from JULIJA’S SCRIPTORIUM ON BALI

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

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

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

C.

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

Julia O Fool of Earth jpg

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

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

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

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

O Fool of Earth - Relic

Jūlija’s version of the same poem at the top of the page is an early sketch with the script partly in black-letter and partly cyrillic, a fusion which creates an ageless sort of sacred cypher, which I love. Because the reader mustn’t forget that the original was transcribed in long-hand by a prophet in a most challenging position — trussed up between pillars with his God on the one hand and his girlfriend on the other (my imagination still goes to  Caravaggio*  for that, the saint’s bare head, her lap, the nipple, and God flaring up all over the place…).
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*Note: CARAVAGGIO! or How the Samson of Painters Paints Samson.
……………………………………………………………………..November 25th, 2017
It’s the prophet himself who wrote this little poem so forthrightly, of course, and by my way of thinking it’s the weakness of Samson that demonstrates his ‘chosen’ status more than his brute strength ever did. That’s why I think Samson was granted even more divine strength for that one last shove, and why the effects of it were even more cataclysmic than what he managed to do with the jawbone of the ass. And that’s how Caravaggio painted him as well, didn’t he? Doesn’t his shaved Samson reveal a prophet who is even more powerful sexually than he was before, his smooth skin, his feminine curves in silk and his hands just like her’s? And don’t the lovers fit together just about perfectly? And doesn’t everybody inside and outside the painting know just what that means? (Click more than once to see that even better.)

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

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

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

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

Christopher

ON HOW I MAKE SENSE OF IT

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Calligraphy by Jūlija added Nov 29th, 2017. CLICK HERE for more on Jūlija and our work together.
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…………………………..Stumped like this,
…………………………..we hear the Years
…………………………………………………..cascade
…………………………..And stoop to grace
…………………………..the Water
……………………………………………………..‘s Fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher