CLICK THRICE, THEN LET ME KNOW

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

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

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………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

16 Comments

  1. wfkammann said,

    May 30, 2014 at 5:35 am

    Christopher,
    Nice to see you back.

    One armed paper hanger on holiday in Chiang Mai?
    Lure for man-eating sharks?
    Leper on the prowl?
    Ping river bag man?
    Waiting for my ship to come in?
    Spirit house for the one that got away?

    Still trying to pin everything down in a few words. Do tell.

  2. June 1, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    Don’t worry about a few words, Bill — you’re in good company.

    William Blake said, “Nature & Art in this together Suit,/ What is Most Grand is always most Minute.” Yet how many of us, like myself, I mean, and I suspect even you at times, don’t dare to speak because what we want to say is so simple, and we feel we’ll look stupid?

    ………………
    ……………THE SECRET

    ………………Two girls discover
    ………………the secret of life
    ………………in a sudden line of
    ………………poetry.

    ………………I who don’t know the
    ………………secret wrote
    ………………the line. They
    ………………told me

    ………………(through a third person)
    ………………they had found it
    ………………but not what it was
    ………………not even

    ………………what line it was. No doubt
    ………………by now, more than a week
    ………………later, they have forgotten
    ………………the secret,

    ………………the line, the name of
    ………………the poem. I love them
    ………………for finding what
    ………………I can’t find,

    ………………and for loving me
    ………………for the line I wrote,
    ………………and for forgetting it
    ………………so that

    ………………a thousand times, till death
    ………………finds them, they may
    ………………discover it again, in other
    ………………lines

    ………………in other
    ………………happenings. And for
    ………………wanting to know it,
    ………………for

    ………………assuming there is
    ………………such a secret, yes,
    ………………for that
    ………………most of all.
    ………………
    ………………………..Denise Levertov,
    ………………………..from O Taste and See: New Poems (1964)

    Christopher

  3. wfkammann said,

    June 2, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Am “I” what I do or what is being done to me? The idea of willful action as a determiner of “who we are” is one of the principles of Western Philosophy which is worth considering.

    If causality creates the nexus of what goes on; then the self determination of an “I” is questionable. If the “I” is only a way of seeing the causal nexus in a differentiated way; if it is simply a name for a part of what’s happening, then, “I” am not what “I” do since the doing is much greater and includes “me” to a very small extent.

    They say that the Great Ignorance is to postulate an “I”; a “me” and a “mine.” The result: “My poetry is better than yours or I never read his stuff; it’s terrible.” The pig; the snake and the rooster and round and round we go.

    In regard to the poem you quote: When you look into a crystal ball you may see the secrets of the past; present and future. Is reading poetry like crystal ball gazing?

  4. wfkammann said,

    June 6, 2014 at 2:13 am

    Here is a translation from the German of the 5th Chapter of the Tao Te Ching.

    The All knows no love;
    it soars above everything as if it were nought.
    Also, the wise person knows no love, as men know it;
    natural bonds do not bind them.
    (For more than love is that which motivates the All and the wise person)

    Like a smith’s bellows,
    inwardly empty, but making possible the hottest embers and the noblest
    creation, when inwardly moved,
    so comes from Nothing the creation of the All;

    So creates the silent person, with a free spirit.
    But those that can’t be silent are exhausted.

    I’m sure, Christopher, that this is one of the secrets you have hidden somewhere.

    Of course, I can’t be silent and therefore am exhausted.

  5. June 15, 2014 at 10:15 am

    That’s a good definition of poetry, that first one, Bill – “trying to pin things down in a few words.”

    And as you say just above, of course we’re not what we do, not at all. Indeed, if we were the majority of human beings wouldn’t qualify as more than a speck of dust, a termite, a statistic or a dutiful son.

    The men in the two photos, if men indeed they are, and in my world this is never certain as both men and women do the same hard work and equally wrap themselves up against the sun, and of course concentrate equally hard. And that’s the point – because it’s the concentration that says most about the person in each, after you get beyond the outlandish attire, of course. From the inside it’s the concentration that conveys to you who you are as a person, not what you happen to be doing – indeed, whatever it is you’re doing is quite outside and beyond the place you’re at in yourself when you’re most wide awake.

