Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Monday, June 4, 2012
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
A blog about light and darkness, and the thoughts of a being trapped in time from the dark side of Hiroshi Yoshida's full moon
|Kumori Cherry Trees Hiroshi Yoshida (1930)|
Under an April Full Moon
“In light, darkness, not taken as darkness. In dark, light, not taken as light.
Light and dark oppose like front and back foot walking.”
The last of dusk, now subsumed in night,
dwells with the pair here in the darkness,
while that enormous April moon,
full & fat, bathes all surfaces in a soft glow.
Subtler still, the cherry blooms,
their momentary show
reflected in shadowy half-light.
The two, one older, both in blossom
pause, as fading eyes mute all starkness
and bring all beings closer to
each other. Time walks here, too
in their forms & in the
two women, their kimonos,
silvered by the shining,
like water in an old well.
# # #
There was a full moon that night or almost a full moon, not that it mattered precisely. The full moon of May, the planting moon, the flower moon, was in perigee, closer than at any other time in a long time. But it was the same full moon as in April when I wrote this poem and the same full moon Hiroshi Yoshida tried to capture in that April sometime between 1920 & 1930 that whispered its image of light in the darkness and darkness in the light.
The color woodcut that is rather poorly depicted by the jpeg above is an attempt to show the beautiful work that inspired the poem. I believe I saw Yoshida’s work more than 30 years ago when I was on a two-week residency for Ohio’s Poets-in-the-Schools’ Program in nearby Findlay, Ohio. My host and hostess encouraged me to stop and I walked this magical museum for hours, fascinated by a magnificent collection that spanned the centuries. Hiroshi Yoshida (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroshi_Yoshida) was sort of the Japanese Maxfield Parrish for me. He had a sense of capturing color and light that was mystical, pure and yet heightened, a vision that to me, seems to be Zen in visual form. By coincidence, the TOMA had purchased Yoshida’s entire exhibit when it toured America. After 1925, Yoshida, like many great artists, hired professional carvers and printers and established a studio to create under his close supervision. This print was done in 1930 and I have no idea whether his hand or his eye formed its “perfect symmetry,” but it inspired my poem.
One source of Yoshida’s work, of course, is the Yoshida family. His children, like the school he founded, went on to their own fame. One gallery with images and video that I found had interesting and noteworthy links, is Artolino. (http://tinyurl.com/7296kpy) If the Museum posts links to my poem and the other ekphrastic writing winners, some very talented young writers, I will post these to the blog.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
When I was a small boy, I took my first paid job. This was more than the “chores” and I knew that, because I got paid. It was this early and deep connection of time to money that got me motivated to constantly think about how I “save” and “spend” my time on my infrequent habit of posting to this blog.
If you have read along with any of this, (I’ve actually had several people comment, so at least a handful of readers may be interested.) you may know that time is my obsession. I don’t know when and where it began but the regulation. the illusion of control, the pricing and pathology of time have always been in my thoughts.
Recently, I stopped selling my time to others, in what my grandfather called, “wage slavery,” and started taking the pension that I nave been earning for nearly 30 years. I don't want to get into the concept of retirement, since I have never associated my poetry with “work.” I have not stopped playing with words on paper from the age of 12. Whatever I sold my time for, every job from manual labor to sophisticated management, I did so I could “afford” the time to write. This is not a blog about other people’s words, but my words and I refuse to think of myself as a pensioner, now retired. Instead, I am a writer who finally has the time to focus on his craft.
A poetic eye, a sense of “seeing” the world in ways that compel you to create, is a gift. Many people have this ability and I have often encountered people who “see” more than just a sunset, or a person, or a work of art. Anyone who has this gift however, is not necessarily a painter, a poet, or an artist. The gift, like a present unopened, is limited without the hard, meticulous and careful work of craft.
Writing is a skill, a skill that like most can only be honed by practice. Thinking, however, is instinctive, the mind makes connections and comes to conclusions, and as one gets older, has less of an aspect of "learning" it has and more of a sort of "measuring against assumptions."
Building the skill set, developing the vocabulary, practicing the way words work, their syntax and grammar, their assonance and consonance, their meanings and implications, is a life long pursuit. The "beginner's mind," like virginity, is hard to maintain, the more you fall in love with a certain "zeitgeist," the more likely you will see things a certain way, that clichéd box that every boring businessman is trying to think outside of. For me, much of the way we look at the world is bound by the way we think about time.
Before the “Industrial Revolution” only the wealthy could afford a timepiece. The technology of timekeeping was so complex and expensive that the vast majority of humans used sundials. Time itself was tied to the sunrise and sunset and the cycles of the equinox and solstice, the seasons of planting and harvest. Once people left the farm and started seeing public clocks, clock towers and wall clocks everywhere, for running businesses on set “hours” and requiring workers to “punch the clock,” our way of seeing time began to change. I still reel at the complex equations of regular time and overtime, sick time and personal time, vacation time and comp time that were always a consideration when one got a paycheck. What a crazy agreement we have come to about something we can measure but cannot understand.
I find myself contemplating how neatly rounded my time is now that I no longer have the alarm clock demanding that I quickly rise and sell my day. Almost a childlike sense of freedom, one that makes me incredibly lucky, incredibly graced with the gifts of my country and culture, what we call “the luxury of time.” Now, I can lose the watch and get back to the race from birthday to birthday. Out of the womb, desperately rushing to "grow up" through that period where the body is no longer changing so dramatically, growing so quickly into a ripening, a maturation and peaking of one's physical gifts to the slowing pace. Then, fight as you may, the gradual, resisted but inevitable aging to a place in time when those birthdays dwindle down to but a few dozen. All the while, time itself looks different than it did during every age.
