Monday, March 2, 2015

gentleness and despair

This Moment

by Eavan Boland

A neighbourhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

- {source}

- from In a Time of Violence

This is going to be one of those blog posts full of mainly stuff I need to hear myself, though isn't it always that way. I love the poems of Eavan Boland. I've been reading her since my undergrad days. Her spare elegant lines, and the way she writes about what is ordinary with such simple radiance, such sturdiness, as she says, is what continues to attract me to her work.

From an interview on

Schmidt: In your books of poems and certainly in your autobiographical prose, certain ordinary images are repeated and lingered upon. Is this a way of making the ordinary emblematic?

Boland: It wasn’t that much of a strategy. I just wanted to find a way of conveying how things change from the ordinary to the familiar, from the familiar to the known, from the known to the visionary. How the same thing can be seen differently over and over again. I was in a flat in Dublin when I was a student for a few years. It had a table in one room, a window over a garden. There was nothing remarkable about any of it, except that remarkable things happened to me there: I wrote my first real poems in that room and began to believe and hope I was a poet there. When you go back to find those feelings in memory, you can often only draw the map in terms of place and it has to be the perceived place, not the actual one: the way a room looked, for instance, the hour after you wrote your first sturdy poem in it.

You might remember reading this here before, and I re-post it because I need to remember that the light re-surfaces, the sacred emerges, there all the time:

"Here life goes on, even and monotonous on the surface, full of lightning, of summits and of despair, in its depths. We have now arrived at a stage in life so rich in new perceptions that cannot be transmitted to those at another stage - one feels at the same time full of so much gentleness and so much despair - the enigma of this life grows, grows, drowns one and crushes one, then all of a sudden in a supreme moment of light one becomes aware of the sacred."

- May Sarton

This next one, to remind me how good napping is:

A Person Protests to Fate

by Jane Hirshfield

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.


And this poem reminds me that I'm not alone, that this is the artistic state. What we most long to achieve is always ahead, beyond, near but far.

And here. A shot of magazines, collected from Rob's latest series of paintings. Validation for a love of fashion magazines.

My reading has moved lately from fashion magazine, to Barbara Pym novels, to essays and interviews by David Foster Wallace. Isn't it amazing that that's even possible?

Here's the trailer for Death Comes to Pemberley which we watched this weekend and which I adored. Not just because of my love for Austen but because this is one of those spin-off things which actually works and isn't painful in any way. The actors are wonderfully cast, the P.D. James novel the story was based on is excellent. But the cinematography, I think that's the right word - I'm no film buff - is splendid. I've been looking online to find a clip of the forest scenes to no avail. But the light in the forest scenes, and as the carriage drives on the road through the woods....heaven. I really just want to watch it over again with the sound off, paying attention to how it's filmed.

"Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track I want to say that they are not what they seem to be. I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes, all that seems like error is not error; and it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is the next step." 

So, I've been thinking, have I been wandering off my path, or lost my way, or footing, or am I just generally lost, or is the lost path the path after all, the erring, messy, frustrating, path. Well. And maybe it's just that the light has been missing for so many months. However, behold: the light in my kitchen which hasn't made it to my kitchen table since October, or so it seems. One of the strange and brutal side effects of living at latitude 53.

I know I'm not alone in finding this past winter a difficult one. A SAD one, or bordering on SAD. I've heard from my readers on this, and thank you for understanding.

On the weekend at work, I had two separate conversations with people who confided, very tenderly and delicately, about how difficult it's been for them mentally, without mentioning any of the other factors, which there likely is, because in life, there are always what we might call 'factors.'

But to just consider the effects of winter on their own on our state of being, no matter how beautiful we find the season, no matter how much we embrace it and let it be, to just consider the harshness of it and sit with that, is important. What it puts us through! And how brittle it's possible to feel near the end of it.

The Good News

by Thich Nhat Hanh

They don’t publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

The good news is that the end of winter light now reaches my kitchen table in the morning. Outside, the trees are standing firm in winter. I have arms for hugging.

The good news is if there is despair, there is also gentleness and tenderness. If winter has made us brittle, it means we have felt it all the way to our bones, and we know winter because we have looked at it carefully and with awe. If winter has drained us, we know how good it will be to soon fill up again, soaking in the sun and the slowly warming air.

Fate is sympathetic. Winter, too, is sympathetic. Winter nods, yes, yes.

We nod back, yes.

Soon it will be spring. Which is a terribly clichéd thing to say but that's okay because at this time of year you can only half believe it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

that tension life

I love snow, and all the forms
     Of the radiant frost;
I love waves, and winds, and storms,
     Everything almost
Which is Nature’s, and may be
Untainted by man’s misery.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

This was taken from an article at the Poetry Foundation by Stephen Burt, titled, Snow Days. It seems perfect to begin this post, with photographs from a couple of different snowy days. Winter, in at least a couple of its forms.

"Writing is a very, very unnatural act. Most people are out living—their bodies are, they’re walking and they’re talking and they’re working and playing and they’re interacting. Writing’s very unnatural because you are not living when you write. But at the same time, what a great paradox—because you’re all writers so you all know. You’re all going, Oh but no, no, I’m most alive when I write. So you are more living or less, we can’t use “more” or “less,” it’s just different. And this is the crux of any writer’s life. It is the essential paradox and question and torment and joy. Are you writing or living and what’s the difference and where’s the line and how do we divide those activities? … 
I’ve spent my whole life thinking, Is this unnatural? Shouldn’t someone be parading outside my apartment with a cardboard placard saying, “Insanity’s taking place on the inside”? They really should, there’d be a point to it. And then, in other moods, I go, No, no, no, the insanity’s taking place out there. And I waffle back and forth. And this waffling back and forth, when you yourself experience it, it’s called life. And you are going to experience this waffling back and forth for the rest of your life. And whenever you do, don’t think you’re unnatural or broken or different. It’s life, and we’re living it, and that tension is life."

