Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

The Poet’s Wife

Posted: December 2, 2018 in Chat
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All he remembered was her undressing
and tuning into the night sounds of Venice.
For her it was the night fragmenting
around their son’s cough, and all that went with this.
She purposely did not look his way, to not betray
her irritation: He obviously would not
be fretting all night. Sleep had taken him anyway.
At least he won’t be pestering: she just could not.

The setting perfect, a cheap flight.
She blamed herself for coming to this bathtub’s
off-season chilly canals; the vapour rub
much more expensive here. She thought it might.
She counted off the minutes to their departure,
one for each cough. She wrote this
threw it away.

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Menno Wigman, the Dutch poet, is dead.

Ok, he died in February this year.
He was aged 51. He had been diagnosed with Loffler’s (I cannot get the  a to umlaut!) syndrome. Of only forty reported cases in the world, he was one.
‘How come I manage to go running around with it?’ he’d said.

He was born in 1966, in Santpoort, The Netherlands. He eventually relocated to Amsterdam in the eighties. Drummer for a punk band; self-published early poems. His drive and commitment to his work was consuming.
From 2012 to 2014 he became Amsterdam’s own Poet Laureate.

In 2016 the excellent Arc Publications (https://www.arcpublications.co.uk/) brought out Menno’s selected poems, WINDOW-CLEANER SEES PAINTINGS. It is Number 40, of Arc’s Visible Poets series, and translated by David Colmer.

The first poem in the book, from his first book, All Cities Stink in the Summer, 1997, opens:
Ik zag de grootste geesten van mijn generatie…. translated as
I saw the best minds of my generation….

Yep, we start of with a bang, quoting Allen Ginsburg. The tone is low-key, enervated. In sonnet-form, it ends :
They came too late. Their promise unredeemed.
   The cities gleamed as black as caviar.

And whose last line gives the title of his next book.
More and more his models, his emotional brothers, became Charles Baudelaire, Jules Laforgue, poets of that period, the ‘dark Romantics.’. He described the appeal as that of recognising with them that one lived in the ‘end time.’ A fascination with a falling-off, then, that went hand-in-hand with the revelation of the riches in the here-and-now.

The poem that first caught my attention was Misunderstanding, from the next book. It starts:

This will not be an upbeat poem. And why
I’d even let the secret slip’s a mystery to me….

We’re straight into liminal regions, places where nothing is as it seems, not certain, but part of the flux of one’s being.

But no, I was wrong – the first poem of his that caught me was In Conclusion:
I know the melancholy of copy centres…


Technically he was very much a poet of steady, driving rhythms, strong metres. He used sonnet forms, pantoum (Hotel Night), half-rhyme, assonance.
‘You write poetry with a drum-kit in your head,’ another writer had commented.
It’s how to convey this layered interlacing was David Colman’s challenge. He gives in his introduction illustrations of the original sound and rhythm structure of lines, and his equivalences to these. This is priceless.

*

Menno Wigman also wrote as part of the Lonely Funerals scheme (see my last posting).
There are several pieces here from the scheme, and they reveal a lot about the way he worked, wrote, felt, hoped… was.

Beside Mrs P’s Council Coffin, begins:

Is she asleep? She is. After eighty-three years
of combing her hair three hundred and sixty-five
days a year, of walking to the shops and back….

He ushers us into an intimacy with her life, the personal and mundane; an identification with people as they show themselves to us. That is, the ordinary, that constitutes most of our lives, like it or not. It is our mastery or not, partial or fluctuating control, of the ordinary gives us our kudos, our tags, our recognisable social factors.
The last verse veers away from any demeaning sentimentality, any further diminishing of Mrs P as a person, the one lying dead there, in that plain council coffin:

…. Call it tragedy, rhythm, rhyme –
time, that dirty carnivore, ensures an end
   that stinks. But she’s asleep at last, asleep.
So cover her up, make sure her weary feet
          don’t need to tread the streets again.

