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“Il n’y a que les montagnes qui ne se rencontrent pas”

… or so they say
Of the Pyrenees and other ranges
That stretch to heaven and stroll from sea to sea.

But in this small world
That encircles us and bears our circling,
Our molehills meet as mountains between you and me.



Thomas Carew had it right: Lukewarm is icky!

On Tuesday night (6th December) I enjoyed Poet in the City’s monthly drop-in at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. The theme was “Fire and Ice“, based on the famous poem by Robert Frost.

Jamie Field, a new blogger for Poet in the City, has posted a short review of the event with a list of the poets and poems read, which is a feast in itself, but I thought I’d post here the full text of the poem by Thomas Carew that I read, because I love it! My friend and fellow Poet in the City volunteer, Alice, suggested I read it and I’m so glad she did, because it reflects how I feel about everything from bathwater to coffee to love!

Mediocritie in love rejected
– Thomas Carew (1595? – 1645?)

Give me more love, or more disdaine;
The Torrid or the frozen Zone
Bring equall ease unto my paine;
The temperate affords me none;
Either extreame, of love or hate,
Is sweeter than a calm estate.

Give me a storme; if it be love,
Like Danae in that golden showre,
I swimme in pleasure; if it prove
Disdaine, that torrent will devoure
My Vulture-hopes; and he’s possesst
Of Heaven, that’s from Hell releast:
Then crowne my joyes, or cure my paine;
Give me more love, or more disdaine.

It seems the poem was originally a sonnet, because all the versions that I’ve found have fourteen lines, except for the one I actually read, which adds the final couplet to the end of the first stanza as well. Presumably, this is because it was slightly modified by Little Machine to enable their musical rendering of it, which is worth a listen!



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

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



{Sun 18 April 2010}   Spring Poetry
Spring Poetry

“Spring Transformations” was the original theme for Saturday’s reading. I was a little worried that we might end up with a round of sickly sweet “positive” poems, but as it turned out, none of us brought poems specifically to do with change and renewal. These ideas are always associated with spring, along with youth, innocence, idealism and hope, but most of us found poems with “a shadow over them” as the poets looked back with a mixture of pleasure and regret on past springs. Perhaps, as none of us are exactly “spring things” ourselves, we are attracted to poems that have a more complex view of this season.

My favourite amongst those shared was the gorgeous Nocturne of Remembered Spring by Conrad Aiken. This is a bittersweet poem, capturing all of the above themes, but from the perspective of one looking back on the promise and potential of a path not taken.

Other poems shared included:

  • Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, From you have I been absent in the spring, a poem of longing where the lover declares that despite the spring all about, winter remains for him while he is separated from his lover.
  • Men ask the way to Cold Mountain (scroll down to read stanzas 6-8) by Han Shan. This does not seem to be a spring poem, but perhaps a reluctant spring is implicit – the reader spoke of a resonance with the feeling of deep-seated cold when the summer is not able to break the ice of winter.
  • Spring (8 Haiku) by Ben Gieske, a whimsical, funny and tender poem that is also of remembrance, of one or several springs.
  • A series of Spring Haiku by different poets, accompanied by photographs, curated by Ray Rasmussen. The Haiku poems sparked quite a discussion about Haiku and even inspired some sharing of poems written by the various participants.

We rounded off the evening by watching Michael Radford’s Il Postino, a funny and touching delight that was good to revisit as I’d last seen it many years ago. I was quite surprised to discover that in fact this story about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s friendship with, and inspiration of, a humble postman on a remote Italian island is fictional… I suppose I believe so much in the power of poetry that it seemed to me perfectly plausible.

(Update 19/04/10: ) The Haiku shared included this one that I loved and which I can share now with the permission of the poet:

Drowning the day’s sorrow
Back and forth
The swimming pool

© Nitzan Marinov, Spring 2007



{Thu 9 July 2009}   Smooth Red Woman
Smooth Red Woman

Piled under an Italian sky, red marble gleams at me:
“Rosso Ammonico di Verona”, “Rosso Levanto”,
“Rosso Francia”, “Rosso Laguna”, “Rosso Lepanto” …
Seduced, I let the rosy names roll richly off my tongue.
My husband moves on with the guide, but I am enthralled by a red marble woman:

Shining in the sensuous sun, her whole body is deep tongue-texture,
Poised for creamy pleasures.
I cannot pass without caressing her; without sending forth probes
To scan the galaxy of textures just below my reach.
I must stroke her; explore her cool warmth with my fingertips,
Marvel at the harsh practice that produces smooth perfection.
Her delicacy suggests a gentle touch,
But soon I want to lick her, kiss her deeply.
Did she respond to the artisan’s hand as he chipped and chiselled and polished?
Did blood roil in her seething veins?
Did she strive with him to produce this beauty?

