findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the tag “poetry”

Poem: Love of Music

Music-Note-Coloring-Pages-For-KidsAnthony at dVerse Poets Pub has us talking about music being the food of love,  and urging us to play on. Who am I to disagree? Musicality, rhythm, sound is all-important to me in poetry – when I read the poetry of others or when I write my own.

 

 

 

When you were mine I took you for granted.

I lost you and never noticed you had gone.

My desk, my car, my home bathed in silence -

I believed them calm. I thought I relished the peace.

Then one day I wandered by chance to a small room

cloudy with sweat, bulging with smoke, but a space

where you were revered

uttered with honey-dripped tongue

encased in love-laden arms.

No more passing by in deafness.

You unleashed yourself against my ears

entered my pulse

forged new pathways in my limited world.

Art, Creativity, Poetry (and Prose)

Two quick reviews today of poetry and poetic prose, by two very different but equally gifted young writers. One born in England but living in Ireland. The other is Swiss, but writes (in this book) about China.

seaofink_0_220_330Richard Weihe: Sea of Ink (transl. by Jamie Bulloch)

The author is clearly attracted by exotic (i.e. Eastern) art – he has also written about the Indian woman painter Amrita Sher-Gil. This slim book is also about a real historical figure, the Chinese painter Bada Shanren, descendant of the Ming dynasty. Little is known about his life, however, although his work has been very influential, hugely admired and extensively analysed. So Weihe is free to weave the meagre details of his life into a slow-burning meditation into the meaning of art, where creativity fits into politics and everyday life, and how to capture the essence of nature and reality. The biographical details are perhaps the least interesting elements of the story, although they provide a certain structure upon which the author hangs his narrative: finding refuge in a temple, feigning madness (or perhaps being really mad for a period) to avoid confrontation with the new political rulers, reluctantly achieving fame. His artistic progress is marked through little vignettes describing his thoughts, emotions and brushstrokes as he creates ten of his most famous paintings. It’s like looking over the artist’s shoulder, watching his attempts to capture the spirit of nature, render it on paper and make it look effortless.

A beautiful, hypnotic book, full of the apparent contradictions of Taoist philosophy (exhaustively researched by the author). A book to reread for inspiration, and not just for painters, full of very quotable pages:

When you paint, you do not speak. But when you have painted, your brush should have said everything.

When you dip your paintbrush into the ink, you are dipping it into your soul. And when you guide your paintbrush, it is your spirit guiding it.

When you paint, do not think about painting, but let your wrist dance.

Originality? I am as I am, I paint as I paint. I have no method… I am just me.

You cannot hang onto the beards of the ancients. You must try to be your own life and not the death of another.

How can it be that, from a dismal sky, this bitter world can suddenly show us that we love it, in spite of everything, and that in spite of everything it will be hard to take our leave of it?

He had set himself one final goal. He wanted to paint flowing water.

silentmusicAdam Wyeth: Silent Music

A fine blend between English realism and Irish romanticism, Wyeth’s poetry starts with a small observation of daily life, which is then suddenly subverted and lets you take a deeper dive into something far more profound. Gathering and cooking globe artichokes becomes a moment of intimacy and exploration, a cinema trip with his mother becomes a heartbreaking revelation of a boy’s helplessness when face with the end of his parents’ marriage, a lost umbrella becomes the metaphor for bad memories of which we try to rid ourselves. Divorce, love, lost friendships, a father’s tumour, trips abroad, childhood pranks, child labour, pigs: there is no subject too big or too small for poetry, but there is no bathos here. Just clear-eyed and very precise recollection and wording.

There is plenty of humour and experimentation amidst more serious poems: this is the debut collection of a young, exuberant writer after all.  ‘Bubbly’ is a poem designed to be read from bottom to top, rising like the bubbles in a glass of champagne – yet it works equally well when read from top to bottom.  The poet makes of fun of fake intellectual pretensions (in the title poem ‘Silent Music’), wannabe poets who lament their lives provide them with nothing interesting to write about, naughty schoolchildren with their secret jargon, even the Danish language ‘that is why there are no famous Danish poets’.

poetryinternationalweb.net

poetryinternationalweb.net

Here’s a short poem in its entirety – the title is longer than the poem, almost, yet so much irony and ambiguity is condensed into those three lines. It’s based on the miracle observed in the summer of 1985 at Ballinspittle Grotto, when the statue of the Virgin Mary moved spontaneously, receiving much national and international publicity.

