Archive for February, 2017

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In the apex of the barn gable an owl’s hole
perches on a stone head, and the head
stares out towards rectory trees
luring the valley between
to this bare, parched socket.

A pub sign, official designation,
rescued from the cellar of the reservoir;
the drowned village that bares its teeth
in the long hot summer.

A face uncomfortably blank like the blank
stare of the water; its wind-carved features,
brow, nose ridge, the deep eye-clefts;
straight mouth mean as a hill-winter.

A head tight to bursting
with indignations, straight-faced
with verticals and horizontals;
a labourer caricatured
by a neighbour fallen on easy times.

Too high in the barn
to be on equal terms with.

The head is brewing its word,
its kettle fired by the face’s
utter sobriety. A Viking
in his barn-ship wrecked
beside the ragged waters of the valley,
or Odin, caught out in trickery

tricking life from drudgery,
worth from existence, words
from the hinge of January.

.seine5

 

Rivington Village, Horwich, Bolton, Lancashire.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rivington

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La Source de la Seine

Posted: February 18, 2017 in Chat
Tags: , ,

Many years ago I took a little time out. I only had little money so the options offered me were Turin, in Italy, or Dijon in France. I knew no Italian, but had a little school French. Not only that but the predominantly urban Turin, and the longer journey I found off-putting. I had also come across an article on the wooden statues found at La source de la Seine. So that was decided.

The day I went out to visit the sanctuary of La Source  was warm, wonderful, with occasional cooling showers of rain. I t00k l’autobus from Dijon, to Ste Seine l’Abbeye, and then walked from there. It was a mostly long straight Langres road.

As I neared the site I noticed the long lines of roadside trees seemed full of dark growth. Intrigued, I looked further: their crowns were thick with mistletoe. This occurred to me to be highly significant: I was approaching a sacred grove.

And then La Source de la Seine:

 

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Whimsical, and 19th Century.

seine1

La Source consisted of a narrow cleft between lush and leafy tree slopes; the sun streamed in and was caught there. As the afternoon declined the air took more of the green colour from the trees, and the many-coloured pastel-shade pebbles in the bed of the water became more noticable.

Just how orchestrated was all this? Were the pebbles natural to the site, or chosen and laid? Was the mistletoe still the same growth from long centuries ago, or especially nurtured recently?
In a way the questions are superfluous: the early priests did no less when building up and commemorating this shrine to Sequana.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequana

http://www.worldhistory.biz/ancient-history/53561-source-de-la-seine.html

What if I had chosen Turin? The wonder of the Turin Shroud awaited me. Is it any less a mystery, not being what we thought it was?
Even the present whimsical Sequana caters to a need. It may not be a particularly elevated need. But then, we have to ask if ‘elevation’ is what it is all about. Is spiritual elevation a specifically Christian concept? Is it a generally monotheistic concept?
Is it a response to a Sky God, a reaching up out of ourselves, to something greater which we conceive of as therefore higher dimensionally, as well as ethically and spiritually?
Is this experience of elevation, or need for elevation, a genuine response of reverence?
Is ‘elevation’ an offering up of oneself?

The wooden offerings date from the Iron Age, and show a variety of physical ailments. We can surmise they were given as votive offerings, as the people appealed for help in some way with physical infirmities. We can also surmise that this was not the earlier reason for the specialness of the site.

I learned many things from my brief time there. One being to keep a tighter hold of one’s money. The other things, I am still discovering.

We go, travel, looking for the authentic experience. It may be that we confuse that authentic with the genuine, even the gratifying. These are mis-identifiers for the experience that is deeply moving, dare we say, elevating – that changes us?

EUROPE

First thing the change in air, the quality of light
on red, gold roofs above Dijon streets.
Then the aggression to my poor school French:
I was young still, ‘Youth is stateless, language
as eloquent as need!’ From l’eglise
de sainte Benigne to the marketplace, a circling;
Algerians spread floor cloths for tooled leather,
haggling I became their foreigner, fair game.

To flounder in language; to return to the hostel, perplexed.
A French-Canadian said, ‘Talk English, huh?’
That night with German students, language
on tongue-kisses, shared strangeness – that night
white walls of apartment blocks opposite
took on a rose-tinge, windows yellowing.
How our differences lit up in us, united us.

KAREN SOLIE: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This is a pale shadow of the piece my computer ate and mangled beyond retrieval.

In my previous post on Karen Solie I made some errors, none more so than in my assessment of the long poem from Pigeon, and republished in The Living Option, her selected poems from 2013, Bloodaxe. The poem in question is Archive.
What is it about this poem? It is the masterly way she weaves, weaves and blends, many-layered subject matter into a whole unified poem.
James Pollock in his essay on Karen Solie, in Arc Poetry Magazine, 2010, writes of her Triple Vision. This, he asserts, is her ‘sardonic satire of contemporary human life’; ‘pastoral vision… clear-eyed respect for nature domesticated or otherwise’; ‘sympathy for other human beings’.

