Memory

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Memory

Marigolds, Oaxacan flowers
grown to guide the dead,
leave so many memories at my door.

Milk bottles placed on the concrete step:
every morning, sparrows peck holes
in the silver tops to drink the cream.

Memory:
its once open door
now slowly closes.

Keys no longer turn in the lock.
Sleep gathers in forgotten rooms,
falling like dust on silken flowers.

Shadows double themselves in the mirror:
recycled shades carve the shower’s glass.

Wary of shade and flame I bathe beneath
a dust-laden beam of sunlight.

Motes in my mind:
flesh and blood chessmen
playing their game
on checkered boards of day and night.

Ruins of the Heart

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Ruins of the Heart

Dusty paths meander under drifting clouds.
A worn-out, shadow rag, this ruined land.

An old man with a sly-eyed dog herds thin cows.
Threatened, I stoop and gather stones.

Moving targets, the dog, a shadow of dust
on burial mounds, wind-stirred with weeds.

Abandoned in this wilderness, a wild thorn
thrusts a spear through my derelict heart.

A rag-bag my own body, stitched together
with threads of long-forgotten tales.

Fear sets nightmare shadows dancing,
skeletons come alive on sculpted graves.

Carved faces, a woman, courted by men.
Which one captured her flowering heart?

Who pierced it with an arrow? Who scarred
her name letter by letter on this stone?

That first rock, freed from my fingers,
strikes hard on the canine’s cowardly frame,
setting earth’s shadows free to flee.

My Father

The Jaguar Symbol of Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico.

I saw my father yesterday evening. I walked through the zócalo, opened the main cathedral doors and walked in. The doors closed behind me. I looked towards the main altar and there my father stood, motionless. The evening light shone through the engraved glass panels and illuminated him as if he were some long passed saint come back to visit me. We stared at each other, but I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. The hairs on my neck stood on end and my hands shook. When I forced my mouth open, words stuck in my throat. He wore his best grey suit over a light blue shirt and a dark blue, hand woven tie: the outfit in which I had buried him.

               Three old women, dressed in black, broke the spell. One stood in front of me and wouldn’t let me approach my father. She held a large bag of knitting in her hands and the wool spilled everywhere as she pushed me away. The second threatened me with a pair of scissors that she held in her left hand and thrust towards my face. The third smacked a tailor’s measuring rod against my father’s head.  He nodded, smiled sadly, and they all turned their backs on me and hurried away out of the cathedral and into the square.

               Just for a moment, I stood there in silence. Then I pulled the doors open and ran in pursuit of my father. The setting sun filled the square with shadows that whispered and moved this way and that, as if a whole village had come down from the hills to walk beneath the trees and dance in the rays of the dying sun. I stood on the cathedral steps and called out my father’s name, but I could see no sign of him among the cut and thrust of the shadowy crowd.

               I ran out into that crowd and pushed at insubstantial people who stood firm one moment and then melted away the next like clouds or thick mist. I came to a side street and saw real people, flesh and blood beings, a group of villagers gathered behind their band. I stopped and as I did the village elder put a live match to the taper of the rocket that he clutched between his thumb and forefinger. The taper caught on fire and the rocket soared upwards with a searing whoosh. The village band marched forward and started to play a traditional dance as the rocket clawed its way into the sky to explode with a loud knock on the door of the gods.

               Tired of grasping at shadows and afraid of this living phalanx of men that marched towards me I went back to the cathedral and knelt at the altar of La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. Real wax candles stood before her altar, not tiny electric lights, and I inserted five pesos in the slot, took a taper, and lit a fresh candle from an ageing one that had started to sputter. I knelt and, for the first time in years, I prayed. I prayed for the soul I had saved from extinction by lighting my candle from another’s flame. I prayed for my father and my mother and, above all, I prayed for myself.

               On the way home to my second-floor apartment where I live alone, I bought two litres of mescal, one to send me to sleep, and the other so I would survive the next morning.

Comment: A Golden Oldie that I had forgotten about. I found it among the drafts of earlier work. Monte Alban is also known as Dani Ba in the indigenous language of the region. Click on the link for more on Monte Alban. And click on this link for another piece on my father and Oaxaca. It’s a funny thing about Golden Oldies: sometimes they stick with us and are ‘unforgettable’, but sometimes they were better off left in the pile that gathers dust, like a forgotten book on a forgotten shelf. Speaking of which, have I told you about the time when …

Day 23 CV-19

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Day 23 CV-19
Codes and Coding

“Languages: they say that to learn another language is to gain another soul and another set of eyes through which to view the world.” I wrote these words just yesterday [Day 22 CV-22]. The words are mine, but the idea belongs elsewhere. I have borrowed it and adopted it. I would willingly attribute it to a specific author, but I do not know who said it first. I offer my apologies to the to me unknown genius who first spoke these words.

Why codes and coding? A rhetorical question, of course. But codes and coding are the basic elements through which language transfers thought, our thoughts. What is a code? Well, we know all about Morse Code and the elaborate codes through which spies from all countries communicate their needs. A code is a way of converting language, changing it, making it available to those initiated in the code and unavailable to those who have not received such initiation. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

When I was travelling regularly to Spain for research in Spanish libraries, my first port of call was always the local barber shop. I did this for several reasons. In the first place, my Canadian haircut gave me away as a foreigner. This is the hairdresser’s code. The barber’s shop was always the centre of local gossip. Here, buzz words changed hands, politicians were discussed, all the local news was immediately available. Each of these items was a code, a code that made an insider (acceptable) versus an outsider (not to be spoken to). I remember, one summer in Madrid, not getting served in any bar or restaurant. Check haircut: okay. Check shoes: bought new pair. Check shirt, jacket, tie: all up to date. Inspect lucky customers … ah … they are all wearing a shiny brass pin showing the symbol of Madrid: El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree, as seen in La Puerta del Sol.

