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

38 Comments

  1. April 8, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Gauguin - Brooding Woman 450………………………..Paul Gauguin. Te Faaturuma (Brooding Woman). (1891)
    …………………………………Click on it to see better who’s at the door.

    I guess he’s my favorite painter, along with Piero della Francesca. Because of course this painting is where I live too, and of course I can’t do any better on colors or details in my poems than he can in his paintings, though in my case it’s also a result of my lack of talent and judgment whereas in his it’s all genius. But Gauguin is like me in other ways too — he’s not to be fully trusted either because he can’t make up his mind what’s true and what’s false. Indeed, it’s all in the retelling, isn’t it, even what he sees right in front of his own eyes and feels with his hands, like this woman? I mean, can you trust any of it? Or what he sees behind her in the doorway? Or maybe he doesn’t but she does, like living under the shadow of God?

    …..
    ….THE BLESSÉD FAULT AND SINGULARITY OF LOVE

    …………………The soft violable parts
    …………………………..so neatly hammock up

    …………………in the bright shell we hold
    …………………………..in the palm of the hand

    …………………each night we gladly help
    …………………………..slip our still seamless flesh

    …………………back into the deep-unopened
    …………………………..even as the dawn chorus

    …………………sinks into the city sounds
    …………………………..and daylight finds us yet

    …………………again awkward virgins
    …………………………..in an old man’s kitchen.

    …………………But if some flaw or singularity
    …………………………..rubs its grief in us enough

    …………………to over-flow any green salt
    …………………………..marsh on a wet spring tide

    …………………we dive for life and breathe
    …………………………..with the neck and flash

    …………………with the luminous fins
    …………………………..that deify the fundament.

    …………………Then any small, flat stone
    …………………………..skipped over our heads

    …………………can flutter down through
    …………………………..the slanting depths and

    …………………bring us Gabriel’s news,
    …………………………..or roses, or the violent rain—

    …………………when sex mars the heavens,
    …………………………..God’s shadow moves again!
    …..

    ……………………………………………..~

    It’s at this point I get into so much trouble with my friends, Bill and Dawn, because I know either they’re blind or I’m crazy — which is why I fight so hard with both of them, of course, and refuse to lie down and be quiet as they tell me I should. They think I don’t lie down because I don’t listen whereas in actual fact it’s because I listen so well I know this is life and death for me as I’m almost out of time.

    For example, “Leda Takes Another Lover,” a poem we fought over in “Make It New,” is either the beautiful little poem I think it is, or the terrible mess with foolish images and bad grammar of Dawn’s and Bill’s assessment. And that’s a very big one for me indeed, because if it really is such a mess then my own powers of creativity, discrimination, and understanding are seriously marred, and I should simply “go to bed.” That’s what my friend Jimmy taught me to say to threatening dogs when I was out running around his house in upstate New York, and they did. Now I bicycle everyday in the rice instead and when I’m chased by dogs they don’t understand my language. Also they don’t have any beds to lie down in or even go inside a house for that matter, minor detail. So now I do what my Thai friends have taught me to do instead, which is just to stop pedaling. That really puts the fear of God in the dogs as they are only brave when they’re sure I’m running away. Stopping pedaling means to the dogs I’m taking a stand, and even though I’m still coasting along at quite a clip, they stop running behind me and very soon I’m far, far away. Works every time, and I guess that’s what I’m doing now here. Just coasting — and of course, hoping.

    Another problem is that I love my friends, Bill and Dawn, and I can’t bear it when they bark at me as if I were a stranger or at least somebody who shouldn’t be there. On the other hand, I’m aware enough to challenge myself, and of course I consider the possibility that I’m the dog that’s doing the chasing and not the other way around. But if I am that dog I’ve wasted my life wrestling with poetry, and I don’t mean just with my own poetry either as I’ve only written it as opposed to loving it for 24 years. I’ve been a poetry nut for 42 years on top of those 24, from the age of 8, to be exact, and as a result, boy do I know what this next painting is about. On the other hand, you wouldn’t catch me dead trying to explain it in words. Indeed, that’s why I write poetry instead of words, and the difference is that gulf between the barking dog and the bicyclist.

    Gauguin - Parau na te varua ino (Words of the devil). 1892.………………..Paul Gauguin – Parau na te varua ino (Words of the devil) . (1892)

    Christopher

  2. April 9, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Piero Nativity 450

    I’d rather not tell you the name of the art historian who came up with this idea — I will in due course, I promise, but I think it’s much more interesting to look at it first all on your own, as I did for many hours before I read about it. In fact, there’s quite a substantial article that goes with it, and one of the most interesting questions it raises is why the underlying geometry had never been noticed before? Considering Piero della Francesca’s well-known interest in mathematics, and the way so many of his most celebrated paintings are constructed around geometry, how is it possible that no-one had noticed this very odd structure before? Are all those weird lines really there, or is it just the imagination of the art historian?

    So what do you think?

    With regard to my own work, I find that if I’m patient enough, and humble, my poems help me to find their particular, sometimes even perverse structures all on their own, indeed, they show me things I could never have imagined, what is more planned. For example, in the poem “Leda Takes Another Lover” that I mentioned in my last comment, the central portion got written and rewritten and rewritten for years, and I thought it would never be done — a veritable Proteus, it writhed it’s way through this and that and this preposterous shape, yet I never gave up, either asserted myself or surrendered. I always had the confidence it was there somewhere, and I stayed faithful. Had I grown impatient at some point, had I asserted my literary-critical or rhetorical authority, for example, and made it lie down nicely like a good writer does a good sentence in the corner, it might never have transformed itself into what it became, and its extraordinary delivery might never have happened.

    Which is like the awkward tilt of the roof in Piero della Francesca’s ‘Nativity,’ the slight dislocation, the secular imperfection almost, that triggers everything off in the space like a kaleidoscope shifts. Piero had apparently never angled anything quite like that before, and it’s a very late painting, so something very special was happening, and still is. Indeed, breaking rules is for many artists the step just before new discovery.

    And then there’s the magpie on that oddly twisted roof? I’d love to say, “One for sorrow,” of course I would (and secretly I do), but we have no way of knowing if our “one for sorrow, two for joy” rhyme was a superstition current in Piero’s time or not, though a magpie was something for sure as they always have been — their coloration, their flight, their habits, the arrogance of their chatter, how elegant they are yet always so rude, so elusive yet everywhere in your face. Whatever the bird is in the painting, you can’t deny the apex of the angle created by its tail and its legs, like navigational calipers plotting a fix. and even though you might not see the parallelogram the lines eventually delineate, you certainly sense it’s there.

    And the little bird? Try a line from the little bird on the left to the upraised hand of the shepherd, and if you’re uncertain about that, the ox certainly isn’t as he knows exactly what he’s looking at, nor does the donkey have any doubt about when or at what to shout. (Most of you have never heard a donkey bray close by your ear, I feel sure, but in that little stable the delicate music of those angels would have been shattered!)

    If you’re interested you can read my poem again here or, if you haven’t already done so, in the context , which is rough. But remember, if you don’t trust it this time either it still won’t speak to you.

    ………………
    ………….LEDA TAKES ANOTHER LOVER

    ………………….She closes her eyes
    ………………….because that makes him curious.

    ………………….He watches her feigning—
    ………………….she can hear his shoulders,
    ………………….the outline of his listening.

    ………………….She raises her arms to test him—

    ………………….they smell like three pears
    ………………….the sun has been around all day
    ………………….and now like high-flying circus girls
    ………………….taut & pliant in the orchard wings
    ………………….whisper what it might be like
    ………………….to swan and sip champagne
    ………………….and hang behind a fan all evening.

    ………………….He is the dew on her darkening.

    ………………….He rises up along her arms like moths.
    ………………….She quickens like crickets rushed
    ………………….by his shadows and swallows.
    ………………….She cries out like lavender.

    ………………….He feathers her brilliantly—
    ………………….her armpits,
    ………………….her arches.
    …..

    Christopher

  3. April 10, 2014 at 11:55 am

    AN OPEN LETTER TO DAWN POTTER

    Dear Dawn,
    I was very pleased to read about your almost success on your blog today, which of course is a total success in the context of your life.

    Oddly enough, I think your having no advanced degree will actually be to your advantage in the end, and that you will eventually be hired, prized, and kept on for the rest of your life — precisely because you don’t have a graduate degree, precisely because as a writer that’s who you are, that true rarity in America, a working poet. Indeed, my feeling is that there are going to be more and more institutions who feel uncomfortable with the way they are both being used and using others in their MFA programs, and as a result more successful poets like yourself will be amateurs again, like Robert Frost was for so much of his life.

    ~

    I was very interested in what you wrote me today as well, and couldn’t agree more:

    “Subject/verb agreement” is a way to describe what’s going on in a sentence. It is not a prescription of right or wrong. Many poets play around with subject/verb agreement. In some cases a disjunction enhances an individual reader’s engagement with a poem; in some cases it creates a barrier.

    Indeed, that fits in perfectly with what I wanted to say next on this thread, still under the wonky angle of Piero’s stable roof, and I hope you’ll forgive me for taking you up yet again on your reservations about my poem.

    Because there’s a flaw in what you suggested about “Leda Takes Another Lover” which I didn’t see right away — your critical assessment of the grammar in my poem was based on an incomplete sentence.

    This is what you posted on my blog:

    * and now like high-flying circus girls
    taut & pliant in the orchard wings
    whisper what it might be like
    to swan and sip champagne
    and hang behind a fan all evening.

    [There’s a grammatical problem here: who is doing this whispering: the couple or the 3 pears? The sentence structure should intensify my comprehension of the scene. Instead, I have to stop in middle of it and say, “What?”]

