Banned book

I stopped by at the Strand bookstore yesterday to leaf through the poetry section. There was something about the banned books display that stood as testament to human fallibility.

Of the banned / challenged books displayed, some of which were the usual suspects in the political, it may be of interest to learn that a vast majority of them were the same as were part of library materials and programs challenged in the US in 2019, because they contained LGBTQIA+ issues and themes [1]. Here is a list of questions and answers of how books come to be challenged [2] or the books that have been banned earlier in the US [3]. As the American Library Association explains, censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful and it quotes John Stuart Mill on the issue, who wrote in On Liberty: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind …”

It’s no wonder why Leonard Cohen’s poem, Gift, struck me as beautiful, poignantly perceptive of the human conundrum, to speak our truth or not to speak our truth or if there is a truth to be articulated, if at all.

Hallelujah !
I found this delightful poem on a shelf at the Strand

We appear to live in Jose Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel”, locked up in our mental hexagons [4]. If in addition, we have difficulty being compassionate to ourselves, how then, I wonder, can we assimilate the disparate views of others. Is that why writing is banned? I imagine the writing in our own hearts and minds, for we must take great pains to ban it from our own consciousness. Ah, all those psychosomatic illnesses recorded in the DSM-5 must have some as yet indefinable empirical cause, even so the drive to conquer the insurmountable too, comes from the same source. A bundle of contradictions, we are, sweet sentient human beings, or perhaps self protective, highly evolved, mammalian survivors.

There were many books in the store as there are seconds in a day. Is there an algorithm on how books come about on a shelf or sashay, whiplash, fondle, hack through the public imagination, which is a great place to be, for attention has always been a scarce and expensive commodity. I easily gravitated to Mr Cohen’s book, simply because I spoke of him in another poem a while ago. So much for the algorithm and for the one in my head. The wood-wide-web of the internet on the other hand could be a blessed thing, so expansive, aligned with every Uranian vision, no tragedy of the commons and an irreversible flowering of time into the kaleidoscope of the future.

A bag at the bookstore
Eighteen miles of silence
etched in love's ink for
Saturn, chained to affliction.
Strident affections flayed
and banished to pages
tossed to obscurity,
afraid that heart wounds
would burn in the light of day
on soft paper meant for fireplaces,
or italicized to a cold despair
in blue ink on bleak pages
Love in a bookstore is for glory
or for fame, for every name
that yearned in a million ways,
etched souls songs on labouring hearts
hid away from a shelf or a nightingale
or the prying eyes of a million voices
jostling for space, speaking a version
of truth, mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs.
But banned to you, I, him, her, us and them
is love that is simply for love, art simply for art, poems simply for poems, science simply for science and life simply for life
Is everything we do for a turbid audience?
Are all poems a settling of soul?
Is the heart simply pulse?
Is life simply surviving breath?

References:
[1]http://www.ala.org/news/state-americas-libraries-report-2020/issues-trends
[2]http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned-books-qa
[3]http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics

[4]The Library of Babel ~https://sites.evergreen.edu/politicalshakespeares/wp-content/uploads/sites/226/2015/12/Borges-The-Library-of-Babel.pdf

Seasonal light

Yesterday was watered down in rain but the sun peeked out this morning. It’s fun being out and about in a drizzle if you find Rhododendrons along the path. This time I managed to photograph almost all the varieties there are, but the Plant Identification App I used has been unable to explicitly identify the species or cultivar. In any case, they vary from Rhododendron simsii, R. ferrugineum or Alpine rose, R. indicum, R. calendulaceum or flame azaleas and are a riot of colours.

Simply some Haiku today, I couldn’t manage an epic 😄 Here is a great resource for a glossary of Haiku [1]. For an exploration of Senryu, I found this quarterly journal of Japanese short form poetry, very useful [2].