What I especially appreciate about this verse is the range, how it veers from the reality of death, the dead body, to the humanity we shared and continue to share with her. That ability to shift register I applaud. And listen to its sound patterns: David Colmer gives good indications, even in this extract I quote, how the poems work to the ear.
In another Lonely Funerals poem, we see something altogether different:

Earth, Don’t Be Hard (this from his last collection, in 2016)

Earth, a virtuous body has now arrived.
A royal sun rose in it once,
its eyes shone brightly like a long July,
a breath of mellow twilight filled its lungs,
a spellbound moon traversed its breast.

He knew himself dying at this point. But if you need uplifting poetry, words to gladden and celebrate, here it is, this is it.

The palms of its hands felt water and stroked pets.
The soles of its feet kissed beaches and rocks. Insight.
A strange insight formed in its head, its tongue
grew sharp, its fingers found the fists they held,
it fought for bread and money, love and light.

Notice that ‘its‘ – there’s no ease of relationship; the sense of self has sharpened, become individualised, rather than considered a social statistic.

You can read an awful lot of books about it.
You can even written your own. Earth, don’t be hard
on this man who had at least a hundred keys,
but not a map or a compass for this blind path,
and now has come to spend his first night here.

His control of the change of register by this time was masterful: from the quiddity, the detail that could be mockery, of ‘the hundred keys,’ we go straight to the common fate, the all-end, to all our own blind endings on that same path to that first night in the grave.

– I don’t think Menno would mind me saying how that last line reminds me of that moment in the film, The Hunger, with Catherine Deneauve and David Bowie, when he was laid the first time among the ones who had gone before him, in that attic among the coffins: ‘Be gentle with him on his first night,’ she said tenderly to them. –

How well do you know the poetry of Jules Laforgue?
Let us consider this early poem, The  First Night.
It begins:

Here comes Evening, sweet to the old lecher…

It is the last verse, though, I call you to:

I imagine myself in the heart of the graveyard, and I put myself in their place, and I enter the coffins of those who are about to spend their first night here.
(plain prose translation by Graham Dunstan Martin, 1998, for Penguin Books).

This does not distract from Menno’s poem, but enhances. Jules Laforgue’s poem is almost flippant, it has the bravura of youth (he did not live long enough to outgrow it), but he given gravitas. It is interesting to see how that has been done.

Jules Laforgue was greatly enamoured of Schopenhauer, but his greatest love was Hartmann. With him he found a fellow-in-arms against the bourgeois world. Hartmann (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Robert_Eduard_von_Hartmann) created a distance, rather than empathy – though acknowledging that the two positions are intertwined, co-dependent.
It is here that I think Menno’s ‘it‘ (above) was found, his love-hate relationship with life, the world.

So, how do Menno’s poems work? I mentioned above his extensive use of metre and regular forms. For him metre and rhythm are what pulls the reader through the poem. Not following the sense, the argument.
This is important.
For Menno Wigman this was his secret, and on this he worked all his short life. There was an lot of ‘attitude’ in those early poems – Jules Laforgue, at times, seems all ‘attitude’ – but he matured into a compassionate writer.

https://www.trouw.nl/cultuur/menno-wigman-1966-2018-was-poezie-al-kon-hij-er-ook-aangenaam-over-somberen~a1192853/

https://www.neerlandistiek.nl/2018/02/in-de-poezie-heeft-niemand-gelijk-interview-met-menno-wigman/

 

INSOMNIA

Posted: October 23, 2018 in Chat
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All night long it seems planes have been leaving,
squalling their metal and exhaust through cloud banks.
Summer trees’ packed bags are in the loading lanes.
Loud in the lull between take-offs cats squeal.

All night long watchful, hollowing out sleep
until light sifted slow down through air corridors.
To have extended yesterday through the night, my watch
quarrying one long moment; whatever’s to follow
calls for configurations of several unknowns.