    The complete sentence goes like this:

    She raises her arms to test him —

    they smell like three pears
    the sun has been around all day
    and now like high-flying circus girls
    taut & pliant in the orchard wings
    whisper what it might be like
    to swan and sip champagne
    and hang behind a fan all evening.

    By quoting the lines as you did you left out the subject of the construction, which certainly might lead a reader to feel that my grammar was muddled.

    On top of that, the rhetorical thrust of the lines is very much weakened if the simile within a simile within a metaphor construction is left out. It’s one of the most important elements in the strange and exotic transformations that are taking place in the poem’s magical orchard.

    The three pears are “like high-flying circus girls,” the poems says, and it’s they who “whisper what it might be like to swan” and then go on “[to] hang behind a fan all evening.” That’s the engine room of the poem. Whether you like it or not, it’s the pears that fly, whisper, and hang as if they were in a Marc Chagall painting, and the grammar as well as the figures of speech assist their metamorphosis into that gaggle of Degas-lit show-girls “taut and pliant in the orchard wings.” And I still find that delicious, I have to admit, both the pears and the girls.

    And of course Leda hasn’t even taken her clothes off yet!

    Christopher

  4. wfkammann said,

    April 10, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Really!

    The word “they” refers to the arms raised to test him, no?

    It is the arms that smell like three pears and “like three pears” is an adverbial phrase that describes “smell.” Diagram “they smell like three pears.” http://1aiway.com/nlp4net/services/enparser/

    The word “pears” is not a subject and although there is no punctuation it feels like a stop after pears and a new “sentence” starting “the sun.”

    In that case it would be “the sun” that whisper(s) what it might be like….

    You might argue that it is “arms/they” that whisper, but pears?

    I learned to diagram sentences in the eight grade; perhaps things have changed.

  5. April 11, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Anything’s possible, Bill — metamorphosis is always a messy business, and at any particular stage in the process it can be just as difficult to predict the outcome as it is to determine exactly where it all came from — the chicken at the one extreme or the egg at the other, for example, and who would ever have imagined that mind-boggling stretch before God defined the parameters?

    Speaking for myself, I only parse a construction in poetry if I’ve lost my way, and as I wanted to lose my way in writing this poem I didn’t parse it until Dawn suggested my grammar was a problem.

    As I’ve mentioned, this passage didn’t settle down for a long time, and each time I came back to it I played around with it but always knew it wasn’t quite done, as if it were still in the oven. When I did finally know it was done it wasn’t because the grammar was neat but because the poem worked – at least for me, it worked, and I’ve tried it out on other people lots of times and it has worked for them too. Of course it’s just a small, ephemeral impression like a pastel, not a big, carefully layered oil, and if you want to you can just let your eye brush over it and enjoy it. Indeed, I was astonished when it came under such heavy critical attack.

    Here’s the crux: Dawn assumed I intended the girls to be the subject of the three verbs. Because I lacked training in the craft of writing, Dawn suggested, I ended up with a subject/verb agreement problem. In reply to that I say “pears” is the subject, and that leaving out those two crucial lines as Dawn did was a critical oversight on her part.

    In reply to your “diagram,” Bill, you could also parse it like this. The main clause is “they smell like three pears” followed by two relative clauses joined by the conjunction “and.” The focus of both clauses is “pears” — relative clause #1. says “pears”…”[that] the sun has been around” and relative clause #2 “pears…[that] whisper.” The second clause contains an additional relative clause as object beginning with the relative pronoun “what” — the three pears “whisper what it might be like” 1.) “to swan,” 2.) [to] “sip,” and “[to] hang.”

    Sentence diagraming was in vogue when we were in school in the ’40s and ’50s, Bill, as was phonetic spelling, but as both had undesirable side effects, and caused as much pedagogical confusion as help, they have been largely abandoned. English is a wonderfully flexible language, more so than Latin, and should be allowed its freaky nuances like the ambiguous subject of “whisper,” one of the hinges upon which the gates of this poem swing to admit all sorts of celestations, if I might be allowed. But what is indisputable is that the phrase, “three pears,” is the subject of all the actions within the clauses, with the relative pronoun “that” [understood] working as a bridge between the pears and what they do or have done to them.

    “Arms” is sidelined by the preposition “like,” so it’s not in the running. “They smell like pears” doesn’t mean the arms are pears but simply that they could be compared to pears in some aspects.

    Of course nobody minds in a poem like this if her arms have some of the quality of pears, or even in real life, for that matter. “The armpits” and “the arches” at the end, on the other hand, are not compared with anything at all, and I hope for obvious reasons.

    Which is where the poem goes, in fact, beyond figures of speech to her body — and that’s why it hurt me so much when even those last bare images were so roughly handled, as if nobody had ever loved like that before.

    Christopher

  6. April 11, 2014 at 11:17 am

    What’s so strange about using this little poem in such a critical dispute is that a.) it’s so light and inconsequential, and b.) it’s been the object of such intense revision for so many years and on so many levels. That’s what bugged me about the treatment it received on the last thread, and the suggestion that I’m just an amateur and should go back to school. Indeed, if anything I’m over-refined up to here, over educated in the trivium in particular, and as precious as I’m decidedly not precocious (I’m 74!).

    So here’s how I started it.

    I was madly in love with Natasha on the Seine, a 16 year old anarchiste who slept rough in her clothes if not naked on the empty barge beside which my boat was tied up along with a rough bunch of drifters, artists, musicians and mountebanks — a peasant girl with no language to speak of, just intensely white skin, black, black hair, musk, henna, kohl, huge biker boots, and of course that je ne sais quoi that drives poets mad.

    I hardly knew her but fed her on board my boat almost every day and gave her money, as I did the others too. And yes, I wrote about her as if I were a 19th century French poet — and oh dear, I’m embarrassed to say just who I was reading. Because the very first version I wrote was in French — the first English version, which I’ve posted below as well, was my own quick translation for a friend, never intended to stand on its own as a poem. That’s why the French version is closer to a real poem than the English, which is pretty embarrassing considering how bad they both are. On the other hand, that was 22 years ago, and the poem has come a long way since then.

    But I’m being much too honest.

    LE VERGER……………………………………….THE ORCHARD

    Je ferme les yeux………………………………..—I close my eyes
    parceque ça te rend curieuse.………………—because that makes you curious.

    Tu me regardes dégoulinant— …………….—You watch me dampening—
    je peux entendre tes épaules,……………….—I can hear your shoulders,
    la silhouette de ton écoute.………………….—the outline of your listening.

    Tu lèves tes bras pour me tester— ………..—You raise your arms to test me—
    ils sentent comme trois poires ……………. —they smell like three pears
    le soleil était tout autour toute la journée —the sun has been around all day
    et maintenant sont blanc avec le soir. …..—and now are white with evening.

    Je suis la rosée de ton crepuscule. ………..—I am the dew on your darkening.

    Je me lève le long de tes bras comme des papillons de nuit..—I rise up along
    ………………………………………………………….your arms like moths.

    Je suis or comme les hirondelles.…………..—I am gold like swallows.
    Je m’écrie comme la lavande.………………..—I cry out like lavender.

    Je te couvre de plumes brillament— ………—I feather you brilliantly—
    tes aiselles, …………………………………………—your armpits,
    tes voûtes. ………………………………………….—your arches.

    Christopher

  7. April 12, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    I promised you the name of the art historian who came up with the wonky geometry that lies behind Piero della Francesca’s ‘Nativity’ — his name is Jonathan Sansom and his fine article is called “Revealing Piero’s Sacred Geometry”.

    I’d say that whether Piero actually worked with these geometric lines or Jonathan Samson just imagined them, we all know they’re there as soon as we see them, just as the three pears transformed into circus girls sipping champagne in my poem are there too whether we like them or not. They’re there because we imagine them there. The wonky roof of this particular stable was one of the first in the history of art to show the difference between what we human beings imagine as a stable roof in our minds and what our eyes tell us is actually there, and that’s watershed. “Leda Takes Another Lover” isn’t watershed by any means but it’s magic in the same way nevertheless, and obviously such magic makes us feel uncomfortable.

    Magic is nothing but imagining something so vividly that it’s there, like God and the manger, Galileo and the sun, or Stephen Hawking and dark matter. In the past that was easy for people — today we feel such powers are not ‘real,’ and that’s our problem, not magic’s. We have arrived at the point where we can see what we call ‘virtual reality’ with our two, slightly dislocated eyes, but we still have a long way to go before we can catch up with what our ancestors were able to ‘see’ quite routinely on a much higher level, and just look what they achieved. And all we can do is just see, and most of the time there’s almost nothing there.

    The irony is, of course, that the primitive mind is more intellectual than our own. Our method is more like the combustion engine, noisy, hot, dirty and unsustainable. If you don’t believe that, just look back and see what people in the past accomplished with their intellectual magic.

    Christopher

    ……………Colonsay Cross
    …………………….Oronsay, The Hebrides, Scotland (6th c. AD)
    …………………….

  8. April 13, 2014 at 11:37 am

    ………..
    AFTERWARDS WE RETURNED TO PAUL’S
    COTTAGE ON ORONSAY

    ………..Move over—there’s room
    ………..there in the quiet space
    ………..beside the
    ………..…………………………….window.

    ………..Lean back against the wicker
    ………..chair—it creaks like
    ………..crickets in that still
    ………..space just before the
    ………..…………………………………shot.

    ………..Shh—stay and listen,
    ………..stay and
    ………..…………………look some more,
    ………..the radio’s off the air,
    ………..the tractor’s stalled,
    ………..and nobody’s at home
    ………..to mind the
    ………..…………………………….flowers:

    ………..the slow anemones
    ………..resting in their
    ………..…………………………………..jar,
    ………..the unhurried blue and red
    ………..wallflowers sitting out
    ………..the latest dance in slants
    ………..and bends and slow
    ………..……………………………descents,

    ………..the yellow tulips now no
    ………..longer tight like girls
    ………..but spread out iris-like
    ………..in feathers, fans and
    ………..…………………………………slips,
    ………..arabesques of beaten gold
    ………..that beckon yet remain
    ………..behind, and absolute—
    ………..flowers in flight released
    ………..like birds from their
    ………..………………………………..intent.

