Friday, April 21, 2017

Five Poems for Mid-Life


A Year of Being Here
 Kerrie Hardie

I used to wait for the flowers,
my pleasure reposed on them.
Now I like plants before they get to the blossom.
Leafy ones—foxgloves, comfrey, delphiniums—
fleshy tiers of strong leaves pushing up
into air grown daily lighter and more sheened
with bright dust like the eyeshadow
that tall young woman in the bookshop wears,
its shimmer and crumble on her white lids.

The washing sways on the line, the sparrows pull
at the heaps of drying weeds that I’ve left around.
Perhaps this is middle age. Untidy, unfinished,
knowing there’ll never be time now to finish,
liking the plants—their strong lives—
not caring about flowers, sitting in weeds
to write things down, look at things,
watching the sway of shirts on the line,
the cloth filtering light.

I know more or less
how to live through my life now.
But I want to know how to live what’s left
with my eyes open and my hands open;
I want to stand at the door in the rain
listening, sniffing, gaping.
Fearful and joyous,
like an idiot before God.

Salt and Pepper
Samuel Menashe
  Here and there
White hairs appear
On my chest—
Age seasons me
Gives me zest—
I am a sage
In the making
Sprinkled, shaking

An Old Woman
 Arun Kolaktar

She wants a fifty paise coin.
She says she will take you
to the horseshoe shrine.

You've seen it already.
She hobbles along anyway
and tightens her grip on your shirt.

She won't let you go.
You know how old women are.
They stick to you like a burr.

You turn around and face her
with an air of finality.
You want to end the farce.

When you hear her say,
‘What else can an old woman do
on hills as wretched as these?'

You look right at the sky.
Clear through the bullet holes
she has for her eyes.

And as you look on
the cracks that begin around her eyes
spread beyond her skin.

And the hills crack.
And the temples crack.
And the sky falls

with a plateglass clatter
around the shatter proof crone
who stands alone.

And you are reduced
to so much small change
in her hand. 

Carpe  Diem
Stewart Conn

From my study window
        I see you
below in the garden, a hand
        here pruning
or leaning across to snip
        a wayward shoot;

a daub of powder-blue in a
        profusion of green,
then next moment, you are
        no longer there – 
only to reappear, this time
        perfectly framed

in dappling sunlight, with
        an armful of ivy
you've trimmed, topped by 
        hyacinth blooms,
fragrant survivors of last
        night's frost.

And my heart misses a beat
        at love for you,
knowing a time will come
        when you are
no longer there, nor I here
        to watch you

on a day of such simplicity.
        Meantime let us
make sure we clasp each
        shared moment
in cupped hands, like water
        we dare not spill.

Suzy Kopliku

Mid- life is a place of transition, it's liminil, a halfway -
House where all that seemed coherent is broken down, remade 
And cleared away to make space
For something more. Or less. Well defined lines are retraced
Erased to plumes of dust like leaves in the fall.

Layers peel, masks flake like plaster casts, 
Hard edges erode, become soft as loam.
All is worn down to the jewel inside the stone.
New ideas stir like seeds under the earth, bare bones, 
Whitened like driftwood weathered, wind blown, 

Sea-washed and a little more brittle but still dancing
Our own dance now
Hearing the music with a keener ear
Like an owl moving through darkness, silent and clear
Now part of the music, part of the darkness.   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Patti Smith reading from Woolgatherers - and a review

Here is a reading from Patti Smith's beautiful collection of prose/poem memoirs Woolgathering

There is so much information out there on the inter-webs, it is rare to come across something that stops you in your tracks and  creates a moratorium of space in which to pause, go deeper and sink down below the choppy surface waters of news-feeds, sound-bytes and status updates.
Poems are good at this. Their pace and meter are generally more considered and than that of prose. This is probably because pace and meter are an integral part of how they convey their meaning. Poetic techniques slow the reader to their rhythm like when a mother holds her child and their heartbeats align.