To not detect the impact of those ideas
we played with ‘til afterwards, when laughter
brought out their underlying assumptions: inflections
as foreign to us now, as umpteen other moments
when time has moved through us.

And just for those moments it seemed what was felt had
meaning and significance; if we could just step
into undefined selves it could save us: to go
further out between belief and conceit, that edge
between one heartbeat and another.

T S Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land,’ section IV ‘Death By Water’, consisting of just ten lines, seems to consist of three short sections.
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land

 Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward.
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome as and tall as you.

Ten lines, in this case, can also give two sections of five lines. This arrangement is important.
It is possible to be read as to have been composed in corresponding parts. It begins and ends:
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,……………………..
and
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome as and tall as you.

So, we have opening, and ending, and then also a central section, or hinge:
……………………………………….. A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell/

He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.

So, we have what could almost be a chiasmus, each line and a half paralleling the other line and a half.

Surrounding this central section we have, firstly,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.

and lastly:
                                                      Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

That gives opening and closing  correspondences, first section central-surround, central hinge, second section central-surround, and closing part.

The form gives suggestion of overall chiasmic structuring. Line length mirrors the arguments being presented.

If this is so, and it is strongly suggestive that this is the intended structure, then this  makes us read an unfortunate correspondence between ‘(…) the profit and loss.’(line 3) and ‘Gentile or Jew’(line 8).
The former is inclusive, the latter exclusive.
As a deliberate paralleling of lines 3 and 8 – indeed, the page layout emphasises the phrases – are we to read an anti-Semitic slur intended there?

In the former section of ‘Death by Water’, the first section of the poem (lines 1-3) is epitomized in this descriptive phrase; the latter third (lines 8-10) is an appeal to the reader, who may be Protestant Western Europe and New World, or Semitic and Old World – whoever it is that takes civilisation forward.
In this I would like to think are included Einstein, and Neils Bohr: the General Theory of Relativity, and the Quantum Theory.

Implicit here also in ‘once was’ is a progressive concept of civilisation and growth of  humankind away from middle-eastern religious roots, Judaism, and towards Western reason (- and non-autocratic Anglicanism?). The end-rhyme claims a relationship between Jew and you, that addressee being both contemporary reader, and Old World culture. The two terms are again in exclusive and inclusive arrangements emphasising the survival of one, but not both.
The earlier rhyme pair swell and fell state a sense of, if not cyclic (Vico-esque?), then organic growth and fall of civilizations that this last rhyme pair predicate.

The centre of the piece is the balancing of phrases ‘As he rose and fell/ He passed the stages of age and youth’ (lines 9 and 10) which gives a janus-like sense of descent of age to youth, and the life-review that is the accepted experience of death. The section ends as it begins with vocative appeal to the hearer/ reader as in the ‘Greek Anthology’.

We notice also the ‘current under the sea’ of half-line 4 is balanced with ‘(…) the whirlpool’ of half-line 7 each framing the central section of the piece. The ‘cry of gulls’ and ‘who look to windward’ are paralleled here, as are ‘the deep sea swell’ with ‘you who turn the wheel’. We sense a metaphysical mariner at work, a conflation of the wheel of fate, and a will that steers, that rises above and beyond the world.

If the form of this short example from ‘The Waste Land’ is certainly chiasmic, it not a ring – there is no tri-partite construction, the central section is a straight change from first half to second ABCCBA. Ring structure has ABCDCBA.

– The English sentence structure, of subject-predicate, has possibilities as another base-chiasmic scheme. It is not by any means a universal language structure, however. There are examples of chiasmic use in languages not structured in this way.

 

Excerpted arguments are from my study: Gifts of Rings and Gold, An Introduction to Chiasmic Text Structures.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/dp/B01IRPODPW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1533399879&sr=1-1&keywords=Gifts+of+Rings+and+Gold

As black-on-black of stellar crows
chase by eyrie earth,
they leave it reeling.
Their monstrous battles
are star deaths, sunbursts.

