Archive for the ‘poems’ Category

Corpus Sample: “After a Legend of the Prior of Urfort”

My stylistic trend of recent years has been asymptoting to a “poetry degree zero”, a language stripped of overt figuration or texture, relying, instead, on metonymy, allusion, and, what in classical rhetoric might be termed, arrangement. But recently I’ve been hankering for a more complex poetry, not unlike some of that included in my first trade edition Grand Gnostic Central and other poems (1998).

One poem there that embodies what I have in mind is a slightly cheeky retelling of a story about the medieval German mystic, Meister Eckhart, awhile the Prior of Erfort. Eckhart is referred to only paraphrastically, and the spelling of Erfort is modified, as well, for, well, poetic reasons. Whether the poem achieves the sophistication of thought and expression it aspires to I leave, of course, to the reader.

Too, thematically, it touches on the concerns addressed in my last Corpus Sample, since, one way humankind has traditionally attempted to tame the chaos of the wild ride of being alive is to impose a mythic pattern or order, as we’re told the Prior of Urfort seems to, here.

mystic

 

After a Legend of the Prior of Urfort

 

No soul

Has effect

But by the body held

 

What you know

What two no one can hold

Weave in a scuffle

 

These

The plottings

The subtle wishes

 

Sung by one

An inbred family

On a mountain top

 

These in one

Divine

He said

Avant le deluge…Rising up against that sinking feeling

sinking feeling

A bitter example of how vested interests (William Burroughs named them “the Nova Mob”) pervert reason, choke compassion, and stymie sane responses to global warming played itself out at this year’s Pacific Island Forum. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, refused to endorse the Tuvalu Declaration proposed by the Smaller Island States group, “which acknowledges a climate change crisis, encourages countries to revise the emissions reductions targets and calls for a rapid phase out of coal use.”

“I am accountable to the Australian people, that’s who I’m accountable for,” Mr Morrison said.

Tuilaepa-Sailele

Tuilaepa Sailelethe

Not a year ago, Tuilaepa Sailelethe prime minister of Samoa, delivered a speech in Sydney, Australia, 30 August 2018, wherein he said that “Any leader … who believes that there is no climate change I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement, he is utter[ly] stupid and I say the same thing for any leader here who says there is no climate change.”

By serendipity (if not synchronicity), the year the world was supposed to end (2012), I composed a chance, fourteen-line poem in harmony with Sailelethe’s sentiments. I’m not sure it’s much of a poem per se, unless a linguistic expression that fuses topical pertinence, heart, and complex irony is enough.

 

“BE IT RESOLVED…”

 

BE IT RESOLVED that

whereas public officials

who deny the reality

 

of Anthropogenic Climate Change

and hinder efforts to mitigate

its destructive effects present

 

a clear and present danger

to themselves and others,

said public officials should be

 

removed from office forthwith

and placed under a physician’s care

until such time as their suicidal

 

and/or homicidal and/or ecocidal

tendencies cease to present.

 

Corpus Sample: Grappling with the Heraclitean Tao: “At Red River’s Edge” and “Tonight, the world is simple and plain…”

Sometimes, whether sincerely or out of hubris, one comes to believe they’ve got a grip on things, and so it seemed, more or less, to me. But, recently, reading Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death and an overview of the late Mark Fisher’s life and work, reflecting how, when I was around ten years old, the world was being maneuvered into its (apparent) Neoliberal (dis)order (a view of things probably already belated) and beginning a perceptible acceleration into what has come to be called the Anthropocene, I feel, now, there is nowhere to stand, nowhere at a standstill, that vertigo and fear just under the heart that starts at a sudden drop.

Of course, unknowingly, I’d grappled with these matters before. “At Red River’s Εdge”, the first poem of my first book (Grand Gnostic Central) attempts to resolve, with all the virtues and vices of a youthful work, this nigh metaphysical  flow of things (or, as I thought of it at the time, “dissemination”), while the last poem of the book (“Tonight, the world is simple and plain…”), it appears to me now, approaches the same concern, but from a different angle.

IMG_3184

 

At Red River’s Edge

 

I shed scales and

blood the slow water

at the river’s edge, the fish

gutted on some warming rock.

A wondering after

origins and wellsprings

rises with my standing

and squinting into the glare

of light broken upstream

at my vision’s limit.