My medium’s not marble or any other deserving stone
That earns its right to care by its beautiful existence.
No, my chisel hits flesh, and draws blood, each time.
Its lumpen labour breaks surfaces; bruises.
It’s always amateur art, always a work-in-progress.
I search to expose the beautiful woman,
But each blow chips so little away.

What do I earn by being? By being what I am,
What my mounds, my cracks, my crevasses dictate I must be?
The right to be tossed aside, dismissed, like inferior stone,
Or to be reshaped (misshaped) into something unrecognisable.
My capillaries and crannies are not lovingly polished to reveal their textures.
No, smooth is different for warm-fleshed bodies.
In the world below the marble mountain, there is no real red.
I have spent much life on the effort to be equal:
I could not fashion a man’s sword for myself,
But, with assiduous application of all man’s expertise,
I do not age, have no cramps, show no blood.
My tampon fits discreetly in the palm of my hand.
I am a smoothed-out person, with a smoothed-out life.
No wo(e)-, just -man.

But, inside me, blood breathes and surges.
When the moon is full, it calls and urges.

Why do I fear that place where the Goddess waits?
“I am a woman,” I cry, “See my wedding ring, the pink coat,
The love of roses, the plucking of eyebrows, the Brazilian!”
I don’t want to go to No Man’s Land, where the Goddess waits;
That place where, she says, my name is Woman.

But I hear her calling, “Come, give me your hand.
Let’s wander down the river of blood.”



{Wed 18 February 2009}   Watercolour revisited
Watercolour revisited

It’s amazing how a fresh project and the smallest amount of feedback can help one to see old work with new eyes. I’m working on my first e-poem – a conversion of an existing paper-based one. Discussion in the E-Poetry module of the MA made me realise that some of the poem’s “argument” had never made its way from my head to the page. In trying to describe my first experience with watercolour painting, which challenged all sorts of preconceptions I’d held about the medium, I was so focused on my emotional response that I hadn’t given a clear enough picture of the activity to justify my response.

I’ve brought back some structures (layout, punctuation) that I used in earlier versions, but also introduced a few new words, including a whole new line, and deleted some unnecessary ones. I’m pleased with the textual result now (the e- bit is still to come), although in two minds about the title – should I revert to the original title of “Watercolour”, or retain “Primeval Watercolour”?

You can see one of the many earlier versions here, if you’re interested, but here’s the latest version:

Watercolour

Primaries pounce
on the primitive page,
usurping space with bizarre pizzazz;
opposing waves squall and break,
brim-brilliant crests crash,
create a jazz of chaos:
interference drags a screaming thread of blue
across careless orange splotches;
raging red gobbles new green;
panicking through cooling pools of sulphur,
a purple pulse breathes whirls of fire,
willing them to swirl against caking air,
to savage expectations, flay the fair
and even strokes of intent
with edges of the depths,
fan water into flame
with split-atomic spatterings
of aquamarine and shame,
shatterings
of line, design, all reason—

Oh, Image, imagine
Imagination’s breathing:
Ruwach!

Update 12Aug09: See the digital version of this poem here.



{Fri 14 December 2007}   Take me under your wing
Here’s another translation from the Hebrew of another poem shared at our recent poetry evening:

Take me under your wing

Take me under your wing,
Be to me a mother and a sister,
Let your breast shelter my head,
Be a nest for my lonely prayers.

In the merciful time, at twilight,
Bend your head and I’ll tell the secret of my torments:
They say there is youth in the world –
Where is my youth?

And another secret I will confess:
My soul has been seared by a flame;
They say there is love in the world –
What is love?

The stars deceived me,
There was a dream – but it too has passed;
Now I have nothing in the world –
I have not a thing.

Take me under your wing,
Be to me a mother and a sister,
Let your breast shelter my head,
Be a nest for my lonely prayers.

(1905)
Haim Nachman Bialik (9 Jan 1873–4 Jul 1934)
Translated by Eyal Azulay from the original Hebrew version



{Fri 14 December 2007}   Pine tree
Here’s a translation of one of the poems shared during our recent poetry evening.