    ………..And then across the field
    ………..the crickets stop,
    ………..the mounting wings
    ………..…………………………………..fold
    ………..and a single hole opens in
    ………..the air to stage a bowing-
    ………..out that sap can never beat
    ………..back, or seasons
    ………..…………………………………gorge.

    ………..To out-soar hard flight
    ………..the soul too leans back
    ………..and tilts like shot
    ………..silk on softening
    ………..…………………………………wings.
    ………..

    Christopher

    • wfkammann said,

      April 14, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Lovely,
      would you comment on the insect images in your poems?

  9. April 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you for that, Bill.

    But I’m not sure why you ask me about the insect images in the poems, because I think they’re all pretty clear.

    The most idiosyncratic image is perhaps the word “hatch” in “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”. Because, of course, the “hatch” of the insects at the end also refers to the “hatch” on the boat, so that whatever it is that happens takes place in two worlds. (Needless to say, I know you won’t ignore the title and jump to conclusions about that!)

    I trust I did enough in the early parts of the poem to prepare readers for the first meaning — the poem is set on a boat with words like “galley,” “porthole,” “berth” and “bulwarks.” The hatching of the insects at the end, on the other hand, is suggested in the various chrysalis images that bridge the two worlds, the “sheets twisted oh so / tight like water-wings about him,” for example, “the bits of white silk on the bulwarks,” “undressed in the terrible rush of the hatch,” and of course, “cracked.”

    In the last poem just above, “Afterwards We Returned to Paul’s Cottage on Oronsay,” I can only hope readers will know what it’s like to sit down in an old wicker chair on a very still, very uncomplicated porch, both what it sounds like and what it is like.

    The creaking of the chair, the aging flowers that descend like birds, the way everything bows out in its own unique way silencing even the crickets.

    More the hand-clap of a koan than the shot of a gun, more the beginning of life than the end of it.

    Does that work for you?

    Christopher

  10. April 16, 2014 at 1:17 pm


    Curragh 450
    ……………..St. Columba of Iona & St Magnus of Orkney in a Curragh.

    Painting by the Scottish artist, Kate Leiper, for The St. Magnus Festival at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands in 2009. [You can click on it to see this wonderful painting better.]
    ….

    NOTES from the end of my book, Gold Leaf on the Waters!

    ….
    “The Western Isles of Scotland and Ireland have always sheltered otherworldly communities like those founded by St. Columba in the 6th Century on Oronsay and Iona. These refugees from any taint of blood or pulse are sometimes known as Green Martyrs.

    The last of them, holed up on the fabled Isle of Skye, finally lost their long struggle against the construction of a bridge only in 1995—the separating tidal strait, the fierce Kyle of Lochalsh, was almost half a mile wide yet the influences that might pass over it after dark or on holy days were still considered intolerable. Local action against the bridge operator continues to this day.

    The Cuillin form the island’s lofty razor-back and are visible throughout the Hebrides, particularly when the sun rises behind them. They have recently been put on sale by the present Lord of the Isles.”
    ……………………………..

    “Gold Leaf on the Waters!” is an unpublished collection of 32 poems including two long ones, “Connemara Trousers” and “Les Fleurs de Sel.”

    5 parts of “Connemara Trousers” were published in The Kenyon Review in 1992. Three additional parts, one of them 120 lines long, were added only very recently. You can see the whole thing here: http://homprang.com/Website%20p%5B1%5D.12%20Resident%20Poet%20p.2.htm

    I add this note because the adaption of the ancient “bob & wheel” form I use in “Afterwards We Returned to Paul’s Cottage on Oronsay” and elsewhere is characteristic of my “Irish poems,” as they might be called — or “Scottish,” I don’t know. (The Scotti who brought civization to Scotland by curragh in the 6th Century were Irish.)

    “Les Fleurs de Sel” is in 12 parts. It’s imagery goes back to the years I spent on the sand flats and salt marshes of Guérande on the West Coast of Brittany, very much part of the same North Atlantic world. (As I’m still hoping to get “Les Fleurs de Sel” published, I don’t want to put any of it up yet — this is always a problem for me on this blog.)

    All these wondrous places and stories have had a profound influence on my development as a person as well as a poet. Indeed, the older I get in my exile the more grateful I am that I’m sitting here still in my own wicker chair going nowhere.

    …………Curragh 350

    NOTES ON THE CURRAGH:
    The man next to the mast is the captain — he has a drum to give commands which can be heard over the roar of the sea and the wind. At this moment the oars are deliberately locked in the water to slow the boat which is surfing perilously down a very large wave at a furious speed. The danger is what is called a “broach” — the boat goes so fast down a wave it turns sideways and flips over, which would have been fatal in an open boat like this.

    The man at the bow holding on to the forestay is both feeling the tension in the mast and on look out — in such extreme weather it’s very hard to see as there is so much spray in the air, and the rocks in the Hebrides are everywhere. And of course they have no GPS or even a map to know where they are, and just a lodestone as a pointer if they’re lucky.

    The strongest and bravest man of all is on the “steerboard” stuck out the back like a rudder, the real thing not yet having come to Scotland from China.

    And this is precisely where I am now, as are you too, my friends. Indeed, we’re all in this small open curragh wrapped in animal skins, both the hull and our bodies together.

    Christopher

  11. April 17, 2014 at 9:58 am

    THE VENERABLE BEDE’S SPARROW

    Fenwick Lawson - Bede = 310…………..“Venerable Bede” (1973), a sculpture in wood by Fenwick
    ……………Lawson
    , St. Paul’s Church, Wearmouth-Jarrow, Yorkshire.

    …..
    …………………….“Hope” is the thing with feathers.

    ………………………..“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
    ………………………..That perches in the soul –
    ………………………..And sings the tune without the words –
    ………………………..And never stops – at all –

    ………………………..And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
    ………………………..And sore must be the storm –
    ………………………..That could abash the little Bird
    ………………………..That kept so many warm –

    ………………………..I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
    ………………………..And on the strangest Sea –
    ………………………..Yet – never – in Extremity,
    ………………………..It asked a crumb – of me.

    ………………………………………………………Emily Dickinson

    ……

    from The Ecclesiastical History of the English People

    “The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.”
    …………………………………………………The Venerable Bede (731 AD)

  12. wfkammann said,

    April 18, 2014 at 9:45 am

    In Human, All Too Human, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that

    “Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.”

    Some say Zeus kept hope in the jar when the other evils were released; sparing humanity the greatest evil of all.

  13. April 18, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Thanks for that, Bill — just what I needed.

    What I like so much about Fenwick Lawson’s “Venerable Bede” sculpture just above is the way the quill looks like a dart in the upraised hand, or a paper plane perhaps, or maybe even a bird just taking flight. Indeed, The Venerrable Bede wrote not only the first history of Britain but invented the word “English” to describe his people long before anybody had ever thought of ethnic groups what is more nation states. He was also extremely perceptive in the way he developed images in his writing, his “sparrow” image, for example, still being the fundamental metaphor to stand for the world view of the northern people of his time. Indeed, nobody talks about the Dark Ages in Northern Europe without having recourse to The Venerable Bede’s little bird flying through the great Hall – the warmth, the music, the glow and the gold— but just for a few moments, then back to the blast. “Wyrd,” as it’s spelled in Beowulf — “destiny” (yes, and later on the Three Weird Sisters too).

    I feel sure that Bede’s bird also lies behind Emily Dickinson’s “thing with feathers/that perches in the soul —/ and sings the tune without the words … /—in the Gale.” There’s no doubt in my mind about that, and I’d say the echo deepens The Venerable Bede as well, not just our Emily Dickinson.

    ~

    It’s very important to remember that it was the Irish on their inaccessible islands in the North Atlantic who saved European civilization during the Dark Ages — the tiny, rock bound hermitage on the top of Skellig Michael, for example (almost impossible to land on even today, with no shelter whatsoever for a boat or even a well-equipt tourist ferry today, even in the fairest weather!), was one of the very few places in 10th Century Europe where you could still learn to read even if there were only a handful of books up there in the beehive huts, like an eyrie (and how the wind blows!).

    St Columba sailed from Ireland to the Hebrides in the 6th Century, which means before the Viking raids became common. The stories and legends about why Columba left are as legion as they are contradictory, but almost certainly it was because of an uncontrollable temper as much as sanctity — they often go together. One story has it that Columba arrived first at the miniscule island of Oronsay in the Hebrides, but that when he climbed the only hill on the island he was still able to see Ireland on the horizon far to the south, and he couldn’t live with that, no sir. So he got back in his curragh and rowed even further up north to found the great (but tiny, tiny) monastery of Iona, and eventually on to the Orkneys, Lindisfarne, and into our hearts as much as our minds.

    When Charlemagne went looking for an educated man to start his new school in Aachen in the late 8th Century he had to send all the way to Northumbria, of all places, to find the only truly educated man left in Europe, Alcuin of York, Bede’s disciple.

    ~

    As to hope, Bill – that’s just what I meant in “Afterwards We Returned to Paul’s Cottage on Oronsay,” and I feel sure that’s what Emily Dickinson meant too.

    One of the great questions has to be, why do religions so proscribe suicide, or at least the monothesisms do? The answer has to be that there is nowhere else that a human being can do what he is born to do but here — which is to learn how to love, share and forgive in a world that rewards the opposite, more ‘natural’ human responses much more readily…

    It’s the quintessence of experience that’s the treasure, not just the experience in itself — and as any alchemist can tell you, it’s no fun in the fire.

