Sunday, April 23, 2017

Poetry Pantry #350

A Giraffe Sculpture in Front of an Art Gallery
(just for fun!)
Greetings, friends!   I hope you have had a chance to write a poem to share with us in the Pantry today.

If you haven't read Rosemary's Moonlight Musings, do scroll back.   There is a very interesting discussion going on about whether we should separate a writer from his/her art-- whether or not an artist's personal life (for better or worse) matters.  Do take a look.

We really had an enjoyable Midweek Motif this week, where Susan presented us with the timely topic "Holiness / Holy Day."  It really got many of us thinking.  Sumana's prompt on Wednesday will be "A Grain of Sand."  Think about it ahead of time, and see what you can come up with.

On Monday Sherry is featuring one of our very prolific poets -- Bjorn Rudberg. I know you will enjoy this blog of the week!

Now, with no delay, let's share poetry.  Link your poem below.  Say hello in the comments.   And visit others who share their work.  See you on the trail. Enjoy!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Moonlight Musings

The Singer or the Song? 

Should we – can we? – separate the artist from the art?

A few weeks ago, shortly after learning of the death of Derek Walcott, I posted a lovely poem of his in my column The Living Dead, to honour the fine poetic legacy he left us.

Not long after that, I was shocked to read about accusations that he had sexually harrassed two female students at separate universities where he was teaching, giving one a low grade for refusing his advances and threatening the other to stop a play of hers from being produced unless....

Here is a brief and fairly neutral article on the matter.

I found a number of other excellent articles online by Googling Derek Walcott accusations, in several of which the authors consider the thorny question of how much this should influence our opinion of him as a poet. The rights and wrongs of the matter are a bit complicated, due to the fact that Walcott denied the second allegation at least, and the case was settled out of court.

In the first case, apparently he did admit to it. The University dealt with it, upgrading the student's mark and giving Walcott a reprimand. We might think they didn't regard it very seriously. But the case was a factor in the University's eventual reform of its policies around such issues.

Some people think it was all a smear campaign to stop him accepting a posting to Oxford later in his life.

They might be excused for this view by the fact that the woman who was appointed to that posting instead of him was the one who reminded everyone of the allegations against him – unintentionally, she said  – which persuaded him to take himself out of the running rather have the speculation revived. When that fact emerged, she herself felt obliged to vacate the position! (I told you it was complicated.) Some highly respected poets argued for Walcott's appointment, others spoke against it.

I found an article in The New Republic particularly thoughtful and interesting. It mentions other famous writers and public figures who are strongly suspected of conduct in their private lives (in some cases proven) which we might well find reprehensible – from Charles Dickens to David Bowie (and we could probably all add a few more names to those listed) – and postulates 'a literary patriarchy that stretches back centuries,' in which it has been 'easy for great men to hide their offenses behind the magisterial cloak of their art'.

It's not quite so easy any more, but still there are those who get away with a lot. I don't meant this Musing to be about Walcott in particular; he's one recent example (recent in my personal knowledge anyway). Let's take Bowie, an artist whose work I've long loved and admired. Again, it is only recently that I came across allegations that – early in his career at least – he was quite happy to intoxicate and seduce his under-age groupies. Indeed, it was a time when that was pretty much expected of rock stars, and we all thought the victims were willing. On the face of it, perhaps some were, but nowadays we would question whether immaturity and intoxication can really permit of consent.

Whatever may be true about these particular men, I think it's fair to say that not all famous writers are also good people.  But then, most people are not entirely good, are we? How to judge? Where does one draw the line? Tolstoy, we are told, took his long-suffering wife for granted as she supported him selflessly so he could create his novels. Not very nice, not at all endearing; but does it rate with flagrant philanderers, thieves and brawlers (think Villon), addicts or sexual predators? 

And, whatever the sin in the personal life, how does it affect our reading of the poetry? 

Perhaps it's easier to investigate if we think of the visual arts. When I am moved by Picasso's Weeping Woman, do I also reflect on how badly he treated women in his life? Should I? (And what if I don't even know? I do, obviously, but there must be viewers who don't.)

Painting in National Gallery of Victoria. Image used here according to Fair Use.

