A Complete INDEX in PROGRESS.

The Baw Plaa at Baan Hom Samunphrai, Chiang Mai. *

COWPATTYHAMMER consists of 10 years of articles, discussions, and essais, largely by the poet, Christopher Woodman. It’s not easy to navigate such a jungle even for him, he says. (You can visit About The Author for more information on Christopher Woodman).

This Cover Page is an attempt to INDEX the site in such a way that a visitor can explore it more specifically while at the same time gaining a larger sense of the whole. With the exception of the following short PREFACES IN PROGRESS, each of the entries is an integral Thread consisting of a substantial Essay followed by ‘Comments,’ many of which are essays in themselves..

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*NOTE: A baw is a hole in the ground, a well, a mine shaft or pond, and plaa means fish — amidst the paddies the baw fills up with water, so this is a baw plaa. There are huge fish in it, some of which, like its best poems, are over 25 years old. (Click twice and you can see them, as you must on all the graphics.)

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AN ANNOTATED INDEX, 2010-2020.

PREFACES in PROGRESS.

a.) for LOUISE  GLÜCK: Our wonderful Nobel Prize Laureate.

A Paean of Praise for our most sensitive and astute contemporary American poet, LOUISE GLÜCK, now embraced by the whole world as she should be. A humble attempt to put her genius in the context of an equally old poet who was there when she first read The Wild Iris in 1992, and dares to celebrate her in a Pantheon of Citations in a book of his own. (November 7th, 2020)

b.) “NOTHING LEFT AT SEA.”

An introduction to a single short poem from GALILEO’S SECRET“not to explain it but just to be near enough to share a glimpse for a few blesséd moments, not a vision or a voice but a flicker, a settling, an exhalation.” (a single Page plus a Comment – September 15th, 2020)

c.) HOW RELICS REWRITE. 

A short preface to the previous thread,  A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL: “I have very few friends who read poetry,” the APPEAL says,  “and even fewer who read the poetry I write. This is partly because at two very important junctures in my life I quit poetry altogether, and as a poet I have no past.” (a single Page – because what more is there to say? September 11th, 2020)

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I. “GALILEO’S SECRET”  (Threads 2018-20).

1.) A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL (

A straightforward appeal by the author based on the fact that, despite substantial success between 1992 and 2010, not a single poem of his has been accepted in the last 10 years, and his 3 books remain unpublished. Using current political and social metaphors, this thread tries to uncover whatever it is that may overshadow/diminish/disqualify his work, and to lift himself as well as his poetry above the fray. On the other hand, Christopher feels that the way the thread uses our current national crises as personal metaphors is valuable whether or not his work deserves reconsideration. “This ‘Forthright Appeal’ certainly lifts my own spirits,” he says. “It gives me courage to believe in my value as a writer even if I remain in the shadows.” Indeed, his hope is that this Appeal will give everyone who lives alone with his or her distinct voice unheard a lift, as in a sense we all must do.(5 Comments)

2.) FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO (

This is a detailed attempt to cast light on some of the complex graphics, images, and metaphors in Part II of GALILEO’S SECRET,  and includes the title phrase which appears for the first and only time in the book in a light-hearted poem called “Celestial Observations.”  The much more difficult title-poem of the thread, on the other hand, “For Those Like Galileo Who No Longer Read,” is from Part III and is accompanied by one of the strongest graphics in the whole 10 years of Cowpattyhammer — in fact the image appears twice in the blog,  and you always have to Click more than once to see it here too. These related themes are all developed in the 26 ‘Essais’ in the Comments that follow which include two lengthy discussions of Breugel’s “The Fall of Icarus” followed by intimate encounters with, among others, the Strangler Fig, the Wizard of Oz, Sonya & Leo Tolstoy at home, and the Archimandrite Seraphim Bit Haribi chanting The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. It’s a curious thread, bizarre even, and there’s a strong feeling of more to come — no thread is ever really “over” on Cowpattyhammer, and you can leave a “Reply” to start up the discussion again anywhere you like. (26 Comments)

3.) IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED: Off the Record at 80 (

A long and passionate self-examination culminating in a detailed exploration of the moods and modes of the 9 short poems  that make up Part I of GALILEO’S SECRET. There are 50 substantial ‘Essais’ written over a 4 1/2 month period, and I don’t think my personal development or my values have ever been more effectively explored. It’s about Hope, really, the small bird that we all know as “that thing with feathers,” and, needless to say,  Emily Dickinson is the hero of the whole thread alone up there in her bedroom — closely followed by the visionary mentor/muddler, Sir Stanley Spencer, pushing his pram through his beloved Cookham’s lanes for him as exotic as any Shangri-la or Chiang Mai haunted jungle. (50 Comments)

4.) NOT ‘HAT;’ WHAT’S UNDER THE HAT ON THE ROCK. (

An attempt to get under the poet’s hat for a moment to see what he means by a “hunch.” As he very rarely uses theological, psychological, or philosophical discourse separate from metaphor, this is probably the best that can be done at an intellectual formulation of his modus operandi. The  little poem, “Daedalus Brief,” steals the show, particularly if you click your way through the discussions of it in the related comments in other threads, and of course take it seriously.

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II. “LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE” (Threads 2017-2018).

5.) LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE (

An introduction to the final ‘illuminated’ version of LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE which highlights the distinction between those poems which are written by a personal hand and those which have lived long enough on their own to become self-generating ‘Relics:’
….— like a ‘hex’ or ‘ruin’ at the site of a betrayal or massacre, the title represents not something that once ‘happened’ but is happening all the time like an icon, a mantra, a prayer or a spell;
….— like the “Notes on the First and Last Poems” at the very end, the thread sets the whole scene in the present without compromising any of the original intentions or participants. The same is true of the “Hexes, Ruins, Riddles and Relics” of the subtitle there’s too much ‘danger’ in such mysteries to risk more in the details;
….— like the final illuminated haiku in the book, everyone who has been through such things must “stoop to take the water’s fall” whether it be to ‘take a knee’ or ‘a bow’ — or, as the 16th Century poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt, acknowledges when he uses the Anglo-Norman word ‘danger,’ to place a ‘neck on the block’.
….“So it is that LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE takes its place in the same perilous tradition as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek,” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” And with reference to the latter in particular, the old Middle-English word ‘daunger‘ is French while at the same time as English as the fleurs de sel on your table, or the coup de grâce at hers.” (You’ll find the original of this Here.) (7 Comments).

6.) for FRANZ WRIGHT: “dark, then bright, so bright.”   (

This thread is a Coda to the preceding thread and puts Franz Wright in the context of “He Reflects on What His Genius Means,” the opening poem of LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE.  If you have the time it might be better to read thread #7 first as of course it precedes it chronologically. This one, “For Franz Wright,” introduces the theme of creative anger with the opening ‘Relic’ poem of the book (it’s “thought to be Samson’s,” after all, “found amongst the ruins!”), and then takes the opportunity to tell the story of Franz Wright’s life (March 18th, 1953 to May 14th, 2015) in some detail. The mood is indeed almost hagiographic — and what a paradox, like Raskolnikov, or indeed anything out of Dostoievski. The thread is addressed to my Latvian friend, Jūlija Lebedeva, who was in the process of ‘illuminating’ the book at this very time, and whose contribution has so deepened it.

7.) WHY IT’S MORE IMPORTANT FOR A WRITER TO SLEEP WELL THAN
……
BE READ, OR ALMOST  (

Despite it’s contemplative graphic, this very long thread is constructed like a whole hornet’s nest of Russian dolls — a paradox indeed! In fact, the thread straddles 6 years of debate about the poet Franz Wright’s bizarre intervention in a much earlier thread which culminated in his calling Christopher Woodman’s poem, “Leonardo Amongst Women,” “perfectly awful.” This event occurred just before Christopher’s Blog:Cowpattyhammer went off in one direction and Thomas Brady’s Blog:Scarriet  in another, a painful break which changed both of them. An important plus in the thread is the way it illustrates both the creativity and the negativity that underlay the original Blog:Scarriet experiment, a paradox which was also at the very heart of Franz Wright’s genius — he was one of the most quarrelsome, ornery poets who has ever lived with the hugest heart and almost flawless broken voice. Its a very rich thread indeed, I think — one of my favorites. So please do give it some time and celebrate with me ‘Franz Wright, the most valuable of companion-poets on the loneliest of roads.’ (He too published almost nothing before he was 50, and was dead by 63 — which is perhaps easier than being still alive at 80…).  (Annotated Appendix with 56 Comments.)

8.) “O FOOL OF EARTH!”  A Haiku by Samson illuminated by Jūlija with Cara-
……vaggio, T.E.Lawrence & an encore by our Christy himself.
.(Nov 21, 2017)

This is a bravura thread built around a single illuminated Haiku, one of Jūlija’s earliest sketches for LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE — at the time still subtitled A Book of Poems & Relics. The conceit is that “O Fool of Earth” is one of the artifacts that has been “found amongst the ruins,” not “written,” and is therefore, like the other “Relics” in the book, formatted in Lucida Blackletter with capitalized nouns and red illuminations. In addition, the two towering “pillars” of the drama, the Prophet Samson over here and Lawrence of Arabia over there, are displayed in the genius light of Caravaggio’s mannerist heroes, and are at the same time admired and disculed as “Fools of Earth.” Those are the words of “our Christy” from J.M.Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World” which introduce Part I of the book. “Pillars on the Beach.” It’s a passionate, over-the-top thread, an apotheosis of shame combined with valor, and it still makes my heart miss a beat as well as beat a bit faster.  And to tell you the truth, I don’t really know the difference — “Been there, done that” is all anybody can say!

9.) ON HOW I MAKE SENSE OF IT: the poet deconstructs somebody else’s
……Haiku.
  (

A deconstruction of the last Haiku in LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE, this reading combines close metrical analysis with New- as well as Post- Critical observations left over from Christopher Woodman’s years at Columbia, Yale and Cambridge. But even more importantly, the critique relives in detail how the little poem found its true form over a period of 30 years, and has now settled down as one of the most important ‘Relics’ in the book, gilded and framed. “It never changes yet never stays still,” Christopher says. “For me it embodies all the richnesses of a ‘Hex,’ a ‘Ruin,’ and a ‘Riddle’ combined, and has everything I look for in a ‘Relic.’  And it just never stops giving.”

III. “ON WHAT I CAN SAY” (Threads 2015-2017).

10.) ON WHAT I CAN SAY: deconstructing the spirits’ beguiling but awful
……mess…
 

In this section of the Index there is a big shift of focus from Christopher Woodman’s  books to the mysterious world around him in Chiang Mai. This thread describes a visit to one of his favorite Wats (Temples) on the ancient pilgrim trail through the jungle on the way up Doi Suthep, the Holy Mountain that hangs over the city and is one of the most important Shrines in Thailand. small white chicken There are many strange and exotic surprises in the thread both about what is “spiritual” about the place as well as about what is taught in such a fey, chaotic environment. Indeed, you have to click yet again on everything to see it all, and there’s a great deal more buried in the thread itself. At the very end the thread also includes what the author feels is probably the best thing he’s ever written about the Buddha story — which, he says, is also about what a writer learns from such an experience and, more likely than not, has simply got to unlearn. Because this thread is about reading and writing poetry too.

11.) ON WHAT WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY: deconstructing indiscretions,……(October 7, 2017)

Unlearning also means learning not to ask too many questions but to remain in uncertainty as John Keats suggested and so eloquently bore witness to both in his brief, febrile life and forever in his poetry. “For you can never stop on such a road,” it says in this thread, “it’s that 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!” So the “indiscretions” are multiple, both my own and those of other unfortunates, and clicking through them will take you to some places as strange as any Wat-Pha-Lad-type reliquary junk-pile. (2 Comments)

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12.) WHY I WROTE HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL (

This is the thread I most often touch back to, and if you’ve been following me recently will recognize you’ve been here before:  for my brother Tony, for Galileo’s daughter; for why I make it all up, how relics rewrite, why Immanuel Kant, Emily Dickinson, G.F.Handel, Winslow Homer, and why the Canal de Bourgogne quite specifically. Here’s a graphic followed by a short excerpt you may well  remember:…..“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 like being Eve in God’s grown-up Garden, 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!”
…..“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.” (57 Comments)

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14.) SAVAGE BEAUTY: (do I dare? do I dare?)  (

A short but extravagantly illustrated thread: “the hidden waterfall,” entered through the jungle on the other side of the Holy Mountain; “Merlin collared,” or how to get cornered at home plus a black magic  adventure with an intrepid friend from the Tetons, Brian Hayden. Ottoman Miniaturist (200)And always the very big question: “do I dare? do I dare?” — the words of the failed poet whose success is writing on anyway and then arriving at a whole riff on Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, a great novelist’s greatest novel and at the same time a great treatise on refinement and passion in Turco/Persian culture and miniaturist art which seems to say, We’re here! An autobiographical thread full of passionate photos and poems with a lot of help from my friends including Omino 23, a rapper from the Turks and Caicos Islands who turned out to be Bill Kammann’s diver-son, and Paddy Linehan, of course, the great old-soul writer from Ireland. A gathering thread, startled and started but never quite finished. (22 Comments)

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IV. “GETTING STARTED/CHANGING GEARS:” (Threads 2013-2014).