Pine tree

Here I will never hear the cuckoo’s cry.
Here the tree will not wear a snowy turban,
But in the shade of these pines
My whole childhood is revived.

The rustling of the needles has been and gone;
I will call “Homeland” to a snowy wilderness,
To the greenish ice enclosing a mountain stream,
To the lyrics of a song in a foreign land.

I remember those snow-capped mountains
And a song on F.M.93
Oh my darling, I have grown with you
But my roots… on both sides of the sea.

Perhaps only the migrating birds can know,
When they’re suspended between earth and heaven,
This pain of the two homelands.

With you I have been planted twice.
With you I have grown, pines.
And my roots are in two different landscapes.

Lyrics: Leah Goldberg (1911 – 1970)
Music and middle verse in English: Achinoam Nini (Noa), September 1993
Translated by Eyal Azulay from the original Hebrew version



{Thu 22 November 2007}   Shining Chandelier
This little poem is whimsical and light (in all senses of the word!). It came to me last weekend during a writer’s workshop led by Alison Chisholm, hosted by the Geneva Writer’s Group. Alison gave us the fairly challenging exercise of writing in ten minutes a poem “about anything, except the view outside, or the difficulty of writing a poem!”. I knew instantly that I had to find a focus and a frame immediately, otherwise the nightmare of my creative writing exams at school would return… two and a half hours gone of a three hour paper and still staring blankly at a sneering white page…

The modern chandelier in the middle of the room at the Geneva Press Club provided such a focus. I noticed that its many bulbs created a concave meniscus as they seemed to yearn towards the floor, reminding me of Le Corbusier’s marvellous human-friendly wooden ceiling in the chapel at Ronchamps. My first thoughts about it were simple, and the frame that suggested itself for simple thoughts was haiku. What emerged then was this:

Shining Chandelier

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Reflections in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Glow echoed in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Light sources in me.

See a Wordle version of this poem



During my ongoing review of ancient scribblings by myself, I came across another essay that I very much enjoyed writing. Its subject matter, George Herbert’s 17th century anthology The Temple, is a wonderful example of “fine energies” being examined and released by “fine reasoning”, albeit inside a worldview that is entirely circumscribed by a belief in received interpretation of Christian scripture. Rereading it, I feel myself again seduced by the beautiful internal consistency of Herbert’s argument, won over by his sincerity, awed by his skill and respectful of his courage and his humility in facing his God.

It seems amazing that I wrote a 3000-word essay on a poem of just eight simple lines! Well, it was on The Temple as a whole, but as Dr. Ron Hall’s original question indicates, the themes of this great work are succinctly encapsulated in the tiny Bitter-sweet. This shows how powerful a good poem can be in stimulating and feeding meditation on huge life-changing subjects, and thus it should be no surprise, if one views the Bible as a poetic work (as argued in my previous posts Fine energies and fine (if erroneous) thoughts and Poetry and creativity in the press and in the Bible), that it has had the power to mould and move individuals and nations both to heights of achievement and, sadly, to depths of repression, as they reach for the perfection at which it hints.

I think that, as in the best poems, some of its power comes from its universality. Although I do not believe the Bible to be an accurate historical or empirical record of, nor a blueprint for, human development, I do believe that, along with many other writings of similar poetic power, it contains universal truths which attract those who experience their lives as a meaning-making journey, whether their medium be primarily that of the emotions or that of the intellect.

So… here’s my encounter with Bitter-sweet and The Temple:

Taking the poem Bitter-sweet as your point of departure, discuss the methods used in, and the effects achieved by, Herbert’s blending of “complaint” and “praise” in The Temple. (Dr R. Hall)

Bitter-sweet

Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.

George Herbert

After an oppressively didactic introduction in The Church-porch, Herbert opens the heart of his work with a series on the Passion of Christ. Despite the Judaeo-Catholic legalism of the preceding section, it is clearly these poems, with their Protestant emphasis on salvation by grace, that are intended to set the context for the major part of The Templei. The remainder of The Church is a meditation on the nature of the relationship with God exemplified in, and made possible by, Christ’s Passion. When Herbert imitates his God, as suggested in Bitter-sweet, he clearly has in mind the Christ who could complain to his Father, “…take away this cup”, yet in the next breath say, “…not my will, but thine be done”ii.

Read the rest of this entry »



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