Abridged

My blogging hour today, looked a bit like this below; a bridge over moisture and pebbles 🤷‍♀️It’s a fancy bridge though, diacritical marks, lines and everything. (I notice now, some leafy punctuation too)

Somewhere in a forest in Pennsylvania.

And then it increasingly began to look like this …

The three tiers of angels:
Stare at 26 letters on the keypad long enough to rediscover that there are
10 above, 9 next and 7 letters below. The top layer is most powerful I think, with four vowels and rhetoric. The lowest layer are like a proletariat of fallen angels, working hard at words but merely making it past Onomatopoeia, a term in fact allocated by the priests and gentry above in some peurile fashion of quantitative easing. I never understood that term but this could just be it. The middle layers appear to be grousing incessantly about the afflictions of privilege … ADD, ADHD, LSD or plainly SAD. The GIF are the fourth estate and emojis, a preconceived catechism. When I say 🤩 I see stars only after the emoji, thus with the three tiers of angels I suspect.

I love words, they can be so powerful when saying the right things; so gravelly when one has to eat them, so unfortunate too, when one tries to converse with a tone deaf animal, like supplications to a rattle snake for instance (I did that on one rare occasion a long while ago, it makes me cringe now and a reptile’s a reptile). It brings to mind a memory of when my driving instructor told me that I should never ever honk at a buffalo or a rickshaw (tuk tuk) as both would be unable to understand the language of the horn (I learnt to drive in India). Words are so beautiful when making a promise and heavenly when delivering on it, healing when in poems and mantras, trenchant in sarcasm, violent in battle cry, inspiring in revolutions, so important too for speaking long distance with family. Most of all, I love words in writing but sometimes, they seem very hard to string together…

Start writing...
The WordPress 
paragraph prompt 
is an overseer with a whip
and I feel like an excuse
of a bridge over waters 
troubled in stone, 
not exactly the Nile 
but crossing sentences 
across the shallows
is simply being cross at life 
And the words rasp 
at my throat,
circuit my lobes housed 
in a head, fancy that!
But inflections are a mere 
tingle in my fingertips.
This must be writer's bridge ×=====×

The term ‘writer’s block’ feels like a dam against a conceit of deep waters, that could burst into a deluge or something along the lines of it. A ‘writer’s bridge’ in contrast feels like one must de-silt the river, create depth, more flow, to be a bridge that actually counts.

Dawn accreted glow 
like a need to walk 
out of a tangle 
of poetry in my head, 
to open fields someplace.
It must be the stars 
that rally us to 
experiential delights 
in thorny shrubs,
stinging wasps 
and atmosphere. 

It reminds me of Anne Sexton’s poem, ambition bird and her business of words …

The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
the warm brown mama.

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin.


Ambition Bird by Anne Sexton
Read more~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/148744/the-ambition-bird-5c11322239c2b

It brings me to this wonderful transcript I read this morning, on a speech by Virginia Woolf, on words … In the link is an animation of a BBC radio broadcast she made on 29th of April 1937, they brought it down to two minutes and I enjoyed this immensely. It made my morning to listen to a person that I have come to love after engaging with poetry; it takes a certain maturity to warm up to Woolf, to see her brilliance with the very words she speaks of.

She says:

Words belong to each other, although, of course, only a great writer knows that the word “incarnadine” belongs to “multitudinous seas”. To combine new words with old words is fatal to the constitution of the sentence.

Further on:

...hence the unnatural violence of much modern speech; it is a protest against the puritans. They are highly democratic, too; they believe that one word is as good as another; uneducated words are as good as educated words, uncultivated words as cultivated words, there are no ranks or titles in their society.

Nor do they like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, in paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Perhaps that is their most striking peculiarity – their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being themselves many-sided, flashing this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity that they survive.

Finally:

Finally, and most emphatically, words, like ourselves, in order to live at their ease, need privacy. Undoubtedly they like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them; but they also like us to pause; to become unconscious. Our unconsciousness is their privacy; our darkness is their light… That pause was made, that veil of darkness was dropped, to tempt words to come together in one of those swift marriages which are perfect images and create everlasting beauty. But no – nothing of that sort is going to happen tonight. The little wretches are out of temper; disobliging; disobedient; dumb. What is it that they are muttering? “Time’s up! Silence!”