Waiting for the Miracle at Ballinspittle Grotto

Nothing moves but cars.

First one passes, then I see

a second coming.

 

By way of contrast, however, these romantic, inspirational lines at sunrise:

Some say to witness the break of day

is to witness the hand of God

pull back his black mantle

to touch fingers

with our ancestors

and know something of Adam

as the land was revealed fresh,

like seeing a lover undress for the first time.

 

Myths Ancient and Modern

Over at dVerse Poets Pub, we are sharing our retelling of myths with a modern slant. I took a biblical story from the Old Testament which I’ve always had problems with (blind obedience does not sit well with me) and gave it a contemporary reading.

deckchairsSo Abraham took Isaac’s hand and led him to the barren hilltop

with view unimpeded,

deckchair aligned for a demanding god

to witness ultimate devotion.

Higher and higher they mounted:

in altitude

in death toll

in bare-faced wails and covered eyes

He was bound – he did not ask to be martyred.

Your son is not my son.

How easy to sever limbs you’ve proclaimed not your own!

Yet our sinews are joined,

through our arteries the same venom pulsates.

One cut and history bleeds out unchecked.

‘I was only obeying orders.’

Where is the word to halt, the hand to tremble?

Have they not proved enough to this rancorous Master?

Open Link Night: Autumnal Poetry

P1020461My garden teems with cucumbers, roses’ droop, heavily scented figs.

My floppy bag sufficient to fit all the harvest:

in it I also gather eggshells discarded by chicks.

I lay your boots and spade neatly to rest inside the shed.

Played the gardener enough for today – this week – this month.

So easy to forget in today’s sun-stillness:

those moments I flare in nervous thrall –

when is the shift to sandstorm season?

It’s there in the echo of last cuckoo-call.

 

Musing about the change of seasons with a little help from Sappho tonight. Please join us over at dVerse Poets Pub, where we are celebrating that wonderful free-forming, room-for-all event that is Open Link Night.

Sunday Showcase: My Not Quite So Abstinent Haul of Books

I refuse to preface each week’s post with ‘I know I said I would buy no more books but…’. No apologies! It’s my money and I’ll spend it all on books and go bankrupt if I want to. (Besides, I know where my boys’ piggy banks are…)

BookhaulSept19

Bought

So yes, I did splurge on the Manchette collection of noir novels (in French). With that and the Simenon romans dur, I do believe I am sorted for reading in French until about 2020.

I also bought the first two BD in the excellent Cellule Poison series by Laurent Astier – set in the Europol centre in Lyon, so pretty much local.

I’m always keen to read more poetry and support poets by buying their books (anybody feeling sorry for authors in general should stop and consider how much money poets make from selling their books). So I bought Maggie Hannan’s debut collection ‘Liar, Jones’ – I have heard good things about her brave, experimental exploration of feminine sensibilities and experience.

Sent for Review

Also shown in the picture: I got sent a book to review by the Oxford University Press: Hester Vaizey’s ‘Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall’. It talks about the changes the fall of the Berlin Wall brought into the lives of eight formerly East German citizens. One of my best friends is a born and bred East Berliner, so I was curious to see how her experience compares to that of Vaizey’s interviewees. Besides, I come from a former Communist state myself and it’s fascinating to see how those vanished (and once much hated) political states are remembered (often nostalgically) 25 years after.

Library

I am so overdue on some of my library books (because more pressing reads get in the way) that I think my membership will be revoked. However, I still managed to sneak out an additional book, namely Joan Smith: What Men Say.  Smith is a writer,journalist and human rights activist. Her Loretta Lawson novels were popular in the early 1990s (when I first moved to Britain) as a crime fiction writer with a feminist bent, but they seem to have fallen into oblivion since. I look forward to reading (or rereading – I can’t remember which of the 5 books I’ve already read) and seeing if I feel the same about them now as an older (but possibly not wiser) feminist.

