Moon Solo

With Jules Laforgue.

You gave voice lessons to your followers, reminding them back to the poetic possibilities of their own idioms. You knew the absurdity of lovesickness, the hopelessness of waiting, and the dogged persistence of stubborn hope. You lamented time’s slow passage even when you found it making still too quick an interval between before and after.

How do you catch a heartbeat? Build a poem to break everything, until what is left is the syncopated feeling of forest voices, to polish the mirror where the Unconscious seeks itself. What escapes the lover’s reach?

You knew the maddening moon, your death, beneath the dripping branches, the work of the web undone; you heard the tragic anthem of the unattended sun . . . like a gland ripped from the throat, and still. You could not keep from singing.

***

It’s the birthday of Jules Laforgue (1860-1887), French symbolist poet whose work strongly influenced T.S. Eliot’s development, and who championed the expansion of free verse. The opening line of this post references an enthusiastic comment of Eliot’s, soon after he encountered Laforgue’s early work in an anthology of symbolists. Much of Laforgue’s later work was not published in his lifetime (he died at the age of twenty-seven, of tuberculosis). This morning, I read Moon Solo: The Last Poems of Laforgue, published by William Jay Smith in a 1956 issue of The Sewanee Review. Some of the images (and italicized phrases) above are from these poems.

The Seer

For Willy Ronis.

You left the door open, called everyone familiar––and they were, after so long looking. You had born witness to their hope and heartbreak, their quiet, their children and the children they had once been, faces breaking open in a running laugh. They knew that you saw them and felt recognized, knew the shock of relief from their own anonymity in a world crowded with rushed strangers, too busy or beaten to look. Your lens could not resist a smile toward the lovers, and your heart swelled too full to make it stop.

***

Inspired by Willy Ronis, whose birthday was yesterday, and by this article about the photographer who saw Paris “with his heart in his eyes.”

Looking Up

With Dorothea Klumpke Roberts.

Since Cain slew Abel, she considered hers a threefold role: mother, priestess, aide. Faithful service to each has meant time spent gazing up to question the sun, moon, and stars in concert with the evolving hour at hand––not as objects or territories to be conquered or subdued, but with the reverence and awe she comes to hold as original truths. Her wish: to be a living torch, bearing these, that tomorrow’s children might see and be awed in turn. To look as she does, it will be impossible for them not to feel the moral impact of the moment and be awed by all that is and may yet be.

***

Today is the birthday of groundbreaking astronomer Dorothea Klumpke Roberts (1861-1942). This post is composed of ideas and images from a 1919 article she published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, “Woman’s Work in Astronomy.”

Rivers to the Sea

With Sara Teasdale.

Afterwards, amid the autumn dusk

I shall not care

Let it be forgotten by February twilight

these faults.

My heart is heavy with old love.

Love, this is not a word, but an epitaph.

What do I care, in the morning?

Says a voice around me now,

here in this spirit’s house.

***

Today is the birthday of American lyric poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The lines above are composed with some of her poem titles. The title of this post references a collection she published in 1915.

Elegy in Blue

For Robert Hayden.

Your preference for the long view was balanced by an exquisite attention to the ragged, beating heart of the impossible moment. You called history a long, bloody becoming toward what might finally be, this beautiful, terrible, needful thing, still stirring.

You were moved by the idea that against failure after failure, something wars, something goes forward, something lights a match, and remembered the winged man of the laughing, longing night.

You kept your eye on the sharp sails that flayed the albatross and on a promise that it was yet possible to walk back home over Galilee’s waters to be washed of the effluvium of living death.

Your own aches bent elsewhere, you trained your eye toward life upon these shores, to study the deep immortal human wish amid a timeless yearning for the good old days that had never been good.

You studied the choreography of spirit hanging on, dancing its own shelter with an intensity bright enough to shine through the sordid and cruel deniers of hearts, of lives, of life itself.

You argued that a poem is an action unto itself, a catalyst of compassion, a weight to bend the moral arc ever slightly toward a softer hand, toward community, toward home.

You knew despair could seed a song to raise the roof and the hard loving of laughter in bed with misery and as a constant reminder you drew heart-shapes in the constant dust, as if to mark this side of heaven.

Even as you mourned the moaning empress of the bluesfour bullets in her heart, you lifted us up with ostrich feathers to feel her still shining forward, to look with you, through the transience of loss, to the way they would rise early next Sunday, even against the next fistful of snow.

What did any of us know, anyway, of love’s austere and lonely offices?

***

On this day in 1913, American poet Robert Hayden (d. 1980) was born. The title of this post is adapted from an article Frank Rashid published in the Winter 2001 issue of Callaloo, “Robert Hayden’s Detroit Blues Elegies.” This post is composed using ideas and phrases from Hayden’s work and interviews, as well as a line (italicized above) from Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body, a work that moved and influenced Hayden, particularly his historical vision. Where possible, I have linked lines above to the works from which they are adapted.

Out of Exile

For Vladimir Korolenko.

