Tuesday, January 28, 2014

dismiss whatever insults your own soul

from "Reading" by Joanne Burns:

she carried ‘the poetics of space’ round india for three months and it returned to her shelves undamaged at the completion of the journey. every day of those three months she touched it and read some of the titles of its chapters to make sure it was there. and real. chapters called house and universe, nests, shells, intimate immensity, miniatures and, the significance of the hut. she had kept it in a pocket of her bag together with a coloured whistle and an acorn.

I love the poem by Joanne Burns because it's something I've done - carry a particular book around at all times. For me it was The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector. I understand the gesture. The book is a comfort, a measure by which to judge one's own soundness, a talisman. For Burns the book is Bachelard's Poetics of Space which is a longtime favourite of mine. One summer I carried around his The Poetics of Reverie to read in whatever intervals presented themselves. {All of these are on the recommended shelf above}. The contrast between the travel to India and the subject of the book are particularly telling. And I suppose the books we have this sort of relationship with do speak in all sorts of ways.

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

- Walt Whitman

How to read? How to read books, the world, how to become a poem? 

Dismiss whatever insults your own soul.....

And then, the eternal question: Why write poetry? 

Let's turn to Dylan Thomas:

"Some people react physically to the magic of poetry, to the moments, that is, of authentic revelation, of the communication, the sharing, at its highest level... A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him." 

- Dylan Thomas

Books on Titian and Cy Twombly on our living room coffee table - Rob has them open to particular paintings / photographs he's been thinking about. You can see the blur of his most recent painting in the background - roses from our garden. I'll link to it on his site when it's been photographed etc. It's been the perfect painting to get me through January.

The light seems to have returned....I gasp every time I see it reach into the middle of the room in the afternoons....

Meanwhile, the daily Ace:


  1. This was such a beautiful read this morning. I love "dismiss whatever insults your soul", and the wise words about writing. But most of all???? Your beautiful dog's dear face. Lovely to look upon. A wise old soul.

    1. Thanks, Sherry! I admit, I love that darned dog.... :)

  2. oh shawna . . .
    so touched here. yesterday . . . "right here within a miracle" . . . how i love that.
    you THINK in poetry.
    and today! a walk down memory lane! remembering carrying when i was young . . .
    a well worn copy of a.m. lindbergh's 'a gift from the sea.'
    it helped a shy girl feel that it was okay to be alone and introspective. and to think it might even have an unusual beauty to it. i had absolutely nothing in common with her life. but she touched my soul. that's what good books do. and your first line is perfect.
    "dismiss whatever insults your soul."
    one thing that makes my soul sing!!! . . . ace's face! how i love it! thank you!
    sorry. my comments are ALWAYS too long.

    1. Tammy - your comments are perfect. Thank you! xo

  3. A gorgeous post Shawna. And a perfect slice of Whitman. It's been a very long time since I read that, and today, precisely was Dylan and J. Burns and the books, yes.

    1. Me too, Stephen, re: the Whitman. I need to re-read Dylan - been too long.

  4. A beautiful, pertinent post. Thank you, Shawna


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