Addendum

I had just written all of the above, when the postman rang the doorbell and delivered another beautiful round of parcels. Is there anything better than receiving books? It’s like Christmas every week! Here is the additional haul (apologies for the poor lighting conditions):

BookHaul2

Technically speaking, not mine at all! I just ordered them for the children, so it surely doesn’t count. Did you read any of these when you were a child, or are you reading them to your children now? Aren’t they brilliant? I sometimes think children’s literature is better than literature for adults.

 

Travel Poetry: The Secret Gardens of Vaulx

20140830_154618An assault on the senses: so much to catch the eye.

We wander in a daze, through minarets of clay,

alabaster arches of thousand one more dreams.

We get lost in mazes, guided only by

children’s laughter and gasps of enchantment.

Round-mopped flowerheads beckon us to stroke them.

Birdsong fills the cool shade under the chestnut tree.

Water in every form bustles, trickles, dribbles, laps –

Each fountain a family member,

each square of cement path a pebble-enscribed love-letter.

20140830_154332It shouldn’t work: it’s madness,

disparate elements reclaimed from Morocco, Java, Spain,

brought together with nothing but bare hands and humour.

It started out as child’s play and became a family’s history,

hands in soil for decades, shared sighs, always a surprise,

glimmer of a pool around the corner, where

copper filigree meets bulbous earthen pumpkins.

Day after day they built one more terrace,

seeded another flowerbed,

unhurried, unforced,

mosaics of azure tinged with moss, gold shredded with scarlet.

 

20140830_154442We walked in smarting with petty quarrels.

Thirst quenched, a little silenced,

we leave here hand in hand.

 

These magnificent gardens that I discovered earlier this year  just outside Annecy in France – a source of inspiration and delight. For Gabriella’s brilliant initial hosting prompt about travel writing over at dVerse Poets Pub.

The Peace Mole: Light Into Darkness

I don’t usually do political poems, but this one came out quite spontaneously from an animal prompt exercise and seems to be very well suited to the topic of ‘Light into Darkness’ over at dVerse Poets Pub today.

 

arkive.org

arkive.org (copyright see above)

Perhaps peace requires blindness:

even for that brief interlude of cease-fire.

Swollen eyes peering

amazed at light,

at the velvet quiet.

Perhaps the mole is right to bury so deeply

small treasures: cleft bones, mossy stones,

carrot ends collected overground.

Anything to remind him of better days.

He will build new tunnels

when the first collapse.

He can feel the silt build up in daily doses.

His cartoon-pencil nose-tip amuses and disarms.

But even the harmless,

shy of cunning,

cannot survive – again, once more –

the promise of peace talks.

Yet they must

believe and dig,

again and once more.

 

Observing the Details

For dVerse Poets today we have the delightful opportunity to share the watercolour sketches of one of the founding members, Claudia Schönfeld, and use them as an inspiration for our poetry. I can really relate to what Claudia has to say about slowing down and really observing things carefully:

I tend to be unfocused and unconcentrated at times and I’m not very good with details. Sometimes I just don’t see the things around me. Sketching (and also poetry) forces me to focus and really look at things.

Sketch by Claudia Schoenfeld.

Sketch by Claudia Schoenfeld.

So, I’ve used Claudia’s sketch of her favourite bag as a reminder to myself to really notice the details. And to do a better job of describing them in my poetry. Except that I chose to describe a pair of scissors below rather than a bag.

Scissors

 

Despite my name I seldom rustle

nor susurrate with soothing ease…

Instead I syncopate with my right arm,

terminate with my stronger left.

You think me lop-sided, a cripple, but

I’m the master of Swiss efficiency.

No rust, no weakness,

I’m black and grey,

Grown-up and perfectly sober.

Yet in the pivot point I turn crimson,

a drop of blood

in a lifetime of running with scissors.

I cut and clip,

core of action

Hair, ties, rope – it’s all the same to me,

Trenchant with wire, swift with threads.

Do I repel you with my sharpness?

When I come out, there’s no going back,

quick-fire clack of job well done.

Just one flaw:

gratuitous green plastic handle

touched by so many children that I now

give off marshmallow sweetness.

For more colourful sketches and witty poems, please go and visit the Pub. It’s a wonderful respite in the middle of your week!

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…

 

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