On days like these, the center must hold, but not just hold, it must writhe and strive to live longer, be stronger, to hold together so that the periphery understands that it too is at the center of an extended web of life that contains us all, you and me, past and future generations, in a great chain of being alive and knowing that yes, we are here, we are, at heart, really only one, and totally unique, is spite of the sameness that sometimes surrounds us as time’s spider-web unravels, oh so fast, so slow, and yet still we are here, and still the center holds.
Only the winners write the history of their conquests, only the winners. Am I a winner, then? Of course I am. I’m writing this aren’t I? Therefore, ipso facto, I am a winner. This means that although they trashed and thrashed me, they never broke me nor was I a loser. I survived. And in that world in which I lived, surviving without surrendering was a victory in itself. But this is no tale of a hero, of bloody deeds, of a great victory. It is a survivor’s tale. So, if I won, then they lost, and who knows now how the losers felt, history’s non-winners, their slates wiped clean now, their names anonymous, erased from my story, not carved in stone nor impressed into steel. What’s in a name? The Red Wings, the Black Hawks, the Braves, the Algonquins? Whose heart lies broken and buried at Wounded Knee? Why does the Wolastoq rise in the Notre Dame mountains and flow down through unceded land to the City of Fredericton that noble daughter of the woods, and on to the city of Saint John on Fundy Bay? Why Wolastoq, Notre Dame, Fredericton, Saint John? “Sticks and stones will break my bones, yet names will never hurt me.” But what if I am called Nemo and have no other name? No-name man, no-name woman, no-name child, no language to call my own, no culture, no history, except the one that others wrote and forced me to believe or the innocent who causes me to rebel
“Grandpa,” she says, climbing on my knee. “Tell me a story. Please.” “Once upon a time,” I begin. “There was this little girl …” She wriggles and giggles. “What was her name?” “I don’t know.” “Yes, you do.” “Don’t.” “Do.” “Was it me? Am I that little girl?” “You can be if you want.” “I want. How does my story end?” “I don’t know. You’ve only just started it.”
So, write your poems, write your stories, write your childhood, write your memories, write what you know, invent what you don’t know. You can’t remember your name? Give yourself a new one. You have forgotten your myths? Create new ones. You have forgotten your language? Seek and you will find, and when you have found, learn your language again, a word at a time, phrase by phrase, word-picture by word-picture, until you have renewed your world and your place in it. Let your ancestors stride through your veins again and again to stand in the spotlight that you shine upon them. Restriction, extinction, suppression of the weakest and poorest, survival of the fittest … You, you who are reading this, you who have survived, you can count yourself among the strongest and the bravest. Now name yourself for who and what you are. Pick up your pen and write. Lazarus I name you: step out from your living tomb, step out from your kennel-cave. Pick up your bed and walk and talk, and write your own story. And remember the words of Oscar Wilde, “Tell your own tale, and be yourself, my friend, because everyone else is taken.”
This from the days when I was a wannabe artist who thought he could actually be an artist. But no, it was not to be and the masks fell off and dropped to the ground. There was no Covid back then, so I didn’t have to pick them up and put them back on again. And I didn’t have to stay two metres – six -feet – away from the painting. If you paint with the Devil, you need a long brush. Also known s a Devil’s Paint Brush.
To paint or not to paint, that is the question. So, I chose the path of mindfulness, la escondida senda por donde han ido los pocos sabios que en el mundo han sido / the hidden path along which have walked the few wise men who have lived in the world. And yes, art, in all its forms, is mindfulness, being in yourself, being aware of the moment, being taken up by that split second when paint hits paper, canvas, or whatever, and being absorbed totally in that.
Gardening will do that for you. Also what I call hyperspace, that wonderful world between fingertips, and screen where the great ideas flow naturally, like paint, and words come tumbling out onto the page. Today’s theme: The Great Pretender. Not all the words are wonderful, nor all the ideas great. The greatest skill is to be able to differentiate between gems and dross. This comes with patience and practice. But when the words flow, and the paint settles, there are few joys like it.
