Wednesday Workshop: Recycling

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Wednesday Workshop
09 May 2018

Recycling 1

“You never know when you might need it,” my

grandfather said, finger-nails cracking red-
waxed parcel string. Bright sealing wax rained down
on the tablecloth, covering it with hard,
scarlet chips, wax cracked, tight knots emerging.
One by one, my grandfather first loosened
them, then sought the string’s free end, following
it along its snaking way from knot to
knot. Like Theseus following his twine
through the labyrinth below the palace, my
grandfather mused, hesitated, followed
the clues given him by the knotter’s mind.
Set free from its parceled knots and lashings,
he looped the string around his fingers and
tied the twine into a tight bow that he
stowed away for future use. Reef knots, slip
knots, sheep-shanks, bowlines, bowlines-on-the-bight,
he showed me how to tie them all. He taught
me too how to never tie granny knots.
“Never cut string with a knife: untie knots,”
strict his advice and followed still today.

Recycling 2

finger-nails
cracking red-waxed
parcel string

sealing wax rained down
staining snow white tablecloth
wax cracked
hard scarlet flakes
tight knots emerging
loosened

now seek the string’s
free end
then follow it
the way it snakes
linking knot to knot

muse
hesitate
unknot
the mind of she who tied

set free these
parceled knots and lashings
loop string around fingers
tie tight the twine

a child’s bow
to be stored
for future use

Recycling
Haiku 1
[7/11/7]

string yields blood-bright scarlet wax
a thread to lead through the parcel’s labyrinth
open now the magic box

Recycling
Haiku 2
[5/7/5]

blood-bright scarlet wax
a thread through the labyrinth
open now the box

Commentary:
There are many ways to recycle. All are valid. Some are more valid than others.

Friday Fiction: Crave More

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Friday Fiction
04 May 2018
Crave More

Crave More: I hate those words. I always choose
a cart with the shop’s name on the handle.
I can handle that. I can’t stand a cart
that screams Crave More at me every time I
bend to place an item in the wire grid.
If stores were honest they would write Think More
and Crave Less
 on their shopping carts. I bet
that would cut into profits. Anyway,
there I was, in LaLaLand, leaning on
my cart, half asleep, when this ghost drifted
towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry.
I need money for food.” I woke up from
my dream, looked at the ghost, tall, skeletal
thin, cavernous eyes and cheekbones sticking
out, gaps in the teeth, grey face drawn with shame.
“Sorry,” came automatically. Then I
too felt shame. I looked at him again. “I
only carry plastic.” The excuse limped
heavily across the air between us.
I saw something in his eyes, I knew not
what, and turned away. As I walked away,
I added one hundred pound of muscle
to the scarecrow frame. Took forty years off
his age. Filled his body with joy and pride,
not shame, and remembered how he played, hard
and fast, but true. I ran the card index
of former players that I had coached through
my mind. I knew their moves, and attributes,
the way they played the game, strengths, weaknesses …
I remembered him holding up the Cup.
But I couldn’t remember his name. I
pushed the cart all over the store in a
frantic search for him. At the ATM
I withdrew cash. I could hand it to him.
I could tell him he had dropped it. I went
through a thousand scenes. I could invite him
to the snack bar. I could tell him to buy
what he needed and follow me. Check out
time, I would add his purchases to my
bill. I looked everywhere. He was nowhere
to be seen. One opportunity. One
chance. That’s all we get. Miss it, and we blow
the game. Grasp it and we medal with gold.

Commentary:
I have been experimenting with iambic pentameter, counting words and syllables on my fingers, tapping rhythms on the table, driving Clare crazy, and disturbing the cat. I have also disturbed my usual way of writing, for better or for worse I am not yet sure. Yesterday’s entertainment was to rewrite my brief story, Crave More, as a poem in pseudo-iambic pentameter. The measures seem to function and the rhythm and word count move both within the line and in the melodic, rhythmic phrasings that move between lines in a constant enjambement.