15.) CLICK THRICE, THEN LET ME KNOW ………….(May 28, 2014)

A short thread full of secrets, forgotten passwords, fake spells and mystical non-disclosures. This is partly because it’s the last thread in this Index put together under the cross-eyed management of both Cowpattyhammer.com and Scarriet.com, so it rattles along in a nervous, off-hand sort of way from one stranger’s secret to another’s even stranger. But it’s beautiful to look at, and edifying too in the end, and includes some memorable poetry from both sides of the tracks. And it left me free after I had finished it, as I still am. Free but alone and if anything (never mind that) even less read. (16 Comments)

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16.) ONE FOR SORROW, TWO FOR JOY  (

A very positive thread developed around a memorable image:
“As bare and simple as this Piero della Francesca, it says, “and as dependent on faith. That means your faith, the faith you have in yourself, the viewer, not in Jesus or Mary or anything like that but just in how much faith you are able to bring to whatever you see without rhyme or reason, like that tiny little bird on the left, or the big one on the stable roof for that matter, which is unmistakably a magpie…”
This is the last in the series of close encounters (#16-19) with two of my closest friends who had earlier belittled my poetry. Indeed, their ragging cast a shadow over my whole life for almost 2 years starting from Make It New in #19 below. But in the end One for Sorrow, Two for Joy is a very positive thread because of its heart-felt restorative work on the very poem my friends chose to dish. This was “Leda Takes Another Lover,” one of my proudest, most fey yet most faithful poems, and its restoration continues all the way up to #3 above. The discussion includes not only the original, 1992 version of the poem first written in French as “Le Verger” (“The Orchard”), but also some of the most fruitful close-readings in the whole of Cowpattyhammer, and some of the most telling anecdotes as well. And I realized in the process that it always has to be now or never for a poet like me (“vulnerability,” I call it in A Forthright Appeal), that I have to blow my own ‘pan-pipes,’ as I call them above, seductively or triumphantly or whatever even if there’s nobody there to hear me — to make my own way, that says, talk my own talk up and down and sideways. And I too will pump my fist in the air as if it were the 1968 Olympics, proud of the defiant glove on my hand even as it says I’m no good. And I hope you can forgive me. (38 Comments)or what it is………

17.) TEA BREAK BY THE FORGE(March 11, 2014)

At the very end this thread reaches inside the fountain image that introduces the Annotated  Index, passing through various levels of comprehensibility to arrive face to face with a haunted presence that is neither seen nor unseen. Tea BreakClick on the photo of the author working in the Baw Plaa (twice, please!), then go back and give some time to Dawn Potter’s beautifully moving introduction to such potentialities and on to her arguments for wanting to take it all down.

………………….Nevertheless you are there, hidden,
………………….And again you wake me,
………………….Scentless, noiseless,
………………….Someone or something,
………………….Something or someone faithless,
………………….And that will not return.
……………………………………Dawn Potter (March 11th, 2014)

After Edna St Vincent Millay’s extraordinary poem, “Renascence,” you can return to the world with Bill Kammann’s celebration of comprehensibility as the essential ingredient to all useful perception, and of course the antidote to my own attempts to say not this, not that and certainly not anything reasonable about love what is more about marriage. Indeed, the whole thread is an example of the sort of tea-break by the forge that I look forward to most when I sit down to write, the hammer blows silent and the kettle on the boil as, like Emily Dickinson, I roll up my sleeves to cool my hot arms after suffering all that heat and hammering in the country kitchen. (27 Comments)

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18.) BORDANDO el MANTO TERRESTRE by Remedios Varo

….“This thread was designed to deal with some of the issues that were left hanging at the end of the previous thread, “Make It New,” which ended upside down in the grass. Those issues stalled at that moment, needless to say, but I think the final discussion of Emily Dickinson’s “haunted house” probably took us as far as we could go anyway, under the circumstances.”haunted house
….— I still find this Thread devastating, and sincerely hope you do too. Because some things just are.
….— I never figured out who the enlightened apparition called Omino 23 actually was, or how much he had to do with the demons who also managed to slip in. Disguised in whites they set about scuffing up the pitch with their hiking boots on, so how could anyone be expected to play properly for all those 79 overs as if it were cricket? 
….— Tragic in the sense of goats’ play — i.e. just as dark as light.
……………………………………………………………………..(79 Comments)

Such a rich and diverse Forum with so many valuable visitors, and then suddenly the whole kite candles like a wet rag — badly packed parachutes make for limp landings! You have to scroll backwards and then repack your gear for the same day in 2015 to find that old storm-blown fields like these way out in the Atlantic are still there to welcome new landings. Have a look and you’ll find much there  like this.

Inishmore: the island at the very end of the beginning of the world.

….That’s why the indigenous people up the road are so important to me, because they tell me so much more about who I am right here right now without any of the higher stuff. 
….When I look in the mirror these days it’s not an elevating sight, believe me. But that’s o.k. — because the old wizened ‘good-fella’ that looks back at me now tells me don’t worry, nothing that really matters is ever outdated what is more undreamt. “That’s what makes it alright,” the gracious young mother with the tall daughter answers in the graphic, “that’s what makes it new.”

V. “EAST IS EAST & WEST IS WEST” (Threads 2010-2011).

20.) THE MYSTERY OF BARABAR & THE MARABAR CAVES (

This is the last of the series of ‘Asian’ dialogues between Cowpattyhammer’s two close but fractious friends, its unhinged poet on the one hand and its scrambled Buddhist sannyasin on the other. Beginning with the ancient caves at Barabar in India made so famous by E.M.Forster in A Passage to India, it’s a funny, inspiring, trippy, affirmative yet outrageous encounter, a super-sensible dialogue that explores the limits of Perception on the one hand and of Error on the other while focussing on the Meaning and Value of Emptiness, i.e. The Void as opposed to the Manifest Existence that even Bill Kammann and Christopher  Woodman assume they live in. And if this Alice in Wonderland Introduction irritates and/or interests you you should probably give the Thread a chance — it will scramble and/or unhinge your minds once and for all, which is almost certainly a good thing when it comes to understanding such matters.

The penultimate Asian collaboration between Christopher Woodman and W.F.Kammann, this dialogue focusses on Rudyard Kipling’s novel, Kim, not as an adventure story but as an inspired modern treatise on Buddhism. Because the novel challenges Western assumptions about the values of Tibetan, essentially elitist monasticism which, in Kipling’s novel, are presented as less nurturing than the education the genius orphan-boy, Kim, receives on the road with just a befuddled old ex-Abbot as his guide and companion. And the thread is very personal too, for its two authors have both been there/done that, each in his own way, making the discussion more urgent and real for them. Like this, for example:
….“One evening at Garwald I asked Trunpa, already in his cups, why don’t we Western disciples see things? Why don’t we have visions or at least get a feeling of some sort of special powers developing in us? And Rimpoche just laughed that crooked laugh of his, because he was already paralyzed on one side after the car accident. ‘Visions? Powers?’ he chortled. ‘Why do you want that old stuff? It’s so easy for one thing, and so useless for another. You’re on a higher path now — because we Tibetans couldn’t do any of the stuff you do. Personal relationships, that’s much harder — we couldn’t do that at all. And look at us? Look what a mess we’ve made with those things here in the West?’
….“ ‘The challenge is to love and care for one another personally, and even passion is part of that, even sex. We were like spirit animals. We could do magic and fly and see all sorts of things, but we couldn’t do anything with each other. Just abuse.’ 
….Which was precisely why Kim’s Lama had quit his Himalayan fastness in the first place, drifting off to search for a deeper sort of salvation along the teeming, fetid, lowland roads of India, a sort of Victorian Dharma Bum, in other words — which is still a revolutionary thought for those Western Buddhists who fantasize about strict yogic practices at high altitude. On the other hand, Kim’s way doesn’t mean to drop out like Jack Kerouac, our home-grown idle fantasist, but to be more active, more rooted, sane and practical, indeed post-formal seekers who remain very much in this world and, much to their credit, largely invisible… 
….The other important aspect of this interpretation of Kim is the way it probes the relationship between the very young genius author, ‘Ruddy,’ already an international celebrity by the age of 30, and his equally extraordinary but shyer, deeper, more reflective artist-father, John Lockwood Kipling, who was also one of the West’s earliest experts on Tibetan Buddhist iconography. Of course Lockwood actually appears in the novel as a character, indeed he’s the Spirit Master who teaches the old Reverend Lama from Tibet as if the latter were the disciple or chela, not the other way around. And finally, this celebrated Anglo-Asian novel called Kim was written in Brattleboro, Vermont!….

 (posted by W.F.Kammann, 

TO SCROLL THROUGH THE ARCHIVE CONTINUOUSLY:

To scroll down though the Archive from beginning to end you should enter the site with www.cowpattyhammer.wordpress.com. There will then be no breaks between the Main Posts and you will not have to return to the ARCHIVES to move on down through the earlier threads. If you decide to read the discussions, on the other hand, you will have to navigate using the ***MAJOR THREADS*** widgets in the left-hand margin.

There are 24 fully developed Threads in the present Cowpattyhammer.com INDEX just above. There are in addition 38 ad hoc Threads from the original Cowpattyhammer/Scarriet.com joint site which began in September 2009. If you are interested, these earlier threads will give you an idea of the ‘Resistance’ struggle discussed in A Forthright Appeal — it’s uncensored and messy but interesting from a literary-historical point of view. To access the Threads not listed in the INDEX you must use the ARCHIVES in the left-hand margin and navigate by the dates.

C.W. 

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for LOUISE GLÜCK: Our Nobel Prize Laureate.

Louise Gluck & Barrack Obama
with thanks to The Denver Post and Barrack Obama!!!

Louise Glück has been a major influence on me as a poet ever since I heard her read in New York City in 1992 — not on how I write but on who I am, an even greater gift, person to person. A gift of simplicity and clarity even when attempting the very most difficult and dangerous pitches, even when I over-reach and fail.

I heard her read when The Wild Iris had just been released and hadn’t yet received its Pulitzer Prize, so the poetry came to me all by itself in its spare, pristine, perfectly worked words like the flowers and plants in some unseen, unsung garden, its beauty and its vulnerability hidden in plain sight. Indeed, the whole experience of Louise Gluck’s poetry has always felt as if it were blooming and dying at the same time, as indeed most gardens are wont to do in harsh climates like Maine — and my own garden places have always been like that too, Concord, New Hampshire in my teens and Dumfriesshire in my 20s in particular. And of course in my own inner life more or less forever just as I was when I met her in my 50s.

My father’s family was from Westbrook, Maine, indeed the main square of the small mill town was called Woodman Square until Rudy Vallée’s popularity in the Roaring 20s outshone the claim of the long line of dour, small town New England doctors from which I sprang. Shortly after my father, who was to become a doctor as well, fled to a wholly other sort of life from Bowdoin to the University of Edinburgh Medical School, and of course I eventually fled even further than that in turn. And although I had only just started writing poetry in 1992, my new voice was tailor-made for Louise Glück because, though I was a complete beginner, I was already 52, just like her at the time, I believe. And I had also suffered enough to understand her as well, indeed, I was just recovering from a major break-up as well as -down, and I cried when I shook her hand in the crowd right after the reading, and was almost blind in the subway all the way back to my basement in Brooklyn.

I’ve had it in mind to write some sort of ‘thank-you’ to Louise Glück for having won the Nobel Prize, but I don’t think I could ever do better than what I had already done for her in GALILEO’S SECRET a few years before.

The following strange Paean of Praise is on the title page of Part III of GALILEO’S SECRET, the section which also includes the key poem, “For Those Like Galileo Who No Longer Read” just below. The quotes are thought-provoking, certainly, but what is most striking about them is how they culminate in the small, unadorned yet Promethean cri du coeur from “The Red Poppy: “I speak because I am shattered.” That’s what the voice whispers both from the garden and from the window that over looks it, simultaneously — and who else but Louise Glück can speak in that painful yet uplifting, indeed ecstatic a voice?

You can see the citations below, and what company Louise Glück keeps in my estimation: Immanuel Kant and Simone Weil for a  start. I’ll leave you to grapple with those words on your own, as I do still almost everyday myself.

And then Donald Crowhurst, whom you won’t know, the single-handed sailor who appeared to have won The Globe Challenge ‘Round the World Race’ in 1968. In fact his flimsy trimaran had been seriously damaged in a gale, and found itself listlessly drifting round and round in the Atlantic doldrums for months while its solitary passenger wrestled with the guilt and shame of his triumph, not over the other competitors but over himself! That’s it in a nut shell, a tale of deception, intelligence, equivocation, self-evaluation, and reckless courage all at once — The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by The Times journalists, Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall (Hodder and Stoughton, 1970), is one of the treasures on my shelves in Chiang Mai right up there with my Joshua Slocum, an equally complicated mariner, and my original copy of  The Wild Iris (what company she keeps!).

