In praise of those who call out the muse – @abridged030 #poetry #art

There is a chapter in Julia Cameron’s well known book ‘The Artists’ Way’ that uses the phrase ‘dragging home the invisible bone’ to describe the anticipation an artist (whatever their medium of choice) feels when taking a piece of work that has excited them to create to its first audience.

There is a story the then-principle of the Traveller Primary School in Dublin told at a conference I attended many years ago about a little girl who came home to her mother and pulled at her to get her attention. ‘Mam, mam’ her daughter said ‘I was in school today.’ The mother looked at her little one and said’ I know. Sure I took you there myself’. ‘No’ said the baby bird with determination. ‘I was in SCHOOL today.’ The mother was wise enough to know that there was more to what was being said than was being said, if you follow. So she dropped what she was doing and listened and it turned out that after the lessons were done a bit early, the little girl’s teacher had said they could make jigsaws. And, so the little girl explained, the picture on hers was of a gypsy caravan. It was, the Principle told us, actually an old-fashioned tin-lid picture of a horse drawn candy-stripe caravan the like of which never travelled the roads of this country, but what it represented was the first time that little girl had had a reflection of her world in the ‘school’ environment that she was in. She was in school.

There is a story told about David Marcus – known among other things for his initiation of the Irish Hennessy Awards. The story went, and I have no reason to believe it wasn’t true, he would go round the houses of various poets and say ‘we haven’t heard for you for awhile. Are you writing?’ or ‘Have you a poem for me?’ even better.

There is a story, which may not be true, about a woman whose power of listening was so great that a bird that had never sung, began to find its voice in her presence. That story of the right kind of sustained attention to the power and beauty of the voice (here I mean poetry) continues to move me.

There is a point to all of this. There is a magazine sitting in state on my sofa here across the room that I just received this morning by post. The ‘DELETE’ edition of Abridged Leviathan (Ctrl + Alt +Delete) series. I did not think, nor need for there to be, an issue to equal ‘That Nostalgia is a Loaded Gun’ but it appears there is. The Leviathan and links post is to follow. But the link to the magazine with all editions available online HERE.

A Note about Innovation and the Value of Criticism

I was thinking about Ezra Pound this morning. It’s a name that makes me break out in rash but I’m always drawn back to the fact that he was in the midst of a lot of change in understanding about what poetry is, and what it might become. I have to give him that – and that his milieu who were certainly at the forefront of imagism, if not quite modernism, were quite unusually gender balanced. (Not maybe so much on the modernism side of things but that’s into a whole other river system). Innovation of systems, any system, is necessary. It’s a bit like children’s clothes. The parent buys sizes too big – so things don’t sit right at the beginning. Then the wonder time comes when all sits and fits just perfectly. Óchón, though, it doesn’t last long and then there is the ugly struggle. One fighting because they are putting off the cost of the new – and how do they grow so fast? The other because they are pure embarassed by the current state of ‘too small’ clothing. It’s a daft example but it does cover what it feels like to me. Innovative work is the ‘new clothes’. Everybody, kind of, wants that best-fit stage but this is not a static situation. What feels like ‘you can’t be doing that…sake (!)’ to one, can feel ‘over-used and much abused promises of delight’ to another. Some people are born to push the envelope, others would rather be writing in the language of Shakespeare’s choice.

‘We/I don’t want to talk about it.’ If I had a penny for all the times I’ve had that answer to my opener of ‘where is the stretch, the pull, the future in this indefinable thing we call poetry’ question. I started this blog as a way of documenting what were previously ephemeral and intense bursts of study into the rationale of aspects of my work. (The pronoun-and-power issue is on my mind at the moment, for example). Questions that have no (right) answer but by asking them you are drawing the whole project forward. A kind of going to the foundation and the future in one fell swoop. The record is for me so I know where I’m at.

