The Great Pretender

The Great Pretender

This from the days when I was a wannabe artist who thought he could actually be an artist. But no, it was not to be and the masks fell off and dropped to the ground. There was no Covid back then, so I didn’t have to pick them up and put them back on again. And I didn’t have to stay two metres – six -feet – away from the painting. If you paint with the Devil, you need a long brush. Also known s a Devil’s Paint Brush.

To paint or not to paint, that is the question. So, I chose the path of mindfulness, la escondida senda por donde han ido los pocos sabios que en el mundo han sido / the hidden path along which have walked the few wise men who have lived in the world. And yes, art, in all its forms, is mindfulness, being in yourself, being aware of the moment, being taken up by that split second when paint hits paper, canvas, or whatever, and being absorbed totally in that.

Gardening will do that for you. Also what I call hyperspace, that wonderful world between fingertips, and screen where the great ideas flow naturally, like paint, and words come tumbling out onto the page. Today’s theme: The Great Pretender. Not all the words are wonderful, nor all the ideas great. The greatest skill is to be able to differentiate between gems and dross. This comes with patience and practice. But when the words flow, and the paint settles, there are few joys like it.

Balls of Fire

Balls of Fire

One of my first cartoons. It always reminded me of Jerry Lee Lewis: “Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire.” What fun it was to paint and what a joy to rediscover it. I guess that’s the name of the game for a little while: rediscovery. Dig down into the dirt and the memoirs and the flashbacks and reproduce what’s in there. It reminds me too of the conjunction of Mars and Venus, a couple of years back. I would look out of the window, to the southern sky, and there they were, drawing closer together until, suddenly, one night, there they were. “Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire.”

I have never been able to draw or paint with any skill. Then, one day, I read Matisse and his commentaries on his own work: “Making meaning out of colour and shape.” So, there you are. I don’t know what it means, but, as Salvador Dali said “I don’t know what it means, but I know it means something.” And the moment means something: staying in the moment of creativity creates great joy. That joy, the joy in joie de vivre, is there to be rediscovered. So: share the joy. Laugh at the innocence. And, following Picasso, “paint the world as a child might see it.”

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!

Signs of Age

Meditations on Messiaen
Wisdom from Beyond

1

Signs of Age

Wisdom in the wrinkled skin,
the grin that glows with humor,
the sun sign of old age,
or merely that of ageing,
the knowledge that, yes, many
have walked this wobbly way before,
and many will follow.

What is pain, but the knowledge
that we are alive, and relatively well,
and still on the green side of the grass.
Long may it last. When the pain is gone,
we shall soon follow. For this is age,
and age is this pain, and the painful
knowledge that we are no longer young,
can no longer bend the way we bent,
or touch our toes, or even see our toes,
some of us. The golden arrow pierces
the heart. Fierce is the pain. But when
that arrow is withdrawn and the heart
no longer lives in love, why, how we miss
that pain, how we weep to find it gone,
perhaps never to come back again.

Pain, like rain, an essential part of the cycle
of the seasons, of the days and the weeks,
and all the months and years that walk us
around time’s circle, in time with the earth
and its desire to open its arms, and welcome us,
and greet us, and bring us rest, from our pain.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Signs of Age

Twist & Bust

Lady Cherry Stones with balloon!

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

6

Twist and Bust

 Vingt-et-un, twist and bust, always hoping,
seldom winning, holding out one’s hand
for hand-outs, for special treatment, for some
thing that raises us above the everyday nothingness.

Twist, yes. Let’s twist again, like we did back when.
But this isn’t Oliver Twist: “Please sir, may I
have some more?” though everyone is heading
for the poor house and the beadles are gathering
by Bedlam’s door with their handcarts and dogs
and the full enforcement of a blue-serge law
made to twist and torment, though I have never
understood the law, especially when it is left
in the hands of lawyers, for “the law, dear sir, is an ass”,
a striped ass at that, black and white like a zebra,
though grey and costly in the areas that matter most.