    Concentration means being there, and the more intense it is the more the universe falls into place around you – which is why fishing and golf are so important to so many people, the miniscule white ball in the wide green landscape, or the tiny dimple where the line penetrates the water being as much the focus of existence as the eye of God for some poets, the eye of the needle, the eye of the blackbird, or just catching the eye of someone you hadn’t realized you loved or hated for just a split second — as simple and disruptive as that.

    Which is Secret Number One for human beings, I’d say, and defines who we really are: concentration. Because concentration means being at the center of the universe, indeed at the only point at which anything that matters exists at all. And you don’t have to be rich or famous to be at that point either, indeed, you don’t have to have a degree or even speak a literate language, as I very much doubt either of the two figures in my photos do (they were photographed by a French friend, Brigitte, who went out bicycling with me just a few days before I posted them).

    What’s interesting is why the two photos as you first see them are so mysterious, the costumes, the body positions, the incongruities. Is the right hand one doing bumper cars, for example, and if so why wear a mask that reveals the face and covers up everything else, like a dead body presented for identification at the morgue? Or the left hand one, so heavily cloaked up and clandestine to be standing in water? Or is it boiling, perhaps, or so toxic it might dissolve a person, volcanic perhaps, or a noxious pool somewhere in the The Inferno?

    So then we start clicking, and lo and behold!

    The first click moves us from -5, let’s say, back to ‘0,’ and we can see things as they really are, as we say – when the perspective is normal we understand both the activity and the landscape. But if we click yet again we swing through the middle point to the opposite extreme, +5, let’s say, then on to +10 — and we’re well on our way into yet another world of deeper and deeper mystery until everything vanishes in pixcels.

    In fact it’s impossible to say whether the + or the – perspective is more distorted, or more truthful either. The minus leads us inward as far as the person is concerned, and the plus outward toward the less and less distinct beyond. And needless to say, from the point of view of the universe the two seem to be equally complex, either way, making our ordinary perspective seem less and less consequential, like in Physics.

    Which is what poetry does too.

    It’s what good poetry does for us, at least, even gloriously simple examples like “A Drover,” “It’s all I have to bring, today,” and “The Secret.”

    The problem with gloriously simple poems is that readers assume they’re simple because they look simple, like the Mona Lisa’s smile looks simple, Superman’s curl, or the wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.

    That’s why I disagree strongly with your crystal ball analogy just above, Bill, which implies that the secret of a poem must be about something which is “accessible,” i.e. something that actually, as we say, “happens.” Indeed, it’s not that at all, as J. Alfred Prufrock reminds us, the old fuddy-duddy — it’s in fact the secret of the universe were talking about, and that has nothing whatever to do with what’s actually happening around us what is more with what has happened already or will happen tomorrow, or ever. That’s why human beings almost always misunderstand what soothsayers say about the future, as do soothsayers most often themselves. What happens is just what happens, and that makes very little difference on any level as it’s almost always exactly the same as the present. But who you are – why, that’s the riddle all the time, even right now!

    Which is why poems, even simple ones, are difficult too, and why some of the best are all but incomprehensible unless you get in, sit down, shut up, and hang on for dear life.

    Which is what my T-shirt says today I should do, and you can click on the photo to see how I’m getting on.

    ……………………….CW2003

    Christopher

  6. wfkammann said,

    June 16, 2014 at 9:06 am

    “I want poems that don’t tell secrets but are full of them.”
    Stanley Kunitz

    Certainly would never have seen that Artful Dodger (relative?) without a crystal ball.

    You look very tight-lipped, Christopher, just as a good poet should.

    The crystal simply lets the sub-/un-conscious have free reign and who knows what we might just know when that happens. Secrets? dime a dozen. Maybe even who you are and why.

  7. June 17, 2014 at 11:32 am

    …………………………..

    ………………………Net Thrower Throwing
    another photo of whoever he is by Brigitte Garnier — you can click on him too.
    …….