I adore everything about poetry. It’s letterly existence. It’s size. It’s shape. It’s correspondance to other uses of language. It’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t shifts in the continuum between art and communication. It’s mad koan-like littleness and significance. And it is this adoration, I suspect, that has led to an excitment about what Ian Sansom once described, and I forever after quote, as the ‘excess of love’ that is criticism. Not the ‘now I’m going to tell you what you are doing wrong’ sort but the ‘this is pure class – now let’s knock it about a bit to see what will happen next’ variety. (A small note: I had been writing poetry and reading whatever poet’s reflections on development in their own writing, and poetry writing aspects in general, that I could get my hands on for almost twenty years before I entered the sphere of connecting to a sense of public for the work. So I was standing up on the surfboard, so to speak, in terms of where I was on what an old economics lecturer I had would have called ‘conversations in the primeval forest.’ before opening my beak in those conversations, if I could have found physical versions of them. This kind of conversation is less useful to those starting out with writing though, imho, as I did need to pick up a sense of my own resonance and voice before I was sure I could speak without a loading of ‘there’s a definitive and forever answer out there and I’m going to find it.. so help me’ in my offering).

That’s the scenic route to talking about the beauty of the Abridged project to my writing life. The talk about the poetry is all fine and well. But the first thing is to produce the poetry and put it out there. Maybe you are like me and your poetry writing endeavours include the odd innovative moment, by which I mean with some generosity of speaking in terms of my own work, ‘attractively odd’ . Are they innovative? Who knows – that’s the talk at the after-party. But within the pages of Abridged, consistently, there is work by other poets – flanked by incredible visual artists – where I know the poets are exploring the same territory. How do I make the sound that can kill someone (a la Kate Bush) or, alternatively, the sound that will ‘move the world to pity’ – and how will I place it on the page? Here, not only can I showcase the kettle that I have beaten until I’m pretty sure it has it’s own original music, I can also encounter other work has been beaten with the same kind of spoon. Some of my best work has appeared here (by which I mean where I’ve really pushed up against my own limits) and what I want to appreciate in this post is the call-and-answer for me of Abridged. These ‘invisible-bone’ poems, because that is what they are to me, dragged home and met with affirmation equals a happy muse ready for further action. This sense of a ‘knock on the door’ that is the circulation of a new theme for the magazine. The sense of attention to the magazine’s own business which means that I’m not trying to hit a moving target or that any rejection is personal.

A Note about Rejection

Criticism first, now rejection – two thorny subjects in every realm of human endeavour – and, yet, essential to know how to manage, because these can be best friends to a body if a body can get into the right space with them when going through the rye. It is not accurate to say that I am delighted to have a poem in each of the Leviathan editions. I am delighted because the three that are there now – each in its own way representing an upleveling of my own work – are IN it. I have received the nicely worded ‘no thanks’ from this magazine as well – and for work that I was excited about. That makes the acceptance even more of a good thing. Rejection of work is a very useful thing if it primes your pencil. Rejection, however, that leaves you confused about how to go forward and personally invalidated is not useful and should be avoided. A quick note to say, by the way, I don’t think that editors or publisher’s should be doing the work of workshop facilitators or first readers. I send out my best work, while I value affirmative feedback (even if it isn’t shiny), all I want and expect is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. I try to discern where my work might contribute to the overall being of the journal and its ethos, then I trust that those magic makers, those creative souls, on the other end have divined how my work and their publication can align like a night with a good portent in its sky. It’s not an exact science. I try and try again sometimes, I try once and then give up other times, and sometimes I hit the send button intermittently. Some wonderful journals which I utterly respect, I have spared a ‘what do you think that was all about’ moment altogether. If you have received a rejection from Abridged, do refer to their notes – read the publication, write work that fits and give it your best shot. It it fits, it’ll sit very well.

A note to ‘page poets’. Generally ‘page poetry’ is taken to mean work that is meant to be read (eyes or voice) rather than performed. But poetry on the page automatically enters it into the realm of the visual. I’m seeing some really gripping layouts in the DELETE edition that I’ll be interrogating. When I’m finished taking in the poems, I’ll be looking for the feel, the added dimension, the hit to the system coming from this one-of-many elements of the poetry. I’m interested in this generally and I think our visual articulateness in the written context is growing. There is a sense of going beyond the ‘it’s got a shape, it’s a concrete poem’ mentality to understanding placement on the page and how to use negative space in terms of overall carriage of the poem from the page to the receiver. ‘Learn about the pine, from the pine’, as a famous haikuist once said – learn about visual from the visual artists and there is a nice conversation between the two realms continuing here.

