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“A Theory of Time”–My latest love poem

This is my latest love poem, and I have to say that even though not all of my poems are love poems, I’m beginning to wonder if people are getting tired of my favorite poetic subject, of all my poetic subjects, if they by and large aren’t poetically inclined, if they resent rhyme (as I often use it, and some people consider it out of style), or if they’re even reading my output at all.  I still am getting tons of reads of my literary essays, some even all the way back to 2012 when I first started my blog, but it’s rare for people to comment on the poetry, or even give it a “like,” which admittedly is a bit of a lazy technique for comments, though I have occasionally used them when I couldn’t think of what else to say.  So, if you are reading, folks out there, don’t feel unequal to the situation, or shy:  most poets are flattered even to be read.  I can tell by some of my stats that the poetry is less popular, but other stats suggest that some readers are getting to it through “Archives” and the “front page,” as I call it.  Let me invite you to read, and have your say.

A Theory of Time

After a while, the rope will fray and break
That is tied and stretched and tested for love's
  long sake;
Though aeons may pass without apparent change
Then on a sudden the atoms will rearrange

Themselves, and the threads will fast unweave
And the lover's heart, torn and tattered, cease
  to cleave
(Except when "cleave" means to split and to divide,
Whereupon the rope then untwines from side to side

Rather like two snakes, themselves undoing from acts
  of love
If really that were their destined formation,
  to be wove.)
Rope, quite like the mirror, split from side to side,
And Tennyson's curse seems to mock and to deride.

Ropes and rivers, and bodies in boats drifting
  with the tide
To Camelot, where the towers spread out wide,
And boats are secured, as long as ropes hold true,
But boats are just boats, and rue is only rue.

For when men and ladies rue what has been done,
And time rolls around, intent to spare not one,
Then Camelot once again peeks out from time
Granting a suffering unwound and sublime.

And then threads of love lie loosely
  on the ground,
Quiescent, dependent from the parent round
So that all one can say is "It once was
  in Camelot,
And wherever else, and now the bonds are not."

For, regal and royal we most of us just fail of,
And our Camelots flourish on more quotidian love,
Long testings and strivings, so noble and honored
  and free--
Why, ropes already riven would float us out
  to sea!

So, consider, my love, that I still love and hope,
Though for aeons, it seems, I haven't yanked
  on the rope;
But left you at peace, where it seems you want
  to be,
As far as a galaxy, universe, from me.

©4/19/2019 by Victoria L. Bennett

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How to write a how-to book–Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”

Most of us who write, have aspirations to write, or just like reading about good writing and how it’s done have heard of Anne Lamott.  She’s the fine essayistic voice behind such classics as Bird by Bird (her book on teaching writing) and other, more obviously spiritual books such as Help, Thanks, Wow (her book on what prayer is all about) or her books about her son’s and grandson’s youth (Operating Instructions: My Son’s First Year and Some Assembly Required:  My Son’s First Son respectively).  The breadth of the things she can write about (because she also writes fiction) is astounding, but behind it all is a firm grounding in just what makes us human and reachable by others; for Lamott, it’s our sense of humor.

Today, I would like to share just a little of what I think makes for success in her work, and it is this sense of humor she shares with us so readily.  Even when she’s discussing situations in which she has encountered the most fragile of writers’ egos, or the most obnoxious of them, she does so with a rich appreciation of their underlying connection to her and her own experiences.  She shares little snippets of these experiences constantly, and while being aware that she must once have agonized over things just as much as the rest of us do, we are coaxed along through the narrows, shoals, and dead falls of being writers by her amused look at her own trials and difficulties with other writers, publishers, editors, family, and day-to-day confusions.