“Time wears everything, wears it away, worn grass on the path, stone on the step, paint on the rail, wood on the door, flesh on the bone.”
A child can while away the time, but as an adult, time whittles away at you. Time like the moon, there is so much of its waxing to grow to fullness that just the passing of that time itself seems enough. But like the waning moon, it seems to disappear and go the other way after one has passed the peak of fullness. The ripeness is perfect; it’s the rot that kills you. Adults can learn to be deliberate, to use the time well, to plan and manage, but nothing can keep it from coming, not exercise, not surgery, not chemicals. Like death, itself, it’s part of the deal. Time is the essence of being and being the essence of time.
I emphasize one can slow the advance, because all of us have different abilities in this area. I work at it but I don’t kid myself. But the true joy that has bubbled up now that I have stopped getting up each morning to do my part of the satanic bargain has surprised me. I knew there would be a reward and if I was frugal and planned well, a sense of security, but I never knew the giddiness of childhood would bubble up now and then to tickle my tired soul.
After 40 some years of selling my time to support my poetry habit, I have managed to land here, in retirement, not rich or poor, able to do a lot more writing, in other words, to do what all this saving and planning was for. Before, I had “time” to write only in the evenings or on weekends and then, only if stolen from all the other activities of life one needs to be a husband, father and citizen. Now, I have time to tie myself to the desk daily and create, good or bad, long or short, work that is for myself and my struggle to understand my world.
Such scheduling conflicts between the demands of art and life, the family and the muse, are old ones. Without patrons or early success, an artist, like an addict, pursues his or her dreams at the expense of everyone else. I know many an artist who "took" his or her time to work from those who depended on them, supported them, fed or housed or encouraged them. I have never been able to justify being "supported" in my artistic life. Having a family and holding a child in your arms changes how you feel about how you "spend" your time. I can’t pretend to have resolved all of these conflicts while I had children at home or even now, when my beautiful grandchildren beckon in their blossoming. How pleasant to spend a little time on the floor giggling with someone who is just learning to talk or reading to someone who is just learning to appreciate good writing. Why write when so few will read or care about what you write, when writing takes away from living? I have to say, I have no choice. I find myself here all the time, poised at the point of the pencil, hands hovering above the keyboard, my mind trying to catch my thoughts and put them down before they disappear into the maw of time.
To take the time to write about life, or to live the life, a tough choice, and one that has troubled me for an answer since I first started spending time in the mindset of a writer. What drove me, I can’t say. It hasn’t been fortune or fame. It is as if one cannot help doing this, as if the addiction of capturing this fleeting thought and forging the precise container for words to carry it from my mind to another is intoxicating. I am driven to do it even if I a deluded to think someone else might care enough to read it. I do it because I must, because even when I stop, I find myself picking up a pen and recording, then reshaping then rewriting my thoughts. Nothing is as important to me as crafting this string of words to carry the thread of this idea out of my mind and onto the page. Is it a waste of time?
Now, that I have more time to try this trick, I find my random thoughts tangled up in time again; trapped, as I am in the stream of change. Like a fish in the current, not just the water; time is the medium I live in, like the air I breathe. It is the current, the movement of the water, it's passing fascinates me yet as Dogen says, “You never step into the same stream once.”
I recently came across a new term that in a way captures how precious and fleeting life is. A “TUD” is a measurement of time, and it is used to define a unit of in the world of game-playing.
TUD is a acronym for "Time Until Death,” a measurement defined by Adam Saltsman, game designer, ( http://tinyurl.com/7gh6zso ) meaning that piece of the finite time we have left which we are willing to waste on a game.
The "TUD" appeals to me as a word person because someone coined it in my lifetime. As Pound said, the poet''s job it to "Make it new!" and nothing says "new" like a new word. TUD has the additional aural quality of mimicking a heartbeat, that quintessential sound of life we hear whenever we are quietly in our bodies. TUD TUD, (pause), TUD TUD, "ad finitum," so to speak. I like it much better than "second," because, for me at least, the half life of cesium doesn't seem half as concrete and real as half a heartbeat. I also like the flippant, yet profound "drumish" simplicity of the sound, that initial "plosive" of the "T," then the uh, that inchoate utterance we use to space thought, followed by the final stop, the dread end of the dead "D." Such sweet coincidence of sound and meaning is not to be ignored lightly. I get a kind of linguistic thrill, in my collective unconscious, a Jung-Campbell "frisson" when I find a word like that occurring in our language.
Psychologically, the word also fits neatly into my own musings and thoughts about time, its wanting and wasting, and though I can't do a damned thing about it, the rapidity at which it seems to be flying while I am having so much fun. Now, I find myself parsing the TUDs needed to write these screeds, their demands on my creative work dictate the infrequency of the postings and only when there are a lot of TUD’s to spare do I think I can afford to post. I hope you understand.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Take Five Cesium Seconds
“Time has been a major subject of religion, philosophy, and science, but defining it in a non-controversial manner applicable to all fields of study has consistently eluded the greatest scholars.” -Wikipedia
I feel better now. Defining time, (as in de-finus, to limit, to make finite) has always “consistently eluded” me, too. Ever since I was a child, small enough to be stepped over when adults rushed to be “on time” to this event or that, time puzzled and fascinated me. Once I conquered space, walking and counting, became events in time and time itself “defined” as “tics and tocks” measured by a plastic cat on the wall whose eyes rolled to and fro and whose aqua tail clicked back and forth in “time” with them. Even now, I have a hard time comprehending how quickly the time has passed from my childhood until this moment. I have a haiku that tries to express this feeling.
Climbing the mountain,
I look back to see how much
I have forgotten.