The next bar I entered saw me sporting El Oso y el Madroño in my lapel. Qué quiere el señor? Immediate service and with a smile. These are social codes, the codes that include the winks and nudges of the upper class, the secret handshakes and foot positions, the names dropped so gently and quietly that they never shatter when they hit the floor. There are also language codes. Northrop Frye wrote The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, a study of the mythology and structure of the Bible was published in 1982. In this wonderful study, Frye showed how themes and language from the bible have influenced the structure of Western Literature, particularly that written in English. Within this code, names, themes, miracles, parables, psalms form a body of are common knowledge available to all readers who are christian and whose first language is English.

But there are other codes. Think Petracharism. Petrarch’s poetry, originally written in Italian, was widely imitated throughout Europe. Italian literature, Spanish, French, English, all dip into that code, as does Shakespeare among so many others. Think the Great Chain of Being. Shakespeare is incomprehensible in places unless you unlock this particular code. Think Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Existentialism … okay, so all this is academic, and I do not want to lose you in a sea of academia. So think NFL, think NBA, think NHL, think baseball, think cricket, think rugby, think darts, think all of the things we manipulate on a daily basis in our lives and think how they include some people (those who know and share our codes) and exclude others (those who are unaware of them). LBW, c&b,  c. A, b. B, st. A b. B, w, W, b, lb, dec., rsp …

This is a wonderful line of discussion. It follows along the lines of micro-language and macro-language. Macro-language is accessible to all who happen to speak that language. Micro-language in its multidinous forms incarnadine belongs ONLY to those who share the micro community, be it family, household, village, town, county, region … all that is closest and dearest to our micro-hearts.

Revisions

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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.

Comment

This is a golden oldie. However, it is still worthy of being reconsidered. Why do we revise? How do we revise? I hope this article is of use to the many out there who are looking for help and encouragement.

DIY Fridge Magnets

 

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DIY Fridge Magnets

Tired of your old fridge magnets? Worn out by dire warnings, by political slogans, by advertisements from unwanted people for even less wanted things? Join the club! I set it up yesterday: The DIY Fridge Magnet Recycling Club.

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Take that old magnetic advertisement for ‘who-knows-what’. If you don’t like the original photo, strip it off, some peel away with great ease. Others can be coloured over. In harder circumstances, you must stick  new painting surface over the old one. I use Crazy Glue for this quite simply because, yes, I know it’s a craze idea, and yes, crazy ideas not only work, they make and save money. When you have your new surface, paint away. I have used acrylic paints but I now use marker pens. Who cares? I’m crazy anyway. Who needs selfies? Here’s a self portrait, as stuck on my fridge. Crazy eh? Now you know exactly what I mean.

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Read My Book

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Read My Book

Of course, you don’t have to, if you don’t want to. More important, why spend  money on purchasing someone else’s words when you don’t have to? So here, for all you poor people, old and young, for penny-counters, penny-pinchers, and ultimate scroungers, here a is a free poetry book.

You don’t have to spend a penny (well, not in that way anyway) and all that poetry is all yours. Just click on the butterfly, decipher the words, and all my genius will be yours in the flick of a butterfly’s wings, be it Monarch, Red Admiral, Swallow-tail, or Indigo Bunting.

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Now tell me: what exactly is a butterfly kiss, or a butterfly’s sting? Answers on a postcard and in word-cloud form. And remember: there’s more to poetry than meets the eye.

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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.

Pen Friends

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Pen Friends

A writing day, today: so, spoiled by choices, even though some of those choices have grown wings and flown away. Pen friends and mood pens: I think I’ll begin with … and they are color coordinated for ink … this one … but you’ll never know which I chose … Maybe it will be my Waterman’s: speckled blue, second left. I do love pens: so essential to write with. Cursive hand-writing too, no longer taught in schools. It has become my secret code: nobody can read it.

But do you remember when pen friends really were pen friends and you wrote long letters to people in France, or Spain, or Germany, so they could practice their English and you could practice whatever language they spoke? I can remember playing postal chess with some of my pen friends. A move per letter and each letter taking a week or more to arrive. A full game with a pawn ending could take years! Did anyone ever meet their pen friends, I wonder? I know I did. I think of the immediacy of today’s online dating sites and I sometimes sigh for the old days. Courting by fountain pen … the slow and solemn can-can of two tortoises in the Carnival of Animals by Saint-Saens.

I write every day in a hand-written journal and have done so most days since 1985. I also keep a pocket notebook for odd moments, usually when I am outside in Mactaquac, or Funday National Park, or on Prince Edward Island, or at the beach in Ste. Luce-sur-mer, or beach-combing in Passamaquoddy. If I manage to write anything decent, I transfer these written ‘gems’ to the computer, where I revise and re-work. My poetry is almost always penned, but short stories usually go straight onto the computer, as do the novels, I have written three, though ideas and plans for stories and chapters do appear in the journals. I have come to think of the journals as a quarry and a memorandum, the computer as a workshop.

Come to think about it, I have, in the not-so-distant past, given workshops and seminars on just this topic. It is a very useful and informative subject, especially for beginning writers. With it comes the statement that (a) we must learn to recognize good writing when we see it; (b) we must learn to recognize, and reject, poor and weak writing; and (c) we must realize that we are not writers, we are re-writers. I always recommend people to keep their early drafts. Our tendency as re-writers may well be to revise out the energy and spontaneity of the original. This usually happens when the high-school policeman (thank you, Ted Hughes) steps into our brain and lectures us on how to write properly and correctly. If we lose that initial emotion, we must re-re-visit the original flow and try to recapture it recapture it in the re-re-write. Now here’s a good question: how many re-re-re’s can we get in there?