So, by all means let me know what you think of this experiment.  Here’s the link to the short story, also called Crave More. I would love to receive your opinions on narrative pseudo-iambic pentameter.

Revised Version:

Encounter

I was in the Superstore, leaning on
my cart, half asleep, when this ghost drifted
towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry.
I need money for food.” I woke up from
my dream, looked at the ghost, tall, skeletal
thin, cavernous eyes and cheekbones sticking
out, gaps in the teeth, grey face drawn with shame.
“Sorry,” came automatically. Then I
too felt shame. I looked at him again. “I
only carry plastic.” The excuse limped
heavily across the air between us.
I saw something in his eyes, I knew not
what, and turned away. As I walked away,
I added one hundred pound of muscle
to the scarecrow frame. Took forty years off
his age. Filled his body with joy and pride,
not shame, and remembered how he played, hard
and fast, but true. I ran the card index
of former players that I had coached through
my mind. I knew their moves, and attributes,
the way they played the game, strengths, weaknesses …
I remembered him holding up the Cup.
But I couldn’t remember his name. I
pushed the cart all over the store in a
frantic search for him. At the ATM
I withdrew cash. I could hand it to him.
I could tell him he had dropped it. I went
through a thousand scenes. I could invite him
to the snack bar. I could tell him to buy
what he needed and follow me. Check out
time, I would add his purchases to my
bill. I looked everywhere. He was nowhere
to be seen. One opportunity. One
chance. That’s all we get. Miss it, and we blow
the game. Grasp it and we medal with gold.

Comment to the Revision:

The first eight lines of the original poem set the scene. While I tried to use them to accentuate commercial exploitation of the customer’s potential for greed, Crave More, they are not essential to the story of the encounter. Meg noticed this and following her interaction I have revised the poem, eliminating those first eight lines.

This is an interesting and inter-active way to work. Thank you Meg!

Wednesday Workshop: The Poem Itself

Books

Wednesday Workshop
02 May 2018
The Poem Itself

One of the joys of downsizing one’s library is rediscovering old books, genuine treasures, that one wishes to read again. On my basement bookshelf I found an old copy of Stanley Burnshaw’s The Poem Itself (New York: Crowell, 1976). I thumbed quickly through it and found my old marginal notes on poems by Miguel de Unamuno and Antonio Machado. Reading the annotations to the poems I came across such literary and philosophical gems as these.

  • “Poetry gave (Unamuno) permanence to the temporary forms of the self” (p. 167).
  • “Unamuno’s God needs men to be sure of his own existence” (p. 171).
  • “The poetic element (for Machado) was not the word for its phonic value, nor color, nor line, nor a complex of sensations, but a deep palpitation of the spirit” (p. 172).
  • “In the life of every sensitive person there is much spiritual experience which cannot be given a name or a title” (p. 173).

These brief insights into the nature of poetry sent me back to the book’s first pages and I read with much joy and pleasure the opening essay entitled The Three Revolutions of Modern Poetry (pp. xvii-xliv).

The first revolution is that of Syntax (p. xxiii). Word order is changed substantially and words and thoughts are inverted. Sixteen lines of Mallarmé (p. xxiv) are composed of one sentence with five commas and a colon. There is no logical sequence of beginning, middle, and end as one thing runs into another and thoughts shape-shift and move. The structure becomes that of presences and dreams as Mallarmé writes to his new theory: “to paint, not the thing, but the emotion it produces” (p. xxv). Other analyses of syntactical distortion and fragmentation follow and Emily Dickinson’s Further in summer than the birds— leads into Cummings’ my father moved through dooms of love / through names of am through haves of give. When I link this most modern movement to Francisco de Quevedo’s ‘soy un fue, y un será, y un es cansado’ / I am a “was” and a “will be” and a  tired “is” … I realize yet again that all is not new in this modern world of ours. After all, Quevedo lived from 1580-1645, a modern poet indeed.