True, it’s often hard for us to laugh when our own work is concerned, and Lamott discusses at length in several spots how some of her students seemed nearly to want to call her a fraud because she couldn’t give them quick and easy answers about how to get published.  Her take on this whole conundrum was that one should write for the sake of writing, and publish when possible, if possible.  Her final encouraging word seems to be that writing is a spiritual task, a fulfillment of personal goals more precious and worthwhile than the mere search for fame and fortune.  Now, one could also believe that it’s easy for her to say, since she is a famous and respected writer.  Except, of course for the fact that she discusses freely her own search, at first, for fame and fortune, and the sum and total of her book’s argument (though it’s really important to read the whole of her book and not rely just on my word) is that true satisfaction comes not from finding fame and fortune through one’s writings, but from the process, as I know you’ve heard it said before.  It’s just that Anne Lamott makes the best argument for this frequently-cited idea with a grace and hilarity which you won’t find in other writing guides I’m familiar with, where everything is self-serious and clunky, even, full of nice one-liners supported by lengthy paragraphs, which, however well-intentioned, rely on some particular set of tricks of the trade some of which even contradict those in other writing guides.

Lamott is nothing if not blessed with a light touch; this makes her book easy to read, which is not a curse:  it’s free of causing that overwhelmed feeling one often has after reading a writing guide, that feeling of having too much responsibility weighing one down, that feeling of being unequal to the task of writing as advised.  This may be because Lamott doesn’t come up with a particular theory of writing, or support a particular style; instead, she gives general advice about where to seek for material starting out (from one’s childhood, from overheard conversations, etc.), about how to accept criticism in a beneficial manner, about how to know when criticism is not based on good fellow feeling, about how to deal with what publication is really like, about how to deal with writer’s block, and other issues facing those who are rank beginners and who are seasoned writers equally.

Anyone who is interested even in the issue of how other people write whether or not they write themselves might find a good read and more than a few chuckles in this book, which though funny as hell is also gifted with an underlying commitment to the subject that it’s easily possible to sense.  After reading this book and finishing it a couple of days or two ago, I felt the impulse to write an essay other than a literarily-based essay on a work of literary fiction, such as I ordinarily publish here.  Though it doesn’t have the comic power of Anne Lamott, it’s a piece such as she advises us to write, based on things from our own lives, and so I want to share it with you, my audience, and will use it as my next post.  Until then, make an effort to get a read of Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, or indeed any of her others while you are waiting to read that one, and I promise you will be entirely delighted with her material and her voice alike.

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Rupi Kaur and “The Sun and Her Flowers”–When simplicity is enough

Upon first perusing Rupi Kaur’s second book of poetry, The Sun and Her Flowers, published in 2017 hard upon the heels of her extremely successful first book, Milk and Honey (which I haven’t yet read), I was at first a little disappointed.  The complicated devices and figures I, at least, prefer to find in poetry were missing.  The poem was a long sort of prose poem of most short, declarative sentences, with a few questions strewn here and there, interspersed with clever sketches of the stages of a woman’s life.  The most complicated comparison seemed to be that of comparing people to sunflowers, which, in the titles of the various divisions of the poem, go through stages of “wilting,” “falling,” “rooting,” “rising,” and “blooming.”  That seemed at first not only too simple, but a little simple-minded.  But something kept me reading, anyway.  Perhaps it was the desire to see the “plot” fulfilled, which is one of the characteristic things analysts say drives the reading of a prose work.  I mean, given the organic governing metaphors, and the theme of “to everything a season,” a certain uplift at the end was to be expected, it was apparent.  Still, this particular evocation of the growing season had somehow become more interesting than just the generalized comparison:  she had sneaked it in on me.

