Tag Archives: back out there

Thoughts on synchronicity, Elizabeth Lesser’s book “Broken Open,” and a poem inspired by two near-autodidacts

Recently, I have been feeling out-of-sorts more than usual, and sunk in a sort of spiritual case of the doldrums.  So, I figured I needed to return once again to my old habits of reading more, crocheting less (though I’m backed way up with craft projects!), and writing poetry again.  As it so chanced, I got Elizabeth Lesser’s book Broken Open:  How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow off one of my library websites.

Now, when I read a self-help book, even a more spiritually-inclined one, it’s a rare day.  I automatically have my critical claws out for grammar and punctuation and style errors, since many such books are self-forgiving in their copy editing.  And as expected, I found a number of mistakes and one nearly unforgiveable error–to an English teacher, anyway–in which T. S. Eliot was quoted or referred to knowledgeably, apparently, but spelled T. S. Elliot.  These sorts of things always make me suspicious of the author, because I reason that if their message is so vital and earth-shaking, they could at least eliminate errors and distractions, somewhat in the way that the first steps of any spiritual routine that I am aware of first concentrates on accuracy and repetition of some chant or discipline or physical exercise done correctly, which them later morphs into a higher reality.  Maybe Lesser reasoned that she was already on a higher level and so didn’t need to be cautious about her basics, but that didn’t wash with me.  The book wasn’t done with me, however.

Sure enough, once I started reading, my old friend synchronicity gave me a visit.  As Lesser more or less quotes the prophet of synchronicity (that prophet being Carl Jung), what is not brought to consciousness returns to us as fate.  Thus, all the many things I’d been meaning to have another look at popped up at once in the references in her book.  There was Jung, Joseph Campbell (yes, the mythologizing Hero With a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell), Rainer Maria Rilke, whom I’d also checked out before opening her book, and various other not-new-but-surprisingly-recurring items.  So, I kept reading.  It was an uneven book, but helpful and except for what I believe she herself calls a few “hippy-dippy” moments, for which anyone can be forgiven who’s writing about such intangibles as spirit and its manifestations, a restorative read.  After reading her, I went back to the two-disc set of DVDs in which Joseph Campbell was interviewed before the end of his life by Bill Moyers.  Though their conversation is dense with reference and complicated points in storytelling, it’s an enlightening and provocative set of interviews, and well worth anyone’s time who wants to feel more in tune with humanity in general.

This morning, I was feeling disgruntled again, so I decided to try to put down my thoughts in a poem, and boy, did I!  It may not be the best poem in the world, may in fact be thought of by some as very prosaic, but it’s three pages long, and I think encapsulates the experience I’ve recently been having.  Though the mystic in the poem is a “she” (as a sort of indirect nod to Lesser, though I wasn’t consciously writing about her), the real figure I was thinking of was a sort of femininized Campbell, a spirit guide.  As well, I thought of Kenneth Burke, the great rhetorician of roughly the same time frame as Campbell, who had many illuminating thoughts about the human situation as well, though his most flagrantly spiritual thoughts were protectively couched in terms of how rhetoric functions.  These two men were both loosely or closely at different times associated with teaching and universities, but both were often autodidacts in the sheer amount of syncretic learning and thinking they did, on many issues.  So, here’s the poem, in all of its perhaps dubious glory.  I have to apologize for the length of this post, but without all its parts, I don’t think it would make sense.

The Only Road in Town
(To Kenneth Burke and Joseph Campbell)

