Monday, July 25, 2011

"Poem 409" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

The RV was returned late so we are delayed in getting the RV for the trip. My brother-in-law's RV has not yet showed up.  Such are the joys of renting an RV.   We have packed everything. We have shopped like mad.  I am pretty tired and I know my husband is.  I think we just need a holiday to get over preparing for this holiday.

I have a few minutes to write. It was supposed to have been ready by 2:00 pm but the previous customer did not give it back on time. They are cleaning it and so it will be late before we get it.   I'm waiting at home for the phone call that will tell us that the RV is ready ---so I might as well blog on Emily.

In this poem, Emily is explaining why she is a recluse.  I suppose there are ways to write and still be sociable but I haven’t found a way to do this.  In taking care of folks—a great deal of time and energy is expended and then in the dregs of left over hours, a woman gets to make.  Emily says here that there is a choice to be made and the Soul makes it without any fuss or disorder.  Her soul  might use one other human being for company--but then it slams the door shut and uses the hours more profitably--than in a crowd of folks. 

Stanza # 1

The Soul selects her own Society –
Then – shuts the Door –
To her divine Majority -
Present no more -
In stanza # 1 – Emily says that the soul inside her is very dedicated to a select group of folks--usually this group as she tells us later--is just one person –and once it has made a choice--the soul --then “shuts the Door –“ on the rest of humanity.  Once she has her beloved---there is no point bringing more folks to her attention because “her divine Majesty –“ has no intention  of seeing any more—for as she has put it –“The Soul selects her own Society –“.

Stanza # 2

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing –
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Opon her Mat
The Soul is unmoved by status or power. When the powerful frequently pause ---perhaps---the soldiers— in their chariots that stop--- “At her low Gate –“ she is indifferent.   

And even royalty does not get her to open the door for an audience with such an august personage--even if the Emperor kneels  in homage at her door mat--“ Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling “ .

The soul is accessed only when her interest is woken.  Her interest—piqued—is sufficient to get her to voluntarily open the door to the other.

Stanza # 3

I’ve known her – from an ample nation
Choose one –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone

Since this is what my soul does as well--which is to choose---one beloved--and then she bolts the door of the mind---tight to all others-—I can understand Emily’s soul doing the same thing—choosing just one to share time with. To all others --she shuts "the Valves of her attention - / Like Stone -".

What need is there for the rest of those worthy folks---belonging to “an ample nation”?  One soul--of one beloved---- explored fully--- will yield up to you what you are seeking for in another human being—intimate knowledge.  And how do we do this work?  With the chisel of love.

There is no other way.  Or if there is I have not found the other ways.  Once you have the one you wish to explore, shape and brittle from a rock-face with the chisel of love —then does it not make sense –for the soul to “close the Valves of her attention - / Like Stone –“?  

I think it does.  You can't spend your mind indiscriminately as you can spend a heart.

On Vacation July 25th to August 5

Since things are frantic right now --packing for holidays, I probably won't get round to doing a post on Emily today or on any other writer.

As usual we are doing our holidays as telegraphing dots and dashes and so it is a mess.

Hopefully, we will get done so we get to the booked campsite tonight.  If not, oh, well, that's life.

Vacations are sort of works in progress in our family and it will work out. Somehow.

If you are on vacation --have fun!  I'm taking my books and writing journals--so I will.

Artstrek 2011 Letter

Dear Mr. Blackett.

Yesterday , I picked up my son –from his second Artstrek Camp-- in Red Deer.  Usually I don’t bother to e-mail MLAs after a kid’s camp.  But I did e-mail you last year and I am doing so again.

I’m really impressed by this camp. To be quite frank, any camp would teach kids the skills they need for group work in society but this camp does more than the basics of citizen grooming.

It teaches risk taking, empathy, ability to tolerate failure, and generous free sharing of one’s talents-----whatever they may be -- with the world.

That’s quite a tall order. But they do it.

Why do I think so highly of the program?  I think you should view the video they made of the work of these teenagers and see for yourself. I am sure they can make this video available to you and other MLAs for viewing.  You might see directly then—the effect that this camp has on the next crop of voting Alberta citizens.

In this video, and in their performance yesterday , they showed--- human beings at the highest expressions of themselves. These children were kind, joyful, open and expressive.  I could not but think what a wonderful contribution they will be –from each family—to Alberta—and they are being nurtured by this program to become the highest selves they can be—to make this future contribution.

I do not think my son will become an artist –chiefly because of the economics of such a career.  He will become a professional non-artist.   It is a pity. Artists are necessary to our society and yet we do not pay them enough money to survive on the merits of their artistic work alone.

To become an artist requires  a courage that most of us lack, or that we do not attempt out of fear of economic instability or out of lack of talent.  But we can all be artists in the way we live our lives and in the way we teach our children how to help each other freely.  An artistic training as provided by Artstrek, enriches our society immeasurably –in enhancing the quality of each citizen’s mind and his emotional circumference—both his intellectual and his emotional gear –so that he is  a top notch citizen rather than a dilettante.