    Christopher

  14. wfkammann said,

    April 19, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Taoist alchemy and esoteric Buddhist teachings both outline a path to immortality, a slowing of the aging process and an internal transformation into a oneness of which the body/mind/spirit is a micro-cosm.

    You too seem to be interested in the elixir or essence of reality. How does this idea inform your poetry?

  15. April 19, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Are you asking how this idea informs my poetry, Bill? You mean my poetry?

    Because I don’t believe a word of Taoist alchemy or esoteric anything, for that matter, indeed I’m deeply skeptical of all self-serving, golden idols, but as far as informing my poetry is concerned, yes, of course it does, indeed every word of it — if it’s good, at least. Because all art is religion in the sense that art is what we human beings do to bind things together in such a way as to have a glimpse of what’s immortal — and the better the art the tighter the glue, so to speak, the more perfect and shiny the surface the closer we are to God — like that Ming cup that just sold for 30 million at Sothebys.

    And that doesn’t mean we have to believe in God to have that glimpse either, which doesn’t make a shred of difference either way.

    For art, like religion, distills the essence from things and gives us a glimpse of what it means to live forever. That’s why we put gold-leaf on our picture frames, have a Pantheon in Paris, a Bloomsday, and celebrate a ridiculous little confection like “Sailing to Byzantium.” I mean, imagine celebrating this?

    ………………Once out of nature I shall never take
    ………………My bodily form from any natural thing,
    ………………But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
    ………………Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
    ………………To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
    ………………Or set upon a golden bough to sing
    ………………To lords and ladies of Byzantium
    ………………Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

    Did you read that? Did you see what it says? I mean, childish???

    But of course this is what the writer says a bit earlier in the same poem about what a person can do about getting old, and even mechanical birds can’t be excluded from a cri de coeur as brilliant as this one:

    ………………An aged man is but a paltry thing,
    ………………A tattered coat upon a stick,
    ………………unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
    ………………For every tatter in its mortal dress,
    ………………Nor is there singing school but studying
    ………………Monuments of its own magnificence;
    ………………And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
    ………………To the holy city of Byzantium.

    And here’s my equally foolish response – and please don’t tell me this is a poem of despair either, and especially if you know the holy city of Brooklyn and in particular the entrance to New York Harbor where it’s written. Just be brave as well as a better reader.

    ……
    ………………BREEZY POINT
    …………………. (“Remember me, I pray thee!”)

    ………………….Winter

    ………………….graying at
    ………………….the water’s edge

    ………………….the wet in the eyes
    ………………….is just wind

    ………………….we die in such distinctions

    ………………….the great ships out there
    ………………….rusting at anchor
    ………………….know this

    ………………….their hulls are empty too

    ………………….they ride so high and light
    ………………….the wind blows sand
    ………………….underneath their keels

    ………………….their faces too are drifting

    ………………….a dead gull waves a wing—
    ………………….all the rest is just
    ………………….perfect desiccation
    ………………….save for the tiny feet
    ………………….unbound like young girl bones
    ………………….that run along the emperor’s
    ………………….willow-patterned shore
    ………………….like last summer’s
    ………………….butterflies

    ………………….so sad the stubble on this face
    ………………….is no longer subject
    ………………….for similes or
    ………………….sandpipers.
    ………………………

    Next I’ll post a poem about the Resurrection as it’s almost Easter.

    Christopher

  16. wfkammann said,

    April 19, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Today in Patzcuaro we experienced 30 seconds of shake. (7.2 in Guerrero) The house moved; the chandeliers started spinning. Even the water in the underground cistern sloshed from side to side. That was Good Friday. Imagine what Easter will bring.

  17. April 19, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    So glad you’re o.k, Bill and Ida. The earth is obviously in its fast thick pants breathing.

    Hope this helps, hope you will read it out loud together and be safe:

    ………….

    “WHATEVER MY GOOD WOULD-BE SISTERS SAY”

    ………….Krishna, disguised as an old woman,
    ………….pleads with Radha:
    ………………“Yes, my vanity is absurd,
    ………………the years have slipped by,
    ………………I remember, and grieve for them;
    ………………my breasts hang limp,
    ………………my hips are bony.
    ………………Yet on this withered body
    ………………the God of Love plunges and rolls.”

    ……………………………..Trans. from the Bengali by Edward C.
    ……………………………..Dimock Jr. and Denise Levertov.

    ……….“Whatever my good would-be sisters say
    ……….I did not see beyond my own fingertips,
    ……….no more graced to cope or guessing even
    ……….than those inconsolably bearded men—
    ……….not even the more acceptable women did,
    ……….and they were even fiercer in death’s disbelief
    ……….rushing to lay out all their most bitter linen,
    ……….the bowls, the swabs, the broken sheets,
    ……….not pausing even to weep but just wrap up
    ……….lifetimes of helpless, unimaginable abuse.

    ……….“No, it was only after he came back
    ……….so hugely soft and sudden
    ……….that I understood what all that brutal glory
    ……….meant and why he turned so frankly toward me
    ……….in the scented garden just days later like
    ……….Leda’s white-plumed god become a man.

    ……….“I know handle me is what he also said
    ……….when he put in a more public appearance
    ……….at that other table—
    ……….‘O handle me and see,’ they swore he said.
    ……….But naturally I didn’t tell them that’s also
    ……….what he said as he folded up like wings before me
    ……….in the early morning shadows,
    ……….nor what I did.

    ……….“For women like me know very well why
    ……….a god would go to such lengths to prove
    ……….his perfect body comes to life only
    ……….in wounds—and worries why as easily.
    ……….Loose women carry hair and bone
    ……….through the gate of each aspiring day
    ……….just like him—
    ……….like him our exalted spirit bleeds
    ……….for true flesh every day despite so many
    ……….intimate failures—even our female
    ……….faults of faith live in wounds like his
    ……….and if you touch and see our sides
    ……….will know why gods like men die for life
    ……….in our great-moments-missed.

    ……….“No, not angel hair, just women here,
    ……….and he showed me in the garden that I am—
    ……….even me, no aging father’s desert vision,
    ……….no sky-blue sister for a preacher’s son,
    ……….just so loved by him.
    ……….Even this wreck and bag-lady body
    ……….of the night washed up on Priory Street
    ……….having waved off all the brave boys
    ……….at all their three-day victory stations.

    ……….“For when his manhood’s lost and done
    ……….any fading god can still turn again to bathe
    ……….away his grief in my precious balm—
    ……….however worn the hospice bed or lowly
    ……….in the spirit eyes the ghosts of men lie down
    ……….to live again deep in my brief
    ……….but sacred dispensation.
    ……….My own small business in blood and bone,
    ……….they cry, is my advantage over angels—
    ……….and why even he lingered forty more days
    ……….along those raucous roads to Galilee,
    ……….savoring handling by the likes of me
    ……….before he gave it up forever.

    ……….“It was dressing up the fresh wounds so well—
    ……….how lovingly we groomed them—
    ……….and then trying the holes
    ……….in someone else’s hands,
    ……….pushing our fingers into the burgeoning
    ……….wound in someone else’s side
    ……….where each rough heart is cut to make
    ……….the spirit blush and bloom at last.
    ……….Yes, handling—that’s a huge advantage.

    ……….“And believing it all was part of that,
    ……….believing in spite of it all, as he said,
    ……….not seeing very well, if anything at all,
    ……….but falling in love anyway and risking
    ……….that even whiter wonder one last time
    ……….to live—I too did swear it,
    ……….ever sudden, ever ashes bursting
    ……….into burning flowers
    ……….rising on an Easter morn forever—
    ……….towering like our love in linen wraps about us,
    ……….torn by wings and every foolish wound
    ……….loudly crying lucky, yearning wild:
    ……….You are ever there like that
    ……….when even I rise up again—
    ……….O handle me, and see!

    ……….“Barefoot on the road to Galilee
    ……….we flirt, and then the angel falls—
    ……….all burnt-out, sweet Lord,
    ……….and spurning heaven too.”

    …………………………………………………….St. Gervais,
    …………………………………………………….Pâques

    Christopher

  18. April 21, 2014 at 10:51 am

    …………Fenwick Lawson, Pietà, Durham
    “Pietà,” sculpture in wood by Fenwick Lawson, Durham Cathedral (1981)

    81 year old Fenwick Lawson has done most of his work in or around the ancient cathedral city of Durham in the North East of England, and is largely exhibited in local churches, holy sites and sacred museums. Although his imagery is steeped in Celtic Christianity, to my way of thinking his concerns are universal, and speak to all times, all concerns, and all peoples equally.

    Here’s how his subject matter is described in the Introduction to his website:

    “During the 1960’s and 70’s Lawson’s work was within the mainstream of the time concerning itself with the ‘objectness’ of the object; it was art for arts sake. Whilst this genre had validity in its own right, it was not fulfilling his total self. He felt the need to redefine his work to include a moral content in order to engage with the human condition.
 


    “Most of these later works could be seen to be religious. However, if the viewer is prepared to look beyond the religious narrative, they will see that it is used as a metaphor within which the sculptor can express his consciousness of humanity and inhumanity. The metaphor is timeless and transcends the dominant culture. Its concern with the human condition has both historical and contemporary relevance.”

    I would say that if a viewer and/or reader is able to “look beyond the narrative” in art in general, all tales have the same underlying plot, and the deeper the tales the broader the net. Indeed, I would even go so far as to say that a poem like mine above as well as the little one that follows deliver the same message as Fenwick Lawson’s “Pietå,” — as do almost all such grievous love stories.
    ………

    ………
    …….AU REVOIR, HELOÏSE, ABELARD

    …………..Sand drifts even
    ……………………….under their fingers—

    …………..they touch dunes,
    ……………………….they touch each

    …………..other’s trackless forms
    ……………………….that sift like shadows,

    …………..lengthen like their days,
    ……………………….the indecisive hours spent

    …………..not in life but works,
    ……………………….the only wet a mirage

    …………..of parting lips, the only
    ……………………….spring departing words

    …………..thick like an oasis thought
    ……………………….but too rehearsed to notice.

