Operations Meeting, El Dorado always makes me smile because it juxtaposes the mundane with the historical and fantastical. An office meeting, overheard during a morning coffee, is recast in an imaginary Ancient Columbia and overlaid with the myth of El Dorado.
About the photographed Muisca raft: This representation of the initiation of the new Zipa in the lake of Guatavita is a possible source of the legend of El Dorado. It was found in a cave in Pasca, Colombia in 1856, together with many other gold objects. It is 19.5 cm long, 10.1 cm wide and 10.2 cm high. Dated between 1200 and 1500 BC. It is made of an alloy of gold (80%), silver and copper, by using the lost wax method. The cacique in the center is surrounded by attendants and oarsmen. (Text from Wikimedia Commons.)
Books: In the Ocean: a year of poetry Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012
I did not set out to write poetry. I intended to write Novels. And anyway, I am of the view that much superbly written and evocative poetry already exists. The Shadows of Giants loom large. At the moment I have no illusion about even coming close to their kneecaps, never mind shoulders. This time last year I posted “Emulation“, a poem about the finely wrought craft of three (English language) poetry giants.
“Emulation” references two poems that had a notable impact on me during my adolescence: Sylvia Plath’s “Mushrooms” and “The Thought Fox” by Ted Hughes. (Yes, we studied them at school in our English lessons. Some exposures in life just can’t be helped.) Both poems struck me with the synaesthetic potential of words. To this day, I can still feel those mushrooms mouthing their insidious, hollow-breathed o’s at the world (“So many of us! So many of us!”). That Thought Fox still darts with a hot fox stink across my imagination.
(I had not noted, until reviewing these poems for this post, that both set the scene in a forest. How very archetypal; how very Brothers Grimm.)
“Mushrooms” is referenced via Plath’s famous “Tulips” (1961). I came across “Tulips” when I was older . Although a recognised and fine work, it does not evoke the same nostalgia for me.
The third poet to whom homage is paid is John Donne for his poem “The Flea“. Besides the pleasure of the words, it latched onto my leaning towards the miniature and slightly odd. Perhaps my little poem “An arrangement of Strangers” owes Donne a debt.
There is a screen that separates these realms. Once one transcends it, one may see the province of imagination – “the far off poem”. The viewing platform, which in sensible understanding should be a stable structure, should ideally be positioned on the super moon. Not only are these lunar occurrences rare, but it is also difficult for most of us ordinary earth dwellers to make our way to the moon.
Screens is a poem about seeking poetry beyond the daily. At the same time, it is a poem about daily things: screens, commuting, traffic, viewing platforms and super moons.
An old favourite revisited, because artists are allowed to have their obsessions. “Exalted thus, we left” is a reworking of a poem from 2011:
I love the Dorothea Tanning painting that spurred the original “Jacob’s Dream for crinolined girls”. When I’m in Tate Modern, I’ll usually try to pop into the Surrealism gallery to gaze at the image, my crinolined protagonists and the yellow angel wrestled down.
Last year I wrote this diffuse poem. The setting is the large ice-mass that perhaps once bridged Siberia with North of America. A couple are migrating across this inhospitable realm. Imagine the pair dressed in furs, with all their worldly possessions in tow – tent, working dogs, blankets, food and household items tied to sleds. In the poem they are travelling towards the dragon’s gate. This endpoint motivates the woman with hope; it propels the man through sworn duty and allegiance. Both are so focussed on this outward destination – a gate in all its majestic and architectural wonder – that they are not aware of the small stirrings of life. The “soft pearl” is a growing child who embodies the para-reality of their journey and relationship. In contrast with the gate, a settled and solid structure, the child is something organic that will change and is less definable.
The 2×52 project developed in April 2013 when I committed to posting two poems a week for a year. I completed my self-made creative challenge this April when I revealed the 104th poem. Next month (June 2014), all the poems will be available in a book at my Blurb bookstore. In the meantime, here are the 104=2×52 poems listed in all their glory! And for your convenience, so that you can click on the titles that pique your interest. Enjoy!
I try to revive a blue whale
with raw eggs from plastic bowls
in different colours
laid out in a wooden fishing boat.
To do this you must put two
or three eggs together in each bowl,
watch their yolks lilt to the tide, then
pour them through the whale’s sieve-like mouth.
This poem is a transcription of a dream I had. The notebook entry of 29/10/12 analyses the stress that probably elicited the scene, “Drowned out by my panic: income! job! career! Aaargh!” Such is the mundane reality that underpins some creative output. I am certain some English teacher in the future will invest the work with a more riveting subliminal meaning.
I have very vivid dreams. Since I was a child, I’ve had vivid dreams. “Afloat” is another poem based on a nocturnal vision remembered and jotted down. Often my dreams are strong on action, filled with tactility and punctuated with memorable details. Only once I remember hearing music in a dream. When I stayed in South America briefly, I eventually started dreaming in very basic Spanish.
With this poem I conclude my official a Poem a Day for a Month. This bumper month of posts is part of my larger 2×52 project, during which I aim to produce a 104 poems across a year (52 weeks). The idea was to keep writing and producing. Out of 104 poems, some might not be as engaging, some might be readable and a few should, by the law of statistics, must surely be reasonably good. I shall continue to post according to my routine of two poems a week. Sign up to BeadedQuill (see tab in bottom right-hand corner) for these future poems, updates on the aimed for (e)book of the 2×52 project and other news.
at the door
or retire through the window.
That will suffice.
Better yet, via my ears
make your retreat as swiftly
and in neat compactness
as a ready ball of orange wax
or next time I spit,
roll out over my tongue.
Or next when through my eyeball
I aim a withering look,
consider that the cue
for you to take your leave.
I’ve tried re-working this strange little poem. I wanted to develop the idea of exiting from physical space through architectural entities (doors, windows) and then exiting from internality through bodily orifices. Yes, yes, possibly all very Freudian; Lacanian too, if I had added a mirror in there. Perhaps the window can posit the ramble in a liminal, almost-Lacanian zone.
Books: Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys Shining in Brightness
Using washed hands
soft in the palm,
voluptuous, ivory nibs
since stripped of their brown seedcoat.
those gently ridged amygdalae
thrown by the precious palmful.
Blitz briefly those sweet, curved kernels.
Using floured hands
sit finished dumplings on top.
Ah, almonds: sweetmeat
of the fruit.
I love gathering words, sentences, phrases, formulations and expressions that take my fancy. Two chance readings contributed to this poem – recipe instructions and a definition of almonds as “the sweetmeat of the fruit”.
As I worked on this poem, I remembered that I had written about previously about almonds. The preparation of this fruit features in an earlier poem, “Van Riebeeck’s Hedge” (2008). This poem considers the mythical ‘hedge’ of wild almonds that acted as a boundary for the early Colony at the Cape. An entry in Governor Jan van Riebeeck’s diary dates the construction of the fortification to 1660. (“Van Riebeeck’s Hedge” is one of the selected poems in my first book, Shining in Brightness.) The wild almonds were bitter (apparently an indicator of the cyanide content of the fruit) and had to be “soak’d then peel’d before consum’d”. The poem sets the Dutch colonial settlers, planters of the hedge who dine off ‘fine’ plates, in contrast with the unnamed resident local Khoikhoi population at the Cape who eat these bitter fruits that have to be prepared.
Sweet almonds, either blanched or with their skins, are one of my favourite foods. In times when I was a more flush, they were a welcome snack. Now they are much more precious – sweet, ivory-coloured opals. I like to imagine this is a value more akin to that accorded to them in societies where almonds were more difficult to obtain. Almonds are not opal-shaped. More correctly, they are amygdala; their form rests somewhere between a triangle and an ellipse. It is also from amygdala that the name almond is derived.
(Note the recurrence of palm, which in the poem refers to the cupped, underside of the hand, but of course triggers the homophonic link to palm tree, and the imaginative landscape of such association.)
Preview my two published books, available as print-on-demand editions: Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys Shining in Brightness