Little Red Brush

Little Red Brush

Timothy heard his older brothers moving from room to room, searching for him.  He knew they would find him but for now he had found refuge beneath his grandfather’s double bed. It was dark under there in that sepulchral space. He had placed his grandfather’s enormous Royal Doulton chamber pot between himself and the door so that the dog would not pick up his scent, run to his hiding place, and lay the Judas lick upon his cheek.

His grandfather had forgotten to empty the chamber pot. Dark urine splashed on Timothy’s hands and sleeves as he squeezed behind the giant china pot that overwhelmed his nose fills with his grandfather’s nocturnal vapors.

The voices got louder as his brothers climbed the stairs and approached the bedrooms on the upper floor.

“Where is he now, drat him?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find him.”

“And then he’ll be for it.”

“I’ll beat him with the little red brush they use for cleaning the fireplace.”

“That will teach him.”

Timothy was familiar with those threats, especially the little red brush.

He remembered the fox the hounds killed at his feet, one sunny morning a year before. He cycled down the lane outside his family’s summer cottage. The fox limped along the side of the lane, saw the boy on his bike, but too tired to run from him, continued limping in the roadway. Timothy got off his bike, leaned it against the rough stone country wall, and watched the fox. Its tail, speckled with mud, dragged behind its low-slung body, sweeping the ground. Timothy observed the twigs and thorns protruding from its black-tipped orange redness.

Timothy walked towards the fox. It tried to move away from the boy but collapsed and lay at the edge of the lane, flanks heaving, tongue lolling out through the white strings of thick foam that choked the muzzle and streaked saliva on the forequarters.

The hounds came from nowhere, an incoming, barking tide that rounded the corner and rushed towards Timothy who froze with a fright that pressed him against the wall.  Sun-warmed stone jutted sharp edges into his back. As he stood there, unable to move, a rough hand came over the wall and grabbed him by the shoulder. He felt himself hauled upwards. The flint points dug into his back and he yelped as the firm hand drew him over the top of the wall to safety.

“Get out of there, you stupid boy, or the hounds will have you.”

Timothy hid his face in the farmer’s rough homespun shirt. He shuddered as the dogs bayed and growled and scrapped and scratched. Then the fox, it must have been the fox, let out a high-pitched yap and whine and the pack gargled itself into a drooling, slobbering sort of silence. The farmer pushed Timothy’s face away from his shoulder and forced his head towards the spot where the hounds, on the other side of the protective barrier, rubbed their ears into the dead fox’s torn and bloodied body.

“That’s what they’d have done to you, my boy. Never come between a pack and its kill.”

Timothy watched a member of the hunt staff pull a knife from his jacket. The foxhunters broke into cheers and howls of pleasure when the man severed the fox’s brush and held it on high. The farmer thrust Timothy towards the Master of Hounds.

“Here, blood him, Master, he was in at the kill.”

The Master of Hounds opened his mouth to flash a smile filled with pointed, foxhound teeth.  He stooped, dipped his fingers in the still warm fox blood, and streaked a smear across the boy’s face.

“There,” he said,” you’re blooded now. One of us, eh what?”

The mingled scents of fox and hound and blood and death and urine and feces made a heady mixture and Timothy started to hyperventilate. His breath came hard in his throat and, as he struggled to breathe, tears rolled down his cheeks.

Timothy feels safe in his secret hiding place beneath his grandfather’s bed. He can hear his brothers’ taunts and calls as they search for him, but they haven’t found him yet. Sticks and stones may break my bones, he whispers, but names will never hurt me. But names do hurt. Tiny Tim they call him and ask him where he hides his crutch. I don’t limp, Timothy once replied. When he said that, one of his brothers, Big Billy, kicked Timothy as hard as he could with the toe of his boot, just above the ankle. Timothy screamed with pain. You’ll limp now, said Big Billy, and his other brothers found the joke so funny that they all called kicked Tiny Tim at every opportunity. Limp, Timmy, limp, they chanted as they chased him round, limp Tiny Tim, Tiny Timmy

“He’s not up here,” one of his brothers called out.

