Ephemera

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Ephemera

‘The day I was born, I took my first step on the path to death.’ Thus spoke Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet born in 1580, died in 1645. “Am I going to die, Father?” “We’re all going to die, Patrick. We just don’t know how, where, or when.” This from the Sharpe’s Rifles Series. I can’t remember which show, but I remember the scene.

Ephemera / ephemeral: butterflies on a rock, on a flower, in a summer garden, blown away in a puff of wind. And that’s what we all are. “For whether we last the night, or no, / I’m sure is only touch and go.” Dylan Thomas: Under Milkwood. Or under Idlewood, Island View, as I like to rewrite it.

“Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” / “Where are lost year’s snows?” François Villon.  “No hay pájaros en los nidos de antaño”“There are no birds in last year’s nests.” Miguel de Cervantes.

One of my friends, twenty-five years younger than me, wrote to me today speaking of how fragile he felt. Another friend wrote me last week, mid-forties, going into another round of cancer. How long do we have? How do we face our individual end? How do we pass through that door that opens for us, and each one of us alone? I have no answers. I remember pushing my father in a wheelchair around the cancer ward. I remember sitting with my mother, needles inserted in her arm, her arm a sunset of bruises.

Where do we go? What will become of us? What will we do when the dandelion clock runs down and that last puff of wind bows us into eternity? Horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours. These words come from the old Roman sundial. I first read them in a children’s book: The Puppy Who Lost his Wag. Does anyone remember that book? Or was it just an ephemeral publication, lost in the tides of time? Villon, Cervantes, and anonymous author … pobres poetas de hoy: polvo seco de tesis doctoraltoday’s poor poets: dry dust of a doctoral thesis. (José María Valverde, a very good friend).

Et ego in Arcadia vixi / and I in Arcadia have lived. It is, and has been, a wonderful life. I feel the sands of time trickling though my fingers. I feel the waters running dry in Antonio Machado’s  clepsidra / his water clock. And I am not afraid. I rejoice in who I am and what I have been. My puppy dog life has regained its wag and the sun shines on my sundial.

 

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Black and White

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Black and White

There is a moment in winter photography when the world of color turns to black and white. Color is still there, but today it travels incognito, anonymous. The world is formed by shapes, trees draping their branches, snow weighing them down, dressing them in wedding gowns for their marriage with the new year spirits that haunt sunlit, moonlit snowbanks and dance across the snow. Even the clouds exist to give a soft, quiet dramatic touch to the winter beauty that visits the garden. And yes, it will always be there, even if we are not here to see it because it will carry on without us. As for us, we are secondary, mere witnesses to winter’s beauty and the nature that surrounds us.

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Amateur photographers can sometimes capture this effect in a moment of luck (or occasional inspiration). Great painters have always known this art of the minimal. El Greco drew light from darkness, his portraits often finding their own fire and lighting up from within.  Caravaggio, too, knew the values of chiaro-oscuro, light and dark, black and white. Velasquez was the master of the spotlight that highlighted the eggs frying in the pan, the hand of the water-carrier. Goya, in his etchings [The Disasters of War, The Caprichos] and dark paintings, drew mood and anguish from this contrast between light and dark, black and white.

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My friend Geoff Slater has caught such a moment in his sketches for Scarecrow. Above he catches the precise moment when the scarecrows, male and female, reach out to each other, and beneath a Van Gogh planetary sky, dare to dream of mobility and love. The dream world: so important to us all and especially to the creative artist who dwells in each of us. Deus est in nobis, the Latin poets used to say, it is god within us. The god of black and white who transforms the world into color and light.

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Black and white, light and dark, winter trees, Clare, two scarecrows, deer and crows: labors of love that reach out and catch us unawares, blowing our hearts wide open, letting in the sun and the wind and the ever present joy of seeing things, seizing them, sizing them up, in black and white.

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The Yfory* Tower

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The Yfory* Tower

“Tomorrow never comes,” they told me,
because, by the time it gets here,
it’s already today.

All my tomorrows are woven into today’s
threads of mist that weave silk scarves
around the open-mouthed trees,
ensuring their silence

Silence, save for click of cat’s claws,
slither of pen over page, tapping of keys,
letters turned into words, words that worm
their way over the page, soundless, into my head.

Geese fly high, arrowing their way to the south.
Autumn is on the wing as days shorten.
Cold weather will be here tomorrow
even though they tell me that tomorrow never comes.