Much of my writing since childhood has focused on the past present in every day. If you have read this blog before you know that much of it is focused on my belief that time is inextricably linked to how I see my writing, a desperate attempt to capture the little firefly of thought before it disappears into the darkness of forgotten time. There is remembered past and there is forgotten past and Dave Brubeck and his crew of truly gifted musicians, whose 1959 album, “Time Out,” experimented with 5/6, 9/8, 5/4 and 6/4 “time.”
In “looking back” to when I was about 14, just starting to understand my self, or at least understand that I was different, an alien, a creature trapped in this space and time with this life to live out. I spent that period in the adolescent agony, consumed with sex and death. When I say sex, I mean of “Portnoy’s Complaint” than of “Candy.” Still a child in some ways, I was just learning what it meant to feel change, my body growing out of my clothes in a matter of months, my shoes not fitting each school year. The shame of acne and the pain of unrequited schoolboy crushes and early experiences with death.
I recall the biggest-selling Jazz recording by the best known combo in US history started playing on the radio. Hearing “Take Five” for the first time was, for me, a moment of expanding consciousness. I remember listening intently to Joe Morello’s drum solo with amazement, realizing for the first “time” that a drum could play a “lead” role and “keep time” while playing with and around the intricate rhythms of the song, how it “marked” time and then the piano took up that chore, while the drum played around that rhythm. I remember Paul Desmond’s sweet sax, like a gilded bird floating over the rhythms, Gene Wright taking the bass lead, Brubeck generous, supporting the entire effect, timeless.
I can’t recall a drum solo before and any since, except for when I heard Ginger Baker solo with “Cream,” at the Fillmore in San Francisco in the 60’s. No others stand out in my memory at all. Ginger Baker, fabulous as that was, was live, as well. I’m sure Gene Krupa was banging away in some big band prior to that recording. I’m sure Ringo put in a few beats that I might find attached to some memories. Baker’s solo was always in such a large venue and for such a short burst that it was never as “memorable” to me as the first time I heard this airy, almost meditative turn an the sticks, one that starts soon after the theme has been established and continues for several minutes, longer than any drumming I had ever heard recorded. It helped me appreciate the idea of “keeping time” or “marking time” with the time “signature” of the music, an odd 5/6 time that I had never heard before then.
If you haven’t heard the piece or can’t recall it in any detail, you should give it another listen. It was part of an experimental album that used a lot of odd time signatures. Brubeck’s piano often took the role of rhythm-keeper, pulling back to support the drum as it explored these strange timings in a half dozen different variations. It seemed to me to be about time itself and how music and time were integrated. It communicated more to me about time than Steven Hawking has ever been able to.
Music, has always seemed to me, to be an art form that is particularly about time. It takes the “measure” of a moment, the “tempo” and the rhythms “mark” time in “signatures” and “beats.” Of course, it is about so much more than “just” that. But, like dance, music exists in the moment. We may “record” that moment and “play” it “back” again and again, but the “recording” happened at one unique, specific moment and that moment is what is being “recalled” for us to sing along or dance to. This is part of the reason a song can be linked so completely to a memory, or a couple can say, “They’re playing our song.” Songs, like all utterances, occur in time. We forget it has only been since Edison that a song could exist after the singer had disappeared into the past.
“Two contrasting viewpoints on time divide many prominent philosophers. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Sir Isaac Newton subscribed to this realist view, and hence it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian time. Time travel, in this view, becomes a possibility as other "times" persist like frames of a film strip, spread out across the time line. The opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of "container" that events and objects "move through", nor to any entity that "flows", but that it is instead part of a fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. This second view, in the tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, holds that time is neither an event nor a thing, and thus is not itself measurable nor can it be traveled.” – Wikipedia
I don’t have the inclination, not the intellectual chops to get into the argument between Newton and Kant but I tend to think Kant’s ideas are more poetic and mysterious and to me, more attractive. It fits with my Zen view of the mind as the frame through which the world is “perceived”, in the Latinate definition, i.e. “to seize completely.” We seize the world in our battle to understand it, we capture it one moment at a time, take hold of our little frame for looking at what we want to see, and try not to notice those things that do not fit or match that framework before that moment melts away.
I used to think it quite arbitrary how we chose to measure time. I mean, after all, it’s a long way from a sundial or hourglass and the cesium atom. The current definition of time has cesium embedded in every second. Again, according to Wikipeida, “In 1967, a specific frequency from the emission spectrum of caesium-133 was chosen to be used in the definition of the second by the International System of Units. Since then, cesium has been widely used in atomic clocks.” (Prior to 1967, I guess this was determined by someone saying “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi.”)
All of this measurement is important for sequencing events, and of course, in some particular events, such as competitions and tourneys, competitors are limited by a “clock.” Many sports even have an official timekeeper. Ironically, it leads me to another thought about time and that is the “relativity” of its passing more or less quickly in certain circumstances. Often, the last few minutes of a game, with their strategic “time outs” allow the time during which a game occurs to pass more slowly and even run into “overtime,” which has always struck me as a sort of “life after death.” In baseball, that is preferable to a tie score. However, Americans are willing to sit through a dozen innings as if time had no importance when you turn a square on its side and call it a diamond.
It was once thought that the mind was actually perceiving time in "slow-motion" when under great stress but that was recently shown to be an exaggerated memory, rather than the moment itself. They found this out by dropping subjects from a high tower into a net and measuring their eye movements and brain activity. What will they think of next?