You knew the blind musician, leaning in to hear birdsong and river stones, the murmur of distant water, and you brought him the shepherd’s pipe. You knew that to play it well meant knowing love and sorrow. You knew the dying peasant’s dream of heaven, bad company and the children of the underground, and how to abide for the day of atonement. Above all, you knew your unknowing, ceaselessly seeking some light within darkness, to heat against the killing cold. Leaning always toward the glow of truth, all of this danced with you, joyful and alive in your open hands.

***

Inspiration: Today is the birthday of Vladimir Korolenko (1818-1868), a Ukranian-born Russian writer, humanitarian, and human rights activist devoted to serving the poor and maligned. He spent a period exiled in Siberia for his criticism of tsarism and is best known for his short novel The Blind Musician (later, he was also silenced by Stalin for his critique of Bolshevik hypocrisies). I consulted available translations as well as Natalia M. Kolb-Seletski’s article, “Elements of Light in the Fiction of Korolenko” (The Slavic and East European Journal, Summer 1972). Some of the phrases above come from the titles of Korolenko’s short stories.

Shivers

An outbreak of dance.

In the streets, as the bells tolled, the pilgrims took to dancing. They claimed they could not stop. When asked why, they said it was St. John. Some suspected the culprit was a spider.

Imagination, after all, has diverse needs. Among these is enaction of beliefs, known and unknown, inherited and adopted. Perhaps there was some collective recognition of the allure of what was forbidden. Maybe it was a rejection of the certainty professed by the self-proclaimed experts of the unseen. How could there be such neat categories for the unknown, and what was a body to make, really, of the smug certainty of those pious pillars of chastity claiming to know all?

Every ritual is a cosmology enacted and here comes a sudden ambivalence between order and disorder.  Birth, after all, was very messy, and yet commonly described in deceptively banal terms: who was born, who gave birth, in the time of whose birth. These easy phrases tend to obscure the body’s radical passage from imminence to transcendence, and the terror of the vast labyrinth of possibilities that open when this is considered.

No, no. This was deemed too much. It was easier, many believed, to call for an exorcism, to blame a series of botched baptisms given by priests improperly purified of the weaknesses of the flesh. And of course, the spider, who as a weaver of intricate patterns in the air, had long been cause for suspicion among the high-minded guardians of propriety.

***

On this day in 1374, observers in the Rhine basin observed processions of pilgrims wandering from town to town in a display of what some described as “hysterical” dancing. This 2016 article describes this notable outbreak of “Dance Mania.” I am interested as much in the phenomenon itself as I am in the factors that led such behavior to be displayed, diagnosed, and chronicled.

Morning Clouds

Residue of a dream.

At the fringes of the clouds

there still lingered, hesitant, 

that person.

We kept silent, learned 

to dance a little, as if

opened suddenly.

A body of dance flowed

into our bodies. Our blood

burned.

We studied, and suddenly

couldn’t speak. The heart

hurt.

It started to rain, and we

watched the mountain

through the rain.

When winter came, we

jumped in time until

we couldn’t anymore.

Tears wet the face.

Was it good? We tried

to imagine.

The voice wouldn’t 

come, but the crying

did.

What do you mean, someone

said, by happiness?

The reply: ask yourself, and

these were the best words

for our farewell.

***

Today is the birthday of Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), a Japanese writer renowned for his pared-down lyricism, and the subtle shading of his prose. In 1968, Kawabata became the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Today’s post is assembled from phrases borrowed from Kawabata’s short story “Morning Clouds,” translated from Japanese by Lane Dunlop.

Blur

In memoriam.

It has been said that the fade of memory is a symptom of decaying sense. One loses the outline, the detail, over time. Color washed into water, the old forms oceanic, and yet. A blurred thing may be as particular as anything sharp. For some of these, the blur itself was the essence: reflection on water, the texture of sky, your life. Don’t make this love a bullet or a blade, and I won’t reduce its music to a marching drum. 

For some, all learning is the remembering of what was already present in a soul before the dark days of sharp derangement before our bodies spilled into the soil. My brother’s blood is not your warpaint and my mother’s cry is not a call to your next battle. Wait.

When sense becomes senseless, let me blur with you, brother, that I may learn your life in concert with my own. Let the blood-drenched soil bloom until some new music comes. We are all out of tune. Teach yourself to us, again. 

Flight in Darkness

The poet remembers.

Only symbols. When I saw that the architecture was burnt out in me, I became a poet. Now I am grief, hunger, the embers of cities. But making is older than killing, and what is this man to make of this life but a brief flight in darkness, now and then on a rainbow?

***

This morning I learned that it was the birthday of poet Andrei Andreyevich Voznesensky, who  Robert Lowell once distinguished as the greatest living poet in any language. He came to fame during the Khrushchev thaw and was known as an outspoken critic of artistic censorship of any kind. I don’t have a complete translation of Voznesensky’s work, but I was able to find some selections online. The above is assembled from my a small sample of these findings, adapted.