After the performance, there was a spontaneous group meeting outside the theatre where the kids were hugging, singing and yes, crying. Teenagers are so sensitive and breakable,  loving and lovable. It is a pity adults do not stay  as –teenagers—at least in this way---in their open, kind and honest relationships with each other.

I wish that Artstrek could be a full two month residential arts program for children in Alberta. We  have the Banff School of Fine Arts for adults.  Why not the Red Deer College Artstrek program that could accommodate any child in Alberta that wants to learn how to live life fully?  This year kids were turned away from the program.  I think there is enough demand all over Canada to make this program a resource for all Canadians—if Theatre Alberta had sufficient funding.

This program needs to be funded more and expanded in its mandate.  This is your job as Minister.  I think there should be more money put into this program to make it into a two month resource for our children.  

Julie Ali

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Poem 407" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

What is Emily talking about here?  The people who occupy our mental house. The superior folks who try to overcome us and who we must take arms against --for they are able --if we let them --to overcome us. These are our internal ghosts, that roam our brain's corridors and haunt us.

It is safer to meet the assassin outside ourselves than the ones that lurk in our own corridors. The assassin within us is made alive out of memories.

Memories are such murderers.  We are bolted and shut inside our own mind-cells—the prison we occupy is inside us and is most effective.

We are haunted –and we do not know who or why or how—but we are.

Stanza # 1

One need not be a Chamber – to be Haunted –
One need not be a House
The Brain has Corridors – surpassing
Material Place –
In this first stanza, Emily is telling us that you don’t need a physical location ---of inanimate bricks and studs ---to be haunted. You are more likely to be haunted if you are made of flesh and blood.  In fact—there are “Corridors – surpassing / Material Place –“ possession –in the long convolutions of the brain—and the haunting of such lonely places is more brutal –than that of a concrete home. —“One need not be a House –“ to experience a repeated presence.

Memory is the sticky surface to which the flies of retained events and people –stick to—and the continual presence of these stuck flies—form the ghosts that haunt us.  They really are ghosts.  But they are special ghosts. They are made visible--- by us.  We keep them present in the mind. We aren’t haunted by things we want to forget—we bury those memories. We are haunted by things we want to remember. But for what purpose?  Regret? Longing?  Desire? Love?  All of these reasons.

Stanza # 2

Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External Ghost
Than it’s interior confronting –
That cooler Host
But the ghosts we have inside us –chained to us by longing, hope, horror, regret and love—are not the ghosts that are easy to deal with and confront----far better to meet –as Emily suggests—the ghost of the outside world –“Far safer, of a midnight meeting / External Ghost”.  The ghosts we carry inside us are maiming creatures are of a different nature belonging to  —“That cooler Host” .

Stanza # 3

Far safer, through an Abbey gallop,
The Stones a’chase –
Than unarmed, one’s a’self encounter –
In lonesome Place –

It is safer to confront the external ghost –in “an Abbey gallop”—riding after the ghost outside—than confronting that interior being –“unarmed, one’s a’self  encounter –“ and have to deal with that self inside us—“In lonesome Place –“.

I have to admit that Emily is correct. The unknown selves --we have inside us are ---sabre toothed and savage and we do better to deal with external devils---than the monsters within us. It is a “lonesome Place –“ where we meet with the hidden selves----and it is hard to do this work--alone.  I don’t think it ever gets easier. The internal self is such a small, brutal savage and tears all our external protective---finery and pretenses--- to shreds.

Stanza # 4

Ourself behind ourself, concealed –
Should startle most –
Assassin hid in our Apartment
Be Horror’s least –
It is indeed the “Assassin hid” inside our brain--- that terrifies the most –because who knew what being--was under the surface?  It is hard enough dealing with multiple external masks and personae.  Now to discover the multiplicity of hidden selves—“Ourself behind ourself, concealed –“ to discover the multiple beings we conceal behind the curtain at the windows of who we think we are ---it is mighty terrifying and terrific.  Who knew a single human being—is a folded up series of flat people?  Confronting these folded up cards  –that confrontation is mind boggling----for the —opening up the folded people—in a long sequence of selves—reveals you to you --in very disorienting ways.  Some of us never do this work.  All of us would benefit from some sort of internal probing.

Who knew that the hidden assassin outside our minds—in our apartment—is less of a horror to us than the murderers inside our own heads?

Stanza # 5

The  Body- borrows a Revolver –
He bolts the Door –
O’erlooking a superior spectre-
Or More –

I can quite understand why the body –“borrows a Revolver- “ and hides in a locked room –for I have felt this way myself.  It is best to arm yourself well when you are confronting internal selves –internal ghosts—who are very strong and would overpower you.

The body is well advised to arm itself and stand guard--- in a locked room –when –“O’erlooking a superior spectre -/ Or More –“.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Writing Notes

I write some terrible poems.  I do not do this deliberately.  I am going through the learning of the earliest rudimentary forms of language in poetry and it is all very ugly, sprawling and defeating.

