Sunday, April 23, 2017

On The Bat's Back


My day was supposed to take on a well planned course.

But here it is - thanks to social media & compliments of Twitter - it is now going in a completely different direction. 

It's going "on the bat's back".

Checked Twitter this morning pour prendre l'air, as the French say - or in layman's terms - just to beat a bit around the virtual bushes and found out that #ShakespeareSunday is trending. 

It is Shakespeare's anniversary's today, as it has constantly been over the past 400 years this time of the year...so why all the fuss that suddenly stirs me up?

Nothing material. 
Somewhere in between my organized list of to do's for the day and the focus needed, a truant disposition (Horatio's words in Hamlet) has inserted itself in my brain and viciously flooded it with these lines:


On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”
(The Tempest, Act V. Scene I).

My chores and timelines for the day are beginning to fade. 

I am on the bat's back now.

Flying high.

Merrily, merrily. 




Saturday, April 08, 2017

Three Reasons for Reading Poetry in April



 April is National Poetry Month - so here are three reasons for reading poetry in the days ahead.

1. The Healing Power of Poetry

Poetry, can be argued, is the easiest form of art.

Its compact and tiny form encapsulates a powerful remedy - a basic and elevated emotion distilled from the unexpected encounter with a verse.

Emotions in turn  pry open a door to quick and effective learning. 

But what's to learn from a couple of words huddled together in four rows? 
Primarily, we learn about ourselves through a poetic event.

A poem speaks differently to each one of us because the emotions that build us up  -  or in some instances utterly destroy us - are unique to our own life and experiences. 

And the collected words with which we have just collided, provide us with a glimpse of who we are, of all the pain, joy and quirkiness of our emotional DNA for a fraction of a second, before swinging  the door shut tight again - and this time with a loud thud.

Ah, so frustrating!

Take for instance the following  stanza in one of Charles Baudelaire's poems: 

"Nature is a temple where from living pillars
confusing words emerge
Man ambles through the forests of symbols
Which observe him with familiar looks."

 - from Correspondences  by Charles Baudelaire. 

We are led, deceptively, through words that evoke a walk in a majestic forest into a confusing place, only to discover this may be a forest of symbols. 

It's now every man/or woman for himself/herself as the symbols observe us with knowing eyes. Those knowing eyes stare right into what hurts most.

This is the moment  we travel through the abyss of our understanding from which we have the chance to emerge renewed and in a lighter mood. 

Strong. Serene. 

Healed.


2. Real vs. The Unreal 

The Unreal - whether we want to call it imagination, creativity, improvisation, fantasy, day-dreaming, inspiration, lack of focus or sheer enjoyment  - lives within us like an incurable disease.
We cannot rid ourselves of it.

The Unreal  is bad form, bad taste and, overall,  an embarrassment to society.
It has a tendency to manifest itself in the least desirable occasions, if left unchecked. 

Here is a romantic poet grappling with The Unreal:

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
    Are sweeter, therefore, ye soft pipes, play on:
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd
   Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone"

- from Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats

Ouch! 

Closer to home, The Unreal strikes back in a poem by Margaret Atwood:

"Is it too cold for you?
This is what your requested,
this ice, this crystal

wall this puzzle. You solve it."

- from Circe/Mud Poems by Margaret Atwood.

The best way to escape the clutches of The Unreal is to funnel it constantly through an outlet that enables one to return to a normal and productive life. 

Poetry -  short and sweet - sometimes -  is such a temporary outlet. 

3. Balance 

 The third  argument in favor of reading poetry: balance.

Balance, in its many facets, isn't easy to achieve but is a worthwhile goal.

Here is my rendition of a French poem by the French philosopher and writer Voltaire  (from www.poetica.fr).

It  may help with achieving balance if you are a jilted lover. 

For context: Voltaire was in love with the marchioness du Châtelet  who was a gifted mathematician, physicist and a philosopher herself.

Hard to believe, yet true -  the  marchioness eventually dumped Voltaire for the mathematician Maupertuis

The following ensues: 

To the Marquise of Châtelet

       by Voltaire

So now a hundred new beautiful things
Will fix your brilliant mind - 
You are giving up the sparks
of my mildly crazed words
for immortal lights,

and the sublime Maupertuis
will wipe out my trifling drafts.

I'm neither upset nor surprised;
A true spirit is in love
With the eternal truths:

But what are these truths?
What is their use and prize?

The touch of a scientist whose
bright and firm intellect
will describe the canopy above
and with a deft hand will
lift the veil of tumultuous skies.

But without the secret hum 
that makes you delirious in love
those  teachings 
will be lessons in futile charm. 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Two days in Mexico City






Traveller's palm/Parabola of movement is a poem by Octavio Paz. It's a  short, graphic poem, published in 1968 and some of its lines go like this (all caps):

WHERE ARE YOU COMING FROM?
....
    WHERE AM I GOING?

                                                   WHERE I CAME FROM WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
 etc.