What source spills

up this river?—

numberless puddles brimming

over as rain falls

to fill them, clear

water writhing

over slick dark rock

too hard to carve

a lasting path in,

waves of rainwater

draining in rippling sheets

off flat rock walling

a gleaming highway,

or running in rivulets

charging a careening stream

from a sudden height

in an opening spray of sparks

that scatter against one

mountain’s steep

lower rises. Upward,

glaciers moan and turn

themselves to fluid under

their own weight

for the sake of motion.

Lighter ice and snow

drop, overheavy

overhang, giving

the glitter of crystals

to the lift of winds

and the long swerve of descent

to dew on darting speargrass

leaves or on the grains

of the smallest antmounds

mining the glint

of sand mixed in the topmost soil

of swelling foothills.

Clouds shadow the climb

of rock, condensing

and losing themselves

in the strain

to come to nothing

but clearest light.

Everywhere, countless sources urge

one flow that fills

perfectly any particular

gap in every ground

in its scrambling run

to that ease of gravity

proper to the sea.  This river

one route before me

and beyond me on

either side, never ebbing,

only ever changing course

to another.  I follow

some black bark carried free

on flashing rises of the current,

sometimes edging a shore, sometimes stilled

in the turning of

a darker random

swirl, but always

spiraling out again

to give with the slow measure

of the ocean’s deepest founding swells

or float on the light

lift of waves

and the chance of the wind

into some child’s quick

excitement in the seadrift.

 

“Tonight, the world is simple and plain….”

 

Tonight, the world is simple and plain.

The earth is round and the sky two domes

Enclosing us, excluding nothing.

 

The stars are all arranged in such a way

As to suggest an endless emptiness

Or heavens full of foreign deities.

 

And choosing to choose neither we lose

Ourselves, desiring only an end

To this plane enclosed around itself

 

That keeps us coming to ourselves again.

 

sk night sky

Corpus Sample: “Hamburger Smalltalk”

While I was trying to imagine a set list for my last reading, I had thought to perform poems that, though written in the early 90s, spoke to today’s world situation. One of these would surely have been the following poem, “Hamburger Smalltalk”, composed in 1991 and later collected in Grand Gnostic Central and other poems.

One of the stops during my first visit to Europe was Hamburg, Germany, where we stayed a few days with a couple, friends of my partner at the time. One was widely travelled and had lived some time in Africa. During a very pleasant, evening walk, with our respective partners and the dog, he related the anecdote the poem retells. Accordingly, the poem is spoken in his voice, complete with Germanisms of syntax and expression.

 

Hamburger Smalltalk

 

You’ve seen a picture of a cheetah

on a gazelle:  its teeth in its neck

bent back, its leg

around the gazelle’s hind leg

to break its back.

 

Cheetahs are a serious nuisance

for farmers in southwest Africa.  Lions

and other cats kill what they need

and leave something

for the jackals and vultures.

 

A cheetah goes into blood-frenzies—

if you have a herd of sheep

in the morning you’ll find forty

torn apart and maybe seven lambs

carried off.

 

The farmers know their herds

they watch and know which cows are ready

to calve and if a calf goes missing

they mark the mother

and send her next to the abattoir.

 

Now you’ll see five cows gang up

on a cheetah to protect the calves

and drive it off.

(He shook his head and chuckled)

The white tribe of Africa.

 

BSAC_settlers_Southern_Rhodesia

Doom porn: What would Martin Luther do?

Again, as happens, acquaintances I believe should know better, being educated, intelligent, and reflective, let the doomporn clickbait get the better of their sincere, best intentions and share distressing articles, such as this one about a report by two (2) Australians this spring positing that there is a “‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ Starting in 2050”.

Nearly, already, three decades back, a similar despair, coupled with Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” I had by heart and the offhand remark by a friend visiting the lush, extinct volcano near his birthplace, inspired a poem in answer (the second of seven Budapest Suites in Grand Gnostic Central).

 

Budapest Suites II

for Laszlo Gefin

 

“There is a god here!”

In wild strawberry entangling thistle,

In maple saplings, a shroud on loam,

In chestnut and cherry blossoms over tree-line,

In goldenrod and grass, every green stalk, bowed with seed.

 

And there is a god who

Quarries slate for imperial highways,

Mines iron-ore out of greed,

Who would have Mount Ság again

Ash and rock.

