Sunday, November 28, 2010

Simple Sad Serious Things (Part 6)

And so I'll linger on top of this hill
and take in the valley,
the space within the tree branches,
the moss, the wind.
How suitable,
that acoustic guitar theme
repeating the same two chords
in arpeggios like licks of flame
giving way to an equally sparse piano theme
of my own composition,
one of the secret themes.
Suitable for this landscape,
the mood of the trees and moss
and ambiguous swirls in the clouds.
It's a theme with four unadorned chords,
nothing fancy,
except that the bass chords start
in tension with the repetitive theme three octaves above
and don't find their natural home,
E minor, for sixteen bars.
And I'll think of endings,
doors closing,
the crack of light in the windowless room attenuating.
I'll think of
other people's words,
of the price we pay for hearing the world.
I'll think of the end of the walk
and how humans can't bear much eternity.
And I'll wonder how close I came
to new age boilerplate.
And then I'll walk off
down into a valley,
wind at my back.

Consider: "To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient truths; both dispense with the necessity of reflection."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Writing

Sometimes it just tumbles out of you. The preceding poems, for example, are chopped up into line breaks, partly for effect (the eye slows down when reading line breaks, and this induces a certain gravitas to the poem--which is why so much bad poetry is hilarious: ponderous line breaks emphasizing triteness) and partly because that's how they came: piecemeal, yet with a felt thematic unity.

And most of the time you grind. That's when it is especially important to have solid sentence structure. For example, in the above paragraph, a lazy marker in an English tutorial might mark the contents of the parenthetical remark as "awk". And it is undoubtedly "awk". But that's because the thought popped out, hung there for a second, and I have enough experience at this to know that if I had finished my well-constructed foregoing sentence, it would have disappeared. So one of the best markers of inspired writing is grammatical sloppiness.

I say it's a marker, not a necessary condition. States of mind change all the time, so sometimes they hit that perfect harmony of sentence structure and idea generation. That is the best kind of inspiration. That is what a writer lives for. It sucks if the ideas are bad, but there is nothing more rewarding than to write them anyway.

Now this marker can be co-opted to simulate inspiration. This is why one feels justifiable contempt for self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness writers. You can't oppress them with the rigid rules of your grammar, man. Their writing vibrates with the music of the spheres, which is beyond any earthly language. They are in direct communion with God.

Bull. Shit. Writing is a skill of integrating thoughts that seem important with the generative grammatical capacities of human cognition. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, it is right and appropriate to play with it, for that is how you hone the skills so that one day you can say the most awesome thing most clearly. This, like any skill-building exercise (pick your favourite), is a grand old time. Massive dopaminergic activity reinforcing further seeking behaviour with the occasional blast of endorphins titrated for maximum effect given the current general state of your nervous system. That's awesome. Who wants anything more? Sorry, kids. When a sculptor makes a statue, she's not "communing with the Forms", she's doing something she is good at, likes to do, and can keep doing indefinitely with more material.

I feel sorry for those who demand more of this. So please, drop your "transcending the boundaries" discourse. You'll transcend local boundaries, sure, if you're doing it right and growing as a writer. Don't make it a cosmic thing. It's your thing.

How did this turn into a rant about metaphysics?

Consider: "No matter how substandard you feel your skill or talent may be, If you never produce your art, the world will always remain deprived of it. "

Simple Sad Serious Things (Part 5)

Stripped-down primate in a stange-familiar landscape,
what do you feel?
Is it the loin-quiver,
the hormonal shiver of
(that you could live here
hunt here
could breathe open space
and in nights around fire
teach your children to whittle wood
teach your mate to live).
That's what you feel?
Then realize
the wishes that came pre-packaged
are a cauldron full of convection currents
and in that abyss things are bound to misfire,
go to entropy.
Silly primate
under earth and sky
which tremble pregnant with your strange-familiar mythologems
but which are just earth and sky
and that birch over there
is just what it is
not Yggrasil the world-tree.
But why does it feel important,
the beholding?
Because it is just what it is.
There's a kind of bond there
it being and you being
right now
and you knowing
you can play with it later.
It's yours beyond words, this birch tree
just like all the cloying memories
that won't stand still before sleep.
Their convection is what gives you
a childhood shot through with a yellow filter
which teases out, somehow, the play
out of the billions of mind moments that came.
So this tree will be remembered
for its particular surprises
not for its dreary sameness with everything.
O primate seeking mate,
still burning that candle behind your eyes,
walk on.
There is this,
and there will be future.

Consider: "Education is what is left after all that has been learnt is forgotten."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Simple Sad Serious Things (Part 4)

The perfect November day
casts its shadows to birth and death.
It's the kind of day when on the wind
comes old age,
and you'll think about every ache in your body
and whether it's cancer
and you'll notice new asymmetries in your face
maybe swollen lymph nodes
maybe sinuses packed with mucus
(a glamorous kind of suffering).
I felt like an old man
because I had grown an itchy beard
and walked slowly to savour the crunch of fallen leaves
which, on that day, made squishy biological noises
like fetuses pushing through birth holes
or salamanders struggling for life
against their six-year-old masters.
But anyway
there was a point to this cadence
lost long ago.
On the walk I looked for it again
and wanted to find a song lyric to the repertoire
in my head, that faculty that serves up
an appropriate earworm. But nothing.
Nothing but communion like in Zarathustra's Prologue.
(You really should read it. It's only
14 pages long, and has all the choice Nietzsche lines,
the ones that make good fridge magnets.)
the trees were naked
and the trees were the mood
and my feeling was like the trees
that is, naked,
naked meaning vulnerable
because open to the world
and unconcealed,
disclosed, in other words,
which suggests confidence
in the sense of telling a secret
not in the sense of being a hero.
And that's what mute November trees are
but your mileage may vary.
All I can tell you is I needed that walk
because no more like it will come for months
because we'll go back to indoor navel-gazing
which I love
because it's preparation for death
if done right.