If not for this broadcast, I would have never known that ‘incarnadine’ is actually a colour and is defined as a bright crimson or pinkish-red colour. (And no, I did not study Macbeth at school)

'Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red' Macbeth (Act II, Sc. II). 

Incarnadine brings to mind an image of the Red Canna by Georgia O’Keeffe, that I took at the library recently, which suggests, incarnadine should in fact be like the poetry of words, indefinable, not conscripted to one single shade and number in a paint catalogue. It manifests when one looks at the entire image, much like evolution I would like to believe, intricate fractals in the details. So it is with words perhaps, do they entropy towards the heat death of silence I wonder ? Some believe in Gods and deities, I believe in the colours of the red Canna today, the words of Virginia Woolf, the breath of fresh air and beauty in the infinite complexity of our universe. I think our lives are secreted within yet occluded by the literature of words in the science of being and as Woolf so elegantly observed: (at least about the English language, could apply to any other)

Our business is to see what we can do with the English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer. Think what it would mean if you could teach, if you could learn, the art of writing. Why, every book, every newspaper would tell the truth, would create beauty. But there is, it would appear, some obstacle in the way, some hindrance to the teaching of words. For though at this moment at least 100 professors are lecturing upon the literature of the past, at least a thousand critics are reviewing the literature of the present, and hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women are passing examinations in English literature with the utmost credit, still – do we write better, do we read better than we read and wrote 400 years ago when we were unlectured, uncriticised, untaught? Is our Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan?

Where then are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order.

But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. 
Red Canna by Georgia O’Keeffe

References:

Anne Sexton poem~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/148744/the-ambition-bird-5c11322239c2b

Virginia Woolf on words ~https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20160324-the-only-surviving-recording-of-virginia-woolf

Spotlight on: Anne Sexton, The Ambition Bird

This is something I wrote for my Facebook page a while ago. It came to mind because of a book I found at the library recently, which made this year appear quite promising for poets and poetry, given that it was displayed in bold, at the counter. It was Edward Hirsch’s, ‘100 poems to break your heart.’ I was curious to read his analyses of some American poets that I have come to learn of quite recently, one of them being Anne Sexton. My Facebook post has been edited, to include as well, some of Hirsch’s views, on Sexton’s poetry based on his analysis of another of her poems.

Sometimes, random images can prompt a poem I write, at other times they work as a starting off point to explore the poetry of others. While scrolling through my photo archive I came across a bird house from months earlier, taken at the Van Vleck House and Gardens. It was, as I looked for bird house poems, that I chanced upon the work of Ann Sexton, specifically her poem, ‘The Ambition Bird’ [1]. This of course took me, as is my wont, through an archive of information related to the poem ~ an interesting podcast by the BBC comparing the confessional nature of Sexton’s work to that of Sylvia Plath, both of whom were gifted with the lyricism of language, both had mental illness issues as per the experts, both of whom committed suicide. I find the term confessional poetry, a bit off putting. I believe the inner resonance of a poet seeps into the work as in any creative endeavour but there’s more to a poem than just personal flavour.

Birdhouse

Here, I would like to reiterate Simone de Beauvoir’s observation on the female artist, as she explained in her book, ‘The Second Sex’. She believed that the female artist prostitutes herself in the sense that her life is open to scrutiny in her work. Needless to say, another of the artists mentioned in the podcast I listened to [2] was Irish poet, Seamus Heaney and there was very little spoken of his private life, as much as was said of the personal lives of Sexton and Plath, who by the very nature of their words make themselves available to public scrutiny, receive less credit for their poetic technique in comparison and sadly, have many of their poems classified as ‘confessional’ poetry. Another podcast had speakers run the gamut of analyses through situating ‘The Ambition Bird’ in Sexton’s ideas of feminist narrative of the sixties to labeling the words as self sabotaging depression, to revealing childhood abuse, personal melancholia etc.

Edward Hirsch, in the analyses of poems touching sensitive subject matter and in light of his own personal loss, has this to say about the nature of confessional poetry in his preface to the book, that the distinction between the artist of the craft and the narrator, blurs. Yet, he also cites Emily Dickinson’s warning to Thomas Higginson about the representative of the Verse being a supposed person, and not the poet herself. That said, Hirsch did select a poem that would appear strongly confessional in Anne Sexton’s case, as it was about her impending suicide. Her subject matter is dark, soul searching and raw. It is what draws me to her, her unabashed way of looking at death, in this case, her own.

