TiaTalk











{Mon 29 August 2011}   I, ferocious woman
I, ferocious woman

I, ferocious woman,
bellow
at the morning;
You, angel,
heal
yesterday, softly.



Do different loves spawn different poetry?

Thinking about Valentine’s Day, and the Love Poetry event at King’s Place tonight, to which I am looking forward immensely, I suddenly wondered which of my own poems had been inspired by love, in the sense of romantic love. I am a very occasional poet, but, as for most people, those occasions are often linked to love, or the loss of it.

Of course, I’m interested in the nature of love in its broadest sense, an interest developed through my years in the Christian church, where we were taught to categorise love into agápē (God’s love — sacrificial love, the highest kind, a matter of choice), philia (brotherly love or friendship – the next best, perhaps imperfect, but also a matter of virtuous choice), storge (familial affection — a love to be expected, as good and natural) and eros (romantic love — also a natural love, but a dangerous and unreliable one, to be outwitted, outwaited, carefully managed, or repressed … and never trusted).

Nowadays, although I still find these concepts useful, I don’t see any of them as exclusive to particular types of relationship, which, I guess, reflects my more mature view of humans as psycho-sexual-spiritual beings who are inevitably always all of these things in all relationships. As the Wikipedia entries point out, the ancient Greek terms encompassed a wide range of concepts and affections. But the goal of Christian teaching is usually to simplify life, rather than to revel in its complexity, so the above simple English translations and the relative values assigned to them by my teachers were what stuck for a very long time.

And yet, despite this drilling in the compartmentalisation of love, when I looked through the paltry collection of my own poems, I was startled to realise that I had never read or examined the love poems as a group. Each was born in its own time, and each out of a different relationship or phase in my life, and although I have worked on each of them for years, I have never related them to each other. In retrospect, this seems strange, so today I looked at my poems to see a.) which I could call love poems and b.) whether I could sort them into the ancient Greek groups.

While in this “grouping” mode, I’ve enjoyed reviewing the more agápē-oriented poems arising from my spiritual quest, but that’s a post for another day. Valentine’s Day is the day for contemplating romantic love (and friendship, I think, because there is often so much overlap). With these poems, I was surprised to see, firstly, how they reveal precisely that tendency toward synthesis of which I’m now conscious, and secondly, how different they are from each other. At least, to me, they seem different from each other. I wonder if another reader would be struck by similarities or differences?

Eros

Philia



{Sun 11 January 2009}   Story and Story of Story
Story and Story of Story

After submitting work to an Online Workshop for the Methods module of the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media (MACWNM) at De Montfort University, students were asked to write a critical commentary describing their creative process in making the work and in responding to feedback on that work. Throughout the Methods module, several models and tools helped us understand the creative process while engaging in it. I was fascinated by the two different kinds of writing, storytelling and commentary, arising from one starting point. I determined to learn to do both well.

This response attempts to showcase this learning.

The Story The Story of the Story

Fruit and Veggie Stall by Monique Jansen

Fruit and Veggie Stall by Monique Jansen



{Wed 19 March 2008}   Sex as it is and as it could be
This article in The Guardian, I was seen as an object, not a person, by a former lap-dancer about the reality of her experience in that industry provides a counter voice to the one mentioned in my previous post which suggests that there is (or could be) a normality to the sex industry if the parties involved are all consenting. The writer quotes various statistics suggesting that the presence of lapdancing clubs leads to an increase in sexual violence in the areas concerned.

I’ve never had any similar experience, but I can well imagine myself feeling exactly as she says she did, given the context that she describes. I am conscious as I read it, though, that we are still talking of a country where the official line is that paying for sex is bad and that lap-dancing is only allowed because it’s “not really sex”, which doesn’t fool anyone. This attitude inevitably means that the people currently engaging in the activity (clients as well providers) are those who tend to trangress socially acceptable norms of behaviour more easily (although it appears that there are so many of these that it is a norm in itself, a factor which must be considered). They are therefore likely to be more cavalier about abuse and violence too.