And cesium, itself, has more “timely” connotations from its discovery at the beginning of the 19th century. According to Wikipedia, again, “Since 1967, the International System of Measurements has based its unit of time, the second, on the properties of cesium. The International System of Units (SI) defines the second as 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation, which corresponds to the transition between two hyperfine energy levels of the ground state of the cesium-133 atom. The 13th General Conference on Weights and Measures of 1967 defined a second as: "the duration of 9,192,631,770 cycles of microwave light absorbed or emitted by the hyperfine transition of cesium-133 atoms in their ground state undisturbed by external fields". One wonders if this precision, this desire to mark and measure so accurately the passing of a moment, takes into account whether that moment is spent in torture or pleasure.
Ironically, this extremely rare element is evident in abundance now in the topsoil of Fukushima province, an aftermath of the Fukushima reactor co-existing with an earthquake and tsunami in the space/time continuum. My first haiku about that moment in time that is slowed when history is being made, when you know this has never happened before, was about a news clip. The video showed a cherry tree in one of the ancient towns destroyed completely by the tsunami. Snow was cloaking the wreckage in a mass of white crystal, but the shapes were so jagged and irregular that the scene was anything but peaceful. The tree had blossomed and was bravely standing it’s place while all round had been swept away.
This Spring’s cherry tree
blossoming pink in the snow,
glows in the darkness.
Friday, December 31, 2010
This is always the time of year when I find myself temporarily focused on the passing of time, the “temporal” world. Being so embedded in “being,” one seldom has time to notice, take note of, contemplate it is passing. However, when our calendars change, just as when our clocks move ahead or back, I find my mind turning to thoughts of what has passed and what will come.
Saint Augustine famously said that he knew precisely what time was as long as no one asked him. Once he was asked for a definition, “instantly,” he no longer knew. I have the same experience when I stop and take measure of all the moments that have occurred. It is as if I dipped my cup into the flow and by the time it reached my lips it had evaporated. It seems as if “now” is something we never have time to “know.”
There are essays to read, books galore to explore. Hawking and hundreds of others all the way back to Aristotle discuss the idea. The best I can derive from my reading is the complex relationship between “being” and “becoming” is serving as part of the current thought pattern that philosophers and mathematicians puzzle about. My mind has a hard time using language in a way the permits different forms of the verb “to be” to be parsed and placed, like their proper pieces in some larger picture. After all, every part of existence “is” now and at the same time “becomes” older, or less viable with each succeeding second. As much as I want to believe the cyclical pattern ancient minds perceived in what we in the West see as linear, I guess I just can’t get my mind to pull back so far as to see where the curve that “becomes” the circle “begins.”
It brings me back again and again to the magic and mystery of language, which permits us to talk about these abstract concepts in ways we actually “believe” make sense. As I child, would read the entire dictionary in the hope that by knowing all the words, I might actually “see” how things worked, how my incomprehensible world could be understood. Eventually, I gave that ritual up, not so much because I felt I knew. It was as if I realized it was useless and I had better things to do.
We can’t really stand outside of time, so it is exceedingly difficult to grasp at any sort of objectivity on the matter. We move through time and it moves through us, but like the air we breathe, we almost never notice ourselves in its grip. Pictures, captured light from one moment we were in that has moved on, give us some sense of its passing. I found fascinating this work by Argentine photographer, Diego Goldberg of his family, an interesting artistic comment on “the snapshot” and how it both kills the moment and preserves it as the next moment supersedes it.
Diego Goldberg and his family can be seen at his website, The Arrow of Time. http://www.zonezero.com/magazine/essays/diegotime/time.html. His idea and its concrete expression is as powerful a mediation on time as any words I might pen.
I am not the only one to be inspired and intrigued by the Goldberg family, ABC News, ://www.zonezero.com/magazine/essays/diegotime/video.htm, as well as artists and essayists have riffed off of the inspiration of these precise pieces of the past.
As I studied the photos, I kept noticing slight changes in the faces from year to year, ones that were subtle but perceptible, that must have been invisible as each body was touched by time. The collagen and elastin in the skin degenerate minutely each moment and after years, the faces that filled with life in youth, begin slowly to drain in the juicy and elastic dermis and epidermis and wrinkles, creases, furrows and folds appear. The number, size and length of the facial muscles fibers decrease and tone takes the path of gravity down.
More discernible to the self, but less visible to the world are all the internal changes, the joint wear, the cartilage breakdown, the acuity of vision, then hearing, the number of taste buds, then smell starts to go. The heart tires in its second billion beats, less able to pump so we tire more easily and recover more slowly. The number and density of nerve cells diminish and in most, the spinal cord and brain start to atrophy. The stomach produces less acid after the age of 50 and it therefore absorbs less vitamin B12, found naturally in food. Strength, motion and flexibility all decrease, along with height. We get about 0.4” shorter each decade as the spine compresses under the constancy of gravity. Some things continue to grow, the ears and nose getting larger and longer.
All this sounds pretty disheartening but age is the price of life. An interesting essay in today’s NYT (http://tinyurl.com/323ozvu) about the delusions current baby boomers are buying into puts some perspective on how we face these incontrovertible facts.
I have concluded that there is much that can be done to make this process easier. Since I have been going to the gym a few times a week, I am much more able to cope with the everyday aches and pains of aging. A few of the buff geezers there have actually reached their eighties, while maintaining the appearance of someone in their early sixties. Still, 60 is six decades and there can not “be” too many of those decades “becoming” in any of our futures. One comfort, as I pump my half hour on the elliptical and travel from one exercise station to the next with my iPod inspiring me to "shake it with the oldies" is that even the youngest and most buff members are trapped, like all of us, in the matter of time. Like insects in amber, unable to escape the world that blurs along with us, inside and outside of us, we have no idea what we are coming to. Yes, just as the eye cannot see itself, the “now” cannot truly know its own essence.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
To imply means “to fold in” as in the “implication” of some thought expressed in a way that need only hint at its meaning to be understood. The “ply” part of the word in and of itself is interesting. I thought the first definition of "ply" would be something like “layer” or “slice”
Wikipedia, declares the order of denotation and connotation in this order:
* Ply (game theory)
* PLY (file format), the polygon data file format.