But I learned how to write and so I do not despair completely.  Writing poetry may simply be  a longer process of learning to write and may involve a tenacity of purpose that defeats the majority of mankind . Of course not everybody wants to be a poet.  Although it seems to me that nearly everybody does, I do know a few folks like my husband --who do not aim to be poets and in fact, do not like poetry.  The non-poetical tribe—consists of those folks --- who never entertained the idea of writing a poem –and so took themselves out of this particular demand curve.

Why would writing a poem be more rigorous a process than writing a blog post, or an essay or a story?  I suppose there are all these formal aspects of writing poetry ----that I have not considered--- that I must now consider but because--- I am so exhausted with reading ----I no longer wish to consider the formalities.    Instead, I simply sit and allow my mind to dictate bad poetry.

I figure that if bad poetry is all that ---- will emit from me –sun-like ---then I might as well keep shining.

Bad poetry is very distinguishable from good poetry. It is basically poetry that sounds like the poetry made by every other modern poet.

Bad poetry may be pretty, may say some hard things, may elevate another  human being (besides yourself) to spasms of pleasure/admiration/joy etc but it does nothing to save anybody.  There are endless pages of such spasm-causing poetry out there---and all of it is pointless--- and this is sad--because it is so very pretty--but still it worthless since it lacks wisdom.

There is very little poetry being written-- that will save another human being’s soul.

I suppose I should not think of good poetry as being sort of medicinal poetry but I do.  I think of all poetry that simply bleats as bad poetry and poetry that saves the soul of another –as worthwhile.

What do I know about poetry?  Apparently not a great deal –as indicated to me by other folks who do know a great deal about poetry.  They are absolutely right.  They are surgeons and I am setting bones crudely---with a manual of human anatomy on the desk beside me.  I am a hack-surgeon of language and I don’t care.

I think I can sense  still—when the bones are fractured, when they splint well, when they heal.  And I can tell to a certain undistinguished extent –when the legs of the poem run—when their bones are good.

What am I trying to say in this blog post?  I have been sitting here trying to write poems for almost three years.    I do not know what the hell I am doing.  I do not know if I will ever know the mechanisms of this cycle.  I suppose I would like to know how to arrive at a poem soon but I sense I won't be handed this prize by the Muse. 

I can't stop.  God knows why.   Any normal human being would have stopped maiming her self in all the humiliating ways I have maimed myself to try and arrive at a poem -but no--I still keep writing these damn stupid ugly poems.   Perhaps this is an indication that I will not be able to do any better.  It still makes no difference.  I still keep writing them.  All I know is that it is necessary for me to do this work. When it is no longer necessary for me to do it, I will stop.   This is how I have operated at every stage of my life.

When something interested me—I worked at it –madly.  When it began to bore me intensely—I stopped. 

Perhaps this is not a good way to run a life.   I have not amounted to anything. But the positive aspect to not amounting to anything—is that I am bored for only short periods of time.

What has all this to do with writing poetry?  I suppose I am still writing poetry –even though I am writing in utter soup-mind—because I am not bored with the making.

I don’t know if I will ever arrive at a “method” of making a poem.  I rather doubt this. 

I just write what sits inside me and what I feel intensely and I do not censor any of it. 

When writing beeps me awake, sometimes I shut the alarm off and do back to sleep.

But sometimes,  infrequently, I look at the clock face and realize how late it is.  I look at what I have written and learn a minute bit from what is there.

I look at the messages on the door where I have locked the bolts in place—the messages that ask that I keep going and I do.

Who knows what I write here? I have spent the whole day with Emily Dickinson.  I have read no one else today.  

The garden has plucked its reddest strings for me to admire that blood-music.  I have deadheaded the orange day lilies that have puckered up to thin strokes of wiry blooms.  I have watched the ripe pink lilies do their multiple satellite disc blooming act.  I have seen the newly planted clematis vines flop down in defeat.  I have dragged a few onions out of the sodden slug-saturated heaps outside.  I have seen the pot-bound peonies darken with heat and promised them to put them in the ground –anywhere –tomorrow when I come back from Red Deer, towing older boy home.

I have gone to my sister’s garden and admired her neat rows of labelled plants. I have asked for cuttings of many of them even though there is no place to put them in my garden.  I have adopted another oak tree sapling to add to the one in my garden.  I have done nothing useful or necessary or beautiful today. But I have gone through some of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I have muddled through another post on writing –on something I do not know anything about—which is the writing of poetry and decided that good poems are simply poems that are not like the poems of everybody else but something that is extruded out of the individual that encourages the poet--to keep on living  --- and that might save the reader--as well.

I don’t know what I am writing about here.  Perhaps I don't know what I am writing about in any of these posts.  Uncertainty appears to be the only fact.  It is  a good thing I am going on holidays on Monday.  When I write in the writing journal and continue daily practice--over the holidays—I might be delayed sufficiently to think about what I am writing—before I post it.  Maybe if I learn to think --- before I post—I could refrain from posting gibberish. Or I might not write anything at all.

