Archives for posts with tag: Words

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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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I always seem to return to Derek Mahon at this time of year – proving perhaps poetry’s powerful capacity for personal resonance.

And so it is with Everything Is Going To Be Alright. The words speak for themselves. Even better, hear and watch Mahon read the poem himself.

How should I not be glad to contemplate

the clouds clearing behind the dormer window

and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?

There will be dying, there will be dying,

but there is no need to go into that.

The lines flow from the hand unbidden

and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

The sun rises in spite of everything

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.

 

Derek Mahon

 

 

Seamus Heaney has been a hero of mine for as long as I can remember.

I was due to see him read in London towards the end of January 2013. I did not make it, as my sister died that night. Over the years, the same sister gave me many of Heaney’s poetry collections, and more recently, the glorious gift of the audio collection, read by the poet himself.

So much that I can relate to in terms of the personal impact of Seamus Heaney, the man and his words, has been movingly and eloquently said and re-said over the past days.

I have little to add apart from a few brief thoughts…

The poem Mid-Term Break has always been a favourite of mine. Written many years after the tragic death of Heaney’s younger brother, the poem, as written by the adult, convincingly captures the voice and the imagination of the child Heaney, as he recounts the event as if he were contemporaneously experiencing it.

from Mid-Term Break

‘I sat all morning in the college sick bay

Counting bells knelling classes to a close.

At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying –

He had always taken funerals in his stride –

And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram

When I came in, and I was embarrassed

By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.

Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,

Away at school, as my mother help my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.’

‘…I saw him

For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,

He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four-foot box, a foot for every year.’

I love Heaney’s prose, which I first encountered through the essay ‘Feeling into Words’. In it, the poet talks about Digging, the first poem where he felt his feelings had truly got into the text, ‘where I thought my feel had got into words.’

from Digging

‘Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.’

With characteristic humility, Heaney dismissed Digging as a ‘coarse-grained navvy of a poem’, its interest mainly lying in its success in ‘finding a voice’, and arriving at that place where ‘you can get your own feeling into your own words and that your words have the feel of you about them’.

I have just re-read Heaney’s wonderful Nobel Lecture, Crediting Poetry. Here, Heaney credits poetry ‘both for being itself and for being a help, for making possible a fluid and restorative  between the mind’s centre and its circumference…’for its truth to life…’

In a TV profile that included a series of interviews with the poet in 2009, Heaney was asked about his views on death. He replied that his attitude towards his own mortality had eased with age, and that any sense of fear in particular had gradually diminished. Prescient perhaps of his final words to his wife Marie before he died last week, ‘Noli temere’, which translates as ‘Don’t be afraid’.

Heaney’s poem A kite for Michael and Christopher ends with the phrase ‘long-tailed pool of grief’. Prescient again, on this occasion of a nation’s sense of loss.

We no longer have the man. Yet we do have the words, so many words, which he chose to share. A lasting comfort, of sorts.

CQ

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I saw this play in the lovely Arcola Theatre in Dalston over the weekend.

With just two characters, the piece is about a marriage, about all marriages perhaps, and how fragile and precarious their survival can be.

I loved it. It is about words, those spoken and often misunderstood, and the unspoken, which can be equally treacherous.

In the end, it is about humanness, and our innate potential to reach out to those we truly care for.

CQ

Someone very close to me died this week, after a short illness.

We all mourn and grieve in different ways.

I am more likely to turn to music and to words than to people at times such as this.

And so, the poet Tess Gallagher captures some of what I feel just now:

Yes

Now we are like the flat cone of sand

in the garden of the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto

designed to appear only in moonlight.

Do you want me to mourn?

Do you want me to wear black?

Or like moonlight on whitest sand

to use your dark, to gleam, to shimmer?

I gleam. I mourn.

Tess Gallagher

CQ