A PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE
Sunday, December 28, 2008
A PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
Then the question of show/tell rose again and I began to doubt my actions. Do the illustrations add to the poems or do they invalidate the reader's vision and impose mine? The Japanese masters sometimes accompanied haiku with brush stroke ink drawings; suggestive material rather than the graphic items used with mine. The question again, do the photographs tell?
Sometimes it seems necessary to connect a graphic with a poem. A friend told me how he and his wife, a painter, would sometimes picnic at out-of-the-way places; afterward she would paint and he would compose poems. Many times, he said, the painting and the poem seemed to belong together; they were expressions of the same experience embodied in different media.
I know what he meant. It happens for me, sometimes, when I'm moved to write a response to a work of art. If the artwork touches me, resonates with me, satisfying things can happen. Often the two seem to work better in each other's presence: what would this poem be without the sculpture?
and filled with self-assurance,
she combs her hair.
She sits amorphous
with the innocent guise of a child.
A woman’s shape is still obscured
in the thickness of her waist,
the solidity of her unformed hips,
the soft fat on her rib cage.
Affirmation of femininity
is already evident in the energies
flowing through arms and hair,
the slow twist of the torso.
There is grace in the curve of her neck;
in her thighs, the promise of power.
Oh, could we but capture
that timeless innocence forever,
hold it in bronze.
(both poem and image are copyrighted to the respective artists)
Well, I guess that answers no question. Maybe there is no answer. Maybe the question is often irrelevant.
It just goes to show ...
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
I did my best, using this analogy.
You obtain a wonderful painting that moves you so much that you want to share it with all your friends. How are you going to do this? You could write a description of it; list the colours used, the figures portrayed; you might even remark on the use of light, proportion. You create a description as close to what you see as you possibly can and send it to your friends. Some close friends you might even gather together, and present your material in a lecture, with slides. Everyone knows, or should, as much about the painting as you now. You have shared it. You made it a point to TELL them all about it.
Now suppose you hang that painting on a living room wall, by itself without distractions, and illuminate it with a source that highlights it. You invite everyone to see your painting, then retire to the kitchen to supervise the refreshments. The visitors are left to themselves to experience or study your painting according to their own interpretations, take in the details that matter to them, and also keep your opinions out of their enjoyment. You simply SHOW it to them.
And that is how a poem should work. It should start with your personal reaction. If all you want to do is present a series of facts with your own impressions, write an op ed piece for the newspaper. If you want to use language and its wondrous intricacies to elicit a similar response in your reader/listener, untainted by your explanation, you might be able to present it as a poem.
A poem is like a painting in that respect. It uses different materials, but exists to elicit that individual response And not necessarily the one you expect.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The poem in performance is not the poem on the page.
I believe that and proclaim it whenever I can; now it's your turn to listen/read.
It's that blog on Beowulf that initiated this one. In the beginning, all poetry was "spoken word" and depended on proclamation/recitation before an audience; there were no written texts; even when writing became available, there were few readers. So, poetry was delivered vocally, by the author or another, as entertainment, as a record of semi-historical events and people, whatever was needed. The custom continued in the Middle Ages when troubadors wandered from place to place, court to court, with songs, ballads and tales. Recital of one's own work or that of others remained a viable method of transmission. Even throughout the nineteenth century this continued.
Printing in itself had not changed that. What did change was the availability of printed material to the masses rather than only the educated inteligentsia, and the increased literacy of the common people. One of the main effects of the twentieth century on poetry was a split between poetry on the page, to be perused and studied carefully, and the poetry presented live before an audience. True, the two overlap often. But the division remains between accademic and populist poetry.
Now to the bit that irritates me so much: I have a difficult time understanding those people who prefer to have a copy of the poem being performed before their eyes, to "follow." The two poems, the one being developed between the speaker and the listener and the other an artifact arranged to sit motionless on a sheet of paper are not the same experience. Very few people can focus on both experiences equally. Both suffer and neither is fully received and understood.
And that is what poetry is about, the sharing of emotions, insights, experience. By imposing unnatural limitations, the poetry is lost. We are left with sounds in the air, words on a page.
I like to read poetry, to taste and feel it in my mind. But for me there is nothing as directly satisfying as to concentrate on the intricate relationships of words and sounds as they ripple between voice and ear.
Walt Whitman sang of himself; Allen Ginsberg howled; Milton Acorn shouted love; Al Purdy was the voice of the land.
They needed to be heard. Now they are no longer with us, they should be read.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
On a morning like this (fur-thick and snow-deep) I want to say a few things about the Old English epic poem, Beowulf. It certainly helps explain that I spent again an inordinate time yesterday sorting and perusing all my Beowulf material. This consists of various treatments and translations with commentary (seven of them), two film treatments on DVD (Beowulf and Grendel, and Zemeckis' Beowulf), and one audio two-CD set of Seamus Heaney reading from his translation. I sometimes revisit the poem in hypertext on the McMaster website. I can no longer find the interesting guide by Mike Walton, Beowulf-Country, which seems to have disappeared from the net.
