Sticking to Travel: Burr-love

3 Figures from Anne Michaels Skin Divers taken out of order.

Minarets of burdock
Thus begins "Wild Horses".

For the longest time, I was captivated by the junction of architecture and botany in this image. And almost equally as long, I felt a tension between the slender pointed tower of "minarets" and the globe-like burr (which resembles more the onion-dome features of Russian Orthodox churches) until at long last it appeared that the relation between the tower and the plant as a whole might make the image cohere. Alas. Not. I still view in my mind's eye burdock as a great branching plant not at all like a slender single tower. Yet as Amy Lowell gives us the evening primrose "comrade of the stars", Anne Michaels arrests the imagination with calls to prayer that stick.

All love is time travel.
From the closing lines of "Fontanelles" (last poem in the book) which is a trip through embryology and geology in a set of variations on ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Let us take advantage of the figure (Fontanelles allow for rapid stretching and deformation of the neurocranium as the brain expands faster than the surrounding bone can grow.) to add more material to the theme of time travel from another source, characters from Peter Ackroyd, English Music
Instead we discussed what he used to call 'English music', by which he meant not only music itself but also English history, English literature and English painting. With him one subject always led to another and he would break off from a discussion of William Byrd or Henry Purcell in order to tell me about Tennyson and Browning; he would turn from the work of Samuel Johnson to the painting of Thomas Gainsborough, from pavans and galliards to odes and sonnets, from the London of Daniel Defoe to the London of Charles Dickens. and in my imagination, as he talked, all these things comprised one world which I believed to be still living &madash; even in this small room where we sat.
[... pages and pages later ...]
For what is time but the very passage of music from generation to generation?
And the means to time travel through love ... reading of course and writing too.
Colette said, when one we love dies
there's no reason to stop
writing them letters.
And snipping the burdock into the shape of a minaret.

And so for day 1265

Teaching the World to Dance


Screenplay by by Stephen Beresford.

I laughed. I cried.

Two scenes were standout. Jonathan Blake (played by Dominic West) dance number. It's on fire. A rousing rendition of Bread and Roses. Simply stirring.

Why would such a film arouse such emotion?
Margaret Thatcher
Miners' Strike
Lesbians and Gays
Shadow of AIDS

David Denby in The New Yorker concludes

During the past thirty years, gays have fought their way toward greater equality, but the miners, who were defeated in the 1984-85 strike, have, like other union workers in England and the United States, continued to lose power. “Pride” ends on a note of triumph, but it leaves a long sigh of regret in its wake. Solidarity rarely outlasts the grinding movements of money and power.
He faults the film for not pointing out the irony. I chafe at the suggestion.

The Federation of International Employers tells a slightly different story. Decline in trade union membership in Western Europe but
Many of the regions where trade unionism has grown have been production centres for outsourced goods and services. As the supply of available skilled labour in Asia and South America declines workers have begun to assert their economic power. [This has] been strengthened by improvements in communications via the social media – which have made it much easier to organise industrial action. This has become such a problem that China has been forced to introduce legal restrictions on “the use of the Internet to disturb social order”.
In Canada need I mention Unifor? The question remains open if gay liberation can survive its mainstreaming and rekindle its alliances with organized labour and progressive forces. So Denby's remarks make me mindful less of the weakness of trade unionism and more wistful for the radical roots of gay and lesbian organizing.
HOW WE GOT GAY takes us into the gay rights movement of the 21st century. Now the movement has evolved into a powerful network of disciplined, top-down, media-savvy, Ivy League-staffed organizations that know how to operate the levers of power.

These new gay organizations co-opt conventional political weapons: self-selected candidates, political action committees, black-tie fund-raisers, research institutes and lobbyists. In the words of Fred Sainz, director of Communications at the Human Rights Campaign, “we sell gay rights the way Kellogg’s sells cereal”.
And someday that "we" will include pinko economists who will provide an analysis of the value chain that brings cereal and civil rights to a spot near you.

I have hope. Tears. Laughter. And Dance. That's how I was in '85 and how I remain.

And so for day 1264

Trip Tips

Mitch Cullin. A Slight Trick of the Mind.

We find a Sherlock Holmes in advanced age. And the novel raises existential questions about memory and loss. But also about love. Is our protagonist able to love? Is he able to express love? Are we like him?

There is poignancy in his remembering his long deceased friend and collaborator, Dr. Watson.

