findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the tag “poetry”

One of My Favourite Poems (with Translation)

I was tending the bar at dVerse Poets Pub yesterday and gave a poetry prompt which had most participants puzzled, bemused, scratching their heads… or labelling me crazy. I asked for a homophonic translation of a Romanian poem, which means a translation based on sound and random similarity of word patterns. It was really interesting to see all the different interpretations of the same poem. As one comment said, it was the Rohrschach of poetry – in that same inkblot of a poem we each saw our own obsessions, thoughts, fears, hopes and personalities.

The poem itself, however, is one of my favourite poems in any language. It is by Romanian poet (also playwright, philosopher, essayist) Lucian Blaga and it’s a lyrical love poem tinged with melancholy. I remember reciting it with my high-school sweetheart as we walked under the linden trees lining the boulevards leading from our school to the park. ‘Florarul’ (the flowering one) is the old folk name for the month of May.

 

Risipei se dedă Florarul

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-aceasta întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

De pe stamine de alun,
din plopii albi, se cerne jarul.
Orice-nceput se vrea fecund,
risipei se deda Florarul.

Polenul cade peste noi,
în preajmă galbene troiene
alcătuieste-n aur fin.
Pe umeri cade-ne şi-n gene.

Ne cade-n gură când vorbim,
şi-n ochi, când nu găsim cuvântul.
Si nu ştim ce păreri de rău
ne tulbură, pieziş, avântul.

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-această întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

Visând, întrezărim prin doruri -
latente-n pulberi aurii –
păduri ce ar putea sa fie
şi niciodată nu vor fi.

It’s been set to music several times, here is one version of it by Nicu Alifantis in concert:

And here is the translation, courtesy of Cristina at the blog Fantasy Pieces (with some of my own tweaks). She also provides a bit of commentary on this poem.

May Gives Itself with Sweet Abandon

 

We’ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated,
Your burning temple next to mine.

From hazel stamens, cinders fall
White as the poplars that they land on,
Beginnings yearning to be fertile,
May gives itself with sweet abandon.

The pollen falls on both of us,
Small mountains made of golden ashes
It forms around us, and it falls
On our shoulders and our lashes.

It falls into our mouths when speaking,
On eyes, when we are mute with wonder
And there’s regret, but we don’t know
Why it would tear us both asunder.

We’ ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated
Your burning temple next to mine.

In dreams, through longings, we can see—
All latent in the dust of gold
Those forests that perhaps could be—
But that will never, ever grow.

So that’s the literal translation… But, to be honest, I liked some of the free associations and unknowing translations even more!

Reading with a Theme: Thorny Marriages

A while ago I happened to read a whole series of books about mothers. Since my return from holiday I seem to have been on a roll with books about marriages – I was going to say ‘difficult marriages’, but at least one of them is about a happy marriage… interrupted by death. Incidentally, it also seems to have been a bit of a catch-up with North American writers, as Anne Carson, Louise Penny and Maxime-Olivier Moutier are all Canadians, while two of the remaining authors are American.

Joan Didion and her family in Malibu in 1976. From back cover of the book.

Joan Didion and her family in Malibu in 1976. From back cover of the book.

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The portrait of a 40 year marriage of true minds. Didion’s husband died of a heart-attack in 2003, and this is the searing memoir of her befuddlement, grief, sense of guilt and sheer madness of the year following her sudden loss. (At the same time, her daughter was in and out of hospital, in and out of a coma, so it was probably the hardest year of the writer’s life.) This may not be her most polished work stylistically, but it has a rawness and honesty about it which is very moving.

I’m not sure why this has been branded as pretentious or whining or self-pitying rants of a rich bitch. It shows how grief can drive us all mad, whether privileged or not, whether calm and collected or dramatic and hysterical. The author has also been accused of coldness, because she tries to present things in a detached way. This feels to me more like a deliberate strategy to remain calm, to try and understand, to analyse oneself. The polar vortex of memory that she tries to avoid by not going to places that were familiar to them: how can that be described as cold and unfeeling?

Anne Carson: The Beauty of the Husband

beautyhusband

By contrast, Carson’s collection of poems all add up to an essay on beauty and truth, our search for perfection but our paradoxical human ability to put up with imperfection for a very long time. All in all, it presents the picture of a toxic marriage, a destructive relationship captured with true poetic flourish. Based on Keat’s assertion that beauty is truth, the poet then shows us just why the husband was anything but truthful, no matter how beautiful he was (and remained) in the eyes of the wronged wife.

