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?

 

Cardiff Arms Park

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Cardiff Arms Park

I have the match program from 1938, Wales vs New Zealand. My father was at the game, alongside my grandfather. Both had played upon the sacred turf at Cardiff, for Swansea, believe it or not. I also have the program from the New Zealand game in 1953, both Welsh wins. I often visited the Arms Park and I saw the Springboks play there in the rain (1961) and Zeland Newydd in 1963.

“A rose by any name would smell as sweet,” wrote William Shakespeare. But would my grandfather have seen and smelled that rose, or my father, or me?

My grandfather played amateur rugby, as did my father. I, too, played amateur rugby and coached as an amateur as well. Money never changed hands. I never sold my name, nor my status. I was, and still am, convinced by the amateur code. Born in Swansea, play for Swansea, the All Whites. Born in Cardiff, play for Cardiff, at the Arms Park. Sure, players sometimes came down from the Rhondda on the local bus. Cliff Morgan did, from Porth, a mere 15 miles away. So did so many others. But Cas Newydd boyos rarely played for Cardiff and were never really welcome in Caer Dydd.

Whoever they were, wherever they came from, they travelled to Cardiff Arms Park. Not to the Millennial. Not to the Principality.

Sorry, William. Or should I call you Willy, or Bill? A rose by any other name does not necessarily smell as sweet. And Cardiff Arms Park is not the Millennium, nor is it the Principality. The Queen’s is not the King’s. Nor is the Angel the Woodville, or the Angel, Islington.

The world goes on, and on. Things change. We shouldn’t regret past things. Things that are in the past are in the past and in the past they must remain, as the words remind us in the Flower of Scotland. But there are traditions. And memories. And some old memories and battles are never forgotten. Nor should they ever be. Y Ddraig Coch Cymreig, the golden daffodil, the Red Rose, Twickenham or, as some call it, Twickers or HQ. And don’t forget the Load of Hay outside Paddington Station: some things will never change.

As for Saturday’s rugby international (Wales at home to England), I will put my heart firmly on Wales, but I will put my money on England. That way, if Wales win I will be ecstatic, and if England win, I will earn enough money from my bet to drown my sorrows. Either way, I will imagine my grandfather, and my father, watching with me, together again at the old Arms Park, and I know that, whatever the result, we will all be happy, all three of us, just to be back together, and to be watching the game in spirit.

Twits, Tweets, and Twitter

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Twits, Tweets, and Twitter
aka
Bits and Bytes

After a very cold and snowy December, with low temperatures, way below average and dropping at times to -24C, with snow on the ground almost all month, and all this in the fall, aka autumn, since winter didn’t officially begin until 6 pm yesterday, December 21, it was a real shock and surprise to listen to the rain fall and high winds batter the windows all night as the overnight temperature rose to +14C and we received 40 mms of rain. As a result, we awoke to warnings of flash floods from melting snow and an influx of rain as winter has begun with a more of a whimper and a watery splash rather than with a flash freeze and a bang as your bottom hits the ice. I wonder what the deer think as they paddle through the puddles on their way to and fro from the water-logged feeders. I know what I’m thinking: ‘thank heavens we don’t have to shovel it’, but it will be a totally different story when it all freezes over, the road are like bottles, and we descend the hill in first gear with an ever-present fear of a much too welcoming ditch.

I have just read an interesting article on how, accustomed as we are to Twits and Tweets, many of us are no longer capable of unravelling a long interesting sentence that rambles on and on and refuses to make an immediate Twitter Point, usually underlined by the use of CAPITAL letters for KEY WORDS and all of this for a sound byte audience that is becoming less and less literate as social media proliferates and news is telescoped into tiny jam jars of meaning that are spread around with an illiterate spoon and many exclamation marks. There: you have just read a 96 word sentence. I wonder how you did with it? Did you persevere? Did you give up half way through?

In my former life, when I encouraged young people to read Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote from cover to cover (and they did), I was surprised to discover the difficulties they had with his long sentences, some so long that they continued for a whole paragraph or a full page. I was also surprised to discover that many Spanish speaking people are now incapable of reading Don Quixote in the original Spanish as it is too complicated for them and too difficult in meaning and structure. I have cartoon versions of Cervantes’s master-piece, but have always found them to be simplistic and undignified. I have read the original, in Spanish, twenty-seven times, usually in the Martin de Riquer edition, and have never found the language to be a problem. Indeed, it is refreshing to enter the labyrinth of a long sentence and to struggle for a little while with the exact meaning of a complicated structure that offers so many multiple readings that no single meaning can easily be extricated, if at all, and so the mind wanders on and on in the Cervantine maze spun by a spider-web pen and a brilliant mind, now no longer accessible to the multitudes: a paradise now closed to so many, a garden open to a only a select few / Paraíso cerrado para muchos, jardines abiertos para pocos.