Wayfarers
We all are,
The signposts irregular
  and confused.
As children,
Proud of new abilities
To scan and read,
We make fun 
Of the ancient spellings,
Pronounce them in the
  distorted fashions
They seem to suggest,
Ignorant we, ignorant-seeming they.
Seeming, in fact, is what we know,
How things seem to interpret
  themselves out,
Lazy children, letting things
  go their own ways.
We think we split into many myriad paths,
I a doctor, you a lawyer, he a merchant,
She a mystic,
And we all shrug at her especially,
For she keeps insisting
That there's only one road in town.
But when we need, in the middle
  of the night,
It's her words we try to recall,
And if we are shameless of our pain,
We dial her up,
Hold her on the phone for hours,
Not thinking about whether or not
She too has children, or a garden,
Or a husband who's leaving
Because he can no longer
Stand the mice roaming in the cupboard
Which she refuses to kill
Because she wants to drive them out gently.
We laugh at her when we gather,
Sometimes to her face,
Which she takes in good part
Even while saying "You'll see,"
And we do see sometimes,
Though we are always newly astonished
That someone could hold that askew-view
Perpetually, instead of only now and then.
When we think we need God,
We speak about it timidly to her,
And usually her only,
As if she were a purveyor of pornography
Or other specious wares,
And we not wanting to be known to be
  a customer.
She doesn't tell us we need God,
But only confirms that we have something
  like a soul, needing water like a plant,
Though which plant and body of water
She refuses to say, only nourishing us
  with a taste of it
Through her listening and her rare words.
Her words too are signs, reminiscent
Of the signposts of old, though more intriguing
Through being more abbreviated and scant.
She lets us be, and it seems so rare and refreshing
Just to be let be, to share her sun,
To live under the same stars
With someone who seems to breathe sun and stars,
And breezes and antelopes and gazelles and tigers,
All in one.
Her rare earth is ours, for a while,
And though she can't explain it to us,
And doesn't try with phrases and such,
We respond like heliotropes and sunflowers
To her being, and go away feeling refreshed.
There comes the time, though, when we lose her,
Whether through our mortal dereliction or her own,
And we reach to try to preserve the intangible,
To recover the spirit that even those lazy children
We once were seemed to recognize in themselves.
And when we ask, from our deathbed or hanging
  solicitously over her in her moment of departure,
"Tell us, which road shall the funeral cortège take?"
Seeking either her last advice or her last wish,
She says but "The only road in town."
And we are thrown into tactless confusion,
Scrambling to assign a coherent meaning
To words that seem much like the signposts of old,
Contradictory, sublime, but oxymoronic all the same.
It may be then at that moment that she restores us
To the common lot, the way of it all,
To our not being doctors, or lawyers, or merchants,
Or even mystics, but to a being we can rejoin
Now that we have completed this leg of our journey,
This fine spectacle of a wayfaring,
This conundrum of existence,
And we are she, and she is we, and then someone departs,
Via the only road in town.

©by Victoria Leigh Bennett, 4/28/18

 

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Articles/reviews, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

“‘Infinity in a Grain of Sand'”–The first poem post of the New Year

This first week of the New Year, while I was sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike me as to what activity I should start with next, a phrase popped into my head:  “infinity in a grain of sand.”  As is often the case, I found out after looking it up that I didn’t have it quite right:  what William Blake actually said was something more like “To see a world in a grain of sand,” followed up by “infinity in an hour.”  But since Einstein, it’s apparently been thought that time and space are not distinct, so I stuck with my own title, with a nod to Blake (and Einstein).  This was my first poem of the New Year, 2018:

“Infinity in a Grain of Sand”

Love is an old man who sleeps poorly,
And awakens cranky with his wife in the morning.
Love is a young girl who can’t find one shoe,
And her mother calling repeatedly.
Love is a young man working on a truck
For his friend, who probably won’t pay him.
Love is the Earth going ’round,
With the universe still expanding.

Love is a cat who doesn’t have fleas or ticks
Still scratching herself and bathing methodically.
Love is a mother hen, pecking one chick on the head
And flapping her wings, and trying to crow.
Love is a horse rubbing its rump against the rail
And then trumpeting its voice to the donkey
Two stalls down, who answers.
Love is the Earth going ’round
With the universe still expanding.

Love is the mathematical equation
That the teacher writes on the board
Hoping his students will think him profound.
Love is the gravedigger, on a cold day sitting on a frozen mound
To eat his lunch, and drink the soup
From his thermos, which his wife filled.
Love is the conjunction point where all of them meet
Each in his or her own world, not yet complete.
Love is the Earth going ’round,
With the universe still expanding.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 1/2/18

3 Comments

Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings

Verbum satis (est)–“A Poem of Unequal Meters, for an Unequal Subject”

A Poem of Unequal Meters, for an Unequal Subject

Love is a thing that has no whys and wherefores
Love is a thing that comes but once a year;
Or once a century, or once a fortnight,
Love has no rationale, it’s oh! so clear.

Love is betwixt and between the poles and deserts,
Love is both hot and cold, angry and shy,
First we cast it off, and then we seek for it,
When we want it, then no love can we descry.

Love is both sure of itself and quite uncertain,
Love can’t decide whether to go or stay;
Where other things crawl and lump along life’s toll road
We often expect love freely to make its way.

We pay a huge price for love, yet eagerly give it
Many times to such contenders as value it not,
And whatever we have to invite its honest presence
Others would give up for what we have not got.

