Migration

 

 

Migration

I cannot see the flocks of icons
and words as they migrate,
like birds, from machine
to machine.

I imagine them,
feathered and winged,
hopping from island to island
as they journey north
to their new summer site.

Words and birds,
migrating from winter’s death
to summer’s life.
We watch spring birds
as they settle in our garden
where the grass is greener,
here, on the other side.

We care for them,
keep them from cats,
watching and wondering
as they fledge and fly.

Migration:
many set out,
but not all arrive.
Not every icon
makes its way
to the new machine.

 

Downsizing

  • Downsizing
    Last night’s rainstorm
    shrank the house.
    It closed down rooms
    and
    now the walls are closing in.
    There’s so much
    we no longer use, nor visit,
    so many rooms
    we no longer enter.
    Almost all my friends
    downsized long ago.
    We are the holdouts.
    We love it here
    in this big house with its lawns
    and trees and flowerbeds
    with bees’ balm, butterflies, birds,
    and the yard abuzz with
    sunshine and bees.
    But now we are starting
    to throw things out.
    Maybe we’ll move,
    next summer perhaps,
    or maybe not.
    For now is the time of indecision.
    Like friends of the same age,
    we travel the road of memory loss,
    a name and a face here,
    a date or phone number there,
    and
    the mandatory
    ‘now where did I put my glasses?’
    Perhaps, when the time comes,
    we’ll forget we meant to move.

Obsolescence

  • Obsolescence
  • The programs that no longer work.
    The files you can no longer access.
    Photos that vanish
    leaving a blank space in the album.
  • Memory that goes on the blink.
    Forgotten phone numbers,
    the birthdays of family members,
    that carton of eggs left in the store,
    your cousin’s face, her name,
    the parking spot where you left your car.
  • “What day is it today,” you ask,
    for the second or third time.
    “What time is it?”
    “Did you let the dog out?”
    “Who’s that coming for tea?
    Are you sure I know them, dear?”
    “Where did you say we were going?”
  • “Just round the corner, to visit a friend.”
    Or should that be … round the bend?

Identity: Wednesday Workshop

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Identity
Wednesday Workshop

5 July 2017

Today’s workshop settles on the question of identity, loss of identity, and the attempt to recover any form of cultural identity that one feels one has lost. These questions are particularly important in the current age when so many differences are so easily erased. Language, culture, identity, music … they are all tied closely together.

The search for identity runs parallel to the search for the poetic voice (or the writing voice) that is so unique to each good writer. In fact, one can distinguish between good writers and lesser writers merely on the basis of voice. Lesser writers rarely establish a distinct voice while good writers usually have voices that are uniquely their own.

What to do we mean by voice? When we read Shakespeare or Miguel de Cervantes we know almost immediately whose work we are reading. The same is true of the great musicians. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, all have sequences and styles that are individual to them, as do Scarlatti, Brassens, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilles Vigneault, Edith Butler … their style, their voice is established. We listen to them and we know who they are.

Cultural identity is also very important. It is tied into language, childhood beliefs, fairy tales, myths, the basic culture that we receive as children. When we all listen to the same radio stations, or download the same ITunes, or watch the same TV programs with their infinity of ad nauseam advertisements, then we are socially engineered to be the same or, if not the same, remarkably similar within a series of very limited and extremely limiting patterns. When we establish our own identities, — and this is always difficult both for people who have had their culture taken from them and for immigrants, or the children of immigrants, who want to retain their culture at the same time as they blend in and fit in socially — then at the same time we develop our own voices.

When I hear the poetry of Lorca, of Antonio Machado, of Miguel de Unamuno, of Octavio Paz, of Dylan Thomas, of Gerard Manley Hopkins, of Wilfred Owen, I hear their very distinctive voices and recognize their individual styles and the cultural / poetic identities that they have established. The goal that we, as writers, are aiming for is to establish our own style, our own voice. To do this, we must listen to ourselves and discover how we think and how we feel. Then we must listen to others of our own generation. We must make comparisons and establish what we do differently, why we are different, what forms our differences … our own individual voice may come from speech rhythms, from language usage, from the establishment of a certain form of narrative, from the use of imagery or metaphor … there are so many different ways in which we are, each of us, different … or capable of being perceived as different.