He also brings to our notice her deep and wide reading in literature, an allusiveness to other poetry. In Sturgeon from her first book, he notes how read aloud ‘you’ll hear a subtle but clearly audible undercurrent of Old English verse’ complete with ‘alliterative pairs and triplets.’ The ‘lost lure’ of the poem he reads as a direct reference to the Elizabeth Bishop poem The Fish.
He also notes that her poem Roger the Shrubber is a take on Andrew Marvell’s Damon the Mower.

Of her early poem Sturgeon, he notes, ‘the fish is Christlike, a “sin-eater” to whom people take their “guilts”’, and this brings me to another theme that runs throughout the books, that of a religious awareness. Jacob Pollock specifies it as a Catholic awareness.
She ends her books with brief notes on poem references, and so we get a direct quote from St Augustine in The Vandal Confesses (the note throws open the fields of reference wider, bringing in the Vandal raids in North Africa in which St Augustine perished, and so perhaps a suppressed greater antipathy to her more localised subject matter of the poem), and The Catholic Prayer for the Sick, in Payer for the Sick. In the latest book The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out, 2015, we have reference to the Nag Hammadi Gospels, via William James (in The Living Option).
And in Pigeon we have An Acolyte Reads The Cloud of Unknowing.
What I would like to point out here is that this is no passing ‘colouration’ for the poems, for instance, she really has read the books, and this last book is no mean feat. It is a lengthy and involved medieval religious tract. It demands of the reader, and those demands are time, and willingness to tangle with the arguments that explain the ways of god to man.
As with The Dream of the Rood in the Old English, and The Pearl in middle English (neither of which she references) we enact the experience as we read: they are to an extent sacramental poems, we engage with them, with the time taken to read, understand and appreciate them, as we interact with the arguments and events, and also imaginatively enact.

In a Catholic mass, or service, there is much activity: there are the processions of priests, their robes, the incense, the use of bells, hymns, prayers, much standing and sitting and responding. It is very busy. And as the celebrant engages with all these levels of ceremony, even the intellectual import of the readings, the message is being taken in at deeper levels. And that message is: one must celebrate God’s creation, the world; one must look for the best in man; one must be active in the world, and be aware in life.
We have here the weave of intents that James Pollack identifies in Karen Solie’s triple vision.
I hasten to add her satirical and at times scathing tone is another response to this Catholic background: all struggle with the message in their way, usually there is this element of attempted outright rejection.

The notes are not all so religious, thankfully, and we have direct reference to works by Walter Benjamin, Wittgenstein, J K Galbraith, Hellenistic philosophy, Shakespeare, and then we have references to The Band, R E M, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. There are the painter points too: Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Turner.
James Pollock shows at length Karen Solie’s responses to other poets: Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey is one. Not all are parodies, because she does not hold one angle throughout a poem, they take in many voices, characters, angles and arguments not her own, and some in direct conflict with her own voice and concerns.

Another commentator (can I find it now? No.) wondered if her technique owed something to, or acknowledged, John Ashbery’s deft and skilful blending of voices and sources. Her conclusion was that Karen Solie’s poems are more like the experience of a car journey where multiple conversations weave in and out, where outside matters are always on the periphery, and sometimes intrude , where the driver’s knowledge of her environment ‘both domesticed and otherwise’ comes into play.
This is a pertinent comment, because it brings in that other under-theme of the books, the concern with time, and with the sacramental aspect intact.

And so we return to the long poem Archive, from Pigeon. What is about this poem? There is an omniscient narrator, and she narrates how a ‘she’ interacts with her environment. ‘She’ has to live and work in a city; this city is breached by a river, and work is on the other side, the journey on foot is made every day through a freezing winter. Her camera notes, and the person notes, and the narrator notes. We have the bridge, its history (is there really a workman entombed in the north pillar? Is there a reference here to the Bridge on the Drina?), and we have the city, and the apartment block where ‘she’ lives for the duration, all telescoping into the ‘she’. Women are being killed in the city; a woman student at the university commits suicide from the bridge. This is all part of the time of the poem, and the writer’s memories over a specific period.

With the other long poem in the latest book, we also have a engaging with time. Bitumen leads us  to the Alberta tar sands, their stratified historical records, and their modern uses.
Early in the poem she writes, ‘If I don’t come homeis my house in order?’ Already we engage with religious reference.
Bitumen begins and ends considering paintings by Turner. It begins with his magnificent clouds, and ends with his tremendous running seas; in between we transport from old world to new, from new world to modern world. ‘The West stands for relocation, the east/ for lost causes.’  Early on the poem lists, and we hear Anne Carson here, perhaps.

Time and space: ‘Meaning takes place in time.’ she writes, it is the revisionism of intent, purpose: we came West for the new world, and made it – not found it, note – and it is a matter of compromises: ‘Would you conspire to serve tourists in a fish restaurant/ the rest of your life? I thought not.’
Re-affirmation: ‘we’re guests, after all, not prisoners, right?’ receives no reply.
The last Turner paintings noted includes The Slave Ship, another major theme in New World history.