Making the entire industry illegal means that the society does not provide any rules or sanctions for conduct within the industry and also does not allow the development of non-official social guidelines of the non-snigger variety that could guide people and provide social pressure for appropriate behaviour. Every accepted non-sexual industry has evidenced exploitation. Governments have instituted rules and policing to curb unacceptable behaviour within these “respectable” industries, rather than shutting them down altogether because of abuses. If abuse and exploitation, rather than the industry as a whole, were strictly and severely policed, couldn’t sex become normal too? Is it possible that people who can’t contemplate this are the ones who believe that sex itself is evil, dangerous and dirty (although they use words like “private” and “sacrosanct” as euphemisms for these terms) and who would actually prefer that everyone has as little of it as possible, even within the “legal” area of marriage?

What if paying for sex were more mainstream, and sexual facilities were available for both sexes, and industry standards were high and policed? Could this mean that everyone could take care of their sexual health as they do of their physical fitness (going to the gym, doing sport, etc.)? Is it possible that then people would not have to feel anxious, guilty, dirty, threatened or unsafe for their interest and engagement in sex? Is it possible that people could have more fulfilling marriages and lives where they can focus on intellectual and emotional companionship and interesting, productive work, without having to deal with the constant distraction of sexual incompatibilities and dissatisfactions? Is it possible that then people could get on with the businesses of educating, creating, working, governing, resolving conflicts, home-making, etc. without paying too much attention to what people wear or who they’ve slept with? Could sexual activity just become acknowledged as something that everyone does in some form or another and that there’s nothing too remarkable about it? Could this defuse the high sexual tension that arises from the constant frustration experienced by most people and which leads to our media being clogged with material about perceived sexual misconduct and our governments grinding to a halt every time a leader is found to be doing what a very high percentage of people do or want to do anyway? In this regard, the recent NYT article In Most Species, Faithfulness is a Fantasy, is relevant.

The sci-fi show Firefly has a powerful, attractive, courtesan character, a “Companion” who is highly respected in a highly regulated industry and is an accomplished and intelligent woman. Of course, this is far away in the galaxy and in time, but could it be a healthy ideal?



{Sun 13 May 2007}   Overdoing Mistress Overdone in Washington?
Yesterday we hosted one of our regular Shakespeare readings at home. The company was jolly and the food delicious, if very simple (crudites with organic hummus to start, then homemade veggie soup with homemade crusty bread at the halfway point, and strawberries and Lindt Lindor Extra Dark choccy balls for the final act!). With the help of some French organic cider and a very good Pinot Noir, the group launched into Measure for Measure with great energy, scrambling bravely over the rocky bits (French velvet and English kersey) and breaking out every so often for a spot of outrage or insight as we are wont to do. We were delighted by the variety of temperaments our readers captured in both large and small parts, with a menacingly sepulchral Angelo, Lucio as a canny, sassy, irreverent ne’er-sit-down whose wordplay gleamed like swordplay, Francisca sporting an Irish accent, a self-righteous Elbow, a truculent Barnardine, the passionate virgin Isabella, and all the other characters whose hilarious and shocking contrasts only fully emerge when embodied.

The play was, as always, very timely. We yielded willingly to the Bard’s genius in creating characters, situations and wordplay that make us laugh uproariously while reflecting on themes of moral hypocrisy, the unequal values placed on the testimonies of women and men, the power-relationships of relative rank, money, reputation, class and gender, over-legislation and interference by the state, and the obsession with sex as a focus for legislation and judgement due to supposed “public interest”, with repression the chosen tool despite the evidence of history that it is neither possible nor desirable to “geld and splay all the youth of the city” (Pompey to Escalus, MforM Act II Sc i).