Angostura Bitters

I didn’t come across the concept of bitters or sours until my early twenties. Things, up to that in my life, were either sweet or they weren’t mentioned. But bitters are the bomb. They really are. You need both in your life. Too much sweetness cloys and induces a sense that from somewhere, shortly, will follow a waft of the stench of decay. Keats knew what he was talking about when he confused us all with that truth and beauty business. That is to say that I will write as politely and sweet-mouthed as the next, if the muse arrives and makes a good case for it and it’s got no sniff of the intent to hurt or harm about it. But isn’t it really, actually, the role of poetry to ‘eff the ineffable’ and, in a whole lot of cases, isn’t the ineffable not that pleasant and isn’t it a complete relief that somebody, somewhere is saying what shouldn’t be said about what nobody’s comfortable to mention. I can feel pure relief out of my fingers as I type. Isn’t that the role of the poet, in a lot of ways. As an active reader of the magazine’s content, exploring the work in Abridged gives me that sense of relief.

Congratulations to all involved. Sorry to be missing tonight’s launch. Many more wonderful editions to come!

72 Seasons: Tristichs 21-30 April #NaPoWriMo 2019 – #lettersfromladyn

“At first their names too were borrowed from the Chinese, meaning that they did not always conform to the vagaries of our local climate. Eventually, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai revised them and in their present form they now serve to illustrate a natural, poetic pilgrimage through the ever-changing landscape of the Japanese year!” Read more: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/05/the-poetry-and-precision-of-japans-72-microseasons

For Poetry Month 2019, 1-30 April, I have been creating a daily three-line piece on the theme ’72 Seasons: Three Lines that are True’. I haven’t been quite as disciplined as in previous years, letting a few days lapse at a time. I am remembering that my grandfather kept a diary where he entered fragments of facts of the day – amount of seed ordered, a visit, a doctor’s appointment. I always wondered about keeping a diary with such spare wordage coupled with a consistency of updating. I have found the process very anchoring – enough that I might continue it for my own pleasure. There is a real, but easily forgotten, wonder in playing a day-to-day life part in the earth’s turning – and the continual joy of feeding! The final 10 below. The previous two lots of ten are also on the blog.

21.04.2019

‘new ruins’ on display at the Abbey

lonesome hoot of a reclaimed CIE train

memories of the level crossing at Buttevant

22.04.2019 (Earth Day)

not wasting things that might-not-come-again

moveable feasts and coinciding celebrations

the last of the stash of easter chocolate

23.04.2019

freckles on fresh eggs shells

chilli jam

seeded wholemeal bread

24.04.2019

wednesday: the working week

wondering about the truth of weather forecasts

the usefulness of sodium bicarb for brown bins.

25.04.2019

a windy day is not a day for thatching

april is not a month for hay-making

being a hoarder is not without advantages

26.04.2019

middle parts are mandatory

at times neither memorable nor noteworthy

friday is not the end of everyone’s work week

27.04.2019

another 10 year milestone

food and friendship are the best of company

relief of boarding a double-decker bus

28.04.2019

middling news from home

comfort of clearing out old stuff

wild garlic pesto, locally foraged, is a gift

29.04.2019

wildflowers

a patch of daisies that escaped the cut

dandelions half blossom, half clock

30.04.2019

last day of April

nothing unusual about rain

always, nonetheless, a little extra to the ordinary

72 Seasons: Tristichs 11-20 April #NaPoWriMo 2019 – #lettersfromladyn

“At first their names too were borrowed from the Chinese, meaning that they did not always conform to the vagaries of our local climate. Eventually, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai revised them and in their present form they now serve to illustrate a natural, poetic pilgrimage through the ever-changing landscape of the Japanese year!” Read more: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/05/the-poetry-and-precision-of-japans-72-microseasons

For Poetry Month 2019, 1-30 April, I have been creating a daily three-line piece on the theme ’72 Seasons: Three Lines that are True’. Unlike other years, I am using the older proponents of haiku as my mentors with their focus on close observation and their trust in the moment-as-it-is and with an emphasis (though not strictly observed in my case) on the natural world. A nod here too, as always, to the go-between that is Imagism. Find the middle 10 below.

