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There’s a wonderful article in The Guardian today where Robert Fisk explores the Bard’s evocations of the feelings and actions of men in battle situations and shows how relevant and accurate they are to our wars today. Oh, to see so clearly and write poetry that penetrates and grips and lasts and keeps on speaking!

See http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article2403298.ece



{Sun 25 March 2007}   The Priesthood of the Soul
I have just found in an old backup file some essays of mine on subjects close to my heart, which I had feared were lost. They were created in WordPerfect in 1992 and 1993 on my first computer – a 7.5kg whopper of a laptop which I abandoned in about 1997, I think. I have no idea whether these thoughts and approaches would be considered to have any validity now in any current education programme, but part of me doesn’t care. I just want to affirm and reconnect with my experience of “flow” at the time and also to reconsider now these influences which I know have formed and informed my approach to poetry.

As I read through them, and read the markers’ comments again, I am amazed both at the intensity with which my mind was working at the time, and at my concurrent inability then to absorb either the praise or the criticism that the markers gave. My relative maturity now enables me to see how much care was taken by the markers in their thoughtful comments and I am embarrassed to realise how little I valued them then. My driving need for approbation and reinforcement prevented me from realising that people were offering me exactly these simply by taking my writing seriously enough to offer me thoughtful feedback.

I have no record of the mark I received for this one, but the lecturer actually wrote a five-page response to this twelve-page essay which begins as follows:

The Priesthood of the Soul: The relationship between Imagination and Reason in Keats.

The Romantic obsession with the apparent dichotomy between Passion and Reason is given a new twist in Keats’s unique theology:

Call the world … “The vale of Soul-making”…. There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions — but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself…. Spirit-creation … is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years — These three Materials are the Intelligence — the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul… As various as the Lives of Men are — so various become their souls (Letter 123, 335-6).i

That Keats favours a chemical metaphor for the processes of both poetry and human experience indicates how much his rational and his imaginative faculties complement each other. In The Chemistry of the Poetic Process, Stuart M. Sperry minutely demonstrates how much Keats borrows from his scientific reading to develop his poetic philosophy.ii He shows that Keats sees poetry as a process whereby the material world’s beauties and travails are absorbed via the senses and distilled, through an inner contemplative-experiential mechanism called ‘intensity’, into an essence of thought. Such thought, however, cannot be equated with rational conclusions arrived at through logic. Sensation acted upon by the imagination (the agent of intensity) produces a fresh complex of sense-stimulating beauties which open up new avenues for exploration. For the reader, the poem then forms an acutely tuned part of his material world and invites him to a similar experience of intensification and distillation of thought. In consequence, the reader’s appreciation may differ from the poet’s. Keats’s own capacity for existing in uncertainty allows his readers to fashion their own souls as they choose. In one letter he asserts that poetry can lead man into contemplation and through it to an active awareness (by which he means sensitivity to potential pathways rather than any single, absolute conviction) which could transform humanity (48, 103-4). This is how the poet functions as priest of the soul in ‘the vale of Soulmaking’.

Read the rest of this entry »



{Sat 24 March 2007}   Green thoughts in green shades

Today, I was thinking of changing my presentation theme; then I remembered this stanza from Andrew Marvell’s poem The Garden that was a favourite of mine at varsity:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

In many ways, this is what I’m doing on this blog, I guess, so I think I’ll stick with the green shades! A friend last night suggested that I was possibly being a little over-enthusiastic in my intention to post something on my blog every day (a not-yet-achieved goal), and I do confess that the blogging I’ve done so far has possibly taken up a tad more of each day than I originally intended, but I hope that the annihilation of all that’s previously been made will make space for green thoughts that are fertile and bursting with life and potential! Meanwhile, in the other room, my hubby is creating far other worlds and other seas in Second Life… sigh… is that where all cyber roads eventually lead? An alternate reality?

For the whole poem, go to this lovely site: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/garden.htm



{Fri 23 March 2007}   Each mortal thing selves

What is it to be oneself? To which of the many values I hold should I be true? Every morning I wake with thoughts like these already challenging me. They sometimes nudge, sometimes scream. Which set of compromises will I engage in today? Are these compromises betrayals, or are they the appropriate negotiations of an adult and flexible mind?