On nomenclature ~100 poems to break your heart by Edward Hirsch
Anne Sexton ~ Wikipedia

Sexton was not educated in any literary tradition [3], she wasn’t an academic but through the dint of her prolific work was part of many schools of poetry. She was born to a well to do family in the USA, attended boarding school, tasted success at an early age and also won the Pulitzer prize. As observed by the the American novelist, Erica Jong, one of Sexton’s earliest champions, who says of her “She is an important poet not only because of her courage in dealing with previously forbidden subjects, but because she can make the language sing”, and “…There are many poets of great talent who never take that talent anywhere … They write poems which any number of people might have written. When Anne Sexton is at the top of her form, she writes a poem which no one else could have written.” That quite summed up Anne Sexton for me.

I have excerpted lines from The Ambition Bird, interpretations are open to the reader, some of the poem deeply resonated with me.

So it has come to this –
insomnia at 3:15 A.M.,
the clock tolling its engine

like a frog following
a sundial yet having an electric
seizure at the quarter hour.

It’s the witching hour Sexton speaks of, an electric seizure of the senses despite being latched on to the cycle of day. The poem contains eight tercets and eight couplets elegantly arranged.

The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
the warm brown mama.

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin.

My Facebook Page and my blog too, are like a Layaway box for all that I wish to come around to later, to later elaborate on the poets I read, having taken the time to digest them while appreciating their language. Haven’t been schooled in the literary tradition either, I feel this helps me understand how people use language that is within no stricture, to generate that which synchronizes with the rhythm of the human pulse. This, her box contains a lay-away plan in poems. It’s an intensity of purpose that Sexton reveals in these lines, the obsession and single mindedness towards creating poems or simply writing. It is also to be the death of her, this pursuit of poetry and in the poem, she contradicts herself in wishing to live a simple life without having to create and write a lay away plan for immortality.

All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird.

The bird wants to be dropped
from a high place like Tallahatchie Bridge.


In here is a mention of a popular suicide at the time the poem was written, so the poem evidently has social pulse. Yet, it’s a stanza that reveals a deep opposition of intent. One that wishes to soar, in unbridled creative outburst and another that indicates exhaustion of spirit, wishing to be dropped into stillness, while feeling that sinking pit in the stomach as the roller coaster swoops one down or when falling from the highest heights. The words speak of a rush associated with risk. It would appear, both methods lead to the same feeling of exultation.

He wants to pierce the hornet’s nest
and come out with a long godhead.

He wants to take bread and wine
and bring forth a man happily floating in the Caribbean.

He wants to be pressed out like a key
so he can unlock the Magi.

He wants to take leave among strangers
passing out bits of his heart like hors d’oeuvres.

Let’s say, I find interesting the analogy to Christ. There’s a miracle to floating in the blue of the Caribbean. The key to the Magi, this I interpret as the unlocking of esoteric knowledge, cosmic secrets, astrology perhaps, learning what cannot be humanly seen or known. It is interesting that she speaks of the Magi and yet, it’s the martyrdom that follows in giving away the heart to the world, in a last supper or an ultimate crucifixion. Isn’t there immortality inherent in this very act that Christ was committed to when the Magi followed a star to Bethlehem? There’s also a self sabotaging factor to Sexton’s Ambition Bird, a self destructiveness that is dangerously risky yet of potent reward like when it pierces a hornet’s nest. Yet, she strips one of the illusion that it could take any less to achieve such immortality, than decimating the heart to feed others.

He wants to light a kitchen match
and immolate himself.

He wants to fly into the hand of Michelangelo
and come out painted on a ceiling.

Contrary to some of the speakers on the podcast, I think this is a poetic expression of unbridled ambition, perhaps recognizable by souls that are driven to achieve greatness in the surpassing of their own talents, by their own measure, their own yardstick. For Sexton, the pinnacle of a purposeful successful ambitious life is akin to the immortality inherent in Michelangelo’s work, like being inscribed in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for posterity. Yet, in the final lines, she speaks of the fatigue or ennui that accompanies overarching ambition, a sense of illusion, fallibility, faithlessness in oneself …

I find here, a deep seated trust in humankind to grant immortality upon achieving an ambition. Sexton places much faith in humanity to award greatness in social validation, human memory. After all, what would be the Sistine Chapel if not made visible in media or reality, to the countless that admire it’s magnificent art. Here, I think her measure of ambition is based in human reality, bereft of the illusions of creating art for the sake of art. I personally hold that, one creates simply for the pleasure of creation, for the flowering of innate potential, yet I am not unaware of what recognition means to artists, be it social or peer validation. People thrive in gregariously sharing their creations, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it makes a better artist of you but it gives the drive to continue your work, this social sanction and visibility which may possibly lead to immortality.