How could one not give thanks for the bounties of Thanksgiving? Listening to Cross Country Check Up, last night, as I have done for the last 55 years, I was amazed at how people, some of them in dire circumstances, were able to find things for which to be thankful. I haven’t made a list of the things for which I am thankful and I certainly didn’t call in to the talk show to give my opinion, but let me think…
I am thankful for the beauty of the natural world. Just look at that sunrise! Yesterday we walked in Mactaquac and admired the beauty of the changing leaves. Migrating geese put on a display, taking off from the waters of the head pond, flying, then settling down again. We: I am grateful for the presence of my beloved, still beside me after all these years. I am grateful that we are together and that we are both of us able to walk and indulge in this province’s autumnal beauties.
I am grateful for faithful friends. I will not name them all. If I did, this blog would never be finished. This morning, an e-mail from Geoff Slater, whose paintings and drawings have often appeared on the blog, spoke of the nature of ritual and how we use it. He spoke of external rituals and how, during times like these, when our normal lives are upside down, we lose the ability to follow our external rituals. This may cause dismay and a loss of stability to many. However, he also reminded me that we, as practicing artists, have established our own internal rituals. These keep us going in the difficult times, for they are always there to fall back on. Following his line of thought, I explored my own daily rituals, the ones that have kept me going throughout Covid-19. Thank you, Geoff, for those ideas and for your long-term friendship.
I am grateful for the initial offer, from the University of Toronto, to come to Canada to study all those years ago. Canada gave me a chance to challenge my established rituals and to build and shape new ones that were more suitable to my inner being, a being that I had kept well hidden from the Masters of the Universe who limited my creativity, and ruled the rituals of my Boarding schools and my undergraduate studies. Above all, I am grateful for that rich, inner world of creativity and dream and I am doubly grateful for those who have allowed me and encouraged me to express it and set it down for others to share.
So, Thanksgiving Day: a day on which to give thanks for all the blessings that are in our lives, large and small. Sure, times are tough. Sure, we could all do with more money. Sure, we could go on and on about our wants and needs. But today my want and my need is to give thanks for who, what, where, when and why I am. As my friend Norman Levine once wrote: Canada Made Me.
“The only difference between a madman and me is that I am not mad,” Salvador Dali. It is a great honor to borrow his words and to be able to make the same declaration: the only difference between a madman and me is that I am not mad.
Mikhail Bakhtin: carnival, the world turned upside down, the world going bananas and those bananas dancing, as you can see in the painting above. It is a mad moment frozen in the still time of paint. And why shouldn’t bananas dance? Some one out there will remember Thunder Bay, 1981: ‘you just have to go bananas’ and the bananas duly appeared at half time instead of the oranges. Saint John, 1985: same thing.
And now the dancing bananas have emerged once more to fill your minds with pleasure and your hearts with joy. Go, bananas, go. Bananas-a-go-go. Way to go, bananas. And I tell you, given the current state of society, going bananas is the only way to go. So, in the next election, I shall form the Banana Party and we can all stand firmly, shoulder to shoulder and shout “Oh, Mighty Banana!” and “Go, Bananas!”
Ah yes, and my next painting? Maybe it will be Banana Custard or Banana Splits, not that I have ever done the splits!
This is a painting inspired by one of Messiaen’s works: Visions from Beyond. His music inspired me to write the Meditations on Messiaen, and I have posted several of those poems on this page. For me, creativity is continuous: verbal and visual. The visual includes painting and photography, the verbal, short stories, poems, and short philosophical pieces on life and art. This is the link to the first poem from the sequence entitled Visions from Beyond. I should add that the audio reading is part of what I call creativity too: audio, visual, verbal. The complete package.
My Thursday thought: I feel that I have been blessed. To be able to see, speak, write, hear, and express some of the beauty of this world around me. I know there is ugliness out there, sickness, ill health, poverty and despair. So far, I have been spared. “Why me?” I think to myself, “Why me?” Then I cease to question and I just say “Thank you” to the Spiritus Mundi and to the Muse when she descends.
Every morning, when I wake, my mind runs through some of the hymns I used to sing as a child. “Songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee.” “Laud, bless, and praise Him all thy days, for it is seemly so to do.” “Good Shepherd may I sing Thy praise, within Thy house forever.” Meanwhile, until that time comes, I will do my best to celebrate and sing the beauties of this world in the oh-so-limited ways I know best, poetry and paint!
