Saturday, October 30, 2010


Once I wanted to prove the world was sick. Now I want to prove it healthy. The detection of sickness means that death has established itself as an element of the timetable; it has come within the range of the measurable. Where there is no time there is no sickness.

Roy Fisher, from 'City' in The Dow Low Drop (Newcastle: Bloodaxe, 1996), p. 27.
*   *   *

I've complained about it here and umpteen times before - and will continue to do so, for nothing upsets me most, nothing curtails my relationship with others and damages my health and cuts my life short as much as this absolutely pathological lack of time.

No matter how many years I go on living in this country, I shall never get used to what passes for life here, this senseless rushing from non-place to non-place, from non-conversation to non-conversation, from interruption to interruption. This sheer impossibility of finding some livable space-time inside other people's existence, because they're always dashing off elsewhere when you finally arrive, exhausted...

An unwitting flirtation with death whose price you only realise too late, when you've already paid for it because life has gone by - and won't come back. And, most heartbreaking of all, the laying waste of the only thing that gives meaning to life and makes it worth living, and whose name I won't say because it's way too precious. Way too rare. 

Rats! The song goes on outside, from a neighbour's half-opened window:

...'Cause every kiss that we don't give
Another life that we don't live
And mama it's so much sweeter when we do...

To the point.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the secret name

To be lulled to sleep by the wind blowing outside, tenderly shaking the house to its foundations. Both stranger and friend indeed. The ever-gentle reminder.

*     *     *

The terrible, lightest wind in the world
Blows from word to word, from ear
To ear, from name to name, from secret
Name to secret name. You maybe
Did not know you had another
Sound and sign signifying you.

W. S. Graham, from Implements in Their Places in Collected Poems 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), p. 233.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

listening, listening

The strange silence on the eve of events, revelations, decisions that may change the course of your present life - or simply turn out to be one more disappointment, another declaration of tragedy, or some stupid impossibility.

In any case, wary, you just lie down listening, listening. Not wasting energy with pointless speculation, just listening.

Your attention turned to the poetic possibilities: they shall never let you down, the strange worlds.

As though, as though... but not       quite          Yet...?

*        *        *

October night

"asleep among appearances"
Octavio Paz

Strange world.
The warbling and ringing of car and shop alarms in the street,
shadows on the ceiling.
A large mauve head appearing in an ochre background.
As though a dream landscape but not.
As though a painting but not.

Eyes shut
"you were in another day"
off in the distant mountains
where the darkness breathes
and the black silhouette of a hillside
edges a charcoal grey sky.
A seeming solidity, though thin as paper.

A near astonishment at the "facts",
the surrounding sounds and sights.
The "what is this?", "who is...?"
No step back possible

But a step towards?   out?

Behind your grey eyes...    These surfaces

A watchfulness, the distance between,
all words probing towards this puzzle.
The possible bridges?     in a clash of dreams -
though that too poetic and abstract to grasp,
shake with your hands.

A past "real", memories haunting amongst reality;
the present so...?       dazed?    startled?

The colours of the dim light
projected through blinds onto a ceiling,
the feel of a cotton pillowcase on my cheek
And beyond that?

Not avoiding thought by a fence of questions,
but somehow unable...               to move

Clinging onto the rock face
The rain beating on the skylight
Clipped on
Floating like a sleeping angel
who then wakes touching the softeness below

Lee Harwood, from Morning Light: 1989-96 in Collected Poems (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2004), pp. 416-17.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

whatever may come

There are nights like this. Too tired to sleep, too tired to write, too tired to read - except heart-warming, soothing words as these.

Late journeys

You think you'll sleep so well tonight
warmed with the glow of feeling precious
to someone else out there.     Can it be?

You don't sleep that well,
but what's that simple?
Us animals snuffle around so eagerly.

At dusk - coral pink clouds
lined up along the horizon
like mysterious monuments symbolising "Hope".

A weighty full moon hangs over the pier,
silvers the sea, churns our hearts.
Warm silk summer nights.

The orange lights of provincial railway stations.
People walking home, people taking the last train,
shouting across streets, talking on the platform.

It seems all right
whatever may come.

Lee Harwood, from Late Journeys 1996-1998 in Collected Poems (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2004), p. 458.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

not too far away, I hope


I love I love you tucked away
In a corner of my time looking
Out at me for me to put
My arm round you to comfort you.

I love you more than that as well
You know. You know I live now
In Madron with the black, perched beasts
On the shoulder of the gable-end.

The first day of October's bright
Shadows go over the Celtic fields
Coming to see you. I have tucked
You I hope not too far away.

W. S. Graham, from "Implements in Their Places", in Collected Poems, 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), pp. 199-200.

Monday, October 11, 2010

wanting to say something


This morning I am ready if you are,
To hear you speaking in your new language.
I think I am beginning to have nearly
A way of writing down what it is I think
You say. You enunciate very clearly
Terrible words always just beyond me.

