Sunday, May 30, 2010

the life-death of trees

Trees have always had a powerful hold on the human imagination and their symbolism is manifold. Their mute but solid presence is at once soothing and awe-inspiring, because they challenge what is for us the ultimate, clear-cut and irreversible frontier, that between life and death.

I was just reading this wonderful book on the anthropology of trees, when I came upon a seemingly commonsensical view which set me thinking. The author argues that trees do not have a 'natural' life-span like animals, and that many species take as long to decline as to grow. Above all, trees call into question the perception that a live body is warm, while a dead one is stiff and cold. Trees may live a long, long life, but in fact they start dying while keeping on living; the trunk of a tree may be intensely alive, yet it is composed of a mixture of dead and live tissues.

It is interesting indeed to note the contrast between the uncertain status of trees as living organisms and how they have been seen, since times immemorial, as symbols of life. But this is certainly not a contradiction, pointing instead to the ultimate mystery of life and its closeness to death. Both are everywhere, everyday - and we too, like trees, start dying while keeping on living.

A soothing and awe-inspiring truth that Davood Emdadian captured as few painters before him had.

Image: Davood Emdadian, Arbored.

Monday, May 24, 2010

on the other side of the words

I love these rainy Sundays inviting silence and inwardness, especially when you are still slowly recovering from a nasty cold. And how restful it is to ignore the first intimations of summer and cuddle with the winter mood, resisting work, lazily replying to e-mails, flicking through a pile of old books... till you come upon an old obsession that pretty much sums it all up.

A gentle mantra, strangely disquieting, strangely consoling, as I wrote here and so many times before - and will continue to, because the spell never, never breaks. I'll go on listening to and feeding and loving the beast. He won't go away.

Shut up. Shut up. There’s nobody here.
If you think you hear somebody knocking
On the other side of the words, pay
No attention. It will be only
The great creature that thumps its tail
On silence on the other side.
If you do not even hear that
I’ll give the beast a quick skelp
And through Art you’ll hear it yelp.

The beast that lives on silence takes
Its bite out of either side.
It pads and sniffs between us. Now
It comes and laps my meaning up.
Call it over. Call it across
This curious necessary space.
Get off, you terrible inhabiter
Of silence. I’ll not have it. Get
Away to whoever it is will have you.

He’s gone and if he’s gone to you
That’s fair enough. For on this side
Of the words it’s late. The heavy moth
Bangs on the pane. The whole house
Is sleeping and I remember
I am not here, only the space
I sent the terrible beast across.
Watch. He bites. Listen gently
To any song he snorts or growls
And give him food. He means neither
Well or ill towards you. Above
All, shut up. Give him your love.

W. S. Graham, 'The Beast in the Space', from 'Malcom Mooney's Land' (1970), in Collected Poems, 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), pp. 147-48.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

the taste of twilight (2)

Speaking of twilight, I can hardly think of another writer who has inhabited it so painfully and passionately throughout his life, aware as he was that identity - personal, cultural, linguistic, national - entails, not an elusive sense of security, but endless multiplicities, irresolutions, inner conflicts and divisions.

As he acknowledged in one of his final poems, long after the disappearance of the Celtic faery world of his early work and the shattering of his hopes for Ireland:

Many times man lives and dies
Between his two eternities,
That of race and that of soul.

W. B. Yeats, 'Under Ben Bulben' [1939], in The Poems, ed. Daniel Albright (London: Everyman, 1990). p. 373.

For Yeats, the 'race' was the Anglo-Irish, and the 'soul' was that of 'ancient Ireland [that] knew it all', as well as that of the English language through which he expressed this knowledge. And has there ever been a poem which so movingly embodies the inevitable pain and, at the same time, the productivity of such inner exile and dissociation?

There are many, many more, of course. In a less poetic tone, and still in an Irish context, another unforgetful expression of the same dissociation, from Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In a conversation between the young Stephen Dedalus, aspiring craftsman of the English language despite his Irish Catholic background, and his English Dean of Studies, Stephen ruminates:

The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916; London: Penguin, 1992), p. 205.