* Plying, the spinning technique to make yarn.
* A colloquialism for Plywood
* The different layers of toilet paper.
* Ply, a port or bay from Edwardian times.
* PLY, an implementation of lex and yacc parsing tools for Python.
* "Ply", DOS-based 16-bit complicated polymorphic virus from 1996
In games, a ply is a turn, as in a fold, or in Latin, “versa” as in verse, each line "turning" from one rhyme to another, from one image to the next. PLY is also a computer file format known as the Polygon File Format or the Stanford Triangle Format. The format was principally designed to store three dimensional data from 3D scanners. In weaving “to ply” is to spin or weave two separate strands together into one stronger thread, each ply being another doubling of the strands.
Not until the third connotation does Wiki list a layer, first as a colloquialism, then almost off-hand as toilet paper talk, leaving out the once notorious “four-ply” automobile tire. Finally, a nautical term from Edwardian times, and another two example of techno-lingo jargon.
For me, this is completely exemplary of a point I like to make about writing and thinking. IMHO, I believe that prose and poetry are two completely different ways of thinking and fundamentally different ways to communicate.
It is one reason that translation of poetry is the much more difficult than the translation of prose. The two exemplify the difference between walking and dancing, between painting a wall and painting a mural.
I was recently struck by how the two approach the use of words, with prose striving to “define” or “put limits on” thought, to be precise and “unambiguous.”
Poetry on the other hand seeks to free language of the simple denotation and play on the connotations, the other hidden layers of meaning: those folded in by time, like the Mona Deg that begins our week and the worship of the Sun God that ends it, or the broken calendar count of Julius and Augustus, the Caesar boys, lumping their names in with the gods and throwing off the count of the time we still keep as Pope Gregory instructed us, lo those centuries ago.
In origami, a flat, two-dimensional page is folded or plied into different shapes and forms. Cranes and dragons rise up into the third dimension, and indeed into the fourth as they take shape in the hands of the artist and then age in time, from a pristine color and edge, to one weighed down, even in its infinite lightness, by the gravity grave that history piles on daily, one dust grain at a time.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Time is the essence of being and being the essence of time. The smallest verb is the largest idea, the concept is self-referential in the extreme. Dogen says, “The future is behind you. The past is before you.” Damn, that guy can drive me crazy.
Early in the turning of the year’s page, just after the period of the last year’s sentence, at the very first paragraph of the new sentence of the new chapter, I was meditating on the passing of time itself. With the talking clock and time-consuming ideas of art and poetry, art and time, all rolling around in my brain.
I was in a pensive mood, not unusual for anyone as the year turns, certainly not-out-of-the-norm for me. Like most, I am swept up in the recounting of those that have died and the events of the calendar. I wax nostalgic and confess to a touch of sentiment, a sigh for my misspent youth. I was uninspired by my thoughts as I tried and tried to write, but mostly I could only tweet my observations about moments in time like insects in electronic amber.
Not to digress, but once I took a class with the wonderfully warm and funny writer Robert Canzoneri, who described how writers, when faced with real writing work, will do anything not to write. His particular penchant was for shining shoes. He would find himself rummaging through his closet looking for shoes to polish and realize, he last remembered himself getting up from his writing for a glass of water or a cup of coffee.
In my digression I turned to "The Times" and read a wonderful article published on December 31, 2009 the night before, by Roberta Smith entitled, Time, the Infinite Storyteller. (http://tinyurl.com/y9rnfuh) I was enchanted by how she wove the idea of time and art together. It brought a rush of poem’s from one of the first poems I learned to recite as an adolescent in the bone growing, size-shifting, hormonal grip of the years of transformation, constantly in sexual arousal, tripping over my own feet, fighting to control my pimply, swelling fourteen year old body. Learning to sincerely say the words “by heart,” to any young lady patient enough to let me near her, I made the sounds and rhythms in my voice resound with the same lusty emotion Marvell evokes, but it never made me irresistible to females.
Usually, it had the opposite effect, though once or twice it worked real magic.
But it worked its magic on me. Words became my obsession and writing my passion. I became a poet because I loved the magic in the words.
To his Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
Memorizing Marvell was a feat no less difficult for an adolescent than learning the Gettysburg Address “by heart,” (which we had to do for American History class, but that is another story for another time.) Come to think of it, it actually, was easier. I had the strength of rhyme’s music in my memory, to guide me from line to line and the passion of the soul, “at every pore with instant fires.” That was when my poetry sprouted, influenced by a twisted cross of testosterone and romance. I eventually grew past the seductive self-serving recitation to time and learned a new poem to recite to my love at night on long walks, Mathew Arnold’s Dover Beach.
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægæan, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
So much of this poem, also carefully crafted with the beat and images of time passing, tides turning, ancient and modern wisdoms and foibles repeated, proved futile. All we need is love. What can I say, it was the sixties and love and the war was what united us. I remember reciting it to my wife when we were dating. The poem captured for me some of the essence of how it feels to be in love while somewhere the world is at war.
Then a few days later, after only tweets and a few scraps of the beginnings of poems, again killing time and not writing, I came across another piece in The New York Times, this time in the “Mind” section and not the “Art” section. Ah, the sectioning of the grapefruit of reality. This one was by Benedict Carey, entitled “Where Did the Time Go? Do Not Ask the Brain.” It was published on January 4, 2010. (http://tinyurl.com/ye9k5bu) Reading how the detailed remembering of my childhood differed from the sketchy, often annotated recollection of recent time got me back to the keyboard.