“Must be out in the garden, the coward, we’ll have to hunt out there for him,” another replied.

“Can’t run, can’t hide,” said Big Billy. “Get the dog, we’ll track him down.”

The voices finally faded. Protected by the barrier of his grandfather’s cold but intimate body waste, Timothy curled up like a fox in his den and fell asleep. He dreamed of the proud brush of a tail flying in the wind, of a warm stone wall, drenched in sunlight, and of a farmer’s strong, all-protecting arm.

Comment: I have written several versions of this story, some longer, some much shorter, some in the first person singular, some in the second person. In all of them, the word-play on the little red brush (fox and fireplace) is paramount. This particular version occurs in my short story collection, Nobody’s Child available on line. Sometimes a story will not leave me alone. It wanders around, takes slightly different twists and turns, and new images and scenes emerge, as they do in this particular piece. Alas, I didn’t have a photo of a fox, so I used a photo of three plump pigeons hiding, you might even say ‘cowering away’, from a hungry hawk circling overhead while they hid in a crack in a wall in Avila, Spain. It always surprises me to know how many people (and animals) flee from what Robbie Burns called “man’s inhumanity to man”.

Thursday Thoughts

I’ll have to think about this.

Thursday Thoughts
29 July 2021

Thursday is thought day, but what on earth am I thinking about? Well, yesterday I talked about open and closed imagery in poetry. I also talked about direct meaning and indirect meaning. So today’s thought is in Spanish and I have taken it from a poem of Federico García Lorca (1898-1936). “En la noche, platinoche, noche que noche nochera.” Sense and nonsense: what on earth does this mean? A literal translation gives us “in the night, silver-night, night which en-night-ens (more?) night”. Sense or nonsense? We shall find out. First, I would like you to read this article: https://moore.lib.unb.ca/Scholteach/platinoche.htm

Quite simply, the article discusses the difference between plain speech and poetic language. However, language has a tendency to simplify itself, to reduce itself downwards. Sentences become shorter. Ideas are simplified. Slogans replace thought. Emotion replaces reason. How and why this happens is a mystery, but I can assure you that it has happened throughout history. Just think of the breakdown from Classical Latin to Vulgar Latin to the various Romance Languages and Dialects that have replaced Latin in the areas where it used to be spoken. Break down, eliminate, simplify.

Thursday’s thoughts: why does this happen? How does it happen? Is it accidental? Is it deliberate? Should we follow meekly along and reduce our own thought and verbal processes? Should we just go gentle into that dark, but simplified, night? Should we resist? How can we resist? The answers to those questions will vary considerably. Each person who takes the time to read this will have a different set of reflections. That said, those answers are important, not just to each one of us as an individual, but also to us human beings as an inter-linked chain in society. All poets, all philosophers, all those who care about language, must reflect deeply on how they can preserve it, care for it, and make it mirror the depths, not of their own education, because not all of us privileged enough to be deeply educated, but our own intelligence. I have lived in places where people neither read nor write. It is so easy to dismiss them as ‘stupid’. I can assure you that they are not ‘stupid’ and to think of them is such is to ignore totally the oral tradition, the wisdom tradition, the cultural traditions from which these people come. We underestimate them at our peril.

What can we do? As poets, we can preserve the traditions and dignity of the depths of meaning, logical, emotional, sub-conscious, that is included in poetry. As writers, we can concentrate on using words with care and attention, of making our meaning clear, of elaborating our thoughts in such a way that others can follow them. As readers, we can look at inner structures, the deeper meaning of words, the emotional forces that try to persuade us, sometimes dishonestly, that this or that is best for us. As human beings we can extend our vocabularies, pay attention to words and their effects, and we can stand up for the linguistic and cultural traditions into which we were born, or in which we have chosen to live.

Now, always with your consent and permission, I will offer you the link to yesterday’s blog post https://rogermoorepoet.com/2021/07/28/22862/ Here you will find, if you choose to click on it, and it is always your choice, a discussion on meaning in language that will run parallel to this one.