Or, if I am basking in the sonorous words of Kubla Khan, does it worry me that Coleridge was reputedly under the influence of narcotics when he wrote it? Should it worry me? Should I, rather, rejoice in the way that this habit (presumably) enhanced his poetic gifts?

Perhaps you think drug addiction is a different kind of flaw, victimising only oneself? A man I once knew was a friend of Australian poet Michael Dransfield's mother, whom he met after her son had died from an overdose. This man was furious with Dransfield for the sorrow he had inflicted on his mother. Also, he had seen some of Dransfield's poems in manuscript and roundly castigated them as 'chicken scratchings' which in no way justified the drug use and early death. I don't know what he read, and it's true that Dransfield's last published poems were fragmentary compared with earlier ones, but many of his fellow-poets (myself included) will tell you he was a beautiful and important poet. I would say (and did say) that the quality of the verse is a separate issue: that the drug taking was a sad fact that didn't justify the writing whether it was chicken scrawlings or beautiful poetry; and also that it is beautiful, lasting poetry, which does not depend on his drug use to make it so.

But I am just reading a new memoir, The Green Bell, written decades after the event by Paula Keogh, who was Dransfield's fiancée at the time of his death. A beautifully honest book, it makes it clear that Dransfield himself believed that the drugs would serve to enhance his poetry (even if he was also vulnerable to them for less conscious reasons). I never met Dransfield in person, and I suppose no-one can be sure if he was right or wrong in his belief. (My only comparison is alcohol, and I learned a long time ago that writing while drunk doesn't produce good poetry.) But it's my opinion that he had a phenomenal talent which wouldn't have needed chemical enhancement.

However, it appears he did deliberately engage in self-destructive, illegal behaviour which caused great hurt to others as well as to himself. Does that stop me loving what he wrote? Does it taint my experience? No, not at all. I feel sad about it, but then much of the poetry is sad anyway. But what if he was right? What if the drugs did make the poetry more beautiful? If he should indeed prove to be an important and lasting poet, was he in fact justified by his immortality, no matter who else suffered? A difficult question!

I'm afraid I don't spare a thought for Picasso's lovers when I am sitting in front of Weeping Woman. At other times I am aware of what a nasty so-and-so he could be, and deplore it. But while I'm looking at the painting, that predominates.

On the other hand, I can't hear a Rolf Harris song any more without revulsion at the thought of what a hypocrite the man turned out to be. Is that because of the type of wrongdoing? Is it because of the relative powerlessness of the victims? Harm to children is particularly horrifying.

What about Walcott? Can we still read his magnificent verse with the same delight in its magnificence? Or does it seem different now? What about Bowie? Is our enjoyment of his work diminished in the face of his exploitation of minors? Or can we excuse and ignore that on the grounds that (a) it was a different era with different mores and (b) he was a multi-talented genius who left the word enriched by his art? (Do you wish I would have just shut up about them both and not destroyed your illusions?)

Should we all stop writing because we have done things we feel guilty and ashamed about? (I'm certain we all have.) Many of us are honest about our failings, I think, not trying to deny them but seeking to grow past them. This, if so, makes us better human beings – but does it have anything to do with our art, either way? Indeed, if we all lived perfectly clean and wholesome lives and had only pure thoughts, would our art even be interesting?

Relax, I'm not suggesting we should be evil. (Well, maybe just a little bit naughty would be OK? Just sometimes?) But I suppose if a law-abiding, kind-hearted citizen can write successful crime thrillers (and I know two commercially and critically successful women writers who fit this description) then perhaps a person with serious character defects can nevertheless create works of art that uplift the human spirit?

Is it a matter of degree? It is said that Hitler's master of propaganda, Goebbels, wrote poetry and thought of himself as a sensitive man. The mere idea makes me shudder! There is no way I would read poetry by Goebbels if I ever got the chance. I wouldn't care if it was the most brilliant poetry ever produced. (I doubt that it could be, coming from a person like that, but life is strange and human beings complex; anything's possible.) I wouldn't even bother finding out. The point is, in the end – and even though my life has revolved around poetry since I was seven – there are human values more important than art.