As I read, I followed the poem through the delineation of a violently-inclined love affair and its end, the grief and desolation which follow the ending of even a bad love, the gradual recuperation that, if one is basically life-oriented and sensible, one tries to develop or find, the impulse toward re-growth that follows, and the also gradual rise into a new love and a community awareness of the family as a whole.  But let’s take that a little slower.  The first parts of the poem are addressed to a “you” who is a bad influence; then, gradually the “you” disappears; then it morphs into a “you” who is a sudden and surprising treasure; then, an awareness of the loves of different generations of the family develops; then, a recounting of the difficulties that migration presents even to two parents or forbears who love each other, and a detailing of the anxieties and separations they must endure for their families comes next; then, a modest gesture toward discussing the life of societal pressures and how this affects immigrants in a new country sums up the whole.  Really, by the time I finished the book, I was quite impressed with just how forcefully and completely this poetic vision had fulfilled itself, and all in a series of simple, non-capitalized, mostly unpunctuated sentences.  (Not that capitalization or punctuation are regular in poetry anyway, as a general rule, or that they are to be expected in free verse, but when one is confronted with apparent simplicity as a device, one can begin to question whether or not it’s overdone.  Happily, such was not the end result in this case.)

By this time, I was sufficiently humbled to want to read the graceful (and again, simple) biographical sketch of Rupi Kaur which takes place at the end of the book.  It was a bit vague, and I would have liked more details (which, like jewels, or buds, if one prefers to stick to the organic metaphor, were strewn throughout the summary).  Basically, the artist’s statement was that “I am the product of all the ancestors getting together and deciding these stories need to be told”).  One set of topics which I have not touched upon yet, and which the poem also dealt with in detail was female liberation from the restraints of a conventional and hidebound societal influence, and how various generations of women have achieved it.  As the blurb stated, and as I have in a general way sketched out above were:  “love, loss, trauma, healing, feminity, migration, and revolution.”  That’s just about said it all, but that’s saying a lot.

There are many different styles and kinds of poetry kicking around these days, and everyone can mostly choose for himself or herself which to pursue for edification, but if you read no other book of poetry this year, it’s at least arguable that you should read this one, which is based in technique upon the poet’s experiences in delivering performance poetry in places in Canada, her country of adoption.  After all, you can hardly go wrong with a long poem which has not only an organic metaphor governing its development, organic metaphors consistently expressing things “all flesh is heir to,” but which also describes a particular historical experience of a large group of people.  Give it a read; I think you’ll be both pleasantly surprised and greatly impressed, whatever your first impression, or your overall take on performance poetry.  As for me, at some time in the near future, I’ll be dipping into Milk and Honey by the same author, to see what word experience she started out by allowing me to immerse myself in!  Shadowoperator

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Women without men–short story traditions about toughness and resilience

In 1927, Ernest Hemingway published a collection of short stories called “Men Without Women” in his famous and much-imitated minimalist style.  The stories contained few female characters, but were grouped rather around themes relating to toughness, resilience, and the things which challenge and sometimes defeat these characteristics, especially in the lives of men.  Seventy years later, in 1997/98, the noted Hemingway imitator Richard Ford, writing in his own variation of the tradition, now known as “dirty realism,” published “Women With Men,” in which the toughness of the tone and the themes of finding ways of being resilient (and sometimes not making it) were also prevalent.

Taking place in the same time span, however, two other authors in other parts of the globe were writing on the basic subject of “women without men,” and about the toughness and strength required not of men, but of women, in their places in male-dominated societies.  One was Amador Daguio, writing from the Philippines, and sometimes from other places where he studied away from his home.  The other, a little younger, was Bessie Head, writing from South Africa, living some of her life in exile in Botswana.  Both wrote of tragic situations in the lives of their characters, one, Daguio, of the unhappy end of an otherwise happy relationship, the other, Head, writing about the horrific end of an unhappy relationship.  I’ll delineate some of the plot details of the story I’ve selected from each one, even though to do so is perhaps to spoil somewhat the outcome.  Still, both stories will bear up time and again to readings and re-readings, and the quality is in the writing, not alone in the plot.