    …………..She stoops to leave
    ………………………as she always does—

    …………..not to be so quite
    ……………………….undone he bows too,

    …………..lowering his eyes not
    ……………………….to see how she shakes,

    …………..how white she is,
    ……………………….how flushed, her eyes

    …………..like his snow-blind,
    ……………………….ears deafened by

    …………..the sound of glaciers calving
    ……………………….and the splintering feet.
    ………………

    ………………

    I was very grateful to Bill Kammann for sending me the Fra Angelico painting that follows — he couldn’t have shown me in a better way that he knew what I was getting at. He also told me that he and Ida had read “Whatever My Good Would-Be Sisters Say” out loud to each other twice, and in both directions. They thought it might help to keep their minds off the huge earthquake that had just struck their house near Mexico City.

    I was deeply grateful to them for that, and think it will work. At least it would have for me. (You can click on it to see it even better.)

    ……………..Fra Angelico 310+

    Christopher

  19. wfkammann said,

    April 22, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Christopher,

    We loved the poem. It was perfect for Easter.

    For me, the two hands in Fra Angelico’s painting are as expressive as Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. I still remember the joy of seeing this for the first time at San Marco in Florence. Savonarola’s cell was anti-climactic.

  20. April 22, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Fra Angelico - Tamedcynic

    ……..
    …………..INTERMENT

    ………………Open up the sheets, fair weepers,
    ………………roll back the stone from this bed.
    ………………Yes, we’ve been on strong medication
    ………………and taken heavy punches too
    ………………to come down to you dutifully like this.
    ………………No mother wants a grown-up son
    ………………more perfectly assured, more naked
    ………………yet perfectly disposed across her lap—
    ………………all hard ardor emptied from his side,
    ………………blent knees drawn-up to let him hang
    ………………from his two hands in greater comfort.
    ………………No bird bows between two wider wings,
    ………………no swallow stoops more gracefully
    ………………in heavier, more final light,
    ………………no paper-dry carapace of the cicada
    ………………hangs more split silent at the hatch.

    ………………So open up the sheets, shining weepers,
    ………………roll back the stone from this bed—
    ………………we embrace your loosening resignation,
    ………………we take refuge in the white marble
    ………………churchyard of your ever-widening lap.

    ………………………………………………………………St. Gervais,
    ………………………………………………………………Vendredi Saint

    ……..
    ………………poem published in
    Runes: A Review of Poetry (2001)
    ………………photograph by Jason Micheli, San Marco, Florence (2013)
    ……..

    Christopher

  21. April 23, 2014 at 10:56 am

    ………Maymyo carriage
    ………“Squeezed in here you can get there too however little the horse.”
    ……………………………………………………………………..Maymyo, Burma

    I have a good friend who’s a wonderful writer but gets angry at me if I suggest he may be writing about something more than what he thinks he is writing about. In a nutshell, my friend feels a narrative is just a narrative, and that a good writer’s responsibility is to write the narrative so well that it carries the reader along on a wave of well-wrought words — and that that’s what good writing is about. To suggest that there are other concerns beside narrative, and in poetry in particular, needless to say, is to assume that there are aspects of writing that a writer may not specifically ‘intend,’ God forbid, and my friend has no patience with that. In fact we get into the biggest trouble of all when I suggest that a poet can also write to find out things he or she doesn’t know, and that a message can go far beyond a poet’s intention, or even comprehension for that matter.

    The kind of writing my friend champions is usually associated with the longer, narrative modes. Indeed, one of the reasons why the post-modern novel is so bulky is that writers like him tend to throw in everything including the kitchen sink, because it’s the craft and not the content that’s in charge, and the craft can do wonderful things even with sinks. Art that concerns itself more with the distillation of things, on the other hand, tends to be shorter, more austere, more ‘gnomic,’ like an Emily Dickinson poem, for example, or one of my own. On the other hand, though writing like Emily Dickinson’s tends to be simpler, shorter and plainer, it is often harder to talk about – in my experience there are more silences than there are words when the subject is Emily Dickinson, like the dashes that slow down her own little words scrawled on a slip of notepaper or the back of an envelope. Indeed, really to ‘get’ such writing requires painstaking self-examination, as if one were contemplating an icon on one’s knees for a glimpse of an entity one doesn’t yet know even exists. For that reason it may take a life time of patience to grasp the message of one tiny poem like “The Soul Selects Her Own Society,” for example — because, of course, we’re usually not ready for such a poem when we first meet it, or we may be so old we passed it 10 minutes ago later on, like Alice.

    And here’s the wild one – my friend’s concerns are more ‘art for art’s sake’ than my own, I’d say. Because my friend looks at writing first and foremost as a demonstration of a writer’s skill — for him the writer is a craftsperson who molds a text with deliberate dexterity, informed taste, and control. My sort of writer, on the other hand, is equally concerned with art for understanding’s sake, and his or her work is going to encourage a reader to read also with the soul, for want of a better word. That’s why I would encourage students of poetry not to be too strict with words at first but to go for what they feel without imposing too much control. They should take big wooly chances by the handful while they can, I feel — and young writers often have the unselfconsciousness and bravura to do that better than adults who know so much about how to do it they can’t.

    That’s why I would want my teacher to work with “meaning” in the classroom as well as craft. My friend, on the other hand, doesn’t want a poetry teacher even to mention the word ‘meaning,’ which makes him shudder. My friend feels that a teacher who discusses the meaning of a poem is imposing an academic, almost doctrinal sort of Interpretation on the student, whereas I feel the student who is not encouraged to seek meanings in the first place may remain unaware of the existence of such doors into another world altogether — and of course into his or her own inner life. And I’d say that’s a tragic omission in any education.

    To be frank, I want students to know from the start that poetry is an adventure, and that real adventures are almost always hard at some point if not hard all the way. I’d want them to know that there always comes a time when you have to explore the outback in poetry, so to speak, or as Robert Frost put it in “Directive,” “back out of all this now too much for us.” I’d want students to know that that’s the place most great poems set out to discover, and that it’s rarely along a nicely trimmed path what is more through comfortable country, at least not all the way. Indeed, sometimes it becomes almost vertical.

    Which is why a poetry classroom should be dangerous, shouldn’t it?

    Christopher

    ………………

    P.S. I just decided to add this tiny little poem of mine at the end because for me it illustrates how much insight is generated by friction in a writer’s life, and as painful as that friction may be how positive it can be as well — as in my poem “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse,” which you probably know. (You can find it here if you want to reread it in this context.)

    Good writing, like everything else, arises as much out of misunderstanding and turmoil as it does out of harmony and good will — the poem refers to the troubled relationship between Sophie and Leo Tolstoy as they lived and wrote War and Peace together at Yasnaya Polyana in the 1860s. [The description of the Battle of Borodino is one of the most terribly beautiful pieces of writing that has ever been penned, and it was their impossible relationship that made it possible. At least that’s what I feel.]

    ………………
    …….AFTER THE BATTLE OF BORODINO

    ………………His faltering flint
    ………………sparks unease

    ………………confusion in the valley
    ………………the bleached smell

    ………………of wet copper
    ………………tongues charged

    ………………with too much sheathed spite
    ………………to seize the bit between them

    ………………her ruined throat
    ………………the silence of what

    ………………cannot be rectified in strife
    ………………greening the ruck between them.

    ………………

    C.

  22. April 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

    …………“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
    ………….as those move easiest who have learned to dance.”

    True under certain circumstances only.

    Notable exceptions are children, deer, lovers, aspen leaves at dusk, and some very young poets.

    I wasn’t young or that lucky when I wrote the following, and I’d already been writing poetry for my own pleasure for many years. On the other hand, I did know what the poem was about at the time, and the reason I knew what it was about was that I wrote the poem to find out.

    Indeed, what’s good about this poem is it’s ease in saying what is the hardest thing in the world for a human being to do, sometimes called flight, sometimes called magic. The boy in the painting by the contemporary Russian painter, Alexander Pogosyan, knows how to do it, obviously, but I bet this wonderful painter has never even tried to fly what is more to do magic with anything but a paint brush. Maybe that’s why he paints the wings so crude, and the feet so full of clay. Which I love (and I love the grammar in the way I say that there too).

    And, of course, we all know that neither the poem nor the painting is about what they pretend to be about, but I wonder how many human beings would take either of them really seriously, like as important as fact?

    And you know, I suspect an awful lot of people would, but I also suspect very few would ever have entertained the thought without art, or music, or falling in love. And even then they might need some poetry.


    …………………………………“Over the Earth,” Alexander Pogosyan, (1963 – )

    ………………
    ………………..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.
    ……………………..

    …….published in Fire Readings, A Collection of Contemporary
    …….Writing from the Shakespeare & Co. Fire Benefit. (Paris, 1991)
    …..

    Christopher

  23. April 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

    The following passage, among the most famous ever written about either writing or women, was part of a speech Virginia Woolf delivered at the National Society for Women’s Service on January 21, 1931, and eventually published posthumously in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays. But I don’t think it says what it is commonly thought to say, indeed I don’t think it’s even about sex. It’s about what we’re afraid of as artists, and I mean all of us , not just women. It’s about how we’re all afraid of what we don’t know, and that if others find out, well, we’ll be jerks.