Then Trungpa Rimpoche, the Tibetan Lama who started out in my house in Scotland on his way to found the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado — you can deal with him any way you like, but indeed anyone who has abandoned (or been abandoned by) what is most important in their lives will understand what he means in the passage, and both scold and praise oneself for having done it and/or survived it oneself — as Louise Glück has done as you can plainly see in the photo above,  and as I have done in my own humbler way as well, over and over again — to my detriment and benefit, both,

I think that’s enough. Maybe I’ll say more, who knows, but my feeling is that I could not pen a more apt and elevated tribute to our wonderful Nobel Laureate, Louise Glück, who has so enriched all our lives and made our American poetry so much deeper and nobler.
…….

…..                      III. WHEN RUINS BECOME RELICS
…………………………………….from GALILEO’S SECRET, Two Decades
…………………………………….                 of Poems under House Arrest.

…………..“I had to set knowing aside to make room for belief.”
…………………………………..Immanuel Kant, The Critque of Pure Reason
……………………………………….(KrV, Bxxx) (1781)

…………..“God could create only by hiding himself. Otherwise there would
…………..be nothing but himself.
…………..Holiness should then be hidden too, even from consciousness in
…………..a certain measure. And it should be hidden in the world.”
………………………………………….Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (1942)

…………..“Nature does not allow God
…………..to Sin any Sins
…………..except One—
…………..That is the Sin of Concealment.
…………..This is the terrible secret of the torment of the soul “needed”
…………..by a natural system to keep trying.”
………………………………..   ….. Donald Crowhurst, Logbook Two
…………………………………..   …….33° 11’ N , 40° 28’ W (1969)

…………..“With a sense of further involving myself with the Sangha,
…………..I determined to give up my monastic vows.”
……………………………….   …….Chögyam Trungpa, Born in Tibet;
……………………………….    ………Epilogue to the 2nd Edition (1977)

…………..“I speak because I am shattered.”
………………………….. ………   ..Louise Glück, “The Red Poppy,”
…………………………………….   …….from The Wild Iris (1992)
…….

for Louise Glück — with love, respect & gratitude,
Christopher Woodman

…….

[To exit this Preface you can move on to the next one, “NOTHING LEFT AT SEA,” or choose another Preface or Thread from the ***MAJOR THREADS*** that are listed in the left hand margin.]

NOTHING LEFT AT SEA: Revisiting “In Praise of the Still Unweighed.”

Wildfire #1 (AP Photo/Noah Berger – Las Vegas, Sept.9th, 2020)

What is really different about our times is what is happening to Time itself. Because we assume the quicker the better, and behave as if we were on top of a powerful rocket that would deliver us from all our problems as soon as it got up a bit more speed. And we really are living like that right now. even as the rockets underneath us are disintegrating in balls of fire, clouds of ash, pollution and pestilence.

We forget entirely that the rocket is a very primitive form of locomotion, indeed on the same tinker-toy scale as the internal combustion engine. Because the latter’s hot, noisy, smelly technology with its flashing lights, sirens and big boots has been with us for just a bit over one life time, don’t forget, and is, like the steam engine before it, the ham-fisted fire-power-in-your-face that has poisoned the whole of our planet. The irony is that as a method of propulsion the rocket won’t get us very far into space either — why, even our own moon is a dangerous long shot in a fiery tin-can like that.

But there are other people who don’t want to go, unassimilated stragglers washed up on alien shores who remember and weep. For example this quite recent, Studs Terkel-type interviewee:

I ought to say right here that I take no particular position — I’m no more this or that, both of which some suspect I am and criticize me for it too, either for being it or for not really being it. I can just say that in the light of what we now call ‘light-years’ there is for me something more important than the Impermanence and Suffering of the Buddha or even, for that matter, the Sin and Redemption of religion.

That’s why the indigenous people up the road are so important to me, because Animists can tell me so much more about who I am right here right now without any of the higher stuff. When I look in the mirror these days it’s not an elevated sight either, because it’s one of their old wizened ‘good-fella’ faces that looks back at me now and tells me that nothing that really matters is ever outdated what is more undreamt. That’s what I’m about, that’s the gist of who I am and what I believe.

A single lifetime is the only thing worth having in the light-years of the multiverse we live in, that’s all. And to be honest, I never think about Heaven or Eternal Life, or pay much attention to what my New-Age friends call “Spiritual” like “Good Karma” and “Future Lives.” I’m concerned with something much simpler than all that, more fundamental, close, intimate and familiar, a living ‘hunch’ that can’t be taught but is there in the nature of things for anybody anywhere and on any level. And I certainly don’t mean anything like the genius theories of the scientists who are trying to get all the forces in the cosmos to come together at last and make sense out of everything. Making sense, I’m afraid, isn’t me at all.

Of course in the end even Einstein couldn’t manage to reconcile the beautiful Unified Field Theory with the messy Quantum Physics that is still bedeviling all the sciences. With the most celebrated mind on earth, Albert Einstein worked tirelessly on one beautiful yet inexplicable hunch alone at home in Princeton for three decades, thinking and thinking but never publishing anything. And then he died. He was 76, and left no further Papers, just unforgettable glimpses of who he was as a person. Indeed, is there any human face more companionable and liberating than Albert Einstein’s the older he got? 

Was he bitter that he couldn’t work it out in the end, do you think? Did he feel discouraged? humiliated? left behind?  Or was he at last, as I believe with all my heart and soul he must have been with a face like that, “like honey, like water?” *

That’s what I want to say.

That’s what I want to say too.

And of course there was also our own little good-fella physicist, Stephen Hawking, who confronted Infinity so bravely in his twisted, space-age body while grappling with the dreaming underground at Cern and among the dishes at Socorro while at the same time grappling with two women in two marriages in the same body on earth. Extraordinary, miraculous  —  altogether beyond belief!

……………………But superstition, like belief, must die,
……………………And what remains when disbelief has gone?
………………………………………………………..Philip Larkin, Church Going

Which brings me back to what I feel sure must have occupied the mind of the great Galileo Galilei as well during those grievous last years of his life side-lined at Il Gioiello — the world’s greatest scientist with no instruments to measure things with, or paper on which to write them down, or audience to give him feedback. And I want to know, what did Galileo glimpse in his own private dreaming? Where did it go for him between the cracks of the very lonely empirical floor under his feet, a loneliness that must certainly have been deepened by the loss of his beloved daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, ‘Virginia,’ as he called her as a little girl, who died just 2 years after he was placed under house-arrest? Indeed, she was a close neighbor in Arcetri though he scarcely saw her as she never came out of San Matteo. And there were still 6 more years to go for him with both her cloister and her grave just a bit higher up the Florentine slope over his head from where he lived.

Think of it this way: underground at Cern, among the dishes at Socorro, and years before that her birth, her cloister and her grave over his head in the garden at Il Gioiello.

Some might even say OM MANI PADME HUM, HRIH!

I’d just like to say once again what it says so lightly in “Celestial Observations.”

……………………………………………………~

So at the humblest level of the spectrum there’s me on my little porch in Chiang Mai, 7 x 10ft, where I’m still groping and grappling — not to explain it but just to say it in such a way that there can be a glimpse of it for a few blesséd moments, not a vision or a voice but a flicker, a settling, an exhalation. Which I think I managed a few times in this thread [i.e. the earlier one called ‘In Praise of the Still Unweighed: off the Record at 80′] while I was re-imagining “Leda Takes Another Lover,” for example, or an even more powerful example, “By the Waters of Babylon.” And then there are those riffs on the four famous hunches of Frost, Yeats, Joyce, and Emily Dickinson which in turn inform all my own micro-visions in Part I of GALILEO’S SECRET.

It took me a long time to figure out how to work with  these poems in that way, indeed, 4 months of hard work all day everyday starting at 3 or 4am, writing into them over and over and over again at my desk until bedtime, just one word here, one word there — and worth it for those few celestial moments that did manage to reveal themselves in the dynamics of the words, yes, like HERE in Critical Prose, for example — and then later, more personally, HERE, and finally overwhelmingly HERE! That’s the very best I can do, and when I revisit them they still make me cry.

And there’s going to be one last tiny shudder of the “In-Praise-of-the-Still-Unweighed” kaleidoscope below, a wrinkle in the simplest, gentlest manner that just says, I hope fervently, “Despite all the passion and the beauty there’s nothing left to tell.”

But before that dis-apparition, one last question:

James Cook  Aboriginal Elder and granddaughter

Do you think that when the first white man arrived in Australia 250 years ago, a Native Australian would have had a problem showing him a ‘God-particle’ had he asked? I mean, had the white man been able to ask the venerable Elder and his perplexed young granddaughter that question — had the European had the expertise to navigate that sort of thinking, or the language to discuss it with a Master so skilled in the bright art of dreaming for 30,000 years?

And of course, had the Good-Fella Grand Master been willing to betray such Truths by sharing them with such a big, crude, ignorant stranger, a nobody from nowhere who couldn’t read anything were it thrust straight in his face or passed right under his feet. (“And those feet, grand-dad, did you see what he’d done to his feet?”)

……………………………………………………~

So now in my own barefoot language, that is in the language I have developed in a dialogue late in life with my other, underdeveloped but over-trained self — in the freshly washed language of an aging, naive Poet, not looking straight at things but out of the corner of his eye, so to speak, catching just “a glimpse of it,” as I sometimes say to myself, and in gentle, feminine tones with no story to tell, no irony or drama, and then rewriting it again and again for 10 years or more after that, reading it and rewriting it and then reading it yet again, clearer all the time, cleaner, less descriptive, more transparent.

And after all that, if I’m lucky and manage to rub off the last traces of manly, personal effort, ending up with the likes perhaps of this:

…………..

…………………..NOTHING LEFT AT SEA

……………………..And then the seagull was a bride.

……………………..The girl dreamed a wild seagull
……………………..changed into her bride.

……………………..In full flight.

……………………..My seagull is a high-flier bride,
……………………..Leda said one morning
……………………..waking in some red-eyed angel’s
……………………..ocean raptor dive.

……………………..A couple try to save
……………………..the self-deflowering bride—
……………………..her white dress is foam
……………………..upon the waters in their hands.

……………………..No one ever said the lovers drowned.

……………………..The couple whirl in one another’s
……………………..arms, a white dress wound
……………………..tightly round the height and rarified desire.

……………………..Tumbling, flailing.

…………………….The boat was empty after that.

……………………..The sea will shine like butterflies,
……………………..the waves will prattle.

…………………………………GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of
…………………………………Poems under House Arrest. #7, p.9
………

NOTE: “Every individual … has to retain his way of thinking if he does not want to get lost in the maze of possibilities. However, nobody is sure of having taken the right road, me the least.” …. 74 year old Albert Einstein in a letter to 20 year old John Moffat. (May 25th, 1953)

………
………Be well in your isolations as I am trying my best to be in mine,

…………………………………Christopher Woodman.

HOW RELICS REWRITE: Revisiting the Pieces.

A Preface to A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL which follows.

Fan Tail 450
The Old Windmill, Histon, Cambs, 1967.

“Histon is the small village near Cambridge where Christopher Woodman began to restore an old, much-loved windmill in the 1960s. The fan-tail which you see here drives a series of cogs and shafts that turn the whole top of the mill so the wind-blades always face the wind. This means that when Christopher Woodman looked out of his window from the Miller’s Cottage each morning he was never quite sure where he was as the world changed all its coordinates when the wind shifted directions in the night.”

…….……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*

To start with I want to say I have very few friends who read poetry and even fewer who read the poetry I write. This is partly because at two very important junctures in my life I quit poetry altogether, and as a poet I have no past.

The first time I quit was in my teens when I stopped writing because I knew my poetry was fake. Even at sixteen I was very aware that I wrote poetry because I wanted to be seen as a poet, and indeed I would cobble together anything and call it a poem, anything at all however scrambled or derivative. I put on a mask in order to hide my own struggle with myself, not to express it. I knew that at the time too, and indeed it’s one of the reasons I’m still so interested in Yeats who was also an out-of-touch adolescent with similar obsessions. On the other hand, Yeats built on a mythology that had everything to say in itself however much he fudged it, and of course he was also a genius. I did the same as Yeats did but with a great deal less skill and with no schtick at all as I was just as naive and unguarded as I am today. Yet I too won prizes, and even became editor of the literary magazine at my boarding school. I also pretended to be Shelley and even nourished the fantasy that Saint Paul’s was the girls-school that imprisoned 19 year old Percy Bysshe’s 16 year old Harriet. But I got a superb education all the same.

To make matters even more complicated, I had a beautiful soprano voice and from the age of 10 sang the solos in the St. Paul’s boy’s choir, Handel to Mendelssohn. I did it for that long because my voice remained clear as a bell until I was 16. And of course I was just getting ready to quit poetry at the same time as my voice was changing, and little did I realize what all that would mean for the latter part of my life.