A reviewer wrote of the flat tone of her poems; we can hear it in these instances. What it is, is the voice imparting levels of communication: the ceremonial layered aspect, above.

Neither  question nor assertion makes sense/ when truth is a tone of voice,’ she writes in Interior. Truth is not rhetorical skill, nor is it communicated through rhetorical skill, it is not political, therefore. We can also draw from this that it is not in the province of classical philosophy either, then. She goes on in this poem: ‘As if I were a wall,/ a former life/ walks through me, each/ modest architectural feature/ an anthology of meanings to which paint/ has been applied. They don’t retain/ traces, that’s in thinking.

The tone of doubt, of questioning the known, the assertions and at times tomely manner, opens the door to the reader: we are all vulnerable in our way, we know this place she plots out.
She ends, ‘The gardener, after a time,/ feels the garden belongs to him,/ familiar objects extend/ his spirit….’. This poems, as James Pollock says of another poem, ‘instead of merely taking a side… contributes a genuine insight.’ As an historical, psychological, environmental and cultural observation this last line of the poem is an important point: it is what home means.

In a way this last book is slightly chilly, her mastery (what is the women’s equivalent phrase?) of technique and subject matter is superb, but the warmth is becoming lost.
I do admire her work, as you may have guessed, and read and re-read often; and long may it be so.

Karen Solie: ks

I’ve always liked putting different things together, and seeing what happens.
Years and years ago when I had a passing interest in such things I had a wondering-moment about the Tree Alphabet.
This alphabet was proposed by Robert Graves in his White Goddess book; it is constructed from ogham practice and text references in Irish.
It is an alphabet that uses tree names as the letter names. I never could work out why which tree was used where, their leafing, flowering, growth do not seem to coincide with the specific months Graves gives.

There are 13 lunar months; each is a letter of the alphabet, and a sequence in the tale of the growth to maturity of the year, represented as a god. He is then supplanted at midsummer by the god of the waning year. Until New Year when it starts again..
It goes like this, from late December on through the year:

Beth -birch
Fearn – rowan
Luis – alder
Nion – ash
Saille – willow
Uath- hawthorn
Duir- oak
Tinne- holly
Coll-hazel
Muin-vine
Gort-ivy
Ngetal-reed
Ruis-elder

Of course, he then arranged this sequence into what he called a Dolmen Arch:

dolman

Saille Uath Duir Tinne Coll
Nion                               Muin
Luis                                 Gort
Fearn                              Ngetal
Beth                               Ruis

So, this arrangement puts Duir, the oak tree as the all-important capstone of the (square) arch. This accords with his midsummer fight between waxing and waning year gods. Ok.

So, I thought, how does the tarot’s major arcana fit in with this?
Let’s see:

Lovers/SailleChariot/UathStrength/Duir-Justice/TinneHermit/Coll
Willow             Hawthorn                Oak                       Holly               Hazel
Emperor/Nion                                                                                      Temperence/Muin
Ash                                                                                                               Vine                                                   Hierophant/Fearn                                                                                Hanged Man/Gort
Alder                                                                                                               Ivy
Magician/Luis                                                                                        Death/Ngeta
Rowan                                                                                                          Reed
Fool/Beth                                                                                                  The Tower/Ruis
Birch                                                                                                            Elder

tarot

A few are missing, you say.
Graves has what he called Cross-Quarter Days, special days in each sector. They rule the following months, until the next cross-quarter day, and so on.
From the Fool’s late Dec/early January Birch month, we have The High Priestess: the young year.
The Lover’s March-April Willow tree month has The Empress: the mature year.
The Hermit’s August Hazel month has Wheel of Fortune: the fall from greatness.
The Tower’s November/Dec Elder tree month, has The Devil, as god of the fallen year, darkness, death. Think of him as a god of the underworld: Pluto, Hades, rather than of all things bad.

With this being an alphabet of consonants, we also have the five vowels These make the lintel, or door step:
The World-The Moon-The Sun-The Star-Judgement.
These, like the extra days, do not have tree names. But with this arrangement the Sun vowel is opposite the Strength/Oak consonant; The Moon is opposite The Lovers/Willow and Chariot/Hawthorn; The Star is opposite Justice/Holly and Hermit/Hazel.
The World covers with the gaining year’s upright, and Judgement the falling year upright.
The vowels cannot have to one-to-one matches, because they breathe life into all the consonontal word-clusters.

This all made a kind of sense to me. Most appropriate seemed to be The Emperor with the old Ash god, and most of all Strength with the Oak and Sun connections.
The Rowan tree with the Magician also had a resonance.
On the other side The Hermit with Hazel seemed to fit. Not sure about Death, then The Tower, though. What do you think?
You have to know Graves’ construction of the story to fit it in. And there you have it: can you believe the man? Was he back-arguing ie fitting things in afterwards?
I have caught him out on a few things over the years. Enough, anyhow, to make me back off.
You can tinker with things forever, seemingly, and it’ll still get you nowhere.