HOW THE DJINN GETS OUT OF THE BOTTLE

……………………George Tooker (1920-2011), Dark Angel, 1995.

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

Below are the two sides of a postcard sent to me by a friend in response to the first draft of “Works & Days,” a long poem I was just beginning on the Seine in 1993. Sealed in an envelope with the message-side embellished with pigment, text and gold leaf, the postcard arrived in my mailbox on a cold December morning on the Quai d’issy near the Isle St Germain where my boat was tied up outside an abandoned barge for the winter. And now, twenty-five years later, I’m just beginning to realize how much these words have helped me to understand my exceptionally slow development as a poet.

NOTE: You can Click on the angels in the painting to read the “sound wall” verses from “Works & Days.” A “Barrage” is the French word for the dams that control the water level in rivers that have been canalized like the Seine, the Marne, the Yonne and the Saone. The whole poem is formatted in this way, with two ‘Barrages’ to each page.

…………
Here’s a loose transliteration of what Catherine Jean wrote in the Postcard:

…….,,,,,,,,…..“Angels Talking Beyond the Sound Wall.

Christopher,
“A mouthful of pebbles is good practice for diction. But be careful, it’s easy to be deafened like this by the roar of the sea rushing up your shingle. So let yourself go with the rhythm of the flood, and tune your ear to the fine whisper of the foam on the ebb. Then years later, when you’ve been able to spit them all out at last, the pebbles can pass through the screen of your silence like a handful of words glittering in the wash like nuggets.”…………………………..Cathy

……………………………………………Catherine Jean, Aubervilliers, Paris, 1993.

(I lost touch with Cathy some time ago, and I’m posting her extraordinary intervention here partly because I would so love to flag her down again. Any news?)

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

And to add one further layer to my Palimpsest of Visionary Interventions:
The following is the Chiang Mai poem which has given its name to my most recent collection of poetry, Brown Water: Poems from Paradise. The poem can also be seen as a celebration of George Tooker’s “Dark Angel,” of course — as can also my subsequent riff on the “Giant Mother” who bleats like a goat as she snakes her brown way from high Tibet down to the Pacific Ocean.

………………………….BROWN WATER

………………………………Pure water’s
………………………………our perfection,
………………………………teased out
………………………………of vacant skies
………………………………like seeded rain,
………………………………the formula or prayer
………………………………that takes no charge
………………………………for what’s the matter,
………………………………shorts nor rots
………………………………not hermit cells
………………………………or stains or leaves
………………………………alive deposits.

………………………………But oh silt-skin Mae Ping water,
………………………………how you slough us off!—
………………………………your load of wandering earth
………………………………melting our floors, how you butter
………………………………up our floury lives like batter,
………………………………sweeten all our beds
………………………………and leave like fossils in the rocks
………………………………our most indecent
………………………………moments’ truths
………………………………as wonders,
………………………………blesséd faults harder
………………………………than our higher thoughts
………………………………and all unclean
………………………………enough to live beside
………………………………like angel dirt
………………………………forever
………………………………free of
………………………………failure.

________________________
Brown Water. All the ditches, canals and rivers in rural Thailand are as brown with silt as the rice paddies and fish ponds.

The Mae Ping is the river which flows by my village in Chiang Mai.

Mae means ‘mother’ (the vowel bleats like a goat). Indeed, all the rivers in South-East Asia are mothers, including the Mae Khong, that Giant Mother-of-Them-All that rises in Tibet, tumbles through China, defines Burma and Thailand, feeds the whole of Laos and Cambodia, and finally dissolves itself in the Pacific Ocean at the very tail-end of Vietnam.

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

As time goes on I may replace the asterisks with a few more notes and reflections — should I be so blessed. And please do feel free to add some words of your own in the space below, that I should be so blessed even better.

Christopher

THIS THREAD WILL NOW CONTINUE IN THE COMMENTS

3 Comments

  1. October 26, 2018 at 12:03 am

    Nice poem, but it doesn’t remind me of Tooker whom I just looked up because I’ve never heard of him. He’s got some weird stuff that belongs in another universe. His faces are really fucked up and some of the paintings are pretty bad. Interesting guy, though.

    Anyway, I liked the poem. Nice way to use “floury.”

  2. October 29, 2018 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for liking “Brown Water,” Pop — and ‘floury” is one of my favorite words in the poem too.

    I don’t know if you had a chance to see the two stanzas from “Works & Days” I posted as well — you have to click on the postcard painting to see them.

    I chose to put George Tooker’s “Dark Angel” painting together with “Works & Days” in this post partly because, like him, I’m a very slow artist. He chose to use an old-fashioned, unusually difficult and time-consuming medium called “egg tempera” in his work, one which involved the delicate, painstaking application of layer after layer of paint over a long period of time. Indeed, the technique was so slow that he only had time to complete a few paintings a year.

    That’s similar to me. I took well over 10 years to finish “Works & Days,” and I’ve still not published it. And the poem is just as bare as a George Tooker composition as well, and I can only hope that it rewards the reader with a bit of the sense of uncluttered, untrammeled, and above all unpretentious effort that George Tooker achieved in so many of his paintings. And I won’t even mention the extraordinary radiance that was generated in the process.

    Some of you may recall that I included George Tooker in an earlier thread called Make It New. A friend had just posted part of a poem by the Indian poet and saint, Sri Aurobindo, which is equally radiant for sure, but so multiple, indeed so all-encompassing in its extravagant praise and rapture that it makes me feel inadequate in even my most extroverted moments. So I posted two George Tooker paintings, one of a little girl looking through (or over the top of)) a mirror to gaze at a small flower, and the other of a radiant “great mother” if ever there was one. I didn’t say much about the contrast between George Tooker and Sri Aurobindo, which was just an observation I was making, not a criticism or a philosophical statement. What I did say was:

    “We writers have to be true to our size if we truly want to “make it new.” Most of the time that means scaling it down rather than up.

    “But I love the Sri Aurobindo anyway even if it makes me feel small — people used to write bigger, but that doesn’t lessen us as long as we’re true to our size and our span.

    “Indeed, I think we need to be small and short today to be true. I think small and short is wonderful.”

    Another starting point in “How the Djinn Gets Out of the Bottle” was the fact that George Tooker painted “Dark Angel” when he was 75, almost the same as I am today, yet he chose to portray himself in it as a very young man with a very precise, slender, whippet-like brush. This too is how I am in my work today — at my prime and yet at the same time just at the beginning.

    So that’s how this whole thread began.

    Christopher

    • November 1, 2018 at 10:38 pm

      Chris, Tooker is growing on me, as are you. I like the barrages. At first, I was mistaking the word for “gunfire” or something. Then I thought it was the word for a large flatboat. I don’t know French.

      Good stuff. You’re making me think over here. I need a beer.


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