To finish up the First Parting, then, I fell in love with the girl in the red silk dress also at 16, married her at 20, and had my first child as a sophomore at Columbia in 1960, just 5 days after I turned 21.

It was thus that women trumped poetry in my life, and in a sense still do. But I’m not in any way a threat to anybody, not even to myself, nor have I ever been ‘any of the above’ what is more promiscuous — indeed on the contrary, I’ve been much too fond and attached to my wives even when the marriages failed, and they were long ones which always made it especially hard to let them go (and in many ways I still haven’t, any of them).

And women have always been it in my poetry as well — Dante and Petrarch through Goethe and all the way to John Fowles and Alain-Fournier.  On the other hand, this has had little or nothing to do with my personal relationships with women but lies at the heart of what I might call my magical thinking, my inner life as a seriously engaged closet Buddhist who at the same time remains both an enfant terrible and an old hurt soul to this day.

And just to mention that I’m now in the 26th year of a marriage with a very real, dynamic, professional woman, Homprang Chaleekanha, and if you want to know more about that sort of relationship you should read Fig Leaf Sutras: a Memoir in Poems, 1990-2020, if you can just get ahold of it.

The Second Parting was not with writing poetry but with studying it as a graduate student at King’s College, Cambridge. C.S.Lewis accepted my research proposal based on the reading of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene I had developed under Professor Harry Berger at Yale, and C.S.Lewis was my Supervisor until he passed away leaving me just with the title of my thesis, “Polyphonic Narrative in Elizabethan Literature” — which remains to this day the origin of my style, my imagery, and my modus vivendi both as a poet and as a person.

That parting happened four years after my brother Tony’s accident in 1965. In the interval I had not only won a Research Fellowship at Christ’s College with my dissertation but at the same time had become the Chairman of the Cambridge University Buddhist Society, a delicate balancing act if there ever was one. And what I did then shocked everybody, even myself — `I resigned my Fellowship at Christ’s, tenure essentialy, sold my beloved windmill and orchard in the village of Histon, packed up my beautiful wife and by then 3 little girls, and went off to Scotland with a Tibetan Lama. But the really devastating event in that Second Parting was that my beautiful wife, aka ‘the girl in the red silk dress,’ departed with another of the Lama’s disciples and I found myself alone with 3 small children and a whole lot of relics — memories, images, artifacts, whatever you want to call them — all of which are still covered in the gold leaf that has always sanctified my turbulent, topsy-turvy past.

Sandpit Antique 400
The Windmill, Histon, Cambs. (1967)

La-Croix-Ma-Fille used to be called “Gold Leaf on the Waters,” but has now moved on to a title that’s more like life as mine actually is. And how I wish you could get ahold of that one too, which I could never say in any other words and suspect I shall never talk about altogether…

All the above is precisely what the three proper Threads that immediately follow this one are about:

………… ……..A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL; (+5+1(this one) ‘Comments’)

…………………FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO; (+24 ‘Comments’)

…………………IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED. (+50 ‘Comments’)

I restored the Histon Windmill at the same time that I was working on “The Faerie Queene” in the Miller’s Cottage where I lived with my wife and 3 little children at the base of the mill — those are wooden cog-wheels from the windmill I’m sitting on that I intended to repair as well. I had already rebuilt the whole fan-tail porch in hard wood and recovered the dome-like cap as well with lap-strake cedar. Fortunately there were still blacksmiths in Cambridgeshire at the time who knew how to find and/or recast the broken iron parts of the machinery just as my writing relocates and sometimes recasts the missing parts of myself and my life. Which this is doing too, but my poetry even better.

It’s my poetry that all this is about, of course — and there’s a whole lot more about it in the earlier thread. Indeed, this little essay is adapted from what was the 5th Comment following A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL,  and for the moment I’ve deleted it there.

But as I say so often, we’ll see,

Christopher

P.S. To get to A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL you can click on the title here.

 

A FORTHRIGHT APPEAL

CONFESSION, FABLE, or SHORT STORY?

The last two threads have occupied me almost compulsively for over six months, and in the process made me realize that I needed to be more forthright. And now five weeks later whatever it is has started to grow roots and the roots green sprouts — and even if it achieves nothing it’s still greening something in me bit by bit.

Last night I woke up with a word* and, not knowing what it meant, scribbled it out in the dark on the scrap of paper marking “The Invisible Woman” that was lying beside me. I copied it twice so I might be able to decipher it in the morning.

The last thread, “For Those Like Galileo,” concentrates on Part II of GALILEO’S SECRET in which the “secret” actually appears, though like me at the time you might not have been able to make out quite what it was, and this dream-word may actually be a cue. 

The earlier thread, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed: Off the Record at Eighty,” was begun at the end of November, 2019, getting ready for my 80th birthday coming up on December 7th. The critical parts explore the struggle to develop a voice of my own starting at the age of 50, while the “off-the-record” parts examine the specific problems I have had getting my work recognized from 1992 to the present — in other words, a whole additional lifetime in which to get born in the second half of a single life.

…..

AN APPEAL

If you’ve always wondered why there are earlier Scarriet.com threads and other revolutionary oddities in the ‘Cowpattyhammer.com’ Archives (2009-2010), or don’t understand what I am talking about when I refer to a ‘Foetry Resistance’ below, for example, you should start by reading how this site came into being in About the Author.  But don’t panic, there are no exposés or foul tidings lurking, just fun and more whimsy. Indeed, this blower’s whistle is becoming more and more of a panpipe everyday.

This is me today in my old slouch hat.Chiang Mai, 2020

And if you are also concerned to know why somebody like myself didn’t start writing poetry until he was 50, you might also want to see what he looked like in his 30s, and what he was thinking back there at the time. You can click here to see and read more about that other person who became me in preparation for what was to follow.

First of all, when I started writing poetry in the 1990s, I wasn’t really in a position to understand what was happening to me. Although I managed to publish a fair amount by 2009, and had even been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by then, my work was always sent out by ordinary mail to far-away strangers, and I never met an editor in person and only very rarely another poet. I had no MFA or poetry connections, and still don’t, and was living in the Far East so there was no local writing community to support me. Indeed, to this day I have never stood up to read at a Poetry Reading or attended a Poetry Workshop or Conference, and I have no way of knowing for certain if anyone has ever read one of my manuscript volumes right through, which is dire.

On the other hand, I managed to make the best out of the tools and faculties I had, and the proof of that is that I’m still writing today and am even more convinced of the value of my still evolving books. But at this point I do feel frustrated, and know it’s important to say brazenly and in public: Heads up! Christopher Woodman has not managed to publish a single poem in the last 10 years, and his 3 books remain unedited, unbound, unrepresented, and unavailable. It’s as serious as that, you see, which is why I feel I have to be forthright about it, not just celebrate it quietly all by myself on a shelf.

It may be hard to believe, but for 10 years now I have felt I was no longer a current, living poet, and that weighs on me even though I know it’s foolish. I’m different, I tell myself, I’m a bit over-educated as well as over-the-top, and yes, I do sometimes hold the world to unreasonable standards. I also know that every ‘Revolutionary Movement to Save the World,’ even ones as minor as my own, have always had their ambiguities. History tells us that, and biographies that ‘Revolutionaries’ are almost always a bit soft in the head, that otherwise they wouldn’t bother.

And why do I?

It’s a question of responsibility, I think. If my role in what might be called the ‘Foetry Resistance’ 10+ years ago still casts a shadow over my reputation as a poet today, I think that’s unfair as well as highly ironic. I took a stand. I was brave and resourceful, and partly as a result of my work some things did move on — consciousness was raised, procedures were clarified, and the private world of Poetry Publication and Prizes in America did become more transparent and democratic. And the proof of the power of my advocacy is witnessed by the fact that I was banned from all the most influential poetry sites at the time: pw.org, poets.org, and poetryfoundation.org/harriet, one after the other, and at the direction of the management all of whom knew each other. In addition, some of my most effective threads were ‘pruned,’ as one well-known moderator liked to call it, and even now I feel my person fading before my own eyes. It’s as if a quarantine order had been passed and Christopher Woodman were still deemed to be dangerously contagious even after a whole decade in isolation.

But isn’t it time we let all that go now, you and I both, along with our terrible pride and misplaced, self-justifying arguments? Because how many of us can throw the first stone when it comes to the timing of ‘Resistance’ acts like Colin Kaepernick’s knee, for example, or Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’ much-maligned grand-standing in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics? We’ve all got our fists in the air now, don’t we, and if we’ve got a pair of tight fitting leather gloves at home, don’t we pull them right on too and strut out? And don’t we  hold our heads as high as our fists and shout?

Which I did, and am doing again right here.

George Floyd’s death and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrations all over the world have moved me very deeply, and I know every one of us must now come to terms with the inequalities and injustices that have been built into our nation right from its founding. And the hardest part is not to revise our history but to come to terms with our own complicity in what we’ve become, our own blind eye, our own comfortable armchair, our own fine ‘property,’ ‘good school,’ ‘glad hand,’ ‘high art,’ and all that. And my feeling is that this is what lies behind the malaise at the heart of all our American social and economic values. “God and Property,” as the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, put it just a few days ago, and my feeling is that God must be turning in his grave to be so gratuitously coerced and walled-in!

…………..*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*

In this ‘Reassessment’ I’m not talking specifically about racism, which is obviously America’s single, most egregious social and economic distortion. I’m using racism as a handle to grasp those even deeper, indeed fundamental aberrations that undermine our culture on every level: turf, privilege, and money. (Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas just re-affirmed the old historical justification of slavery as a “necessary evil,” making it clear that he believes it was worth whatever it took back in the 17th and 18th Centuries to achieve what his people have come to call “Great” in America and that they want back again today. And what a tragic, blind and cruel irony that is!)

And look at these two great American heroes as they emerge from that struggle to address us today:

Tommie Smith, 1944 (1968!) 2020

John Carlos, 1945 (1968!) 2020

Because those were the values that so alienated these timelessly gifted men, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, even at the moment they were being awarded Gold and Bronze Medals at the 1968 Olympics. As the American National Anthem was being played, they did not put their right hands on their hearts to honor the flag but instead raised them in the air as Black Panthers full of arrogant, revolutionary defiance, militants fighting not for the USA but for Self Respect. And look at them in these photos now, and tell me they weren’t right.

That’s what I want to say about my own dilemma too, and why I want to be more “forthright” even if I am just a very minor poet working on a very small, very local level. Because I raised my fist too, and I’m still being punished for it.

Of course I was by no means a major player in the ‘Foetry Resistance’ but more like the third figure, the Australian Silver Medalist who stood on that podium in 1968 as well and who has been all but forgotten today. This is the man who set the 200m World Record in one of his heats, a record which lasted until Tommie Smith broke it a few days later in the finals. But, just a blink of an eye behind the Gold Medal winner, the man below still remains the Australian 200m Record holder to this day!

Peter Norman, 1942 (1968!) d.2005

But he did even more than that by selflessly standing up for a cause that wasn’t even his own, and who suffered so disproportionately for it. Indeed, he was banned from Australian athletics for the rest of his life, can you imagine?

PETER NORMAN!

The specific details of what I did myself don’t really matter, and I certainly have no intention of going back over the transcripts to see who said or did what or didn’t etc. But a poet is like an athlete as well, there’s that sort of commitment, passion and, yes, vulnerability — because it has always got to be proved and verified again and again. And you can see it’s still there in all of us in the photos too, old men still on the line.

When it comes to the details of my own story I’m speaking in tongues, of course. Indeed, it will be only those who were there with me at the time, cohorts or combatants, who will be able to understand fully what I’m saying about what happened to me personally, what is more be in a position to do something about it. To draw out the poison from my person, so to speak, the chutzpah as well as the charisma, and let my poetry be read.

………*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*

As a start I’d like editors today to read some of my poetry as did James Laughlin, Theodore Weiss, Marvin Malone, Alice Quinn, Marilyn Hacker, Joseph Parisi, David Young, Lee Sharkey, Dan Veech, and Susan Terris, among the many distinguished editors who published my work and/or reached out to help me 10, 15, 20 years ago.

I sent “Connemara Trousers” to The New Yorker, one of my earliest submissions. Alice Quinn wrote back right away. “Much too long,” she said, ” — try The Kenyon Review.” And Marilyn Hacker said  “Yes!”

And now there are three precious books just waiting to stand up:

GALILEO’S SECRET, Two Decades of Poems under House Arrest; LA CROIX MA FILLE, Hexes, Ruins, Riddles & Relics; FIG LEAF SUTRAS: A Memoir in Poems, 1990-2020.

Theodore Weiss selected a very early version of GALILEO’S SECRET as a finalist just before ill-health forced him to retire after editing the QRL for 50 years. Wiki says; “Ted Weiss showcased emerging and major writers including William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, Thomas Merton, Mark Van Doren, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, and Jean-Paul Sartre, and also introduced some that were not widely known to Americans, including Franz Kafka and Eugenio Montale.”

