for FRANZ WRIGHT: “dark, then bright, so bright”

Found amongst the Ruins, thought to be Samson’s.

What Genius Means Border………………….[Click twice on the old script to read it more easily.]

illuminations for a further Relic thought to be Samson’s:
Sketches on Julija’s desk under the volcano on Bali.

God burns

…………….God Burns 4 ……………………………[Click twice on them both to see better.]

Dear Julija,……………………………………………………….December 9th, 2017
I love what you say in your last paragraph about the “message of the relics” — it’s very exciting how we’re finding our way there together, and I’m tremendously grateful to you for the help.

In answer to your question about Franz Wright, he was a very great American poet who had a really awful life — he died two and a half years ago after a terrible struggle with lung cancer, having essentially smoked himself to death. He had been abusing drugs and alcohol and everything else for 40 years, was in and out of mental hospitals, and was famous for being extremely angry and aggressive in public and especially  on-line. For examples of the latter you can go to “Liberation, vendredi, 19 janvier, 1990 under the Leonardo da Vinci graphic in my previous post. In particular you can read Franz Wright’s Comment 35 followed by his Comments 45 & 46, and finally his very moving last Comment 48.  (For convenience sake I have highlighted all Franz Wright’s Comments in Green.) And you can also read a short reply of my own to him in Comment 47, just to get an idea of how I dealt with it at the time.

Perhaps you can understand now why I’m revisiting this thread 7 years later, and why I’m dedicating “What Genius Means” to Franz Wright in the way that I am. But let me say a bit more about all that in general first.

[Cont. in the Comments.]

WHY IT IS MORE IMPORTANT FOR A WRITER TO SLEEP WELL THAN BE READ, OR ALMOST

Dod Proctor, %22Morning,%22 (1927)…………………………..“Morning” by Dod Procter (1926).

………………………………………………………………………… December 2nd, 2017
My writing is for me like a journal that sleeps in the morning…

that wakes itself up every day from scratch…

that is always the same yet always completely different…

that like time itself starts over again every time it’s aware of the time…

that like time is aware of itself only in a present that has neither a past nor a future or anything in common with anything defined, labelled, catalogued or published…

that is always there in my present because it has never managed to become like another person’s book on my shelf…

that is never finished because it has no other reader to fix it like a butterfly on a pin, a print in the darkroom, or a boat with a chart and a hand-bearing compass somewhere out there on the ocean…

that is never opened because it’s a book that has never been cut even after it has been selected, edited, printed, purchased and held in a hand or a wrapper or warmed in a pocket or by the pillow in somebody’s bed…

that is susceptible to revision but not editing, i.e. susceptible to being re-seen but not re-said because it might sound better that way…
………………

[cont.] ……………………………………………………………… December 3rd, 2017


…..

…………………………...‘LIBERATION’  (vendredi, 19  janvier 1990)

[cont.] ……………………………………………………………… December 4th, 2017
I lay in for a long time yesterday morning, figuratively speaking, and my sense of it is that that was good. It meant I didn’t have to explain anything to you about what I was doing and, low and behold, that worked out brilliantly. Because it was obvious — you just clicked on the clipping to get in and even if you didn’t speak a word of French the drapes showed you everything. And of course Cristina Szemere then set that up beautifully in her elegant précis: “persistent absence…awareness because there is no revelation, no un-dressing.”

Oh my!

And then on top of all that there were you visitors from France, Spain, Angola, India and Thailand along with the anglophones from the U.K. and America, all clicking on ‘Liberation’ to get a life in the next:  FOR FRANZ WRIGHT – January 21, 2010.

What I’ve done today is highlight the relevant passages in blue so that if you’re ready you can breeze through it all quite easily and I can continue to lie in.

Oh yes, and the keywords, of course: Didactic, Perfectly, and Awful.

[cont. in the Comments.]…………………………………………. December 6th, 2017

from JULIJA’S SCRIPTORIUM ON BALI

IMG_0548
………………………..

………………………..Stumped like this,
………………………..we hear the Years
………………………………………………..cascade
………………………..And stoop to grace
………………………..the Water
…………………………………………………..‘s Fall.

IMG_0551
………………………..

………………………….(Remember? Click HERE if you don’t.)

These are all three rough drafts, even the last one, but to me the blotches, squiggles and crossings-out have their own special glamor. Indeed, they all testify to Julija’s imagination, inventiveness and skill as a calligrapher, and as work in progress they all lead me deeper and deeper into the poem.

C.

“O FOOL OF EARTH!” A Haiku by Samson illuminated by Jūlija with Caravaggio, T.E.Lawrence & an encore by our Christy himself.

