“History”

Human history is the
march of atrocities
followed by the generations
of generations of scholars,
devouring dusty runes
to bury truth once more
like ink-armed cooks
keeping the masses fed,
distracted,
so that the battle may be
met just over the hill,
close enough to hear,
but invisible
to the camped millions
patiently waiting.

Waiting for
something
to burst in,
something
to blow away the leaves
of lost generations,
something
to get at the thing itself,
something
sound and silence,
life and death,
being and

Liquid Lies and Charlie Chaplin

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I’m a big fan of mixed media work; art that takes account of the digital world we live in and all its new possibilities for connection and sharing. It is surely an unprecedented moment in our history, for we now have the ability to form global communities beyond nation states, religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality etc. Hence all the links embedded in my poems – they are my attempt to create active text (words which, quite literally, take you to a different place, even if that place is only the world of a Youtube clip). Tonight, however, I don’t feel like writing, so here is a favourite song of mine. It is very much a product of new and creative use of different media.

The words are taken from Charlie Chaplin’s speech in ‘The Great Dictator’, found here.

Chief Seattle

Here is a treat of a guest post – all the way from 1852. It is an excerpt of Chief Seattle’s letter to the president in Washington all those years ago and is, perhaps, even more important today. I took a transcript from an interview with Joseph Campbell, which you can find here.

“The president in Washington sends words that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky, the land? The idea is strange to us.

Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow; all are holy in the memory and experience of my people. We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle; these are our brothers. Each ghostly reflection in the clear waters of the lake tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father. The rivers are our brothers. They carry our canoes and feed our children.

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. This we know: the Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it – whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? The end of living and the beginning of survival. When the last red man has vanished with the wilderness and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any spirit of my people left? We love this earth like a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat.

So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children and love it as God loves us all. One thing we know: there is only one god – no man, be he red man or white man can be apart. We are brothers, after all.”

— Chief Seattle 1852.

“Modern Myths”

studying dwarf galaxies

We are as gods already,

with exponential technologies,

indistinguishable from magic,

that transcend time and distance,

sending thought at lightspeed,

technologically-mediated telepathy,

so that those we love remain

readily reachable in a world wide web

which extends our minds to the

now-unbounded truths of our time.

 

It’s more than technology though,

for we’ve derived the make-up of the

stars soaring through our nights.

We know the gods of old myth

and the forces that govern them.

So it is, as it has always been,

that we turn inward and find

empty space and points of light,

mimicking exactly the spacetime

we now manipulate with mind.

 

For what does science, only a term

for progressive collection of knowledge,

prove if not that man is nothing

other than the universe

becoming conscious of itself?

That we are made of stars,

as our gods of old were,

therefore are ourselves gods?

We are one within the universe,

the universe one within us.

 

This is the psychology of starlight,

the mythology of atoms and galaxies.

 

 

*Think about what the men who wrote any of the holy texts many still follow literally today, would have thought of something like this!

“A boy”

Inventos-de-Isaac-Newton-simples-extranos-y-complejos-7.jpg

 

A boy asked me, “Why gravity?”

And I felt like Walt Whitman when

a child asked him about the grass.

For what could I say, that gravity is

a machination of Newton’s mind made

manifest in our experience of ‘reality’?

 

That it implies its own answer;

for without gravity the question

could never have existed and

the paradox answers itself?

Life comes before meaning,

as a flower before beauty.

 

For a flower does not mean,

Ask Jorge Borges – it just is.

Before and beyond meaning,

common experience of beauty

creating and created of truth,

is meaning enough for all existence.

 

In this dear life sorrowful death

sorrowful life dear death

there is only one choice:

love or fear – the rest is

blissful ignorance or

terrible appreciation.

 

How to explain this to a child?

 

Just so.

 

He sees himself in the grass,

senses gravity moving both

him and heavenly spheres

and so he asks, not having

fully forgotten that he

is one in the universe,

the universe, one in him.

“The Artist”

 

An old artist sits in his cave,

hands shaking as he mixes paint

and picks an ivory frame from

among a million hues waiting

to come alive beneath his brush.