I still have the little scraps of note-pad paper on which Ted Weiss encouraged me with his stubby pencil. They are among my most precious relics.

I share my even earlier correspondence with James Laughlin with the Houghton Library at Harvard, but I think my hard copy is probably the top one he stripped off his old Remington to mail to me in person. I didn’t even have a book to show him at the time, just individual poems which he liked enough to write a lot to me, and to share with me his own struggles too as I am sharing mine with you.

But that’s enough. Now it’s time for no blame. Christopher Woodman …..

* RECEPTACLE:

1. Object: A container that holds items or matter; 2. Botany: The expanded tip of a flower stalk or axis that bears the floral parts or the florets of the flower head; 3. Electronics : A fitting connected to a power supply and equipped to receive a plug; 4. Poetry: A supra-dimensional quantum or ‘ravishment’ as contemplated in a spontaneous celestial observation.

….. THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS

FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO

……….
Peniche Original

……….
…….FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO WHO NO LONGER READ
……………………………………………..Le Canal de Bourgogne *

……………….So where are they now the poems
……………….for those who do no longer read
……………….but lose their way in words,
……………….their overheated selves
……………….closed down like God’s own
……………….disowned fools in
……………….damp, forgotten locks
……………….and other fasts and solitudes—
……………….fisher kings, tall stilt-legged birds,
……………….the mist-wrapped walker with
……………….the busy dog and old slouch hat—
……………….mute, pre-dawn souls bewildered by
……………….the wash and roar of meanings when it’s all
……………….gunnel-rubbing function transport
……………….pumping huge breast-plates of
……………….greased iron up and down
……………….a ruined cut?

……………….In what remains of waterways
……………….the late unharnessed signs
……………….solicit violence from the banks—
……………….they gesture darkly from the verges,
……………….they flash behind the trees.
……………………..DO NOT PASS HERE
……………….someone shouts with dented palms.
…………………………..BLACK SPOT
……………….cries another lover, forehead
……………….rusting with bullet holes.
……………….And what’s that hanging man
……………….muttering in the shadows
……………….underneath the low bridge?
……………………………..STOOP
……………….he seems to be saying, taking
……………….some deeply-laded pleasure
……………….on all fours.

……………….Or is such uninhibited display
……………….just loose sluice valves stuttering?

……………….For see—
……………….how easy it is to swing
……………….those mossy lock-gates to
……………….and turn the handles down,
……………….the act that predicates
……………….a dryer route, faster,
……………….less brave and spectacular,
……………….its tow paths like third rails
……………….that sheltered spark
……………….over-night delivery,
……………….shinnying under ground.

……………….I want poems for those
……………….who are like me
……………….not chosen to dance
……………….by the girl in the red silk dress,
……………….that the words may be hard
……………….and penitential like the chairs
……………….we fast to inhabit while
……………….we wait by the wall,
……………….plain and patient
……………….until the music stops
……………….and we all go home.

……………….Write me a dozen poems
……………….that cover their heads in white
……………….like girls who have taken vows.
……………….I will listen hunkered down
……………….with the quiet doves at dawn
……………….while they kneel humbly in starch
……………….and crocus dust for seven days,
……………….the ecclesiastical calendar
……………….going from purple to green.
……………….The lines will tremble
……………….around their eyes
……………….like veins in silver leaves.

……………….Oh, I’d lock into
……………….any old post-industrial canal
……………….to hear such winsome
……………….angel rhymes and
……………….early morning cloister traffic—

……………….the reverie of antique grease like myrrh
……………….or amber-wax on iron plates,
……………….the stricken wicks,
……………….the cranks like icon sheets
……………….turned down for one last night
……………….beside the basins full of spirit silt,
……………….the huge rustling posts and pedestals
……………….that mesmerize the undergrowth,
……………….murmuring in the rushes where no moth
……………….wrapped in its own juices has no robe
……………….or swaddled Moses goes unfloated.

……………….And all the while the mist-wrapped
……………….walker’s sheltered track,
……………….the busy dog,
……………….the heron’s tact.

…………………………from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of Poems
………………………………..Under House Arrest, Part III, pps.33-35. * *
…………………………………………[from an unpublished m.s.]
………
………………………………………………..Christopher Woodman

……* NOTE:
The early industrial canal provided the most important transport for heavy cargo in much of Europe right up to the 1980s, yet few recall how the gates, cranks and levers worked, the intricate water supply and the long ‘reaches’ through the countryside. The Canal de Bourgogne, a truly sacred relic with its almost 200 shaded locks, climbs up through the Burgundy region of central France and then descends toward Paris, linking the Mediterranean with the English Channel through the Yonne and the Seine rivers. An engineering masterpiece, it put the finishing touches on one of the most beautiful old-world landscapes in Europe.

The Canal de Bourgogne is one of the places I have loved most in my long life away from home, and is still one of the closest to the holy place in my heart. I still rejoice in the thought of it but know I will never visit it again as it is no longer a working canal, just a playground, and I’m not interested in that as I so loved working my way through it. And I’m still working my way through it in my place of exile far from home, and still wrestling with having lost so much that was once so familiar…

……* * UNDER HOUSE ARREST:
I have a number of poems like this one which I have sent out to journals over the years, but as none of them has ever made their way into print, this side of my work is completely unknown. In addition I have 4 ‘long’ poems (300 to 500 lines) only one of which has been published, and that quite miraculously just after it was written way back in 1992. (If you’ve never read “Connemara Trousers” (362 lines) you can click on the title and have a look at it now.)

The present poem is more difficult, I know, but so was Galileo’s predicament. The technical canal imagery is not widely known, “locking-in” and “locking out,” for example, and the violence in phrases like “gunnel-rubbing” and “loose sluice-valves stuttering” is certainly uncomfortable. I suspect the convent imagery will make some readers feel uncomfortable as well, and some may throw up their hands in despair at the surrealistic muddle of liturgical, mechanical, and mystical imagery at the climax of the poem.  On the other hand, my feeling is that the poem explores faith, frustration and displacement issues on an appropriate and comprehensible level, in so far as such impasses can ever be comprehensible. A sensitive reader who has been through a similar Galileo-like “house arrest,” and I think many of us have, will understand the extreme discomfort that that entails, and the loneliness. Even more importantly, I think they will understand the mysterious resolution and sense of liberation, almost of joy, at the end.

………………………………………………………………………………….Christopher Woodman

…….[Click to go back through to such an end.]……….

…………………THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS

IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED: Off the Record at Eighty.

……………………………“I am on the side of angels and of dirt.”
………………………………………………Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

The Lovers (The Dustman) (1934) *

……

…………….GRAVITY’S RAINBOW:
………………………..Sunday in the park with Sir Stanley

……………………O rejoice in the women,
……………………and the white perfect ducks
……………………with their fashionable heads in the mud,
……………………how they tether themselves down
……………………with pegs in the ground
……………………so they won’t float up in the air,
……………………the feathery dry air that is brighter than gold
……………………but stays unredeemed on the shelf.

……………………For the ducks like the women
……………………turn weight upside down
……………………by the water on Sunday to stay down,
……………………not to be better, or up nearer the sun —
……………………like buskers, fine philharmonic
……………………conductors, preachers, teachers,
……………………invalids in chariots, toddlers and clowns,
……………………all creatures with sweet little flippers that tickle the air,
……………………as pliant as play-dough or beeswax,
……………………useless as paperweight slippers,
……………………ballast for butterflies, barbells for kittens —
……………………perfect as the lead in the magician’s tight furnace
……………………or the sticky brown muck in God’s oven.

……………………“O the big wide basket of my body,”
……………………the duck woman cries,
……………………“O the piles of starched linen, the fillips,
……………………the white cotton aprons and tea-towels
……………………folded so nicely in my trembling arms,
……………………down on my knees by the pool!

……………………“Take this fine little turn-up,
……………………for example,” she says,
……………………“do you see how it’s paddled and done?
……………………“The masterful curl at the end of the tail,
……………………how the bottom turns upward as if at a ball,
……………………the crinoline, the petticoats,
……………………the old-fashioned drawers that kick highest of all —
……………………and O how they flutter with each do-si-do,
……………………and how the heart goes — can’t you feel it?
……………………And aren’t it worth the applause?”

…………………… “Come on in then, come on in!”
……………………the duck-caller cries,
……………………and when she comes in on his arm
……………………to waddle like a lover on the velvety floor
……………………or soon to be mother,
……………………which is very good too,
……………………how he dips by the water for a nod or a snooze
……………………any day in the park, old poet by the pool —
……………………takes his nap on a folding green chair and the paper,
……………………a moist royal nap amongst women,
……………………head-over-heels in God’s pool.

………………………………..from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of
……………………………………….poems under House Arrest. Part 5, p.58.
…………………………………………….[from an unpublished m.s.]

…………

AD HOC
This poem from the very end of GALILEO’S SECRET has a whole bibliography just waiting to be discovered by some ardent young academic a few years after my death. “And the guy never got published,” he may recount breathlessly to his friends over his latte at Starbucks. “So nobody’s ever done him!”

For a whole lot more on what’s to be done, the discussion continues below — and needless to say, anybody is welcome to join in ruffling through the profligate mess. **

……………………………………..Christopher Woodman
…………

……* NOTE #1:
“dustman” in England is to this day what Americans call a “garbageman.” In Sir Stanley Spencer’s The Lovers (The Dustman) (click on the title to see the whole painting better), the dustman/artist is in the arms of the most important lover who is offering him the last of the fresh milk in a jug. The other lovers are offering him bits of sacred garbage from the “dustbins” he so loved to see set out on the street every Tuesday morning in Cookham: a broken teapot, some cabbage leaves, an empty jam tin.

I have just added an INTERJECTION on Sir Stanley Spencer here. Indeed, you should have a look in this particular ‘dustbin’ ahead of time as this whole “off-the-record” thread has been conceived in similar terms. In other words, you have to look!

……** NOTE #2:
A REPLY can be inserted anywhere you wish in the discussion. A COMMENT will always appear at the very end of the thread.

…………
…………………THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS

NOT ‘HAT;’ WHAT’S UNDER THE HAT ON THE ROCK.

Hat on the Rock 450
………………
This photo was taken last Sunday by Lisa Levine — we were at the bottom of the Montathan series of waterfalls in the jungle very near Wat Pha Lad. Lisa showed me the hat photo first, then the one of what it’s like to be under the hat on the rock a day later, and if you click on the hat you can see the underside too — as I would like always to be seen, I admit, and of course know that I rarely am.

You are unlikely to remember the little poem below, it’s so unassuming — I posted it four years ago on the thread called One for Sorrow, Two for Joy. Yet the poem is still very much on my mind, and has come to have a special place in LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE: Hexes, Ruins, Riddles & Relics. That’s the the “book of poems & relics” Julija Lebedeva has been illuminating, and which I’ve been talking quite a lot about recently. Indeed, it’s often the simplest and most naive poems from my past that come to speak to me most forcibly in the present, and this is certainly one of them. Another irony is that “Daedalus Brief” was one of the first poems I ever submitted to an editor for publication, and in Paris no less, so you’d expect it to be a lot more sophisticated than it is. But I knew nothing at all about anything at the time — I was only 51, after all, not a very big age for knowing much about what is simple and true. Because I was not yet the person under the hat on the rock but the boy in the air with the father’s brief folded up impatiently in his pocket. And everything else ahead was just a “hunch,” like the fanciful  suspension of disbelief  in this poem which I have been practicing ever since.

………………
……………………….DAEDALUS BRIEF

………………………….If you jump high enough to know
………………………….exactly how to stay afloat

………………………….if you suspend your breath
………………………….just at the point the next begins

………………………….and spread your shoulders
………………………….gently out like this and this

………………………….feeling each porous blade
………………………….expand with gently harnessed air

………………………….your altitude a little lower than
………………………….the height which makes you think

………………………….but higher than the space below
………………………….while having nowhere else to go

………………………….then you, my son, will never have
………………………….to stretch for some new stunt to please

………………………….or words to pray
………………………….or be.

……………………………………..in Fire Readings, A Collection of Contemporary
……………………………………..Writing from the Shakespeare & Co. Fire Benefit.

………………………………………………………………………………..(Paris, 1991)

Christopher
………..

NOTE: “Daedalus Brief” is now placed just before one of the ‘crux’ poems in the new illuminated version of LA-CROIX-MA-FILLE.

You can read the poem that follows “Daedalus Brief” and an updated, 2020, discussion of what lies behind both poems HERE.  And there’s more on the same  in the Post Script at the end of the original 2014 version — Cowpattyhammer is a whole mountain of such ‘gathering rewrites,’ as I call them.

Needless to say, I don’t call a spade a spade here as I’m a poet. But if anybody reading this wants to suggest what he or she would rather call it what is more what it actually is, I’d be all ears. Because there are as many other words for such digging as there are angels dancing on the head of a pin — which is, of course, yet another ancient, outdated speculation that has become cutting-edge fodder for physicists in our times.