The second revolution is that of Prosody (p. xxvii). Rimbaud’s first poem in vers libre / free verse was written (probably in 1873) and published in 1886. Today, we are no longer shocked by the breaking down of the tyranny of verse. In fact, we are probably more shocked by people who use rhyming, metric poetry than by the many innovations in line length and word arrangement with which we are so steadily bombarded. That said, I still find some of Cumming’s innovations, Grasshopper / PPEGORHRASS for example (p.xxi) to be quite stunning and not always readily intelligible.

The third revolution is that of Referents, “the upheaval in poetic communication as a whole and specifically its referents” (p. xxxi). This is basically the writers of poetry turning to their private, interior worlds for inspiration. While poetry has always contained references to the self, modern poetry may be full of meaning for the writer, but that meaning doesn’t always extend to the reader. This is particularly true of automatic writing, surrealism, and the metaphoric poetry that floats, sometimes without factual substance, in the mind of reader and writer alike. Burnshaw isolates three moments in the development of this obscurity.

  • “a deliberate attempt to enrich the communicative content of language by expunging the unessential words” (p. xxxiii).
  • “to compress years of anguish, dreams, and projects into a sentence, a word” (p. xxxvii).
  • “the use of personal symbols and hence the creation of a private cosmology” (p. xxxviii).

These three elements contribute to the privacy and hermetic obscurity prevalent in certain poets. Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle / the game isn’t worth the candle … alas, while some difficult poems and poets are very worthwhile, some poetry is definitely not worth the valuable time wasted in trying to decipher it. That is my conclusion: nobody else’s.

This re-adventure back into modern poetry contributed to a delightful voyage through the verse of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Nerval, Verlaine, Machado, and Unamuno (among others).  It is a voyage that I have started, but not yet finished. It is also a voyage that is generating new thoughts, fresh understanding, and a renewed desire to write. What more can a reader / writer desire than to be among friends, also sharing loneliness and despair and also held at bay by the living words of dead men, their voices and wisdom heard through ageing eyes that can still scan the printed page … vivo en conversación con los difuntos / y escucho con mis ojos a los Muertos // I live in conversation with the deceased / and listen with my eyes to the dead (in my friend Elias River’s translation) of Quevedo’s poem Retirado en la paz de estos desiertos.

Poetry

 

 

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Poetry

“Poetry gives permanence to the temporal forms of the self.”
Miguel de Unamuno.

That is what my writing is all about.
Those temporal forms, fluttering and changing.
Butterflies, they live for a day or two,
perch and flourish, spread their wings,
excel for a moment, catch our attention,
blown by a sudden gust, tear their wings on a thorn,
perish in the blink of an eye, cluster and gather,
reborn in dusty ditches, congregate on bees’ balm,
smother Cape daisies and black-eyed Susans,
shadows shimmering, butterflies by day,
fireflies lighting up the night, terrestrial stars
floating in their forest firmament, hackmatack,
black oak, bird’s eye maple, silver birch, fir,
impermanence surrounds us, dances beneath stars,
sings with robins, echoes the owl’s cry through woodlands,
poetry, the elemental soul, our words capturing nothing,
turning it into eternity, holding it for the briefest moment,
then letting it go. Island View: my dialog with time and place.

Broken Record

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Broken Record

I have worked on this poem for a long time now. I worry about it, gnaw at it like a dog gnaws at a bone or a cat plays with an insect trapped beneath its feet. Francisco Quevedo  (1580-1643) rewrote one of his poems (Miré los muros de la patria mía) six times between his first version (1603) and his last version (1643) two years before his death. Are we condemned to dance attendance on those poems that haunt us? I don’t really know. Here is the link to my first version of Broken Record. Is it the best one? The only one? The one I should keep? Here is my link to This Old Man. Is this a better version? Does the change of photo change the context of the poem?

Like Francisco de Quevedo and his long history of Miré los muros … I can no longer tell.  That said, here is the latest version of my poem. I hope you like it. Do some clicking (it’s also called research) and let me know what you think. I look forward to your comments.

Broken Record (?)

A vinyl disc going
round and round,
the diamond-tipped needle
stuck in a groove:
me and my broken-
record memories.

