Monday, August 22, 2016

what counts is fire

Relentlessly Craving

by Julia Fiedorczuk

for B. G.

poem, poem be strong
like a shock wave, Grieg’s Concerto in A Minor
put down roots, find the source, bloom, bear fruit
come to life, poem, I need your blood

poem, poem be as perilously lovely
as the drunken woman in the painting by Munch
what counts are only the base colors, yellow, black, red
what counts is fire

there is a time for hope
and a time for despair

what counts is fire
if you have no flesh
you do not know love
nor do you know death

poem, poem be in the sun
in the eye of the world
in the turning of bread into motion
in the constant decay that is the condition of all synthesis
in the blood

fire, be

there is a time for hope
and a time for despair
what counts is fire and ice

poem, poem be like the dark night of the soul

Translations from the Polish
By Bill Johnston

{source: World Literature Today}

And though the above poems is addressed to the poem, perhaps it is also addressed to you, the reader.

be perilously lovely
bloom, come to life
be in the sun

I came across this poet because I saw this poem on Facebook, and read the line "beauty exists":

Psalm V

by Julia Fiedorczuk
translated by Bill Johnston

Beauty exists, la ermozura egziste and paradises
are not artificial, yet how can one have fans
of ginkgo, green right next to yellow, and human
faces in the sunshine, pearls of architecture and thoughts
about the dust that we become? Two days later
I remember only theory, what we said concerning
the mathematics of the Alhambra and the fragments
of poems, so I undress quickly, to catch life
red-handed, to relish the goodness
of your home amid the hills encircled
by a wedding party where I seek and find, seek
and do not find, seek and disappear and — 


Looking forward to her book, Oxygen, coming out (in translation) this coming February. I think half the reason I keep this blog is the reward of finding new (to me) poets, and sharing them.


beauty exists

These flowers, for example. Presented to me by my sweet co-workers to congratulate me for being a finalist for the Alberta Readers' Choice Award. Which, btw, you can still vote for, until the end of August. You don't need to be from Alberta to vote. And the prize is 10 000.00 which is a wild and amazing sum for a literary prize.

One realizes, over one's writing life, that though any money one receives is amazing, it's really the flowers that count, the flowers that stay with you. The flowers whisper in your ear, long after they've faded: be perilously lovely. Bloom.

And so this next poem is perfect for me right now. I'm a fan of the praise poem, what can I say. Maybe what I need to do is sit down and write a few praise poems. That medicine.

Gratitude List

by Laura Foley

Praise be this morning for sleeping late,
the sandy sheets, the ocean air,
the midnight storm that blew its waters in.
Praise be the morning swim, mid-tide,
the clear sands underneath our feet,
the dogs who leap into the waves,
their fur, sticky with salt,
the ball we throw again and again.
Praise be the green tea with honey,
the bread we dip in finest olive oil,
the eggs we fry. Praise be the reeds,
gold and pink in the summer light,
the sand between our toes,
our swimsuits, flapping in the breeze.


The most important is that I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I've done that day. I can't do it late in the afternoon because I'm too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I'm really working I don't like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don't have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I'm in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I'm near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That's one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

- Joan Didion

I love the passage by Joan Didion because it gets at the relationship one has with one's book, while writing it. It's a bit selfish, a bit obsessive. If you're going to have a drink with someone, the book will be that someone. It has a presence.


by Valerie Martinez

Turn it over and look up
into the sphere of heaven.
The tracery is lucent,
light seeping through to write,
white-ink your face, upturned.

Swing it below
and it's a cradle of blue water,
the sea, a womb.
A mixing bowl
for Babylonian gods.
Here, they whirl up the cosmos.

Pick it up and your hands
form a pedestal,
and all who drink
contain the arcs
of body and the universe—
and between them,

no imaginable tear or distance.


And speaking of bowls. Here is what my stone bowl held this week:

I know there are those who enjoy mocking artists' statements, but I'm not one of them. (Though admittedly there are some that are somewhat opaque in their jargon). What I like about them is their doggedness in attempting to explain those things about their work that can't really be explained. It's the trying that I admire. And so when I came across this next poem, I was delighted, especially the last line. And the part about cake.