"Poem 401" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

They have all gone to WEM –that center of mass destruction and mental seizures.  I told them to have fun. I don’t  know why everyone who comes to Edmonton---loves to visit West Edmonton Mall.  The place reminds me of a prison. There are sound effects of suffering people and mind-fuse blowing music and  financial bombings in the place that can drive you to the edge and you want to voluntarily then leap off that edge into oblivion.

Credit cards flash. The monetary roller coaster scrambles the brains.  Sales arcade games. Piles of junk merchandise wherever you look. The overwhelming disasters created by advertisement landmines that can blow up a budget to bits are everywhere you go and eventually you find yourself buying stuff just to keep up with everyone else buying stuff.

But who am I to talk in this denigrating vein? Haven't I been buying stuff as well?   I have been buying ten million books –as if I will –simply through ownership alone--having them in my hot little sweaty hands--be able to  –osmosis through these impossible amounts of text—as if I were a sort of mechanical robotic print reader –capable of digesting words---24 hours a day and I am not.   

I am looking at Emily’s poems and I want to switch to another easier writer. I want to be unpuzzled and I want to be mass processed.  I want to be grazing docilely on a field of safe print--- with a whole herd of other farmed animals and I want to moo benignly at the right sections of the text--as if they were Harlequin romance easy.  In fact, I do not want to read Emily at all, right now, but go lie down on the bed and recover some of my lost hours of sleep from yesterday night. But if I do that ---I will never get through this book for the second time and I do want to pass through the book as if I knew what the hell it all meant and as if I even knew --- what a fraction of it ---  meant.  So let me get going.

Here I am in poem # 401 where Emily asks me

Dare you see a Soul at the “White Heat”?

And for heaven’s sake—I ask myself---isn’t this what I have been doing through all of her poems—seeing her soul—at the burning ash apex?

I do not want to get stuck in  ---another bog of words. And yet after this line—how am I to evade her challenge?

Stanza # 1

Dare you see a Soul at the “White Heat”?
Then crouch within the door –
Red  - is the Fire’s common tint –
But when the vivid Ore
Emily has asked if I am ready to see her shining soul ---at the "White Heat"---and I am--- and so she gives me further directions--- on how I am to go about viewing this burning soul—“Then crouch within the door –“.

Normally ---she instructs me—the color of fire is generic red but when this special ore—of the soul---- is burning –well then ----what happens to the fire;s color?  Let me look at stanza # 2.

Stanza # 2

Has vanquished Flame’s conditions
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the Light
Of unannointed Blaze –

Once this ore –of the soul—is burning—it tends to quash the “Flame’s conditions –“ which I suppose –means that the soul --- quenches---the red color of fire’s normal expression –to result in  a colorless hue.  The soul "quivers from the Forge" --without color but —still gives light—“Of unannointed Blaze –“ and I’m not sure what this means. 

To anoint –means to “apply oil, ointment, or similar substance to”  in a religious ceremony—that thereby consecrates or sanctifies a person—so unannointed must mean the reverse of it—something that is unblessed or unconsecrated?

Perhaps it means it the soul’s ore—does not have the divinely given color of ordinary fire—it is an unannointed Blaze –that is colorless?

Stanza # 3

Least Village, boast it’s Blacksmith –
Whose Anvil’s even ring
Stand symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs – within –
In this stanza Emily seems to be making a comparison between the blacksmith of the meanest village --"Least Village, boast it's Blacksmith -" –working at the forge and comparing his “Anvil’s even ring”—to the silent “tugs-within –“ or work ---of the soul’s place of burning in the —“the finer Forge.”

What noise we hear from the blacksmith--- working hot ore –at the anvil is comparable –Emily seems to be saying –to the work of the soul’s "finer forge"--- inside us—that “soundless tugs – within –“.

Stanza # 4

Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the designated Light
Repudiate the Forge –
The soul’s forge—is working on –“these impatient Ores”  --like the Blacksmith of the smithy of the village---"With Hammer, and with Blaze “ until the light goes out –and it “Repudiate the Forge –“ –when death comes to shut the forge down and the soul leaves the place where it is being worked upon.

I suppose what Emily is saying here—is that inside the forge of the body—the “impatient Ores” of the soul are being hammered on the anvil in a state of great heat –“with Blaze” –and this will continue to be the work of the body “Until the designated Light”—the soul—decides to leave the body  --“Repudiate the Forge –“. 

I would like to see the soul as Emily has put it in shards of “White Heat” in her poems.  I don’t always see it---but I am willing to “crouch within the door –“ of each of her poems and attempt to see.