Julia O Fool of Earth jpg

……………………………………………………………………November 21st, 2017
A first draft of an illuminated haiku by a very special and gifted new friend, a Russian speaking Latvian calligrapher who goes by the single name of
Jūlija. And there’s going to be lots more of her, including an illumination of the haiku in the previous post. At the moment her version of “Stumped like this” is lying on her scriptorium desk on the island of Bali, and I just read that Mt. Agung is going off so there may be a delay.

Just a few weeks ago, Jūlija and I started working together on a project to illuminate a series of what I call “relics” in my latest book called La Croix Ma Fille. And just to lay this new card on the table from the start, should La Croix Ma Fille find a publisher it would now have to include Jūlija’s work. Because what she is doing has inspired me so — lifted my spirits, confirmed my hunches, and given me the courage to believe that, even at just a few days short of 78, this author might still manage to publish the book!

I’ve had the idea for years — that I might assemble a book that would include some poems that I didn’t write myself but were “found.” So La Croix Ma Fille has a Foreword entitled “Three Relics Found Amongst the Ruins, Thought to be Samson’s,” the last poem of which is the haiku called “O Fool of Earth” — which, if you please, was written not by me but by the “front-line saint” called Samson, a Justice League enforcer if there ever was one. Because he’s God’s own body-guard, bouncer, and batman — yet he’s also humanity’s fool like the shy inventor, Bruce Wayne, which means not unlike me and perhaps even a bit like you. And don’t forget that these jottings were discovered “in the ruins” sometime after Samson pulled the temple down about his ears — “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life,” as the Bible puts it. And if that doesn’t sum up our own well-meaning but tragic interventions at home and abroad, what does, and I mean both on the personal and national levels?

Below is the “relic” as it appears in the book itself in Times New Roman. Jūlija’s artifact just above is an early sketch with the script partly in black-letter and partly cyrillic, a fusion which creates an ageless sort of sacred cypher, which I love. Because the reader mustn’t forget that the original was transcribed in long-hand by a prophet in a most challenging position — trussed up between pillars with his God on the one hand and his girlfriend on the other (my imagination goes to  Caravaggio * for that, the saint’s bare head, her lap, the nipple, and God flaring up all over the place…).

………………………..O FOOL OF EARTH
………………………..The Wise Heart
…………………………is not undone by Love
……………………………………………..    but turns:
………………………..A Girl’s
…………………………flares up —
…………………………………………    .mine burns!

………………
*Note: CARAVAGGIO! or How the Samson of Painters Paints Samson.

……………………………………………………………………..November 25th, 2017
It’s the prophet himself who wrote this little poem so forthrightly, of course, and by my way of thinking it’s the weakness of Samson that demonstrates his ‘chosen’ status more than his brute strength ever did. That’s why I think Samson was granted even more divine strength for that one last shove, and why the effects of it were even more cataclysmic than what he managed to do with the jawbone of the ass. And that’s how Caravaggio painted him as well, didn’t he? Doesn’t his shaved Samson reveal a prophet who is even more powerful sexually than he was before, his smooth skin, his feminine curves in silk and his hands just like her’s? And don’t the lovers fit together just about perfectly? And doesn’t everybody inside and outside the painting know just what that means? (Click more than once to see that even better.)

What also makes this haiku holy is the simplicity of its vocabulary: “wise,” “heart,” “love,” “girl’s,” “flares up,” and “burns.” Had someone like me written the poem you’d think it was by a highschool student trying to make his creative writing teacher happy, whereas the author is actually an ancient prophet who is just about to discover his true strength by acknowledging that he has not only lost it but abused it. He admits, moreover, that his heart is not “wise,” and whereas the girl’s heart in the poem just “flares up,” his goes on burning and burning, a self-destructive and at the same time self-affirming conflagration not unlike Caravaggio’s. And it’s not demeaning for him to use the word “girl” either — indeed, he’s mocking himself, not women, exposing his fatal attraction to fantasy lovers as opposed to real or ‘other’ persons, and that’s a man-problem that no amount of man-splaining can ever cover up. Samson may be a saint but he knows he’s also a fraud ** — which is precisely what makes this humble scrap of a relic-poem so precious, and why any human being might think to fold it up carefully and place it in a small reliquary on a string about the neck, a talisman to keep from being undone by gently, humorously, respectfully turning oneself away from the self-serving self to behold. And “turns” is just the right word to describe whatever that is, I feel sure, though I haven’t a clue what that is myself.