    ………………………….THE POET ORDERS AN ICON

    ……………………………..The painter’s yet a dancer—
    ……………………………..every move she makes
    ……………………………..is dangerous, braced
    ……………………………..as she is to lean upon
    ……………………………..her beauty’s damaged wing.

    ……………………………..Her tower is a bright sinew,
    ……………………………..the staircase braceleted
    ……………………………..with steel and black
    ……………………………..velvet longing.
    ……………………………..She descends
    ……………………………..painfully when her need
    ……………………………..to move toward a new figure
    ……………………………..means yet another lover
    ……………………………..knowing all her blame.

    ……………………………..The Christ-not-made-by-hand this time?”
    ……………………………..she asks, her eyes shining;
    ……………………………..“—he can be written
    ……………………………..brave enough to
    ……………………………..nail yourself across—
    ……………………………..this time the gaze will show
    ……………………………..who shoulders too the weight
    ……………………………..of all this reckless world’s
    ……………………………..reclusive glory.”

    ……………………………..“But could he just be there
    ……………………………..in the backroom
    ……………………………..at Emmaus?”
    ……………………………..I hear myself still hoping;
    ……………………………..“—could he quietly eat lunch
    ……………………………..with the other travelers
    ……………………………..who have not yet seen
    ……………………………..him quite naked
    ……………………………..either?”

    ……………………………..She lays her palette down—
    ……………………………..a damaged dancer works
    ……………………………..the pains out of her limbs
    ……………………………..like doves flying messages
    ……………………………..huge distances to rest
    ……………………………..cooing,
    ……………………………..quite undone and
    ……………………………..rocking back and forth
    ……………………………..inside the still, familiar cote.

    ……………………………..“Yes, I will be fine this time,
    ……………………………..I will be gentle,” she replies.

    ……………………………..And she paints him
    ……………………………..with me wholly like
    ……………………………..a woman lying down
    ……………………………..and not a bridled saint
    ……………………………..or hurt trussed-up—

    ……………………………..no straining for height,
    ……………………………..no mermaid with two legs
    ……………………………..cut out just for beauty.

    …..

    • The ‘Christ-not-made-by-hand’ (Christos Acheiropoietos) is the name of a famous 12th c. Russian Orthodox icon — it celebrates the miracle in which Jesus healed King Abgar of Edessa by sending him an image of his face imprinted on a piece of linen cloth. Such an icon is said to have been “written” by the word of God, not painted by a person.
    • For a glimpse of the icon as well as more discussion on the subject you can click here. Scroll down to the end of the comments and you’ll find an earlier version of “The Poet Orders an Icon” with a few notes on its provenance.

    Christopher

  8. June 19, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    ……………………………

    ……………………………Dovecot 200

      This is the dove cote I built over my window at the Histon Windmill where I lived in the ’60s. If you click on the doves you can see what I looked like inside the window — that’s the toolshed where I wrote much of my Cambridge thesis on “The Faerie Queene.” What I didn’t realize was that I was also getting ready to write “The Poet Orders an Icon” as well as many other poems in a similar vein thirty years later. Of course there was also the young girl who was having tea in the orchard just a few feet away from my window at the same time, captured on the same role of film. She’s probably worth clicking on too.

      ……………..
      ……………Girl at Tea Antique

      Christopher

  9. omino23 said,

    June 21, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Perhaps when we are concentrating it is not as you say that the universe falls into place around us, but instead it might fall away from us until in our mind’s eye only the subject of our attention remains removed from any other distractions. By concentrating on just the one thing we can then classify it, give it a name, convince ourselves it is important, and we might also do the other popular human trick of finding how this piece fits into a larger pattern.

    Through this process we create the conventional world around us and our way of making a living in it, then hopefully we have the wisdom to doubt our constructions and realize that there is more to it than we know.

    When we examine both the very large and the very small we inevitably encounter a paradox.

    The light we see twinkling in the sky when we look up at night I am told comes from other suns so far away that the photons hitting my retina tonight were “born” before the dinosaurs walked the earth, the stars that bore those photons may have themselves long ago faded away and yet their effects are still noticed as if we are looking back in time.