C.

LA CROIX MA FILLE

LA CROIX 512
[You can click your way right onto Julija’s desk in Baan Uii Dee.]

It’s three months later and Julija is back, and I’m writing what follows as much for her as for you and me. Because we’re all working on this project together, though Julija’s Latvian, of course — Russian is her first language, Latvian her second, lives in Norway and was brought up in the Russian Orthodox Church, all powerful influences on her work. Today Julija’s desk is no longer under the volcano on Bali as it was before but up here on the porch of one of our old wooden farmhouses in Chiang Mai where she’s working on the first draft of a cover for La Croix Ma Fille. If you click on the sketch you can see in detail what’s emerging, an illuminated vision every bit as fey yet as final as the book’s last words:

……………………………………..grâce à la croix,
……………………………………..grâce à la fille,
……………………………………..fleurs de sel,
……………………………………..delivery.

…………….

PERSONAL NOTE: Please, please don’t worry about the French — indeed, if you don’t speak French the lines may well say more to you than if you do. Because French phrases and place-names have come to have an almost sacred quality in the anglophone imagination,  like “je t’aime” and “Côte d’Azur” for example — or for gourmands at least, “sauté,” “vinaigrette” and, most beautifully and appropriately of all, “fleurs de sel.”  In my experience, poetic phrases based on subliminal, polyglot fantasies come more out of the shadows of the heart than the light of the head, indeed, they resonate magically like Shanti Shanti Shanti  and Amen — in silence, or in tongues, or under the bed.

And be honest with yourselves. Which word in the above lines do you really not understand? Is it by any chance “Delivery?” Well, me neither — which is why the whole book not only got written but still matters!

C.

…………………………..

SOME NOTES FOR JULIJA

“La Croix Ma Fille” is the local nick-name for a 170 year old stone memorial just outside the Breton fishing village of Le Croisic. The cross stands alone on the cliffs of the Côte Sauvage high above one of the most dangerous lee-shores on the whole north-west coast of France — which is why the title is in French as well as why the love story that runs through it is set there.

But what makes these rocks particularly menacing is that they are right beside the entrance to Le Traict du Croisic ( = “the tract, area, sand flats of Le Croisic”), one of the safest havens for storm-tossed mariners on the whole of the Brittany coast but extremely difficult to get into in heavy weather. And that’s the terrible irony, because as the mariner-poet runs for the perfect shelter behind the breakwater he takes the risk of being dashed on the rocks just on the other side of his salvation, and many widows have been made in one last desperate effort to avert that all too familiar disaster.  Like the tides of life, half a dozen of one equals six of the other — and of course that applies to any dangerous crossing what is more love story like this one.

La Crox Ma Fille B:W tweaked 1 copyThe stone cross in question was erected as a memorial to a much loved daughter who died on the rocks below on August 7th, 1845 — its inscription reads simply, À MA FILLE/ 7 AOUT/ 1845. Over time the local people have  realized that this solitary, wind-swept cross has a life of its own, and that it’s power resides in the mysterious phrase, “la-croix-ma-fille.” Indeed, this tragic stone cross has become a sort of magical ‘hex’ or ‘totem’ for the Le Croisic community, a ‘spirit house’ one might even call it (‘hôtel’ in French is ‘altar’ in English). Whatever, the local people know that what they now call La Croix Ma Fille can reach out to their storm-bound loved ones as they struggle to stay off the terrible rocks below, that in the darkest moments its power guides and protects them like a lighthouse or an angel, and brings them safely home to the hearth in one piece.

“Fille,” of course, can mean either ‘daughter’ or ‘girl’ in French, just as “my girl” in English can mean ‘my daughter’ or ‘my girlfriend.’ So the expression, “la-croix-ma-fille,” just says “the cross my girl,” which is what it says in the title of the book as well as in Samson’s haiku at the beginning and in the long poem at the very end. And it’s that mystery which is at the heart of what Julija is trying to illustrate too (I like this attempt in particular — and this one because it’s by Samson which means it’s even closer to home…).

Perhaps it’s clearest of all at the very end of the poem called “La Croix Ma Fille” — it’s Part IX of the long poem called “Fleurs de Sel” which terminates the book. I’ve never put up this poem before, and have a feeling I’ll eventually chicken out and take it back home and look after it in silence for the rest of my life.

But in case I don’t, I just want to say that there’s a boat beached on the sand flats of the “Traict du Croisic” at low tide with four heavy anchors set out fore and aft, two off the ‘samson-post’ on the foredeck and two more off the post on the stern, the rush of the last outgoing tide having been as ferocious as that which will surge back from the opposite direction in just an hour or two more.

…..
……………………………..LA CROIX MA FILLE

………………………………….Relict fast on an alien strand
………………………………….flaked out like an idle rope—
…..
………………………………….the plaits loose in their tress,
………………………………….the cradled belly soft and toes

………………………………….uncleated, the cross of the limbs
………………………………….a hammock loosely swung between

………………………………….four great anchor posts dry but deep
………………………………….in the leavening sand where the gulls

………………………………….wait the turn like soft marbles
………………………………….disposed on a board of white leather

………………………………….worked to a maiden smoothness
………………………………….fresh, unstained, released from all

………………………………….the muscle loads and lust
………………………………….of the great beast that once in-

………………………………….habited that hide, the tongue
………………………………….cupped in the silent cavity

………………………………….of words all said and signed
………………………………….and thoughts a mirror sunk

………………………………….like the sea when it lies down
………………………………….in the sand to sleep, its blind might

………………………………….cupped in the great callused hands
………………………………….that lie half-closed, half-open—

………………………………….infant hands that once
………………………………….and once only water held

………………………………….and wash and wash
………………………………….like off-shore bells—

………………………………….grâce à la croix,
………………………………….grâce à la fille,

………………………………….fleurs de sel,
………………………………….delivery.
…………

I thank you for still being there, and ask that you continue to be gentle too,
Christopher

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

An antique Relic found amongst the Ruins,
thought to be Samson’s.

He Reflects / 450………………….[Click twice on the old script to read it more easily.]

A further antique Relic thought to be Samson’s:
illuminations on Jūlija’s desk under the volcano on Bali.

0831 / 450

…………….God Burns 4 …………..[Click twice on both to see better, & read carefully for clues to decipher the text.]

Dear Jūlija,……………………………………………………….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 unique, and uniquely great, American poet who also had a uniquely troubled life. He died just two and a half years ago after a long 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 For Franz Wright (2010) cited in my previous post. In particular you can read his Comment 34 followed by his Comments 38 & 39, and finally his very moving last Comment 41.  (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 40, which will give you an idea of how I dealt with all this at the time.

Insufficiently, needless to say, and why I have felt compelled to revisit the original thread 7 years later, and of course why I am dedicating “He Reflects on What his Genius Means” to Franz Wright along with your beautiful illuminations.

Also why I have high-lighted in blue the discussion with my co-editor at the time, the anti-modernist critic, Tom Brady, who mocked Franz Wright ferociously both as a poet and as a person throughout. My feeling is that readers will be interested not only in Tom Brady’s ‘Old- (as opposed to ‘New-) Critical’ views but also in the way my own understanding of both ‘the poet’ and ‘poetry’ in general developed during the discussion. Because I was caught between a rock and a very hard place, pushing against two uncompromising Savanarolas, Tom Brady on the own hand and Franz Wright on the other, the former dismissing my poem, “Leonardo Amongst Women,” as “didactic” and the latter as “perfectly awful.”

Which was a lot to deal with then, and still is.

[Cont. in the Comments.]

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

sleeps in the monring 450……………………………………………………………..“Morning” by Dod Procter (1926).

………………………………………………………………………… December 2nd, 2017
My writing is for me like a journal that sleeps in 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 had 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 any old way…
………………

[continued…] ……………………………………………………………… December 3rd, 2017


…..

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

[continued…] ……………………………………………………………… 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.

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

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

O Fool of Earth 450

……………………………………………………………………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?

Here is the “relic” as it appears in my typed m.s. in 12 point Lucida Calligraphy — that’s as far as I dare to go for open submissions, but I’d love to see what a good book designer could do with the fonts, colors and spacing . It’s a ‘Haiku’ as well as a ‘Relic,’ of course, so there’s that too to take into consideration.

O Fool of Earth - Relic

Jūlija’s version of the same poem at the top of the page 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 still goes to  Caravaggio*  for that, the saint’s bare head, her lap, the nipple, and God flaring up all over the place…).
………………

*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 middle-school 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: (the poet deconstructs somebody else’s haiku…)

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, surprisingly, strict 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 like the swish of the axe to the block. 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: (deconstructing the spirits’ beguiling but awful mess…)

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 like hope 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: (deconstructing indiscretions…)

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. It’s 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 GALILEO’S SECRET: 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)

………………………
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CLICK THRICE, THEN LET ME KNOW

“I want poems that don’t tell secrets but are full of them.”
………………………………………………………………………….Stanley Kunitz
..
SONY DSC SONY DSC
……………….photos by Brigitte Garnier

..

..

..So what do people do?
..Is what they do who they are?
..Click twice on each, then let me know.
………………………….Christopher

..

..

..
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ONE FOR SORROW, TWO FOR JOY

Piero de la Farncesca 475..Piero della Francesca, Nativity (1475) (you can click on it to see the birds better)

…..
……………………..POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC

………………………..“Two magpies,” she wrote him
………………………………….on shore again in February.

………………………..He propped them up above
………………………………….the herb jars in the galley

………………………..all that winter while she
………………………………….traveled overland in Africa—

………………………..others hung there too, almost
………………………………….a dozen as the days lengthened

………………………..and the bright green shoots
………………………………….shone like spring in porthole pots.

………………………..He lay more naked in his letters then
………………………………….but the light-sick moths powdered

……………………….his thighs, made his eyes
………………………………….dapple and water as if he missed her.

………………………..Then she wrote again about
………………………………….small birds that migrate pole to pole

………………………..and told him he really ought
………………………………….to have more Arctic dreams.

………………………..It was then he began to notice
…………………………………the way the sheets twisted oh so

………………………..tight like water-wings about him.
………………………………….He wrote her twice to Porto Ferraio

………………………..but the letters came back
………………………………….to an empty berth and bits

………………………..of white silk on the bulwarks
………………………………….as if he’d undressed or cracked

………………………..in the terrible rush of the hatch—
………………………………….the brightness of a sheltered reach

………………………..perhaps, the ease with which
………………………………….mayflies rise on the silvery stream.

…………………………………………………..~

I was encouraged to find this list of popular references to my Latin title, which I feel sure will cause difficulties sooner or later — and now I know there are even children out there who can stand up for me. So I’m not so hard after all.

The second episode of The West Wing, titled “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”, makes use of the phrase.

In the first episode of the third season of The Big Bang Theory, “The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation”, Sheldon Cooper states to his mother that she is committing this logical fallacy.

In the Dinosaur Comics comic titled Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, T-Rex points out this logical fallacy committed by Utahraptor.

Tim Minchin explains this phrasing in his 2010 comedy special “Ready For This.”

The thirteenth episode from the sixth and final season of “Crossing Jordan” uses “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” as the title of the episode.

In ‘Fortune,’ a season 10 episode of Smallville, Dr. Emil Hamilton, while being tortured by Amos Fortune for information, quotes the phrase and then explains its meaning.
…….

But will these viewers ask themselves “post hoc, ergo propter hoc?” when they re-evaluate their own lives as this poem re-evaluates my own? And will they suspect it’s in fact a love poem, or will they just know it’s a nativity at sea or at least somewhere on or near the surface of water?

And what about the magpies in both? One is all very well, like in the painting, but the “dozen” in the poem? Will they worry about that, because it’s my fondest hope they will?

…………………………………………………..~

This is a very small poem in a very small style, indeed as bare and simple as a Piero della Francesca painting, and as dependent on faith. That means your faith, the faith you have in yourself, the viewer, not in Jesus or Mary or anything like that but just in how much faith you are able to bring to whatever you see without rhyme or reason, like that tiny little bird on the left, or the big one on the stable roof for that matter, which is unmistakably a magpie. How still can you rest as you view two birds like that, for example, how long can you hold your gaze without blinking, without starting all over again to define what you see in relation to who you are, where you stand, what you expect, and what you know about me? Can you do that? Can you rest in uncertainties when you don’t even know who a poem is by or what it’s getting at? Can you trust yourself, in other words, and not just rush in to either explain it away, or appropriately file it ditto?

Like the poem of Gennadiy Aygi I quoted a few weeks ago and nobody seems to have noticed? Or Pierre Puvis de Chavannes?

Can you be as quiet and uncritical as that? Even if, as in my case, I’m the poet and I’m not Russian or French?

Or what if a friend sent you this poem because he or she wanted you to have it. Would you hold back the joy or the sorrow?