I stand in my vocabulary looking out
Through my window of fine water ready
To translate natural occurrences
Into something beyond any idea
Of pleasure. The wisps of April fly
With light messages to the lonely.

This morning I am ready if you are
To speak. The early quick rains
Of Spring are drenching the window-glass.
Here in my words looking out
I see your face speaking flying
In a cloud wanting to say something.

W. S. Graham, from "Implements in Their Places", in Collected Poems, 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), p. 199.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

on a rainy day, sick & world-weary

... and waiting for some miracle.

Photo by Beerbauf 

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, not seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Leap incandescent

Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then ---
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel.
For that rare, random descent.

Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems, ed. and intr. Ted Hughes (London: Faber and Faber, 1981).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I am Vertical

I Am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimallight of the stars,
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them--
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems, ed. and intr. Ted Hughes (London: Faber and Faber, 1981).

* * *

I've recently bumped into it on a web site dedicated to "neurotic poets", and couldn't help recalling how this poetry once meant the world to me, in all its madness, in all its lucidity. It spoke to me and for me at a time when I was very, very close to losing the grip on everything.

I haven't returned to it for so long, but it's always been in my mind - a dark contrast to lights that would have otherwise remained unseen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

the heart of another

Max Ernst, Cage, Forest and Black Sun


For the heart of another is a dark forest. 
Ford Madox Ford, Memories & Impressions, 1911.

More than an island, a thick forest indeed, through which you stumble in the dark and where you may lose your bearings when stepping too far among tigers and madmen.

Yet it could also lead you to the most astounding other-places, beyond fear and loathing.

(What does it take to learn the difference, though? What risks?)

timely reminder

It can be triggered by the most trivial of episodes, but the message you get is crystal clear. A timely reminder of the fickleness of human bonds, loyalties and affections, despite your best efforts to go against the grain. Lest you sustain any illusions about them (I ceased to, anyway, a long time ago).

Again, Camus phrased it most crudely in his Carnets when he wrote that "it is only your will that keeps [most] people attached to us (not that they wish you ill but because they don't care) [and that] the others are always able to be interested in something else". They are always able to be more interested in themselves, I should add, in this increasingly and appallingly self-absorbed age we live in.

Disheartening, but sadly true.

Note taken of, for future reference.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Marc Chagall, Mounting the Ebony Horse

What can you say about him that hasn't already been said thousands of times before...? Yet it's never enough to repeat it, because it doesn't cease to amaze: how the work of someone whose life spanned the whole of the twentieth century and witnessed its unspeakable atrocities, preserved throughout such a childlike outlook on life, on memory, on the world. Such a sense of wonder, despite all the tragedies and losses.

An unmissable opportunity to revisit it at the University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts, in Ueno. Till October 11th.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

our own private ocean (2)

I am interested in establishing as many dialogues between form and theme as possible. As with natural form, [...] this may imply a simple plan, the details of which continually open onto other details. Not so much an onion as a bush, with a readily apprehensible outline, its finer divisions going in every direction. I don't expect the reader to sit with a magnifying glass and geometrical instruments plotting every tangent. But they're there. And they happen naturally enough. Writing is not entirely conscious. Very few activities of any interest are. A technique like this is an act of faith in the magnificence of the human brain, anyone's brain. Perception is a creative act, far outpacing the capabilities of camera, microphone and other sensors. How can one not be poetic with minds so nimble and vast?

Randolph Healy, from 'The Wandering Wood' in Vectors: New Poetics, ed. Robert Archambeau (San Jose: Writers Club Press, 2001), p. 92 [emphasis mine]

Friday, October 1, 2010

our own private ocean (1)

Steven Rose estimates the activity of the conscious mind as 100 bits per second. The comparison of this to the sensory flux and mental processing is even more striking, something along the lines of thimble, cathedral and ocean. Which brings me back to the question [...]: how is communication possible? Given the amount of processing which so vastly outstrips the senses, what is there to stop us disappearing into our own private ocean? Indeed, what is there to stop us abandoning any semblance of reality for a private fantasy? Clearly this is an option. But what prevents it from being obligatory?
Given the grandeur of the human mind [...], one might ask why consciousness is so relatively puny. Why a bubble floating in all that cognitive space? Perhaps we need to reduce out interior awareness, to avoid complete paralysis in the face of the simplest decisions. A highly filtered subset of the sense flux is prioritised, disproportionately in terms of magnitude, but not in terms of survival. In positive terms it is a lifeline, ensuring we have some connection with 'reality'. Obviously, it is important not to be lost in one's own innards if there are tigers on the prowl. But as with pain, sometimes nature overdoes things. Our insensitivity to our own vastness causes us to persistently underestimate people, especially other people.

Randolph Healy, from 'The Wandering Wood' in Vectors: New Poetics, ed. Robert Archambeau (San Jose: Writers Club Press, 2001), pp. 88-89. [emphasis mine]