    We are only now just beginning to be able to perceive a world that is so small and so numerous that once in a million miracles happen almost constantly and yet so quickly we can only indirectly measure them. The gold and lead atoms themselves born in stars so long ago transmuting faster than a blink of an eye, beyond the dreams of any alchemist, and right under our noses if only we had the the ability to see and the time to understand.

    Whenever the limits of what we think we know have been reached, or when we come up to the limit of what we can express to others we run into problems and it is here that I think poetry is the right tool for the job.

    I don’t think that a scientific paper has any hope of transmitting the “secrets of life the universe and everything” (42?), describing the orbit of an electron around an atom sure, but you are not going to get the fishers out on the river to understand that. I would guess that they already have their own poems that cover those bases and are completely unintelligible to someone like me who barely speaks a literate language.

  10. June 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Thank you for that, Omino 23 — you have always been such a faithful friend. I’d just like to know what planet you transmit from.

    Every last word of what you say in your last comment makes sense to me, including the conundrum in your final sentence — which I would love to have written myself, by the way. It’s such a wonderful riff with the fishers out on the river who already have their own poems like their nets in their hands (which is precisely what I meant by the photo, but plain words are better — plain words always come up trumps, of course, at least if you’ve got a hand in the game).

    The point about “scientific papers” today is that the cutting edge ones no longer talk about old fashioned, reductive entities like atoms and electrons, or about anything that’s anywhere in particular, or even not for that matter. Like a theology with a living God that’s dead, and of course vise-versa.

    The real challenge, the one that’s obsessing me at the moment, is what a person like myself can do to live thoughts like the ones you’re expressing — besides dying, of course, which is the bottom line for everything that’s awake enough to know it’s not dead. Which is a cutting-edge thought too, though so ancient.

    And speaking of cutting edges, dividing your tail in two so you can make love like a woman isn’t the only way to be vulnerable, I feel sure — but you do have to try that hard to open yourself up. And of course all you can use as a knife is the geography you’ve got, the lay-out of your own personal land or body.

    ………………………………Call it
    ………………………………the slanting sine,
    ………………………………the levered
    ………………………………dream or just the
    ………………………………simple wedge that relocates
    ………………………………whole hillsides,
    ………………………………households—

    ………………………………hearths adrift,
    ………………………………kingdom-comes,
    ………………………………tidal stands, ebb runs.

    Christopher

    ………………

  11. June 22, 2014 at 10:31 am

    …………………

    ………….Casting a Rise 350+

    ………….

  12. June 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    “I don’t think that a scientific paper has any hope of transmitting the ‘secrets of life, the universe and everything’ (42?)* describing the orbit of an electron around an atom sure, but you are not going to get the fishers out on the river to understand that. I would guess that they already have their own poems that cover those bases and are completely unintelligible to someone like me who barely speaks a literate language.”

    What I like about that sentence, Omino, is the unintelligible grammar, which is genius. Is it the contents of those scientific papers you find inaccessible or the language of fishing? As to myself, what I find intelligible is always limited by the dictates of my own intelligence, and I’m not very interested in that sort of rule. Like a fly fisherman, I think a poet has to use tackle that’s much too light for the purpose so that he or she is sure to be overwhelmed by the encounter.

    Like the genius of so many of Winslow Homer’s watercolors — his ability to release the angel not in the washes but by exposing the bare skin of the paper!

    ………………

    ………….Black Bass detail

    ………………

    *I don’t understand the (42?), I’m afraid. Does it refer to a previous discussion?

    C.

  13. omino23 said,

    June 25, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Thanks for your reply as always! The mention of 42 was meant to be a silly reference to the work of Douglas Adams. He describes an advanced society in which they have constructed a supremely powerful computer to give an answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. The computer thinks for millions of years and finally lets them know that it has an answer, but they will not like it. The computer tells them that the answer is “42”, but they don’t understand the answer because they didn’t ask the right question. While the computer cannot formulate the question for them but it does promise that it can help them design another computer that can, which turns out to be the planet many of us are standing on.