Which ones, and how much more important? And which art, come to that? Goebbels is an extreme case, on which it's very easy to take a stand. So is Rolf Harris, in a different way – no-one would claim Jake the Peg to be high art. But what about all the in-betweens? Where does one draw the line?

What do you think?

Feel free to express your opinion in the comments. I'd love to know how others deal with this dilemma – if indeed it is a dilemma for you. And do pop back during the week to see where the discussion leads!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Holiness / Holy Day

A map of major denominations and religions of the world

"The word "holiday" comes from the Old English word hāligdæg (hālig "holy" + dæg "day").  The word originally referred only to special religious days. "
--"Holiday," Wikipedia

The English word "holy" dates back to at least the 11th century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning "whole" and used to mean "uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete". The Scottish hale ("health, happiness and wholeness") is the most complete modern form of this Old English root. . . . In non-specialist contexts, the term "holy" is used in a more general way, to refer to someone or something that is associated with a divine power, such as water used for baptism.
--"Sacred," Wikipedia

"The holidays are only holy if we make them so."

“It is well to have specifically holy places, and things, and days, for, without these focal points or reminders, the belief that all is holy and "big with God" will soon dwindle into a mere sentiment. But if these holy places, things, and days cease to remind us, if they obliterate our awareness that all ground is holy and every bush (could we but perceive it) a Burning Bush, then the hallows begin to do harm.” 

🔥 🔥 🔥

Midweek Motif ~  Holiness
Holy Day

Look at the Interfaith Calendar of World Religions for April 2017. There are so many Holy Days!   And this is not counting Days of Rest. Nor the holidays of First Peoples:  

·        1

o   Lazarus Saturday - Orthodox Christian
·        2
o   Palm Sunday - Orthodox Christian
·        5
o   Ramanavami ** - Hindu
·        9
o   Palm Sunday- Christian
·        10
o   Mahavir Jayanti ** - Jain
·        11
o   Lord's Evening Meal - Jehovah's Witness Christian
o   Hanuman Jayanti - Hindu
·        11-14
o   Theravadin Mew Year ** - Buddhist
·        11-18
o   Pesach (Passover) * - Jewish
·        13
o   Maundy Thursday - Christian
·        14
o   Holy Friday - Orthodox Christian
o   Baisakhi (Vaisakhi) - Sikh
o   Good Friday - Christian
·        16
o   Easter - Christian
o   Pascha (Easter) - Orthodox Christian
·        21
o   First Day of Ridvan * - Baha'i
·        23
o   St. George's Day - Christian
o   Yom HaShoah * - Jewish
·        24
o   Lailat al Miraj * - Islam
·        29
o   Ninth Day of Ridvan * - Baha'i
·        30

o   St. James the Great Day - Orthodox Christian

Maybe you celebrate a Holy day, or maybe you are curious about one you don't celebrate.  Maybe you, like me, hold all days as holy--or maybe no days at all.  My question is:

 What is "Holiness"?  or 

What Makes a Day Holy?

Your Challenge:  Write a new poem about a specific Holy Day or about the concept of Holiness.  

Holy as the Day is Spent

Related Poem Content Details

(Brooklyn, the present day)
. . . . 
As a boy, my old-world aunts and uncles
would weep when I entered the room:
What did I have to do with sadness?
Their cryptic tears
and purse-tucked Kleenex
were my own tantalizing
Hardy Boys case to crack.
Gradually, as a junior detective, I grasped
how much I resembled
an uncle lost in the war,
and like the savvy, querying boy
at the Passover Seder
become a scrupulous man,
an inquisitive reporter,
I set out to track my look-alike’s,
my family’s wartime destiny—
What my father marshaled against,
what my mother endured,
the unspoken, the unspeakable,
became my mission:
though I was born in a venomless
time and suburb,
phantoms, chimeras breathed
in our never-quite-here-and-now house,
secret calendars of fire:
Mother, I dreamed we were
riders on the back of silence,
the wild unsaid beneath us:
horse, whale,
We never spoke of the war.
So with stark reading,
a well-thumbed
Diary of Anne Frank,
I resolved to imagine
pitiless showers,
whips and watchtowers
of brute commanders,
their Gypsy-less, Jew-less,
jerry-rigged heaven.

