Monday, July 23, 2012

the making of a poem


                        the light of the sun
                        going down on the river,
                        in fog


                         and a bird up high -


                        everything leading home.

I want to blog about this poem I wrote, how I made it. Its construction and execution. It took a few years all together, starting with a Japanese ink-painting workshop that went for a week. This was intense and exhausting. We’d start at 9am and go all day. We’d sit for eight hours in virasana, calves back on either side of thighs, sitting on a block at a low table. First off was making the black ink. We’d grind an ink stick into a stone dish for maybe half an hour. It becomes very meditative, just focusing on breathing and the feel, the sound of the ink stick slowly grinding away; the fragrance is sweet like spring is happening.

And then it was all day long doing exercises for brush stroke. To get them perfect you copy the master's picture over and over again, working up to the moment when everything in that character informs you, the body memory of it sunk deep in. How the weight pushes down on the tip of the brush then lets go, then arrives again, on the side of the brush this time, then with all of it involved. Your weight is in your belly. All your energy comes from here. None of it escapes to the mind in thought. You are just doing.

Kind of like how I write. I write a sentence again and again, keep writing it till all that’s present is the sound of the words. There is no thought of meaning, no thought at all, just a beat, a rhythm. It’s music and a picture too, because I’m arranging all these black shapes on the page as well as making sound. And the strange thing is that a meaning arises from all of this. With no intention whatsoever the words start to make sense, not only in the small sense of the sentence or paragraph but for the whole of the novel. All links up. The story is revealed without any conscious attempt to write it or control it. No thinking it. It is found.

I find paintings too. This is how I see creation - finding something that’s already there. I think it has to do with the timelessness that comes into play when you’re creating; time disappears when you’re working, you’re IN THE ZONE, but this is also occurring on a much, much deeper level, one where everything exists. You don’t just lose time as a construct when creating, you tap into the place beyond time where everything is in existence, past present and future together, and so you can pick out an already perfectly made object.  

So we did exercises all week and then in the last fifteen minutes of the final day, all of us spent, the teacher read out three tanka and we were asked to respond to each one; five minutes for each painting, the whole of the five days before present and participating, the group participating, the traffic and its horns, all the yells on Lygon Street taking part, the night lights and the early evening air, the total of them involved in each brush stroke. Everything both within and without contained in the moment that a stroke was taking place. No thought whatsoever. Just pure action. It’s done. Amen.

I have not been able to recreate it since with an ink painting but this is how it goes with all my other work, how my painting goes, my writing. The essential state is mindlessness. Receptivity. From such a place complexity can become contained within simplicity. Like a symbol. Yin and Yang – the whole of our world resides within what takes only one glance to view. But it can’t be made consciously because our conscious mind can’t take the whole of it in. We can’t look at it but only take a glance. It’s a spiritual, mystical state that's being entered. My Art My Church.

The poem happened a couple of years later. I was doing a year long poetry class with Ania Walwicz. There were round fifteen of us in it and we worked on our poems every week. Ania or one of us, or a few of us, would read a published poem out loud, then we talked about it for a while and then she said, how about we try writing one? Always this, let us try. And in five minutes we’d maybe write a poem. I always did, three most classes, and when she’d ask if any of us would like to read out what we’d written I pretty well always volunteered. Some never did. Poets are pretty shy in general, you know, they’re of an introverted nature; eagerness to share over road this for me. It was awe-inspiring. It was magical. Every poem worked.

And we all worked together, connecting in a place that went way beyond the room. Sometimes dreaming similar dreams, or talking outside class about something and then when we came back in it’d turn up in a poem Ania had brought along. Stuff like that. The power of the group helped get those poems written. We all had a dark vision.

I didn’t write the one I’ve got up here today in class but it was created within this amazing year of poetry, so the class was involved. I know it. I had not written poetry for over ten years. It was exciting to create every week these poems. I’d never thought it possible, told myself I couldn’t even write with someone else in the house. What had been very private had become public and the group pushed it along. Similar to a life drawing class. 

When a work is published, even in the small sense of being read out loud, there comes this feeling of a much bigger thing. The involvement of multiple observers, readers, changes the object into something larger. But now we’re back in time and space…

and so one sunny day I was walking round my garden and the poem just hit me in an instant. I had not even been thinking about it, ever, hadn’t even considered writing one for the paintings even though I looked at them every day tacked up above the heater. It’s like I caught it from the air. Perfect as it was. Nothing needed to be done except to write it down on paper. Its execution the moment it was cut out of the chaos that surrounds us and committed to paper. This is when a writer’s life is going swimmingly…  

Sunday, June 10, 2012


‘…perhaps all the wisdom, and all the truth, and all the sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible.’

From a little kid dusk has always been my favourite time of day. I remember telling mum this when I was round seven and she said that a lot of people didn’t like dusk because it made them think of death. It didn’t make me think of death. It didn’t make me think of anything. That’s the thing; it made me feel. Everything becomes quiet; the light softens, things blur and boundaries disappear. There’s a settling down, an anticipation. Listen up, something big is gunna happen.

Dusk is the moment before EVERYTHING changes. It’s a liminal time, one that divides the visible world from the invisible, the known from the unknown. We’re standing in a threshold where we can view everything, both the light and the dark, the before and after; all is intermingled. All is one. Dusk is a doorway both in space and time, an entrance and an exit where the whole mystery of this world we live in can be glimpsed, if we choose to do so.

And this is how I define horror, the making apparent of what is invisible, the viewing of not just what’s obvious and accepted, what’s always been, what is desired, but the attempt to see the whole. To do such a thing can be very uncomfortable. Not just for the reader but for the writer too. When the hidden comes out there are no rules anymore; taboos are broken, fears are exposed, stability is lost, ALL HELL CAN BREAK LOOSE.

We aren’t fully aware for good reason, it could kill us or send us mad, but in this threshold you are presented with a choice – to consciously recognize reality as more than what is obvious. For me there’s a greater sincerity here, wisdom is gained, but does it really bring us closer to the truth? Regardless of having glimpsed the whole we still end up in our own little worlds. Maybe they’ve stretched a bit, maybe we move a bit different, stand taller or curl over, skip or crawl, but the uncovering cannot allow us to leave permanently where we have settled, the illusion remains, unless we become no longer human.

I suppose that’s why I like writing as a werewolf. Truly anything can be. Not even the laws of physics stand in my way. CREATION IS ULTIMATE FREEDOM

The quotation is from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, a writer who bravely ventured into the horror of being human.

And this is a poem for someone I spent dusk with recently…

Anybody can die. Everybody does.
The evidence of this exists in
bones and sadness and grief.
Few go happily, many go accidentally,

unexpectantly   BRUTALLY   softly
                  silently noisily messily,
                rarely irradiating joyously-

perhaps there is knowledge
and if lucky love – for your dog
maybe, for people it’s much
more complicated. Guilt and murderous
thoughts lead to the need for oblivion
and painkillers, or just the pain
because then life can be FELT,
and there is no respite –

the Quickest have sweet time
and the unafflicted DO NOT EXIST
regardless of the various worlds
they once lived in.

X marks a kiss and your zenith
is the place you fall from, the depth
of your grave determined by the
height of your fall…

all that exists is a moment,
when you hold on to it it’s gone.