    Here’s the passage:

    I want you to figure to yourselves a girl sitting with a pen in her hand, which for minutes, and indeed for hours, she never dips into the inkpot. The image that comes to my mind when I think of this girl is the image of a fisherman lying sunk in dreams on the verge of a deep lake with a rod held out over the water. She was letting her imagination sweep unchecked round every rock and cranny of the world that lies submerged in the depths of our unconscious being. Now came the experience, the experience that I believe to be far commoner with women writers than with men. The line raced through the girl’s fingers. Her imagination had rushed away. It had sought the pools, the depths, the dark places where the largest fish slumber. And then there was a smash. There was an explosion. There was foam and confusion. The imagination had dashed itself against something hard. The girl was roused from her dream. She was indeed in a state of the most acute and difficult distress. To speak without figure she had thought of something, something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say. Men, her reason told her, would be shocked. The consciousness of–what men will say of a woman who speaks the truth about her passions had roused her from her artist’s state of unconsciousness. She could write no more. The trance was over. Her imagination could work no longer. This I believe to be a very common experience with women writers–they are impeded by the extreme conventionality of the other sex. For though men sensibly allow themselves great freedom in these respects, I doubt that they realize or can control the extreme severity with which they condemn such freedom in women.

    What I want to say, and to say specifically as a man, is that as a poet I am also a woman, and that I regularly experience precisely the same conundrum as the girl above. Indeed, I want to cut straight to this by showing you one of my favorite paintings of what it feels like to be me when I’m at my best not just in writing but in reading as well, or gardening, or even just dozing for that matter — and I want you to be sure to notice not just my beauty but the strength of my thighs, back and hair along with the way I knot my fingers in the grizzled mane of the beast even in such a perilous, sideways position, and how sweet he smells. And just in passing I’d like to say as well that I love this painting by Félix Vallotton, indeed the whole movement to which it belongs — the almost oriental stylization, the mystification, the depersonalization, and above all the lack of pretension that makes such an artist, male or female, into a magus, a sybil, an anchorite, or a castaway perhaps in some ship, croft, or attic — a figure almost like Conchis in John Fowles’ novel set on that Greek island, Spetses, remember? — a place where any of the artists I most love could have lived and painted easily as could any of their models. Look, you can see it right over there on the horizon!


    ..Félix Vallotton, “L’Enlèvement d’Europe” (1908) (you can click to see better)

    That’s a start, and of course I’m still talking about what my friend said about “meaning,” that to teach it makes you into a sort of a man and your students into girls, and of course girls are intimidated if you tell them male answers, as if anybody knew what they were, or he would.

    Any takers?

    Christopher

    • wfkammann said,

      May 3, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Virginia Woolf says: This I believe to be a very common experience with women writers–they are impeded by the extreme conventionality of the other sex. For though men sensibly allow themselves great freedom in these respects, I doubt that they realize or can control the extreme severity with which they condemn such freedom in women.

      You say: But I don’t think it says what it is commonly thought to say, indeed I don’t think it’s even about sex. It’s about what we’re afraid of as artists, and I mean all of us , not just women. It’s about how we’re all afraid of what we don’t know, and that if others find out, well, we’ll be jerks.

      I say: It’s the poem which transcends the pigeon-hole. It doesn’t require a particular reader, which you seem to assume. It is not subject to an easy answer because even those who would nail the meaning down and move on will still be nervously looking over their shoulders sensing an inkling of a dangerous incompleteness in their pat answer. No, it’s the poem that has to do that and all the faith and suspended disbelief is for naught if it doesn’t.

      Thank-you, Christopher, for your aesthetic and your faith.

      • May 3, 2014 at 10:47 am

        An interesting response, and I’d hoped somebody might rise to it.

        It’s like the case of Donald Sterling of the NBA Clippers. The story is about racism, of course it is, but it’s also about something else just as pernicious but which still gets regularly under our radar.

        So what’s the thought that we Americans are still unable to think when we’re sitting at our desks alone with this breaking news?

        Is it sex?

        Indeed, many feminists are saying the story is about sex, and how terrible it is that men still have such power over women in our society. But I ask you to be honest about where Donald Sterling’s power lies. Is it in his male good looks, his male clout, or maybe the male society he keeps, where he sits by the ringside at the big fights, or gets seated by the other big men at the Oscars?

        None of the above, obviously, but still how slow we are to answer. Because money’s the answer, not sex, and that’s the thought we Americans still can’t think — curtailing anybody’s money is unthinkable in America today even when it’s distributed so unevenly and the imbalance is getting worse and worse and worse. Indeed, it’s the bane of our society, and I’d say that that’s partly because the thought of curtailing it is still largely unthinkable.

        The fact is that not everybody who’s got money buys women anymore than they buy Fabergé eggs, boys, beagles or Ferraris. But they buy, for sure, and where there’s a market there are commodities, and the bigger the market the bigger and better the commodity (V. Stiviano is extremely beautiful, and she looks very smart too — I’d love to meet her!).

        Think the Earl of Essex, or even Richard Burton.

        Christopher

  24. April 26, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Vallotton Couche Soleil 450……………………………….Félix Vallotton, “Coucher de Soleil” (date unknown)

    ………………
    ……………..HER FEAR OF ANGELS

    ………………….“An angel’s so light
    ………………….he’s impertinent!” she cries,
    ………………….laughing at her lover.

    ………………….(“But he’s treacherous too,”
    ………………….she consoles herself,
    ………………….turning on her side,

    ………………….“the way he doesn’t peg
    ………………….the tent of his body down
    ………………….at the end of the day.

    ………………….“To lie in his arms
    ………………….is much too risky—
    ………………….the lightest breeze can lift
    ………………….the corners of his canvas up
    ………………….to expose all that
    ………………….celestial proclivity
    ………………….as unnatural,
    ………………………………as depravity!

    ………………….“—like lying there
    ………………….open and wanting
    ………………….while the busy neighbors gape—
    ………………….how it glistens! oh the lolly!”)
    ………………
    ………………

    Christopher

  25. April 27, 2014 at 9:19 am

    WHEN I SWIM I THINK OF YOU

    Jeanne Hebuterne, Modigliani, 1918
    Jeanne Hébuterne by Amedeo Modigliani, Paris (1918)

    Nearly ten years after her suicide, just 5 days after Modigliani’s death, and pregnant, the Hébuterne family finally allowed Jeanne’s remains to be transferred to the Père Lachaise Cemetery to rest beside his. Her epitaph reads: “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice,” and her grave is visited almost as much as Jim Morrison’s. Like this.

    ….
    ….
    ……………..WHEN I SWIM I THINK OF YOU

    ……………………….“When I swim
    ……………………….I think of you!”

    ……………………….he writes, both
    ……………………….hands occupied

    ……………………….with the flood,
    ……………………….his fingers groping

    ……………………….in the dark for wet
    ……………………….places where the old

    ……………………….dike can no longer hold
    ……………………….back the North Sea—

    ……………………….while far below green fields
    ……………………….thaw under the foam

    ……………………….and warm fish feather
    ……………………….the clustering grasses,

    ……………………….grazing full of milt,
    ……………………….panning the

    ……………………….dark, salty
    ……………………….grapes.
    .
    ….

    Christopher

  26. April 29, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    SUZANNE VALADON

    Suzanne Valadon (1882) 300
    Suzanne Valadon (1882)

    ………………
    Danse a Bougival
    Jean-Auguste Renoir, “Danse à Bougival”
    (Suzanne Valadon et Jean Lhote) (1883)

    ………………
    Valadon et Lautrec 1885
    Toulouse-Lautrec painting Suzanne Valadon, Paris (1885)

    ………………
    Edgar Degas Apres le Bain 1896
    Edgar Degas, “Après le Bain 2” (Suzanne Valadon) (1896)

    ………………

    Suzanne Valadon, “Après le Bain” (1908)

    ………………
    Suzanne Valadon paints in her studio, Paris (1920)
    Suzanne Valadon in her own studio, Paris (1920)

    ………………

    Suzanne Valadon, “La Chambre Bleue,” (self portrait) (1923)
    ………………

  27. April 29, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    ……350
    ……………………………………………………………….

    ….
    ………………LOOKING AT LOVE AGAIN, CLOSELY

    ……………………….Speechless before
    ……………………….the wit of
    ……………………….too much time

    ……………………….the wisest heart in thrall
    ……………………….falls stricken

    ……………………….tongue entangled in
    ……………………….the brilliant
    ……………………….whorls
    ……………………….like Sappho’s
    ……………………….fragrant fingertips
    ……………………….limned again
    ……………………….in clay
    ……………………….around Love’s eyes

    ……………………….the penned lashes
    ……………………….larks

    ……………………….flights in kohl
    ……………………….which rise counter-
    ……………………….point against
    ……………………….the years
    ……………………….and wrestle down
    ……………………….life’s mounting
    ……………………….grief
    ……………………….with pinioned joy.
    ….
    ….

    Christopher

  28. April 29, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    HE WRITES

    ……….How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere
    ……….known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or
    ……….catch or key to keep

    ……….Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from
    ……….vanishing away?

    …………………………………………..Gerard Manley Hopkins (1918)
    ……….

    “I met her at the bottom of the cliff — I was fed up with the valley floor and I thought I would go out to sea, but in reality I was going to scale cliffs with her.

    “We divided responsibilities from the start—she told stories as her passport, wove a whole magical web of films and childhood memories and personalities while I coiled ropes and gathered supplies and plotted our course. In the early stages she just sat on my shoulders and talked and caressed me—I was so happy to have her there I never thought of the weight. In fact, her presence actually seemed to lighten all the other burdens I had on my shoulders, even if she was heavier than all the others combined. I kept handing up ropes to her to hold, but if I asked her to hoist a little, or do a traverse to prepare for the next pitch, or to hold our position while I rested, she raged. The caresses stopped, the stories stopped, and she went over to other climbing parties and entertained them with her favors, leaving me suspended and exposed. But as the climb got higher and higher, and she realized that she was now over the heads of all the others, and that a mistake would precipitate a very serious accident, she began to try to learn to climb. But now the maneuvers which she was capable of learning were so basic, so much part of the equipment of the foothills, that she felt any effort was ridiculous.