The figurative language of poetry also suspends the regular linear narrative of prose and conversation allowing it to mine a deeper level of consciousness. All this creates space and depth in which what Buddhists might call the "monkey brain" of the beta level consciousness, the level we use in day to day interactions and problem solving can take a tea break and allow a deeper consciousness to enter daily life and broaden our perceptions. This allows us to access a kind of creative thinking which can make free associations between vastly different ideas, like metaphors! In this way poetry is a little like meditation or prayer.
But more than even the words we read or hear, we are moved by the person behind them. Their energy, spirit and frequency is what attunes or re-tunes us. 
In Woolgathering Patti Smith's seasoned, banshee spirit is infused with shamanic recollections some of which pertain to her childhood and some which seem to be gleaned like thistledown fleece from a passing wind. 

 "It seemed like all of creation was mapped out above and I was drawn from the laughter of the other children into a stillness I aspired to master. Here one could hear a seed form or the soul fold like a handkerchief."

Such imagery emerges from the page with stark clarity, sincerity and gentle humour. 
Evoking the innocence of childhood with a kind of reverence and nostalgia that makes the ordinary experiences described seem almost transcendent. Yet isn't that what great poetry should do. Isn't this what poetry strives to do, to add another dimension to our monkey brain, give it wings and teach it how to fly? As Tony Hoagland writes in his poem "Lawence" in homage to DH Lawrence: 

"because human beings haven't come that far

in their effort to subdue the body,
and we still walk around like zombies
in our dying, burning world,
able to do little more

than fight and fuck and crow
something Lawrence wrote about
in such a manner
as to make us seem magnificent."

"I always imagined I would write a book," Smith declares in the opening line of the collection, "if only a small one, that would carry one away, into a realm that could not be measured nor even remembered."

"Woolgathering"  emerged from the extended period of nearly total silence (1980-96) during which Smith lived in Michigan and raised two kids. This was also a time of great soul searching and melancholy.
Yet from such dim lit rooms images, grounded in domesticity are transfigured by a glimmering mythical other-worldliness that create the threshold or brink of a liminal space
Smith writes: 
"These words of advice, were imparted with such a lightness that I was lifted and left to glide above the grass, although it appeared to all that I was still among them, wrapped in human tasks, with both feet on the ground."

In one recollections the marbles the poet plays with as a child become‘small glowing planets, each with its own history, its own will of gold’ This image is evocative of her precious ruby jewel from India ‘imperfect, beautiful liked faceted blood.’
 ‘gathered by beggars who trade them for rice.’ 
The ruby is lost one day, but its talismanic properties prevail: ‘I can feel the dust of Calcutta, the gone eyes of Bhopal. I can see the prayer flags flapping about like old socks.’

Woolgatherers is a gathering of talismans, a strange, imperfect, broken (in a wabi sabi kind of way) collection (or perhaps hoard or stash) of stirrings, dreams and memories that thread like a string of pearls with the gravity of the silent contemplation which birthed them holding up the spheres.

Jerusalem, England and William Blake, (my take)


William Blake

Related Poem Content DetailBY WILLIAM BLAKE

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Can Jerusalem be forged from the fires of those same satanic mills that kiln the swords of war?
His poem Tyger Tyger asks a similar question; "Did he who made the lamb make thee?" 
Blake's work reveals Gnostic leanings born of a kind of Zoroastrian dualism. 

Jerusalem is often sung as if it were a hymn to patriotism and the kind of stiff English spirit that can conjure Heavenly realms with an arsenal of ceaseless "mental fight" and sleepless swords.

"I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land."

In the second line in the second stanza the poet asks if the divine light ever shone upon the clouded hills of the English countryside. 
This is answered by another voice in the third stanza which doesn't ask but demands that the clouds be unfolded by both spear and chariot of fire, (symbols of war.)
In so doing they propose with bombastic grandeur, the idea that Holiness can be striven for. Or that Divine perfection can be equated with earthly perfection. 

