Starry Night

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Starry Night
(1889 & 2019)

last night I saw stars
never thought to see them again
first time in years
a riot of bright lights
no dark spots floating
nor black holes barring
vision’s edge

just layer upon layer
star fields like buttercups
littering the sky
I had forgotten their names
forgotten how many existed
smiling frowning down
immortalized in myth
celebrated in song

daylight broke waves
an ocean of sunshine
untying dreams’ night-knots
sharp black and white memories
shifting to corkscrews of color

two refreshing rain drops
four times a day
a never-to-be-forgotten face
seen once again in close up
Fundy fogs clearing
mist un-threading between salt
laden pine roots gripping
splitting fragile rocks

complicated emotions
woven in simple words
no arm-waving propaganda
nor chanted simplicities
spat out to fool proper geese

Zeitgeist

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Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.
Wikipedia 

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.

My current poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998) and many of the surrealist writers. In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem. Remember that images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. Each word, each image offers a picture that reflects some of the shared realities with which we live.

Remember, as I said above: “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in my recent poems suggest that perhaps all time is ever-present and always one.

Stones (3 May 1808)

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Stones
(3 May 1808 AD)

stones once thrown
can never be brought back
nor words once spoken
nor the bullet
once released
from musket or gun

here lies who knows who
face down in the dust
shirt soaked in blood
body pierced with lead

nor water time nor love
can ever flow back
beneath that bridge

some kneel some pray
some raise their eyes
to uncaring skies
every one of them dies
shooters
those waiting to be shot

even the soldiers
reloading their guns
never understand
how time’s tide runs
ebbs and then flows
until everyone goes

this you
lying face down
on cobble stones
well know

 

Comment: 

The poem is drawn in part from the Goya painting of the shootings, El tres de mayo de 1808. The painting above is a close-up of Geoff Slater’s latest mural, still in progress, at Macadam Railway Station in New Brunswick. “If only the stones could speak, what stories they would tell.” This re-post was inspired by a visit to Seasons of the Witch on  Mr. Cake’s Cake or Death site with its images of Goya’s Black Paintings. So, we have a continuing Goya mini-Fest, May the Second and May the third.

Revision

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Revision
“We are not writers, we are re-writers.” I do not remember who said this, but it is extremely well said. We write, yes. But then we rewrite, sometimes obsessively, again and again. But how does that rewriting process take shape? Why do we rewrite? How do we rewrite? And what do we do when we re-write? These are all vital questions.

Mechanical revisions and rewrites
This, for me, is the search for typos, punctuation errors, mis-spellings, grammar corrections, that sort of thing. Yes, we can rely on a (reliable?) editor and a not so reliable spell-check, but the editor usually costs money. Or we can learn to do it ourselves, which is what I recommend very strongly.

Grammatical revisions and expression checks
These are usually a little more difficult to deal with. Do the verb tenses check out? Are subject and verb clearly delineated? Does the wording make sense, not just to us, but to the outside reader? A second pair of eyes is always useful at this point. Also, a sense of distance from the text is useful. Leave it a day (or two) and come back to it later when he creative rush has fled the system.

Structural revisions 1
Whenever we do a structural revision, it is essential to check that the revision ties in with the rest of the piece and that we maintain consistency throughout. A simple example: I decide, on page 77 of my novel, to change my main character’s name from Suzie to Winnie. Clearly, her name has to be consistent, both backwards (1-77) and forwards (77 onwards). While this is obvious, other changes, taste, color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, tv program preference, may not be so easy to check and double-check. But it must be done.

Structural Revisions 2
This is where we must pay attention to the vision in the re-vision. We must ask the question, what does the poem / story / chapter / text want to say? What is it actually about? Often, in the flush of creation, we write words (actions, thoughts, emotions) on the page and they flow like water from a fountain. It’s a wonderful feeling. Later, during the re-vision process, we must ask ourselves, again, deep down, what do these words mean, what are they trying to say? This is actually a slightly different question from what am “I” trying to say?
The speaking / writing voice may want to say something, but the words (and characters and actions) themselves may want to say something else. Now we are faced with a dilemma: do we write what we want to say or do we follow the intricate word-path growing from what we have written? As a beginning writer, I did the former. As a more mature (and I hope, a slightly better writer) I now do the latter.
The result is often a piece that is radically different from it’s starting point. When you listen to what the story / poem / text / characters etc are telling you and when you follow words and characters, then structure changes, paragraphs switch places, thoughts move around, expressions change. We are no longer forcing words into our meanings, we let the meanings grow out of the words. This is particularly important in short story telling and the writing of poetry. It is vitally important to the novel where any inconsistency must have a relevance to the development of action, plot and character. It is also a totally different approach to the meaning of re-vision.

Summary
I realize many writers may have difficulty accepting these points. Those trained originally in the academic world, in particular, will respond negatively to the idea of the words ‘not being forced into the correct academic shape by the quasi-omnipotent academic mind’ aka Constable Thesis Editor. However, the more creative a writer is, the more that writer will respond to the creativity that lies within both the creator and the creation that has appeared on the page and, as writers, we must never lose sight of that creative act, for it is one of the most truly wonderful things that we can do.

Dark Night

 

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Dark Night
(1577-1579 AD)

candlelight
stole the moon’s halo
moth sputtering to its death
this owl high-flying

a cat tears out
mouthfuls of hair
swallows
spits out a hairball
swallows
steal it for a nest

dish and spoon
dance
cats and dogs
rain golden
milky the way
earth’s
thirst is quenched

blind hands
deaf fingers
no longer deft
voices breaking
waves
an unstrung
guitar of sound

fire will one day
come to claim us all

Autograph

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Autograph
(1603 AD)

it spews out words
bones to hungry
academic dogs
gnawed the word-knot
grammar’s gristle
doubly chewed
then eschewed

wet concrete sets
where the statute’s
clay feet whisper
damp follies
to waiting bergères

prance advance
macabre the dance
ink its acid burning
fragile the page
held to the light

pin-holes where stars
peep through thin paper
more fragile than
parchment

parched for knowledge
crisp pages crumble
under the fumble
thumbed
by dumb hands
lusting eagerly
for  wisdom drawn
from bone-dry dust

Polyphemus

 

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Polyphemus
(1613 AD)

Davey-lamped
one-eyed king
caged in his cavern

a songbird
dispels shadows
lights up his life

pit pines creak
can’t strike a match
walking by touch

lungs black and scarred
following the seam
back to iron cages

singing dark hymns
hoping to surface
to walk in sunlight

a jail cell
these bars’ lifelong
death sentence

below the pit-ponies
frantic and anxious
the pit’s pet canary
dead on his perch