There is so much happening. It’s hard to keep track of it all. Reading and annotating the material I am working on for my online writing seminar. Painting: a delightful relief and relaxation. Who cares if I can’t paint? I can make meaning out of shape and color, like my friend Matisse. Writing: the poetry is back and I will start revising those short stories again soon. I may also go back to my first novel. I have abandoned it for too long.
Meanwhile, each dawn is a busy dizzy time. This morning I decided to lie in bed until 24 birds had flown past my new bedroom window, one for each new pane of glass. It took about fifteen minutes. I watched the mist rise and then the sun start to break through and when the sun came, so did the birds. Dizzy Dawn is now hanging on the wall, along with another set of paintings I have finished recently.
Life is good. I hope it stays that way for as long as possible.
What would you do if you had a hot line direct to God? What would you say? You wouldn’t need to punch in a number, he’d be right there, at the other end of the line when you picked up the phone. Hello, is that you, God? Yes, I am who I am. Would you then give your name? It’s me, John. I know. How do you know? Have you got one of those little screens that tells you who’s calling? No. I’m omniscient. You’d pause a little at this point, wouldn’t you? What would you say next? What’s omniscient? I am. But what does omniscient mean? It means I am God. I know everything. That would make you think. So, would you ask for definitions, like you just did, or would you move in another direction? Like this. So you know why I’m calling, then? Of course. Wow, that’s another conversation stopper. If he knows why you’re calling, why did you call in the first place? To ask him something? It’s sunny here. What’s the weather like where you are? The same as always. How’s that exactly? Heavenly. Maybe this conversation isn’t going the way you thought it might. You could try again. Well, if you know why I am calling, what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Free will. But you’ve got to do something. Why? Because I think you should. Are you omniscient? No. Then why should I do what you think I should do? Because… because … And there you are. On the telephone to God. Left speechless. Perhaps you wonder if the phone’s been hacked. You go ahead and ask him. Has this phone been hacked? No. Are you really God? Yes. And this is your direct line? Yes. Can you prove you are God? Of course. Will you prove it to me? No. Don’t you have a code word or something that proves who you are? No. What about a security number? No. So how can I believe what you say? Either you will or else you won’t. But what if you’re a con artist, an evil genius, a thief who wants to lead me astray? Some have said I am just that. What? Who? Throughout the ages, there have been doubters. There have? Of course. But I’m not a doubter. Then why are you asking these questions? If you’re omniscient, you know why I am worried. I do. So what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Not free will again? Knock and it will open, seek and you will find. You mean I called you to hear those words? You will hear them if you want to. Some have ears and do not hear. But you could do something about that? What do you have in mind? The churches are empty. Make people go to church on Sunday. On Sunday? Only on Sunday? What about Friday, or Saturday? What about the other days of the week? You’re all powerful. What would you advise? Advise? I don’t give advice. Or orders. I have given people free will. They can choose what they want to do. If they want to go to the mosque, the synagogue, the church, they may find me there. There again, they may not. Some have eyes and cannot see. These would walk right past me and even if I hung there on the cross and winked at them, they’d never recognize me. You find it frustrating, eh? It’s like a Socratic Dialog where you only get to answer yes, or no, or three bags full. How persistent are you? Will you keep going? What other direction would you like to take? If the weather’s heavenly where he is, perhaps he’s in heaven. Why not ask him if he ever leaves heaven? Do you ever leave heaven? No. Why not? I am ubiquitous. What does that mean? It means I am everywhere. The people who really seek me can find me anywhere they look. I don’t understand. You’re not omniscient. But how can you be in two places at once? If I am everywhere, as I am, heaven travels with me, wherever I go. So I could find you anywhere I looked? If you knew how to look properly, you would. Others did. Where did others find you? John the Baptist found me in the wilderness. St. Francis of Assisi found me among the flowers and the plants, the flora and the fauna. As did St. John of the Cross. St. Teresa of Avila was slightly more mundane. She found me walking in the kitchen among the pots and pans. Where should I look for you? How would I know? Because you’re omniscient. But I gave you free will. I cannot tell you how to use it. If I did, it wouldn’t be free. Couldn’t you give me a little hint? Not one. Why