The spirit of Cervantes, the creator, appeared to me last night in a dream. ‘Rogelio,’ the master said. ‘Spare me and spare my creation.’ ‘Don Miguel,’ I mumbled sleepily, ‘here sit beside me on my bed. Welcome to my humble home.’ ‘I am not don Miguel,’ Cervantes replied. ‘I never was a don and I never will be one. I am humble Miguel, writer, poet, and son of a vagabond surgeon who, like father, like son, often entered the debtor’s prison’. ‘That same debtor’s prison where the history of your hero was engendered,’ I replied. ‘So they say, but I am not here for that. I have come for you to save me.’ ‘How, my Lord, how can I save you?’ ‘Rogelio, I am not a Lord, but a rumor has reached me in my after-life, that they have modernized my knight, given him a car, not a horse, set the Civil Guard against him, ridiculed him with condoms that he blows up like balloons, sent him to Salamanca, and Galicia, where he never went, continued his adventures, reborn, in a foreign language that I loathed …’ ‘That is bad, my Lord, I mean don Miguel, I mean Miguel …’ ‘Worse is to come.’ ‘Worse? How can it get worse?’ ‘Indeed, it arrived at my ears, you might say a little bird told me, that they are releasing my book in a series of 240 word tweets on a thing called Twitter that speaks like a Jesuit with false flickering words.’ ‘But you were brought up by the Jesuits …’ ‘That’s how I know of what I speak. This cannot be, the history of my knight reduced to episodes of 240 words, the whole 124 chapters, 1000 pus pages of finely scrawled ink, reduced to tweets on twitter by some poor twit … you must stop this nonsense. I and my knight depend upon you.’ ‘How can I stop it, don Miguel?’ ‘Charge the windmills of Twitter. Attack the falsehoods of Tweets. Stand up for the long, soulful sentence that will withstand the winds of time …’ ‘As your book has withstood, until now, the literary storm that is about to engulf it in an Alfred Hitchcock swarm of wild birds that is poised to twitter and tweet you to your doom?’

The ghost of Miguel de Cervantes vanished with a howl, only to be replaced by that of Pierre Menard, Borgian author of the renewed Quixotic page. ‘To tweet,” the ghost whispered in a thin, shrill voice, ‘or not to tweet, that is the question, and therein lies the Cervantine rub.’

Xmas Trees

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This year we have abandoned real, once living trees in favor of plastic trees with LED lights. The house doesn’t smell the same, nor did cool air fill the space beneath the tree. No more watering the tree. No more collecting dry pine needles. No more worrying about the cat climbing the tree or the dog pulling the tree down as it chases the cat or tugs and worries at a string of lights. Nor do we have to worry that the puppy might chew its way through the electric cord and electrocute itself. And no more electric eels in the fish tank, even though they are the current thing.

That doesn’t mean to say we are in for a bleak mid-winter, not at all. We have strings of lights, music on the stereo, and even  peces en el rio que ven a Dios nacer, as they sing in Oaxaca (the fishes in the river who come to see God born). And who could not be merry at Christmas time with a fire in the fireplace, a Charlie Brown Christmas on the stereo, and guelaguetza music from Oaxaca waiting to be played and warm the party up. Nobody, but nobody, not even the meanest Scrooge or the most insistent Grinch, can resist the Oaxacan pineapple dance, played at full volume by the state orchestra or a local village band, at midnight, in the zócalo, when the rockets climb skywards to knock on the front door of the gods and the Virgen de la Soledad parades in all her mystery and glory through the candle-lit city streets.

Add to all of this a small miracle: the reappearance this year of the Christmas tree Clare’s auntie used to place every Christmas upon the counter in her shop in Cheap Street, Frome: one of the most famous and eligible streets in Merrie Olde England. We have placed auntie’s Christmas tree on the table in the hall by the front door and surrounded it with lights. What joy: the old and the new, hand in hand, in this new found land that is itself, so very, very old and where we now live together with our memories of a distant past.

And for those who still wish to decorate their very own Christmas tree, you can do so online, adding toys and lights, and an angel on the top, whenever you wish. And remember: where there’s a will there’s always a way.

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.

Recycling

Books

Recycling

“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 emerged.
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. I follow it today.

Commentary:
The photo shows my grandfather’s chair sitting before my basement desk where I write and store my books. I used to climb up the back of this chair when I was a tiny child, and blow on the bald spot on his head while he was asleep. Such memories nesting in the attic corner of the dormant mind. One day, I will write about that. Oh: I just did.