But, reverting to the 'taste of twilight', I can't resist getting back to the first Yeats and his nostalgic longings, which gave birth to all sorts of eerie twilight worlds, including this one:

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,

Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight;
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

Your mother Eire is always young,
Dew ever shining and twilight grey,
Though hope fall from you and love decay,
Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.

Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of sun and moon and hollow and wood
And river and stream work out their will.

And God stands winding His lonely horn,
And time and the world are ever in flight;
And love is less kind than the grey twilight,
And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.

W. B Yeats, 'Into the Twilight', in The Celtic Twilight [1893], Mythologies (1934; London: Macmillan, 1982), p. 141.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

the taste of twilight (1)

A few days ago, on my way home, I caught through the train window the briefest glimpse of that eerie, subtle moment - neither light nor darkness, neither day nor night - which Izumi Kyoka so obsessively attempted to capture in his writings and perceptively coined as 'the taste of twilight' (tasogare no aji).

Transfixed, spellbound, suspended, I recalled his words about this singular world in-between that provides the deepest insight not only into the reality of things but into people as well. A view of the world I wholeheartedly embrace, more and more.

I can't resist transcribing the passage again, posted here quite a while ago.


I wonder how many people there are in the world who truly have a sense of taste for twilight? It seems to me that many people have lumped twilight and dusk together. When speaking of "dusk" the sensation of the color of night, the color of darkness, becomes dominant. However, twilight is neither the color of night nor the color of darkness. So saying, it is neither simply a sensation of day, nor of light. In the momentary world of entering night from day, at the momentary boundary of entering darkness from light, is that not where the twilight world lies? Twilight is neither darkness nor light, and nor is it a mixture of light and darkness. I think that twilight is a world of singularly subtle shades that exist solely in that momentary space of entering darkness from light, of entering night from day. Similar to the singularly subtle twilight world, existing in the space of entering darkness from light, there is a world of subtle shades called dawn on the boundary of entering light from darkness, in the momentary interval of moving to day from night. This too is a singularly subtle world that is neither darkness nor light nor a mixture of darkness and light. I consider it a great mistake that people in the world think as though there were no other worlds outside of night and day, darkness and light. It is my belief that there is certainly a singularly subtle world of the in-between outside of sensations that approach the two extremes of dusk and day-break. [...]
This taste for twilight is not something that exists merely in the relation of day with night. I believe that in similar fashion among all things in the universe there are singularly subtle worlds. For example, even when it comes to people, good and evil is something like day and night, but in between this good and evil there is in addition a singularly subtle place that we should not destroy, that we should not extinguish. In the momentary space of moving from good to evil, in the momentary space of moving from evil to good, humans display singularly nuanced shapes and feelings. I would like primarily to sketch and to transcribe such a twilight-like world. I have been thinking too that I would like to impart in my works a world of the singulary in-between, which is on neither extremity of good and evil, right and wrong, pleasure and displeasure.
Izumi Kyôka, "Tasogare no aji" / The Taste of twilight (translation by Gerald Figal)
from Gerald Figal, Civilization and Monsters: Spirits of Modernity in Meiji Japan (Durham: Durham UP, 1999) 1-2.

Photo by DK. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

the most beautiful experiment

... is this. This way of seeing things is what I would like my students to learn, by un-learning all the rest.

Salts work their way
to the outside of a plant pot
and dry white.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . This encrustation
is the only image.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The rest -
the entire winter, if there's winter -
comes as a variable that shifts
in any part, or vanishes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I can
compare what I like to the salts,
to the pot, if there's a pot,
to the winter if there's a winter.

The salts I can compare
to anything there is.

Roy Fisher, 'The Only Image', in The Thing About Joe Sullivan: Poems 1971-1977 (Manchester: Carcanet, 1978), p. 25.

Monday, May 17, 2010

walking Tokyo

There are things we will never see, unless we walk to them.
                          --Thomas A. Clark, 'In Praise of Walking'.

Life in Tokyo tends to move at such fast speed, from non-place to non-place, to the inhuman, ruthless rhythm of trains, allowing no time to perceive neither change nor permanence. Everything is two-dimensional, flat, insignificant, insubstantial.