11.04.2019

talking about art

artificial air

a real fear of falling

12.04.2019

scent-notes non-blending

garlic sweat and aftershave

blocked sewer and sweet magnolia

13.04.2019 – Castle Ward

first bluebells

a dandelion clock poised for take-off

animal scat mostly composed of seeds

14.04.2019

last sunday of advent

adding lemon juice to warmed fresh milk

curdled milk to baking soda

15.04.2019

high wind

sirens

a recorded version of Fauré’s Requiem

16.04.2019

a day for looking forward

weather forecast – good and bad in it –

making lists

17.04.2019

new takes on old recipes

top-hat types: hen-shaped mallow and candy eggs

frozen berries with experimental crumble

18.04.2019

this walk by the river is called Jane’s Shore

I don’t know who Jane is

the hollow stump seems to have become hollower.

19.04.2019

hot cross buns

gluten-free crumpets

everything is improved by melting butter

20.04.2019

im Lyra McKee

holiday saturday, spring sun on a bluebell path

and were you there? did you see which hands held the gun

that, just last night, took the life of this sacred woman?

72 Seasons: Tristichs 1-10 April #NaPoWriMo 2019 – #lettersfromladyn

“At first their names too were borrowed from the Chinese, meaning that they did not always conform to the vagaries of our local climate. Eventually, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai revised them and in their present form they now serve to illustrate a natural, poetic pilgrimage through the ever-changing landscape of the Japanese year!” Read more: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/05/the-poetry-and-precision-of-japans-72-microseasons

Happy Poetry Month and hoping this finds you well! From 1-30 April, my plan-of-action is to create a three-line piece on the theme ’72 Seasons: Three Lines that are True’. Unlike other years, I am using the older proponents of haiku as my mentors with their focus on close observation and their trust in the moment-as-it-is and with an emphasis (though not strictly observed in my case) on the natural world. A nod here too, as always, to the go-between that is Imagism. Find the first 10 below.


01.04.2019

a shade above third of the standard size –

narcissi and

makeshift vase.

02.04.2019

unremitting, three-part-call.

unseen collared dove

unkempt backyard.

03.04.2019

Steeped in luck”

the long dry spell is over – mammatus clouds,

as seen in photos, over the Copper Coast and Teconnaught.

the slow dragging éisssst of tyres over surface water.

04.04.2019

a Thursday

sun, rain, gale, storm

a sense, you could say, of there being time for things

05.04.2019

all the furnishing has been lovingly chosen

nothing inpires

only the houseplants radiate light

06.04.2019

Mournes hidden in a heat haze

behind the Cathedral, gravestone carvings

‘good’ and ‘love’

07.04.2019

enough funds

at this rate

today

08.04.2019

yesterday now

nothing substantial

planning the next adventure

09.04.2019

sting to the bright day

a new skill mastered

joy of an easy-to-cut turnip

10.04.2019

(found)

only identified by her last name He

4 bees lived in a woman’s eye and fed on her tears

she was cleaning a relative’s grave when they got in

– Source: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/10/doctors-discover-four-live-bees-feeding-on-tears-inside-womans-eye

Next Words for @NTCastleWard session & @deepdownarts callout

Want to iron the wrinkles out of your writing? A reminder that April’s Words for Castle Ward session is on this Saturday (13 April, 11am-12.30pm, Education Suite, Castle Ward) and it’s a feedback session. Do let me know if you will be there on wordsforcastleward@gmail.com (no need to let me know if you can’t make it!). More about Words for Castle Ward HERE.

Dates for your diary. The following Words for Castle Ward session is the 11 May (feedback) with Poems on a Sunday Afternoon, Down Arts Centre on the 12 May.

Call out from Deep Down.
Paula Matthews has asked me to pass on details of the following call:

Call Out for poets or songwriters who want to showcase their work at our Deep Down Gets Creative: Lived Experience Arts Festival. All are welcome to read or perform in a relaxed setting and you can choose to add to the collection of works our poetry friendship table enjoy at our monthly meetings. The theme of our Get Creative mini-fest is ‘Keep Holding On’.