 

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home

LongWayHome

I’m already a confirmed Louise Penny fan, but this 10th book in the Armand Gamache/ Three Pines series is less crime fiction and more the story of a Quest: for a missing husband, for inspiration, for one’s true self, for the Holy Grail almost. I wrote a full review of it for Crime Fiction Lover, but from the perspective of marriage, it is the sad story of the dissolution of a loving long-term partnership when the insidious three-headed serpent of jealousy, envy and inadequacy makes its appearance. Clara and Peter Morrow are both artists, who met in college. Peter has always been the more successful artist with his carefully controlled, intricate paintings, while Clara was the wild and messy experimentalist. But when Clara’s star begins to rise, Peter finds it impossible to rejoice for her, as he becomes aware of his own artistic stagnation.

 

louise douglas your beautiful liesLouise Douglas: Your Beautiful Lies

Set against the backdrop of the miners’ strikes in Yorkshire in the 1980s, this is the story of Annie, a woman who is feeling trapped in a very correct but rather dry marriage of convenience, which has provided her with a comfortable lifestyle but has also isolated her from the rest of the community. When her old boyfriend (who had been convicted of manslaughter) is released from prison and shows up on her doorstep, trying to protest his innocence, she is at first reluctant to engage with him. But then she unravels rather spectacularly and becomes very reckless indeed… This book has an old-fashioned feel about it, as if it were set in the 1950s rather than the 1980s, and I struggled to empathise with Annie.

And, just in case you thought that only women can write about marriage, here is the most depressing one of all, written by a man but from a woman’s perspective.

scelleplombeMaxime-Olivier Moutier: Scellé plombé

The title roughly translates as ‘sealed with lead’, which was apparently an old method for food preservation – until the poisonous qualities of lead were discovered. This hints at the poisonous conjugal relationship and what an odd, unsettling story it is. The husband is struck by lightning on a golf course and is buried by his wife and children in secret.  Told entirely from the point of view of the wife, but addressed to her husband in a tone designed to humiliate and provoke, we then discover the story of their marriage, the rising ennui, the many daily cruelties and sarcasms, the lack of communication, the secret lives each partner found refuge in. A chilling disregard for the children emerges from this novel: it appears it’s not the marriage, but the hearts themselves which have turned to lead.

 

Finally, I almost hesitate to include Ann Patchett’s ‘This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ in this post, not because of the word ‘happy’ in the title, but because this collection of essays is about so much more than marriage: it is about creativity, travelling, a beloved dog, a burgeoning interest in opera music, family, friendships and, above all, writing. It also talks about the author’s first marriage and divorce, which led to many years of avoiding commitment to her second husband. In her characteristic clear-eyed, fluid style, she describes the compassion and understanding that she developed for all women who suffered in their marriages, whether they were able to get away from them or not.

My mother had divorced my father when I was four. Two years later she remarried. My mother and stepfather spent the next twenty years trying to decide whether or not they should stay together. While growing up I had never faulted her for the divorce, but I hated what I thought was her weakness. My mother didn’t want to be wrong a second time. She wanted to believe in a person’s ability to change, and so she went back and back, every resolution broken by some long talk they had that made things suddenly clear for a while. I wanted her to make her decision and stick to it. In or out, I ultimately didn’t care, just make up your mind. But the mind isn’t so easily made up. My mother used to say the more lost you are, the later it got, the more you had invested in not being lost. That’s why people who are lost so often keep heading in the same direction. It took my own divorce to really understand… I understood how we long to believe in goodness, especially in the person we promised to love and honor. It isn’t just about them, it is how we want to see ourselves…

 

Poem Inspired by Photography: Butterfly Skims

Over at the dVerse Poets Pub, Grace invites us to succumb to the whimsical charm of Joel Robison’s photography and write a poem either inspired by his imagery or else to create a world which doesn’t quite play by the rules we know. I think my Poetic Muse would agree whole-heartedly with that! Thank you very much, Joel, for letting us use your images for our poetry and be sure to visit Joel’s blog and gallery for lots more inspiration.

It should have been something more substantial

but no, my Muse chose butterfly wings for itself!

It alights for a flicker of eyelids,

then skims across ponds encircled in rushes.

It sets each flower afire with its quiver.

All eyes follow in strange enchantment:

A shimmering trance of something not quite glimpsed.

Far too short it tarries with me.

Presto, presto, at times some allegretto,

it flashes its mottled colour onto the next bloom.

Will there be butterflies next season?

I’m growing old and my trousers are still unrolled,

as I set out with fine mesh netting

to capture, to sample, to add to my butterfly collection.