And what is there to do but rant away
about the injustice of it all, the size of the pay-checks
and now you must check-out the food banks,
 the soup kitchens, the meals on wheels, the charitable
eating and boarding houses, because there’s no more roof
over the head and the house is sold and the incomes
are split and the children are more-or-less cared for,
though rather less than more, and the dog is turfed from
his dog house and the pussy cat booted from her feathered bed.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Twist & Bust

Mystery and Magic

Mystery and Magic Rule

            “Sólo el misterio nos hace vivir, sólo el misterio / Only the mystery keeps us alive, only the mystery.”(Federico García Lorca, 1898-1936). The poet and the artist both create metaphors, mysteries, magic. The search for meaning, the attempt to unravel the Gordian knot that surrounds the inner core of mystery is what keeps us, as viewers, viewing, and us, as readers, reading. Sometimes, as in a mystery novel, the ending is closed. The mystery that has spurred us on is revealed and the novel ends. Sometimes, as in many of the poems and stories in my books, the ending is open. The mystery continues and we never leave the land of wonderment that we first entered when we opened the book. There is no closure. Words and memories, metaphors and images, lines and rhythms, remain trapped in our mind with the brightness of butterflies that flutter before our eyes and flitter away before they can be caught. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And in poetry, each beholder becomes a new creator, a new artist creating a private, imagined world.

A private, imagined world: reading The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings is one thing. The characters came alive and I recreated them in my own mind. I remember the first cartoon rendition of The Lord of the Rings. The characters were no longer mine. I did not respond to them. I left the film early and went off to the closest bar. To drown my sorrows and forget. Same thing with Harry Potter. My own inner visions were not the external visions created for me by Hollywood or whoever. In fact, after seeing one film, I gave up on the whole series. Not my inner creations, not my heroes, not my people.

This might be a generational problem. I grew up in the age of radio, no TV, not until I was 9 years old. I remember listening to the Wind in the Willows on BBC Radio. Voice echoed in my head and each character, each episode was recreated in my own mind. I read my first copy, carefully preserved since childhood, the other night, and Ratty, Moley, and Badger were just as I first remembered and recreated them. The same with The Chronicles of Narnia, read, before they were seen.

Perhaps someone else’s visuals destroy the magic and the mystery we have created. Perhaps there is a huge difference between reading first and seeing first, or seeing first and then reading the novel. I once used A Room with a View as a textbook in a reading and writing class. Many participants had enormous problems with the written version. In fact, they did not understand the written version until after they had seen the Merchant Ivory film. “Oh woe is me: shame and scandal in the family”. But whose shame? Whose scandal? The world is changing ever more rapidly. There seem to be few absolute rights and wrongs. So many things seem to be relative. Mystery and Magic: are these the things that keep us alive?

Migrants

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

4

Migrants

Think natural disasters. Think famine,
wars, violence, plague. How our world changes
when refugees arrive, blend, contribute,
offer so much, their languages, cultures.

Yet we still exploit them, stealing subtle
things, their identities, their energy,
their ability to adapt, to give
so much and really to take so little.

Who would want to build a wall,
to reject them, to deny entry?
Maybe a million Indigenous people
can actually claim the right

to belong here. Most of us are immigrants,
late-comers in one way or another.
To accept, to grow together in peace,
to establish a nation where people

need not fear imminent expulsion
for the color of their skin, their language,
their religion, their political thoughts,
the fact they may not even vote for us.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Migrants

Push to Shove

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

3

Push to Shove

When push comes to shove, who stands
at one end of the gangplank, who at the other,
the shipboard one with a gun or a cutlass,
the other poised above circling sharks,
their grey triangular mini-sails threatening.

Can you hear the siren song emerging from
Davey Jones, waiting below, his locker door
open, as it has been so often before? Is this
fate or a fait accompli? Don’t ask me.

Let’s leave him there, the condemned man,
walking his plank, tied blindfold to his stake, seated
before the firing squad, standing on the crossing,
not quite ready to dance on a rope’s end, or riding
the tumbril to La Place de la Bastille, carrying
the time-bomb candle that will light him to bed.

