Feathered Kangaroo

IMG_0125.JPG

This is a photo of a Feathered Kangaroo
water hopping on PEI, Canada.

Feathered Kangaroo!

A long time ago, still wrapped in the stifling chrysalis of academia, a friend of mine tried to flutter her immanent butterfly wings by making a joke at a very serious conference. She was delivering a paper on one of my favorite Spanish poets, in which she examined the sundry variants of a sonnet that the poet first wrote in 1603, then re-wrote in 1613, revised again in 1627-28, and revised a couple more times before its final revision in 1643, about two years before his death (1645).

At the end of her paper, she was caught off-balance when faced by an apparently serious question from the audience “Did the poet make any more revisions after 1645?” In an effort at humor, she replied, “Well, actually, no. But when they were carrying his body to the church for the funeral, he popped his head out of the coffin and proclaimed in a loud voice ‘Hell, no, I won’t go. I haven’t finished revising the poem yet.’”

This off-hand academic pseudo-joke was greeted with a babble of excited voices and an elderly fellow scholar clapped his hands, exclaimed “Wonderful!” and, in the ensuing silence, asked her what documentary evidence she had for this astonishing revelation, hitherto unknown to the academic world. If she was off-balance before, she was clearly reeling at this stage: a punch-drunk amateur academic swaying before the hypnotic fists of Dr. Muhamad Ali. She smiled sweetly, said she would produce the proper evidence at the appropriate time, and left the podium.

Later, sharing drinky-poos with some fellow scholars, I listened to her as she made excuses for her strange sense of humor and I smiled as explained the situation to them. They were not amused. “You, madam, are an acknowledged expert in your field,” one of them told her. “Your fellow academics trust you and believe you when you make such statements. You must be very careful about what you say.”

Feahered Kangaroo, indeed, water-hopping on PEI!

Now I must make an apology on my own behalf. Alas, if you read the blog item I posted recently, you might be puzzled by the Gazunda tree. I am forced to admit there is no such thing, to the best of my knowledge, as a Gazunda tree, not in the main square in Oaxaca, nor anywhere else in the world. Of course, when it rains people have been known to go under certain trees to use them as an umbrella and thus to take shelter from the rain, but this is the full extent of the origin of the name: the tourist or the golfer or the walker or whatever goes under (say it fast — Gazunda) the tree when it rains. There is nothing more to the Gazunda tree than that little joke.

And this brings us to a really serious series of questions: how do we know things are true? How do we establish the truth of a statement? Why do we believe some people and not others, some facts and not others? How do we choose between a series of alternate truths all of them presented as factual realities when, in actual fact, not all of them are true? This leads us on to the basic foundations on which our knowledge is built: how do we distinguish between scientifically established facts, and hearsay, and gossip if we are ignorant of basic scientific knowledge and principles?

To this we must add the triple increases that threaten us. These are (1) the increase in the availability of real scientific knowledge that bombards us every day with fresh facts and new information; (2) the increase in sources of information and the easy access to those sources; (3) the fact that many of these sources, far too many in my opinion, present us with a fictional or heavily biased version of a pseudo- or alternate truth. And yes, in light of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we are indeed entitled to question the existence and indeed the very meaning of these words: alternate truths.

These considerations seem modern and up to date, but of course they are not. They can be found in Miguel de Cervantes’s novel, Don Quixote (Part One, 1605, and Part Two 1615). They are present throughout the meta-theater created by playwrights like Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), who set similar dilemmas of truth and fiction in, for example, his play La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream) as well as in the twelve plays he wrote based on Cervantes’s masterpiece. They are also present in the writings of some of the philosophers of the day. This is exemplified in the following passage that comes, I think, from René Descartes:

“There is no earth, no heaven, no extended body, no magnitude, no place and that nonetheless I perceive these things and they seem good to me. And this is the most harrowing possibility of all, that our world is commanded by a deity who deceives humanity and we cannot avoid being misled for there may be systematic deception and then all is lost. And even the most reliable information is dubious, for we may be faced with an evil genius who is deceiving us and then there can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.”

“There can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.” These are chilling words and present us with the unfortunate fact that unless we ourselves, each one of us, to the best of our abilities search out the absolute truth about all we hear, say, and do, we are indeed lost and we must wander in the dark with no light to guide us. ‘A sad life this, when beneath the axe, we have no time to check our facts.’ So: hie thee to Wikipedia, or Google the infamous Feathered Kangaroo. Or you can take my photo and the words accompanying it for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The choice, my friends, is yours.

Diagnosis

img_0122

Diagnosis
(sonnet)

Diagnosed with a terminal illness
called life, I know it will end in death.
For more than seventy years, that end
has lived within me, walked beside me,
sat at my bedside, and shared my sheets.

We have shared so many things: laughter,
joy, victory, defeat, the soul’s dark night,
the winding ways of fortune’s labyrinth.
When cancer called, we faced it together,
and life won out for a little while longer.

Hand in hand, we are together again,
our ménage à trois, engaged in a three
-legged race, blindfolded, unsure of who,
what, why, where, and especially when.

Night Thoughts

15-may-2002-pre-rimouski-224

Night Thoughts
(for Tanya Cliff)

The weight of the weather
with its dark clouds pushing
down on my shoulders
bends me to its omnipotent will.

I know my back doesn’t have
the power to lift up my heart
and soar above such heavy clouds.

I need a chariot of fire …
yet the clouds are so strong,
and the light is so weak
it won’t break through,
except in sudden flashes.

I hear the creak of sodden wheels.
Clouds blinker the lightning
as thunder crashes through my brain.

I listen to the pouring down of rain
and pull the bed sheets over my head.