For lovers’ sakes we pull our hair, and beat our breastbone,
Like to a host of cannibals on the prowl,
Such spiritual nourishment torn from human sources
In a case of symbolic replacement, any old how.

On the days when love’s spirit, though, doesn’t plague us,
We fall for love’s body, a hand, a lip, an eye:
Yet always we find ourselves incredulous
Whatever our own appeal, that love passes us by.

For it doesn’t matter how modest we are, or how clever,
We’re born with a sense that it’s a democracy,
Yet often when love overtakes us, aristocratic
Norms prevail, and do not set us free.

So take your best shot at it, or forego it,
You’re born to it! Or, you lack love’s troublesome spark,
But be sure should you falter in love’s path, my dear, you will know it,
And find yourself lost and stumbling in the dark.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 10/11/17

Leave a comment

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, Poetry and its forms and meanings

Teens in extremis and showing that a presence is better than a legacy–Jennifer Niven’s “All the Bright Places”

By and large, I do not read much YA fiction.  Nevertheless, I have sometimes been sufficiently attracted by the combination of an appealing or curious title and a front cover which promise between them a “good read,” and so it was in this case.  Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places chooses to initiate the reader’s awareness of bright places and just what makes them doubly bright sometimes, with her hero and heroine both having made their way individually to the top of a school bell tower, where they become better known to each other while each is in the midst of a personal moment of crisis.  The hero, a senior boy named Theodore Finch, one of the “bad boys” and quirkier persons in the senior class, meets up with Violet Markey, who is basically a good student with a deep personal grief in her recent past.  Though they are vaguely cognizant of each other as members of the same class, their serious acquaintance has previously ended there, since Violet is leery of being seen as a friend of someone so markedly different.  But all that is about to change.

Theo takes it upon himself to rescue Violet from the predicament she’s gotten herself in by not only helping her down from her precarious perch on the opposite side of the tower, but by also allowing her to pretend to all and sundry that it was she who helped coax him out of an apparently suicidal state.  Both of them are seeing school counselors already at the beginning of the novel, he for his perverse behavior and school-skipping, she for grief counseling concerning the death of her slightly elder sister Eleanor in a car wreck earlier.  Since everyone in the school comes to believe the fiction that Theo was the one helped down, his gentlemanly behavior in deferring to her puts him in an even more serious situation, not only with his counselor but also with most of the students, who consider him a “flake.”  With some initial resistance from Violet, gradually the two become co-workers on a Geography project (exploring the state sites of Indiana, which is where the novel is set), then friends, then lovers.

There are other subjects in the novel, however, and the major one does not even become apparent (or at least exteriorized) until near the end of the novel, in Theo’s sections (the novel is divided up into a back-and-forth narration style something like journal or diary entries between Violet and Theo, with occasional quotes from their Facebook messages to each other).  Some of these subjects include school bullying, the hypocrisy of some teenage friendships, dating mores, family relationships in split or fractured families or families who have suffered a loss, and parental abuse, to name a few of the more obvious.  Over and above all these, and woven in with them as it gradually becomes manifest, the major subject is one which I will not spoil by revealing; it has something to do, however, with one of the reasons the “bright” places seem so very bright in Theo’s and Violet’s world, a reason which Violet only gradually becomes conscious of as she is drawn into the magical, sometimes contrarious, sometimes without-rules world of Theo Finch.

For, Theo’s manically-charged celebration of life, which he shares at his best moments with Violet, periods during which he thinks of himself as being “awake,” alternate with black moods like his abusive father’s, during which he isolates himself and calls himself “asleep.”  As Violet eventually starts to improve in her own life, becoming less sad and morose due to Theo’s attentions to her, we see Theo beginning to slip once again and in a serious way into a state which has before only been foreshadowed in the novel.  Though he does part ways with Violet during a meaningless quarrel the two of them have, he leaves a legacy for her which, nevertheless, though she treasures it, is less valuable to her by far than his presence.  It is this legacy, “all the bright places,” that he enables her to enjoy, and the author, Jennifer Niven, comments upon it expansively not only in her sections addressed directly to the reader, but in her list of help agencies and organizations for the benefit of people like her two characters, Violet and Theo.

Having said all that I’ve said about the seriousness of this novel, I think it’s important to add that the material is very lightly handled, and with due respect for the target audience.  The attitude is both mature and maturity-seeking, not for a moment “talking down” or sounding a note awry, though there are pictures in the novel of well-meaning adults who do not manage to avoid these troubles.  All in all, I think this a novel well worth a read, even for someone who is no longer a teen, or even a young adult.  And after all, we were all young once, as people sometimes say, and many of us have confronted similar issues or persons, whether young or not.  I hope you will have a chance to read this book, and will share my admiration and respect for its author and handlers.