Waiting, waiting, like them, we are all of us waiting,
in media res, waiting for push to come to shove.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Push to Shove

Hot Line to God

     

Hot Line To God

What would you do if you had a hot line direct to God? What would you say? You wouldn’t need to punch in a number, he’d be right there, at the other end of the line when you picked up the phone. Hello, is that you, God? Yes, I am who I am. Would you then give your name? It’s me, John. I know. How do you know? Have you got one of those little screens that tells you who’s calling? No. I’m omniscient. You’d pause a little at this point, wouldn’t you? What would you say next? What’s omniscient? I am. But what does omniscient mean? It means I am God. I know everything. That would make you think.
            So, would you ask for definitions, like you just did, or would you move in another direction? Like this. So you know why I’m calling, then? Of course. Wow, that’s another conversation stopper. If he knows why you’re calling, why did you call in the first place? To ask him something? It’s sunny here. What’s the weather like where you are? The same as always. How’s that exactly? Heavenly. Maybe this conversation isn’t going the way you thought it might. You could try again. Well, if you know why I am calling, what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Free will. But you’ve got to do something. Why? Because I think you should. Are you omniscient? No. Then why should I do what you think I should do? Because… because
            And there you are. On the telephone to God. Left speechless. Perhaps you wonder if the phone’s been hacked. You go ahead and ask him. Has this phone been hacked? No. Are you really God? Yes. And this is your direct line? Yes. Can you prove you are God? Of course. Will you prove it to me? No. Don’t you have a code word or something that proves who you are? No. What about a security number? No. So how can I believe what you say? Either you will or else you won’t. But what if you’re a con artist, an evil genius, a thief who wants to lead me astray? Some have said I am just that. What? Who? Throughout the ages, there have been doubters. There have? Of course. But I’m not a doubter. Then why are you asking these questions? If you’re omniscient, you know why I am worried. I do. So what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Not free will again?
            Knock and it will open, seek and you will find. You mean I called you to hear those words? You will hear them if you want to. Some have ears and do not hear. But you could do something about that? What do you have in mind? The churches are empty. Make people go to church on Sunday. On Sunday? Only on Sunday? What about Friday, or Saturday? What about the other days of the week? You’re all powerful. What would you advise? Advise? I don’t give advice. Or orders. I have given people free will. They can choose what they want to do. If they want to go to the mosque, the synagogue, the church, they may find me there. There again, they may not. Some have eyes and cannot see. These would walk right past me and even if I hung there on the cross and winked at them, they’d never recognize me.
            You find it frustrating, eh? It’s like a Socratic Dialog where you only get to answer yes, or no, or three bags full. How persistent are you? Will you keep going? What other direction would you like to take? If the weather’s heavenly where he is, perhaps he’s in heaven. Why not ask him if he ever leaves heaven? Do you ever leave heaven? No. Why not? I am ubiquitous. What does that mean? It means I am everywhere. The people who really seek me can find me anywhere they look. I don’t understand. You’re not omniscient. But how can you be in two places at once? If I am everywhere, as I am, heaven travels with me, wherever I go. So I could find you anywhere I looked? If you knew how to look properly, you would. Others did. Where did others find you? John the Baptist found me in the wilderness. St. Francis of Assisi found me among the flowers and the plants, the flora and the fauna. As did St. John of the Cross. St. Teresa of Avila was slightly more mundane. She found me walking in the kitchen among the pots and pans. 
            Where should I look for you? How would I know? Because you’re omniscient. But I gave you free will. I cannot tell you how to use it. If I did, it wouldn’t be free. Couldn’t you give me a little hint? Not one. Why not? Because a hint from me would be the Word of God. And I am tired of being carried down from the mountaintop with my words carved in stone, only for the misguided to twist them out of shape and give them alternative meanings. People do that? Of course. That’s why so many no longer go to church on Sundays. Where do they go? Some of the good ones go out into the woods and contemplate the snow in winter, the leaves in summer and fall, and they find me there. Others work in the kitchen, or at their knitting, and they find me among the pots and pans, or between their stitches. Still others find me in the crossword puzzle, or the Sudoku, or in one of those brief moments when, alone, they close their eyes, breathe deep, listen to their bodies, and find that I am there within them.
            You are within us? Deus est in nobis. Meaning? God is in us. So I don’t need a telephone with a direct line to you. Not at all. And remember, telephone lines are dangerous. They can always be hacked. Now I’m confused. Sorry. Must go. There’s an emergency on the other line.
            You hear the click on the other end of the line as the phone goes down. You are overcome by a tsunami of sorrow and grief, a tidal wave of loneliness and abandonment sweeps you away and you cry out in your anguish that which you have never heard or spoken before, the words of the twenty-second psalm or of Christ on the Cross: Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