 

Maintaining the Holiday Mood with Jabberwocky

So whaddya gonna do to prevent the post-holiday slump? Book the next holiday, of course! (Paris for a week in October). And write some nonsense verse based on the language of Lewis Carroll. The Alice books have long been one of my favourite reads, both in childhood and now. This is the voice of the mimsy borogoves (illustrated below as the ones with long pelican legs and weepy hairbrush faces).

From Wikipedia, John Tenniel illustration.

From Wikipedia, John Tenniel illustration.

Jibberjabberwocky or the Mimsy Borogoves

 

 Minging flimsy zzzizzy whimsy bizzz

 

Fair few feathers falling out

 

Awww why whiney whingy where oh when?

 

Whimper me softly

 

Ayyyy a naminin moo moo mincy nin moan

 

Rustle the muscle and bustle

 

Shush mushing weep seep trickle deep

 

Come all alone to the great groan

 

 

Summer, Sea, Sun and … So Long!

I’m off on holiday and hope to get lots of lovely sunshine and beach reading, as well as meet some dear friends that I don’t get to see nearly as much as I would like!

While I’m away, be as good as you can, as bad as you need to, as bold as you want, and read and write with va-va-voom!

Here are a few summer-inspired goodies to tide you through until we meet again…

Summer Idyll – a poem

Escapist Holiday Pictures 

What we all dream of: a writers’ retreat in beautiful landscape

Quintessential summer song: Kokomo by The Beach Boys. Never mind that it’s associated with the rather silly film ‘Cocktail’ (and that some of us don’t like Tom Cruise anymore)…  when my boys sing it to me: ‘Come on, pretty Mama…’, believe me: it doesn’t get much better than that!

Errant Fathers, Stupid Women

I came across an article on the internet recently which made me very angry. The author was talking about how it’s the women’s fault if they are left holding the baby, that maybe fathers didn’t want them from the start. The tenor of the work can be summarised as follows:

Don’t come to complain to me about how harsh your life is. It’s self-inflicted: you wanted children, so deal with it. I do not blame errant fathers at all. Especially my errant father. He never wanted children. 

This was written in response to that, as well as to the fact that many of my friends have divorced in recent years because of ‘errant husbands’,  and is linked to dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night. It’s also an exercise in the use of myths in poetry, which was my latest module for the poetry course I am doing.

Maria Callas as Medea. indafondazione.org

Maria Callas as Medea. indafondazione.org

Don’t expect us to be grateful, Medea.

Nobody asked for your sacrifice.

Jason would have coped fine without the scattering of body parts.

That’s when he should have realized you’re mental,

only thinking of yourself

under the disguise of undying love.

No wonder he found somebody new,

more easy-going,

without the grandiloquent gestures.

He needed rest after his journey, bless him,

and all you can offer is barbaric revenge…

Agamemnon returned from Troy a hero,

having left me to struggle for so many years

alone yet not free

mourning the daughter he’d sacrificed for his mission, his ego.

It’s all about ego in the end, you see.

His spoils of war in the shape of a nubile wench:

his embarrassed smile barely veiling

the testosterone pride of middle-aged conquest.

‘You’d grown a little stale.

I’d forgotten how to let fun into my life.’

Was I really the only one to see the feet sodden with clay

on this former giant of a man?

How did he turn my children against me,

using absence to tenderise their flesh so willing

to choose his account over mine?

In all discarded, bitter women

there’s a Jocasta lying in wait:

jewellery poised to maim errant fathers,

secretly rooting for the son to take over,

unable to bear mistaken loss.

Lionel Messi and the Cult of Personality

This was written in response to a poetry prompt about how our modern-day mythology is the frenzied celebrity culture. It struck me during the recent football World Cup in Brazil how much we are looking for a single Saviour out there to make us forget all our inadequacies and needs…

 

Defeating armies of unbelievers

His touch on the ball deemed divine

The crowds cheered him into the promised stadium

But miracles failed to show up

On tap

On golden boot

Or on any part of his divine body.

No Messiah after all,

Merely messy.

Passenger

succulentI’m a stranger in my life

mid-screen

ambling inopportune

breaking the cheer of online victories

more treasured in absence

more valued for my silences

in-between words I bite back.

 

Composted worlds I’ve suppressed

the landscapes drip fluid

colours realign

the print-out never quite

what I put in.

 

I’m a stranger to my life.

The path peters out in moss-hung dead ends

Reed in a cluster by a pool

caked to mud.

Weeds have overgrown my roots

also my tongue.