**NOTE: The flawed saint I admire above all, and the one I never stop thinking and writing about, is T.E. Lawrence, and in a sense all of the above is about him. While actually on the road to Damascus at the very end of the Arab Revolt in 1918, [and with the Morte Darthur in his camel’s saddle bag, dear Jūlija and Romain], Lawrence realized that “all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud.” He removed himself from public life altogether shortly after representing King Faisal at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the outcome of which broke his heart as well as the whole of the Middle East. He died in 1935 under the name of T.E.Shaw, an ordinary mechanic in the Airforce. It was just a local motorcycle accident on a small country lane, but his funeral entourage a few days later included everybody from Bernard Shaw and E.M.Forster to Winston Churchill, and many born like myself too late are still there.

……
ONE LAST FINAL ACT AND DEPARTURE
By way of an encore to all these final acts and departures I’d like to bring in for one last bow another Irishman, J.M.Synge’s almighty wastrel/minstrel hero from “The Playboy of the Western World.” For it’s “our Christy himself,” that genius liar, lover and logos, who makes such an utter fool of himself that he can turn the tables on the whole world, and scold all the Fools of Earth in one hearty go as if he were some Old Testament prophet: “Shut your yelling, for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse, maybe, go mixing with the fools of earth!”

Which should bring this to a close, I think — dear friends.

Christopher

ON HOW I MAKE SENSE OF IT

IMG_0549(shopped)

Calligraphy by Jūlija added Nov 29th, 2017. CLICK HERE for more on Jūlija and our work together.
………………

…………………………..Stumped like this,
…………………………..we hear the Years
…………………………………………………..cascade
…………………………..And stoop to grace
…………………………..the Water
……………………………………………………..‘s Fall.

………………
a.) The poem has exactly 17 syllables, so it’s a haiku. That makes me slow down, reflect, get myself ready.

b.) The rhythm is iambic — count the syllables and see. There are precisely 9 iambs which should add up to 18 as each foot has 2 syllables: da dah. So how can there be just 17, an odd number? Indeed, that’s the sort of simple-minded question any haiku worth its salt asks us, of course, and why we never get bored with the good ones. And the simpler they are the better — and the simpler we are too, needless to say.

c.) Perfection-in-imperfection, like everything. In fact there’s an invisible event at the very beginning of the poem which is unwritten, unaccented, and inaudible.  It’s simply not there in the poem — the first step has been lopped off, so to speak, truncated, ‘silenced’ as we say about an enquiry or execution, ‘stumped’ as we say in the forest or when we’re handicapped or failing. That’s why the first audible word in the poem works so well as a one syllable foot overshadowing the whole poem. “Stumped” from the very start, the poem is overshadowed by no shadow and left with no tree to bear, look up to, or hide under.

d.) “Stumped” is in the passive voice, an involuntary event that happens to someone or something — it’s done to you or me, not by us. The complementary “stoop” at the beginning of the second part is ‘active,’ as we say, and ‘finite.’ It’s what we-the-stumped do about it in the poem. And I’d say that rhetorical tension makes the poem a ‘haiku’ far more than the syllables do, or the layout — at least it does for me, and I’ve been living with this poem for over 20 years. Indeed, I’m writing this not because I wrote the poem but because it’s still talking to me.

e.)  There’s an even noisier event toward the end of the poem which constitutes a whole foot in itself, as huge as it’s empty and speechless.  The final ” ‘s” on “water’s” cracks off the edge of the 5th line to plunge down through the open space and land next to “fall” on the 6th line far below at the end. And it shushes us as it goes, indeed silences us completely as it plummets through space to rest at last beside the noun it owns at the end in perfect silence.

f.) A technical detail to further that. Like so many final events in stress-based languages, the apostrophe-s on “water’s” is not counted as a syllable. Yet in actual practice we pronounce “water’s” in three distinct parts: wa/- ter/- ‘s, almost as if there were three syllables. In vowel based, tonal languages as in Asia, for example, this is hard to say as there is no vowel to support the final consonant, and what does one do about that? Indeed, that’s why I’m called Kitofer where I live, the crush of 3 consonants at the beginning of my name, Christopher, being almost impossible to enunciate in an unstressed, tonal, vowel-based culture.

g.) Perfect iambics, yes, but not perfect pentameters — the poem is deficient again as there are only four feet in the final line. On the other hand, there’s so much happening in that apostrophe s as it tumbles off the edge of the poem that the numerical deficiency is filled up with something else in mid air, and in a poetical as well as a graphic sense fills in for the missing foot. In addition, the missing syllable makes just the right sound in its spectacular descent, the cascading sssssssss of the star which brings the poem to an end with no ripples, impatience or movement in ‘fall.”

h.) I’m pleased to say that none of the above attempts to explain anything at all about the meaning of the poem — haikus worth their salt rarely do. That’s why we so often choose to live our whole lives beside the ones we like best, as I have beside this one. They are never stingey.