I stop old friends
in the supermarket
and, when I start to talk,

they stand there,
tapping their feet,
trapped in a doldrum
where no winds fill
their sails to move them on.

Caught in multiple mirrors
surrounding the barber’s chair,
my tongue is an open razor
constantly stropped.

I have turned into
a babbling book of hours,
life’s moribund albatross
necklaced,
a hot towel round
my reluctant throat.

 

 

Revisions

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Revisions

This carving may be gently touched

Original Version
(Pseudo-Jackpine-sonnet with a fifteenth line)

It doesn’t act like a bear. It has a
Spaniel’s stop. Its jaws are wedged in a
grin. Its tongue hangs still. No saliva drops
from its chin. Motionless eyes. This carving’s
tame. Children sit safely on its back, may
stroke the mighty muscles. It’s safe. Woodworm,
like moth, have left holes in its back. More:
many a crack ensures its tameness. Its shoulders
hunch. Sixteen claws probe at the concrete museum
floor. It’s nearer ear is chipped like my grandmother’s
tea-set. There’s lots of room for slips between cups
and this bear’s lips. Yet I can sense death’s closeness.
Suddenly, I know you’re in there, Bear, alive, alert,
angry, hungry. I feel you move: cold sweat covers
my false, carved skin.

Revised version:
(Meaning within each line rewrite)

It doesn’t act like a bear.
Its head bears a Cocker Spaniel’s short, sharp stop.
Its jaws are wedged in a grin.
Its tongue hangs still.
No saliva drops from its chin.
Motionless eyes.
This carving’s tame.
Children may sit safely on its back,
may stroke the mighty muscles.
It’s perfectly safe.
Woodworm, like moth, have left holes in its back.
More: many a crack ensures its tameness.
Its shoulders hunch.
Sixteen wooden claws chisel the concrete museum floor.
It’s nearer ear is chipped like my grandmother’s tea-cup.
There’s lots of room for slips between cups and this bear’s lips.
I can sense death’s closeness.
Suddenly, I know you’re in there, Bear,
alive, alert, angry, hungry.
I feel you move:
cold sweat covers my false, carved skin.

Comment:

Be careful how you revise your earlier work. The ‘revision’ often loses the impact of the original. By extension, don’t destroy you  original, ever: you may want to restore it one day. My horoscope said: ‘You will dither all day and never get anywhere. Take a firm grip. Drink less coffee.’

Movie rights to a sonnet

Balloon lady

Movie rights to a sonnet

Meg Sorick wrote on my blog yesterday and suggested that poetry had flown out of our world.  Here are her words: “Poets used to be rock stars. And not that I feel like poetry has fallen from popularity, because Lord knows it’s all over the place in social media and the blogging world. But I cannot think of one famous contemporary poet. And I’m not talking about famous people who also write poetry. How did that happen?”

Meg’s is a very acute observation. My reply follows. I have changed it slightly from my reply on yesterday’s blog, expanding and annotating it.

“You raise a series of major questions, Meg, ones I have been thinking about for a long time. What is poetry? Has it vanished from our contemporary world? Is poetry as important as it was? If not, why not?”

I will begin with one of my favorite jokes. I made it as an author and a poet: ‘I cannot wait to be offered the movie rights for one of my sonnets.’ Movie rights to a sonnet: beautiful. I love it.

Baltasar Gracián, writing in Seventeenth Century Spain, penned the following: “Lo bueno, breve, dos veces bueno.” What is good and brief is twice as good.

I quote Baltasar Gracián for several reasons. Above all, what he wrote in the 1600’s is still true today. Perhaps, in this age of tweets, twitter, and sound bytes, it is more relevant than ever. Poetry: keep it short. Keep it brief. I would add one more piece of advice: make it memorable.

The rhetorical tools of poetry have never really changed. Reduced to their minima, they are metaphor, witticisms, snappy word plays, repetition, rhyme, rhythm, brevity, and cutting, memorable discourse.