Beethoven rewrites the Fifth. I refuse to open the door
when the postmen knocks, bearing his fatal message.
I guess he’ll be back tomorrow, although they tell me
that tomorrow never comes.

Yfory*:
Yfory, the Ivory Tower, means tomorrow in Welsh.

Wednesday Workshop: New Projects

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Wednesday Workshops
New Projects
03 July 2019

New Projects … how do you choose them, these new projects? Simple answer: I really don’t know. So much depends on you and your work habits. In my own case I have a back log of projects. I have been writing and creating for years. As a result I have a whole set of files that I can turn to and select from. Two novels, about fifty short stories organized into two or three as yet unpublished manuscripts, a couple of hundred poems, organized into three separate thematically organized manuscripts, a set of writings on facilitating creative writing …

Projects … do the work and then choose the order in which you will publish it. I look at the hollyhock that suddenly appeared last year in my garden. Do the work: the birds (in all probability) seeded it. The hard work: the hollyhock grew itself. I should add that my beloved nearly tore it out on the grounds that she didn’t recognize it and it looked like a weed. But she left it, and it grew into what it was meant to be: a hollyhock. One stalk. So many buds. We didn’t know which would blossom first. And it didn’t matter. One after anther they all blossomed. The hollyhock knew what it was doing [we didn’t]. It had belief and faith [we didn’t]. But we had hope.

The Hollyhock Project: This year the hollyhock has eight [yes, eight] different shoots. It’s no longer a single flower, it’s become a bush! It has also shed seeds further afield [I should really write abed, since they’re all in the same flower bed.] I wonder in what order they will blossom. It doesn’t matter really: I am just confident they will bloom. And the sunflowers have rooted below the bird feeders. They have their own projects and I know they will grow as and how they will. And the yucca has four shoots that will flower, how and why I just don’t know. But each flower has its project(s) and I am confident they will all flower and flourish.

My own projects: When June came in, I didn’t know what to do, nor did I know in what order to do it. Then Time-spirits came together. Geoff gave me some drawings and I chose one for the cover. I took the manuscript to the printers, got an estimate, and received a mock-up. The text had shifted in the transfer from computer to computer. My 70 page text had grown to 132 pages. I spent the next 72 hours rewriting everything, eliminating words, lines, poems, dropping the text back down to 70 pages. It i now published. I wondered what to do with the McAdam Railway Station poems. Geoff came to see me on Sunday, 23 June, and told me that he would be celebrating his birthday the following Friday. He also told me that the McAdam Railway Station would be unveiling his mural the following Sunday (June 30). The McAdam railway poems were published on Saturday, 29 June, and I took them to McAdam in time for the ceremony.

Trust: Trust yourself, trust your projects, trust the universal spirit [Northrup Frye’s Spiritus Mundi], under whichever name you acknowledge it). And remember, genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Put in the mileage, put in he hard work, believe, and trust. ¡Qué será, será! Whatever will be, will be.

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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.

Impact

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Impact

This photo comes up from nowhere, springs into your half-awake mind, diminishes your reality. W5: who, what, why, when where? But there is no who, save the person bearing witness to this moment in time, and you, the double witness who also contemplates and is therefore complicit.

Do you recognize this scene? Is this a moment in your life? Are you the one who struck the match and lit the flames in the lower corners? And are they even flames? Or are they moments of glory, flashes of fireworks, the world coming alive in a moment of combustion when light and dark are mingled until, fiat lux / let there be light, and the world is reborn, light and form, drawn from darkness, and earth and sea divided into separate realms. In principium erat verbum / in the beginning was the word and the world was born / reborn in this verbal-visual instant between sleeping and awakening, when dreams gain substance and ideas take on form and shape and grow in the observer’s mind until creation sparks into life.

Who now knows what will be, what might be? We see. We bear witness. We paint, draw verbal pictures, take snapshots, unfold our souls, placing them on paper and canvas capturing them by camera in snapshots … but What’s it all about, Alfie? Do you remember the film? The suspension in space, the knowledge that all is absurd, that this is a jigsaw puzzle of the worst kind, with no solution, no answer, and every path bifurcating before us, and each of us wandering in a maze, a labyrinth, with an entrance, but no exit.