Rhododendrons this season
Clouds eclipsed by Sun.
Rhododendrons are simply,
light hidden in hue.
Bright flowery boughs
illustrate a fragrant love
on dark moonlit nights.
If this be colour
of chastity, then I must
promptly turn flower.
Alpine rose outshone
Bathsheba in seducing
King David perhaps ...
Flowers simply are
method to manoeuvre time
to hours of hue.
Flayed passions bleeding.
Desire steers affections,
Springtime transgressions.

Resources:

[1]Haiku Glossary ~@https://haikucommentary.wordpress.com/haiku-glossary/

[2] Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry ~http://simplyhaiku.haikuhut.com/SHv3n3/features/anita_virgil_senryu.html

Pink ballerina

This poem is for my beloved niece, the only person I can think of, who gardens in a tutu. I adore the way she has begun to thread together complex sentences, now that she is three.

Pink ballerina

I found some impressive Macramé creations (photos further down) at a store and thought to inveigle this art into the poem somehow. It adds to my terminology of thread crafts that I have tried to use in my poetry. It must be a highly meditative effort for those that knot yarn or twine into an elaborate aesthetic.

Enjoy the poem and thank you for reading.

Earth sought succour in root and in the arrival of a pink ballerina / a shortcrust* of yearning crumbled in mud, awaiting that sandy renunciation / to be scooped and patted like loam clay into a concrete planter / This little girl is awash in the business of making mud pies or earth flan / and are they not nursery rhymes she gurgles at the English weather / darkened, of thunderous portent, yet its stiff upper lip quivering in a slow rumble// 

She loops time into a Larks head for Macramé / and in the tapestry of minutes spent sifting sand, moulding clay / they work their way into square knots and clove hitches, those ringing voices of rain clouds that traipsed within hearing / while she was alone at play, when dipping a promise of pink roses into the soil, trying to pot seasons into place//

She is transfixed by the tones of these Aeolian charms / frightfully delighted that they resonate in a symphonic choral with her /singing of mirthful gnomes, of winged fairies, scurrying field mice, musical robins, thieving magpies, startled bolts of lightening / and perhaps of love being the sameness of loam found in every forest throbbing with root reaching root//

Yet the burgeoning crescendo lacks timbre of the flowers that have not yet bloomed on the sameness of leaf / that are a blur of mystery plants awash in green / There, in this leafy overwhelm, she bellows a tantrum across the Atlantic that I can hear / for she is a fledgling gardener and what use is taxonomy in mud play//

She gurgles rhymes to placate the thunder / to outshine the sun / and finds the lexicon is of limited skein, a finitude of hues in the spectrum / even as the legionnaires of weather rush to patent the syllables of love's petrichor, consonants of battling clouds, vowels of weeping skies / selfsame synonyms ricocheting in unison//

She is unafraid to rhyme in synchrony for the notes disperse in a swollen rain cloud showering poems / In this garden, she can be the sweetest thing for she invents love, as she pirouettes around rose bushes, clematis and tulips / with a soil scoop in one hand, a wand in the other, to ensure it is indeed magic she does//

Process and form:

I worked from a photo that’s been edited to a painted style, so this should count as a narrative and Ekphrastic exercise perhaps.

Macramé knots mentioned in the poem [1]:

In Macramé, a lark’s head knot is used to attach a cord or thread to something .

A square knot is one of the most widely used Macramé knots and it can be created as left facing or right facing. Square knots need to have at least 4 cords (2 working cords and 2 filler cords) but can have more.

A Clove Hitch, also called a Double Half Hitch, creates lines in a Macramé projects. They can be worked horizontally, diagonally, and on occasion, vertically.

Reference:

[1]How to Macramé: 7 Basic Knots to Master~https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/basic-macrame-knots-4176636


*I am compelled to add this shortcrust pastry recipe inspired by David Lebovitz. He has happy anecdotes to share of baking in France and his recipes are simply elegant

For the tart dough 
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85g) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup (140g) flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Make the tart dough by mixing the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low-to-medium speed, until combined, about 1 minute. (But do not whip.) Add the egg yolk and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Mix in the flour and salt on low speed, until the dough comes together. If necessary, add a sprinkle of water if the dough feels too dry. Don't overmix it. (I often stop the mixer before the dough is done and mix it by hand, to avoid overmixing.)