Partly this post exists to explain, to you and to myself, my ongoing interest because I feel it on several levels. The first is historical.
It tells the story of a hero, a Geat from the Swedish peninsula, who becomes through his heroic deeds king of a tribe of Danes. Like most legends, it is probably based on some truths and portrays life and customs of that region (NW Europe) outside of Roman and later Christian influences. It fits into the same type of frame as the Norse/Icelandic and the Germanic legend poems. Though some of the tribes mentioned are unknown historically, one which figures in the narrative still exists as a distinct people today, the Frisians. I am a Frisian. This legend is probably the earliest part of our history on record.
The second level is that of language. The only language extant that is closely related to English, a near kin so to speak, is Frisian. I understand Frisian; I read it; I can speak it; I sometimes try to write in that language. I am intimately aware of the connection. As for Old English? Frisians had settled in Kent, were among the warriors imported after Roman rule disintegrated, spoke a tongue the Angles and Saxons from the mainland understood. Their basic roots were the same or very similar. Perhaps this, too, is one of the reasons for my continuing interest in language.
The third is its poetry. I have come to love the sound of the language. The rhythm of four alliterative stresses to the line, halved by a pause. The roar and the rumble, begging to be read aloud. The kennings; the deft descriptions of daily occurrences; the believable character portrayals. When I read it, it sounds like bells inside my head. The voices are distinct. All that is missing is the strum and stroke of the harp. Perhaps one day I will hear that too.
Beowulf has found a place to live within me. For me, the poem lies in the territory between my head and my heart, with strong tendrils rooted in each.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The previous post about the voice of the land mentioned my hike in the new conservation area here in Hamilton, the Eramosa Karst. It is an escarpment or stone ridge on top of the massive Niagara Escarpment; because the rock is softer, it has some different qualities. There are sinkholes where running water has found a way into the rock and between layers; there are springs where it bubbles up to the surface again; and underneath that surface are miles of caves, many small and narrow but some substantial. The original settlers would curse the holes and try to fill them, but welcome the springs and brooks. Trouble is, you can't have the latter without the former.
I wrote a poem about the experience. Now I don't intend to use this space as a private publication house, but since it was sent out to several friends and posted on another site, I will share it here.
Cold Sunday on the Eramosa Karst
We have come to feel its small wonders,
to dance our minds to the land’s old hums.
Uninvited, that bitter winter sun came by,
partnered with a steel wind stone-honed
to scythe the stately dance or slap the steppers.
The undesired intrude into introductions,
make demands that should remain unasked.
Chill light and thin air battle our breaths,
chip at our fingertips.
But the music we hear will not be silenced.
Land and brush crunch whispered greetings
to the feet on the path, encourage our every
slow movement from here to there.
Movement from here to there.
Here the water slips sinking into disappearance,
in a hole blacker than space, and there
reappears in several spots bubbling
to gather together and sing a new way
through crumbling stone.
Like old fiddle tunes familiar ways reach
through the cold to the knowing heart,
the remembering feet, the undefiled faces.
At the end the comfort inside of cider heat
and our hearts’ hot desires hold close
songs of knowledge to the tunes of wisdom.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
I too feel that way, have always felt that way. The land, whether a rough granite outcrop supporting nothing greater than lichen, or a hundred hectares of fertile black swamp bottom, speaks to me in ways I feel but can't hear. The land in all its guises lives in me. It is the battery that powers me. And sometimes when the power is low, I need to be recharged.
That's when I turn (or return) to the land. This afternoon I spent better than an hour in bitter December weather with a chilling wind on the hillsides, exploring the Eramosa Karst, Hamilton's most recent Conservation Area with people who were inquisitive following a few who knew. I became acquainted with another facet of the land that is me.
Land and water. They have always fascinated me. What I remember best of my childhood in the Netherlands is the earth and the water. Not the cities or industries. The same with my youth in Canada. Yonge's Falls turning the swift twists of Jones' Creek into a lazy broad reach toward the St.Lawrence. Everywhere the rush of water on stone. Later the Niagara Escarpment from great Horseshoe Falls to the dribble of Springhill; and coast to coast from this side of Fundy to the far side of the Rockies. Water wearing away the land.
This afternoon presented another view of the flowing of water wearing away the solidity of hard rock. When water goes over the lip long enough, it creates a canyon, a gorge. When the water is strong enough, and the rock weak enough, it creates sinkholes and caves and underground streams and springs and ...
Thanks that the land still exists; thanks that people still care.
I want the land to speak to me and through me for some time yet.