In Amador Daguio’s story, “Wedding Dance,” the story takes place in a traditional Kalinga society.  The young man in the story, Awiyao, is on his way to his second wedding, a marriage undertaken purely for the purpose of conceiving a child.  He stops by the home of his true love, his first wife, Lumnay, whom tribal custom allows him to set aside because they have been unable to conceive, after seven years.  Though both of them tacitly acknowledge that the fault may lie with either or both of them, they both adhere to tribal custom, and consider it inevitable, though later Lumnay has a wild moment of considering rushing into the elders’ group and protesting, in effect ending the custom.  He offers her both the hut they have shared together and the field they worked together as hers to keep, but the only thing she asks for is her string of marriage beads, valuable in their own right, and personally valuable to her.  He urges her to attend the dance, and to think of finding a new husband, but she refuses.  The story ends, after she has made an abortive walk to the outskirts of the dance but withdrawn, with an extremely poetic passage, the very opposite of “dirty realism,” and somehow full of the desperate kind of hope that is all she has left, in emotional terms, anyway.  She has gone to the bean field:

“A few more weeks, a few more months, a few more harvests–what did it matter?  She would be holding the bean flowers, soft in the texture, silken almost, but moist where the dew got into them, silver to look at, silver on the light blue, blooming whiteness, when the morning comes.  The stretching of the bean pods full length from the hearts of the wilting petals would go on./Lumnay’s fingers moved a long, long time among the growing bean pods.”

Hope and the celebration of moments of love and affection are all that are left as well in the starker story by Bessie Head, called “The Collector of Treasures.”  In it, Dikeledi Mokopi, the heroine, has been deserted by the husband of her three children, Garesego, for a number of years.  This is after she has already had a hard life as a child and young woman.  Yet still, she is spoken of as “the collector of treasures” because she finds isolated moments of happiness and contentment to buoy her up and carry her through, these moments being her “treasures.”  “She had filled her life with treasures of kindness and love from others and it was all this that she wanted to protect from defilement by an evil man.” Garesego has in fact moved in with a concubine, whose children he treats as his own, and  he never comes to see his own children or take any responsibility for them.  As a counterpoint to this relationship, her new neighbors, who celebrate and come to love her, also take the place unofficially of her lost breadwinner.  Paul Thebolo and his wife Kenelepe, who become her fast friends, supply her in abundance with foodstuffs and household goods in exchange for her crafting and cooking and small hand manufacturing jobs, for which she refuses to take any pay.  Their relationship with each other is one of love and understanding, and Kenelepe, to her husband’s amusement but implied refusal, loves Dikeledi so much that she offers to lend Paul to her for lovemaking, after Dikeledi discusses it with her and she discovers that Dikeledi’s husband never even attempted to love her properly.  But of course, after eight years of happiness, there’s bound to be a snag:  the eldest son of Dikeledi is ready for school, but with all her savings, she hasn’t managed to save enough.  When she approaches Garesego for it, he insults her by casting a supposed relationship with Paul in her face, and then says he will come home so that they can settle their differences.  Dikeledi knows that this means he wants sex, so she sends a message of apparent compliance, and prepares her home.  After he has had one last meal there, and she has given him one last opportunity to say that he will help, which he more or less refuses, she allows him to fall asleep from his heavy meal.  Then, using a knife she had placed in secret at the ready, she cuts off his genitals.  When Paul Thebolo finds out what she has done, he swears to her that they will take her three children and raise them as their own, sending them to school.  The conclusion (which actually takes place in a flash forward at the very beginning of the story) happens in a prison area which Dikeledi shares with other women who’ve committed the same crime.  She settles in and makes herself happy there too, finding someone to love, a friend, and prepares to live out her life sentence.  It is made clear that this is her fate because this is her nature, to be resilient and strong, and to find good things wherever she can to be happy and pleasant about.

Though both men and women in the tradition I’m writing about show strength and resilience, toughness, what the British call the “stiff upper lip” quality of not overly complaining about one’s difficulties, in the stories about women what is emphasized more is the ability simply to endure, to wait, to bear the burdens of life, often in societies that don’t offer them the same outlets as men have.  The story “Wedding Dance,” which ends with an implied parallel between Lumnay’s chances for happiness and the returning of the harvest season each year, suggests that perhaps she will after all accept the offered bean field from her erstwhile husband, and find a way to go on, thus changing in a small way the tradition she speaks about at the beginning, of returning to her parents.  The tradition is broken, of course, in a much more violent and what is usually thought of as a “masculine” way with Dikeledi, who commits murder with a knife in order to keep her life undefiled.  She has, of course, defiled her own hand with the deed, but this crime is a crime for which the author clearly and under the given circumstances shows sympathy and understanding, and implicitly asks the reader to do so as well.