2 Comments

Filed under Articles/reviews, What is literature for?

A Meditation on Memory, Called (Rather Obviously) “Memory”

This is a poem which came to me after 2-3 days of poetic inactivity, and I can’t vouch for its quality, though I hope it passes muster.  There is a rather transparent metaphorical reference to a certain public official in the phrase “scoff-law in office,” but considering the things he’s signed so far, they are, as Hamlet put it, “custom[s]/More honor’d in the breach than the observance.”  Therefore, the metaphor is simply one drawn from our times; I’m not complaining that the executive orders haven’t been carried out, which considering most of them would be a distinct improvement.  The poem, of course, as a whole has only general applications to the way people remember, and is not intended to be political at all.

Memory

Memory
Is a funny thing
It restores what
We've never had;
It makes us dreams,
Wild approximations
Of our daily life
So that we see strange symbols
At night
And yet, we know, if we think
How to read the starry graphs
That turn up
When our faces are pressed
Into our pillows,
Non-cognizant,
One would have said.
Memory
Makes us hate our foes
All the more
For remembering their depredations
From before,
It presents us to ourselves
As weak victims
Or mistaken aggressors,
Neither in the middle
Nor moderate,
Though we think, perhaps,
That we exaggerate.
Memory
Dances with our ambitions
And keeps track
Of the one-two-three step
To reassure us
That we really are not great dancers,
But need the loud count
Like everyone else.
And last,
Memory purges us
Of our opportunities
To forget
Pains and hardships,
For of course
Our early warning systems
Are necessary and vital
To our well-being.
All in all,
Memory is a scoff-law in office,
Who signs papers
It doesn't abide by,
And creates havoc
Just when we have restored
Order.
But to create order
Without the orb and scepter
Of remembrance
Never mind
The fell instances of memory,
Would be impossible.
So, we tolerate the demon markers
Of the individual instance
For the sake of the overall picture.
God grant us
That the whole come true and right
Before we tuck us
Further into night.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 1/30/17

That’s all for now.  Though I’ve knocked off for the last three days (after all, housework and chores have to be done too!), it’s good to feel back in the swing of things.  Shadowoperator

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

A new copyrighted poem for this site, “A Moment’s Rest on Old Laurels”

Dear Fellow Posters and Bloggers,

It’s been so very long since I posted regularly, and I’ve also been reading more irregularly, but now that the New Year is here, I’m hoping to improve my record and get back to doing one of the things I love best, which is interacting with those of you who write in (very much appreciated) and also enjoying the sight of how many people the world over have been here over the last few years, and have done me the honor of reading.  They are always welcome to comment too.

I’m breaking new ground in a sense, because I haven’t regularly written poetry for about seven years now, and I am trying to get back to it.  This is a brand-new poem, just written today, and edited and re-edited a few times.  It’s got a few staggered rhythms, and a sort of “where are the horse and rider?” gist to it in parts, and I know better (have been taught better, that is) than to post a work which is not as “cold” as death and calmly viewed and reviewed for a long time first.  But I’m hoping that you’ll like it anyway, and may find something in it.

“A Moment’s Rest on Old Laurels”

True emptiness
Is not a Buddhist virtue;
And then, real silence,
Almost never heard.
Big darkness resides closely:
Daylight's second self,
True heartbreak, too,
Requires not a word.

All find one day a night too close, too feeble
To breathe in first and then, at last, breathe out.
Sometimes there's nothing to be said about it,
Sometimes, there's only just a labored shout.

To show true colors often takes great courage,
Or maybe great knavery,
Shining and shameless and wry.
Decisions are often merely taken in passing
Or oftener still, are timely well put by,
Or oftener still, are timely well put by.

Where is the proving ground,
Where is the halter
That leads the horse
To champs where he feeds?
How was he able to breast 
Through the battle
In elder days of his rider's need?

Tell me, oh tell me,
Oh wise ones before me,
How can I counter the lame and the halt
When they say to me surely
As I go on two legs,
My false steps
That felled me
Were my own damn fault?

And God in Her Heaven
If such One there be,
Choose wisely between
The opponent and me,
To seat us securely
Each safe in each part,
Where neither wage war
Or defraud counterpart.

For surely there is
In the universe wide
Somewhere that broad ocean,
That unfathomable tide,
Which carries all over
To mysterious shores
And poems and diatribes
Matter no more.