Closed and Open Images

Open and closed blossoms on the geranium

Closed and Open Images
Wednesday Workshop
28 July 2021

            A closed image is one that leads the reader in a specific direction and offers a fixed vision of the world. For example, “White moths wing their snow / storm through the night” (Cage of Flame, below). One summer evening, a long time ago, when I was in Chatham, N.B., now Miramichi City, I saw white moths swarming beneath a street light. The air was thick with them and they circled and dazzled like falling snow. A reader may not catch this image first time through. However, after a couple of readings and a little thought the image makes perfect sense. Now add the personal dimensions. Have you had a similar experience? What associative fields do you structure around white moths > wing > their snow storm >? This is where the image opens up and becomes more personal. You may not have been in Chatham that night, but you may well have experienced something similar.

            An open image is one that leads you outwards into your own world. “Now you are a river flowing silver beneath the moon” (Cage of Flame, below). Now the image is more open and asks questions of the reader. Who is the you referred to in the second word? Is it the reader? Is the narrator speaking to a third person? You are a river: how can a person be a river, more, can we be sure this you refers to a person? What else could it refer to? You are flowing silver: there is no sense of concrete meaning here. This is not a piece of information to be processed as you would process a headline in the newspaper (print or digital). What does it mean? I don’t know but, as Salvador Dalí said of one of his own paintings “I don’t know what it means but I know it means something.” And that something is the essence of poetry. That one word, river, will conjure up different images for each individual who reads the poem. River: which river does the poet mean? Is he referring to the Miramichi, the St. John / Wolastoq (Wəlastəkwewiyik means “People of the Beautiful River,” in Maliseet), the Thames / Támesis (to the Spanish who lived in London in 1560-1580), the Severn / Sabrina (to the Romans who invaded Britain in 55-54 BC) that divides Wales from England? And what happens when we restore the old names to the rivers that former generations, some of them our forefathers and foremothers named? How does it change our picture of the permanence of rivers and the impermanence of names and people?

            Metaphors are always hard to understand. This is because they have no exact meaning and vary with each reader. Take a metaphor like icy fire. We know that ice can seem to burn the skin, but what does icy fire mean? Think of those drawings in which a vase becomes a face and the face metamorphoses into in a vase. Most people can see each image separately, but it is difficult to hold both shapes in the mind’s eye at the exact same time. The image flits between them with the result that the reader’s determining mind, the one that yearns for le mot juste, the exact meaning of words, is trapped between two mirrors and moves from the one to the other without being able to settle on either.  This is what happens with metaphoric meanings: a flickering between the different terms of the metaphor and an inability to settle. Take this couplet, for example: “there is nothing so hot as the female desire, / as cold as new snow yet it burns you like fire” (In Praise of Small Women, El Libro de Buen Amor, Arcipreste de Hita, circa 1283 -1350, my translation). Such metaphors have been around for a long time, as has the juxtaposition between hot and cold, the Petrarchan ice and fire, used as a poet’s description of lovers.

            No, poetry is not, definitely not, an exchange of information. It is more an exchange of dreams, cultures, multiple meanings, each constructed, de-constructed, re-constructed in the space between the minds of reader and writer. A poetry book is very similar to a river. You must take it on its own terms, adapt to it, work with it, run your fingers and hands in its waters, paddle in it, swim if you want to. You must do all of this on your own terms and in your own way. Whatever you do, don’t, don’t get out of your depth. And please, please, don’t let yourself drown. Just lay back on the water, look at the clouds in the sky, choose the ones you want to follow, and float a few minutes of the day away.