(Read the Rest HERE.)

The Easter Flower 

by Claude McKay
Far from this foreign Easter damp and chilly
My soul steals to a pear-shaped plot of ground,
Where gleamed the lilac-tinted Easter lily
Soft-scented in the air for yards around;

Alone, without a hint of guardian leaf!
Just like a fragile bell of silver rime,
It burst the tomb for freedom sweet and brief
In the young pregnant year at Eastertime;

And many thought it was a sacred sign,
And some called it the resurrection flower;
And I, a pagan, worshiped at its shrine,
Yielding my heart unto its perfumed power.

Excerpt from At the River Clarion

by Mary Oliver

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE)

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—

             (Next week Sumana’s Midweek Motif will be ~ 
A Grain of Sand)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Life of a Poet - Eric Erb

Today we are zipping across North America to drop in on one of our newer members, Eric Erb, of erbiage, who lives in New Jersey, USA. We are looking forward to getting to know this young man better, so pull your chairs in close. The coffee's on me!

Sherry: It is lovely to be visiting with you, Eric. Would you give us a snapshot of the poet at home?
Eric: Thirty-seven miles north of Princeton, N.J., in a venerable old home by a small river, piled up on a stone foundation, my wife and I make our home. With two chickens in the yard.

Sherry: It looks lovely. And chickens, too! Would you like to tell us a bit about your childhood? Is there anything, looking back, that you think contributed to your becoming a poet? Were you exposed to poetry as a child?

Eric: The words first enthralled me as my Uncle Tom unfurled them, reciting Jabberwocky from memory, spinning the tale of Falling Rock, (the ghost of an Indian chief who did not like road cuts scarring sacred land), or laying words down on the family scrabble board, with grace and aplomb, invariably coming in second. Shel Silverstein I vaguely recall as well, my mom reading to me at bedtime.

Sherry: Such wonderful memories. When did you write your first poem?

Eric: There is a slip of paper surviving, where I wrote "they have cities and tables". I was five at the time and honestly have no idea what I meant by it, but I count that as my first poem. I began writing in my high school math class to try to escape. Carried that through into college, where I was involved in the literary magazines, Sheaf and Four Walls, both as contributing author and editor. A creative writing class was somewhat helpful, but it also exposed me to people who had real talent, and it left me feeling like a fraud. After college writing dried up to almost nonexistent, save for a few inspirations when I met the woman who would become my wife.

The blog Erbiage began in 2015, when I could no longer deny my urge to create. NaPoWriMo was a huge inspiration in April 2016, even featuring one of my works, and I have been writing daily since, finding great community at Poets United, dVerse Poets Pub, and others.

Sherry: I am glad you returned to writing, Eric, for you have talent. What led you to choose poetry as your means of creative expression? What do you love about it?

Eric: The richness of poetry is fascinating, the way the words can move beyond their mere intellectual meaning and begin to convey the feelings and parts of our experiences that are beyond words.

Sherry: Well said, Eric. How did you discover the world of blogging, and how has it impacted your work? 

Eric: The impact is huge. I first started the blog as a way to keep track of my work. It took a bit to really get going, but there came a point where the words were unstoppable, and I could barely type fast enough to lay out the ideas that kept welling up within me. But, like most things, it continues to grow and change.

I've noticed patterns in my work as my voice develops, which is intriguing. But above all, it has given me hints as to how much more there is. It's one thing to sit in a room and write poetry, but another when you work with others, either as audience or even co-authors, then you begin to co-create, which is, I think, an important part of being in the world, and bringing value to it.

Sherry: You have expressed that so well. Let's take a look at a few of your poems, shall we?