He wants to die changing his clothes
and bolt for the sun like a diamond.

He wants, I want.
Dear God, wouldn’t it be
good enough just to drink cocoa?

I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
There is folly enough inside this one.

This is a poem that stands in for an existential crisis for ambition itself, a loss of purpose, a redefining of purpose. Anne Sexton wrote a profound message that many people interpreted as a cry for help, a suicide note among others. I think, it is a poem written by someone who wishes to rethink of ambition as a feat of transcendence and yet, appears harangued from the perspective that is the norm, which is, you are awarded by that which notices you, that only, being the way to immortality. There’s this bird that wants to do the unthinkable, almost antisocial and anti-self in a way, but it involves giving up on life itself .

If I were an astrologer, I would surmise this to be an opposition between two mentoring planets, Venus and Jupiter. to be in between a debilitated Venusian proclivity to wallow in the abysmal and a Jupiterian edict to bolt out there and conquer the world. It isn’t for nothing that Venus and Jupiter are known as Mentor or Acaharya or Guru in Jyotishya or Hindu Astrology, with a decidedly opposing method of teaching lessons to those inclined to learn. For Venus, it is the decimation of illusion, exploring, recreating belief systems while for Jupiter it is the straight, wide, hopeful, ritualistic and dogmatic path. They both seek the highest truth but in decidedly different ways. For those empirically inclined, it simply means an ill performing thyroid gland or a compromised liver, but I digress from poetry 😉

There’s something beautifully vulnerable in imagining ambition the Anne Sexton way; it’s a conflict of conscience, a face off between personal philosophy and what is expected within ones social milieu , nothing a listicle for success will help solve, except for a profound introspection, which in this case the poet has clearly done in writing this brilliant piece ‘The Ambition Bird’.

Edward Hirsch included the poem ‘Wanting to Die’ in his book, ‘100 poems to break your heart’. It is essentially a preparation for suicide by Anne Sexton. I thought to add this, because it gives insight into the inner resonance of Sexton that seeps into the vein of her poetry, gives it an off colour, a shadow of death. It creates fresh perspective on her writing and why not, some are obsessed with life and others with death. The world has many sorts and a place for all.

Wanting to Die ~ Anne Sexton
Wanting to Die ~ Anne Sexton

“But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.”
I found this stanza quite intriguing because the book puts forth the view of Sexton’s biographer, who attested that Sexton wasn’t preparing to self destruct as much as she was investigating into its technique [4]. She had been inspired at the time by Arthur Miller’s new play, ‘After the Fall’, the central character of which was a self destructive sort based on his ex wife, the famous Marilyn Monroe. In the second last stanza, Sexton writes, “Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,” this alludes to the one by Sylvia Plath which had occurred a year earlier. They were apparently known to have shared quite lovingly the details of their first attempt at suicide. Further on in Hirsch’s analysis, her fixation with death, suicide particularly, is an anti poetic stance, an impulse against language. Yet, in her poem, suicides have their own language.

Eleven tercets later, her poem is alive in her wanting to die. She is unhesitant throughout the poem, logically contrived statements and arguments positing her case and yet, like in ‘The Ambition Bird’, death becomes for her an ‘almost ambition’. In the way she describes wanting to die is how she defines aspects of ambition. The bird wishes to immolate himself, the bird wishes to die changing his clothes, yet the bird wishes for immortality. The ambition here perhaps, resides in the absolute control of death.

I have attached the following resources for those of you that may be interested in listening [5] to what one BBC commentator described as the transatlantic drawl of Anne Sexton reading ‘The Ambition Bird’. Also included are links to the entire poem that can be found at the poetry foundation website and an interesting insight into it.

References:
[1]~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/148744/the-ambition-bird-5c11322239c2b


[2]Podcast~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/…/laying-poems-away-a…
sexton

[3]https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/anne-sexton

[4]pages 137-141; 100 poems to break your heart by Edward Hirsch

[5]A reading of the poem~https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOLAHtI8yVE