Artistic Statement

by Denise Duhamel

My body of work is very similar to my corporal body. I often employ traditional forms (Spanx/dieting) but just as often revert to a more copious mode (cake/lazy afternoons). In that I wear little makeup (sensitive skin/feminist stance) I use few purely poetic flourishes except for rhyme—both internal and end line (lipstick/nail polish) conceding to self-conscious artifice. Perhaps because I grew up Catholic, I am drawn to acrostics (crosses) and punitive syllable counting (the rosary). I am interested in bodies seen and not seen (bikinis, muumuus, the dead and not-yet-born), poems written and yet-to-be-written. Holy ghost poems that cannot be read but only felt.

“Every once in a while a person unfamiliar with contemporary literature asks me a question along the lines of, ‘What is your poetry like? What’s it about?’ Having recently fumbled through an answer yet once again, I jealously thought of the beauty of a painter’s ‘artist statement.’ That was the impetus for this poem.”

- Denise Duhamel

From the notes section at the end of the novel by Elizabeth Strout, Abide With Me:

"I am a storyteller. That is the real answer. In telling my stories, I am - as Tyler Caskey is - interested in the question: How does one live life? Does it even matter how one lives? Whether we approach life as Tyler does, with the question of how love can best be served, or whether we approach it with some other central issue, either of our own making or given to us by a religious guideline, most of us are still dismayed by how imperfectly we love, we are still surprised by the consequence of action, we are often at sea with questions of right and wrong."


"I tell stories because life fascinates me, baffles me, intrigues me, awes me. And by writing about the world - the natural, human world - I experience these feelings in a way that makes me both joyous and sad, and that brings me face-to-face with what I believe lies behind the mystery of our existence."

From a review in The Washington Post:
I can't recall a more incisive portrayal of the casual cruelty of gossip, but Strout has no interest in making villains. Tyler's critics have their own problems: marriages grown cold and sullen, illnesses that offer no relief but death, crippling anxieties about the future. The organist and her husband, a deacon, have come to blows, each of them deeply resentful of the other's unhappiness. Even the flashback of Tyler's marriage, cut short by a fast-moving cancer, shows a relationship wholly at odds with his idealized memory of it. 
Dark as much of this beautiful novel is, there's finally healing here, and, as Tyler should have known, it comes not from strength and self-sufficiency but from accepting the inexplicable love of others. In one beautiful page after another, Strout captures the mysterious combination of hope and sorrow. She sees all these wounded people with heartbreaking clarity, but she has managed to write a story that cradles them in understanding and that, somehow, seems like a foretaste of salvation.

This book has been sitting on my bedside table for ages. I must have bought it at the same time as My Name is Lucy Barton, and dived right in. I loved that book so much, I didn't want to go back in time and read an earlier book by Strout. I'm so glad I did though. The ending is amazing.

Interestingly, we also happened to watch Madame Bovary. It's been ages since I read that novel - perhaps due for a re-read if I can find it on my shelves. The movie has pretty much been panned:

Perhaps the intention was to contemporize this figure, though; with her distractingly flat American accent, Emma Bovary could be Betty Draper, or a reality-show housewife, or the mom waiting in front of you in an SUV in the pickup line at school.

Barthes and co-writer Felipe Marino have significantly streamlined and mixed up the narrative, beginning with Emma’s tragic ending and working their way back to it. They’ve jettisoned the beginning of the book focusing on husband Charles’ childhood, they do away entirely with the couple’s daughter, Berthe, and they combine two male characters to create Emma’s first, tumultuous lover. Major emotional shifts come abruptly, while other sections are languid, brooding and often wordless to reflect Emma’s isolation.
That said, the movie isn't entirely What I liked about it was Emma's wardrobe, and watching her get sucked into purchasing more and more fabulous clothes. The critic had this to say:
But the lavish aesthetic trappings, combined with the emotional emptiness, only combine to make Barthes’ film feel like “Madame Bovary: The Fashion Show.”
Well, okay, true enough. Still, it's one of those movies you can watch for setting and costumes alone even if much else has been mangled.

The reason I bring it up, though, is that in Abide With Me, the minister's wife shops beyond her means, and leaves him with a debt after she dies. The nuances in the descriptions of what she wears and the community's reactions to her because of it are quite wonderful. And then both of these women reminded me of my (usually quelled) impulse to go shopping at Winners and Simons in moments of stress. 