- Mary Ruefle, in conversation with Alice Quinn at the NYU Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, September 6, 2012. Click through to listen.

- via Books Matter 

Well, I came upon this after working on a new poem-essay for a couple of days, and which I hope to finish (in so far as one finishes such things) this coming week. I've been writing about that space between poems, or writing, or creating. Because sometimes it's a week, and at other it's longer, and it's true that there's this tension, but also that there's so. much. space. Which is why I think I'm always looking into the distance when I might be writing something longer, something that I can work on everyday in a more tangible sort of way. Each is equally heartbreaking, but I sometimes think the work one does on a novel is at least a salve, the work itself.  

"I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no wings, it doesn’t necessarily sit at a cleared table in the evening on a terrace by the sea. It’s despair and not the return of a quantity of insignificant facts like seeds that leave one furrow for another at nightfall. It’s not the moss that forms on a rock or the foam that rocks in a glass. It’s a boat riddled with snow, if you will, like birds that fall and their blood doesn’t have the slightest thickness. I know the general outline of despair."

- excerpt from André Breton’s poem “The Verb to Be” on The Paris Review site

Is it that moment in winter where it's possible to slip, to despair, in spite of one's best efforts against despair. There are no tables on the terrace by the sea for me, and I don't want one, and maybe that's even where the despair lies. I only want to be in this winter, in the tension of this place between seasons, in the insane space between writing and not writing.

So driving to work one day, I heard this on my local station, CKUA. Downloaded it from iTunes, I was so infatuated with it.

Of course, I know nothing about the composer, Kenji Eno, but upon googling, find out he's passed away last year! So sad. Not only was he a musician, but a game creator, which makes perfect sense when you listen to the above piece. I really dig the upbeat but meditative quality of the music. Seems to be doing many things on many levels, not that I'm at all an expert in anything music related, or game related for that matter.

Meanwhile, winter, which goes on and on as winter does, as winter will. And this is when it really tests our nerves.

So how to go on loving it near the end? When it seems the end is endless.

I'm following it to the hollowed spots, to the cups that hold and hold.

I'm seeing what sticks, what holds.

I'm following paths, however irregular.

I'm trying to take in all of winter, and love the ice and the frost and all the various types of snow.

But yes, if you're asking, I too, am lonely.


by Adrienne Rich

You're wondering if I'm lonely:
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns' first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning

The Woods 

by Wendell Berry

I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath 
the blessed and the blessing trees. 
Though I am silent 
there is singing around me. 
Though I am dark 
there is vision around me. 
Though I am heavy 
there is flight around me.

"The tree endlessly surges up and there is a rustling in its leaves, its innumerable wings."

- André Suares, quoted in the chapter, "The Aerial Tree" in Air and Dreams by Gaston Bachelard

From the same source as above,

"What better way to learn the dynamic lesson of the pine tree: "Come be upright like me," says the tree to the depressed dreamer, "straighten up."

"A deep sleep does not damage the tree."

"Now let's allow our reverie to follow the images of the tree.
How quickly these images lose interest in shapes! Trees have such diverse shapes! They have so many and such different kinds of branches! The unity of their being will seem therefore all the more striking, as is their unity of motion and their bearing."

"It must be noted, however, that a tree's "shape" is untranslatable in literature."

To continue with Bachelard, who next quotes Shelley, "In the motion of the very leaves of spring, in the blue air, there is then found a secret correspondence with our heart."

And later asks,

"How can a Tree explain the formation of a World? How can a single object produce a whole universe?"

The chapter ends,

"We will see its true meaning if we really dream of the power of the bud, if we go into the garden or walk along a hedge every morning to look at a bud, the same bud, and if we measure a day's activity by it. And when a flower is about to open, when the apple tree is about to produce light, its very own pink and white light, then we will really know that a single tree is a whole world."

I, too, feel as though I'm in a deep sleep. But am trying, like the pine tree, to remain upright. All the lessons the trees have for us.....these I seek. The elms, the birch trees, the black poplars, too.

A couple of last notes on the blog itself. A new header, thanks to my daughter who helped me with the colour coordination. Something spring-like, something hopeful.

You might also notice at the bottom of the post there is the new "you might like" feature via Linked In. I thought it might be fun for readers to visit old posts. Let me know what you think.

I've been asked by a few people if I ever might get back to posting more frequently. And I might, though if I did there would be a LOT of pre-posting :) For example, I could separate a post like this one into 4 posts and just pre-post them for through the week. Something to think about, I suppose. But in all honesty, my general burn-out continues. Perhaps an end of winter thing. General internet fatigue, too, I would hazard. I've been thinking / wondering, if I'd have less fatigue if there had been, were to be, more feedback/comments on the blog. But I never feel I can critique people on this as it's not as though I run around leaving comments frequently on others' blogs. But here, general advice: if you love something on the internet, say so, or it might disappear.

It's also just a nicer way to be on the internet. Be present, rather than being a lurker. Click like on FB when you like something, or if you're IRL friends. Just click the like. You know? Leave a comment when you can, it doesn't have to be every time you visit. But so far as I really know about 6 people read this blog regularly.

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