Extreme datacenter
A great big block of a building with no features save for its edges
A handleless door every fifty feet or more, no visible entrance
One lone handle, pulled, leads into a tiny chamber, too small to lay down in
Electromagnet unlocks, door opens into a lobby space with security behind thick plexiglass
After approval the next portal opens into airlock, one must close, trapped,
before the next opens, onto conference rooms cubicles and vending machines
And still we are not in the belly of the beast, not yet to the meat of it, no
The final palm print reader opens into the warehouse of ideas
47 types of pipes overhead color coded and labeled accordingly
Rows and columns of cages constructed one by one by twenty two or more
Cooling units larger than my first apartment blasting through ductwork
fit for jacks nemesis, constantly blowing to keep their charges cool
Whisking away the heat of processors crunching through their code
In each cage, racks upon racks of stacks of servers some cloaked in chaotic
jumble of crossed cables colored like skittles candy
Others orderly, a huge investment in cash and effort, blue lights blinking
Wiring chases neatly stuffed with power on one side, data flowing on the other
Fifty thousand computers or more storing analyzing and serving up information
This is where we house the cloud, there is no cloud! It’s someone else’s server!
Fed endless electricity by duplicate generators about the size of a seven eleven
Tanks of diesel lined up like the docks in Linden new jersey feed the monsters in their zoo
Everything about your actual life it can possibly collect,
Everything you company does, every problem every triumph, in the cage next to you fiercest competitor
Your friends, your likes, who you’ve unfriended and after a brief AI analysis, why
And your entire digital world, your playground your escape, your bank accounts
It’s all here

Eric: This was featured by the NaPoWriMo challenge in April of 2016. The challenge that prompted it was to write a long-line poem. At first I found it very difficult to do but, once I began, it just started pouring out. This is about a real place.

Dove and pine
Alight! Alight! My dove, and write
Make your mark upon my heart
Imprint your feet upon my soul
I’ll be your roost when daylight fails
Catch your cooing in robust sails
my dove, my love, my pretty bird
Alight and let me hold you
through the cold and bitter night
Let’s make your nest here embowered
Above the springtide flowered
I’ll whisper songs of zephyr’s race
And hide you from the moons cold face
Soon you’ll need bring seeds and worms
From nearby fields and earthy berms
and so your generations turn
Tell your tale of enlighting
So write, my love of
A light

Eric: Oh what a tree must think of the birds? So often these ideas are gifts. I'll often write just before bed, and really try to let go into the work, to relax and let the words come out. Sometimes it works!

The Instant of Art
The master sits,
Fresh parchment,
Three of us,
Our curiosity,
His brush,

The moment hangs in the air,
So palpably Now.  The contemplation
Of the empty vellum
The viscosity of the ink
The intention in his spirit
Flows unto the page
Until a single mark is made
Razor sharp and precisely laid.

Eric: This is about the moment of writing, when the vast infinite possibility of an empty page comes crashing into a single path forward, when Something is called forth from Nothing. What a world it would be if Art was a spectator sport?

First Flight

sticky wax collected from the ears of ten thousand bees
feathers of every bird save the ostrich
balsa canvas sinew
atop the cretian cliffs
with the wings strapped to our backs
from point spinalonga we set out
across the sea, to catch the wind
the culmination of fear as we left the rock
Minos’s men not far behind drove our last steps
the sea beckoned but the wind would not let go
we left the rushing waves below
elation victory success then washed over me
not even fathers words could catch me!
as he called his son, the sun called me
ever onward, ever upward

Eric: Oh what human doesn't look to the sky, the stars? Icarus and his father escaped the king of Crete by making wings and soaring across the sea. What must that have felt like? This was an attempt to depict that. And despite the warning, we still strive to climb higher and higher. 

Sherry: Such a wonderful collection of poems, Eric. My favorites are "Dove and Pine" and "First Flight". Your imagery is really wonderful. I love the wax from the ears of bees!

What other activities do you enjoy, when you aren't writing?

Eric: I have far too many hobbies and crafts, woodworking, blacksmithing, gardening, cooking, event planning.

Sherry: Interesting pursuits. Very cool. Is there a cause you are passionate about?

Eric: My cause is the personal growth of each of us, facing the underlying fears and feelings of worthlessness which keep us stewing in the same miseries over and over.

Sherry: Yes, it is good when we climb up into the light of self-worth. That is the journey. Is there anything you would like to say to Poets United?

Eric: What a wonderful community to foster growth and learning. Write often, and comment on others' writings. Thank you all for reading m,y work, and helping hone our craft.

Sherry: Thank you, Eric, for this wonderful visit. It is good to get to know you. We look forward to reading more of your work in the months ahead.

Wasn't this an interesting visit, my friends? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!