When we write often enough and frequently enough, we at last begin to recognize those words, those phrases, those rhythms, those ideas, that are ours and nobody else’s. This is when we start to discover our own voices and our own personalities. It is a goal worth striving for … step by step … poco a poco … little by little … and a step forward everyday … until we grow into the type of writer or poet, fully established (or establishing), that we were always meant to be.

It is never easy to capture oneself and place oneself on the page in readable form. It’s a bit like trying to draw Picasso’s blue vase using only one blue pencil: not easy. It’s much easier to take a selfie with a flashy cell-phone.  Cell-phone selfies are easy, but verbal selfies are what we are seeking for. They take much longer to ‘produce’ and it is only when we finally achieve them, that we realize how difficult they are to actually achieve. But remember, read and re-read my earlier postings: don’t give up; don’t get off the bus!

 

Pinot & Palette

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Kingsbrae 16.5
16 June 2017

Pinot & Paint

“Slap it on,” says the instructor,
“the sky first, various shades of blue,
darker at the top, lighter down below,
by the horizon line you dribble
across the bottom third of the page.
Add some white to lighten the blue
and maybe a little touch of yellow.
Now the landline, on the horizon,
brown first for the rocky shore,
a rub of green for foliage and trees.
Now, for the sea, take blues,
light and dark, mix them with a touch,
yellow, green and lighten them
a little with a touch of white.
Next come the cedar weir poles,
dark down below where the high tide
soaks them, lighter on top, use red
and yellow and a touch of orange.
Remember the shadows, and don’t
forget the way the poles are reflected
in the water, use broken lines for that,
matching colors. When you’re done,
just sign your name in the corner.
Finish your wine and cheese, now,
tell me: wasn’t that so much fun?”

Comment: We, the resident artists of KIRA, went to Geoff Slater’s workshop / studio to join in his Friday afternoon Pinot & Palette painting session. This was a two hour extravaganza with two glasses of wine, a cheese plate with bread and pickles, an empty canvas that we were obliged to fill, and a palette of acrylic paints with which to fill it. Geoff, the artistic director at Kingsbrae Gardens, led us step by step (as sequenced above) through ‘how to paint a picture’. The subject he chose for us was a fishing weir from Passamaquoddy Bay. He began by giving us a history of the weirs (click here for the appropriate poem) and their uses by the Passamaquoddy peoples and then he led us step by step through the painting process. At the end of the afternoon, the participants saw their paintings held up for all to see. They were mounted in a standard frame that highlighted the art as art. At the session’s end we parted with a great gift: our paintings, done by ourselves, and a deeper understanding of the history of the local region, the workings of the fishing weirs, and a deeper knowledge of how to paint. All in all it was a wonderful experience.

Chronotopos

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Kingsbrae 13.1
13  June 2017

Chronotopos

plant a plant
deep its roots
rooted in fine soil
potting soil in a pot
firm the fingers
the spot well-chosen
in a flower bed
in a pattern
in an empty space
in a growing garden
within a larger garden
in an old estate
in a small town by the sea

Russian doll puzzle
garden after garden

(one a secret
with its birds and voices
lost in the hedgerow
and the echoes
of secret meetings
watched only by the guardian
the robin that watches)

planted and replanted
unfolding flowers
in a sunshine world
in a state of grace
hope and handicraft
hand in hand
with faith and belief
and everything planned
to take advantage
of this time and this space

these words so simple
these thoughts so complex

Comment: I began this poem on  10 March 2017. It formed part of my initial poetry sequence with Kingsbrae unseen, save for videos and photos of the gardens and their history, viewed on the Kingsbrae website. As I have grown into the KIRA experience, or perhaps I should write ‘as the Kingsbrae experience has blossomed within me’, so I have found these words prophetic, yet strangely inadequate, in the way all words are inadequate when tides flow, days flourish, and ideas blossom, sometimes in that formless world between sleep and dream where reality is something for which the writer reaches out but finds it is beyond the fingertips and just out of reach. As my Judo instructor told me, a long time ago:

“The more you strive,
you cannot reach it.
The hand cannot grasp it,
nor the mind exceed it.
When you no longer seek it,
it is with you.”