 

And there is a god

In the seared, scarred, spent, still,

For lichen, poppies and song

Here rise from the bared

And broken rock to the air!

 

Just last year, some widely-publicized remarks by Mayer Hillman (“We’re doomed!”) inspired a number of responses, an early version of one I posted here the last time a friend disseminated some other bleak pessimism…

I’m hardly a Bjorn Lomborg playing down the gravity of the situation and the urgent, concerted, radical action it calls for, including the need for no less focussed, lively and creative reflection and critique to articulate a post-anthropocentric, if not post-humanist, biocentric ecosophy. But nor am I a latter-day Jeremiah confusing his insight into the woes and flaws of the present with visions of imminent, righteous catastrophe. (It’s high time I address at greater length this newly-arisen apocalyptic tone in cultural criticism…).

To wit, and not for the last time, I’m sure, I share here two unpublished (…because editors [eye-roll emoji][facepalm emoji]…) sections of the sequence “Made in Germany”, composed in 2012.

 

Waiting on a train to what was

the East, the summer of the year

the New Age believed the World

would end, wildfires smoke

from Colorado to Croatia,

 

floodwaters deeper than memory

drown southern Russia and Thailand,

tornadoes plough the Midwest,

hurricanes blow past records

on the Eastern Seaboard.

 

 

http:// arctic-news.blogspot.de/p/global-extinction-within-one-human.html?spref=fb (21.07.2012)

 

Asked what he would do were the world to end

next day, Luther replied, “Plant an apple tree.”

 

102217-19-Philosophy-Knowledge-Epistemology

 

 

 

 

 

“Mile End est mort…”

For the more than three decades I’ve lived in Montreal, I’ve lived in the quarter known generally as The Plateau and more specifically and recently (to my ears, anyway) Mile End, most notably at “Grand Gnostic Central” on the corner of Rachel and St. Urbain (scenes from the cinematic version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz were filmed just up the block), a couple of locations on Hutchison and Parc Avenue south of Bernard, and, since 1996 (for the time being) on the corner of St Joseph and Parc in what our landlady calls her Chateau du Parc.

mile end est mort

Credit: Mary Shelley

Montreal, like any number of cities on earth, is suffering a process of gentrification. In  my area, it’s been underway for years, but it’s picked up since a number of software companies (Ubisoft and Softimage) have moved in. When it all began, I reflected that more affordable if less “desirable” neighborhoods attract those who can afford to live in them, which will often include creatives, writers, painters, artists, and so forth. Their creative energies, by a cruel dialectic, make the neighborhood more beautiful, pleasant and lively, attracting more residents and businesses, beginning a process of, well, gentrification. The creatives and others who made the place attractive in the first place are forced to move out, to some other quarter, sometimes in some other city, where the process can begin all over again.

A poem in Ladonian Magnitudes, “The Intersection” remarks this process. I share it below as a manner of memorial.

 

The Intersection

 

where l’Esplanade

meets Villeneuve

 

that spring dusk

the air’s first

 

breathable classic

sunlit redbrick

 

the unique quaint

three-storey walkups

 

characteristic of

the quarter’s charm

 

are almost all

so made up

 

like new the one

run down white tshirt

 

underarm stain yellow

building with muddy

 

white frames peeling

around cracked panes

 

stands out like

never among

 

those other fronts

kept up for years

 

without a thought

of what they’d go for

 

 

 

 

A theme with vista: food

An Australian acquaintance I know through our shared admiration for the poetry and political writing of Peter Dale Scott is fast becoming a shadow co-editor for Poeta Doctus. She weekly or so will share poems on-line, one of which has already prompted my sharing one of my own.

Today, she shared Daniel Nyikos’ poem about making Hungarian potato soup. This resonated with me for numerous reasons: food is a persistent theme in my own work, and my father’s family are Hungarian immigrants (my sister holds in her possession my grandmother’s handwritten recipe for potato soup). I share below, therefore, two (!) poems, from Ladonian Magnitudes.

The first, “Marmitako“, is similar to Nyikos’ (though it never made it into the pages of Poetry), about a traditional, Portuguese fish stew. Things have changed since it was written, as to eat tuna, today, is both to dose yourself with mercury and to contribute to the extinction of the fish. The second, “Horizontal Gold Noble Mercury”, concerns mercury, too—explicitly, but in a more rarefied sense—and, consequently, sustenance in a more sophisticated manner. Bon appetit!