 

He takes two opposing tools,

his pencil and eraser beginning

to form the first image in

silence as he discovers with

twin lines of light and dark.

 

It is a word I cannot read and

soon the background covers it,

legion upon legion of forebears,

fossils filling the page as

the artist begins to paint.

 

In great strokes he strikes

and the faces become formless

against my many-coloured background

of red and black and white

and race and love and death.

 

Then he stops, the tired old man,

and looks at the distant stardust.

“My time has come” he says,

“my work is done. Take this

and paint – yours is just begun.”

Joseph Campbell and Myth

I am reading a collection of some of Joseph Campbell’s greatest works. If you don’t know who he was, take a moment to look him up, it is extremely worthwhile. He dedicated his life to the study of myth, collecting and collating facts and opinions on all of the world’s greatest religions. He once said that God is a metaphor for that mystery which grounds our being yet exceeds all categories of thought, of which (as Kant said) being and non-being are a part. Theists are people who mistake the metaphor for fact and atheists are people who think metaphors have no value or purpose.

I may do a longer piece on him and his thoughts once I’ve finished, but here is an extended quote from the end of a chapter. It’s simply too good not to share and invite you to comment if you feel so inclined. He is talking about Buddhism, yoga and a specific myth to do with Siva and a powerful demon hell-bent on getting Siva’s bride. Siva conjours up a beast (Hunger) greater than the demon, the demon throws himself on Siva’s protection and Siva asks the beast to therefore consume himself, which he does until only his face is left:

“The obvious lesson of all of which is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think – and their name is legion – that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think – as do many – “Let me first correct society, then get around to myself” are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God’s peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable, and so they always will be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to do is teach how to live in it. And that no one can do who has no himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is. That is the meaning of the monstrous Kirtimukha, “Face of Glory” over the entrances to the sanctuaries of the god of yoga, whose bride is the bride of life. No one can know this god and goddess who will not bow to that mask in reverence and pass humbly through.”

Communication and Community in a Digital World

Jacques Derrida, the infamous deconstructionist, begins an essay of his with the question, “Is the concept ‘communication’ communicable?” It’s funny stuff, for a Frenchman. After that it all gets a little philosophical, although if you’re of such an intellectual persuasion you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better essay on signatures, events and contexts. But I digress. Continue reading

“Manifesto”

South Africa goes to the voting polls today for the fifth time since we became a democracy. It is a time for heightened emotion, hope, hyperbole, frustration, some despair and a celebration of the diverse life that has somehow managed to coexist in such a strange and wonderful place. As I think that political promises are, well, misleading, I have taken the liberty of penning my own manifesto. It, too, has almost nothing to do with improving the country.

 

To write about what moves me,

all the gods and sparrows

and every space between.

Not because it pleases or

to hear my name in history,

but so the young bird,

so afraid of flight,

can find its own way up

breaking into light.

 

To make life beautiful

by telling simple stories,

stories filled with sparrows

and little girls whose voices

lost up in the thunder,

still stand out in storms,

for courage is a virtue

which gives to beauty form.

 

To know myself and share him,

no matter what the cost.

To see the eye in everyone

and look into my soul.

To write so I may listen

instead of talking over thought

and so that I may learn

what others know of life,

for what they truly yearn.

 

And to laugh.

To laugh at what I’ve written

and how it seems absurd.

To doubt myself and fail,

then find the strength to

smile and write some more.

To not change the world

but to look at mine anew.
To know that is all I ever need do.

“What is Good Poetry?”

Is it using words which rhyme,

or equally-footed lines?

Is it subscribing to form

or breaking from the norm?

Is it grand and noble thought

from experience dearly bought?

Is it the clever use of iambs

so people know we once were?

 

Or is it the curling wave,

the butterfly’s wing,

the stolen kiss and

the faces we miss?

A frosty morning passed

mending a neighbour’s wall

or travelling the unworn path,

hoping, praying not to fall?

 

I do not know,

but this morning I woke

in a town which the sun

rises on first in the world,

watching the clouds part

as the Eastern sky lit up.

What does poetry say other than

‘I am here. I am awake to it all’?