These topics are so ubiquitous and familiar still from our own everyday politics that it’s hard to blame anyone who takes up an attitude as cynical as Lucio’s, determining simply to follow whichever path (and suck up to whichever power source) is likely to lead to the greatest personal licence right now. However, in Shakespeare’s time one had a lot less choice about one’s position and advancement in society (at least relative to those who live in more or less democratic cultures now — I know that the majority of the world still lacks this privilege). Why don’t those of us who can in the 21st century require our leaders and opinion-formers in church and state and media to concentrate on education, health, gender equality and poverty relief or any of the other things where their intervention could actually be useful, rather than spending our time and our money on the prosecution of people whose service exists because of society’s need and desire to use it?

I say this in connection with “The madam, her girls and a city in fear” in the Mail&Guardian. How much has changed since Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure? Well, I smiled as I thought that it seems clear that the primal needs and the political motivations of the players haven’t altered at all, but at least there is a possibility that Mistress Overdone may get more airtime. That, at least, brings a bit of balance to the exploitation equation.

Overall, the play’s a peachy preach on a theme that’s too little heard these days:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

And I love the open question at the end… did Isabella say yes to Vincentio?



{Wed 9 May 2007}   Love as yardstick of truth
Well, this started out as a comment on another blog, but rapidly grew long enough to be a post in its own right, so I decided to open it for further comment here. If you want a bit more background, go to the previous discussion on What Theology Looks Like at Father Stephen’s blog.

In response to Father Stephen’s gentle suggestion that my original conversion experience might have been emotional rather than content-based, I responded as follows:

I don’t think anyone would be able to continue living with the consequences of their conversion if it contained no content, unless they really had a pathological need for rejection by and isolation from family, former friends and mainstream society. Although my conversion experience was emotional and therefore highly motivating, it was strongly founded on a clear intellectual understanding of the Christian gospel and much bible reading.

I experienced many further “proofs” of the reality and effectiveness of my faith over my years as a Christian, being a witness to and facilitator of many other conversions and physical and emotional healings, and was very involved in leadership and church-building in different communities, including one of the first truly multiracial churches in South Africa, based in Soweto before apartheid fell.

All my experiences further convinced me of the truth I espoused, because my framework was adequate to contain and explain them as long as my exposure to other worldviews was limited. When I began to read and travel more widely, this was no longer possible as some aspects of reality simply could not be forced to fit any more. Do not assume that acknowledging this was easy or quick for me. Finding a stance from which I could live positively thereafter was an extremely painful and lonely process over 10 long years. I’ve only recently begun to name that stance “negative capability” after Keats, and I know that name may turn out to be inadequate. The key factor for me (at present) is personal responsibility.

I think the issue is not to do with content or the lack of it, but with the names we give to the content. Our naming systems are impossibly inadequate for the task of codifying suprarational realities, and our attempts to do so, while inevitable as part of our efforts to make sense of our world, usually amount to no more than Babel-building, because we don’t have sufficient humility to acknowledge our limitations.

This is not the same thing as saying that everyone is “right”. I’m not sure whether that is a “quintessentially American idea” – it may be, but I doubt whether it originated in America. In any case, I’m not an American, so my current position is not due to the undue influence over me of what you might perceive as negative forces in American thought!

In my opinion, the state of the world offers clearer evidence that everyone is wrong, than that anyone is right! I do believe that everyone may (although many choose not to) draw some enlightenment and some sharpening of conscience from their traditions, but I do not believe that all traditions are equally right (or wrong). They (and sub-traditions within them) may be closer to or further away from the kind of love that respects all persons equally and facilitates each person’s becoming all that she can be. This love-in-action is the yardstick I choose to use for measuring truth.



{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.



{Sat 24 February 2007}   Thanks for the lesson

And some days, one feels like this… as is the case with most of the poems on this site so far, I wrote this a long time ago, but it’s probably one to which many people can relate:

Thanks for the lesson

So you’re a lover, are you?
I can do that too:
I can lurve and leave you;
even I can screw
my head down tight and nasty,
move like a machine,
drive a forklift through the party,
decimate the dream
come true;
come, I can,
come through,
come, come,
can you?



{Thu 22 February 2007}   What do I believe?
Well, I was going to post another poem today, but I’m having trouble with the scansion so it’s not ready yet. In the mean time, I went to visit the blog of a very dear friend of mine, started to write a brief comment and looked up from a steaming keyboard several paragraphs later, realising that I’d begun for the first time to make a coherent statement of my (current) creed.