The dimension of time, embedded in every aspect of our lives, is as profound and palpable as the solid depth, height, width we walk around or trip over every day. We can only grasp in retrospect what it means and only through our own reference point, what Red Pine calls “the eye bone.”
"There is no point at which the eyes begin or end, either in time or in space or conceptually. The eye bone is connected to the face bone, and the face bone is connected to the head bone, and the head bone is connected to the neck bone, and so it goes down to the toe bone, the floor bone, the earth bone, the worm bone, the dreaming butterfly bone. Thus, what we call our eyes are so many bubbles in a sea of foam."
-- Red Pine
The elemental, fundamental, essence of writing is that recording of the moment, the conveying of it, the taste and smell, the feel and embrace of time. When a writer can capture that sensual and intellectual presence, time stands still for the reader, she or he disappears as an ego and becomes a character, or a witness to the action of other live while their own life is on hold.
The art of storytelling has evolved into all sorts of expressions from poems to films to song and popular novels and television series, but in essence it is all the same, the creation of the illusion of time, the capturing of moments and the recreating of them for the reader and the audience. Time is detail, memory is detail recalled, every moment we can record will never be forgotten as long as the possibility exists that it might some day be read by another.
Thus my Twitter experiment continues, in what little time is allotted me in the face of actual making a living. I come back to the idea of at least one good line a day and googling, I find lots of sources but not what I am looking for. Finally, I find it, not even a good line, just a line, that was enough to satisfy Horace, to eke out the time to put together a few words. I guess that must be why I am so attracted to the tweet, it is like Haiku, or photography, or so many other forms, so immediate and compact, like an opalescent pearl, shimmering in singularity.
"Nulla dies sine linea”
“Never a day without a line."
Saturday, November 14, 2009
A Part Time Poet’s Perspective
I have been a writer for nearly 50 years, It scares me sometimes that I have been doing this for so damned long and all I have is a few publications, an honor here and there, a nice “Google,” and not much else. When I was a boy and I penned, or should say “penciled” plaintive rhymes and melodramatic stories in my little blue book I had no idea of what the life of a writer might be like.
What have I learned? Not much. Writing is hard, lonely, work that is. for the most part, not reinforced by the world. It is difficult to keep up one’s spirit, maintain focus and beat out work day after day, but that is the only way to write. One gets little recognition or encouragement, and those wonderful times when one does never last. Once again, a writer is back at the desk, with the pen or pencil, keyboard or computer.
It is even more difficult to be a “successful” writer, however one defines “success.” I define (or limit what I mean) as recognition, publication and readership. I don’t ask a lot, because I don’t have a lot of time to spend on an obsession that takes so much hard work, consumes so many of my limited free hours and makes “success” so difficult, even if my personal bar has been lowered to exclude any “financial” elements.
Many of my small successes have come from persistence, patience, and a period where I was unemployed and had the financial support of my spouse, before I had children, obligations, a mortgage and a full time gig. Since that productive time, I have published here and there, now and then. I was recently a finalist of the _OFF Magazine prize and will be in their upcoming, English/Polish inaugural issue in January of 2010. I have three new poems coming in the next issue of EX CATHEDRA, an online magazine I supported by submitting 3 poems. They were so eager to take all three I worry about what else will be in there. But that’s part of the biz, too. that uncertainty as to whether a publication source will accept, or publish, or fold before it can try.
I could not afford that uncertainty and the paucity of any financial element once I gained the responsibility of a spouse and family to support. Pragmatic things like insurance, a paycheck, a home and a school for them. All of those priorities take up so much time.
Time is indeed money, as my latest poem postulates. Without the money to assuage the hunt for shelter, food and family needs, the time is not there for anything else.
Time is money
The currency of time,
like one paid by the hour,
or one who might bill
his/her time to a client,
It is a conceit that
makes sense, like an
hourglass filled with
gold dust measuring
the price of moments.
We can waste
time and kill it,
we can sped it
and save it.
Our wrists strapped
to timepieces, eyes fixed
on the long and short hands.
Each agonized tick squeezes
out into the bubble
of the white faced clock.
How can one consider
what is worth the while?
I still write, part time. I still publish, on occasion. I rarely read or travel or promote my work as I did when my work was in the Paris Review a number of times and Coal & Ice was new, nearly three decades ago. All that said, and reading back on what I have written, I am tempted to edit because I was wordy and too bloggishly confessional for my comfort zone. But no. I let it go. This is my notebook, lying open on a table if you care to read it.
The Twitter Experiment (ongoing)
I have been twittering daily since first weeks of 2007 and over that time have gathered more than 1,000 followers, many of whom I interact with, at the rate of several a week. For me, tweeting is “making public” or publishing my thoughts. My mental darts are not polished, and in a sense they are the opposite of the Roman ideal, allegedly practiced by Virgil of “one good line a day.”
I have been a student of Zen for many years and these are my approximation of the quick sketch of the “Sumi” painter, the calligrapher, almost eastern influenced meditations that I roll around in my head for a few minutes then put into 140 characters in one quick stroke, or more like one quick series of keystrokes.
Twitter has becomes an outlet for me, and in the bridge I am on, that spans from my working life to my retirement in a few years, it has been a light and upbeat positive reinforcement to my writing, much needed in “my craft and sullen art” I have come to look forward to the hour or so I spend online every day and collect ideas for tweets. Often, I get a reaction to an old tweet from a reader and it inspires a thread of tweets. I have used the material from these “nota” to build longer and more substantial poems. I found poets to follow and people whose efforts on the web, the environment, the arts, etc. I have grown interested in.