For now, I am hampered
By meter and rhyme,
And so pass my small way,
Relinquish my time;
Remembering, day was
When I too ran fast,
And good fortune smiled on me,
Victor at last.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 1/5/17

That’s all, for the time being.  It’s old-fashioned in parts concerning some concepts and of course it rhymes, but sometimes a good jog-along will keep you warm when it’s cold outside, even if the sense is partially morose-sounding.  Have a great first week of the New Year, and if you’re where it’s cold, wrap up (if you’re where it’s warm, remember, your turn will come, if not for cold, then for rain.  These days, we all have so many calamities in world weather that we need to be mindful of each other.  Ta! for now).

7 Comments

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, What is literature for?

The Biography of a Song–Alan Light’s “The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah'”

Today, I’m writing about a song which is my favorite popular song of all time, and one about which there is not only a lot of concord (that it is a great song), but also a lot of disagreement (that it is spiritual, that it is full of primal sexuality, that one artist or another has done a better job of conveying its “basic” meaning, that one version or another is the best, etc.).  I don’t know which artist I first heard sing it, because I turned the television on in the middle of a performance just in time to catch the lyric lines “She tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne, she cut your hair,” and somehow, the incongruity of the notions of a throne and having one’s hair cut by a woman at home (or perhaps the collision inherent in the idea of a kitchen chair being like a throne) caught my attention in a very primary way.  I fell in love with the song immediately, but in spite of this book’s insistence about the ubiquity of the song, when I went to a local DVD and CD store to obtain a copy of the media form it was on, I only encountered absolute blankness from the clerks.  I did not know at the time that it was by Leonard Cohen, the famous Canadian composer and songster also responsible for such songs as “Bird on a Wire.”  I had seen the song performed by a much younger man, a very soulful character also, however, but not one whose name I remembered hearing.

My next encounter with it was on Bon Jovi’s 2008 DVD “Live at Madison Square Garden” (which, however, I did not get a copy of until about 2012 or so, or certainly a few years after its first production, anyway).  It has remained my favorite rendition of the song except for Leonard Cohen’s, and that’s because it has at least five of the now current seven stanzas (I would really love to see the original 80 stanzas just to read, but that remains for another time).  The only thing I did not like about Leonard Cohen’s own version was that he was in London at the time, and he stuck the name of his performance locale in the song when he performed, which he apparently did in other places as well.  I don’t like it particularly not because of any resentment towards London, but because I like the song the way it is, and don’t like it much when any artist or artiste kowtows to a local audience instead of during a “pure” version of the song.  But that’s just my own obsession with completeness and purity speaking; I understand that the local audiences of the various places went wild when he did it.

And now, to the ostensible subject of my post, the book itself.  The book is uneven, in that it offers a wealth of interesting detail about the song, its development, and history of production and reproduction, but also throws a bunch of famous and not-so-famous names at you, which gives a feeling of “I guess you had to have been there.”  It sometimes descends to the level of “he-said-she-said” or gossip, but for the most part, it is well worth an attentive read.  It contrasts the way the different artists performing the song have seen it, because each artist seems to have wanted to make it his or her own, even to the extreme (in my view) of leaving words and stanzas out.  The frontispiece quotes are from Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, in that order, and thus offer the two most famous attitudes and artists’ views of the song.  Cohen said, “‘Hallelujah’ is a Hebrew word which means ‘Glory to the Lord.’  The song explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist.  I say all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have an equal value.  It’s a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way, but with enthusiasm, with emotion.”  Perhaps the song’s most popularly famous performer (somewhat possibly because of his own later and untimely demise), Jeff Buckley, said “Whoever listens to ‘Hallelujah’ will discover that it is a song about sex, about love, about life on earth.  The hallelujah is not an homage to a worshipped person, idol, or god, but the hallelujah of the orgasm.  It’s an ode to life and love.”

One particular thing that this book did for me, however, was to encourage me to reach beyond my own limits:  because I tend to prefer songs by their original composers or first singers (or both), because I tend to prefer to get all the lyrics and not just half or the mere repetition of a few words and a chorus, and because I get distracted when there is more than one key interpretation to a song, I found this book a challenge.  It forced me to see that the song does indeed belong not only to Leonard Cohen, but to the world, and while that’s entirely a good thing, because it seems to communicate a sort of togetherness and community spirit, I do still feel the right of my own preferences:  I, too, am in the world!  And perhaps that realization, for each person who hears the song or reads the book, is the single most valuable thing about either.

5 Comments

Filed under Articles/reviews