    “As to me, I became more and more heroic in the ascent as she became more and more incompetent and more and more panicked by the height. The altitude made her anxious because it was so high, yes, but even more so because it made her conscious of the falseness of her position both with regard to me and in relation to the rest of the world. People saw her up there in the clouds, involved in this spectacular climb, and she knew that she was just along for the ride—and she felt only self-disgust and panic. I felt anxious too, but also hopeful—and when I could find a ledge on which to rest I began to breathe more freely and to look after myself. During these moments I left her to her own resources, and often she would rappel down to the valley floor for a season. Then I would hoist her back up, which required enormous effort and patience on my part, and she would appear over the edge covered in the dust of low places and smelling of scent. But above all she would be tired and listless, used up, played out—and I would be lonely and hurt. Was this really my companion of the great ascent? Was this really my partner in harness, the one upon whom I relied should ever I slip and fall? Was this my ultimate belayer?

    “And then I began to wonder if she would be there when I was working that next overhang, would she be attentive to my needs for security, there at the end of my rope? When I was out of sight around the edge of the next spur, did she have hold of my rope at all? Because this kind of climbing, rock-climbing at this altitude and at this pitch, cannot be done alone without extreme peril. And I’m strong, yes, but I’m not that gifted for climbing. In fact, the irony is that I would never have come so far if I didn’t have her along to bring up with me. For of course I climb in part for her, or mostly.

    “And then she stopped trying, stopped even pretending to try. She complained of altitude sickness, and the next thing I knew she was bleeding. I tidied up the ledge, re-established my contacts with the base-camp, confirmed our position—and waited, hovering around her, administering to her, desperately trying to meet her needs in this out of the way place. And I realized that I was becoming a stranger to her, I had climbed right out of her domain—that each time she came back up to the ledge smelling of others she was less and less with me, less and less mine.

    “She began to speak of the life of the valley, the marketplace, the café, the bathroom and the bedroom, and strange voices began to come up over the VHF for her when my back was turned. Still I hoped—to have come so far, it was inconceivable to me to abandon the climb. But she was descending fast in health, now huddled in our tent, cramped up with pain and raging against me for it. I had become her jailer, and this magnificent mountain had become her prison—and all she longed for was a soft young man, a boy of the schoolyard or park, and idle pursuits, or so it seemed to me, poised as I was on the edge of my limits. It was survival climbing now, and this influenced my understanding of everything that was happening.

    “She forced me to assist her final descent, and I gave her all the rope I had left to do it. I agreed that no other course of action was possible, and because she promised so vehemently to come back up in 2 or 3 months I prepared myself to wait, staked myself out on this ledge to wait. I was so high there was no going up without her, and she had taken all my rope so there was no possibility of getting back down either. I had the magnificent view for companionship, and the summit above, so rarely reached by anyone, to keep up my spirits. But I had little food and shelter, and no hope for advancement or retreat before her return. Little did that crowd of spectators down below on the valley floor realize the drama that was being played out up there on the cliff face—and no one knew that this great climber had been betrayed by his partner, abandoned in the midst of the final ascent, and that he was crying on the ledge like a baby.

    “But don’t feel too sorry for him, and don’t feel too condemnatory about the way he was abandoned by his partner on the ultimate climb either. The real measure of his greatness was to have come so far, not just alone but with his companion on his back, and the real measure of his folly, and more than that of his actual culpability, was to have dragged a poor, ill-equipt, adolescent girl so far beyond her powers, to have given her a taste of forbidden heights and frightened her half to death.

    “Did she come back? If she did it would have been extraordinary, because there was no more rope joining the two of them, so it would have meant making the ascent back up to him alone, entirely by herself—which was even more than he did. Did she gain that kind of strength down there in the soft places of the valley? Maybe she did—she’s a rare one, after all. Or did she perhaps find her own kind of climb, another sort of cliff all of her own which he knew nothing about? Did she ascend it alone like an enormous scaffolding until she was at the same altitude and able to throw a line across the abyss to allow him to rescue himself—or to join him herself, depending upon how you see the end of this story? But up to this point, where it is now in the story, he’s still hanging from the cliff edge, suspended in the hammock of his sleeping bag, thrashing out in his sleep, dreaming of summits and valleys in turn, and unable to reach either, Maybe he’s healing hanging in that coccoon. Maybe he’s beginning to think less about the betrayal, to think less about the possibility of her return, to think less about his pain and the triumph of having born it even to the final rock-face. Perhaps he’s not feeling so confident about placing the flag of his being on the highest summit hand in hand with his beloved, perhaps he’s beginning to ask himself whether he even wants that anymore. Perhaps he’s starting to face the sadness and loneliness of it all, the futility of it all, the unfairness of life, the certainty of death. Perhaps he’s even starting to see what she knew all the time, why he loved her so badly, why he needed her so badly, like a bird.

    “Was that it? That his arms about her were the wings of her bird? Or that her wings were his arms about her?”
    ….

    Christopher

  29. May 1, 2014 at 11:17 am

    …………

    ………….HEROES LIKE HEROINES

    ……………..Camille Claudel 1884-19
    …………………………..Camille Claudel, aged 19 (1884)

    ……………..T.E.Lawrence 1910
    …………………………..T.E.Lawrence, aged 22 (1910)

    ….

    ……………….
    AN ELEGY FOR HEROES LIKE HEROINES

    ………..And then we
    …………………………………………….all split.
    ……

    ………..Between the shroud
    ………..and the caul,
    ………..between the bell
    ………..and the word
    ………..we squirm and
    ………..we wriggle
    …………………………………………….and split.
    ……

    ………..But to be equally split
    ………..is not to be equally
    …………………………………………….parted,
    ………..for one remains cleft
    ………..while the other is
    …………………………………………….cloven,
    ………..one remains fissured
    ………..while the other is
    …………………………………………….forked.
    ……

    ………..Knees knit together
    ………..one loves like a fish
    ………..but rises and walks
    …………………………………………….like a man,
    ………..while the other
    ………..spread-eagled and burst
    ………..loves like a man
    ………..but lingers behind
    …………………………………………….like the sea.
    ……

    ………..So pity the mermaid
    ………..whose tail is unwoven,
    ………..how she strides split
    ………..stubborn and silent
    …………………………………………….like Deirdre
    ………..or Nausicaa,
    ………..eating nothing like Simone,
    ………..or clay like Camille, oh Anna,
    ………..how she hopes even
    …………………………………………….to the altar.
    ……

    ………..And pity the gamin
    ………..webbed in the skirt,
    ………..his members knit back
    ………..into one midnight bell,
    ………..how he minces,
    …………………………………………….he hobbles
    ………..like our Christy or Lawrence,
    ………..how he flutters on pinions
    ………..of radiance
    …………………………………………….like Icarus
    ………..or dereliction
    …………………………………………….like his father,
    ………..laboring in the shadow
    ………..of his failure’s designer,
    ………..how he chimes in the net
    …………………………………………….of the charmed.
    …..

    …………… from “Connemara Trousers” (The Kenyon Review, 1992)
    …..

    Christopher

    (You can click here to read the rest of this poem — “Elegy for Heroes like Heroines” is the last of eight parts, and was published in the original Kenyon Review version. You can also see there the old photograph of young boys in a schoolhouse yard somewhere in Connemara about 1900, barefoot and in skirts. In addition there’s a brief note on the full poem, parts of which have only just been completed.)

    …………

  30. May 2, 2014 at 11:09 am

    ……………
    CW Barra 2 (450 + bright)
    ……

    That’s about it, then, my friends.

    I think this thread got to where I thought it might, though it certainly did take some turnings that surprised me including those two photos right at the end, the one of Rodin’s brilliant young colleague and the other of the 22 year old cadet who had already done such important archaeological work on the Crusades at Oxford before he came into his own as a saracen on the other side at 30 — and how he was hurt, just as much as she was. I just hope there were some chastening moments like that for you too, indeed that you found some conundrum of value to chase down and make part of your own lives as well.

    I held my breath to see if anyone would still be hanging in there day by day, and I was very pleased to say that despite the silence, yes, there were visitors. Indeed, there were substantially more followers at the end than there where at the beginning, though goodness knows who you are.

    So why didn’t you say?

    ………………………………………………~

    The poems I have included in this thread from over the years are all in much the same style with just one or two exceptions — because I don’t write this fiercely all the time, especially as I’m not so brave at 74 as I was at 50 (I wrote “An Elegy for Heroes Like Heroines” at 50, and I hope you’ll agree that’s brave). These are also all poems that have either been published already, or that I know never will be published, at least not published separately from one of my books. And that’s not because the poems aren’t good enough but because, for one reason or another, they’re embarrassing. Indeed, most of the unpublished poems I include here have been seen by well-known editors over the years, and rejected many, many times — “They’re good,” they always tell me, “just not right for us” — short-hand for “we don’t know where to look.”

    But my wife Homprang, who can’t read anything I write, still reassures me. “Don’t worry, Christopher — you’re time will come.” And I think she’s still right too — my time will come, I feel sure, and my ’embarrassing’ poems will be reassessed in the context of the whole body of my work, as well as my life. (You can see what I’m like in the photo above — and I’d say my poetry is still just like that though I was only 24 at the moment, already with 2 children.)

    ………………………………………………~

    All the poems on this thread relate to what I call ‘faith’ in the Introduction, a topic which some readers of poetry today may find embarrassing as well.

    Do you remember what I said at the very beginning about that, because I didn’t use the word ‘faith’ casually, nor did I mean ‘God’ or anything like that. Indeed, nobody is more convinced than I am that there’s no life after death, or that God isn’t dead. I also know that in death time dies, that the past and future no longer move away from each other, and that sorrow and joy are irrelevant.