This will be a community spirited event welcoming those with lived experience of mental health to celebrate the healing power of creativity. We will be in an alcohol free room with disability access.

If you wish to attend and read please email us at deepdownarts@gmail.com by 15th April 2019 as spaces are likely to become limited.

deepdownarts.com/new-l-e-a-f/

Venue: The Ivy Bar, 14 Castle Street Newtownards
Date: 16th May 2019
Time: 7-9pm
Cost: £3
Suitable age: 18+

Image: Laundry exhibition at Castle Ward

72 Seasons: Poetry, Precision and Three Lines that are True for #NaPoWriMo 2019 – #lettersfromladyn

“At first their names too were borrowed from the Chinese, meaning that they did not always conform to the vagaries of our local climate. Eventually, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai revised them and in their present form they now serve to illustrate a natural, poetic pilgrimage through the ever-changing landscape of the Japanese year!”

Read more: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/05/the-poetry-and-precision-of-japans-72-microseasons
Narcissi & Mini Proseco Bottle

Happy Poetry Month and hoping this finds you well! For the last couple of years I have set myself a daily poetry practice for what has become Global Poetry Month based around the tristich or three-line stanza. I’m working with in the three-line format again this year. From 1-30 April, my plan-of-action is to create a three-line piece on the theme ’72 Seasons: Three Lines that are True’. Unlike other years, I am using the older proponents of haiku as my mentors with their focus on close observation and their trust in the moment-as-it-is and with an emphasis (though not strictly observed in my case) on the natural world. A nod here too, as always, to the go-between that is Imagism. I’ll post them here on the blog every 10 days. What follows is a kind of meandering meditation on the motivaion behind this year’s approach.

Clear Sight: The Comfort of Close Observation

‘May you live in interesting times’

– Chinese curse

Poetry, precision and small acts of truth telling are on my agenda through the month. I’m trialling this as a kind of medicine. I have worked in the digital world through information/ communications/ marketing roles for almost a quarter of a century – mostly in the voluntary, community and arts sectors. Starting with web content management and listserv administration and graduating to social media and mobile platforms in line with changes in technology. The last few years in particular has seen an unimaginable rise in information sharing, and the task of Sisyphus that is discerning whether what is being shared has the marks of truth or not.

À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien..’ This early part of the 21st Century is, in every sense of the word, ‘interesting’. In the noughties I carried out an act of translation of Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ – http://www.toutelapoesie.com/poemes/apollinaire/zone.htm#. By which I mean I tried to really understand his movement through Europe early in the 20th Century, and what it’s translation-defying first and last lines were really saying, through reading everything I could get my hands on about it and all translations.

One of the commentators suggested that the start of new centuries tend to be turbulent. I’m adding my two cents worth having lived through and celebrated the change to the New Millenium, that the human spirit in those moments of momumental, but not naturally occurring, changes of calendar tends to register possibility in the new and try to ‘future proof’ so that the mistakes of the catastrophic past might not be carried into this ‘clean slate’ type new epoch.

There is no clean slate. There is now, I think, a sense of vacuum. A sense of having looked hard at the past with the wish to not recreate it, but like a horse refusing at a fence, there is a shying away from the normal task and pattern of ‘creating’ that future. I don’t know about you but I’ve often observed that while the demons from the past dance in the present, the first stirrings of the future also haunt this same premises. There they caday about together, as it were, in a fairly uncomfortable manner and are hard to organise into go or stay. And while a ten year plan may seem daunting to the average cricket, a whole millennium’s worth of forward planning, including the hope for Utopia, is beyond the human imagination. Quo Vadis. Cue the fake news artists, the snake oil sellers, and Chicken-Licken wired to the moon.

It is the end of the world as we know it. That is, of course, the true and ongoing part. In my humble opinion, however, what needs enquiry is the place where the desire ward off an impending cataclysm (I have quite a list from global to personal, as I expect you do) meets the desire to create a some sense of workable future. For me, this is aided by a clear-sighted look at the what’s here now. More simply put, information about seasonal fluctuation, no matter how reliable it may be in the location those seasons occur, aren’t at all as useful if a body is actually living somewhere else.