Christopher

ON WHAT I CAN SAY

Man Fishing     Mae Toranee copy

Here’s a writer at work beside what he’s working on — and as usual you can click on him to see better, indeed more than once if you really want to get into his world as well as into hers which is multiple too. He’s fishing on an autumn day in Stuttgart, Germany, and she’s wringing the very same water he’s fishing in out of her hair at Wat Pha Lad in Chiang Mai. And for the record, he’s Everyman and she’s Mae Thorani.

Some of you reading this will have been to Wat Pha Lad with me, and will understand what I mean when I say it’s the most beautiful mess in the world, an abandoned other-world nursery full of broken toys, baby buddhas, bric-a-brac, cast-offs, and basketfuls of dressing-up glitter. A very old water Wat in the jungle on the way up Doi Suthep, the holy mountain that hangs over Chiang Mai, Wat Pha Lad is a spiritual honey-pot that every day attracts mysterious little things that seem to sprout up out of the ruins — like that preposterous white chicken rocking back on its heels to gaze up at Mae Thorani wringing the water out of her hair. Indeed, this image of the goddess herself just turned up out of nowhere the other day, complete with the over-the-top dime-store necklace, and I was so excited I had to go all the way home and come back the next day with my camera. I almost said fishing rod, but that would be getting way ahead of myself.

I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Christopher. ….

P.S. Next day. ……………………………………………………..November 1st, 2017.
If you clicked twice on the goddess you might have noticed the bejeweled dancing girl scrunched up in the lower left corner behind the white chicken. When I first saw her I thought the curled leaf was her skirt, but in fact it’s not clear where her legs are, which of course are important for who she is and what she does, which is dancing. For she’s a Nang Ram, and even disheveled in the undergrowth she minces and glitters with her beautiful bare arms and her bracelets thrown back on the pillow beside her slightly turned head. What you might not have noticed is that her body is poised on the edge of an upturned bowl — that’s the remains of a red lacquer offering tray which may or may not have been instrumental on the day of her arrival.  On the other hand, the offering tray could have brought up anything that matters, the place being piled so high with the detritus of hope.*….

* NOTE:…………………………………………………………..November 3rd, 2017.
Things that are really important shouldn’t be talked about, that’s my feeling, and I know I’m already skirting dangerously near the edge. That’s why I’m not going to tell you what a Nang Ram is, because if I do I’ll tell you things that I don’t know myself, and those things will get in the way not only of your understanding of them but, even worse, indeed fatally, of my own. Because in my experience the deepest things have to be seen out of the corner of the eye, so to speak, a flickering shadow, an apparition, a bump in the dark, and the moment you turn your head to focus on such things directly, turn on the lights, let’s say, they vanish into things you already know. And that’s simply not what or who they are.

It’s in the detritus of hope where the meaning lies, remnants in the bushes at the back of the house, for example, or buried in the leaves, broken and twisted or lost — off the path, off the record, off limits /sides /color /balance /duty /one’s rocker etc.

The evidence of the spirit world that we can see is way beyond its expiry date, if I might be so bold — it’s because the spirit has ‘gone off’ that we can follow its scent like the physicist can ‘track’ the fading footprints of atomic particles in a cloud chamber, or the mathematician ‘crunch’ what is left of what may or may not have been there in the numbers at Cern. You may remember some of the photos I’ve posted of what I sometimes call the ‘cloud chambers’ where I live, like the terrible mess in this one. (Forgive me for coming back to that, but I think it’s really worth visiting again.)

Human beings are afraid so they sweep the floor and make lists. The spirit lives equally in disorder as in order, and it falls apart as fast as it’s born. It’s on- and off-hours, on- and off-work all at once.**…..

**NOTE 2:…………………………………………………………November 4th, 2017.
The “writer at work beside what he’s working on” is off-work, of course he is, and the water he’s ‘working,’ as we fishermen say, is the same water that she’s wringing out of her long black hair. In addition, do note that Mae Thorani is gathering the water that flows from her hair into her cupped hand — and that’s woman’s work, needless to say, and why men need her so badly and hope she’ll understand when they come home from the river full but empty-handed.***

Here’s another with a clay pot for the water she’s gathering this time, and a fish.…..

***POSTSCRIPT…………………………………………………November 5th, 2017.

So here’s what I think happened.