    The problem is that most modern readers turn off the moment I use religious imagery because they think I believe in it, whereas all I’ve done is assemble some images like flowers in a vase — some I create myself, of course, but many others I steal, modify, or just rub up with a nice soft cloth. Of course it’s the Christian images I arrange like this that cause readers the most trouble, including “soul,” a word which I love, because most readers are embarrassed to think anybody would write uncritical stuff like that today what is more expect modern readers to accept it. Ditto Buddhist imagery, which feels even more old-hat to most readers, indeed even to me (I almost never use Buddhist imagery even in my Buddhist poetry — a big topic in itself).

    So with that all said, here’s my pitch ‘On Faith’ again. Do you remember?

    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 and my relationship to poetry? 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 somewhere, ditto?
    ……

    Christopher

  31. May 4, 2014 at 10:19 am

    In his last comment yesterday, Bill said:

    ”It’s the poem which transcends the pigeon-hole. It doesn’t require a particular reader, which you seem to assume. It is not subject to an easy answer because even those who would nail the meaning down and move on will still be nervously looking over their shoulders sensing an inkling of a dangerous incompleteness in their pat answer. No, it’s the poem that has to do that and all the faith and suspended disbelief is for naught if it doesn’t.”

    I’d like to move my reply down to here because this is where I just reaffirmed my position, and indeed the issue is the key to this thread.

    ~

    I’d say any poem requires a particular reader, Bill, and above all a challenging poem, one that has arisen out of a particularly intense moment of personal reflection.

    At the same time there are many great poems based on popular tastes and assumptions, poems which require very little if any reflection. Indeed, poems like this often become part of our childhood memories, lending us as they do much needed protection against age and disappointment. I have my own security-blanket poems like this — I love Emily Dickinson’s little nursery-rhyme poem, “It’s all I have to bring today,” for example — you quoted it here , Bill, and I replied with Pádraic Colum’s, “The Drover,” one of the greatest folk-poems in English. Indeed, I even write such ‘simple’ poems on occasion, like “Where the Truth Lies,” for example ( click here and scroll down a bit to find it). “Where the Truth Lies” used to embarrass me but now it has transformed itself into a close friend. That’s because after many years I know I can trust it, that it’s always just itself, that like a rock I can lean on it. And that’s an important aspect of what I mean by ‘faith’ in the reading of poetry too, a quality which applies as much to great peasant poems as to those terribly difficult conundrums wrought by tormented artists on the limit.

    Poems like “It’s all I have to bring today” and “Where the Truth Lies” are not the whole story, that’s the point, and particularly not today when poetry has become a new sort of Sacred Art. Billy Collins is one of the few genuinely ‘popular’ poets in our time, and that’s in part because he has chosen to stay comfortably at home, so to speak, to write as your neighbor. But even Billy Collins requires considerable reflection to read well — indeed, I’d say Billy Collins is a great poet in much the same way that Norman Rockwell is a great artist. (I remember when you turned up your nose at Norman Rockwell, Bill, dismissing him as a mere Saturday Evening Post illustrator, yet he’s surely one of our great painters, and if you can listen he will never stop talking to you, or should I say never stop looking, you at him, him at you — we argued that one out at some length here , both above and below.)

    It’s a huge topic, but there’s no doubt that not all poetry is easily understood simply because to understand new things we need to develop new understanding as well as new equipment, just as the poet has to experiment with what he or she wants to say in order to express what has never been said before, like Piero della Francesca in that ‘Nativity,’ or so much of late Picasso. When “Lyrical Ballads” first came out it was “not liked at all by any,” don’t forget, yet it’s a piece of cake today — and I can remember when “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was taught to me in highschool in the ’50s as “difficult,” whereas it’s now not only easy but friendly — and so beautiful! Indeed, I can’t think of any poem in which I have more faith.

    Christopher

    P.S. — mainly for you, Bill:

    The irony is that I’m not a “difficult” poet in the sense that Ezra Pound is “difficult” in The Cantos, let’s say, or Rae Armantrout is “difficult” in her post-literate micrologues, that indeed what’s “difficult” about me is that I insist I’m comprehensible, and even make an effort to be clear. And that’s just plain embarrassing for modern readers and critics — indeed, the majority of readers and critics today are embarrassed for me as much as by me — and if not embarrassed then angry, indeed personally offended that I could assume so much. (You mean he means that? But that’s outrageous. Totally unacceptable, naive, stupid, an affront to everything that our craft has tried so hard to outgrow!)

    C.

  32. May 4, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    And what would such a poet sound like if you trusted him instead of dismissing him? What would he sound like if your life depended on deciphering his message, or if he were so famous and well-established you had no alternative but to pull yourself up by your own boot-straps to meet him half way, or else acknowledge that you were limited yourself?

    Because there are many artists and poets who are like that, Anne Carson, for example, who never stops raising the bar? Yet we don’t dismiss her as foolish or inexpert when she does boxes, for example, because we have faith in her integrity, and know that if we hang in there she’ll deliver for sure, even if the work is a failure.

    I think Louise Glück has won through to that too, not that everything she does is successful but because we have faith in her as a person as well as a poet, and we know that win or lose it’s going to be something we have to get our minds around.

    Maybe even the grail like in “Directive,” embarrassing but there. Or even, dare I say it, Janet Malcolm — a mess we still want to grapple with. I mean, isn’t that another sort of trust aka faith?

    C.

  33. wfkammann said,

    May 5, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Christopher,

    You often accuse me of replying with Blake and Milton; well, here I go again. This time it’s Borges and I think he gets your point better than I ever will.

    UNA ROSA Y MILTON

    De las generaciones de las rosas
    Que en el fondo del tiempo se han perdido
    Quiero que una se salve del olvido,
    Una sin marca o signo entre las cosas

    Que fueron. El destino me depara
    Este don de nombrar por vez primera
    Esa flor silenciosa, la postrera
    Rosa que Milton acercó a su cara,

    Sin verla. Oh tú bermeja o amarilla
    O blanca rosa de un jardín borrado,
    Deja mágicamente tu pasado

    Inmemorial y en este verso brilla,
    Oro, sangre o marfil o tenebrosa
    Como en sus manos, invisible rosa.
    ….

    A ROSE AND MILTON

    From the generations of roses
    That are lost in the depths of time
    I want one saved from oblivion,
    One spotless rose, of all things

    That ever were. Fate permits me
    The gift of choosing for once
    That silent flower, the last rose
    That Milton held before him,

    Unseen. O vermilion, or yellow
    Or white rose of a ruined garden,
    Your past still magically remains

    Forever shines in these verses,
    Gold, blood, ivory or shadow
    As if in his hands, invisible rose.

    ….

  34. May 6, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Jesus was a real miracle worker because he knew the art of magic, yes, and he took the time to explain that art on a number of occasions.

    What he always said was that magic was not about getting what you wanted what is more about what you needed or even longed for with all your heart. No, it was about getting what you knew you already had. That’s what Jesus said — believe in what you’ve already got and you shall surely have it (he said that best right after that awful fig tree debacle that so upset the disciples).

    Which is all I’ve tried to say about my poetry in this thread as well, and why I’m now going to stop.

    But if anyone wants to please me here at the end he or she will read this final little poem not as if it were by Milton or any other famous poet but just by me. If you do that you will realize there is something of great value in a poem that’s just there from one person to another, and that if it’s by a poet who knows something about all this in his or her own life and works hard at it, like for 20 years, I mean, or more, such a poem can speak to you whether or not it’s perfectly crafted, or even published.

    But pay attention (remember “Attention?” ), you’ve got to meet any poet half-way there otherwise there’s never more than just more make-believe between you.

    ………………
    …………….ONLY THIS ONCE, O GOD!

    ……………………What poem is
    ……………………not a prayer?

    ……………………We write to get
    ……………………and not to hope
    ……………………or give,

    ……………………we write to have
    ……………………whatsoever we desire!

    ……………………Like prayer a poem
    ……………………does not ask
    ……………………but celebrates
    ……………………accomplishment—

    ……………………all unfettered from
    ……………………the need to make believe
    ……………………a poem is
    ……………………exactly what it says

    ……………………even if it means
    ……………………the most dutiful roots
    ……………………must dry up,

    ……………………that all the weight of
    ……………………rock and dizzy height
    ……………………must slide
    ……………………down into the sea
    ……………………and leave
    ……………………the mountain folk
    ……………………standing bereft
    ……………………and breathless

    ……………………on the plain.

    ………………

    Christopher

  35. May 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Dear Friends,

    Before signing off I’d like to leave you with yet another little poem. It’s the companion piece to “Breezy Point which I showed you three weeks ago, and of course also links to “Only This Once, O God!” just above.

    These three poems are all from an as yet unpublished book, “Gold Leaf On The Waters,” which also contains “An Elegy for Heroes Like Heroines” — I showed you that one just last week. (It’s the last part of a long poem called “Connemara Trousers.”)

    In addition you might want to look back at the introductory poem to “Gold Leaf On The Waters”.  “He Reflects on What His Genius Means” purports to be an antique relic “found amongst the ruins, thought to be Samson’s,” and the quotes from the Bible are all spoken by him as well, needless to say.

    ….

    ….
    ………………SAMSON ON THE BEACH
    …………………….(“Only this once, O God!”)

    ……………………He bows down

    ……………………his blindness is the
    ……………………water’s edge

    ……………………the drowning waves
    ……………………pray to reach his
    ……………………dry retreat

    ……………………they kneel to weep but
    ……………………only their white tears
    ……………………survive the wreck
    ……………………of all that hope
    ……………………to etch their names
    ……………………before him

    ……………………but sand is all
    ……………………his sea says

    ……………………so sad the hiss
    ……………………and roar
    ……………………of all that hope.

    ….
    ….

    With very best wishes,
    Christopher Woodman