"Poem 398" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

I have no comfort from her words. They puzzle me exceedingly.   In the early morning, after a dull night of futile attempts at roping sleep and failing to bring down that steer, I stare blearily at Emily Dickinson’s poems and say to myself –What the heck?  How can she mix a  “A train went through a burial gate,” and then put robin singing one song and then ---again singing another song--- with some adjustments –“To say good bye to men.”  What does she mean here?  Poem # 397 like the poems before them have passed over me like the fleeing gray clouds on the blue tablet of sky---and I sit like one ---on moving ground--- as well as having moving skies above me. Destabilized.

Let me try again –but with another poem.  I leave these indecipherable poems for later--- or so —I console myself.  If I am to make a fool of myself in public –let it be poems I might be able to detect glimmers of meaning from—and not be entirely lumps of coal in the stocking.

Let me try poem # 398 and slough through the marshes and not get trapped in the mud.

Stanza # 1

The Morning after Wo  -
‘Tis frequently the Way
Surpasses all that rose before –
For utter Jubilee –

There is quite a bitterness of feeling here.  No doubt we have all felt the terrible hangover after the imbibing of tragedy.  No doubt we are all familiar with the first shock of disaster and then the many days after ---of remembering.   There are often many years after a heart breaking event—where we remember, and brood—but Emily is right –“The Morning after Wo – “ --the day immediately after----has a special astringency that wakes one up completely to the afterbirth hell. I suppose we could think of it as a sort of maximum celebration--after the initiation-- into the rites of sorrow. This is not the way the word –“Jubilee” is generally used—in a mournful context----but used here-- it does give us the understanding that this celebration is a high end matter—with the wrong sort of jubilation involved.

Emily changes the use of words and makes us rethink a concept such as grief –differently than the tired old ways. Here we are in such a paroxysm of grief that we are almost in a high state of jubilation.

Stanza  # 2

As Nature did not Care
And piled her Blossoms on
The further to parade a Joy
Her Victim stared opon –
While Emily (“Her Victim”) is in pieces----Nature cold  bloodedly goes about her business ----of piling up the flowers and enhancing the terrible festivities –with their joyful show.  She –“piled her Blossoms on - / The further to parade a Joy”—sights --that --- Emily was impervious to.

Stanza # 3 and # 4

The Birds declaim their Tunes –
Pronouncing every word
Like Hammers – Did they know they fell
Like Litanies of Lead –

On here and there – a creature
They’d modify the Glee
To fit some Crucifical Clef –
Some key of Calvary

I’m nor sure what “declaim” means so let me look it up.  It means to "speak loudly or vehemently; to inveigh.

We’ll assume that the birds—like the screeching robin outside my window—is being vociferous and unfeeling about Emily’s misery and carrying on as if they were in a souk –bargaining over paltry stuff.

In their musical conversations-- they are clear in their messages –“Pronouncing every word” –and hard and heavy on Emily’s consciousness—“Like Hammers”.

Emily asks whether the birds --- would be this intrusive and unfeeling---if they but knew how they were appearing to her and others –“here and there – a creature –“who did not find their tunes--- contagious but instead conceived them to be harsh melodies--- “of Lead –“ .  

 If they realized their negative impact on others —“Like Litanies of Lead –“ –“Like Hammers-“ on folks—Emily wonders if they would be more sensitive and refrain from their “Glee” and try to fit their songs to “some Crucifixal Clef – “ and “Some key of Calvary –“. 

In the last part of stanza # 4—Emily is wondering if the birds would sing “Some key of Calvary –“ and again I have to go look up Calvary -which appears to be Jesus' crucifixion site.

I suppose she is saying that the birds—if they knew—that their music “ fell / Like Litanies of Lead –“ on some—at the scene of their crucifixions--then they would play mournful tunes.

It is excruciating to be in mental and emotional pain isn’t it? And how unfeeling it is for Nature ---- to go on coolly---- as if there were nothing the matter in the world.  Your world maybe in pieces but everyone else is marching right along to their own drum beat--without a skip or a tumble.  How awful that other living creatures are oblivious to your ordeal and how they would alter downwards in singing if they but knew the nature of your troubles!  

But unfortunately –only you know.  Only you are in the jubilee of misery.   Only you are stung by the obliviousness of the world that is indifferent to your state and bent on creating joy and music.  Such are the ways we go through our private and individual traumas--and Emily has put one for us to view and learn we are not alone--she at least --has felt as we do.

Holiday arrivals and departures

Such a lovely morning outside. A pool of water sits by the fence where the sun is lapping at it with a golden tongue. We are almost ready to go pick up family from Quebec.  

Soon the quiet house will be filled with voluble folks yapping French day and night.  My brother in law will want to BBQ. His wife will help with a salad.  My mother in law will set tables. I have not yet met her new friend yet and so this will be curious.  My nephew will probably go with younger boy to the place where 12 year old boys worship –the X box church and there will be no need for translation of French to English or vice versa as both will be as silent as trees.

Delphiniums are lounging on the golden raspberries that are (I think) ready to pick.  The final red and pink poppies are shaking their mad heads of ruffles and bows.  Finally the orange day lilies are cascading down the side of the garden –by the thin maple tree –making a waterfall of orange watery petals.