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

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Kingsbrae 8.3
8 June 2017

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

The end result of the poetic process, however we define it, is the poem. Whether the poem be good, indifferent or bad, depends on a set of critical value judgments of which the poet may or may not be aware at the time of writing. The end product must be allowed to look after itself. But what about the process?

The question is simple, but the answer is more difficult, because the actual nature of the process will vary with each one of us. If the end point is the poem, how do we write the poem, what is its starting point? Is it when we sit down to write? Is it when the pen nib (yes, I still write the old-fashioned way) makes contact with the paper? Is there a pre-writing starting point and if so, where does that begin? Is it in the poet’s head, or the poet’s eyes? Does it reside in touch or scent? Good questions: no answers other than the failsafe … it depends.

One thing that has emerged from this KIRA retreat is that above all we need time to be artists. Art and poetry take time, and artists, whatever their medium, need time to think, time to practice, time to splash paint on canvas, time to sit down and put their head in their hands and meditate … “What is this life,” writes W. H. Davies, the great Welsh poet, “if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

Elise Muller came up with an interesting exercise for developing self-expression. “Write down a question with your dominant hand,” she said. “Then answer it by writing with your less dominant hand.” I tried this. “What do you mean by writing process?” my right hand asked. My right hand held the pen about half an inch from the page and made me stop … and think. I thought about the critical analyses, usually ultra-academic,  that I had written and read over the years. Then I started to organize them into do’s and don’ts. The thoughts of certain serious writers sprang to mind … then I switched my pen to my left hand.

Uncontrolled, uncontrollable thoughts came tumbling out and spilled off the end of the pen on to the empty page that rapidly filled with visual and verbal images: evening falls and the stars grow into flowers in the darkness … three deer enter an empty field and dance on the dandelions … the sky fills with snowflakes that erase, one by one, all the objects in the yard … the tide flows back in and the bay recovers its memories of silver fish beneath the waves … the half -empty / half-full glass becomes meaningless: its essence is to filter the sunshine and to sparkle with light … clouds gather into small, wooly herds and the wind chases them across the sky …

To be filled with poetry and creativity we must first be emptied of the cares of the world. Then, when our heads are empty and free there is space for them to fill with the most beautiful images and ideas. This creative process needs time. Time to download and forget our worries. “Time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows” (W. H. Davies again). Time to be ourselves. Time tobe. Time to become one with nature.

To gain this state of freedom, we need to be free of financial cares and woes. We need to escape from domestic duties. We need to be alone (when we need to be alone) and among friends of a like mind (when we need company). “The time to see when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass” (W. H. Davies, yet again). So, in the poetic process, we need that freedom to create, to cut the ties that bind so tightly, to walk and watch and stop and stare. When that old, tired head is empty, the poetry will flow back in. And it will be a poetry not of grinding ideas but of dancing metaphors and sparkling words. “A dull life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

KIRA has gifted me with this time, this quality time. Clare and the WYPOD and my Fictional Friends and the Thursday Grunts and my fellow New Brunswick writers have encouraged me to take advantage of it. The process is in process. Some of the results are already being seen on these pages.

My thanks to all those who made this adventure possible. I would also like to thank all those who now facilitate this process every day.

 

Flute

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Carlos Carty Making Magic

Kingsbrae 8.1

Flute
(for Carlos Carty)

Songs without words:
a black alpaca rolling on green grass,
two deer dashing across the lawn,
three Indian Runner Ducks actually running,
four tents, canopies billowing beneath the sun,
Passamaquoddy stretched out before me,
a dark island stark in the bay,
sunlight descending a ladder of cloud.

Song without words without end:
music of wind through rock,
waves lapping against stones,
a breeze tapping rhythm from river reeds,
plucked and pierced, the reeds:
the world’s first flute.

Life and breath are one.
The young man opening the water bottles,
sipping the right amount, pursing his lips,
blowing into the bottle neck,
making sweet music:
a song of joy.