Click here to listen to Roger’s reading.

Hot Line to God

Poetry or Prose?

Poetry or Prose?
Wednesday Workshop
22 September 2021
Patos de setiembre.

When I write, I do not distinguish between poetry or prose. More often than not I think in terms of the rhythm and musicality of the words I am using, if the words sound right, when read out loud, they probably are. Here is a prose poem, Cage of Flame. It is written in prose, but it’s meaning is dependent on imagery, metaphors, associative fields, and musicality. Read it as you would any piece of prose, in sentences, following the guidance of the grammar. Read it two or three times quietly to yourself then, when you have grasped the poem’s rhythms, try reading it out loud. If you want to know how I would read this poem, check my recorded readings on my blog, Spotify or SoundCloud.

Cage of Flame

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. Twin gulls, they float down stream, then perch on an ice-floe of half-remembered dreams. Eagle with a broken wing, why am I trapped in this cage of flame? When I turn my feathers to the sun, my back is striped with the black and white of a convict’s bars. Awake, I lie anchored by what pale visions fluttering on the horizon? White moths wing their snow storm through the night. A feathered shadow ghosts fingers towards my face. Butterflies stutter against a shuttered window. A candle flickers in the darkness and maps in runes the ruins of my heart. Eye of the peacock, can you touch what I see when my eyelids close for the night? Last night, the black rock of the midnight sun rolled up the sky. The planet quivered beneath my body as I felt each footfall of a transient god.

Clearly the above is prose because it has no line breaks. But what happens when we break that prose into shorter lines and turn it into a poem?

Cage of Flame

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.

Eagle with a broken wing,
why am I trapped in this cage of flame?
When I turn my feathers to the sun,
my back is striped with the black
and white of a convict’s bars.

Awake,
I lie anchored by what pale visions
fluttering on the horizon?
White moths wing their snow
storm through the night.
A feathered shadow ghosts
fingers towards my face.
Butterflies stutter against
a shuttered window.
A candle flickers in the darkness
and maps in runes the ruins of my heart.

Eye of the peacock,
can you touch what I see
when my eyelids close for the night?
The black rock of the midnight sun
rolled up the sky.

Last night, the planet quivered
beneath my body and I felt
each footfall of a transient god.

            It seems to be the same text, but is it? And what happens if we change those line breaks? It will change the external structure of prose > to poem > to new poem, but it will not alter the internal structures that survive all format changes. Does the rhythm stay the same in both cases? It certainly does when I read it, but how about you? Poetry or prose? And what’s the difference anyway if the words roll off your tongue and metaphors, mystery, and magic rule?

Comment:
Clearly poetry and prose are not interchangeable, for they both fulfill different functions. The classical difference is often said to lie between history, what actually happened, and poetry, the formal arrangements of words in song. This seemingly simple definition becomes blurred, of course, when history, written in prose, is confused with epic, the retelling of history in poetic form. Prose fiction is a much later development and it is Miguel de Cervantes who gives us, in Don Quixote, his own Renaissance solution: “La épica también puede escribire en prosa” / the epic can also be written in prose. The mingling of poetry and prose underlines the use of rhetorical tropes in writing. Later, Baudelaire will offer us us his Petits poèmes en prose thus gifting the world with prose poems. Much of what I write is prose poetry or poetry in prose. Rhythm, metaphor, allusions, alliteration, similes, intertextuality all combine to decorate my writing. And yes, I am very clear about what I am trying to do.