Archives for posts with tag: Poetry

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From Adrian Tomine’s New York Drawings

I have been thinking about silence a lot this week, partly inspired by a wonderful piece on the subject – “Listening for Silence With the Headphones Off” –  in Pitchfork.

There is much to reflect on in the article. My favorites include a quote from the poem “Self Portrait at 28” by David Berman:

“All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.”

And also this:

“Music can both drown out the noise of living and fill an uncomfortable absence.”

The writer of the piece – Mark Richardson – mentions that silence can be both an expression of power and of powerlessness, and suggests that it might be framed as listening to listening. The latter intrigues, and I continue to ponder on this.

My own fascination with silence began at the moment when I acutely “lost” (a ridiculous word for describing something for which I had no culpability) hearing in one ear. Nerve deafness, from which there has been no recovery. Since then I struggle to locate sound, and my perception of music has of course changed. But I am pretty used to it now, even the tinnitus has become part of who I am. There is much noise in the world that I can selectively blank out. If I lie on my hearing ear side, I imagine that I am listening to silence. I have come to cherish such moments.

I am also exploring a different kind of silence – the quietening of my mind through Buddhist meditation. This is a challenge, and will be a life-long one, if even ever achievable. But the process itself is a hopeful one. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book on the topic, he states:

“There’s a radio playing in our head, Radio Station NST: Non-Stop Thinking. Our mind is filled with noise, and that’s why we can’t hear the call of life…”

Thich Nhat Hanh aspires to “Noble Silence”, the kind of silence that is also a presence, to a being there that is therapeutic and healing.

Other types of silence can be destructive, and perhaps stem more from a imposed – self or other – silencing.

“There was silence in the room for several minutes and this silence felt like a kind of suffering to Gustav.”

from Rose Tremain, The Gustav Sonata

I have spent many years in therapy, which has been a transformative experience. Those years of weekly sessions were akin to a stepwise and cumulative breaking of a life-long imposed silence.

For me, walking into the analyst’s room comes from a place of stillness. When we are born, we exit the silence of the womb and a lifelong cacophony of noise ensues. When we die, we return to a place of stillness, or so it seems. The therapeutic space is a liminal one, a microcosm of a lived life, bookended by silence.

Words are critically important to me, but I have come to see both them – spoken and unspoken – as inextricably linked to silence. Even if not acknowledged as such, sound depends on its counterpart for its existence. Music cannot be heard without the pause that precedes it. Silence is part of everything that we say, and as implicitly part of our communication as the words that emanate from it.

Alexander Newman considers that:

“There can be no psychotherapy except on the basis of silence – even the ‘talking cure’ presupposes silence.”

Similarly, from Gregory Ala Isakov’s song, Caves:

“Did I hear something break / Was that your heart or my heart / Like when the earth shakes / Then the silence that follows”

I am not sure that I agree with Wittgenstein’s statement “All I know is what I have words for”. Having spent my life living in words, I am now increasingly curious about, and keen to explore, the wordlessness of silence.

“For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.”

from Pablo Neruda, Keeping Quiet

 

CQ

 

 

 

 

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Today, I got up late. It’s Saturday, and there was no urgency. I can take a later yoga class instead of my usual early morning one. I could have stayed in bed all day in fact, and probably no one would have known.

There is a great freedom in that. To cliché it, “my life is my own.” Pretty much.

It also means, however, that no one really witnesses my life. Especially this chapter in it, this new adventure in a different place and country.

Our lives are the sum of so many moments, the trivial and the not so. All the small things – which matter to me hugely – that constitute my every day aren’t really worth relaying to someone else, later. And so, these days, for the most part I am the only person who “sees” the micro and the macro that threads together my personal narrative.

Mostly, I am pretty content just witnessing myself witnessing me.

But there are times, too, that it feels as if I am looking for proof that I actually exist, that I am here / have been here / did that… Which is probably why I am drawn to writing, a potential affirmation of my existence. A record, of sorts.

Maybe that’s what diaries are all about. A witnessing, a proof to ourselves that yes, we do actually exist.

A few years ago, I saw (twice) the film Dreams of a Life. It tells the true story of a young woman who is found dead in her London apartment two years after a last sighting. She was found accidentally. No one had reported her missing. She literally disappeared, and no one noticed.