Poetic Structures

Poetic Structures
Wednesday Workshop
21 July 2021

External Structures

            Roman Armies, men and words, were structured, highly structured. Poetic structure can take many forms: external structure, the sonnet, for example, with its 14 lines and its 4+4+3+3 verse form which can also be 4+4+4+2 or 5+5+4, or 5+4+5 or 2 x 7 or 3+3+3+3+2. I have experimented with all of these sonnet forms, and many more, at one stage or another in The Nature of Art. Milton Acorn, the Governor-General’s Poetry Award Winner for poetry, wrote a book called Jackpine Sonnets. His Jackpine Sonnets are wild and beautiful, growing this way and that, totally individual and out of shape, just like wind-swept jackpines of Tara Manor in St. Andrews on the East Coast of New Brunswick, Canada, where I penned some of these poems.

Internal Structures

            In the same way that poems can be given a formal structure, so can lines. Structure can be external, flowing from line to line in an unbroken sequence, or it can be internal, limited to each line. Some of my poems include stanzas where the individual line flows into the stanza and the result is an amalgamation of both the individual and the whole. Individual lines can be structured by syllable count, 10, 11, 12 or more per line. They can also be structured by stress, the stress of normal speech or the stress of forced rhythm. Structures can have Greek or Latin names, English ones too. Or it can be the structure of simple, everyday speech. Fray Luis de León, (1527-1591) wrote that he counted his syllables when he spoke and he wrote prose and poetry the same way he spoke. Syllables, a strange term nowadays, not understood by all. Try the ‘beat’ of music: “You can’t always get what you want” (Rolling Stones) or “All you need is love,” (Beatles). Simple really, but it is all too easy to complicate these concepts.

Comment: Clearly this is a simplification of what can be an intensely scientific and academic subject. We have only to think of the books of rhetoric, with their long lists of Greek names for the different syllables, long and short, and the different line lengths that run from Iambic Pentameter to Hymns Ancient and Modern. However, the purpose of these thoughts is to simplify and not to complicate. More important, perhaps, rhythm, in one form or another is akin to structure and many of us have an innate sense of verbal rhythm, whether we count our syllables on our fingers, as I do, or count them not, as is the modern trend in some poets. Think daisy petals: she loves me, she loves me not, I count them, I count them not. Yet still the rhythm is there and that, in many ways, is one of the key secrets of our unique poetic voices: we all speak and write in different fashions and that is one of the things that makes us unique.

Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks

I have published three books this year and I am working on a fourth and a fifth. Somehow, the blog, like these hollyhocks, seems ephemeral. It will not out last me, though its seedlings, children and grandchildren, may creep into my printed books and remain a lot longer. These, incidentally, are the children and grandchildren of the first hollyhock grown in the garden. I think a little bird must have dropped it about five years ago. Now it has seeded and reseeded itself. Reseed, yes — recede, we hope not. They are so tall we can sit in the kitchen and they are at eye level with us.

And don’t forget the yucca. He was $120 in the local garden store. Reduced to half price ($60). Then to $50. “We are in the wrong zone for yuccas,” I told the salesman. “Yours for $20, then. He probably won’t last.” That was 32 years ago. And baby, just look at that yucca now.

He hides behind the hollyhocks, but he doesn’t live in their shade. Not by any means. There are so many things to see and do. The blog seems to have drifted by a little bit. I know it’s lonely, but I haven’t forgotten it, as the hollyhocks haven’t forgotten the yucca and vice versa. It’s just that it’s summertime and things are busy and well, I guess I’ll try to do a little bit better. I promise!

The Musicality of Words

The Musicality of Words
Wednesday Workshop
Bastille Day
14 July 2021

            The Roman armies marched all over Europe and, as they marched, they sang marching songs, traces of which lingered, along with the Latin language, everywhere they went. Think of the poems in his book as songs, each with its own special rhythm. You can find music in a single word, in a group of words, in a single line. You can hear and feel it too when you follow the punctuation and move with the words across adjoining lines. Unfortunately, far too many of us have become used to slogans and advertisements: three words repeated incessantly, two verses of a song that loop continuously. Many of us have forgotten how to read anything other than newspaper headlines and simple sentences. We have also forgotten how to listen to words, how to gain multiple meanings beyond the simplistic message of slogan, sound byte, scandal, and news. Diversity of meaning is what you learn when you read poetry, for poetry is more, much more, than the delivering of a simple message. To read a poem is to set out on a personal journey of exploration, into your own memories and mind, as mediated by the poet’s words. It is also to explore the vast treasure trove of our personal relationship with our language. Remember: a poetry book is a dream you hold in your hands.