Because the original fisherman had been sitting there for so long with his eye fixed on that one still spot which all fishermen know is just where it happens, he was absolutely sure this was it. But the place was also the lair of the beautiful goddess called ‘Earth,’ and she loved her fisherman so much, and wanted him so passionately, so ‘badly’ as we say, to stay right where he was. That was because when he was there on the bank beside her, everything in the world mattered, everything was full and steady, everything moved so smoothly with the light caressing the eddies and the ripples and the flicker of the leaves and the shadows of the birds overhead and the fish slipping like lovers into each other’s perfect shelter beneath. But if her fisherman went away, if he left her, how would she ever recover from that? How could she ever let the man she loved so much slip away like some dirty little hermit out of her life?

So she decided to keep him, and to do that she would have to make him surrender, make him give up his selfish quest to abandon her world for another place he preferred — an unreal, negative place where there was no more desire, or so he explained it, no more impatience, no more striving or anger, conniving, or killing above all, and no more broken hearts, at least that’s what he said. But this would-be lover-woman was a fierce-some power to be reckoned with, no doubt about that — because she was Mara herself,  the invincible Wicked Witch of Nature, the fanged woman, the specter of lust, rivalry, betrayal and anger, and totally red in every root, rotten tooth and wretched claw of her being.

So Mara came out perfectly suited in her slippery-wet dappled trout-skin with her bright red gills and mascara and musk, irresistible for the task at hand — which was to seduce the Buddha and knock him off the Path of Enlightenment once and for all. With nothing on but her bracelets and bangles she knelt before him perfectly at ease, and she reached up over her head with her strong brown arms as all women do with supernatural grace so many times each day all over the world. And she drew her heavy black hair out in a long thick plait that gleamed with the water she’d just come up out of herself —  and she twisted it deftly and the water streamed out in a jet of perfectly clear, perfectly uncluttered, perfectly free water. And the water was the new water in which all human beings are blessed and fulfilled and feel right in themselves, i.e. just as we are if we’re patient whether we catch a fish or not. So Mara the Whore is also Mara the Nang Ram, the lovely, light-hearted Dancing Girl crumpled in the bushes as well as the heavenly Deva with the necklace above, indeed both up and down come together in the frank, irresistible allure of Mae Thorani.

That’s what the Thais call her, Mae Thorani — and how they love her. “Mae” means “Mother” in Thai but you have to bleat her name like a goat to get the full sense of the sort of mother she is, that rough and that intimate. The name “Thorani” comes into Thai from the sacred language of the Theravada scriptures, Pali, a close cousin of Sanskrit — dhāraṇī, earth. And her name is often preceded by the highest celestial title of  them all:  Phra —  Lord, God, Brahma, Seigneur!Mae Thorani**
Phra Mae Thorani is everywhere in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma — almost every shrine, temple, garden and ordinary household has at least one of them. The figure I have chosen here is even more naked than usual — but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? On the other hand, she’s never immodest, even this one, and how could she be, being who she is and so close to you, and the hope in the water she brings!

C.

ON WHAT WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY

Dear Bill,
I never forget your final comment at the very end of one of our most fruitful collaborations, “Kim, Kipling and Kakamura:”

Christopher,……………………………… ……………… July 4th, 2011
Have enjoyed our adventure with Kim. To quote the holy man:
“‘Go in hope, little brother,’ he said. ‘It is a long road to the feet of the One; but thither do we all travel.’”
………………………………………..
Bill.. (W.F.Kammann)

And yes, that is the great adventure, but it’s also the great conundrum, at least for me it is. For you can never stop on that road, it’s so steep and narrow, indeed, any attempt to turn round and head back is curtains. Why, even just pausing to catch your breath can trigger an avalanche!

Which is why I’m still trying to be here, to move on anyway, to trouble the world with my precarious, unstable words and images. And I don’t always like the words that I write either, but I have to live with myself, and they’re there. On the other hand, if I keep at the words long enough, and I mean for years and years, what emerges sometimes speaks to me in an independent voice, telling me important things I never knew or even guessed at before.

For me the process feels like I look in the photo below — because it’s obvious I hadn’t a clue what all those signs were saying when the photograph was taken in Yangon. Yet three years later I dare to write about what they mean today, and yes, I hear what I’m saying.

INDISCRETION 2

Indiscretion #1.

It’s now October 6th, 2017, and I have just finished rewriting an old post that’s been haunting me ever since it went up on our East is East and West is West thread on May 22nd, 2011 . You can click on the old date to read the new version. And if you do, please be sure to include the accompaniment as the post makes no sense without it, or at least it doesn’t for me.