I am good at being alone. I like it. But I also thrive on being in the company of others. And I am happy to report that I am gathering “others” in my new land.

In Buddhist teaching (which I am currently studying and getting much from), the notion of the “no self” is a dominant one that challenges the delusion of cherishing the small, individual self. Our perception of our “selves” and others is merely a thought. Perhaps we fight that notion of “ourselves” being no more than a succession of thoughts by doing things, by chronicling them, by having others witness them, so that we can be truly reassured that we do indeed exist.

Of course, the presence of others need not necessarily equate with a witnessing. We all encounter many people every day, but how often are they truly present to us, and we to them?

As always, I look to poetry for further considerations.

First, Norman McCaig, from his poem Summer Farm:

“Self under self, a pile of selves I stand

Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand

Lift the farm like a lid and see

Farm within farm, and in the centre, me”

 

And second, Morning, by Yannis Ritsos (translated from the Greek by Nikos Stangos):

“She opened the shutters. She hung the sheets over the sill.

She saw the day.

A bird looked at her straight in the eyes. ‘I am alone,’ she whispered.

‘I am alive.’ She entered the room. The mirror too is a window.

If I jump from I will fall into my arms.”

 

CQ

 

 

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At the weekend I attended a listening gig, ie we all sat around to hear a full length session of Radiohead’s OK Computer. A laptop connected to a super fancy speaker (part of the mission, to experience sound via this new high-tech speaker) relayed the music to the auditorium.

First released in 1997, the album is well known to me, and I frequently listen to individual tracks. But it has been many years since I have listened to all 12 in their uninterrupted entirely. I create monthly Spotify playlists, somewhere between 60 and 100 songs that I dip in and out of, depending on my mood. I very rarely listen to entire albums.

It was such a joy – and so refreshing –  to sit there and do just that. To be present to the music, and to do nothing else for that hour or so. Even at live gigs, I am usually moving around, distracted by something other than the music. The OK Computer listening session (at the wondrous National Sawdust) was one of my purest music experiences for many years.

It also encouraged me to re-engage with the album in a different way.

I went back to the lyrics after the event, reminding myself what each track is / might be about, and of course the album in its entirety.

I am still not sure what each song is about, and it is all too easy to re-interpret the lyrics as prescient and resonant with our times.

Electioneering, for example…
“I will stop
I will stop at nothing
Say the right things
When electioneering
I trust I can rely on your vote

When I go forwards you go backwards and somewhere we will meet”

And Let Down

“Transport, motorways and tramlines
Starting and then stopping
Taking off and landing
The emptiest of feelings
Disappointed people clinging on to bottles
And when it comes it’s so so disappointing”

Perhaps it does not matter. Lyrics, like poetry and art, can be what we need them to be.

I can’t quite decide on the mood or tone of Ok Computer. A sense of disappointment, disillusionment, and even desolation, emanates from many of the songs, as if life is suspended somewhere between ‘starting and stopping’, between “taking off and landing”, between hope and despair.

But I want to veer towards the more hopeful, and to my personal favorite track, Lucky, where that liminal space might just reflect the optimism of the title…

“Pull me out of the aircrash
Pull me out of the lake
‘Cause I’m your superhero
We are standing on the edge

We are standing on the edge”

 

This Pitchfork article on the album is well worth a read.

 

CQ

Today is December 1. It feels auspicious somehow, and I wanted to mark it with a poem. Choosing Derek Walcott’s Love After Love was an easy decision – it is good to be reminded to love ourselves, something too easily ignored and forgotten.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano died this week. I love his writing, my favourite being The Book of Embraces. I have bought numerous copies of this title over the years, all but one of which I have given to family and friends. It is that kind of book: true to its title, it demands sharing.

The Book of Embraces defies classification, being partly prose, poetry, fiction, history and autobiography. At a very rough guess it contain more than 200 entries, the longest just two pages in length.

Some of my favourites:

Dreams at the end of the exile/1

Helena dreamed she was trying to close her suitcase and couldn’t, and she pushed down on it with both hands and knelt on it and sat on top of it and stood on top of it, and it wouldn’t budge. Mysteries and belongings gushed from the suitcase that wouldn’t close.

Grapes and wine

On his deathbed, a man of the vineyards spoke into Marcela’s ear. Before dying, he revealed his secret:

The grape,” he whispered, “is made of wine.