Comment: Words have meaning, but they also have music and the musicality of meaning must never be forgotten for when music an meaning combine, a new set of meanings is formed that depend as much upon the ear as they do upon the decoding mind. This is all a part of what we refer to as the poet’s voice and remember this style of poetry is not to be found in newspaper headlines nor on the radio and television news, scaled down as they are to the lowest common denominators of language.

Look carefully at the painting that heads this Wednesday Workshop. Look at the movement and the musicality of linked forms and colors in a still, silent, two-dimensional space. Meaning takes on different meanings and becomes something different when we look at these words of color, these soundless sounds, these rhythmical movements of color. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Indeed it is, and in poetry, it is also in the musicality of the words and the flow of the ideas that bind the words and change their meanings.

Terza Rima

Terza Rima
Apologia pro carmina mea

Dear reader who reads my poems: sometimes
I say what I do not mean to write
and write what I don’t mean to say. Rhymes

make things clearer, for I puzzle what I might
say, and plan ahead so an awkward word
will not intrude. Words, birds in flight,

bright as postage stamps across the absurd
white snow of a page or a digital screen.
When I think about it, I assume about a third

of what I say, I really mean. Who has seen
the early morning wind drifting our thought-cloud
across the lawn, moving shadows cast on green

blades of grass, as we think our thoughts aloud,
each thought a pea in a pod, as some we clasp
between finger and thumb while others crowd,

and the loud, uneasy word slips from our grasp
to wound or injure or otherwise to hurt and maim.
It’s not my aim to do this. My word is not an asp

or a viper or a screw to be driven. I lay no claim
to hurt and yet sometimes a word slips sideways
and does not say what I mean it to say. I aim

to please, to tease, to provoke, in so many ways
and yet I often hurt where no hurt is intended.
If I have done you wrong and my word displays
unintended ends, forgive me: let all rifts be mended.

Letters and Words

Sometimes there are no words!

Wednesday Workshop
30 June 2021
Letters and Words

            Words are formed from a combination of letters and sounds. Join them together and they will march like Roman soldiers, in groups of meaning. A cohort, ten words, ten men, commanded by a Decurion. One hundred words, a century, commanded by a Centurion. Six thousand words, a legion with six thousand possible implications attached. I use the image of the Roman Legion because meanings in poetry are Legion and our Western Poetry tradition, of which I am a part, goes back more than two thousand years to Roman times and beyond. Tolle, lege: Latin for take and read. Sortes Virgilianae: fortune telling by chance words drawn, originally, from Virgil’s Aeneid and now from this poetry book. Choose your words and sentences at random. Interpret them as you will.

Associative Fields

            While each word has an individual dictionary meaning, words are much more powerful than the dictionary. Each word is surrounded by a network of associations, called an associative field, and those connections are different for every reader. This means that each word and its associative field have very personal emotional strings attached. When you understand this, you will also understand that each reading, each interpretation, is your own and nobody else’s. This is not a grade school classroom. Here, there are no poetry thought police to tell you that you are wrong, that you are mistaken, that you do not understand what the teacher is telling you.

Take the word ‘grandmother’. The dictionary meaning is clear. Your grandmother is the mother of your father or the mother of your mother. Each of us has, if we are lucky, two grandmothers. Some of us have more than two. The emotional ties between you, as reader, and your own ‘grandmother(s)’ will determine your own personal version of the word’s emotional and poetic tones. Now you must apply these individual meanings to each word you read. Reading poetry in this fashion will allow you to create your own personal world of tone, meaning, associations, and emotions. This is what poetry brings to you, not a handful of information to be scanned for knowledge, but a series of sights, sounds, memories, all personal, that are triggered in your mind by the impact of the poet’s words.