You can also click here  to read what Kipling actually said in his poem called “The White Man’s Burden.” (I still like what I say about the poem, and have left the notes alone. See what you think.)

Although the May 22nd, 2011 essay has been extensively revised, the gist of the argument remains the same,  and that’s very important to say as I’m not trying to cover up anything or to apologize. On the other hand, because the writing is better, more fluent, more attentive, less self-serving, the essay says more of what I was trying to say 6 years ago but couldn’t. The whole thing is still very borderline, I know, but in such musings it’s the risk that occasions the rising, isn’t it? Isn’t that what makes whatever it is happen, because you can’t just say certain things, that you’re simply not allowed to?

Here’s another “not allowed to.”

A few days ago in The Guardian, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, was scolded for reciting Kipling’s famous poem, “Mandalay”  “live” and “on mic,” —  a situation that was deemed “not appropriate” by the British Ambassador to Burma. For of course the recitation was in Yangon, right in front of the Schwedagon Pagoda no less.

I do understand the discomfort of the Ambassador, given his position, but to conclude that Boris Johnson’s recitation is “not appropriate” in Burma today is to misunderstand the whole poem, and in particular its very moving invocation of  Burma, love, nostalgia and worship as experienced by a common soldier in 1890. The narrator is  just a bloke,  after all, a Cockney “10 year man” without any social, imperial or so-called “British” pretensions. Furthermore he’s ‘back home’ in London feeling lonely and displaced, and missing what he almost worships as a heaven on earth. Indeed, to be ashamed of the poem is to misunderstand entirely what’s being expressed in it and, even more importantly, to demean the very people whom the British Ambassador thinks are going to be offended by hearing the poem recited in their country. For those Burmese who are literate, and there are many, know and admire Rudyard Kipling — yes, and in some ways they understand him a whole lot better than the self-conscious Ambassador does. Because the Burmese actually read English poetry thanks to the British education they still receive, and are very proud of too, and they not only know the poem personally but can recite it as fluently as Boris Johnson can, and indeed in much the same ‘I’m-not-just-a-bloke’ accent, which is a subject in itself.*  Because you simply can’t take away that Britishness from the Burmese, however politically correct you think you are or they ought to be — indeed, not even the brutal social and economic scorched-earth-regime imposed by the Junta on the whole region could do that, even after 60 years of trying really hard.**

And another parallel indiscretion — a much harder one that you can only talk about in a whisper:

The modern history of Myanmar is terrible, and the Rohingya nightmare just the worst of a great many ethnic entanglements the region faces. And here’s the rough part that very few understand. Just as we have to try hard to understand why it’s not actually offensive for the British Foreign Secretary to recite Kipling’s “Mandalay,” even in the shadow of the Shwedagon Pagoda, we westerners have got to try to understand Aung San Suu Kyi’s mind-boggling silence on the subject of the Rohingya. For the issue is not a national problem that can be settled by any Burmese  leader, however loved and charismatic he or she may be, but rather the expression of the profound anxiety of a huge, displaced, muddled region that isn’t a coherent nation at all, and in many ways still doesn’t want to be. And most of that we’re not allowed to say.

To put that in another, no less shocking but more familiar context, Rakhine State is subject to an ethnic blight as sore and as septic as that which plagues Charlottesville, Virginia in the U.S.A. Because America is infected by exactly the same ethnic malaise, and has lived with it for an almost identical time-frame too.

So here’s the big question. Which is less destructive, a genocide that inches its way along like a glacier, demeaning, thwarting, imprisoning and snuffing-out the lives of generation after generation of individuals in the same family, or one which scorches the earth like a forest fire, consuming a whole community of families in just one day? Yes, and which one in the end will prove to be more destructive to human dignity and potential?

And here’s another very hard thought for me personally. Though I try to be sensitive to Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence, to hear what she is saying by not saying anything,  I have to admit how disappointed I am that such a great, strong, courageous, near perfect heroine has emerged with such dull feet of clay. Indeed,  I’m writing this in part to have the opportunity to say that Aung San Suu Kyi can still count on my trust, love and respect for her as a person, because my own feet are so parochial, so low, colonial and clayish too — as revealed in my May 22nd, 2011 imperial-sized, blotched-copy text on Privilege and Service.

Which was and still is very hard to say, yet is even harder not to say, at least right now as I sit at my desk in Chiang Mai.

Christopher Woodman

* In another article the day after the one above, The Guardian referred to the Foreign Minister’s “schtick:” “Etonian accent, Latin tags, supposedly lovable Wodehousian eccentricity, sub-Churchillian evocation of the glorious past of this island race.” And of course there’s the orange hair and the smirk, as if we hadn’t seen that before!

