Category: poetry

Seamus Heaney, “From the Frontier of Writing”

poetry

The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover,

and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration –

a little emptier, a little spent
as always by the quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

And suddenly you’re through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you’d passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road

past armour-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.

~ ~ ~

A beautiful and frightened thought on writing and war. The entire feeling of the work is summed up in a word in the first line of Heaney’s own making: nilness. Nilness. What a perfectly absent, hollow word. Hollow and haunted, filled with this blank blackness that permeates the rest of the poem.

Book Report: The Song of the World by Jean Giono

book reportlines writtenpoetryprosereadingwriting

I have tried to make a story of adventure in which there should be absolutely nothing ‘timely.’ The present time disgusts me, even to describe. It is sufficient merely to endure it. I wanted to make a book with new mountains, a new river, a country, forest, snow and men all new. The most consoling thing is that I have not had to invent anything at all, not even the people. They all exist. That is what I want to say here. At this very time when Paris flourishes – and that is nothing to be proud of – there are people in the world who know nothing of the horrible mediocrity into which civilization, philosophers, public speakers and gossips have plunged the human race. They think only of adding to their comfort, heedless that one day true men will come up from the river and down from the mountain, more implacable and more bitter than the grass of the apocalypse.
– Jean Giono, 1937

This quote can be found on the back cover of the paperback version of Giono’s French adventure/pastoral novel Song of the World. Not only does it explain, in a roundabout way, the purpose of his novel, but it gives precise definition to his overall philosophy and motivation as a writer. His motivation is not unusual: the motivation of most writers is to create a world that is parallel to ours, but molded in the authors own image. The author wishes to play god in his own little world, so to speak. What strikes me in Giono’s statement is the ferocity with which he expresses his motivation, and the anger he throws at the “modern world.”

Keep reading

September

poetry

Autumn, autumn is the poets’ time, which means it is humans’ time…a period of big change and flux when in the cold night we can feel the universe bend down and peer into life…when we sleep with the window open, under a the big comforter with just our nose cold, and we feel so immediate, and in immediacy is timelessness. The warmth of the day recalls life, and the achingly recent but still-gone summer, and the chill at midnight calls out winter, death, and an atomic precision deep, deep down – a piercing clarity – a glimpse through the hollow wind back at the universe which is staring at you – like an old memory of something never experienced.

Indian Summer Invocation

poetry

The world: mine and now.
Hello and welcome.
Here is newborn Indian summer
where blue battles pink in the sky
and a sharp light spit from the sunset
splits the sides of the neighborhood, tree-dark and struck dumb

Maple leaves cling in hopeless desperation;
Well, we’re all afraid of that –
of death –
aren’t we?

Now there’s me, laying in a garden patch
of dusk-blue flowers, dreaming this up,
all the words, the lines, the breaks. Drunk master
Han Shan mind conjuring the swaying,

the pines
and aspens
swaying
back and
forth,
back
and forth,
fading into purple sky,

the sky,

the purple sky,
oh the purple sky.

The autumn moon stealing up
from the black horizon. The neighborhood creeping up
like a constellation.
These constellations
I wonder what they have to say. Like a Spanish frigate
on the Atlantic, where do they guide me?
Constellation is myth,
constellation is faith is poetry.

Faith is a puzzle, jigsawn and scattered across space and the centuries,
and even if you found a piece, you might never know it.

Your sparking somnambulist continues;

the church bells ring, of course, radiating,
the angel’s trumpet ringing true a note of blue-orange.
And there she is, the fiery gem-center of the story,
the tippy tipping-point of the plot, she shows up whenever
I puzzle out my place in the world, or when I’m sleepy
and I need something warm to lay beside, like a garden patch.
Call her Muse, if you must call her something.

Here we all are in the place
where the blurry bleary rhythm of
Indian summer gives way
to the sharp deep rhyme of winter
in a filter of hard colors and cold nights,
frost and makeshift death.

Above me, the plum-ripe sky. The sound of airplanes, and an echo of
ancient baseball games, the melody of chimneys.
The mysterious smell of fall, which is campfire, which is no smell at all.

The grass and earth now cold on my back, so I take off. It’s so easy,
I wonder why we don’t do it more often. I float away on a chilly wind.

Leaves brush my toes. I sing. I harmonize with the chimneys.
Dark shingles, orange leaves, yellow leaves. The so-sad clapboard homes.
Past the ringing cathedrals, ringing, past the smokestacks, smoking,
over the circuitry of streets,
past the lumberjacks in the hills,
past the snowy silence of November mountains,
washing over whitewash fences,
nearly past the moon,

I drop down to the ocean, seasalt in my lungs,
tickling tallgrass, a spray of sand, down to the ocean,
above plum sky has burst open into unimaginable color,
one last display before the rotten black of night.

Oh ho, ah hah! I see.
I can be

whatever I want.

Down to the ocean, sinking down and dipping my toes
into the frothy waves,
shins, knees, thighs, hips, chest, neck—
sky above reflecting me—
ah, watercolor ocean.