Yet the irreconcilable difference between the voice of the first two stanzas and the voice of the last two mark the discrepancy between a sincere seeking of the divine and the dogmatic fundamentalism that asserts that one can conjure God with will alone. The poet seems to be inferring that  a God manifested by erroneous human will is in fact no more than an idol.

This way the idea that a heavenly state can be built like a city is mocked. 
Indeed the line "Among these dark Satanic Mills?" is the axis on which the tone of the poem turns.

The line which follows "Bring me my Bow of burning gold:" attached by colon to "Bring me my arrows of desire:" Makes a direct connection between gold (both the measurement of earthly wealth and the element of enlightenment in alchemy) and war (arrows,) arrows being a pointed thing with one single aim in sight like desire. Desire would not have been thought of as a divine attribute, especially in puritanical Protestantism. Blake is having fun equating the (gold and arrows) that turned the cogs of those (satanic mills)  with the puritanical heaven of a protestant work ethic which equated hard work with Godliness and worldly success with divine mandate.

Blake lived in the age of Enlightenment where the idea of an omnipotent God was questioned by the invention of the telescope, the discovery of new lands, a revision of the earth's age and place in the universe and scientific methodology. By the first industrial age, Heaven seemed to be a thing which could only be forged by physical sacrifice. The conflict between scientific materialism and Christian ideas about the transcendence of divinity   sought to drag heaven from the firmament to terra-firma, making it something that could be manifested tangibly.
To attain this lofty idea required sacrifice, "sword" and "mental fight." As the industrial revolution gained momentum, children were sacrificed to cotton mills and mines, the  poor were sacrificed to industry and the colonies were sacrificed to the empire. These sacrifices were justified as a means to an end. In a way the Industrialists were right. They did raise the living standards for many, eventually, and they were a catalyst for modern technological advances and medicine. However the heavy cost was often unaccounted for as it was made up of unknown and undervalued lives: the working class, the poor, children, people of colour, women and the disabled.

I believe Jerusalem is a great poem but not for the reasons for which it is popularly lauded. Blake's seemingly simplistic poems, nursery rhyme like in their meter and rhyme belie the multidimensional mind behind them that questioned both the dogmatic reductionist theories of the newly enlightened thinker and the unquestioning believer alike.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Shakespeares response to refugees.

This little known text is attributed to the bard. It is his response to the treatment of Flemish refugees during his time and is just as relevant today. #ShakespeareSunday

Friday, March 31, 2017

The power of a tweet - my thoughts on Jon Ronson's Ted talk about Justine Sacco

Just a few thoughts after watching the talk below in which Jon Ronson discusses the fallout from the Justine Sacco twitter row

The internet is a little like a brain made up of billions of connections, ideas, opinions and voices. This brain has vast amounts of stored knowledge but I am afraid that it's losing it's emotional intelligence, its compassion. The you tube comments section can often be akin to traversing the seventh circle of hell, am I right? So many cruel, destructive comments, thrown out into the ether so easily, so anonymously; no consequences. 

The opinions which divide us as people seem to have become more important than shared human experiences that unite us; experiences of joy and grief, hope and fear. Human beings are nuanced, flawed and full of contradictions. The internet seems all too ready to reduce these grey areas of common ground to black and white zones where we wear our labels and live comfortably, sheltered in our own filter bubbles. 

The internet has so much potential to empower. It has so much potential to enable us to make connections with different people from different cultural, racial, political and economic backgrounds. The internet can be a beautiful, free, democratic, tolerant and compassionate space where we can learn, grow and enlarge our perspectives or it can become a suffocating bullying ground where we become afraid to speak for fear of being taken out of context, mocked or threatened. Silence is less than golden under these terms. 

I hope that the collective consciousness of the internet will continue to evolve toward openness, tolerance, compassion and kindness rather than exclusivity, cliquishness, mindless cruelty and scapegoating.

An excerpt from my new Poetry book "We ran until the Grass Grew Ragged"

Here are some poems from my new book "We ran until the grass grew ragged." Available here.