    Something I wrote a few months ago while fishing for mice:

    I was setting mouse traps today and I said “Little mice, if you can overcome the hunger of your body and the instinct of your mind you will be free from death.” and then I wondered “Who sets the trap for me, or is the trap this whole world, and am I already in it’s jaws?”. SNAP! CRACK!

  14. June 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Wow!!!

    Or as Robert Frost put it:

    ……………….The bird would cease and be as other birds
    ……………….But that he knows in singing not to sing.
    ……………….The question that he frames in all but words
    ……………….Is what to make of a diminished thing.

    As to me, Omino, I try hard to overcome the hunger of my mind for bigger things and so stay out of the trap you describe. Indeed, I try to be as small and reserved as I can in everything I write — I test it and test it and test it before it’s released, but of course nothing’s easy when there’s so much at stake.

    This is the rest of the poem the last lines of which I put up a few days ago. I think it will do.
    …………..

    ……………………BUILDERS ON THE BEACH

    ……………………….And then perchance to lie too close,
    ……………………….too fine or still to register
    ……………………….the difference between
    ……………………….the light of day
    ……………………….and gentle ebb tide
    ………………… ……lapping just beneath the bed.

    ……………………….Who could wake from such a dream?

    ……………………….Who would dare break out
    ……………………….the tender anchor
    ……………………….set in sand so light
    ……………………….breathing lifts
    ……………………….in rifts and garnet waves
    ……………………….the ocean floor fifty fathoms deep?

    ……………………….Yet even here to find the heart
    ……………………….to rise at dawn or ten and dig
    ……………………….even when the cruel vein
    ……………………….tilts and slithers down with every
    ……………………….pick and shovelful.

    ……………………….And more, to muster up the time
    ……………………….to help our unborn children
    ……………………….carve the water’s edge
    ……………………….even when that pit too
    ……………………….slips beneath and
    ……………………….levels out white,
    ……………………….clear and wider than intent—
    ……………………….even as we catch a glimpse or two
    ……………………….of rural China from the slagheaps at the end.

    ……………………….We laugh at that
    ……………………….and give them names
    ……………………….but dig we must and did
    ……………………….through all we know,
    ……………………….and do—
    ……………………….the banks, the walls,
    ……………………….the family shores
    ……………………….budged deftly out to sea.

    ……………………….Who cares what port
    ……………………….or season lies in store,
    ……………………….what crew or complement
    ……………………….outside the widening arc
    ……………………….as day by day
    ……………………….we shelter
    ……………………….less?

    ……………………….Call it
    ……………………….the slanting sine,
    ……………………….the levered
    ……………………….dream or just the
    ……………………….simple wedge that relocates
    ……………………….whole hillsides,
    ……………………….households—

    ……………………….hearths adrift,
    ……………………….kingdom-comes,
    ……………………….tidal stands, ebb runs.

    …….
    Christopher

    …….

  15. wfkammann said,

    July 18, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Four-Feet

    I have done mostly what most men do,
    And pushed it out of my mind;
    But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
    Four-Feet trotting behind.

    Day after day, the whole day through —
    Wherever my road inclined —
    Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
    And trotted along behind.

    Now I must go by some other round, —
    Which I shall never find —
    Somewhere that does not carry the sound
    Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

    Rudyard Kipling

    • wfkammann said,

      July 18, 2014 at 11:56 pm

      Der Panther
      Im Jardin des Plantes, Paris

      Sein Blick ist von Vorübergehen der Stäbe
So müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

      Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

      Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

      The Panther
      In the Botanical Garden, Paris

      His glance, hypnotized by the passing bars
      Has grown so tired it notices nothing more.
      For him, it’s as though there were a thousand bars
      And behind those thousand bars no world at all.

      The easy gait: smooth strong paces,
      Forth and back again in the smallest circles,
      Is like a dance of strength around a center,
      in which, half-drugged, a powerful will is held.

      Only now and then the pupil’s curtain is
      Drawn silently up-. Then a picture enters,
      passes through the silence of taut limbs-
      And dies again in his heart.