I really only had one problem. My URL provider (www.boiarski.com) where I get most of my e-mail, requires an extra account, a “bounce” as a backup when you create your e-mail account. My bounce, however, got upgraded and started rejecting copies of DM’s sent to my e-mail account. This drove Twitter crazy and they started putting up big red flags to “check my e-mail” when I signed in. I kept ignoring these because I was, and still am, getting e-mail copies of all my DM’s, many of which were girls who wanted to lure me to their dating site, or guys with surefire stock purchasing plans, or mom’s who knew how to cheaply whiten my teeth, or people who had secret electronic skills with twitter that would enable me to get rich, become a millionaire, roll in dough.
Last week, I was spoofed. I feel like a naive “nubie” tricked into following an infected follower’s question as to if I had appeared in a photo on the web. Alarms should have gone off when I had to sign in again but it was late and I was sleepy and I signed off innocently and went to sleep. The next day, I started getting DM’s from followers and soon realized what had happened. It took hours but I got every spoof DM out of my sent box and reconfigured my password. Another few days and I started receiving new spoof invites from others, but I ignored them. No problems, I thought.
Finally, upon awakening last Saturday morning and attempting to sign on, I was locked out of twitter. My name and password were no longer the right combination. No way in. So I followed the prompts to the help page and submit my problem. A day later an automated response comes back. It was an unfriendly and ungainly process to finally bet my submission ticket #657031, but hoping that number didn’t start out as 000001 that Saturday morning, I write out a detailed e-mail and I waited.
Two days and no response, so I re-read the e-mail and I notice that it sort of palms off the problem as a “significant bug” and “caching issues,” as if the problem was too technical to explain and now is solved, so I respond again. The e-mail claims that there is an open job and the information on the reply will be attached to that ticket to provide information to track the problem and respond more quickly. I review all the facts and offer a new e-mail address.
I wait. Days pass. I write and the Help prompt writes back that it is not accepting any more help complaints for now. I have a number, a ticket so I feel assured. But now, I am still waiting. It has been a full week and I have answered every question, supplied every detail, provided a new e-mail and written a half dozen impatient responses to their inability to acknowledge receipt of my additional information, my new e-mail address, or any progress at all on the problem.
For all I know, they are drinking beer and smoking cigars on a Cuban beach while their server farm hums happily attended by interns. I guess this is all part of “publishing.” Short of printing up broadsides and selling them on the street, whenever you use a media controlled by someone else, you are totally surrendering to their whim. So. What’s new. Haven’t you always had that sort of relationship with “publishers?”
DULY NOTED, THE EXPERIMENT CONTINUES. 10 DAYS, NOT EXACTLY TWERRIFIC!
Saturday, July 25, 2009
In a sense, carbon has always been the problem. When there were not many of us and there were so many trees, it went unnoticed, not noted, no nota bene, like a fire built in an old fire pit, just another fire. As time went on, rings in the wood counting the years, there were fewer and fewer trees. Once where there were millions, perhaps billions of trees for every human. Currently, the ratio is down to about 60 to one, sixty trees for you and me, to inhale the carbon dioxide we exhale and give off precious oxygen we inhale. How soon will we outnumber them?
My back against a big oak, I can feel the solidity of centuries, slow determined growth that exemplifies survival, the strength of the sun. I also have a slab from an old cherry tree, more than 50 inches across, cut down after a storm had broken it beyond saving. I hope to make a table. This wood is made from light, the same radiant sun that warmed my great grandfather, the water he drank and air he breathed abides in this wood. The sun trapped in the wood, every day of every season, a record of time is added incrementally to every ring of wood. Pipelines of nutrition flow up and down inside the bark; the languid limbs lift up to the sky, bristle with branches and burst with leaves, each leave breathing in the carbon dioxide, breathing out the oxygen; drinking in the water and soaking up the sunlight. This tree like all trees is, in a sense, time itself, a record of growth and weather in flood and drought, in heat and cold.
The chemical composition of wood, of cellulose, is carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and high-energy bonds combined in the solar furnace of the sunlight over many years. Each fat or thin ring records the conditions in that year. As it dries, wood hardens and tightens, the cells becoming less moist and stronger. Each time we build a fire, we release the sum of the sunlight, the history of days, and leave in its place timeless ashes. The process produces carbon oxides, unconsumed ones that we call carbon monoxide and dioxide.
After trees got scarcer, (as they continue to do,) coal, more efficient but even dirtier. became the source of energy. Extracted in every cruder ways, coal has always been a killer from a hundred mines where men still lie buried to the mountain tops stopping up the runs and hollows with "overburden" that leeches pollutants. After coal and the darkened skylines of the industrial age, came the age of oil. Just a different carbon compound with more captive suns to for incomplete combustion to fill the sky with sulfurous and carboniferous compounds. Our multiplying tailpipes and chimneys and smokestacks have turned our planet into a laboratory. We are experimenting, as we have since the first fire, with how much we can alter our atmosphere. It is dangerous and foolish modernity when the world creates its own extinction.
I fear a future when trees are kept in closed off, perhaps bubble-domed "preserves," similar to zoos, where one can actually observe a willow or an oak, "in the wild" and where children point in awe, the way they do now at tigers and elephants. Look at Haiti or Easter Island, where the trees were stripped from the soil and eroding masses of mudslides grow larger each year.