Yet how different things can look like when you open an existential parenthesis, take time into your own hands and walk the city, from morning to evening, the natural cycle of a day. Your perception of space is utterly changed and you realise how the city is composed of amazingly distinct topographies, of places with interconnected names and histories, with their commonalities and singularities whispering to you from below the glossy surface of commodities.

Dearest Spring Typhoon walking friends, many thanks for your time and company, from Komagome through Nippori, across Ueno to Asakusa on the Sumida River, retracing former horse tracks in the toponymic memory of old Edo. On foot, of course.

Tokyo, between Komagome and Asakusa on the Sumida River
15 May 2010

creepy invaders

Social networking websites give me the creeps. A few days ago an old friend I haven't seen for ages sent me an invite to join one of them as a 'friend' and I, very reluctantly, signed up, as I didn't want to seem rude. The thing seems to have got out of hand, because ever since I've been receiving - and, worse even, sending! - invites from/to various people.

So, dear friends who happen to read this and have received a recent invite from me to become 'my friend' (but weren't we friends already?!), please ignore it and accept my apologies. These things are intrusive, invasive, and have no respect whatsoever for your privacy and will. Creepy.

I'll never make that mistake again and reply to whosoever's invite, sorry!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

a new and strange direction of the mind (2)

We live in an age so completely self-absorbed that the ability to simply look, to pour out the intelligence through the eyes, is an accomplishment.

Thomas A. Clark, from 'Riasg Buidhe' in Distance & Proximity (Edinburgh: Pocketbooks, 2000), p. 98.

Friday, May 14, 2010

a visionary melancholy (2)

The poetry he recited me was full of his nature and his visions. Sometimes it told of other lives he believes himself to have lived in other centuries, sometimes of people he had talked to, revealing them to their own minds. I told him I would write an article upon him and it, and was told in turn that I might do so if I did not mention his name, for he wished to be always 'unknown, obscure, impersonal.' Next day a bundle of his poems arrived, and with them a note in these words: 'Here are copies of verses you said you liked. I do not think I could ever write or paint any more. I prepare myself for a cycle of other activities in some other life. I will make rigid my roots and branches. It is not my turn to burst into leaves and flowers.'

The poems were all endeavours to capture some high, impalpable mood in a net of obscure images. There were fine passages in all, but these were often embedded in thoughts which have evidently a special value to his mind, but are to other men the counters of an unknown coinage. At other times the beauty of the thought was obscured by careless writing as though he had suddenly doubted if writing was not a foolish labour. He had frequently illustrated his verses with drawings, in which an imperfect anatomy did not altogether smother a beauty of feeling.

W. B Yeats, 'A Visionary', from The Celtic Twilight (1893), in Mythologies (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 12-13.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

a visionary melancholy (1)

'He was indeed always cheerful, though I thought I could see in his eyes . . . a melancholy which was wellnigh a portion of their joy; the visionary melancholy of purely instinctive natures and of all animals'.

W. B Yeats, 'A Teller of Tales', from The Celtic Twilight (1893), in Mythologies (London: Macmillan, 1982), p. 5.

How I'm hopelessly drawn to such rare natures in whom sadness and joy, mystery and disclosure, distance and proximity, light and shadow, are part of the same continuum - no categories, no hard and fast distinctions.

At those precious moments when you come upon one such nature, it leaves an indelible imprint on your soul, like a soft, warm paw.

A recognition, not just an encounter.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

a new and strange direction of the mind (1)

David Jones: another unjustly forgotten artist I hold dear, despite not always agreeing and identifying with the implications of his vision. Yet, a visionary he was, and far more prescient than he guessed when he wrote, in 1937:

That our culture has accelerated every line of advance into the territory of physical science is well appreciated - but not so well understood are the unforeseen, subsidiary effects of this achievement. We stroke cats, pluck flowers, tie ribands, assist at the manual acts of religion, make some kind of love, write poems, paint pictures, are generally at one with that creaturely world inherited from our remote beginnings. Our perception of many things is heightened and clarified. Yet must we do the gas-drill, be attuned to many newfangled technicalities, respond to increasingly exacting mechanical devices; some fascinating and compelling, others sinister in the extreme; all requiring a new and strange direction of the mind, a new sensitivity certainly, but at a considerable cost.

David Jones, In Parenthesis (1937; rpt. London: Faber, 1963), p. xiv.