The post I responded to is on the subject of Universal Restoration (my friend gives a pretty good overview of this if you want to check it out at soundandsilence.wordpress.com), but that’s not strictly necessary in order to understand what follows. Our conversation there is a part of the much larger 25 years or so of shared and disparate experiences that have created our relationship, which is very precious to me. However, I realised that my response can largely stand on its own as a statement of my belief, given a couple of contextual nudges.

First, I responded to the suggestion that I am a “closet believer”.

“… re the closet – I have no reason to be in one. I’m not hiding anything (other than those things that are hidden from myself, in which case you can hardly expect me to admit to them!) As to a believer, well that depends on the supposed object of belief. I am not a believer in a masculine or a feminine God. I am not a believer in the doctrine of original sin. I am not a believer in a concept of The Elect. I am not a believer in any of the heavens or hells that were described to me during my time in the church. I am not a believer in the infallible authority of any (including Christian) scripture. I am not a believer in salvation through Jesus Christ, unless “salvation” is highly qualified (what exactly are we saved from?, what does the salvation consist of?) and “Jesus Christ” is used metaphorically to designate a general principle of being-action that we can seek to incarnate ourselves and that people may incarnate without knowing the name (ask me about that one another time!).

I am a believer in a universe in which the whole is usually greater than the sum of its parts, in which the beauty of the rose and the spirt of a person remain mysterious beyond any analysing of them, and in which any human statements only approach truth by degrees of approximation. I believe in the power of love and in the necessity of our taking responsibility to make meaning in our lives by loving and creating (which is an outflow of love). I also believe that any tiny expression of heaven-on-earth that we can make happen now is more important than any hope of restoration in the eschatological future.”

Secondly, I responded to this statement by another Commenter: ”…surely there can be no doubt of the psychological, spiritual and/or material “reality” that millions of people sense, of some kind of fall from perfection”.

“There may be no doubt that millions of people sense it, but millions of people also believe that HIV is a white man’s disease and that female genital mutilation is a good thing. Billions of people believe that women are inferior to men and many of them base this on scripture.

The number of adherents of a belief has never been an indicator of its truth. That it might be has been proven repeatedly to be in itself an erroneous belief. People are able to hold to not just iffy but demonstrably incorrect beliefs despite actual evidence to the contrary, when the implications of changing their minds are too much to cope with and particularly when the religious authorities in their lives oppose the change (witness how long it took for Copernicus’ ideas to gain acceptance).

It is hardly surprising that people can continue to hold to a metaphysical belief that lies beyond the realm of proof and is a determinant of the consequent logic of their entire faith and culture. The “fall from” really depends on one’s definition of perfection. If it is wholeness (a very possible option, scripturally), then this could just as well reflect a dialectical universe in which a deliverance from all evil would be a reduction to less than perfection. It also depends on one’s definition of evil. We normally define evil from an autocentric human perspective which proceeds from an extremely arrogant pre-Copernican view of the universe. Are earthquakes evil? That depends on one’s perspective as to what should and shouldn’t (be allowed to) happen in the universe graced with one’s presence.”

I realise that a lot of the above is about what I don’t believe, along with some critique of other beliefs. My questions and posits re definitions of evil and the value of a dialectical model of the universe are open-ended. I’m not sure about these and many other things, but to the extent that I can voice, and in this small way be congruent with, my own beliefs at this current point of understanding, I feel exhilarated. I wonder whether my poetry may begin to reflect some of this now?



{Wed 14 February 2007}   My Valentine
My Valentine

His sweet angelic face,
Gentle hands and quiet pace
Calm me: I who lack his grace
Am whole in his embrace.

His speech is soft and wise;
Pure joy lights up his eyes
When he sets his magic free
Or sometimes just looks at me.

And when I curl inside,
He curves around his bride.
What a privilege to be
The one he longs to see.



et cetera