The basic carbon unit is the root of the world itself. We are carbon-based life forms. We play with our future and our grandchildren will live with the consequences. Think of that the next time you sit in the shade.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The Twitter Experiment
In the subjective mood, let me say, would that I could write poetry all the time, alas, and if I could but lie abed, or sit beneath a greeny bough, with quill in hand, I would so like to for hours on end. write that is.
However, “poetry,” being one letter and a transposition away from “poverty,” makes making a living a necessity. I must support my poetry habit, and ironically, the very act of working seems to weaken my focus on writing. I arrive home too tired to concentrate.
I find when I spend my days waking, preparing for work, working, the commute to and fro, and finally, if I have a moment between supper and bedtime, writing, I can’t be consistent. Sometimes I get off a good shot, as in this poem, which I wrote as part of the Poem a Day Challenge from Writer’s Digest.
It was the cows and pigs that did it. Seeing what
Was intended for them, what their futures contained;
Seeing how their herds would be gathered and numbered,
Drove us further out into the sea. From shores, bays, rivers,
Feeding in the shallows, we swam out further, deeper, away.
The vast oceans became our pastures, our grazing ground.
Eventually, a hand became a fin, leg variations formed a fluke,
The canals of the ear lessened and the lungs grew and changed -
Fifteen million years, a day against the age of dirt, the age of water.
Now with one breath held for hours, diving down negative mountains
Deep into black waters, we sing arias to each other, with low notes
Few others can hear, long mournful songs of grass and flowers, sweet
Water and green fields waving in the wind as far as the eye can see.
I am incorporating some of the language and thinking in a new piece I am writing for the theater about Darwin. I try to keep working on poems and stories and even plays, but I always seem pressed for time, and when I have time, unable to go uninterrupted for as long as I need.
I fall asleep at the keyboard. Weekends seem to slip away. Holidays often involve family or travel. but always consume time. And now it is wedding, graduation, vacation season, all of which take time from writing. These, of course, are excuses, a long list of crappy excuses, actually for not writing.
Which brings me to my Twitter experiment. I have, since March of 2008, been twittering, at least a line every day. I have 500 plus updates, most of them small poems, some fragments, some just ideas or observations that I might grow into something more. Sharing these spontaneous utterances is fun and freeing. I don’t pretend to be submitting them for publication, but the poetry process, or at least the one I follow, is there for the 400+ people who are following the experiment to see, comment on, share, etc.
One of the best parts of this is my reintroduction to haiku, one of my favorite short forms that I had gotten away from in my drive to be accepted by American academia. Once, I was much more a citizen of the world, who sought out other poets, other forms, other heroes. Here are a few of my haiku, published on twhaiku.com.
Climbing the mountain,
I look back to see how much
I have forgotten.
King Dandelion’s charge,
armies overtake the field,
laughing yellow flags.
The toddler stumbles,
walking wobbly on weak legs.
An old man recovers.
Crows flock to spilled grain.
In the wagon's path feeding
on the farmer's luck.
Take away ego.
You do that and you are there!
But, how will "I" know?
The short form is back
“Mot just!” Disciplined. Succinct.
It did not leave me.
The essence of these short forms is a single thought, or ideally a binding together of two different thoughts into a unifying whole: this string of words implying polarity, a syzygy with each pole linked to its opposite, two forgotten thoughts tied in a knot.
That thought like most of the poetry that follows was thrown out like a verbal improv that I then recorded on twitter, through thwirl or another offshoot, sometimes at home, or at work, on a desktop, a laptop, someone else’s device, always attempting to get in my head a complete burst and then release it like a thrown dart. Here are some samples:
This poem is like candy: chocolate-smooth right off the bat with a caramel center chewy-Louie, gooey, topped off with more smooth-chocolate.
A short soft song, or a subtle, sensuous dance, a poem can be made at once, like Sumi, an image of shape in rhythm, inked in thought & gone.
We are peeling this poem's skin, slowly revealing the flesh of the fruit and the seed buried within. Juices are sluicing on our red tongues.
This poem is like a fortune cookie, gluten-free, paperless. It cracks open and says, You must swim in the now, not dream of an island beach.
This poem is a box; here's a lid. The sides are straight & the bottom flat. Inside are the words you dare not reveal to anyone. Quick, lid!
I have other examples of ideas that are leading to longer things. I am still working on how all those pieces come together. Meanwhile, I wanted to keep anyone who cares posted on my progress.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Tree language is like the notes only dogs can hear. Tree roots touch tendrils ‘neath icy earth; glass twigs chatter; limbs clatter, leaves rustle. Shhh, the trees are whispering histories.
Nothing understands stillness, or silence like a tree. The pine whispers, the twiggy stick rattles, the empty bough moans in the wind: each of these sounds means something. We instinctively know this.
Trees look down on us. Because they live through seasons, trees understand and pity us. The spirit of trees comforts us. We surround ourselves with wood, cradle to coffin. In the heart of the tree and rings of a tree’s growing out into the world, we see a heartbeat echoing in time’s soft trap.
Whether tree of Life or tree of Knowledge, sacred trees of incense, or sacred trees of the Norse and Druid they are soulful. Knock on wood! Acknowledge the spirit in the flow, the life in the grain, the ghost in the door and the soul of the chair and the floor.
Tree roots like gnarled serpents writhing in the earth, bodies joined together in one enormous trunk, branching back into a thousand snaky tails shaking in the winter sky. Spring's thunderous arrival, every stick and twig burgeoning with buds. Leaves everywhere green sudden and complete.
Then the chlorophyll miracles and heat of summer, the change in the sound of green rustling from lush to dry whisper, the colorful chaos of fall, when all leaves leave. Naked, the trees take in one long, enormous golden breath, which they hold, all through snow and ice and frozenness, waiting, awaiting, spring.