At what a cost. What a terrible cost.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

style it takes

Another quiet but persistent obsession I return to every so often. I prefer this more intimate version to the original, mythical one.

Style it takes

Words and music: John Cale & Lou Reed

You’ve got the money, I’ve got the time
You want your freedom, make your freedom mine
’cause I’ve got the style it takes
And money is all that it takes
You’ve got connections and I’ve got the art
You like what I do and I like your looks
And I have the style it takes and you know the people it takes
Why don’t you sit right over there, we’ll do a movie portrait
I’ll turn the camera on and I won’t even be there
A portrait that moves, you look great, I think
I’ll put the Empire State building on your wall
For 24 hours you'll see it on your wall
Watch the sun rise above it in your room
Wallpaper art, a great view
I’ve got a brillo box and I say it’s art
It’s the same one you can buy in a supermarket
’cause I’ve got the style it takes
And you’ve got the people it takes
This is a rock group called the velvet underground
They play when we show movies
Don't you like their sound
’cause they have a style that grates and I have the art to make
Let’s do a movie here next week
We don’t have sound but you’re so great
You don’t have to speak
You’ve got the style it takes
You’ve got the style it takes
You’ve got the style it takes
You’ve got the style it takes...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

a fool's paradise

It's a well-known fact, a global phenomenon, that personal and work relations, the very concepts of privacy, friendship, etc., have been undergoing radical and irreversible changes in contemporary society, for manifold reasons. Yet Japan seems to be well ahead of other societies in some of the most disturbing manifestations of the phenomenon.

I never cease to be amazed at the outright contradiction between the Japanese pressure to conform to certain types of 'hyper-polite' behaviour & formulas in the public sphere, and the general self-absorption, lack of solidarity and care, indifference, discourtesy and unresponsiveness to others that so many of them display in their personal lives (when they have one, of course). But doesn't a solid, good education begin in the private sphere? Something must be terribly amiss when most people think and act as though it's the other way round. It's amazing indeed how the Japanese aversion to individuality in the public sphere can foster the most outrageously rude and selfish behaviours in personal relations.

One of the aspects that most upsets me is the unreliability of friendship in this country, and about which I have written here a while ago. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that most people seem to have lost any capacity for graceful behaviour towards acquaintances and, above all, towards what they take as 'friends'. And by graceful behaviour I mean simple gestures such as replying to an e-mail (which doesn't need to take more than 2-3 minutes), responding to (i.e. giving feedback on) somebody's work, spontaneously accepting an invitation, making the time to attend an event in which a friend participates, and so on and so on...

People tell me, over and over again, that life is way too difficult these days (but has it ever been easy?), that their workload is way too heavy and drains away all energy to be with friends and especially to make new ones (not to mention the most basic need to have a sex life...), blah-blah-blah. Well, while feeling very sorry for these state of affairs, I dare say that most of these arguments are just lame excuses on the part of people who have simply lost all capacity to define the true priorities in life - namely life itself - and have become too wrapped up in themselves, narrow-minded and unresponsive to anyone or anything that might unsettle or question their regimented stupid routines and habits of thought, their functioning as mere cogs in a ruthless machine. In sum, bad excuses on the part of people who have lost all capacity to be humane, or simply human.

When someone/something is perceived as genuinely meaningful, worthwhile, people do make the time to respond. But the sad truth is that most individuals these days just don't care for anyone except themselves or those that are immediately useful to them - in smaller and smaller, paranoid closed circles of acquaintances and 'friends', despite their being under the delusion of being connected to everyone and the whole world through mobile phones, YouTube, social networking websites, etc., etc.

And thus the appalling contrast between the illusory hustle and bustle of the city outside and the profoundly isolated, narrow, secluded non-existence most people seem to live here.

Cities like Tokyo are castles in the air, a fool's paradise...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

taking stock

William Blake, Glad Day or The Dance of Albion, c. 1794.

I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's;

I will not reason or compare; my business is to create.