In both cases, the prose, though it mentions rough circumstances and cuts the characters no slack, is clearly different from that of the American precursor authors.  The entirety of “Wedding Dance,” though slightly and strangely atilt from the fact that it is not the two lovers in it who are going to be married, is extremely poetic and flowing, and indicative of love as is often displayed in a line of dance.  In “The Collector of Treasures,” the story uses language as simply as possible, but it looks deeply into the heart of Dikeledi and analyzes her thoughts and feelings in a way that Hemingway and Ford prefer generally not to do, their forte being to get the reader to do the work.  Yet, all four authors are placing their characters in situations that anyone could relate to, and though they are situations very different from each other, they all stem from basic human relations and needs, as all good short stories do, as all good writing does, for that matter.

I hope you have enjoyed this post, readers; it’s the first I’ve had time to do for quite some time, but I hope to be posting more again soon.  If you’re looking for a place where these two stories can both be found together, along with many more, some of which I may also write about soon, look for a 1995 Harper Collins volume, quite large, called Modern Literatures of the Non-Western World:  Where the Waters Are Born.  The editors are Jayana Clerk and Ruth Siegel.  Spring approaches!  Shadowoperator

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More love poetry for the misadventurous–“Destiny’s Mayflies”

As I wrote to friends to whom I sent this poem this morning, if one is constantly vocal and expressive of one’s great misery over someone, chances are that one is mostly healed already, as the severely injured don’t usually mourn aloud.  Anyway, here’s my latest mournful love poem:

Destiny’s Mayflies

Me in my little, tight, hurting world
And you, somewhere in the great world
out there
Are both objects
Of the same grammarless sentence,
A sentence passed by what passes for fate,
A cruel joke made by a sentinel over people’s
fortunes,
A cunning lout with hair sprouting from his ears
and nose,
A subordinate who need not fear the distant
authority he represents,
His particular jest those people who try
To maintain some dignity in the face of
what confounds them
And makes them look silly or confused.

My partiality for you,
Your need to withdraw
He sneers at, picks that monstrous organ
In the middle of his face
And wipes the proceeds on his trouser bottom,
Not even having the grace to envy us
Our drama.
What is drama to him?
What irony? what compositional strategies?
He just guffaws at all these as words,
And says, “Not worth my time.”

Our tale doesn’t need to compose nicely
To suit him,
He’s the sort to watch a bug, fascinated,
For a minute or two,
Then, when it is trying loop-de-loops
Just in reach of his hand,
Performing, writing its name across the stars
As a miracle of nature,
He lifts his big, fat thumb
And squashes it flat
Against the table in front of him,
Indifferent to artistry.

But back to us, and our responsibilities:
I loved you, and it was all I could do,
For you were so worthy to be loved.
You could not love me the same,
And so gave it up as a bad job,
A trick with smoke and mirrors,
Something I had imagined
Or cooked up to fool the fates.
Enter our surly lieutenant,
And here I am back to him,
As if we had had no hand
In it at all.
Could it be, is he devious enough
To have brought us together in the first place?
Is he even sufficiently attentive
To the jokes he plays
To extend his feeble concentration
To the experiment
Of placing us together?

Whatever the case,
I still think of you, and wonder
Whether you are looping-the-loop
Somewhere else,
Daring to face him down
Perhaps by flying out of his range,
Your wings lighter
For having lost the burden of me.
I sit, quiet and still,
Or all wound up in knots,
Escaping attention for the moment
By my lack of motion.
He is evidently confident
That I am already dead,
And so all I have
Is my little, tight, hurting world,
And you in my thoughts,
Somewhere in the great world out there.