A pride of lion sunflowers are shaggy and boasting their roars by the Evans cherry tree that is bloated with new growth.  When I look out at the sunflowers—I am convinced that our trip to Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise will not be a flood of rain but will instead be filled with heat. The sunflowers are blooming and this must be an omen of good days to come.

I am very sleepy.  Last night was one of those nights where I was mostly up and now I am self medicating with endless cups of coffee.  The house is quiet.  Soon it will be a romp of family.  Tomorrow I will go to pick up older boy at the Artstrek camp in Red Deer.  The house has been empty without him.  On Monday we will pick up the RVs and pack. The mad rush to the campsites will begin.  I will be away from July 25, 2011 to August 5th, 2011 doing what all good Canadians do in the summer—which is camp and teach their sons how to become real Canadians.  You become real Canadians by tent camping but RV camping this year will be equivalent.

The sun is beating golden butterfly wings outside my window.  The cool morning air is slitting through the curtains.  Then Cat Stevens sings “Morning has broken” and it feels as if the world is being born. Perhaps it is. The summer world that is.

This July is full of holiday arrivals and August will be full of departures. You don't realize how far away family is --from you--until they arrive and you remember --you have not seen them for two years.  We are almost strangers.  We shall become family again.  And then --two years from now--we will go to Quebec to keep the cycle going.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Poem 384" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

Going downtown today to buy sausages from Polonia Sausage –I passed by this endless cemetery and the rain was pouring down and it all looked sordid and melancholy.  It is impossible to imagine all the vivacity of life confined there—the men, women and children –sequestered there –held down from movement and life –by the mounds of grass and the black slabs or white tongues of marble.  Who could think that they would be there one day?

And yet we are to arrive there. And how are we to do it?  So we must pretend. Here let me say the word—“dead”—why it doesn’t hurt. When does it begin to hurt?  When you are in your seventies—and a black raven passes overhead—and you lift your face to the sun and feel the press of the hours confront you?  When does death come to you and it is not the black raven over your sun warmed face—but the clamp of claw about your heart?  Does death come with black raven claws and the shuffle of feet and then the rising up of mighty wings?  Does the beak come down and smash sight from your eyes as the blood slips low?   How is it to die?  Do we learn then –what it meant to be alive—most keenly –at that spearing by the raven?

In this poem—Emily is mulling over the hard matter of death and trying to learn its nature.

Stanza # 1

 It dont sound so terrible – quite – as it did –
I run it over – “Dead”, Brain –“Dead”.
Put it in Latin – left of my school –
Seems it dont shriek so – under rule.
Emily practices the word in various permutations –“Dead”, Brain –“Dead”.  Even in Latin. She is getting familiar with the word—the way poets like to do—which is through use, in various lines, and even in another language.

She finds “It dont sound so terrible” as it did –before she practiced saying the word and even the word doesn’t “shriek so” in Latin!

Stanza #2

Turn it, a littlefull in the face
 A Trouble looks bitterest
Shift it – just –
Say “When Tomorrow comes this way –
I shall have waded down one Day”.
Sometimes I have trouble looking someone full in the face, and yet--if the perusal is at an angle---or if I am faced slightly away-the full force blow of the encounter--- is lessened.

And similarly—Emily suggests  here –that death can be considered fairly –if it is placed and moved –so it is away from us –for “full in the face / A Trouble looks bitterest –“ and Emily is fully conversant with agony isn’t she –to know that slant—a trouble is indeed—less painful.

She tells herself to “Shift it –“ so that by tomorrow—well—she will have had one day of thinking about --- death done—and will be in a new country—where she is more familiar with death.    I think this is what she is saying in the last two lines of stanza # 2.

Stanza # 3

I suppose it will interrupt me some
Till I get accustomed – but then the Tomb
Like other new Things – shows largest – then –
And smaller, by Habit –

Like all new things, Emily suspects that it will be hard for her to accept the “Tomb” for it “shows largest” in terms of fear—when you are first acquainted with it. She thinks "it will interrupt" her calm--until she is used to thinking about death--when she will "get accustomed".    Familiarity----with this subject---she thinks –“by Habit –“ of association— will enable her to get over this fear and it will no longer “interrupt” her with its terrors.

Stanza # 4

It’s shrewder then
Put the Thought in advance – a Year –
How like “a fit” – then –
Murder –wear!
Practicing Death –a while before it comes upon you and murders you—allows you to fit better into this “Murder-wear!” -- and is the wisest way to meet with it.  I think this is what she means by "How like "a fit"- then -/ Murder - wear!"  But I'm not sure. It's late and I am frazzled.

Overall--I’m not sure if I’ve got this poem right. It’s the end of the day and it is never wise to practice Emily at the end of a day but this was all the time left I had and Emily was put into this sliver of time left—so I could practice her –and “get accustomed –“ to both her and Death.