William Blake

There are times in life when you make certain decisions and are compelled to take stock. A few days ago, as I was rummaging through endless boxes of books I hadn't opened for years (mainly due to lack of space), and sorting out which ones to rescue from oblivion and send to my house in Tokyo, I stopped to wonder what drew me to these works from the outset. Most of them are out-of-print copies bought from second-hand bookshops, the work of artists who were neglected or forgotten in their lifetime - they didn't 'sell', to use the depressing jargon of commercialism - because they were utterly, uncompromisingly devoted to their own inner vision.

And what a vision it was, what a vision, giving birth to works of baffling complexity, inconstancy, heterogeneity, ambition; unsettling in their subversion of conventions and systems of authority, and thus inviting the contempt of the usual gatekeepers: publishers, editors, and, of course, the devoted followers of intellectual fashions - critics, academics... - who dismiss anything that does not lend itself to the abstract, theoretical gaze. As a result, to use the words of a dear friend, 'the truly innovative are marginalised beyond the borders of silence itself'.*

If there ever was a figure who epitomised the overwhelming difficulties and challenges confronting the creative artist in such a resistant, stony-hearted world, it was William Blake. While he is nowadays a celebrated artist, about whom multitudes of academic books have been written and prestigious exhibitions held, Blake was largely overlooked in his time - he was mostly seen as little more than an insane eccentric - and made a meagre living as an engraver and illustrator for books and magazines. In his lifetime, he never managed to sell one single copy of his astounding, visionary
illuminated books of poems, which display not only a superb sense of craftsmanship but his immense learning (Blake didn't attend school and, in adult age, taught himself Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian, so that he could read classical works in their original language). His 'business' was to create, with no concessions to the temptation to lower his standards and betray his vision in order to become popular.

It is not my intention to romanticise this kind of hand to mouth artistic existence. Quite the contrary, I'm fully aware of the persistent, unbearable pain and sense of injustice that must result from one's work -
and life, for, to those truly committed to their art, there is no division between them, their art is their life and vice-versa - not being valued as it should. I only wish we lived in a better, much better world where the work of the most gifted artists were understood, loved and valued in their lifetime. Yet, I'm irresistibly drawn to those who have had the courage to resist the dominant cynicism of the age, who have had the stamina to sacrifice everything - financial and emotional stability, relationships, the mediocrity of a 'normal' life... - for creative freedom. Away from groups, coteries, movements, promotional apparatuses, and political agendas, concerned exclusively with the singularity of and faithfulness to their inner vision, attending their one and only necessary business: creation.

And why? Because against the grain of these horrendous times of self-promoting fakers and shallow sound bites, I believe, more and more, that nothing else is worth doing. Nothing else but to feel, be alive through art.

Because, as another neglected giant dear to my heart once put it:

To be exclusively concerned with the highest forms of life
Is not to be less alive than 'normal people.'

Hugh MacDiarmid
, 'In the Shetland Islands.'

*Clive Bush, Out of Dissent: A Study of Five Contemporary British Poets (London: Talus, 1997). p.2.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

the first Yeats

I seldom take notice of business-oriented newsletters, and usually discard them after a cursory glance. A few days ago, however, a newsletter from Carcanet caught my eye, because it opened with a poem that resonates with an old memory and celebrates something that academics all too often look down at and dismiss as 'pre-modern', 'Romantic', etc.: the pre-Celtic Twilight poetry of W. B. Yeats. Even though I was lucky, as an undergraduate student, to have had an English Lit teacher who actually liked this Yeats and encouraged us to engage with his first poems, I now realise it's been years since I last read them. By coincidence, yesterday, rummaging through a couple of old boxes for hidden treasures, I was delighted to find a dog-eared copy of this wonderful Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland that Yeats edited between 1888 and 1892, and which inspired in me the same sense of awe as when I read the ghost/horror/gothic tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Lafcadio Hearn, Sheridan Le Fanu...

The temptation is too strong to resist, so, once again, I'll have to redefine my reading priorities for the next few days, and fully immerse myself in the Irish other-world of changelings, ghosts, demon cats & other evil spirits, trooping & solitary fairies, witches, and, of course, good ol' Cuchulain... No waste of time, for sure.

In the meantime, here goes the Carcanet message, with due thanks for the thoughtful selection.