The first stanza of this sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins has been playing over and over in my mind for days now. It contains the essence of the thing that I am crying out for: that I must “selve”, be congruent, be able to say “What I do is me”. But how? Kingfishers do it naturally, without thought, but that is not within the capacity of humans, it seems.

Unless they’re saved, of course. GMH’s resolution in the second stanza is that “the just man” is more than himself. When he is just, he expresses not only his own righteousness, but that of Christ, which is “more” than any other mortal being can do. The picture he conjures of the consequent elevation of man and the implied adoring gaze of God upon this composite expression of Christ is at once beautiful and alienating to me. I think GMH is saying that we find and express our true nature in Christ, and that it is as natural for us to do this as it is for kingfishers to catch fire and dragonflies to draw flame, but this does not answer my cry. If kingfisherness is enough for the kingfisher, why cannot Tia-ness be enough for me, and for any god who looks on me? The theological answer is original sin, of course. The kingfisher cannot sin, and is not born with the burden of the sins of previous generations. It is only we humans who are trapped like Sisyphus before we are conceived. As I think of this, I feel ill. I am actually nauseated by the injustice of this theology!

I also find the masculine language alienating – it’s all about a male Son relating to a male Father through men. And yes, I’m fully aware that “man” and “men” in this context probably are intended to be inclusive of all (saved) humanity, but the patriarchalism still narks me.

And yet, and yet, I still love this poem, all the way to the last full stop. Its internal logic and the pulse of its argument are compelling. I love the way most of the lines begin with a strong beat which drives its conviction home. And the transcendence it suggests is possible still speaks to my longing.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying, What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

(poem text copied from Poetry Connection)



{Thu 22 March 2007}   tree and roses
tree and roses

i see
an abundance of roses,
waiting for the tree that cannot move
to come to them;

they
climb-twist, wave-scent,
petal-plunge, dip-dance,
grow, grow…

oh, blow, speed, plant
these seeds there
around the tree
(that, or this, or any of these,
may grow more easily, and faster
than any tree!)

grace it with delicacy,
protect it, love it
with laughing thorns
that scratch and tickle
its deep-grooved bark;
that these sweet roses
may draw blood from any outside hand
that knows not the dance
of tree and roses.

poet, i love you;
i long for you, to hold
you and walk through
roses with you,
dripping lifeblood.

teach me.



{Wed 21 March 2007}   World Poetry Day 21 March 2007
Did you know that March 21st is officially World Poetry Day?

I’m just catching up with this news (I know, I know, where have I been…?) Anyway, here’s what I’ve found so far (in case anyone else is just as ignorant as I apparently was). Anyone can Google for this info; I’ve just selected sites that interest me. (I’ve ignored most of those that are help-for-teachers type sites which seem to consist of suggested lesson plans):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Poetry_Day

This seems a good day to consider adding to Wikipedia’s entries on Poetry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Poetry

Here’s the official UNESCO World Poetry Day site:
http://www.unesco.org/poetry/bienvenue.php?initia=english
and another mention at UNESCO:
http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=12329&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

and the UK getting in on the act:
http://www.countmeincalendar.info/show_campaign.php?banner_area=3&calid=7&camp_dates=21%20Mar%202007&campaignid=267&categoryid=

and Canada (Arc Poetry – goodlooking mag):
http://www.arcpoetry.ca/portage/

and next, Iran: This was exciting to me – a possible point of unity amongst all the suspicion? http://www.iranmania.com/News/ArticleView/Default.asp?NewsCode=50308&NewsKind=Current%20Affairs

and that’s all I have time for now. Enjoy!



Oh happy days! Not one, but two poetry-relevant articles amongst all the bad news in the past few days.

First, I was interested to see this ancient debate revived: John Walsh asks “Is there a link between madness and creativity?” in The Independent. See http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article2361028.ece for the full article. The sentence “The idea of creativity as divine afflatus, the breath of God, turns easily into the divine fire, that ignites the imagination but consumes the thinker” particularly caught my eye, because it refers to the mad wonder of creativity and creation that I tried to express in my poem Primeval Watercolour, which is about my surprised discovery in my first watercolour painting lesson of how unpredictable and how intense the colours could be (I had previously thought that watercolour painting was all about delicate, faded, impressionistic landscapes!).