 

Marmitako

 

They cut the tail section off some

Of the tuna, bonito, and mackerel

They caught, skinned and boned it,

Cleaned it up in buckets, chopped it

Up and threw it in the iron stewpot

On top of the onions, garlic, tomatoes,

And dried red peppers, cleaned and chopped,

Simmering there, oil bubbling through,

Shared loaves and some good red wine,

That Friday of all days still offshore.

 

Horizontal Gold Noble Mercury

 

1/2 grapefruit, red or white, sliced banana on bowl muesli w/ 2% milk or 1% yoghurt, brown toast w/ jam or honey on peanutbutter, 1 espresso

Piece sprouted unleavened Manna Bread, 1 espresso

Sandwich, russet apple or pear, 1 espresso

2 nights now, stir fry of Spanish onion, Hungarian pepper, bean sprouts, broccoli, tofu;  1 espresso

4500 mg vitamin C daily until cold is gone

There stands a house under the mountain of the world

Be thou the happy subject of my books, a brave craft

Dash’d all to pieces, my tongue, this air,

Born here of parents born here of parents

The same, hoping to cease not, till death

alchemymountain-granger

 

 

Budapest on my mind

A friend of mine recently shared Anya Silver’s poem “Doing Laundry in Budapest”, which brought to mind a thematically-related poem of my own, from my first chapbook Budapest Suites (Montreal:  Pneuma, 1993) and first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central and other poems. I share it here for my friend’s, and anyone else’s, pleasure.

 

_Vaci_utca_street_sign-

 

“Apply what you know to what you feel that’s more than enough”

 

On Váci utca, mongrel pigeons, flapping,

Mount American-style shopfront windows.

 

Grey cops in pairs or trios patrol;

Country people bag handiwork, whistling.

 

At the end of Vörösmárty tér, a blind man begs fillérs at tables in Gerbaud—

A blond father yells No! at a Gypsy girl and daughter.

 

Behind me a woman asks for directions:

Bocsanat.  Nem magyar.  “Nem Magyar?!”

 

NOTES:

Váci utca is a famous commercial street in Budapest; Vörösmárty tér is a square at the end of the street; fillérs at the time (1991) were pennies; Gerbaud is a famous café on, I believe, the square; the Hungarian that ends the poem can be translated roughly as “Pardon me. I’m not Hungarian.” “You’re not Hungarian?!”

I am aware that the racial designation of the girl and daughter in line 6 might, today, be read as an epithet; I retain it here as an index of the time of the poem’s composition; its use, innocent at that time, was also prompted by the alliteration with ‘Gerbeaud’….

 

 

“We’re doomed.”

….or, as the refrain of another “Dark Mountain” climate change jeremiad would put it, “It’s worse than that.”

It is, surely, rationally difficult not to deny the gravity of global warming and environmental degradation in general and not to fall prey to anxiety or even despair. It is not irrational, however, to maintain an open, critical mind and culture hope.

For instance, even fairly responsible media sources distort the findings of ecological researchers. For example, two recent studies of declines in insect biomass inspired copy such as “insect apocalypse,” “global ecosystem collapse,” “loss of all insects within 100 years,” and “collapse of entire food webs.” However,  learned reflection reveals the matter is less dramatic, far more complex, though hardly without concern. The same can be said for headlines about how humans have wiped out 60% of all animals on Earth in the last 30 to 40 years.

Much more could be said in this vein, but not quite eight months back, similar, dire and final pronouncements from Mayer Hillman prompted a number of poetic responses, of which the tersest and most direct was this:

 

Replies to Mayer Hillman

 

“We’re doomed.”

 

Your therapist would guide you

gently to see you’re fortune telling.

 

The dialectician would unfold the thought

that determination does not

 

foreclose unforeseen developments

being the condition of its own negation.

 

A happy chance slip of memory recalls

“What is real now was only once imagined”.

 

relax-nothing-is-in-control-quote-1

 

Gratitude by the syllable

IMG_2590Tomorrow, here in Canada, it’s Thanksgiving. Regardless of the nature and origins of the holiday in the U.S. and Canada, there is mounting evidence of how gratitude can shore up happiness. It was this insight that inspired my composing the following poems, each noting some experience for which I felt spontaneously grateful. You can read the sequence, here.

Thanks!