Books bought on July 22th, 2011

It's been a busy day. We had a lot of odds and ends to do before the family arrives from Quebec tomorrow. We're pretty much done.  I had time to go buy books but not to read. Go figure.

It rained all day. That is my excuse for buying books and not reading them.

1) The Ship Who Sang
By Anne McCaffrey

I remember reading this book as a teenager and loved it. I bought it because of old times and because I want to read it again. Sometimes a book simply anneals and you can't be done reading it once.

2) W. B. Yeats Selected Poetry

Edited by Timothy Webb
I know this is a second copy but it had such a pretty picture of Mr. Yeats on the front that I was smitten. Such are the empty headed reasons readers buy poetry books.

3)  Concrete and Wild Carrot
Margaret Avison

I've not read any of her poetry so this should be interesting.

4) A Long Continual Argument
The Selected Poems of John Newlove

Edited by Robert McTavish

I've not read this poet either so I was curious.

5) Canadian Poetry Volume Two
Edited by Jack David and Robert Lecker

They had some poems by Gwendolyn MacEwan and so I bought the book for this reason.

6) Nine Gates Entering the Mind of Poetry
Essays by Jane Hirshfield

I find some poets write better in prose than in poetry and I think this is true for Ms. Hirshfield. I've read these essays once before and they are good. It's always fun to see into the crystal ball of another sensitive poet.

7) Travels with my aunt

Graham Greene

Never read a solitary thing by this writer so it will be good to start a book collection on him.

8) Haiku Moment An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku

Edited by Bruce Ross

These sound like fun.

9) Collected Poems
The Two Seasons

by Dorothy Livesay

I bought this book solely because there was an adorable young picture of Ms. Livesay on the front and an adorable older version of her on the back and it was signed in her neat handwriting. So lucky!
Why folks get rid of their poetry books is beyond me. I would have to be dead before my books end up in second hand bookstores.

10)  poem crazy   freeing your life with words
by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge

I'm pretty free already but who knows?  Maybe I can be more liberated than I currently am.

11) A Personal Matter

by Kenzaburo Oë

I made it part way through another of his books and can't say I liked him.  Let me try again.

12)  Heretics of Dune
by Frank Herbert

This is the fifth volume of a series that I seem to be collecting simply because I have got "The Book of Frank Herbert" and  "Eye"  from before.

All three books look like the orange shag carpet from the sixties and it is hard to think of buying the whole series if they are all these pukey colors but I will persevere.

To be quite frank, I think I am buying books at the rate I am because I am nervous about the arrival of four adults and one child --all of them speak French very rapidly and English --not at all and I do not know if I will be able to stay sweet and charming unless I have my head in a book.

"Poem 379" from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"

I suppose regular folks (i.e. non-poets)-- never think passionate thoughts about the grasses we pass by each day as if they were a handkerchief placed in the pocket of land –good for some use but we are not sure for what--and certainly only needed for a sneeze of reflection--in some odd moment.

I’m afraid I’m not of this normal tribe of grass-ignoring folks.  I'm turned on by the grasses I see in Alberta.  When I see the grasses—rising up from their dreams of winter—to march again in their youthful green armies in the spring—and among them –are the old gold warriors of the last year, something within me--- catches and leaps up in joy.   I am seized with an improbable affection for these indomitable plain folks of the land.  They are the working class of the plant world.  Although Emily -has them much higher in status in this poem--to me they are simple folks, full of chatter and busy all day long--doing the simple work of keeping the Earth alive.

After the dead months of winter--I love the first rush of green on the land. When the grasses by the marsh attain their full waves –it is very pleasant to walk among them and pretend they are speaking with their color and forms and movements. Such a speech is very delicate and meant to be imagined into being.

At night the grasses poke out their darkest shapes and only the moon knows them clear.

Walking late at night, the road disappears but the silvery notes of the grasses as the wind whips them into screech of strings—is comforting –oddly—as they siren you to the route home. The moon flats their dye and they don their negligees and stream ghostly towards you.  Grasses swoon with the night time wind blows and lie low.

In the winter, they hide under the caps of snow and bleed out gold threads. They poke out rug-swag and they make a long wet rag of tissues under the matted down palms of fall leaves.  If it is bright outside, the pretty golds and browns merge and you can imagine that they are making a sort of tie-dyed T-shirt of white with gold and brown emblems.  Sometimes the snow can be scraped away with a boot and the perfect dull gold of the grasses corner you and remind you of the wheat in the fields in the late summer—long permanent engravings of writings on the soil.

You can tell I love the grasses of Alberta.  Emily loved the grasses as well.  This poem proves it. She doesn’t malign the grasses—she simply says the grasses are the world –“A Sphere of simple Green –“.

Stanza # 1
The Grass so little has to do,
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies, to brood,
And Bees, to entertain –
Emily has such a funny take on the way things are.  Here she thinks of all the time that the grasses have on their hands–how their only work is to amuse the Bees and “to brood”  butterflies. 