As my poem reflects, the experience made me think of the Judaeo-Christian myth of creation out of formlessness, in particular Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

By the way, while thinking about this again today, I found this beautifully written exegesis, “Making sense of Genesis 1” by Rikki E. Watts ( http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Bible-Science/6-02Watts.html), which urges the reader to be conscious not only of the worldview brought to the text by its original, Hebrew-speaking, hearers and readers, but also of the writer-reader “contract” that requires the reader to recognise the conventions of genre in determining what kind of truth is being conveyed. The writer asserts that Genesis 1 is poetic and refers to Blake’s burning tiger to suggest a possible approach for interpretation. There is also a good brief overview of other creation myths to support the general argument. One to bookmark, I’d say.

Secondly, I was excited to read “The lost joy of ‘difficult’ poetry” by Roy Hattersley in the Mail&Guardian here:
http://www.chico.mweb.co.za/art/2007/2007mar/070316-poetry.html which contains thoughts related to those expressed in my post Poetry’s Potential and my Comment on my poem On deciding not to marry a priest. Unfortunately, I don’t have time today to summarise any more, but I’m noting the link here for future reference.



{Thu 15 March 2007}   Link to Damn-Sad

Just a short note today to say that I received an email from Ian Reed giving me the link to his poem “Damn-Sad“, which up to now has not been available on his website. This is great, because I wrote my poem On the Death of Saddam Hussein in response to Ian’s poem on the morning I received it from him by email, so this gives it a bit of context.

If you are interested in political poetry, or if you just want to find out if you are, you might like to browse the Polemics page on Ian’s site or sign up to receive his poetry updates. I found his latest poem, Airport, which I received this week, quite scary – tapped into my fear quite well, it did.



This essay by Timothy Steele has been around awhile, but it’s so well-written and its defense of the value of “meter, rhyme and stanza” is so well-supported with resonant examples that it still bears reading.

The Forms of Poetry by Timothy Steele, from The Brandeis Review, 12 (Summer 1992), 28-33

Today, I am particularly taken with these two passages:

“The original revolutionaries perceived more acutely what they wished to challenge or undermine—meter and rhyme in poetry, representation in painting and sculpture, conventional melodic arrangement in music—than what they wished to establish. As a result, the revolution had considerable destructive vitality, but it did not have comparable constructive powers to create alternatives to replace the conventions it swept away.”

“Meters reflect patterns of speech that occur naturally in language. Poets do not invent them out of thin air. To construct a new metrical system, one would first have to construct a new language, or the pronunciation or accentuation of the existing language would have to change radically. So once the battle the modernists fought had been won, their followers tended simply to maintain a somewhat meaningless spirit of rebellion, meaningless because the styles and attitudes against which the rebellion had been directed had ceased to exist.”

It seems an inevitable part of human experience that “the revolution”, after a heady period of free-spirited innovation, always acquires its own orthodoxy and becomes a vicious enforcer of “rules” of freedom. The insistence on the new way of seeing things as the only way of seeing things invalidates the experience, wisdom and creative productions of whole generations, and robs current generations of access to beauties and insights that have empowered and developed human consciousness for thousands of years.

This has always been the pattern with “renewals” in church history. At first they ride on a tide of openness, soul-searching, risk-taking and energetic action as people strive to “live out” their refreshed understanding of the meaning of their faith, sometimes taking great steps of love and courage and martyrdom which change lives and invigorate communities. But after a while, the actions become forms in themselves, nothing more than repeated, futile attempts to recreate the mysterious energy of spirit (Spirit?) that impulsed them so naturally before. The challenge to the status quo becomes the status quo, and the s/Spirit flees.

Why, oh why, is it so difficult for us to maintain “negative capability” (Keats) and realise that any form may contain or even generate mystery, that form does not preclude mystery and that neither form nor lack of form guarantee mystery?



Oh, Sunday morning! Day of hope and resurrection! Why am I more surprised by the balmy sky that greets me through my London window today than by this account of yet more hypocrisy by two significant Christians beloved by many:

http://bloggernista.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/falwell-okay-with-adultery/

There is a lesson here for the eager-to-influence. Always remember that:

Clout ecclesiastical
achieved through
Eloquence gymnastical
leading to
Steps of faith fantastical
justifies
Opinions elastical.

Bloggernista is a great site, by the way… classy, with teeth. Now there’s something to cheer one up on a Sunday morn!



et cetera