I'll leave you with one last quotation from the book which gets at the humaneness and thoughtfulness and soul of the book:

“Anyone who has ever grieved knows that grieving carries with it a tremendous wear and tear to the body itself, never mind the soul. Loss is an assault; a certain exhaustion, as strong as the pull of the moon on the tides, needs to be allowed for eventually.”

Summer has picked up speed and is now at a breakneck pace. I can hardly stand it....Mad isn't it? And yet I love the beauty at the ends of things.

The poppies, emerging and then dropping their petals like a silk cape. All the late bloomers coming on strong now. And the perilous loveliness of fading dahlias.

And then all this late August light, low and in turns, golden and dreamy.

All the surprises of late summer. These sunflowers emerging at the foot of a tree in the park we walk through most mornings.

Whatever is going to flower has flowered by now. Though we go on wishing for more, hoping.

Last things.

Photo inspiration. (Isabelle Menin)

Read: Interview with Charles Wright, one of my favourite poets. 

Image: I read that you’ve said you believe in belief, which I like. I wonder if you could name a couple of other things you believe in.
Charles Wright: I believe in the mystery of things, and I believe the poet’s job is to try to corral that mystery. You don’t have to get it in the barn, but you have to get it in the corral, so you try to look at it and listen to it and see if it will speak to you, which it usually will not.
I believe in music. I believe in love.

I feel like I may have shared this already but here it is again even so: Joan Snyder on Florine Stettheimer. One of the characters in Rumi and the Red Handbag is named Florine - and I was probably looking at repros of her art a great deal at the time I was writing the book, though I don't think there are any other connections to be made. But what do authors know? :)

Have a perilously lovely week....may you corral the mystery of things.....wishing you all calm things.

- Shawna


Monday, August 15, 2016

come, lonesome one

For Tomas Transtromer & Max Ritvo

by Jean Valentine

I looked,
and there he was, my older brother,
my guide to the underworld.
His eyes were kind. He said,
“Here, take my hand, we cross here…”

It was the little blue restaurant.

He was the Swedish poet
He jumped up over the back of the chair
and sat down right next to Max.
And Max said, “Come, lonesome one,
to the lonesome.”

“Come lonesome one, to the
lonesome”: St. Symeon, the
New Theologian, addressing
his God (949-1022).

{A lovely conversation with Jean Valentine and poetry selection in Plume}

I seem to quote from Jean Valentine often enough on this blog. Especially when I'm "sad on the ground."

I've been missing the tea ceremony, as Lamott, calls it, below. My writing calls to me, "come, lonesome one." And I will, I'll answer that call, soon.

“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do - the actual act of writing - turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

- Anne Lamott

Lamott is an encourager, and in the interview with Valentine that I mention above, there is a recurring theme there too, about encouragement. How important it is to have those people in one's life that nudge you forward with the right words at the right time.

Meanwhile. Summer is on its last legs. The garden surprises with its last offerings. This dahlia, for example.


by Dorianne Laux

                    Poem beginning with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer. I
see the leaves turning on their stems. I am
not oblivious to the sun as it lowers on its stem, not
fooled by the clock holding off, not deceived
by the weight of its tired hands holding forth. I
do not think my dead will return. They will not do
what I ask of them. Even if I plead on my knees. Not
even if I kiss their photographs or think
of them as I touch the things they left me. It
isn’t possible to raise them from their beds, is
it? Even if I push the dirt away with my bare hands? Still-
ness, unearth their faces. Bring me the last dahlias of summer.