The River

From the BBC website.

From the BBC website.

Now those memories come back to haunt me 
they haunt me like a curse 
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true 
Or is it something worse 
that sends me down to the river 
though I know the river is dry 
That sends me down to the river tonight (Bruce Springsteen) 

 

I said river and I meant river

I walked to the river in my dreams

searched for it when sleeping

when keeping watch

when whistling the night

 

I whistled the river but found no river – I now know

that whether I conjure it or fear it

it’s never outside

when I struggle, when I scream,

that’s when it comes

the river

in narrow trickles down my back – it glistens…

in the river I’ll be taken

in the river I’ll breathe my last

one untamed gulp

Foam

Crushed

 

So what can I do – chewed, spat out

So what can I do – gnawed to flotsam

 

I said river but I meant no river

All I craved was

A lagoon

 

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Two very different books for a change (and a break from my usual crime or other gruelling subjects): memoirs and poetry.

Hilde Spiel was a highly versatile Austrian writer and journalist (from a highly integrated Jewish family), who fled to London in 1936 (after the assassination of her beloved university lecturer Moritz Schlick). Her diary of her trip to Vienna in 1946 as a correspondent for the British Armed Forces was originally written in English but was later edited and published in German as ‘Rückkehr nach Wien (Return to Vienna).

This is a very poignant and thoughtful report of a city changed beyond recognition by bombs and defeat… and yet unchanged in many ways (some good, some bad). [All translations my own.]

I must learn everything anew. The cold mouldy stone smell of Viennese houses… the unrelenting stare of the housekeeper… the suspicious, unfriendly smile that was there before the Nazis and will always be there.

hilde spielSpiel refrains from sentimentality. She is clear-sighted and precise in her description of everyday heroism and cowardice, of opportunism and the complicated relationship between the victorious Allies and the local population. She talks to a Count and Countess, who now live in their crumbling little palace in the Russian Sector. They tell her about the day the Russian army descended upon their property, camped in their garden with fifty horses, shattered all their crystal and raped their female servants. The author understands their feeling of helplessness, but cannot help thinking:

Nevertheless, the two of them have lived for seven years side by side with barbarians. Only… their own barbarians were smooth-tongued, able to converse politely about Goethe and Mozart, with good table manners, agreeable hosts and guests, polished, elegant and thoroughly European. Yet they did far worse things behind prison walls and camp fences than the rape of helpless women. It’s only when the barbarians take on their eastern, unvarnished and shameless form that the Count and Countess realise the degeneration of the present day.

This trip is of course also an opportunity for self-reflection. To what extent can we ever go home to that place where we have been happy in the past, when we have changed and the place too has changed in a different way? Who wins in the battle between heart and mind? How much of our true selves do we have to hide or abandon when we become immigrants and have to abide by the rules and cultural mores of our adopted country?

 

I fear that my centre of gravity is somewhere above the skies of Europe, drifting in a cloud above England, Austria, Italy, France, simultaneously attracted and repelled, never really coming down in any of these places… I will have to test again and again where my true home is.

returnViennaSpiel once said that she could never have worked without England, but she couldn’t live without Vienna. Yet, even as she enjoys a few musical performances at the temporarily re-housed Vienna Opera, she wonders:

Is there anything in this city still alive and contemporary, something I can admire unreservedly, that is not soaked up in the past like a sponge …?

Bonus tidbit of information that I discovered while reading the book is that Hilde Spiel spent the first ten years of her childhood on the street next to the one where I spent mine and had a similar near-Catholic experience in the very same little parish church (which is featured on the cover of the English language edition of her book).

For an additional book review and information on how to get hold of this fascinating book, see here.

 

 

sonnetsThe second book is a collection of 101 Sonnets published by Faber and Faber.  Poet, writer and musician Don Paterson curates this eclectic collection of one of the best-loved and most popular verse forms in the Western world, often with witty asides about each poem. For instance, about Elizabeth Daryush’s Still Life:

The best breakfast every described, though the end of the poem you want to go at it with a cricket bat. It’s hard to know exactly where the poet stand on all this, but we can perhaps sense her disapproval in the pampered insularity of the scene. I hope.

I had no idea there were so much breadth and variety of modern sonnets, from Seamus Heaney’s beautifully controlled ‘The Skylight’ to Elizabeth Bishop’s unconventional two-stress lines to Douglas Dunn’s blissful description of a summer of ‘Modern Love’. A volume to treasure and dip into, again and again. (And yes, that explains my own two recent sonnet attempts.)

Post Navigation