Ernest Hemingway, “Along with Youth”

poetry

A porcupine skin,
Stiff with bad tanning,
It must have ended somewhere.
Stuffed horned owl
Pompous
Yellow eyed;
Chuck-wills-widow on a biassed twig
Sooted with dust.
Piles of old magazines,
Drawers of boy’s letters
And the line of love
They must have ended somewhere.
Yesterday’s Tribune is gone
Along with youth
And the canoe that went to pieces on the beach
The year of the big storm
When the hotel burned down
At Seney, Michigan.

~ ~ ~

Ernest Hemingway – poet?!

Seamus Heaney, “Oysters”

poetry

Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.

Alive and violated
They lay on their beds of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean.
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.

We had driven to the coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool thatch and crockery.

Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south to Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege

And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from the sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.

~ ~ ~

Seamus Heaney, isn’t he just the best? Incredible. From his book Field Work.

Blackberries

languagepoetryprosereading

Standing at the fruit and veggies stand with Laura waiting for our sweet corn to be shucked and bagged up, I noticed the little cartons of fat, ripe blackberries just waiting for some lucky soul to eat them up. It made me think of one of my absolute favorite poems, “Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell. I also stumbled across another poem just yesterday, this one by Seamus Heaney, called “Blackberry-Picking.” I wondered, there at the fruit stand, what the two poems would look like back-to-back. So, here they are:

Blackberry-Picking

for Philip Hobsbraum

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

~ ~ ~

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched or broughamed,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Keep reading

Indo-European Root of the Day: Wild

languagemusicpoetry

I’ve been seeing and hearing the word wild a lot lately. Lately in the news we’ve heard the story of Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old adventurer who attempted to sail solo around the world only to be caught in a storm in the south Indian Ocean and have her chances dashed. Her boat? Wild Eyes. The other day I watched Where the Wild Things Are, which I enjoyed immensely but not in the way I expected to. A while back I had my post on Ted Hughes’ “Wodwo,” wodwo being the wild-man. In music, this summer has brought the excellent album The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth, which is itself a reference to an ancient pan-European myth, that of a group of ghost-soldiers on a hunt across the skies and earth. “The Wild Hunt” is also a recently finished story in the Hellboy comic, in which Hellboy is the object of the hunt.

In many retellings of the Wild Hunt myth, the charge is led by Norse/Germanic god Woden, essentially the Zeus of Northern European paganism, and whose name includes the rood wod meaning “violence” or “fury.” It may be just coincidence that the wodwo, or wild-man, and Woden, God of Fury, share the heteronym wod at their root, but then again it may be less then coincidental that ancient words for “wild” and “violence” have similar sounds and origins. By the way, we celebrate this ancient god every midweek, unwittingly, as we wake up, stretch our arms, and greet Woden’s day – Wednesday.

Anyway, with this collection of wild thoughts lurking around in my brain, I thought I’d take out my old Shipley book, The Origins of English Words, and have a look at where wild came from. The Indo-European root of wild is uelt, which means, perhaps a bit obviously, “open field.” OK, makes sense. Our wodwo is the man of the field. In Germanic the word is weald, which often is brought over to English as part of an ancient place-name, or by a fantasy writer looking for a bit of authenticity. To wilder is to lose one’s way, to become lost in the wild; to bewilder is to cause someone to do this. The noun wilder means a wild animal (with der coming from the root deor (deer) or dheu, meaning animal). Thus a wilderness is a place where wild animals live: wild + der + ness, with –ness coming from the same root as gather or together. Shipley also points out that the representative assembly of the Isle of Man in Great Britain is the Tygwald, the assembly of the field.

The word wild has come to have many subtle meanings, which we interpret variously as freedom, spontaneity, violence, revelry, fear, and an untamed nature which we sometimes cherish, sometimes revile. They all point back to this original root word, a simple expression of openness. At certain points in our lives we desire the wild life, salivate for it; we freak out and make for the woods (another word with wild at its root) to commune with our past. At other points we see wildness as something to be shunned, the opposite of civilization which we use to define civilization, as if we have completely forgotten where we came from.

Jim Harrison, “After the Anonymous Swedish”

poetry

Deep in the forest there is a pond,
small, shaded by a pine so tall
its shadow crosses her surface.
The water is cold and dark and clear,
let it preserve those who lie at the bottom
invisible to us in perpetual dark.
It is our heaven, this bottomless
water that will keep us forever still;
though hands may barely touch they’ll never
wander up an arm in caress or lift a drink;
we’ll lie with the swords and bones
of our fathers on a bed of silt and pine needles.
In our night we’ll wait
for those who walk the green and turning earth,
our brothers, even the birds and deer,
who always float down to us
with alarmed and startled eyes.

~ ~ ~

From his Selected and New Poems. I have been reading Harrison’s memoir Off to the Side; the beauty with which he writes is overshadowed only by the force with which he lives his life.