Marcela Perez-Silva told me this, and I thought: If the grape is made of wine, then perhaps we are the words that tell who we are.

Resurrections/1

Acute myocardial infarct, death clawing at the center of my chest. I spent two weeks sunk in a hospital bed in Barcelona. Then I sacrificed my tattered Porky 2 address book, which was falling apart, and although I could not help it, as I changed address books, I relived the years since the sacrifice of Porky 1. While I was transferring names, addresses and telephone numbers to the new book, I was also getting a clear perspective on the muddle of times and people I had been living with, a whirlwind of many deep joys and sorrows, and this was a prolonged mourning for the dead who had remained in the dead zone of my heart, and a long, much longer celebration of those still alive who fired my blood and swelled my surviving heart. And there was nothing bad and nothing odd about the fact that my heart had broken from so much use.

CQ

LIT

 

Everyone can’t

be a lamplighter.

 

Someone must

be the lamp,

 

and someone

must, in bereaved

 

rooms sit,

unfathoming what

 

it is to be lit.

 

Andrea Cohen

 

 

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lit-2

It never ceases to reassure and to uplift me that, no matter what I am feeling or thinking, there is a poem and a poet out there who can put words and closure to my circular thoughts.

I hope to move home shortly. My daughter and I have not been here long, around six years, although they have been very important ones in terms of her growningupness and my role as a mostly peripheral witness and occasional invited guest to this most transformative and wondrous of ‘sociological processes’…

Now, it is time to move on, and we are both keen to find a different space. Yet leaving and moving are complex events and emotions are inevitably mixed, with hope sitting alongside sadness, and optimism tinged with fear and with a sense of loss.

The Irish poet Brendan Kennelly movingly considers the tensions that exist between memories and the places they inhabit, as well as the essence of memories, personal relationships, and the transient and finite nature of it all, or not…

 

We Are Living

 

What is this room

But the moments we have lived in it?

When all due has been paid

To gods of wood and stone

And recognition has been made

Of those who’ll breathe here when we are gone

Does it not take its worth from us

Who made it because we were here?

 

Your words are the only furniture I can remember

Your body the book that told me most.

If this room has a ghost

It will be your laughter in the frank dark

Revealing the world as a room

Loved only for those moments when

We touched the purely human.

 

I could give water now to thirsty plants,

Dig up the floorboards, the foundation,

Study the worm’s confidence,

Challenge his omnipotence

Because my blind eyes have seen through walls

That make safe prisons of the days.

 

We are living

In ceiling, floor and windows,

We are given to where we have been.

This white door will always open

On what our hands have touched,

Our eyes have seen.

 

Brendan Kennelly

The poet and writer Rosemary Tonks died this week aged 85. She famously disappeared from the literary scene in the 1970s and spend the following decades as a recluse.

The elusive biographical details of her life and of her disappearance have long intrigued me. But perhaps it is best to focus more on what she chose to share with us – her writing – rather on that which she deliberately kept to herself.

from Addiction to an Old Mattress

 

‘No, this is not my life, thank God…

…worn out like this, and crippled by brain-fag;

Obsessed first by one person, and then

(Almost at once) most horribly besotted by another;

These Februaries, full of draughts and cracks,

They belong to the people in the streets, the others

Out there — haberdashers, writers of menus…’

 

‘…Meanwhile…I live on…powerful, disobedient,

Inside their draughty haberdasher’s climate,

With these people…who are going to obsess me,

Potatoes, dentists, people I hardly knew, it’s unforgivable

For this is not my life

But theirs, that I am living.

And I wolf, bolt, gulp it down, day after day.’

 

CQ

 

I just came across this poem by Jane Hirshfield in a recent issue of The New Yorker.

I love it.

from My Life Was The Size Of My Life:

‘My life was the size of my life.

Its rooms were room-sized,

its soul was the size of my soul…

…Others, I know, had lives larger.

Others, I know, had lives shorter…

…Once, I grew moody and distant.

I told my life I would like some time,

I would like to try seeing others.

In a week, my empty suitcase and I returned…’

http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2014/03/10/140310po_poem_hirshfield

I just came across this sonnet by Britain’s current poet laureate, and instantly fell in love with it.

Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer

utters itself. So, a woman will lift

her head from the sieve of her hands and stare

at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth

enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;

then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth

in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales

console the lodger looking out across

a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls

a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer  —

Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy