Archives for posts with tag: memory
Mulberry Street NYC c1900 LOC 3g04637u edit

Mulberry Street NYC, c. 1900. Image courtesy of the United States Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s been a year,
Yet your presence lingers
in strangers who cross

the road towards me.

In a quest to educate myself and use my time more constructively I’ve scheduled reading before bedtime. In addition to poet and writer Salena Godden’s memoir, Springfield Road, and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, I’ve been reading two or three Chinese poems (in translation).

In the windfall month when I bought Bukowski’s Pleasures of the Damned, I also picked up an anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry translated by renowned scholar David Hinton. It’s taken me nearly a year and a half to delve into my indulgence.

One of the great amusements of some of these poems is the scene-setting provided by the titles. Consider for example:

“On the Summit above Tranquil-Joy Temple” (p. 409)
“On a Boat Crossing Hsieh Lake” (p. 414)
“Written on a Wall at Halfway-Mountain Monastery” (p. 355)
“At Truth-Expanse Monastery, In the Dharma-Master’s West Library” (p. 224)
“Staying Overnigh in Hsü’s Library. Hsieh Shih-Hou and I are Driven Crazy by Rats” (p. 341)

The titles are not all about libraries and monasteries –

“8th Month, 9th Sun: Getting Up in the Morning, I Go Out to the Latrine and Find Crows Feeding on the Maggots There” (p. 340)

I derive great pleasure from imagining the suggested location and atmosphere for the unfolding poem. It’s like reading directions in a script or screenplay. I’ve used a similar device before in my poems (see “118A Creighton Avenue” and “St Paul’s, Covent Garden“), but it’s a comfort to know the greats did it, too. Today’s title unashamedly proposes the verse’s location.

(For interest, my poem “Postmarked from a Café” nods to Bukowski.)

Reference:
David Hinton (editor and translator), 2008, Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York).

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

"Midnight Harp" by Esmira, on DeviantArt

Midnight Harp” by Esmira, on DeviantArt

Bell-like, round and clear
Hopeful and transparent 
as a copper bauble,
it lifts the congregation.
From the sanctuary 
the maiden’s voice soars
and plunges
as she elongates the siren call.

 

I am not a groupie. I’d rather spend my days in a hermit’s hut on a mountainside with books, green tea and yoga for company instead of people. I find people politics and inane conversation immensely annoying. But I keep seeking out institutionalised assemblies. In these experiences I find vestiges of tribal inheritances, which seem to inspire my creative work. At least, this is my theory as to why I keep seeking out groups and gatherings which jar with my loner’s soul. Being part of a martial arts academy is one example. Volunteering in various organisations and an ongoing relationship with institutions of learning, such as schools and universities, are others. Then there’s church attendance, which has influenced a few recent poems (Just Punishment, Let them eat).

Attending church takes me back to my childhood and familiar language patterns. My father claimed a deep personal religiosity. When we were children, it was a weekly parental pleasure for him to walk me and my brother to Sunday School. After the morning’s service proceedings we would play outside. He would siphon egg sandwiches, Salticrax with cheese and little cakes from the adult’s tea-table for us. (The Anglican Church to this day offers an excellent post-service tea spread.) He would spend a long time explaining things to us like the flat stones in the graveyard, the gruesome Stations of the Cross and the purple covering-cloths at Lent.

Today’s poem is drawn from a recent church experience during which I was struck by the clear, enchanting voice of the young woman who lead the singing. Her voice was neither trained nor very brilliant, but it moved me. In that moment, a flood of young maidens singing swept over me. I saw maidens with harps in old villages. I imagined maidens next to seas and riverbanks singing as they worked with others or alone to keep themselves company. I saw maidens next to firesides singing with the transparency of youthful hope, watched by audiences of older women and men, who in that moment were reminded of their youthful expectancy. This memory suspends itself like a copper bauble, picks up the fire-light and lifts them in the moment. It was all this that propelled me to write the poem.

The title references the “Libera me” at the end of Verdi’s Requiem. Instead of an awe-inspiring chorus with trained soprano, the single lay voice of this poem rings out unaffected and haunting. The siren call in this context is not entirely destructive. It is hypnotic, but it re-directs its listeners towards hope. The catch is that for many of them this hope is a bauble of the past, but it still frees them.

It only occurred to me years later that our absence from the house on a Sunday meant that my hard-working, music teacher mother could have a morning of quiet respite. At the end of 1987 and in early 1988, my Mum was also pregnant with my sister. Now when I look back at those memories, I add this layer. While we were running around the grounds of Christ the King on Lower Milner Road, stuffing our kiddie faces with egg sandwiches (on white bread! With crusts cut off!) and staring at faux-granite gravestones, my Mum was at home with a growing belly which contained my little sister.

My sister is now big – a maiden herself in her later twenties. She plays the harp and occasionally sings, though not in church. Her siren work with words is in a different field. She is a journalist.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill

Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry 
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys 
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012 

This time last year I wrote up an explanation about “Winterreise”, a poem in which a glass of water features as a symbolic object. (Regular readers will have noticed that water is a recurring motif in my poetry.) “Winterreise” describes a meal out with my father, who passed away on the 5th May five years ago. Click on the drawing above to read both the poem and the write-up.

Image courtesy of http://olddesignshop.com/ – Vintage Image Treasury

A letter is…

A turn to the inside,
draws out liquorice laces,
long and sweet to suck and chew;
This turn to the inside
locates in other corners 
of the paper-layered drawer
small tacks 
of past stings


Scheduling a poem every day for a month (from 18 Jan. to 19 Feb.) made me feel impressively productive. Now I’m suffering for it. I have been writing long form copy for another project, but the poems seem to have stalled to less than a trickle. With this faint drip I’ve approached my notebook. I’ve tackled lines with my ballpoint on the tube and at my desk. In hopefulness, I’ve carried notepaper and pen with me on my wood walks.

Blossoms, crocuses, narcissi and daffodils announce the onset of spring. Why can’t my creative output bloom similarly?

A friend echoes my sentiments. It may soon be time for a fallow season. A poet who writes in the winter, might benefit from some respite in the spring. Let me see what happens come Thursday. Perhaps by then the tap will flow once again.

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Missing your BeadedQuill fix? Make sure you’ve got a dose on your bookshelf. There are two published books from which to choose:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

Success is speaking to the people who matter,
In networking when due. Waste no time on a satyr.
Success is doing what you should
for Work, for Security, for Good.

It’s silence when your speech would rattle,
And indifference to a pointless battle.
Success is deafness to all that’s ugly,
But sympathy if your deed’s seen widely.

It’s loyalty as the price dictates; 
Courage when others might judge, “Flake.” 
It’s patience when the drudge seems worth it,
But for laughter, song or frivolity – surfeit.

Success is found in application, 
financial stability and securing one’s station.
In all of life and nothing less
Is this almighty guidepost that’s called Success.

--

Sometime between the ages of eight and ten, when I had already learnt to read and was in the habit of memorising written material (mostly bible verses for Sunday School and gedigte (poems) for Afrikaans lessons), my paternal Granny gave me a palm-sized laminated card. On the card was printed the motivational poem “Success.” In sing-song iambic quadrameter and neat AA, BB, CC end rhyme the poem sets forth fourteen guidelines that should assist one in living the worthy life. My earnest pre-adolescent self set about memorising these words of wisdom.
In trying to write out the poem, I was certain I had forgotten part of it. So I turned to Google, and found the full piece.

Success
author unknown

Success is speaking words of praise,
In cheering other people’s ways.
In doing just the best you can,
With every task and every plan.
It’s silence when your speech would hurt,

Politeness when your neighbour’s curt.
It’s deafness when the scandal flows,

And sympathy with others’ woes.
It’s loyalty when duty calls,
It’s courage when disaster falls.
It’s patience when the hours are long,

It’s found in laughter and in song.
It’s in the silent time of prayer,

In happiness and in despair.
In all of life and nothing less,
We find the thing we call success

Interestingly, it is the verse about loyalty, courage and patience and the third to last line that I had not recalled. This was my reconstruction of what I thought to be my favourite part of the verse: “It’s found in laughter and in song,/ And in the silent time of prayer,/In all of life and nothing less,/ We find the thing we call Success.” I had erased, “In happiness and in despair.” Or, rather, whenever I have thought of the line, “In all of life and nothing less,” I simultaneously imagine the line in church marriage vows, “In sickness and health,” which serves to encompass all joys, hardships and eventualities of life.

This ennobling little verse, if a verse can ever imbue such upon its reader, resonates with Max Ehrmann’s (1872–1945) poem “Desiderata” (1927), which also lists actions and mindsets through which one could foster a good and worthwhile life. My earnest adolescent self also went through a phase of trying to memorise this work. The favourite line, besides the famous opening (“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”), is “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.”

Yes, a poet would cling to such a line.

Shining in Brightness,” a book of my poems and essays was compiled earlier this year. Preview this first volume at blurb.co.uk
Follow my Twitter musings about the artist’s life, the successful life and the wonder of dried figs. I tweet as @BeadedQuill