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

TEA BREAK BY THE FORGE

The forge is a hot and noisy place—but it has it’s quiet moments too, and even that blast of red hot flame pumped up by the bellows can quiet down and brew a nice pot of tea.

DSCN3871 - Inle Lake Forge

The events leading up to Galileo’s house arrest were full of such hot air too as the modern world was in the forge, so to speak, and the hammer blows were hard.

But now we can stop and use another sort of hammer, like delicate compost that flakes in your hands like spring snow to lift up your plants and make them flower. Think about that — let those hammer blows flower like that kettle on the fire.

………………………………………
There was a huge amount of hot air generated in the Vatican in the decade leading up to Galileo’s censure in 1615. But it’s very important to remember how complex the riddle was. Galileo understood very well the Curia’s position, as the records show, and tried his best to explain why placing the sun at the center of a Copernican “solar system” could be reconciled with a theocentric, Ptolemaic interpretation of the same phenomena. And I think almost certainly the Church leaders understood both sides of the argument as well, though its pastoral obligations led the Curia to assert that it was a simple either/or issue which had to be decided on the basis of Authority, not Science. For that was the primary function of the Church, and still is — to serve the struggling Faithful by defending their Faith with Theology.

The paradoxes of life are unthinkable to the majority of people who are, like me, better at imagining perfection than at observing facts. On the other hand, gifted souls have always understood that as human beings we have intellectual as well as sense-based faculties, and I feel sure that primitive people had a much deeper understanding of the human condition than we give them credit for. I mean, do you think the naked little Good-fella didn’t understand and use the power of the intellect to thrive with so little for 30,000 years in the harsh Australian desert, or the Bushman in the equally harsh Kalahari? Or the Inuit in the ice? Or the Navajo? Do you think they weren’t intelligent or inspired enough to understand who they were and how to look after themselves for such a long time and in such a positive way?

I have none of those gifts myself — my eyes are blind to what I feel sure they saw, and some still see, indeed my intellectual powers are dwarfed by comparison with theirs. That’s why I turn to them, for a deeper understanding of my own isolation and poverty. And of course I turn to anyone whose words I can read too, or whose paintings I can look at, or costumes, or drama, or dreams even — for a glimpse that would make me, like Wordsworth, less forlorn. And of course I turn to great misunderstood scientists too to understand my own misunderstanding, and wasn’t Galileo Galilei the greatest and the most gratuitously misunderstood of them all?

When at last the Church rehabilitated Galileo over 300 years later, Pope John Paul II called it “a tragic mutual incomprehension,” which indeed it was — the pie has two halves but at the time everybody ended up with just half, and that’s all most of us are left with too, needless to say. On the other hand, I feel sure there have always been human beings who were able to reconcile the mind-boggling contradictions of the whole pie of life, like the fact that, despite all appearances and ‘proofs’ to the contrary, the soul exists in many places at once, in the theocentric mind for a start, then in the heliocentric body, and then everywhere, and of course, most certainly and most mysteriously of all, nowhere. Even more importantly, such human beings have always understood that such realms were a.) not separate and b.) non-existent in the sense that we experience the soul nowhere but in our own largely wishful, self-centered thinking. And I feel our understanding of all that is dwindling, that our modern minds are ever more conditioned by the demands of our well-serviced, well-exercised and well-medicated bodies. Indeed, we’ve got to the point now where we can only think like our bodies work, i.e. with minds fastened like railway bogies to our underbodies, strictly in one mode and strictly zapping down hi-speed rails. And as a poet I would say that the alternative to that way of thinking isn’t old-fashioned Mysticism or Theosophy either, what is more New Age fantasies about Purity, Spiritual Energy and Past Lives, etc. — which are all self-serving and equally materialistic. As a poet I’d say that wherever the soul is has got to be nowhere like that, indeed I’d say it’s got to be much closer to that no place where God lies stone dead.

Which is precisely how the language I’m looking for does it, and why such words are more important today than they have been ever before. It’s all we’ve got left yet we’ve only just started using the word in our times as a tool like a hex, jinx or spell.

One other inkling. In my experience, what might be called wise people have never been much interested in the idea of an individual soul what is more eternal life or personal salvation. It would be so selfish for one thing, to be alone with oneself like that for so long. And who would deserve it for another? Even a saint would surely have doubts about that, indeed, above all a saint.

By definition, Wisdom is associated with coming to terms with the paradox of birth as a brief prelude to death on the one hand, and life as the sole immortality on the other. Wisdom knows there is nothing in religious dogma but approximations and carrots, that in reality everything’s just nothing, and that nevertheless that nothing’s love. Yes, love, an embarrassing little Hallmark platitude of a word like that, yet still it creeps in if you’re Wise. On the other hand, to say it better or more truthfully requires that hardest of all things to be, a fool.

Like Emily Dickinson on the subject, and who could ever say it better than this?

……

…………….The Soul selects her own Society–
…………….Then–shuts the Door–
…………….To her divine Majority–
…………….Present no more–

…………….Unmoved–she notes the Chariots–pausing–
…………….At her low Gate–
…………….Unmoved–an Emperor be kneeling
…………….Upon her mat–

…………….I’ve known her–from an ample nation–
…………….Choose One–
…………….Then–close the Valves of her attention–
…………….Like Stone–
……………………………………………………..Emily Dickinson (1862)

……

And does she mean Samuel Bowles? Does she mean sex?

Yes, I think so. That too. Because I think she knew herself both as a woman and as this painting by the Latvian painter, Normunds Braslins, in gold leaf and egg tempera:
……
Normunds Braslins - Girl Large ………………………………….Normunds Braslins, Riga, Latvia (1962- )
……

So that’s it, everybody. Of course this thread was from the start exploratory and still isn’t sure what it’s trying to say, though it might have this morning, Monday, March 17th, 2014.

That’s because much to my amazement I found myself yesterday face to face with a prostrate figure on top of a mountain, and if any Sunday moment wants to capture the whereabouts of the soul I think it’s going to have to be shaped, contoured and colored something like that.

…………………………..I’ve known her–from an ample nation–
…………………………..Choose One–
…………………………..Then–close the Valves of her attention–
…………………………..Like Stone–

I’ll try to get to that again when I can, but it’s not easy.

Christopher Woodman

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BORDANDO el MANTO TERRESTRE by Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo“Bordando el Manto Terrestre” [ Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle ] (1961) by Remedios Varo.

The Cowpattyhammer management apologizes for having closed “Make It New!” so abruptly.

One of the casualties was that we never got a chance to look at this painting by the Spanish-Mexican painter and anarchist, Remedios Varo. The title means “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle,” and the imagery is probably the closest we got to the “secret” that was such an important part of the discussion. My own feeling is that with the exception of the sculpture of the tall Aborigine woman and her daughter that introduced the previous thread, this extraordinary painting was probably the most relevant.

You can click here to look at the painting in more detail. Once you have moved in, the definition of the graphic is quite high so you can zoom in as much as you like. Indeed, I’d be very interested to hear what you see.

In addition, if there are any matters arising from the previous thread do feel free to comment below — the management is very grateful to the increasing numbers of people who visited the site in the last weeks of the discussion, and would be very pleased to have more feedback.
………………

NOTICE March 11th, 2014:
Thread Closed for Comments.

This thread is now closed for comments — 1 less than 80 is a lot, and I hope very much that those of you who have not had the opportunity to dip into it further will take the chance to do so.

The thread was designed to deal with some of the issues that were left hanging at the end of the previous thread, “Make It New,” which ended upside down in the grass. Those issues are stalled for the moment, needless to say, but I think the final discussion of Emily Dickinson’s “haunted house” imagery probably took us as far as we could go anyway, under the circumstances.

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

MAKE IT NEW!

 Aborigine Woman

                               Many thanks to AUSTRAVELPHOTOGRAPHY for the photo. 

People have always felt the world was going down the tubes — from “hey, look at her!” to “ubi sunt,” indeed long before anybody ever thought to make it new!

One of the cultures I most admire is that of the indigenous people of Australia. What culture has ever produced greater artists, richer myths, or more healing images? Yet when they lost their past, all 30,000 years of it, it took just a few decades to bankrupt them entirely, economically, culturally, emotionally and spiritually. On the other hand, the tragedy was caused as much by our culture’s inability to cope with change as it was with theirs. They couldn’t deal with us any more than we could deal with them, a heart-breaking impasse for everybody involved right to the end, and still with us.

Two observations on “Make It New” with regard to the gifts of these extraordinary people.

The Australian aborigines were always in a sense  “contemporary” — they were “cartoon” artists, after all, and every image and artifact they made was “pop” in the sense that everybody was a fan, everybody loved it, read it and danced to it. Secondly, their culture didn’t change — for whatever reason they were locked in a time-warp, as we might say looking out into space, and as a result nothing ever became “dated” what is more “old fashioned” for them. “Make it new?” Why everything was new already!

I make these observations very much without blame — Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel combined with James C. Scott’s The Art of NOT Being Governed confirmed what I had always suspected, that the Australian aborigines’ lack of ‘development’ had nothing whatever to do with inferior genes, hands or minds. On the other hand, they didn’t “change” at all in our sense — but that’s not quite the same as I have come to understand the word in Buddhist terms. The Buddha insisted over and over again that denying change was as self-destructive as any form of greed, control or domination. Anicca, or “impermanence” as it’s usually translated when the sutras are rendered into English, is the only certainty in life, says the Buddha, and holding on to things as if they weren’t going to change is the root of all suffering. That’s the fundamental Buddhist teaching, in fact, that Change and the inevitable Suffering that arises out of it are the fundamental truths of all being.

What’s really different about our times, it seems to me, is what is happening to time itself — the speed of change, as if we were already strapped in the rocket that will deliver us from our dwindling planet into the arms of space.

Try this to put our own sense of time into perspective:

I never even heard of television until I was 8 and didn’t live with a set until I was 42! Even more astonishing, I learned all my maths and physics without a calculator, sailed all over the world without a GPS or other electronic aid, and didn’t touch a computer keyboard until I was 52, the same age at which I published my first poem. And if that last one doesn’t put the word “dated” into perspective for a poet in America, what does?

But we’ll come back to that.

I just want to add that I’m not a Buddhist, whatever that might mean, and feel very strongly that in the light of Eternity there are other “universal truths” beside CHANGE and SUFFERING. Indeed, one of the reasons the aborigines are so important to me is that they tell me more than any other people I have ever encountered about who I really am — particularly as I look in the mirror on my birthday, not a pretty sight at all at 74. But then the old wizened aborigine that looks back at me over my shoulder tells me that nothing that really matters is ever outdated. Change is nothing in the light of eternity, he tells me — and I don’t mean by that Heaven or Eternal Life, God forbid, or indeed anything my new-age friends in white call ‘Spiritual.’ I mean eternity in the sense that I believe Einstein imagined it, or Stephen Hawking in his space-age body, our own little naked good-fella in Cambridge, who grappled with the dreaming that is  Cern. Or what surely must have occupied the mind of Galileo Galilei during those 8 years under house arrest in Florence or me here at my tiny speck of a desk in Chiang Mai.

Do you think when the first white man arrived in Australia an aboriginal would have had a problem showing him a God-particle? Had the white man been able to ask, that is? Had he had the intelligence or expertise to navigate that sort of thinking?

And of course, had the good-fella been willing to betray such truths by sharing them with such a big, crude, ignorant stranger?

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

THE MYSTERY OF BARABAR & THE MARABAR CAVES

“Having seen one such cave, having seen three, four, fourteen, twenty-four, the visitor returns…uncertain whether he has had an interesting experience or a dull experience or any experience at all. He finds it difficult to discuss the caves, or to keep them apart in his mind…”……………………………………E. M. Forster, A Passage to India

Click on the cave to expand it, and give thanks to Tim Makins for his beautiful and informative site. This particular cave is called ‘Vadathika’ and is at Barabar north of Gaya in Bihar State, one of four carved in granite at the behest of the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka (269-232 B.C.).

…………………….what are they?

…………………who goes into them?

………………what comes out of them?

“… An entrance was necessary, so mankind made one.

“…But elsewhere, deeper in the granite, are there certain chambers that have no entrances? Chambers never unsealed since the arrival of the gods? Local report declares that these exceed in number those that can be visited, as the dead exceed the living – four hundred of them, four thousand or million. Nothing is inside them, they were sealed up before the creation of pestilence or treasure; if mankind grew curious and excavated, nothing, nothing would be added to the sum of good or evil. One of them is rumoured within the boulder that swings on the summit of the highest of the hills; a bubble-shaped cave that has neither ceiling nor floor, and mirrors its own darkness in every direction infinitely. If the boulder falls and smashes, the cave will smash too – empty as an Easter egg. The boulder because of its hollowness sways in the wind, and even moves when a crow perches upon it; hence its name and the name of its stupendous pedestal: the Kawa Dol.”
………………………………………………………….E. M. Forster, A Passage to India

……“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man
…….as it is, infinite.  For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ 
…….
narrow chinks of his cavern.”.
.
…………….                            …
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

My mind enters here, William Blake’s ‘Sconfitta,’ among many other dark cavern-like places — including the cave in A Passage to India, of course, and still asking not just about Adela and Dr Aziz but about Morgan. For this was in fact E.M.Forster’s last novel, as hard as that may be to believe. 1924.