An excerpt from "The World Catches Us Every Time" by John Tarrant

"When people ask about distraction I suppose they mean something like my life: I am leaving the house but I can’t find my truck keys. By the time I find them, mysteriously, my phone has gone missing. While I’m looking for the phone, it rings—it’s my friend, also my board president. Then the sheep make a hullabaloo about something so I walk down to the paddock, but it is just a kind of sheep party with baaaing, while the border collie cheers from the sidelines. I feed the sheep alfalfa, come in and sit down to write. 
Then emails—a friend has cancer, someone wants a bio, a friend who’s a physicist has cool things to say about koans, my daughter opens a Google hangout from Tokyo and wants to talk about Jane Austen and also new uses of Ngram Viewer. I open Ngram Viewer, which gives the frequency of a word’s use over time, and it turns out that words “distraction” and “distracted” were most used in Jane Austen’s time, but are now on the rise again. 
And wait, here’s a link to a piece that claims that the thylacine, the Tasmanian marsupial tiger, which is a sort of totem of mine, isn’t actually extinct. With so much going on, it seems that I don’t need to leave the house after all. 
Nothing is wrong with any of those chunks of experience. The question is whether I can have enough space and silence inside them to actually take them in and claim them as my life. Distraction can have a long arc and until the end of the story, you can’t say what’s a distraction and what’s a calling."

I've been think a lot about the ways in which I'm distracted, lately. And the words by Tarrant spoke to me: which are distractions, and which are callings. Is this blog, for example, distraction or calling?

I'm due for some soul-searching. I'm trying to be patient with myself. But I can't say it's going

"So we have to be patient with ourselves. Over and over again we think we need to be somewhere else, and we must find the truth right here, right now; we must find our joy here, now. How seductive it is, the thought of tomorrow. We must find our understanding here. We must find it here; it is always here; this is where the grass is green."

- John Tarrant

"Knowing who you are is not a mystical thing, but a matter of experience, acceptance, honesty, and compassion. It is knowing you are small and selfish and angry, and great, creative, tender-hearted and caring."

- Jason Shulman

Both of the above quotations are from Alive on All Channels, with thanks.

If only you knew what bliss I find in being nothing.

– Rumi

In the green morning
I wanted to be a heart.
A heart.

And in the ripe evening
I wanted to be a nightingale.
A nightingale.

turn orange-colored.
turn the color of love.)

In the vivid morning
I wanted to be myself.
A heart.

And at the evening's end
I wanted to be my voice.
A nightingale.

turn orange-colored.
turn the 
color of love.

- Federico Garcia Lorca

“I am a firm believer that every few years one needs to shake one's life through a sieve, like a miner in the Yukon. The gold nuggets remain. The rest falls through like the soft earth it is.”

- Amy Poehler

“I want to be able to be alone, to find it nourishing - not just a waiting.”

- Susan Sontag

For those of you who read this blog regularly, all twelve of you, you know that there will be changes coming up in our small family, with our daughter going off to college, me taking on more hours at work until December, and then, after that, looking for other ways to make money. Perhaps seeking out freelance work. I don't quite know yet.....And as always, trying to do everything while carving out that very soul-necessary time to write.

What's going to happen is that I'll be shaking my life through a sieve, which is a really great exercise, I concur.

What colour will my soul turn?

How to be nothing?

How to be a heart?

I fill up with questions now.

It's time to turn toward solitude. To seek out the company of the lonesome, of the aficionados of solitude.


"Sometimes I feel annoyed and resentful over not having had the easy career, open doors, and royal welcome that some painters have found easily, perhaps too quickly. But I've always persisted on the path of solitude and exactingness. Painting cannot be done amid the world's hubbub, by adopting its rhythm and complaisance. It is better to seek solitude and silence, to be surrounded by past masters, to reinvent the world, not be cradled by false sirens, cash, galleries, fashionable games, etc."

"What matters is to advance alone on beauty's path, never straying...."

- Balthus

And never straying, one finds:

"There's nothing but a tenacious, stubborn-minded faithfulness that's no longer a choice, but something consubstantial with oneself, essential and destined." 

And so I'll leave you with this walk in the fog, from one morning last week.

Last things.

Watched: The Song of Lunch with Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. It's not often you come upon a movie based upon a poem, okay, one never comes upon such a thing. But here it is.

A blog break. I don't know when, but sometime soon, I'm going to need to take a blog break. I don't know why I haven't thought of doing so before now, frankly.

Listening to Rose Cousins. That voice. Wow.

Stuff going on in my basement.

The Alberta Readers Choice Award voting is nearly over. Still time to vote for Rumi and the Red Handbag.

Wishing you a week of beauty and patience and calls that may be answered. And of course, all calm things.

- Shawna

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