Comment: Wednesday Workshops are my attempt to express some of my ideas and theories on writing in general and on poetry in particular. Hopefully, the will encourage other writers to think about their writing and to deepen their knowledge and understanding of what we do best: think and write. By all means add your own thoughts to what I have written here.

Masks

Mexican Mask depicting the ages of man.

Masks
Friday Fiction

I cover my face with a white mask of soap and carve intricate patterns with the razor.

… painted masks … death masks … the masks the priests wear in the pre-Columbian Oaxacan codices … the prisoner struggling … not yet fully understanding his fate … around him … animal masks … priest  masks … the jaguar cult of the regiments … they strip him down … paint his body … arm him with flowers … place him on a pedestal … from there he will dance his last dance … fight his last fight .. his destiny … like the bull in the bull ring … to die bravely showing no fear … he strikes first with the flower … his opponents strike back … one by one … with their obsidian knives … each wound a flesh wound on legs and thighs … the heart pounds … the blood flows .. faster and faster … more flowers … more knives … more blood … until almost bloodless the prisoner weakens and stumbles … rough arms seize him by the arms and legs … they carry him to the sacrificial stone … bend him over it … chest exposed … and tear the living beating heart from the cavity the carve in his chest … the severed arms and legs bounce down the temple steps to the waiting crowds … tomorrow his spirit will return as a hummingbird … and dance around the sun … for now his torn heart sizzles in the sacrificial fire … a horse’s head … teeth bared … grins from the temple walls …

My razor, held like a flower, slips and I gash my lip. The slow blood seeps through the soap streaking my mask with faint shades of pink. I shiver and stare at my reflection in the mirror. It’s a very plain face with a nose slightly larger and more hooked than it ought to be. I think of it as the prow of a ship or a bird’s beak: an eagle perhaps. My nose is very much like the nose of the man who died in the flower dance. In spite of the warmth in the room, I shiver again.

How to read poetry

How to read poetry
A Wednesday Workshop

The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature is a book of poems each one of which celebrates humanity’s relationship both with the natural world and the way that world is recreated by artists in so many different forms. In order to read these poems and receive full value from them, it would help to know how to approach them.

Preparing to Read

First, de-clutter the mind. Poetry cannot be hurried or rushed. Remember, it is better to read one poem a hundred times than to read one hundred poems once. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for your reading. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. Concentrate your mind on something you find peaceful: a sail on Passamaquoddy Bay, a rose in Kingsbrae’s Rose Gardens, a butterfly in the Butterfly Garden, or a fine white cotton cloud in a cerulean sky. Breathe in and then breathe out. Now slow your breathing down. Breathe in, count up to four, slowly, breathe out, counting up to six. Breathe in, count up to six, slowly, now breathe out, counting up to eight. Breathe in, counting up to eight, and breathe out, also counting up to eight. How long will you sit there? When your breathing has slowed and your mind is clear, you will be ready to start. You will know when that is.

            Open your eyes. Take your book and begin to read. Don’t start on page one and rush through. Dip in, here and there, find a title or a first line that you like, and read that poem. Read it two or three times. Then move on, randomly to another poem. Select individual lines, phrases, sentences. Savour the words. Roll them around in your mind. Read them to yourself, quietly. Then read them out loud. Try to capture their essence, their rhythms. Taste them, as you would a fine Spanish Manzanilla wine. Select another word, another line, another poem. Seek and you will find some sequence that you like. Return to it often.

Comment: I will restart my Wednesday Workshops. The Nature of Art, the manuscript on which I am currently working, has an Introduction on The Nature of Poetry. I will put this up in installments. The handwritten opening page comes from an online video on Creativity and Writing Poetry during the Pandemic. This poetry video is the first one in the series. Click here for link. Other workshops on writing can be found by searching Writing Workshops on the Blog search (top right hand corner) or by going to this link Poetic Creativity and Thoughts on Writing