{This volume of poetry is inspired by the stark unsentimental beauty of nature, folklore, motherhood, memories, dreams and society. There are explorations into how mythology influences the collective consciousness and merges with real life in the liminal, transitional spaces between realms. The paradoxes, nuances and shades of grey in life are explored throughout, inspired by the marginalised voices that speak and sing at the periphery and frayed edges of life.}



Every act of beauty is life giving.
A counter to all that is dark.

It pulls back the curtain saying 
This is not the only room.

There is a garden too.
Clothed in green shoots and tender leaves.

Water it.

In Birdsong Bright 

When God said in that birdsong bright
dawn light voice of His,
that He wanted all of me,
just and only me,
not airbrushed, fragments, of diamond without coal
or seed without soil.
Not me in daubs of white or veiled
or clothed in sober attire
and reverence.
But I in funny, yellow daffodil
clumsy and anxious,
afraid of friendship
and impatient with dirty floors.
Silly, strange and desperate
to be loved and known.
Practically disastrous, burdensome
lazy, wine drinking, preferring to dream,
than work.
Who find my soul in poems,
my prayers in streams
and many Gods in prayer flags
and leaves and trees,
who prays to saints like friends,
who believes the world turns on a turtle
as much as in the Resurrection.
Who weeps with dancing bears
and the glazed eye of the trembling deer
before the steady gun.
I, who feels a stranger in the world,
who trawls words like shipwreck, stranded and exile
through the silt of her soul.
I, who can't seem to keep straight or narrow, or true,
making promises and breaking vows,
whose foundation is a shifting sand.
I who still feels His hand
rush over my head with gentle benediction
when alone
and hopeless
and wrong.

Your Hands

Between your hands there are deserts and well springs
And the one who dreams such places into being.

All water flows from these cupped palms and
When faced with their reflections within it, the stars tremble.

All beings are washed down to their truth there.
Naked elements passing through bare fingers,

The first wing beating breath to the last strum,
Splintering surface tension into a thousand different melodies,

But here is the real secret,
Without your hands none of this would exist.

From the Mountaintop to the Favela

Hope hollers, yellow from a Favela matchbox
dispossessed with the raw tinder, of desiccated
dreams, here the smallest spark can ignite the dampest surface
But no flame can take hold without oxygen,
so mute darkness returns with solemnity of ritual.

Strands of trees stand like accusations
emaciated ruins of forest and the Yanomami chant
peddled by tour operators that sear clean
the surfaces of ever narrowing streets
where every road only ever leads to a dead end.

Winding round corrugated panels,
Wriggling like a nonchalant girl
out of the arms of a pushy boy,
tapering like thread veins around genuflecting buildings
that have long fallen prostrate in sackcloth and ashes.

Above them Christ the redeemer stands
platinum and aloof as a diamond
against the noonday
heat that wilts the strength of men
into sinews of flailing grass.

Immutable as the steely
lattice work of banks
and hotels that rise
to meet him like good, clean parishioners
with fat envelopes for the offertory basket.

He gazes serene, arms unburdened
by the weight of gravity upon flesh and bone.
His embrace is held aloft by the scaffolding of stone
that can only unmoving, embrace all without bias
and will find offense neither in excess or poverty.

Great slab of mottled land, pockmarked with
open pores that absorb a thousand
unnamed footsteps a minute,
spreading out like the solidified
lava of a sleeping volcano .

Is he really that distant and detached from your grieving?
Mast of the bay, flag of the conquistador?
Patient and sympathetic as charity peddlers
who employ Favela girls to wash their clothes
so they can do the important work.

This thin skinned shin
of earth shimmers like a pulsing beat.
Heat breaks the wings
of young birds and disturbs
the child’s sleep.

Shards of light
cauterize septic
open sewer hemmed streets.
Transfiguring a grimy crust that chrysalises
a thousand waiting dreams,

I find Jesus in Favela
washing the feet of the mountain.