You know, I never did call him Watson — he was John, simply John.
We take him at his word. We believe him capable of signs of affection. And yet his is not the most reliable of voices. Frustration is the dominant key and we fall into identification at our peril. For example, later in the novel, we are almost seduced by his exasperation with a travelling companion into his deduction that all travel is better on the way out.
[I]n those moments, he missed the hours of reserve that had previously marked their travels. Still, he was aware that return trips being always more tedious than a voyage's beginning (the initial departure, in which everything then encountered was wonderfully singular, and each subsequent destination offering a multitude of discoveries); so whenever heading back, it was better to nap as much as possible, slumbering while miles subtracted and his oblivious body raced toward home.
It is supremely ironic that the man who repeatedly mentions his failing powers of retention should so celebrate discovery to the detriment of recall and attention to the slight alterations that time affects on any trip home through now more familiar landscapes. He has denied himself the joys of rediscovery and immersion in chance and change. What goes unsaid here is that the tedium is very much connected to a failure of memory matched with observation. Much of what is perceived as singular is produced by remembering and comparing. The really supreme irony is that we as readers notice this because of repetition (and subtle variation) of whole sections. Attentive to the displacement we are forever rewarded as if on a voyage out without return which is in the end the existential point that novel makes over and over and never quite the same way each time.

And so for day 1263


"Bluebottle Jellyfish"

little deadly
that roll
in surf
one drifts
a surfer's leg
the silk
of indigo pain.
Robert Adamson Waving to Hart Crane

When I first read this poem, I was left with the image of a pattern of blue welts on skin because I had read "lace" (singular) which I took to be a reference to the delicate result of contact. A second reading and I realize that the "laces" (plural) belong to the animal inflicting the pain.

And so for day 1262

Lilt and Grind

Many of the poems end with lilting verses reminding us of mortality and the great stretches of time of which we are not part. Could this theme be traced back to his translations? Emblematic are the final lines of a poem from seventeenth century France by Madame Des Houlières:

But that has little time to be
and a long time to be no more.
"To the Painter Polelonema" ends with what to me is a melancholic image
No sparrow
cracks these seeds

that no wind blows.
Something has been lifted out of time and in some sense denatured. And yet preserved. The ostensible object is the rendering of rocks into pigments into life wrung from the elements. And to do so is a vocation. Tension remains in that the foregoing lines are devoted to seizing life "in a single grip / that lasts for years" but here in the conclusion there is something impenetrable, something beyond ... out of reach of bird or wind. Yet there it is in the mind's eye elicited by the poet, Yvor Winters, contemplating the art of the painter, Polelonema.

And so for day 1261

Sleeve Safe

Don Coles, Forests of the Medieval World "Self-Portrait at 3.15 a.m."

descriptions of happiness must remain illegible
Very apt to describe grass style calligraphy which apparently is a mistranslation that stuck — see cursive script entry on Wikipedia — concerns far from Coles's middle of the night musings which come to us like a letter in a translation and serve as epigraph to our exploration of images from Li Po ...

Two translations, worlds apart.

We skip over the rendering of "Answer to an Affectionate Invitation From Ts'ui Fifteen" offered by Amy Lowell and Florence Ayscough, in Fir-Flower Tablets (1921).

J.P. Seaton "In Repayment for an Invitation from Mr. Ts'ui" in Bright Moon, White Clouds [2012]
That bird-track grass, the delicate style
of the calligraphy you wrote
[...] I try to smile [...]
Then I sing your words one more time,
words, tracks, traces seeming proof against
the ravages of these days of fire and sword,
safe here in the sleeve of my robe,
completely untouched, these three years.
James Cryer "Commenting on Ts'ui Fifteen's invitation" in Bright Moon, Perching Bird [1987]
you used
that lovely
birdtrack style
I laughed to heaven
you were here
the whole time since
as I've gone on
humming the words
your writing
has not died
I've cherished
your letter
in my sleeve
for three years
Seaton looks back. Cryer is focused on the present and we can report that Amy Lowell and Florecen Ayscough in their version are set on the future: "The characters are not faded. I shall keep them in my sleeve, and they should last three years."

My favourite because it displays bird-like qualities in its short lines is Cryer's and because I just like being left with the image of the cache and the humming.

But each belongs to a different era and together spell for us the need for renewed approaches to those illegible lines glimpsed alone at 3:15 a.m. or anytime or place we might have occasion to drink together.

And so for day 1260

Magic Hands

e.e. cummings

his queer hands twitter before him, like foolish
he is the most courteous of men
Eugenio de Andrade, "Penniless Lovers"
But at every gesture they made,
a bird was born from their fingers
and, dazzled, vanished into space.

translated by Alixis Levitin
from Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry edited by J.D. McClatchy
For further hand magic see the string figures in Kay Armatage's 1983 film Storytelling available from the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (not on Amazon, yet).