** And yet another Guardian article today (Oct. 7th, 2017),  ditching both the Ambassador and the Foreign Secretary but redeeming “Mandalay.” “Kipling saw a road that led to romance rather than to slaughter,” Ian Jack writes, and then quotes the famous opening lines:

,……    By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
,……    There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
,……    For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say
,……    Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

WHY I WROTE HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL

Rebecca's CW
…………………..

I was born the year Yeats died. He was 73 and I’m now 76.

That’s important for me as the reward for the effort I put in everyday is the strength to go on even with so little encouragement, a strength which is also a certain softness that inspires and protects me.

My wife Homprang often asks me how someone with so many degrees can be so stupid, and I always reply the same way, that unlike me she’s a genius. Which she really is — because reading and writing so little has given her a distinct advantage over me when it comes to sharpness and sanity. Because of course she can see ghosts and things like that which is a great advantage because they terrify her and make her refrain from doing or saying anything stupid or risky.

And I’m just the opposite, of course — I’m a bit soft in the head from reading and writing too much. It’s my rarefied education that has made me so fearless as well as foolish, a fact that makes Homprang even more impatient — because just imagine what she might have done had she had an education like mine instead of leaving school at eleven? I mean, she could have made up ghosts and spirits like I do instead of being careful never to look in their direction what is more to mention their names.

On the other hand, isn’t it also a certain softness in the head which makes us love and admire a great poet like William Butler Yeats so much, that he could have worshiped Maud Gunn like that for so long, for example, and then proposed to Iseult? Or sat up and read what his very young wife George wrote down restless beside him on their honeymoon, as if she were Ishtar or the Angel Gabriel descended on the Ashdown Forest Hotel? And never even to have suspected — as in a sense she didn’t either, both of them being in the softness way over their heads? And to have actually believed in “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” too even when he was always so nicely put up in Anglo-Irish country houses right to the end, an emperor with a mechanical bird for eternity in a gilded cage?

Or Eliot in his own foul rag and bone shop of the heart down-and-out in Harvard and Paris?

…………………………………Between the conception
…………………………………And the creation
…………………………………Between the emotion
…………………………………And the response
…………………………………Falls the Shadow.

And how we love the really great ones for being soft in the head like that, neurasthenic even, connecting nothing with nothing. How they expose us and redeem us, and make us whole.…………………………………<…………………………………In an Emergency.

~

I lived for 10 years in Coleman’s Hatch on the Ashdown Forest just down the road from the Pooh Bridge in one direction and the cottage where Pound wintered with Yeats in 1913 in the other, and I walked by the Ashdown Forest Hotel everyday on my way to teach school with my children, and drank at the Hatch in the evening. That was back in the ’70s.

~

What’s important is something way out there, that’s the point, and I mean having the courage to do whatever it is all by yourself regardless and always in a sense upstairs alone in your room late at night. Because there’s no other activity that counts one iota but being alone with a loaded gun and a delicate body.

…………………..Much Madness is divinest Sense —
…………………..To a discerning Eye —
…………………..Much sense — the starkest Madness —
…………………..’Tis the Majority
…………………..In this, as all, prevail –
…………………..Assent – and you are sane –
…………………..Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
…………………..And handled with a Chain –

And that’s how bad the devil is, not knowing your place in the grown-up world, not just lying down and being quiet like the big dog Sam. Being soft in the head is like being Eve in God’s grown-up Garden, I’d say, like not only rejecting Heaven but being in cahoots with the Devil in a serious effort to rewrite Paradise. “Unless we become as Rogues we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” Emily Dickinson wrote to a friend at age 50, and I’d say courage like that coupled with a delicate body and a diamond mind is heroic!

Speaking as a poet I say that, because in fact I know almost nothing about “diamond minds” or “heroic” but just what I write.

Which is why I write as well, as if my desk were underground in Lascaux — as if the hunt depended on my depiction of the beauty and grace of the animals as well as my reverence for them. And even the sun rising.

~

Emily Dickinson’s named her huge black and white Newfoundland ‘Carlo’ after St John River’s old pointer and not after Mr Rochester’s huge black and white Newfoundland called ‘Pilot.’

With that in mind, can you imagine Emily Dickinson out for a walk on the treacherous, ice-bound cart-road to Hay being rescued and steadied by Jane Eyre as if she were the one who was mounted? The clatter of the hooves and the crash? The neat little boots and the hot breath of the gytrash on your neck? And is that why you name your dog ‘Carlo’ instead, to reject the tall, perfect, god-like ‘Master’ on the straight and narrow path? For the Rogue himself do you name him, tumbling on the causeway at your feet?