When they mate times tense,
pressured;
the incubation of the egg
our doldrums.
The hatching
moves time on a notch.

Feeding the newborn,
our periods of acquisition;
when the fledgling flies
we feel its wrench, absence
like the loss of a god.

There is no knowing
they will ever fly here again.

CATWALK

Posted: March 25, 2018 in Chat
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Pink black slouch and lounge;
retro’s specific to the twenty year limit’s
periphery of reference.
Silk and rustic; heraldic, synthetic
admixtures of wool, Kashmir, satin.
Alice-blue gingham, with crinolines:
white is still pure, romantic,
without sins.

The sound track guitar on overdrive
distorts its chords to a programmed pulse;
and even if the music is a love song it is
tuned to a sulphate beat: dance, cruise, music
for the catwalk; lizard-like; ambient.

Panelled and fish-tailed dusty grey; a train
of gauze, lampshade head-dress;
kaftan and puckered waistcoat, djbella,
patterned with satin, sheer. Sateen
 swimsuit under high head-dress and train:
colour transforms to shape, shape to colour.

To look cool, even though the room is rising,
keen, though the style is low, look
catwalk-kitsch in full face-mask,
in Edwardian layers, as the room spins hotter.

The beat is an astrakhan flashbulb pulse,
the keyboard an embroidered burnt umber,
and that guitar again, perspex, translucent;
the singer’s voice a textile acid yellow.

A sampler tape labeled Sex Sounds – Normal.
Design after design; a model turns,
throws a red carnation to the camera.
We all applaud; we are all the show.

 

after the dance-theatre performance of the Pina Bausch company

‘We must talk’ you say, ‘sit here, listen’.
The moment is a revolving door
I do not know how to stop, or close;
our table a sun on a scorching planet —
we have wandered there naked, burnt,
and lost amongst its crumbs, metal.

French windows gape like dark wings draped
over the city; and louvred windows hold aloof
their fragile, distant aches.
In their assimilation there is no longer place
for us. Your words are hot —
and the night grows colder. I long for you
but taste only ashes
not peaches, gingered melon.

We have died here before — the waiter
wraps us warm in the embrace
of a thousand passing presumptions,
asks us to chose; I can take none.
We are what we civilise of the wildness in us;
I have blood in my mouth
and the melancholy of pain, like hunger.
Who is this other? She is giddy with the possibility
the naked and the tabletop offer equally;
an ostentation of preparations.
We are deficient, and the menu lessens us further.

Who is waiting at the door? Window? Wall?
Why are we all here? So sit and sit and sit.
Relationships break here, wives
leave, and husbands stand at the flung open
french windows: an offering to the sky.
The night detonates: they stare back, burnt out;
and all the candles flare, then fail.

Our pain is a mirror — the clock’s tells
and its reckless readings circle the words
‘Leave’ and ‘me’; its chime
muffles the smothered ’Never’.
The room always empty, but populated,
a carved-out place of space,
served up on fine platters
— listen
can you hear the rustle of moments
coalescing? A fine meal we make of this.

She said this ring is a broken tone
the wall-clock has forgotten, and won’t take back.
He twists it around and around his finger, wishing,
for this is the day of the continuous lie — a tall tale:
what was once broken, is twice unmended;
— what was once said, is twice unremedied.

And the child’s hand slips from hers, the baby’s cry
unheard in the bustle and hub of the hall;
her nerves wire the walls,  flare the light
as the current flickers again. To be left alone,
empty, as a coat left, hung on the wall….

To be caught is to be in the cup that drips
then is wiped away with a serviette;
to be lost is to be forever going and not going
at the same time, in the same place
is to be found in the tale that breaks off
but does not,
amongst the communion,
and the cutlery.

The break is the tale’s breathing, it continues always:
the room, and the haunting — the window,
and the blind hurt, the bleeding,
and the doors
endlessly
revolving