Foresight: Truth and the Future

“We are so far from knowing all the agents of nature and their diverse modes of action that it would not be philosophical to deny phenomena solely because they are inexplicable in the actual state of our knowledge. But we ought to examine them with an attention all the more scrupulous as it appears more difficult to admit them.” (also translated as ‘The weight of evidence should be proportioned to the strangeness of the facts’).

Pierre-Simon Laplace

“But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

Carl Sagan

Foresight, as no one ever said, is 20/20 vision, like poet and prophet is the same word in some language which I forget now. This is in the category of a lovely lie I was once told (here as convenient lie is to the inconvenient truth, the lovely lie is to the plain truth) by someone who knew how to conjure and wield words you’d be forgiven for wanting to be true.

In the midst of all this début de siècle hubbub it’s hard to get an idea of what is actually going on. If truth is that which is in accordance with a sense of fact or acuality (broad brush strokes…), how is the truth related to the future?

I have a fascination with all things divination. Longer than I can remember. My first beloved toy was a small blue lion with a sunlike mane that I called ‘Leo’. Tea leaves, tarot, divining rods, crystals, horoscopes, dead sea scrolls, ‘gifts’ of extra sensory perception, bibliomancy, Novenas, apple cores, the yarrow, Nostradamus, Cathbad, John Dee, scrying… I once did a poetic listing for my own entertainment and to show that pretty much every stick and stone was inspiring some ‘fortune-teller’ somewhere to have a revelation or insight. I think this fascination is true for almost all those who write poetry, even those who ‘doth protest too much’.

It’s also the province of crack-pots, conspiracy theorists, the business of government and corporate strategists. (In the interest of full disclosure, my academic training is in the area of business strategy – creating sustainable prosperity going forward – whether at the level of individual firm, sector, and national state).

For me it’s a triangular, or maybe a circular interest. If you look at the places where alchemy, religion and science cross lines you find that the emphasis on ‘that which is not yet known or is potentially unknowable’ – whether actual or future – sticks an exceptionally creative stick in the wheel. The drive to see around corners, to know the unknowable, to explain the inexplicable, makes the task to get the wheel in forward motion very compelling.

Whether increasing the probability of beneficial outcomes, a get-rich scheme, or a hope for immortality, this drive has configured all we know about our known world. In the mainstream, the forecasters – from frameworks to assess probablity of future outcomes to news programme pundits, are the voices crying out in the desert for better understanding of what is going on now in order to create a more favourable negotiation of circumstances at some time that is not here yet, given that what is not here yet may have some of its own elegant tricks up its epoch sleeves.

Nevertheless when I am inspired to write poetry, it has never yet been in the spirit of ‘prepare ye’ with a Michaelangelo-like sketch of a helicopter in the margins. I have rarely seen this type of poem and I’d probably, with no harm to the writer, not choose to read much further if I did. For me, there are clear lines between poetry and prophecy. The reason that I’m talking about it now is, however, that by the matter of clear transcribing of what is the poem-coming-into-being, there is a hard to account for, after the fact, enlightening sense of prescience which I am far from alone in experiencing as a writer, which is why the digging ground of the two being the same is an argument for which I can make a case.

So that’s a long winded walk back to where the car is parked.

The Three-line Trick

This year’s NaPoWriMo practice is a small good thing. That’s all it is. Day-by-day observation of what is there – poetry and precision. On the one hand, a good discipline in the kind of precision that is connective tissue in poetry and makes it long-lived. On the other, a kind of grounding, anchoring, that may be at least a tracking of the truth in reference to a present actual rather than the past or projected fears – which have their place, but here in the sense of being able to discern what is likely to yield good information going forward. A practice that while remaining true to itself also transforms simply by being recorded and where no transformation has actually happened in real terms.