In 1964 I was a Research Student at King’s College and he sat at the High Table every evening. Everyone called him just “Morgan,” and I wondered at his smallness, availability and shyness. Or 1965, maybe, or 1966? — I was so troubled with entrances, with drugs, sex, music, speed as in over the ground, and children, lots of them, and of course Leavis, Lewis, Yehudi Menuhin playing all six Solo Sonatas and Partitas in King’s College Chapel, visions in Fiesole in August and nightmares in the orchard at Grantchester in October, Beatles-live the same evening at a cinema on Regent St. with the locals — no, I don’t remember when. And even more important, my first entrances elsewhere and beyond, as troubling as any Marabar Cave and as easy to get into yet hard to get out of in one piece.

So what happens anyway?

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

KIM, KIPLING & KAMAKURA

………..“He lived in a life wild as that of the Arabian Nights, but
………..missionaries and secretaries of charitable societies could
………..not see the beauty of it.” ………..

Each of the first three chapters of Kim (1901-2) is introduced by a stanza from Kipling’s poem, “The Buddha at Kamakura,” which he wrote after a visit to Japan in 1892. It’s by no means his best poem, but it’s certainly one of the most detailed and challenging ones he ever wrote on the subject of East and West from a religious point of view. Needless to say, the poem must have interested Kipling a lot for him to have selected stanzas from it for such a crucial introduction.

And they’re not easy ones either, so Kipling must have wanted readers to spend some time figuring out what they meant. Most importantly, they’re not about exotic adventure in India, or even about India, for that matter, but rather move toward the quieter, deeper, more universal themes in Kim, many of which would be new to readers even today.

Kamakura is the 44 foot high, 800 year old bronze Amitaba Buddha near Tokyo so much loved by the people of Japan — ‘Amitaba’ is  the Japanese Buddha of love, a ‘Savior Buddha,’ really, and closely related in his origins to the female goddess Kwan Im in China. Kipling makes sure the reader knows it is precisely this Buddha and this place he is referring to by introducing Chapter I with the phrase, “And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura“–  and of course the word “idol” was intended to provoke a negative response. The verses, on the other hand, succeed in doing just the opposite — which, I would argue, is precisely why they are there.…………………………………

…………………………………………..Kim,  Chapter I:
………………………………….O ye who tread the Narrow Way
………………………………….By Tophet -flare to Judgment Day,
………………………………….Be gentle when the ‘heathen’ pray
………………………………….To Buddha at Kamakura!

………………………………………….Kim,  Chapter II:
………………………………….And whoso will, from Pride released,
………………………………….Contemning neither creed nor priest,
………………………………….May feel the Soul of all the East
………………………………….About him at Kamakura.

………………………………………….Kim,  Chapter III:
………………………………….Yea, voice of every Soul that clung
………………………………….To life that strove from rung to rung
………………………………….When Devadatta’s rule was young,
………………………………….The warm wind brings Kamakura.

The first stanza tries to soften Christian distaste for other religions by appealing to the warm atmosphere at Kamakura.  Both “Tophet-flare” and “Judgement Day” are harsh Biblical allusions that contrast strongly with the gentle peace embodied in the place, Kamakura, and of course in the last line of every stanza in the poem. Chapter Two’s stanza, on the other hand,  praises Western, non-orthodox free-thinkers who take pride in their open-mindedness to “other creeds” (this is the age of “Spritualism,” don’t forget, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and there were big personalities involved  in those movements too, needless to say).  The appeal to these two, diametrically opposed groups of people at the beginning of the novel shows the degree to which Kipling’s own heart was engaged in quite a different spriritual dimension in Kim.

The third introductory stanza is much more ambiguous. Devadatta was a very close disciple of the Buddha who actually rejected the Master’s “Middle Way,” preferring to stay behind in the old elitist spiritual life as an ascetic in the forest. Devadatta did not join the Buddha in his later, more gentle, holistic phase, and there is even a legend that he tried to kill the Buddha to prevent him from attaining Enlightenment. The stanza seems to suggest that whoever such people are, they are conservative and therefore unwilling, or not yet ready, in any case,  to move on. They belong to an earlier world order.

In fact, Kipling did not include this 3rd stanza in the full version of “The Buddha at Kamakura,” which he first published in 1892 in an article in the Times called “The Edge of the East,” an article specifically about Japan. The poem as a whole was eventually added to the collection called The Five Nations in 1903,  two years after the publication of Kim. In that version he included the following, much easier, more straightforward stanza, part of which is also quoted in the body of the first chapter of Kim, so we’re in the same place:

…………………………………Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
…………………………………Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
…………………………………While yet in lives the Master stirred,
…………………………………The warm wind brings Kamakura.

Ananda was the closest friend of the Buddha, if one would dare to say that about the Buddha, implying as it does some attachment on his part as well. In any case, this stanza would seem to celebrate the supportive presence of the Buddha in the pre-conscious mind,  so to speak, i.e. in those beings who have not yet had the chance to experience life as a fully conscious human being.

This is mainly just a hunch, but my feeling is that Kipling was addressing in both these last two stanzas the vast majority of Westerners, busy people too set in their ways to understand Eastern spiritual practices in their hearts. He seems to be saying that with a little help they could still come to respect and even be inspired by devotion like that shown to Amitaba Buddha at Kamakura, which has certainly proven to be true in our times.

The overall message in the introductory stanzas is one of love and respect for all people who worship out of the heart, whatever their creed or the form of their worship. It is indeed a blessing to find yourself among such devoted people, the poem says, so “be gentle” and respect them. “Feel the Soul of all the East
,” open yourselves up to “the warm wind of Kamakura.”

An extraordinary message for 1892, or anytime!

Christopher Woodman

…………………………………………… “Kamakura
…………Great Buddha, with an enlarged detail of a man standing on the hands.”
……………….Photo published in Brinkley’s Japan, a Guide Book (ca. 1890).
…………………………………The Buddha at Kamakura
………………………….“And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura”

…………………………………O ye who tread the Narrow Way
…………………………………By Tophet -flare to Judgment Day,
…………………………………Be gentle when the ‘heathen’ pray
…………………………………To Buddha at Kamakura!

…………………………………To him the Way, the Law, apart,
…………………………………Whom Maya held beneath her heart,
…………………………………Ananda’s Lord, the Bodhisat,
…………………………………The Buddha of Kamakura.

…………………………………For though he neither burns nor sees,
…………………………………Nor hears ye thank your Deities,
…………………………………Ye have not sinned with such as these,
…………………………………His children at Kamakura.

…………………………………Yet spare us still the Western joke
…………………………………When joss-sticks turn to scented smoke
…………………………………The little sins of little folk
…………………………………That worship at Kamakura.

…………………………………The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies
…………………………………That flit beneath the Master’s eyes.
…………………………………He is beyond the Mysteries
…………………………………But loves them at Kamakura.

…………………………………And whoso will, from Pride released,
…………………………………Contemning neither creed nor priest,
…………………………………May feel the Soul of all the East
…………………………………About him at Kamakura.

…………………………………Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
…………………………………Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
…………………………………While yet in lives the Master stirred,
…………………………………The warm wind brings Kamakura.

…………………………………Till drowsy eyelids seem to see
…………………………………A-flower ‘neath her golden htee
…………………………………The Shwe-Dagon flare easterly
…………………………………From Burmah to Kamakura,

…………………………………And down the loaded air there comes
…………………………………The thunder of Thibetan drums,
…………………………………And droned — “Om mane padme hums ” —
…………………………………A world’s-width from Kamakura.

…………………………………Yet Brahmans rule Benares still,
…………………………………Buddh-Gaya’s ruins pit the hill,
…………………………………And beef-fed zealots threaten ill
…………………………………To Buddha and Kamakura.

…………………………………A tourist-show, a legend told,
…………………………………A rusting bulk of bronze and gold,
…………………………………So much, and scarce so much, ye hold
…………………………………The meaning of Kamakura?

…………………………………But when the morning prayer is prayed,
…………………………………Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade,
…………………………………Is God in human image made
…………………………………No nearer than Kamakura?

……………………………………………………………………..Rudyard Kipling, 1892

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EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS WEST

Mandalay

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!”
………….. Come you back to Mandalay,
………….. Where the old Flotilla lay:
………….. Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the flyin’-fishes play,
………….. An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes’ the same as Theebaw‘s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
………….. Bloomin’ idol made o’mud —
………….. Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
………….. Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin’ my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
………….. Elephints a-pilin’ teak
………….. In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
………….. Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that’s all shove be’ind me — long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
………….. No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
………….. But them spicy garlic smells,
………….. An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
………….. Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
………….. Law! wot do they understand?
………….. I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the old Flotilla lay,
………….. With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the flyin’-fishes play,
………….. An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

………………………………………………………………..Rudyard Kipling (1890)

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LOTUS BORN

Padmasambhava —the Lotus Born

.

………………..DIE LOTOSBLUME

………………..Die Lotosblume ängstigt
………………..Sich vor der Sonne Pracht,
………………..Und mit gesenktem Haupte
………………..Erwartet sie träumend die Nacht.

………………..Der Mond, der ist ihr Buhle,
………………..Er weckt sie mit seinem Licht,
………………..Und ihm entschleiert sie freundlich
………………..Ihr frommes Blumengesicht.

………………..Sie blüht und glüht und leuchtet,
………………..Und starret stumm in die Höh;
………………..Sie duftet und weinet und zittert
………………..Vor Liebe und Liebesweh.

……………………………………………….Heinrich Heine

………………..THE LOTUS

………………..The anxious lotus flower
………………..Avoids the bright sun’s light,
………………..She bows her head and dreaming
………………..Awaits the fall of night.

………………..The moon her nightly lover
………………..Awakens her secret place,
………………..And she unveils in his presence
………………..Her shyly blooming face.

………………..She blooms and glows and glistens,
………………. With silent gaze fixed above,
………………..Her scent, her tears, and the trembling
………………..For love and the great pain of love.

……………………………………………….Heinrich Heine
……………………………………………….trans. W.F.Kammann
.

.

Schumann’s setting of the poem is brilliant.

The music starting Sie blueht … rises until the word zittert when it falls back trembling. The last line descends over and over rising slightly only to descend deeper ending on the low note with the word “Weh.”(Pain).

Romantic, orgasmic, the music and poem combine to expose the shy desire of the poet which meets only with rejection and great pain.

The 1965 version by Rita Streich gives you a sense of the song.

The lotus rises above the mud and slime of the pool, yet depends on it for its existence. A symbol of the enlightened mind, the lotus gives birth to Buddhas.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

W.F.Kammann

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

THE POET’S SEVEREST CRITIC: Happy New Year!

.

The Temple Boy Who’s Not There

………………O, Flatbush Bill’s
………………the Steinway grand
………………of soup and barrel organs—
………………never short on time or change
………………he’s like a man made man
………………on his toes all the time,
………………a flyweight cockerel
………………stretching out the limits of each night
………………like a massive tenor in full flight
………………or temple gong so boozed
………………and tendrilled mothers
………………light their morning fires by the
………………rumble, cooking in the dark for several lives
………………of hungry monks and temple brats
………………just to share the merit—

………………whereas none of them can hold
………………a candle to our bowlful Bill’s
………………Brooklyn breadth
………………………………………..and warble.

………………So when the monks at Wat Phra Singh
………………offered him the post of Temple Boy
………………I wrote this poem
………………so they would know what
………………not to expect
………………or how to rise, or even bow,
…………………………………………………before him!

………………Yes, he’s better west, this Mister Bill—
………………the east’s too trim for so much
………………common sense and willingness to volunteer
………………or even rest
…………………………………at full stretch—

………………coast, I’d say, choir master fiend
………………and rabble rouser—
…………………….homeless husband,
………………………………bubble buster,
………………saffron cockney on a Buddha barrow,
………………mighty long-armed-dharma duster-upper!

………………Damn, I say, let him
………………rest upon his lusty laurel laughter—
………………toast, and share it!

……………………………………………………..Christopher Woodman, 12/31/2010

______________________

 

Flatbush Bill is another Scarriet survivor.  Author of its all time most popular threads, Pop Goes the Weasel and Ich Weiss Nicht,  he was formerly a welfare activist, choirmaster, and leading member of the NY Tibet Society.  He is now a priest in Mexico and the poet’s severest critic.

In Southeast Asia, the Buddhist faithful, mainly mothers, get up very early every morning to cook special meals for the monks who file by the house barefoot at 6am on their daily alms round. The women fill the bowls and then kneel down for a blessing. No word is spoken during the whole exchange, and nobody serves what is more is served.

Wat Phra Singh is one of the most active and beautiful Buddhist Temples in the North of Thailand.

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

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