And so for day 1259

Mucking About

Reprocessing and revising material and finding new stuff (e.g. David Miall at U of Alberta presenting notes about and excerpts from Kristeva on the semiotic and the abject for a course on the Gothic).

Dig this quotation provided by Miall from Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, 2nd Ed. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1993).

If the semiotic is pre-Oedipal, based on primary processes and is maternally oriented, by contrast the symbolic is an Oedipalized system, regulated by secondary processes and the Law of the Father. The symbolic is the domain of positions and propositions. The symbolic is an order superimposed on the semiotic. The symbolic control of the various semiotic processes is, however, tenuous and liable to break down or lapse at certain historically, linguistically and psychically significant moments. It results in an upheaval in the norms of the smooth, understandable text. The semiotic overflows its boundaries in those privileged 'moments' Kristeva specifies in her triad of subversive forces: madness, holiness and poetry. (p. 124)
And now to jump to a consideration how one gets from madness and poetry to the prose of sanity, the prose of propositions and positions (a hiatus to the flux).

A certain hypothesis: scientific skepticism (the readiness to question and test) is akin to the thought patterns at work in some forms of acute psychosis [playing on the border of what is and could be]. I venture to speculate it is this very set of thought patterns and habits of reality testing that both trigger an episode and assist in the return from the manic state.

Let me recall the classic thought experiment of the imitation game and present this found example of a machine that can "do" madness. Dan Lloyd in Radiant Cool: A Novel Theory of Consciousness concludes the fiction with a realist description of ... well, let me quote one of the characters:
His eyes searched all over the room, trying to lock onto us. I realized what a simple thing it was, to meet the gaze of another, to recognize. I realized that in the exchange of glances, that in one look back and forth you could see the unreeling of life stories, distilled into a single frank gaze, or an averting of eyes. I noticed all that because his look had none of it, because his look did not find us, did not find the wall behind us, did not find the empty space in which we stood. He was without eyes, without face, without mind. We were standing on the edge of a vast devastation.
The pathos is touching. Particularly touching since the narration holds the reader enthralled because of the depiction of a continuing search, an attempt to lock on, to orient a way to connection. That search and attempt is as much a projection of textual desire to make sense of the poesis under observation (that of the mad subject) as it is an observation of the mad subject's desire.

What has this to do with computing machines, you may ask. Dan Lloyd describes in a note how the chapter was composed.
Max Grue's most jumbled ravings are derived from his less jumbled speeches using text-morphing software found in the McPoet Dadaist software package, written by the multitalented Chris Westbury. [...] The text-morphing process takes each word in an actual text and calculates which words from that text are most likely to follow. Morphing then generates a new text preserving the same word-to-word probabilities, but random otherwise. Such texts are enjoyable nonsense, but seem strangely haunted by the style and logic of the original.
In its later incarnations, McPoet is know as JanusNode — a name that I like to think of looking both ways in the language game: to the ocean of linguistic materiality and the islands of rational discourse.

To muck about: To do random unplanned work or spend time idly; To do something with a piece of equipment when you do not understand how it works; To be playful; full of fun and high spirits. It's intransitive: takes no objects. Hence no positions or propositions.

And so for day 1258

mmm mosquito ooo

The poetic voice in Judith Beveridge's "The Mosquito, Riffs and Plaints" demonstrates a preference for sounds and noises in all sorts of shapes and sizes before settling in to apostrophize a certain insect and in so doing tell us of irritation in the midst of all those preferences.

[...] Little aching creature stuttering to the night
like a tiny violin, you look like one of Liszt's hemi-demi-semi-
quavers scrawled across night's long stave. With you I count

insomnia's digits, all your mal-arias are buzzing in my blood.
The poem ends with punning anticipation:
I'm waiting, Morse-quito, for my hand to slap a message
back — just once, loudly — and quick as your electric dialect.
from Storm and Honey

And so for day 1257

Softly Walking and Waking Eros

Throughout great stretches of Love Medicine and One Song the lover's body is assimilated to the landscape and all the sensations of love-making become inscribed in a choreography of ceremony and participation in the entire world with all of one's relations.

Under his arms, my mouth's
buzzing firefly
hovers and lands
the wet swamp grass
heavy with dew, releasing
the muskeg's secret scent
so he bends, breaks
beneath tongue tracks
so the ducks
fly up
Reconnecting is a matter of life-saving...
if it weren't for your eyes,
hazel as the heat of June
If it weren't for your fingers
all ten of them,
long and straight
that coil in my hair
and led my mouth to fields
where horses graze
and toss their heads, dancing
for apples
sweet as red love.
Gregory Scofield has as one of his poems states "devoted great thought to something and walked softly" : "Pêyahtihk".

And so for day 1256