Consider: "Man believes that the world itself is filled with beauty—-he forgets that it is he who has created it. He alone has bestowed beauty upon the world-—alas! only a very human, an all too human, beauty."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Simple Sad Serious Things (Part 3)

Also, I must tell you
I'm a stranger even here
where the nature walk is supposed to resonate
with the stirrings of millions of primate years.
Deciduous trees, somewhat sinister
stand like lines of accusing martinets.
I'm the first generation in this landscape
looking forward
and scorning that land
where my sinews were sewn to my bones,
only touched by my ancestors for 1400 years anyway
for when you know your history
you know where it disappears
into some rolling Eurasian plain,
and before that we only have
the Jackson Pollock pattern
of human migrations
and earlier ones too
of hominins with Latin names
fleeing volcanoes or predators
it never mattered. Anyway,
heroism is written by those
who do in fact live
so it kind of moves
in a tight vicious circle.
But I try to drop all that,
all that "abstraction"
and live in the seriousness of weight,
substance holding up my legs,
the pain in my chest
and the frisson down my back,
the warmth of my mourning beard
under the stratus sky
the colour of irrelevance.
I should focus on the enterprising
creeping of the moss on the rocks
and the breathing of the world's distance.
That's supposed to soothe me,
supposed to make me a burrow in this cold ground
and blanket me for dreams half-remembered
so I can recall the meanings of words like
(the escapist instinct of the scorned)
or ekstasis
(the rush of flying on wax wings
too close to the sun).
But instead
the word-of-the-day impulse,
will only deliver up Anglo-Saxon words,
words of weight and heft and dirt caked under fingernails,
words for washing up and wandering off.

Consider: "Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge."

Simple Sad Serious Things (Part 2)

I am a beginner again.
You can tell because I perform effort.
A brow gets knitted
and my gaze moves downward
and sweeps this way and that.
What's happening inside is
I'm asking for help.
Come now, analogy,
experience, come now
original idea. Hammer them down,
the tangled jungle vines of morning,
the trip wires of two-cups-of-tea moods,
the endless physiological tremor
that is human action.
You can tell
because words haven't come together into paragraphs yet.
That's to say they dance like leaf falls
viewed from inside hearthfire
ashes on the kitchen table.
You can tell
because I'm groping
like a woodpecker tapping the tree
a couple times here and there
and then flitting to another birch
or whatever
because the pull of the xylem and phloem
in the trunk moves to a different rhythm
than that of breath and grunt, the drawn out bass note
of the physiological tremor
that is this walk
which I'll keep together
as a thing only because
I've memorized the land's rise and fall
its breath I hope to feel down my back
chilling me. So I can get over this week
where not a single sentence danced in me.
Because when I'm cold I'm alive,
unaccepting and unquiet, and when I'm cold
my body's fear extends further than the week
to the myths of grandmothers
and the fretful window-worry of future parents
as the kids play in the snow
in the yard.
I've only started to get to the point
you can't touch the Kaaba until you've circumambulated
you don't go into the valley till you've scoped it
you don't write the thesis till the argument's cashed out
you can't get the feel of the chill
till you've looked at the death of the vines
in the image I have of East Coker
as Eliot describes it and as I embellish.
The point isn't words.
For once I won't write that way.

Consider: "that all love poetry becomes more edifying if you look for its implicit chain-rattling Promethean rage."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Simple Sad Serious Things

I return!
Now with institutional support for my weirdness.
I return older,
filled out and fleshed out
by the wave action of hundreds of walks
like today's
where the sad clarinet solos of November's wind
through the naked tree trunks
point to sad simple serious things
like the weight of the ground
on this farm
and the way the moss grows on every rock,
the way the ground is tidewrack
and how the cold gathers us about it
in flushed faces
blood defending us. And let us have homecoming
in the heaviness of the world
(the things August misses).
in the thousandfold dens,
the hiding places of the creatures of winter sleep.
Let us look on it, or feel it
but really
let me do it just by myself.
Let me grow the beard, for now I know
it emphasizes the diamond drill stare
with which I approach this panorama
of clouds, of breezes, of living water,
the way I approach the disorder of the world,
the leaves between the trees slicked down by the rain.
It is quiet here
and there are no publishers to impress--
only the ego-shadow push and pull
with each coming night and dawn.
All I have left is my raft chockablock with images--
the temptation of St. Anthony.
collages of my interests,
and the songs that won't go away,
that insist on rising to higher registers
my voice can't follow.
We have last night's dreams
cloying subtly under the breath,
but really
we have the death throes of the ekstatis of summer
and the birth of winter balance,
its heaviness coming on the wind.

Consider: "other voices in the inner narrator. Tyranny by influence."