Do you think up or down, when you’re floating in a space without gravity, where nothing is substantial and all the rules you ever learned no longer hold? The roller-coaster rolls on and you hang on, and sometimes the sun comes up and sometimes the sun goes down, and is that the first light of morning or is it the last light of day, and how can you be sure?

And where is it anyway? Have you ever been there? And if I told you where it was , what time of day it was, or what time of night, would you believe me? And if not, why not? And who and what am I? And why do you trust what I say? And why would you trust me, when you have never met me, and you do not even know who I am, or where I am, or what I am, and even I do not really know who I am or why I am, and why does any of this matter?

It matters because we need faith, we need substance, we need hope, we need to believe in something other than ourselves and beyond ourselves. We still want to wake in the morning and see the dawn. We want to grasp it in our hands, not just in our minds, and know that there is light beyond this darkness, there is hope beyond this gloom, there are better things ahead. See that forgotten candle? Pick it up. Take that match. Strike it against the box. Now light that candle. Take it out. Show it to other people. Encourage them to light their own candles.

Sometimes we need to enlighten the world, to turn it round, to reject it as it seems to be and to recreate it in our own image.  But take care: the image of the candle is not that of the laser beam or the searchlight. One by one, the small people, we must join together, and like tiny stars and light up the firmament. I cannot do it alone. But together, you, and you, and you, and you, if you walk with me, we can do our best. And that is the best we can do, in this, as Voltaire’s Candide once called it, the best of all worlds and the only one we have.

 

Friends

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Friends

When good friends get together they can talk and walk and hug and hold and discuss so many awkward and difficult things, like how the body fills with spirit and the reader can be swept away in the magic of voice and how time and space can be suspended in the majestic act of creation that spins a web of forgetfulness around us and makes us forget who and what we are as we forge new worlds and the duende (Lorca’s dark earth spirit of love, want, and creation) holds us captive and drives us onward and inwards until we give birth to that which was waiting to be born, even though we never knew that the seed had even been planted, and “What is this?” we ask as we survey the new born entity fresh on the page, held in the hands, suddenly full of life and breathing on its own, a thing of beauty in its own right, that made complete sense as we struggled to hold it as it grew and transformed and transitioned from internally ours to externally and eternally theirs, a product of mind and body now belonging no longer to us but to the world beyond us, and we long to know its fate, to watch it as it walks along its path, its destiny now in its own hands, and “What is it?” people ask as we stand still and know not what to tell them, or else they say “Nice”, sigh, and go back to their two-thumbed clicking and their imaged devices, bereft of the imagination to see and explore that which has just been placed before them, this babe in swaddling clothes, this new creation, “Here, have some,” they say, thrusting our way the chips on which they are munching, or the curly French Fries they are crunching, or the pistachios, or whatever, and their coffee cools on the table, and their eyes are locked on the text that moves between their fingers across the electronic page, and this is life, as they know it, this shifting screen of shadows, this black and white stage that moves across the wall of the man-cave, woman-cave, in which they have immersed themselves, their noses close to that shifting screen, their minds elsewhere, trapped in the instantaneous insanity of the hyper-cyber-space that inhabits the void behind their eyes and between their ears, as they try to judge the price of everything never understanding the value of anything, let alone what we have created, and “Take away his grant,” “Let her wither on the vine,” “They’ll soon forget to be creative when we chain them up face to face with harsh reality,” and was that what they said to Goya, to El Greco, to Leonardo, and what exactly did they say to Lorca, before they shot him dead and rolled him into that common grave along with all the other murdered men and women, teachers and artists, poets and thinkers, and we, poor parents, holding our precious precocities in their swaddling clothes and wondering why we ever set out on this adventure, and why we are creators in the first place and “Watch out, here it comes again!” the tsunami, the tidal wave that sweeps us away and drives us into the black holes of our inner lives where a dark sun shines and shadows dance and lead us on and on until we have caught our dreams, squeezed them dry of their nothingness, and turned them into the weavings of an actuality stuffed full with new life, a new reality, a new creation, something that is truly ours, yet outside ourselves, and we gaze at it for a moment then position it in its cradle of reeds, place it in the river, push it out into midstream and eyes fill with tears and heart with hope as we watch it float away to make its own life, sink or swim, on this sea of sorrows, where someone, downstream, may bend to the waters and say “Holy Moses: what on earth is this?” or “How are we going to judge and assess it?”