Hester: beyond right and wrong, acknowledging hurt – #lettersfromladyn

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Rumi ‘A Great Wagon’

Meeting Hester

I wasn’t old enough to know what the ‘A’ stood for. I was old enough to be in the house with some degree of care for small sleeping children. I should have been in bed myself but, by accident, I got caught up mid-way through what I didn’t realise was the final episode of a TV dramatisation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. I was so anxious to get the end of it that I took the risk of getting caught but luck was on my side. The last of the credits were over when I was discovered. Nobody thought to ask what I’d been watching. I carried the mystery of the double ‘A’ like an exquisitely embroidered locked-box that turned out to be, in reality, a quest to find its key. Except the minute I found the key, I understood that the quest had been false. The young girl in the sitting room had understood very well the point of the adaptation* – ‘scapegoating’ ‘blame shifting’. As titillating as sex may be, particularly in a strict religious context, to an adult audience – that aspect was not what held my attention. The depiction of duplicity, betrayal and the relief of its outing did.

What TS Eliot said

“A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” TS Eliot

The world of words is a mess of letters – whether breastplate or not. Words like the ocean, and we appear as a collective to swim through them, hitting off riff tides and struggling with hidden currents – sometimes both at the same time – and I am willing to say on behalf of everyone that it is unlikely that we are ever on our own no matter how isolating an experience can seem to be.

The dictionary is at everyone’s disposal – and there is most assuredly nothing new under the sun. But yet, the old saw of Eliot’s which I’ve heard misquoted now and then these past few years, is not I think misquoted in the way I understand it. My take is that use of other people’s words that appear without acknowledgement in our writing are those that are well respected and so easily recognisable in their own context, that when we use them, it is an act of homage, an exploration of lineage – and also an uplevelling of our own work. The question of who we respect and why we respect them, I suspect, is at the heart of this piece of writing.

What I want to say, in the manner of Hester, and within a paradigm of dominant discourse and narrative controllers, a body could find their mouth moving, arms and legs at times, and yet feel like a bit player in a drama where they have little or no power of direction. Two kinds of silences emerge. The silence where the sense of all-rightness is so pervasive that those in the presence of it deny any vague stirrings of argument – and a carefully disguised silence – where words appear to be said but that happens through an act of ventriloquism so you could miss that the person themselves is, in fact, not the one who is speaking. That is to say that a hole ‘could be’ dug for ‘you‘ and ‘you‘ could be left there secula seculorum without a need for breath, bread or companionship. Now imagine that you have dug that hole for yourself (use the ‘I’ voice here and leave yourself there for a little while) – I bet you that having gotten over a little jag of despair, you will be planning a break for freedom? It may take some time, but I also bet that you will be successful.

There is a third silence, in the manner of Hester, a sacred dignified silence to be invoked when you or I or she or he or they acknowledge that we, whether individual or collective, are not in the conversation at all no matter how it looks. Where we have no choice but to let the circus of all-rightness be as it is, while acknowledging honestly that the only part we share in this is the strange presentiment of those around us who enthusiastically interact with us as if we are monkeys, we genuinely have nothing to say except this is not my reality.

When the Scarlet Letter is ‘I’

For all the shame or nondescriptness that may attach to it, I decided a long time ago to wear my ‘I’ proudly – whomsoever had ordained my embroidering of it, whomsoever might wear its counterpart, when there was no counterpart.

In another blog I asked the question of myself, and to anybody who might find it interesting, who do you write about when you write about ‘you‘ and who are you writing about if you aren’t writing about yourself? The question as it emerges from the person that ‘I‘ am is not at all as straightforward a high-moral-ground position as it might look on the surface. To be honest, it isn’t straightforward at all and it’s less about me than you might think. So I’m going to go back a little bit and say that the intention behind it – as a matter of guideline rather than unbreakable rule – is to honour my connection with my own experience as I perceive it to be as what I have to offer (such as it is), to attempt not to speak on anybody else’s behalf, rather, if it is possible instead, to inspire their own true speaking, to create a dialogue or an atmosphere of correspondance even if that is one-to-many rather than one-to-one. All is not all-right. I doubt it ever will be so if you are looking for somebody to make a case for that, you still haven’t found who you’re looking for.