Damnatus

IMG_0041

Damnatus / Doomed

‘Poor poets of today: condemned to be nothing more than the dry dust of an unread doctoral thesis.’ They languish, empty headed, in dark rooms, those poets, hunched over their computers, waiting fr someone or something to fill up their heads. They hammer away at their keyboards, correcting their spelling with an  ever cautious spell-check. Intent on making their poems cryptic, they shrug off the sunshine, the beach, the flowers in the garden,  the cardinals, orange and red, who clamor at the feeder, and concentrate on abstract meanings, abstruse words, and twisted thought.

Phone calls go unanswered. Friends are left hanging on the vine to dry. These poets are worse than wallflowers at a dance or lemons out on a date as their crowded heads fill up with metaphors and myths that limp their unsteady ways onto screen and page. Oh pity the blisters on their fingers, the calluses that harden their fingertips to the delights of re-writing, again and again, for they are not real writers but real re-writers, and every thought is a skirmish with unreality, a pledge to continue their servitude to their life’s mission: the curdling of words and the nurdling of poetic thought. What better poetry is there than a hamburger for the hungry or a helping hand stretched out across a street to help a beggar in need … but there are neither burgers nor beggars in these un-windowed buildings, just the poverty of a poetry undiscoverable in its lack of lustre gloom..

Where is the graduate student, earnest, destined to be penniless, who will delve into the notebooks of these poets’ lives and dig out the thought-gems, the diamonds that will make everyone great, publisher and published, poet and practitioner of the uncritical art? Will someone not take that student by the hand and lead him to pastures green, or to the sea, to taste and test the blessed salt and the winds that will drive away the mind’s unwholesome fog and bring light and understanding that will un-cuff the wrists and heal the immortal wounds for, left untreated, they will bleed for all eternity?

Oh the bright bracelet of learning bound round the heart-bleed wrist. Oh the false knowledge gained, that leads poet and critic up and down the slippery garden path towards promotion, tenure, and a seat on the picket fence. Oh those grey human bodies chained to their wooden desks in a dusky library or transfixed on metal seats in academic meditation. Sit and watch while cobwebs sprout in the unused brain and the only certainty lies in footnotes and bibliographical entries that rise like a surging tide to flood the drowsing mind that craves more sleep.

What bright word, what metaphor dim, has poisoned the wit so it effortless moves into the serenity of contemplation? Look on this pathless sea of words, ye mighty, and despair. But take great care: for what if this sylvan warrior awakes, steps out of that figmented dream, sees the reality beyond the shadows, demands a proper challenge, a walk in the park, a vision of the grass that is so much greener on the other side where the administraitors gather and garnish paper and paperclips as they strive for the privilege of herding more and more slovens in their poetic pursuits?

Oh grant them more grants, these purloined poets. Gift them pure visions of things that never were and will never be. Never let them break away from their dissolute dreams that wrap their disadvantaged forms in the ignorance of mental slumber, half-sharpened pencils, and a box of blunt sharpeners..

Identity: Wednesday Workshop

IMG_0067

 

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!

 

Residency: Thursday Thoughts

Chaos

Residency
Thursday Thoughts
29 June 2017

Application:
I would not have applied for the residency at KIRA had I not have been encouraged to do so by my writing group friends and by a friendly voice on the Kingsbrae phone.

Acceptance:
I was surprised to receive notification of my acceptance. It arrived on 2 March 2017. On 3 March 2017, I started to peruse the Kingsbrae web page and make the first drafts of poems that I would later complete on site.

The Red Room:
I was lodged in The Red Room in the KIRA Residence and I had a small desk at a window overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay. I spent a whole month looking out of that window and writing at that desk … or was it the other way round?

Community Commitments:
These were multiple, but they were always art orientated and therefore most enjoyable. They included working with school children, attending various unveilings and openings, and being present in our studios and discussing our art with visitors. On 26 June we had an exhibition in which each one of us either showed our work or produced a live performance.

Evening Salons:
Most evenings we had a literary / artistic salon in which we discussed various aspects of our art. These lasted two to three hours and some were summarized while others were video-taped. These quick-fire exchanges provided a backbone to our daily work.

Trips:
There was time for local trips and we travelled, individually or in groups, to many places including Deer Island, Passamaquoddy, Campobello, St. Stephen, New River Beach, Holt’s Point, Greenlaw’s Mountain, Jarea, Minister’s Island, Ile Ste. Croix, and several other locations. The photographic records enabled us to build our creativity.

Artistic Development:
This was individual to each of us, but we all remarked on a widening of our perspectives, a new commitment to narrative and theme, and a broadening of our artistic horizons.

Returning Home:
On my return home, I turned to my everyday life in which art, in my case writing, was of secondary, not primary, importance. The need to cook, to shop, to do normal household duties suddenly conflicted, once again, with my need to be a writer.

24/7:
24/7 is indeed a cliché. But for 28 days it became the pattern of my writing life. It was indeed a fertile time. I wrote some 100 poems, 25% of which will be rejected, with a possible thematic structure and three revisions already completed. Sooner or later, I will produce a book about this experience..

Conclusions:
This type of time commitment turns us from budding /artists into the real thing. We must strive to re-create these last 28 days in what remains of our creative lives. There can be no lesser or secondary choice, if we are to be serious about our art.

The Journey:
If we wish to travel from Halifax to Vancouver by bus, we must make several decisions.
1. We cannot get off at Moncton.
2. We cannot get off at Montreal, nor at Toronto.
3. Winnipeg, Regina, and Calgary are beautiful; but we mustn’t get off the bus.
4. If we do, we will never get to Vancouver.

Conclusion:
Art is a life-time journey: don’t get off the bus.