not? Because a hint from me would be the Word of God. And I am tired of being carried down from the mountaintop with my words carved in stone, only for the misguided to twist them out of shape and give them alternative meanings. People do that? Of course. That’s why so many no longer go to church on Sundays. Where do they go? Some of the good ones go out into the woods and contemplate the snow in winter, the leaves in summer and fall, and they find me there. Others work in the kitchen, or at their knitting, and they find me among the pots and pans, or between their stitches. Still others find me in the crossword puzzle, or the Sudoku, or in one of those brief moments when, alone, they close their eyes, breathe deep, listen to their bodies, and find that I am there within them. You are within us? Deus est in nobis. Meaning? God is in us. So I don’t need a telephone with a direct line to you. Not at all. And remember, telephone lines are dangerous. They can always be hacked. Now I’m confused. Sorry. Must go. There’s an emergency on the other line. You hear the click on the other end of the line as the phone goes down. You are overcome by a tsunami of sorrow and grief, a tidal wave of loneliness and abandonment sweeps you away and you cry out in your anguish that which you have never heard or spoken before, the words of the twenty-second psalm or of Christ on the Cross: Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
Sense and Nonsense Wednesday Workshop 18 August 2021
Iterative Thematic Unity
Iterative thematic imagery is complicated term, used by academics, for a literary device that is really very simple. When the same or similar images are used again and again in a text this is repetition or reiteration, hence iterative. When they are bound thematically or within the associative fields already present in the poetry, then the repetition is said to be thematic. A work’s unity may be found within the three classical unities of time, space, and action, or it may be found within the imagery that links and unites. It seems complex, but it isn’t really.
“Now you are a river flowing silver beneath the moon. High tide in the salt marsh: your body fills with shadow and light. I dip my hands in dappled water.” The key images fall into two categories, (1) water: river / high tide / salt marsh / water and (2) light: silver / moon / shadow and light / dappled. Now the sense of the words becomes clear. You / your body is likened to a river seen in the moonlight. It can be touched: I dip my hands. This adds an extra sensory dimension and the depth of the images is apparent. And no, it is not a simple message, but it can be decoded and enjoyed because now you can make it yours.
Sense and Nonsense
When we talk poetry, what do we mean by sense and nonsense? Let us begin with automatic writing. Automatic writing is nonsense. Put your pen on the paper, do not let it off, write for five minutes, whatever comes into your head. The Surrealists published these thoughts, however distraught and distracted as meaningful poetry. Major poets (Lorca, Paz) have used these techniques to engender metaphors and images. However, they have searched among their subconscious thoughts and have rejected the dross to choose the genuine images that enlighten the inner world.
Sense or nonsense? “Eye of the peacock, / can you touch what I see / when my eyelids close for the night?” Key images: eye > see > eyelids > and these are linked to the eyes of the peacock, as displayed on his feathers, and this links to the ancient tale of the Argos and the Argonauts, and to the person who closes his eyes to sleep for the night, and the sense that we can touch (tactile) when we dream (visual), a mixing of the senses. The straightforward logic of the nightly news? Definitely not. But the logic of the subconscious world, of the dream world as defined by Carl Jung? Definitely. These words contain internal meanings that are different for each one of us. Logical meaning? Definitely not. Internal sensation that may generate ease or unease? Definitely. Sense or nonsense? That will depend upon the readers and how they react not in their logical minds but in that deep-seated region of subconsciousness where all imagery is related to what Carl Jung calls the racial subconscious.
Are there words or ideas here that you do not understand? Names and theories that you do not know? Literature in general and poetry in particular take you to places where you have never been and to places that you might never have thought of visiting. However, these are lands that will open their delights before you, if you deign to open up heart, mind, and eyes, and venture out to explore them. Use your dictionary, your thesaurus, your google search tool, and expand your verbal and linguistic horizons. Poetry is not an advert. It doesn’t sell you anything. But it can and does open new worlds and it encourages you to explore old worlds set within you. It will not persuade, cajole, and limit your mind and your choice, rather it will embolden you and help to open new horizons.
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.