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 8/14/18

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Purity, blankness, innocence, guilt, and knowledge–An attempt at philosophy in “The Blank Slate”

Occasionally, I make an attempt at a philosophical/rhetorical poem, though sad to say, it’s difficult to make it a truly “poetic” poem at the same time, at least for me.  But I hope, at least, that what this poem loses in meter, or rhyme, or word play (though there are a few paradoxes here and there), it gains in comprehensive, overall clarity in covering the subject.  I think the subject of purity is still a riddle for most of us, since we leave the safe confines of total ignorance and innocence from the moment we are born and steadily accumulating impressions and knowledge.  At any rate, here is an attempt to comment on the subject of purity from an adult’s perspective, after the fact:

The Blank Slate

Scholars, people of learning
Have spilled oceans of ink
Have typed, have dictated,
Have processed, have created
Countless words
About the tabula rasa.
Yet none were so innocent
As to simply shrug
Or keep silent.
And none of their words
Were so guilty
As to tell the real truth.
Purity, of a sort,
Is like their ignorance.

Purity’s feet stink
Because an honest person sweats;
Purity cries out
Because an injured person
Grieves aloud;
Purity is like that.
Purity stares at you, uncertain
What you mean
And waiting for you to explain.
Purity is like that.

Purity, like yin or yang
Paradoxically
Has an element of knowledge in it
Some slight awareness of the other
Or else how would you know
What to compare it to?

Purity
Gets tripped up easily
By its opposite,
Maybe knowing there’s something
To avoid,
But not sure of what, how, or why.
It is too unschooled.
Purity is like that.

Purity and existence are at odds most often–
Just as Sartre claimed we all have dirty hands,
And “existence precedes essence,”
So we always have to ask ourselves,
“What price purity?”
If someone is pure, who made them so?
Who kept them in the dark
About starving hordes, and ticks,
And malevolence?
What makes them so special,
That they are allowed to be ignorant
Of what hurts?
Yet, we are still wistful
For the days when we too were somewhat blank,
Even if guilty by birth.

Purity, in sum,
Is something that,
Whether we ever had it or not–
We had in our mind’s most fervent imagination
From the first time we were asked,
“Who did this?”
And we were able genuinely to answer,
“Not I.”
Yes, purity is like that.

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 8/10/18

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A poem for true denizens of the temperate zone–“The Comfort of Dread”

Oh, if only it were always summer!  But then, perhaps if it were, we wouldn’t appreciate it, so goes the temperate zone dweller’s argument.  The last winter (winter 2017-18) was so severe here in the American Northeast, however, and lasted so long into Spring that one shivers in advance, even at the end of July, especially when we’re already having (and have never stopped having) storms and rain and yucky skies.  Right now, though, I can afford to be a bit blasé, perhaps, at least enough to write a poem on the topic which is not totally despairing.  It does perhaps have one of those human contradictions in it that we often run across when listening to people discussing the weather.  Here goes:

The Comfort of Dread

It’s almost the end of summer,
There is only one month left,
I’m dreading already the winter,
And the cold weather’s mighty, strong heft.

The ice, and the snow, and the chilblains,
(What are chilblains?)
What one used to have
When the frozen air got on one’s knuckles,
And one couldn’t afford a fine salve.

Yes, I dread even antique disasters,
Such as visited people of yore,
When the wind whistled ’round the high turrets
And the snow blew in under the door.

It’s useless to tell me I’m modern,
And I live in apartmented bliss,
After all, these things are so comparative,
And someone lives better than this.

Oh, it’s almost the end of warm greetings,
From one’s family and lovers and friends,
For on cold days they’re bundled and shivering,
And they all complain so without end.

Why, oh why, can’t there be a fine climate
Where we can determine the air,
Where the heat and AC are like indoors,
And follow us everywhere?

But I guess I wouldn’t be happy
Not to live through the change and to bitch,
So the temperate zone, chill or hotter,
Is where I will serve out my hitch.

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 7/29/18

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