mundi [Thus pass the worlds’ glories] as the Romans once said. All our books and words reduced to dust. No more living words, just  Polvo seco de tesis doctoral [Dry dust of a doctoral thesis] in the prophetic words of my good friend, the Spanish-Canadian poet José María Valverde.

MT 2-4 Monkey Visits the Chimpanzees’ Tea Party

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MT 2-4
Monkey Visits
the Chimpanzees’
Tea Party

Dressed to the nines in their gala outfits,
they have come here for the tea party.

Hairy penguins,
they waddle back and forth
across the temple,
then lunge for a table
with its jumbo shrimp,
smoked salmon,
scallops, baked oysters.

Faces slashed from ear to ear
by enormous grins,
“Food’s free!” they say
and stuff themselves
regardless of the consequences.

Serviettes tucked into collars,
they scoff lobster and crab.
Birds of Paradise,
subtle delicacies
flown in from half a world away,
decorate the tables.

There is something about them,
these chimpanzees,
gripping cup handles
between finger and thumb,
enormously pleased to be
the centre of attention,
however clumsily they walk
in their hired-for-the -occasion,
ill-fitting, black and whte
penguin suits.

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.

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.

The Return

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The Return

This time last year I returned to KIRA for a visit after my one month artist’s residency. I have been back several times since, but each return is always more difficult than the last. Memories are golden and the reality of the return is never quite the same. Here’s the link to last year’s post on my first return to KIRA: KIRA Return July 2017 .

You can never walk in the same river twice (Heraclitus). This is what makes the return always so difficult. It is like the spoken word that, once spoken, can never be reclaimed.

I guess the return is more difficult for some people than for others. There are so many places to which I have never returned: Cardiff, Gower, and Swansea (Wales), Bath, Bournemouth, Bristol, Christchurch, Frome, Gloucester, Hengistbury, and Wick (England), Oaxaca (Mexico), Avila, Bilbao, Elanchove, Madrid, and Santander (Spain).

These place names scratch memory’s surface, no more, for there are places within those places, also never to be seen again, save in old photos and dreams. Yes, my dreams are tinged with sadness, the sadness of remembering. There is also the great joy of having been there, of having borne witness to this moment and that. Time and memories slip through grasping fingers like water or sand. The ephemeral: it will never last, even though we catch it for a moment in a photo or a verse.

 

Dead Day

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Dead Day
A Thursday Thought
12 July 2018

Funny how a day without soccer suddenly seems a dead day. Yesterday was filled with world cup fever. Anticipation, build-up, cheering, Croatia (champions), defeat (England), football (fantastic) … today the world cup has a rest and people start to breathe more easily. As a result, all -over, boredom, cleaning up, defeat (deja vu), emptiness, future (hopes on hold) … all the alphabet soup of life packed into a few short hours.

Where do we look for meaning? Is there even any meaning to look for? I watched 120 minutes of soccer, yesterday … that’s two hours. Well spent or wasted? Meaningful or not? The world heats up. A hurricane moves up the coast, turns into a tropical storm, then back into a hurricane. Hit or miss? I still don’t know, but I hope it misses. The last big one hit in 2014. We went ten or twelve days without power, and that in the Province’s capital city. Five trees were downed in our yard. More than a dozen were tugged up in my neighbor’s place. Why? Why us? Why here? Why now? Is this personal? What did we do wrong? Values? Meaning? Yet, for 120 minutes yesterday, I could forget my immediate woes and concentrate on football’s joys and sorrows. I guess that holds meaning in itself. I thought so yesterday. Today, I’m not so sure.

Out driving yesterday, I pulled into the roadside twice to allow ambulances to pass. An ambulance, a mysterious closed vehicles, lights flashing like a mad Christmas tree manned by a crew of Dr. Who Daleks. Yes, it was warm. Yes, people were excited. I guess someone, somewhere, was overcome by something and the telephone rang and the call went out to the ambulance. Values? Meaning? “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stop and stare” … at the ambulance, lights flashing, sirens sounding, as it rushes by and we pull over into the side of the road to allow it to pass. Values? Meaning? A sense of an ending? A sense of a beginning?

Today, more than anything, a sense of being suspended, of waiting in a bubble, in a certain silence, for something to happen, don’t know what, or when, or why, or where, or to whom. The world, instead of moving on, seems to stand still. Even the leaves on the trees have stopped shaking. The silence before the storm, perhaps? What storm? And who will it strike? And where? And how? And when?

How will it begin? How will it all end?

 

 

Good Heavens!

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Good Heavens: it’s hard to believe that I am a blogger when, currently,  I so seldom blog. I guess it’s the online courses, back to back, eight weeks of creativity online, but a different line from the blog line, and then another eight weeks, five gone and three to go. So much to catch up with. So much to do. Also, all that hard work and then the discovery: a poem published on my blog is a poem published and it is not eligible for publishing elsewhere.

Oh dear … that somehow sucks … like a rose, a poem is a poem is a poem and there is an enormous difference between publishing, can you really call it ‘publishing‘, a poem here and publishing it in a journal or submitting it to a competition, with real live editorial groups poring over its content and then giving it the thumbs up, or thumbs down, as the case may be.  Whatever: rules is rules, I guess, made to be broken, but we lesser mortals break them at our peril, I guess.

Whatever: the reading lessens in three weeks time, also the writing load, and the critiquing load, and all the other loads we writers must carry around with us, on our backs, like a snail carries its shell, aka its house. Lesson: be like a hermit crab, moving in, moving out, changing your residence as it suits you … one way tickets that will keep you in the pink, or some other suitable color.

So: since the start of May I have written / revised more than seventy poems, but I daren’t put them on the blog … why not? Because I would like to publish them in more traditional fashion or else submit them for competitions where unpublished work is demanded. Screwed up? Yes, but the whole world is whirling towards a screwed up state right now. What to do? To publish or not to publish? Where to publish? Where not to publish?

You know, deep down, I am not sure that it matters a damn. I’ll play their game, by their rules, for a month or two, then when the shot-gun riders on the poetic garbage trucks (aka the gate-keepers) move in and warn me off, I’ll come back here and publish it all anyway.

Meanwhile: believe, breathe deep and believe. I’m not going away, not just yet, anyway. But I am taking a small break, and I am moving in a slightly different direction … but I am absolutely certain that I’ll be back.