Today, this is the language of advertisement, sound byte, twitter, tweets, labeling. Poetry hasn’t vanished: it has descended to its lowest common rhetorical denominators and today it serves a different purpose.

Trump, for example, is a magnificent poet. He relabels and reclassifies the world in oh-so-memorable epithets according to his own world-view and self-interpretation. As a destroyer and re-creator of language, he is magnificent. We may not like him. We may not always understand him, but we doubt and mock, to our peril, his poetic abilities and his abilities to create narrative and myth in sharp, memorable language.

Rap and hip-hop have also revitalized and politicized language. Poetry is not dead: it has taken to the street where it blends with twitter and tweet. Poetry is not dead: it is regenerating.

Poetry, in our contemporary world, has lost many things. Above all it has lost what the academic critics call The Grand Myth or the Grand Narrative. In The Great Code, Northrop Frye’s book on literature and the bible, the Canadian critic shows how English literature is dependent on the bible. The bible: a code, a poetic language spoken by all great poets. I would suggest that we have now lost that great code and we are no longer bound, in poetry at least, by biblical conventions.

We can say the same of other great codes, The Elizabethan World Picture, The Great Chain of Being, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Courtly Love … codes come and go. They wander the hillsides like lost sheep. They migrate like people.

Migrate like people: a lucky phrase, plucked from the air, yet oh so true. Migrants, emigrants, immigrants: displaced people, we wander the physical world, each with our own set of cultural baggage. Dissatisfied people: we have left one place to travel to another and are unhappy in both. And remember, there are regional migrants, workplace migrants, weather migrants … wanderers all, they have no time to put down roots, to settle into a code of culture.

Ut populi, poesis / as people, so poetry: fragmented poetry, poetry linked to the intensely personal, poetry that reaches out to friend and family but does not extend to a universal code of language, culture, or being … in our current world, how could it?

We few, we happy few, we band of siblings, we cultured poets … we are the forgotten voices of the ivory tower, of an ivy-league academia. We have become immersed in the past, in our own navel-gazing, in the never-never land of things that probably never were and definitely will never again be.

Sitting at our computers, at our desks, at our kitchen tables, we will never connect with the rhythms of the street, of the soup kitchen, of poverty, of bag-ladies, of old men sitting outside the supermarket, their Tim Hortons cups in their hands, hoping for, begging for money. Migrants we may be, but migrating from where, to where, and why? Is my migration similar to your migration? I very much doubt it. Yet, in one way or another, each of us is a migrant. And all migrants pack their own bags carrying with them their memories, their myths, and all too often their native language.

You want poetry? Get out among the gente perduta, the lost people, the garbage cans, the back alleys, the panhandlers. Mix with the migrants. Stand for an hour at the traffic lights with your hand held out to stopped cars whose drivers roll up the windows, lock all the doors, hold their noses, and look the other way.

The nymphs and shepherds of our inner cities wear garbage bags to keep out the rain. They panhandle. They sleep at night in cardboard castles. They lodge in shop doorways. They sleep, poor shepherds and shepherdesses, on park benches. They shoot themselves full of dope with shared, blunt needles. They smoke dope. Drink alcohol from shared bottles. They fight so as not to share that one remaining bottle that they call their own.

Poetry is the voice of the deprived, of the indigenous, of the migrant, of the once-rich toppled from their jobs and left to drown in the gutter. Poetry is the voice of the left out, the abandoned, the depressed, the oppressed. It is the rust of the rust belt, the grind of locked gears, the language of muddled, mixed-up fears.

Poetry uses the same devices as it always did. As it always will. Like water, it flows. It seeks its own levels. It wears away stone. It rises to drown us. It carries our verbal arks, our cultural arks, our Noah’s arks, and it bears us, each and every one of us, into our dreams, out of our dreams, into our realities, into the worlds it creates for us, into the dreams it allows us to dream, into the realities of our everyday nightmares.

Poetry is the rediscovery of ourselves, our voices, our language. Poetry is what gives meaning to our lives, all of our lives. It is what makes us, even now, sit up, and listen, and learn, and live.