But my ‘I’ can be more at odds with myself in its speaking than its silence. That’s what I have been finding. My complex relationship with my own identity makes this ‘I’ a shapeshifting kind of letter. Another way of saying this might be to say that when I’m speaking from the place of ‘I’ , ‘I’ might possibly be speaking from the stance of a commissioned scarlet letter – making it a double ‘I’. One is a stock character in someone else’s drama of all-rightness to whom I have been trying to smuggle in provisions and etablish escape routes, and the other ‘I’ is one, I have to be honest, whose best language, to date, has been silence. Authenticity, ‘I’ conclude at this particular pit stop on the journey, is a wild ride.

One little Indian: multiple identities and Minnehaha

I was younger – the too-little child who hangs around the legs of an older sibling and the older again boys next door. The game was Cowboys and Indians. I suspect both my sister and myself were designated ‘Indians‘ but she successfully argued a case for a less inferior role or went on strike altogether. I, very influenced by a beautifully illustrated version of Hiawatha, embraced with great excitement my position which involved being confined at a distance – entertaining myself with imaginary log canoes, waterfalls and wigwams – to make sure I didn’t create nuisance for the older boys who were at that time engaged in shooting each other in a part of the neighbours’ garden I wasn’t allowed to go. It’s funny how early we learn the ways of all-rightness and our place in the pecking order.

The thing is at this stage in the story my own ear is straining for some concrete context for all of this because this is how things ought to progress. A preamble to an outing of the non-taking-a-trip-out-for-the day variety. ‘I’ am now regarding myself as if I am separate from myself and am wondering – I would like this to get to the specifics. Is her particular beef gender relationships, a matter of Irish Politics, sex and/or religion, animal welfare, how the West was won, who is to blame when children meet cultural references too young?

It feels like there should be, at this point, a denouement where ‘I’, as the author of this, orchestrate some situation whereby a heretofore larger-than-life all-right other all-of-a-sudden rips open a tightly buttoned outergarment to expose the matching ‘I’ they’ve been wearing like the stigmata all this time. The little key that wept blood. But again, again, the finding, the exploring, the naming and the shaming in any context, the multiplicity of the concept of context, proves to be a false promise.

Scapegoating, blameshifting, duplicity, betrayal and an outing of that still holds centre stage. But, with great respect to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his truth-to-power resolution, my experience is that this isn’t how things fall out. Where there ought to be a scaffolding, there is an expanding silence. The only difference is that there is relief in this silence. Minnehaha, Madeline, or whoever, from beyond the grave or back from a multiplicity of deaths – some by her own acts of betrayal – and decades of laid-waste land is here and trying to figure out – as the true silence spreads out – what would ‘I‘ have been saying all this time if things hadn’t been as they were.

4’33” minutes was a mighty silence for a music composition. A minute does for unthinkable atrocities – how are years to be acknowledged?

Coming in mid-way through the final installment

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.”
– Rumi ‘A Great Wagon’

I haven’t grown much physically. Metaphorically speaking, here I am again, on my own while those in charge are out, younger ones sleeping somewhere in this house who are owed a duty of care not entirely mine to discharge, and I am pursuing a fascination that is bigger than its risk. All the notes of theatre in my voice letting me know that there is still some other in my ‘I‘. There are a lot of right things about wanting justice. My wish to be in a world that is just – to contribute to that – is not going anywhere. But, I must acknowledge that the ‘fight for it’ is also a place where the words ‘I’ speak are often not my own. And, in the offchance, there might at some future time be a noisy public confession in some context or other what happens afterwards anyway? In life, a wrong outed is rarely a precursor to harmony in relationships – individual or community. The usual best hope is to get away from somebody or a situation – and that can be, in itself, a significant victory.. but pyrrhic. Chop wood, carry water – a better future for the next generation. In the particular incidence of Hester, it probably makes no real difference. And that’s when the heart makes its first appeal to the voice to break its honourable silence. Name the losses and cry for all of them,  all the years, how and where it truly hurt. Cry. A lot. My heart, that authentic ‘I’, unabsolved, uninstated, unrealised and moving slowly. I’ll meet you there.

 

*The adaptation had a slightly different agenda than the book, it felt, when I read the book later on. I remember the TV ending as being more dramatic and quicker to close. I can’t swear to it though.