And can you see then how the truth is more important than the facts? Can you imagine what ‘Pilot’ was like before the Wright brothers put that neat blue-serge suit on him and made him a captain at 35,000 feet? Can you rather hear the crash of the sea as the earlier ‘Pilot’ guides you over the bar to land-locked Florence and on up the hillside to La Gioiella? Can you go somewhere you can never be but you have to arrive at — where everything that has ever happened happens to you for the first time alone in your room upstairs?

Here’s how I say that upstairs alone in my own delicate body.

…………………..“Yet still it moves!” the old beard raves,
…………………..The moon girdling a softer quarter —
…………………..The impossible return,
…………………..Ocean fins quickening the landlocked water.

………………………………………..from YET STILL IT MOVES: Two Decades
………………………………………………..of Poems Under House Arrest

Christopher Woodman

THIS THREAD IS CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW.

HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL?

Mantegna 466

At the very end of his life, Andrea Mantegna inscribed the answer to the question on the tree in this delicate cameo-painting of Delilah snipping away at Samson’s hair — as if the fountain next to the tree weren’t clarification enough.

If it’s hard to read the words on the tree, you can click on the tree itself to read them more easily — and if that’s still not enough you can click yet again on the bigger picture. Then it’s a piece of cake — that is, the riddle’s a piece of cake, not the beautiful, dignified, introspective young woman trimming the hair of her grizzled, old, pumped-up and psyched-out lover, the act that reduces all men to the divine fools they are destined to be. Because the Divine Fool is the true message of the Samson story, it seems to me, that is if you read the details of the story very carefully — or, alternatively, if you carefully and exhaustively read your own life, or even read me if you know where to look — which is why I am writing what follows, to find out.

I’m going to leave some space on that now, for reflection.

[ADDED A WEEK LATER]

My reflections on Mantegna’s dictum, foemina diabolo tribus assibus est mala peior, are developed day by day in the Comments below, and if you are interested in such things I hope you will be able to read them with as much hope for an answer as I posted them. On the other hand, if you’re impatient you can skip ahead to a specific discussion of HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL IN THE END.  But fasten your seat belts as you scroll down, because jumping ahead is going to make for a very fast ride!

And those of you who start at the beginning, be warned as well: the discussion that follows thrives on hair-pins and other sticky corners, and very often paints itself into untenable places as well — I do hope you’ll be charitable and forgive me for all the dead-ends. I’m an Old Father William, and all I can tell you is that this is how it goes. Indeed, that’s part of the riddle of knowing where you are in the space you inhabit, and it doesn’t much matter whether it’s on earth, in space, buried in your own person or in some other idea or dimension, or perhaps even suited up in a New Age space-vehicle transitting infinity to arrive where you actually are, like in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

Wrapped up in your own cocoon like Eve, in other words, even if you’re a man and not yet ready to be that beautiful, powerful, and fey. Or a snake with your own tail in your mouth like Satan in the Garden of Eden — indeed, you may even be impatient enough to want to go straight to the discussion for men and women who are no longer inhabitants of the Garden of Eden but would like to know what really happened back then.

……….1.) CLICK HERE TO START AT THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

Or if, like most of my friends, you’re more interested in my own demise as a soi-disant angel and poet yet again you can begin at that end:

……….2.) CLICK HERE FOR THE END OF WHAT WAS ACHIEVED IN THIS THREAD.

Or if you’re really impatient and just want to know what happens at the various ends:

……….3.) CLICK HERE FOR THE SECOND TO LAST POSTSCRIPT.

And finally, if you don’t want to begin at any end but just keep on fooling around like Old Father William:

……….4.) CLICK ON THE END OF HIS NOSE TO SEE HOW EVERYTHING GOES.

Christopher Woodman,
Chiang Mai, March 3rd, 2016
….

THIS THREAD IS CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW.

 

SAVAGE BEAUTY (do I dare? do I dare?)

Huay Tung (Brian) Naam Tok Dtaat Mook — a hidden waterfall on the Huay Tung. Over 300 feet high, Dtaat Mook is rarely visited by ordinary people, encircled as it is by the dark rituals that protect the jungle. My intrepid friend, Brian Hayden, photographed three odd fires beside the track as we made our way up the mountain, all three of which contained the charred remains of broken bamboo poles tightly wrapped in saffron robes and bound with plastic string. Click about and see what you can see —  if you dare, if you dare.
………………………

Huay Tung Hex (small)

………………………
………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

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