'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ by W.B. Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The First Yeats: Poems by W.B. Yeats 1889-1899
Unrevised texts, edited with an introduction by Edward Larrissy

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) began writing poetry as a devotee of Blake, Shelley, the pre-Raphaelites, and of nineteenth-century Irish poets including James Clarence Mangan and Samuel Ferguson. By the end of his life, he had, as T.S. Eliot said, created a poetic language for the twentieth century. The First Yeats deepens our understanding of the making of that poetic imagination, reprinting the original texts of Yeats's three early collections, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1892), and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899). The poems were subsequently heavily revised or discarded. Among them are some of the best-loved poems in English – 'The LakeIsle of Innisfree', 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' – fresh and unfamiliar here in their original contexts, together with Yeats's lengthy notes which were drastically cut in the collected editions.

This illuminating edition by Edward Larrissy, editor of W.B. Yeats, The Major Works (Oxford University Press, 2000), includes an introduction that clarifies the literary, historical and intellectual context of the poems, detailed notes, and a bibliography. It offers essential material for reading – and revaluing – one of the great modern poets.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was one of the greatest poets and dramatists of the twentieth century. Educated in London and in Dublin, the young Yeats was at the centre of fin de siècle London’s literary society and his friends included George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. His first volume of verse appeared in 1886. He returned to Ireland in 1891 and was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival. In 1895 he achieved poetic recognition with Poems. After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, he became a senator. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Yeats died in France in 1939.

Edward Larrissy is Professor of Poetry at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of Yeats the Poet: The Measures of Difference (Harvester, 1994) and the editor of W.B. Yeats, The Major Works (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

just the two of us maybe

And yet another personal, private utopia. The most difficult to get to, the most precious.

An internal geography, nowhere to be found.

A life without location -
just the two of us
maybe, or a few -

keeping in closeup:
and the colours -
and just the colours

coming from the common source
one after the other
on a pulse;

and passing around us,
turning about and
flaking to form a world,

patterning on the need of a world
made on a pulse.
That way we keep the colours,

till they break and go
and leave no trace; nothing
that could hold an association.

Roy Fisher, 'Without Location', Poems 1955-1980 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980), pp. 115-16.

Monday, May 3, 2010

the true one

The world is away on vacation and friends have withdrawn into themselves, somewhere I don't know. The sky looks so blank on these nights, neither starry nor cloudy, just a deep, indefinite grey. The moon doesn't help either - reticent, reluctant. She only half-shows herself, just like you.

Maybe I'm waiting for something to happen, which may or may not. Suspended somewhere I don't know; reading in the water, as usual. Some habits don't change but are different every time. A mystery.

And then the wishful thinking: things will fall back into place, they will. That at least I know.

Walking the night valley
under the moon, all the flowers
hidden away all the colours
departed, the colourless wind
falls in the grey slopes, the stream
crashes down the rockface

There is something in us not in the least
concerned for any present want
but working only and constantly against
the shipwreck of an entire life

There is an elegance in it, a music
continual, relentless as if
it need never stop and then
smiling turns to its close, under
no constraint

This is the valley, the true one
very difficult and at night
full of strength

Peter Riley, 'Valley of the Moon', Passing Measures: A Collection of Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2000), p. 89.

When Ecstasy is Inconvenient

At last, a few free days to save my precious little books from the wreckage. And how I'd missed them, their lovely smell and touch. The first one I rescue, an old love still dripping water, entangled in the seaweed:

My life is hung up / in the flood / a wave-blurred / portrait... My life by water.

Dearest, dearest Lorine.

Feign a great calm;
all gay transport soon ends.
Chant: who knows--
flight's end or flight's beginning
for the resting gull?

Heart, be still.
Say there is money but it rusted;
say the time of moon is not right for escape.
It's the color in the lower sky
too broadly suffused,
or the wind in my tie.

Know amazedly how
often one takes his madness
into his own hands
and keeps it.

Lorine Niedecker, Collected Works, ed. Jenny Penberthy (Berkeley, LA: U of California P, 2002), p. 25.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

another world

Some poems, some songs, some voices, some walks should never, never end. And they never will.

A calm and elegance away from

To walk with a springy step along streets,
feeling young and loved

In a world where things are done
and valued

Lee Harwood, from 'Winter Journey', Collected Poems (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2004), p. 368.