All good questions that may come to mind, say, on a day when your plane is on approach to a busy airport.

But no, none of Octavio Paz's poems were humming in my ears on the descent to Mexico City.

I was pinned to my chair, pounded into the ground (so to speak) in fascination and mild fear by a vision unlike any other.

Was this a cloud, now becoming visible in the airplane's window? 

Were the sketch-like lines a fantasy of the cumulonimbus formations, or...was it something else, more ominous and more forbidding in its nature?

It was a ginormous and overwhelming volcano that stretched from heaven to earth, in off-white tones, dwarfing everything under the sun.




Popocatepetl - Credit and copyright: Photo By PopoAmeca2.JPG: AlejandroLinaresGarciaderivative work: Ricraider (talk)by ricraider - PopoAmeca2.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14191319

Popocatepetl
Its name came naturally to me, although the enormity of the mountain (standing 17,802 ft) was anything but.

This was my introduction to Mexico City.




As my plane landed, it dawned on me that for the next few days, while in Mexico City, in the proximity of Popocatepetl, I would be yet another humble prey for the Aztec gods. 

Cannon fodder  (avant-la-lettre as it were) to them.

Colourful, cheerful, imaginative - that's how the city whisked by in the car windows:









My short time there was spent in Santa Fe, an area of the city that boasts shiny new buildings, not far from the Avenida de los Poetas (the avenue of poets).









"The crackling of the last embers
in the grass: stubborn insects.
Over the yellow meadows,
the glass footsteps of autumn.

A fortuitous meeting of reflections,
an ephemeral bird
enters the foliage of these letters."

(Octavio Paz - A Draft of Shadows)







My traveller's palm and parabolas of movement may have seized on such reflections while my journey drew to an end.







Saturday, February 11, 2017

Archer! Of Arrows in Shadows of Nottigham Castle


Archer!




Lurking in the shadow of the walls at Nottingham Castle, Robin Hood's statue upholds the legend of the masterful archer and his merry men.


It is a place where legend and history cross paths, and within the strong pull of the castle wall, it's every man (or tourist, maybe)  for him/herself as imaginary arrows whizz by.

Caught between modernity and medieval times, the verses of a poet from another time and space, fit the bill here:

"I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight."

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - The Arrow and the Song)

But let's stroll over into the castle, past the gate.


Intra muros - the former ramparts of the medieval bailey have given way to a place of a recollection where an ununiformed archer inhabits a peaceful garden.


The proverbial "straw man",  which I thought was left behind at corporate meetings back home, greets me in the guise of a warrior armed with a bow and arrow.


Now upwards into the mystery of the middle bailey:

 Finally at the top of the castle, I am rewarded with what the French call une vue imprenable,  a stunning view, but as well a view of something that cannot be conquered....the very definition of these castle walls towering over the adjoining grounds.


 As I make my way at the top castle, another surprising encounter, this time, face to face with Lord Byron:

Speaking of arrows...here is a Byronic rendition of a poking wound:

"But ever and anon of griefs subdued
There comes a token like a scorpion's sting,
Scarce seen, but with fresh  bitterness imbued;
And slight withall may be the things which bring
Back on the heart the weight which it would fling
Aside for ever: it maybe a sound -
A tone of music - summer's eve's or spring -
A flower - the wind - the ocean - which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we are darkly bound;"

(Lord George Gordon Byron - Childe Harold`s Pilgrimage - XXIII)



And it is all downhill from here, past the Ducal Mansion and back out of Nottingham's castle gates and the slightly melancholic tone of music Lord Byron alludes to follows me around...

...or is it yet another arrow cut loose by the enigmatic Robin Hood?


Monday, November 07, 2016

On Days Without Seasons

Today we reverted from daylight savings time.

I turned back the clock by 60 minutes, finally admitting  that summer's alert pace has disappeared, giving  way to a less rigorous and rather unpredictable stretch of time, if we are to agree with George Bacovia.

Autumn.

"A day without season and without military order."

    (From Sunset - by George Bacovia)

Autumn benefits from a mysterious je ne sais quoi which seems to keep in balance the past and the future without any plans for either.
 



  Hence, it behooves to us, on and off poetry aficionados, to decide what mindset to adopt once snowfalls begin.

Here is a possible alternative, eloquently argued by Canada's beloved author, Lucy Maud Montgomery:


"Come, for the dusk is our own; let us fare forth together,
 With a quiet delight in our hearts for the ripe, still, autumn weather, 
Through the rustling valley and wood and over the crisping meadow, 
Under a high-sprung sky, winnowed of mist and shadow."

(From November Evening by  Lucy Maud Montgomery)
 



The final suggestion belongs to French poet Guillaume Apollinaire:

"How bored I am between these naked walls
Painted in pale hues
A fly, in quaint and measured steps 
Digresses over my paper and its unequal lines."
 
(From A la Santé by Guillaume Apollinaire)



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