I remain fascinated by Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes. I first met them when, as a teenage flâneur in Paris, I wandered the quays along the banks of the Seine, entranced by the literary treasures of the bouquinistes. Eighteen years old, I had just been released from a twelve year sentence to a boarding school education (6-18 years of age). I loved the freedom of Paris and the joys of choosing my own poets and my own poetry books will always stay with me. Apollinaire was not a set text. He was a personal discovery and a true joy. I remember the light blue cover and the worded rain drops inscribed upon it when I bought my first Livre de Poche, the poems of Apollinaire.
Caligrammes are out of fashion now, their virtues taken over by the joys of concrete poetry. I still write some, drawing them out by hand. I find this much easier than planning them on typewriter or computer, though I have done both. The cartoon – poem hybrid, printed above, is my intertextual reflection on Apollinaire’s original Rain / Il pleut which can be found on page 62 of the above link from Le Mercure de France.
I look at the snow steadily mounting outside my window and I hope that we will not see rain for a long, long time. Not until Easter and the welcome warmth of spring. That said, I miss the rain. It was a constant part of my childhood and I remember spending day after day, head pressed to the window pane (yes, I do know how to spell it), watching the raindrops sliding down while behind me, the old coal fire threw out enough heat to warm me in my daily loneliness.
Heart Dance: This is what the heart does when you have a good friend around for lunch and you spend an hour or two discussing art, creativity, meaning, change, artistic development, moving on, changing one’s style, and welcoming and creating new artistic visions. Heart Dance is about possibilities, about opening things up, seeing the interior self more clearly, watering the creative soul and encouraging it to grow outwards until it fills the whole person.
Heart Dance moments happen at different stages in the artistic life. They are urgent moments, impulsive moments, moments when you can suddenly hear the music of the spheres and see the universe dancing for you, before you, and with you. They are magic moments when the heart becomes one with the universe and heart and soul join mind and body in a universal heart dance where the dancers are one and the dance is not just for one, but for all sentient and creative beings who can hear the music and feel the rhythms pounding through arteries and veins.
The dull, grey, concrete life of the nine to five desk-bound existence fades away to be replaced by a flowerbed of activity, full of light and sound and color and music. Usually, this happens to the individual in the privacy of his or her own mind. Occasionally, we can share the event with a friend who is going through the same, or a similar, change at the same time. A unique experience to feel and witness the music with another person and to be bound into the circle of dancers, treading where other artists, great and small, famous and less important, have all danced before.
We talked of the joys of visiting great museums and of staying in one room, before one painting, and of spending the day there. This I did with El Greco’s El entierro del Conde Orgaz / The burial of Count Orgaz, with Picasso’s Guernica when it was housed in the Mesón de Guernica, with Hieronymus Bosch’s The Hay Wain, with Velásquez’s Las meninas, and with Goya’s Desastres de la Guerra, not one picture, but a series of etchings taken in, day by day, over a period of a magical month spent in Madrid.
In poetry it happens when I return to poems that I love. I read and re-read them, again and again, finding new nuances, new meanings, new depths. I think of the anonymous Poema de Mio Cid, of Góngora’s Polifemo, of Quevedo’s Canta sola a Lisi and his Heráclito cristiano, of Octavio Paz’s Piedra de sol, of Lorca’s Romancero gitano and his Poeta en Nueva York … the wonderful original poems of Fray Luis de León and of St. John of the Cross … and this is just scratching the surface of an exterior world that I have interiorized until it has indeed become a part of me.
Heart Dance: my heart dances and sunshine floods my soul as I write these words, words and thoughts that I have just shared with a good friend, as he shared similar words with me and we joined together in a heart dance during which the sun shone brightly and the whole creative universe sang and danced with us.
Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé” … ‘there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.
Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.
Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.
She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.
It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.
I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.
‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’
I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.
This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.
How we deal with such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.
Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.
Butterflies, as large as elephants, stamp through my gut, just when I thought I was too old for butterflies. As my old Holly-Hock told me this morning: “You’re never too old for butterflies.”
So, what’s it all about, Holly? I am packed and almost ready for the trip to St. Andrews to participate in the inaugural KIRA Boutique Retreat. And yes, I am happy, excited, and very nervous. Hence all those butterflies, walking the tight-rope of my tum.
One of the elements of creativity that we will talk about next week is the importance of attention to small details. I attach an article on how small words, lapidiary (carved in stone) phrases, can light up our lives, in the best sense of the word. We should all work on them, for such phrases glow in the dark, unlike those cutting and damning words, so hurtful, that cut people down and cause so much harm. Hope, my friends, hope in the breaking of day. We can leave the dark night of the soul to the cynicism of our current politicians. Hope: for all is not doom and gloom and, with our best words, our best works, we can write through the gloom and bring light to lighten the darkness.
Never underestimate the importance of the sentence, the power and placement of each word, the dynamism of the parts, the wisdom of the whole. I could write about this at length but, much more important, others have done so. My thanks to my friend and fellow artist, Jan Stoneist, for choosing the above sentence from my book, Stepping Stones, and carving it in Old Red Sandstone, from Wales. Cymru am Byth.
This article, attached below, illustrates the theory much better than I can.
Not just Beaver at the Beaver Pond. Wonderful, this transition from end of summer to start of fall and look, there’s a little pot of gold at rainbow’s end. By tomorrow, some tiny mouse will have gnawed the edges in search of sustenance. Meanwhile, this moment of perfection caught forever in the transient eye of the passing camera. Tread carefully when you walk these woods. Look everywhere, not just at the path ahead. But watch out for those tree roots. Their little hands will reach out and pull you down and you’ll roll in the already fallen leaves, an old man turned into a child once more. But oh, it’s so much harder to leap to your feet and run, run, run from shadows and the nightmare hands that haunt your dreams and reach out to grasp you.
So, our July project, a video of the first KIRA poet reading his KIRA poem, is now completed. I read One Small Corner at KIRA and Geoff Slater, Jeff Lively, and Cameron Lively added video to verse in this blend of magic. Thank you so much: I really appreciate this visual rendition of my words. So much so, that for once, I am at a loss for words. I will just let the video speak for itself and myself. Just click on the link below and you will be transported to KIRA and Kingsbrae Gardens on a magic carpet. swift and smooth.
Our September / October project is to inaugurate the first KIRA Boutique Retreat (Creative Writing). This will run from September 30 to October 6. I will be one of the facilitators, along with Geoff Slater, the artistic director at Kingsbrae and Jeremy Gilmer, this year’s writer in residence (July 2018). For a description of my own stay at KIRA last year (June, 2017), click on the first link. Click on either the second or the third link below for more information on KIRA and the Boutique Retreat.