Hmm.. what does she mean by “to brood”  butterflies? Do the grasses grow them like herds or do the butterflies contemplate the grasses like little Buddhas?  There are so many variant possibilities for "brood"--- in this line--- if we go look at the definition.

brood  (br
1. The young of certain animals, especially a group of young birds or fowl hatched at one time and cared for by the same mother. See Synonyms at flock1.
2. The children in one family.
v. brood·ed, brood·ing, broods
1. To sit on or hatch (eggs).
2. To protect (young) by or as if by covering with the wings.
1. To sit on or hatch eggs.
2. To hover envelopingly; loom.
a. To be deep in thought; meditate.
b. To focus the attention on a subject persistently and moodily; worry: brooded over the insult for several days.
c. To be depressed.
Kept for breeding: a brood hen.

[Middle English, from Old English br; see bhreu- in Indo-European roots.]
With Emily –you can never be sure—but since she has the grasses entertaining the bees—we will think of her imagining the grasses caring after the butterflies—so we will think of the grasses doing one of the caring jobs—protecting or growing butterflies.

Stanza # 2

And stir all day to pretty tunes
The Breezes fetch along,
And hold the Sunshine, in it’s lap
And bow to everything,
Now I’ve never thought about this matter of the grasses being so free—and stationary –to do all the activities that Emily has contemplated them doing but this is one of the wisdoms of Emily. She has sat and considered—fancifully and obliquely –ordinary things of the world—and given it to us in poems so that we may consider it her way.  In fact, this is the chief beauty of any poem—for if a poet has any balls and any ability –the poem gives us evidence of the thinking and feeling of an unique mind –plus the tangy flavor of a distinct human soul.

In this stanza –Emily says the grasses sit pretty all day long—like courtiers at some Palace—listening to the wind play “pretty tunes” and being turned on by this – “And stir all day to pretty tunes / The Breezes fetch along,”—and I must admit—they do move and sway –with the wind’s music.

Then she says that –like a mother holding a child-- snug—the grasses clutch the golden, squirming body of the sun—“And hold the Sunshine, in it’s lap”—and I have seen this remarkable scene—best—in the slide of fall into winter—when the grasses are scorched by the sun—and turn into the color of the one it holds “in it’s lap”.

As the grasses go about dancing to the wind and hugging the sun to itself—she has them bowing politely “to everything,” –being responsive and polite citizens of the world.

Stanza # 3

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearl,
And make itself so fine
A Duchess, were too common
For such  a noticing,
In this stanza—Emily says the grasses are “so fine"---by dint of  their ceaseless all night toil--- of making pearl jewellery ---out of gleaming beads of “the Dews” --that they then don to appear to us-- to be of higher importance and social standing than a mere “Duchess”.  For us--to see them as a duchess—would be “too common” a status for grasses.  

Stanza # 4

And even when it die, to pass
In odors so divine
As lowly spices, laid to sleep –
Or Spikenards perishing –
Emily conceives of the grasses –even at death –to be giving us gifts—“odors so divine –“ which the freshly cut lawns and the newly harvested fields may indeed offer the discerning nose.

As for “lowly spices,” –hmm... Emily think of the grasses putting down spicy scents when it is “laid to sleep –“ that freshly mown scent –maybe thought of as faint smell of spices of a chlorophyll type.

What are Spikenards?  

spike·nard  (spärd
1. An aromatic perennial herb (Nardostachys jatamansi) of the Himalaya Mountains, having rose-purple flowers. Also called nard.
2. An ointment of antiquity, probably prepared from this aromatic plant.
3. A North American plant (Aralia racemosa) having small greenish flowers, aromatic roots, and bipinnately compound leaves.

[Middle English, from Anglo-Norman, from Medieval Latin sp nard : Latin sp, spike, ear + Latin nard, genitive of nardus, nard.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Let me think of it as a scented plant—that on dying—gives up a racy smell.
Here she is continuing the theme of “spices” and “odors so divine –“ to give us “aromatic” smells of a plant on dying—“Or Spikenards perishing –“ so you can see that Emily can elongate an idea to its maximum extension.

Stanza # 5

And then to dwell in Sovreign Barns,
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do,
I wish I were a Hay –

In the last stanza, Emily returns to the earlier themes she introduced us to in stanza # 1 and # 2—of the grasses’ luxury of time on its hands—and then its regal state in the world –in stanza # 3—to put the grasses on the map of the mind—as some sort of time-rich, dreamy, high status bale of hay. She is pretty neat isn’t she? Who would imagine the lowly grass elevated to sole rule or authority—in their new abodes-- in “Sovreign Barns,”—and in these new homes—they again have so much time on their hands that they  appear to be bent on imaginative works –“And dream the Days away”.

Indeed, like Emily-- I am getting rather jealous of the grasses.  I would like to have that much time –and have “so little” to do—maybe I would be able to get down to writing earlier in the day.  I –too—“wish I were a Hay –“.