French Apple Tart (Tarte normande)~https://www.davidlebovitz.com/aux-pommes-french-apple-tart-tarte-normande/

Stained to a blur in a cut-away marsh and a note on Patrick Kavanagh

I began work on this article and poem a few days earlier, never quite finishing it, but the weather is the tint of silver and grey, the roads have been licked by showers, the same as on that day when I heard, once, twice, thrice more, Pádraig Ó Tuama, a poet from Ireland speak about Patrick Kavanagh, a poet from Ireland and it inspired me to pot my poem into place, like a herb at a windowsill gazing at rain. There was magic in this Irish voice [1] lulling me into a rainy day stupor in words that were meant for April, for marshes, and I would have liked to say for love, but how do you describe a poem that is love.

Patrick Kavanagh, was the self taught son of a shoe maker with an incoherent life view and philosophy [2] , some say, the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, but this isn’t what brought me to read about him, it was simply Tuama reading his poem, ‘The one’.

There were thunderstorms predicted that day. I’m not afraid of showers or a stronger breeze. In fact I had the car fuelled to capacity in case there was a miraculous flood and it needed fuel to coast away to safety … inane thoughts course like random particles in days of inexplicable lightening … incongruous as the fifteen varieties of eggs in the section for hens, which is next to fifteen varieties of milk in the section for cows and five varieties of egg whites in the section for eggs that didn’t quite yolk in a sunrise …

Tuama echoes my thoughts entirely when he says, in introducing Kavanagh’s poem, “But more often, these days, I’m turning to poetry when it makes me smile as I read it because the words are delicious, because it’s describing something of great delight, of great simplicity, and of great lightness of being”.

Cattails or Bulrushes

It is sometimes the beauty of voice and words too, that fuels a walk through aisles of produce in a store, like a musical secret between the one that speaks to you while you listen, for he speaks of poets, of childhood, of meanings and you listen, not once, but twice, then thrice, as you caress an avocado, slip tomatoes in a basket, ponder awhile at smiling citruses and blackberries. Then, for a while, I stay still to contemplate the labels that divide the plant kingdom into classes, much after Linnaeus, in terms of those raised by fertilizer, pesticides and ones that are organic through sheer will perhaps, or is it the fallaciousness of words that drags us into an abyss of untruths, darkened corners of commercial illusions, and how does all this matter, I ask, as I think about layers of food, that the lack of a label made much less edible somehow. Was food purer back then or was it an illusion too … Tuama spills a beautiful voice to say that one always returns to the hollows we carry inside, which is why we revisit poets of the past.

On a Marshland
The One by Patrick Kavanagh [3]

Green, blue, yellow and red –
God is down in the swamps and marshes
Sensational as April and almost incred-
ible the flowering of our catharsis.
A humble scene in a backward place
Where no one important ever looked
The raving flowers looked up in the face
Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked
The profoundest of mortals. A primrose, a violet,
A violent wild iris – but mostly anonymous performers
Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet
Prepared to inform the local farmers
That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.

I tried modelling a poem in continuation of this one by Kavanagh. ‘The One’ which is a loose sonnet of sorts, with a couplet at the end, is a lyrical encapsulation of Kavanagh’s own view, as he observes in his ‘Self Portrait’,
“…the things that really matter are casual, insignificant little things ….” and he asserts that “in the final simplicity we don’t care whether we appear foolish or not. … We are satisfied with being ourselves, however small.”

Stained to a blur in a cut-away marsh ~ davina e. solomon 

That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
by a cut-away marsh, was breathing His love
and silver, and grey tints skies above,
floating in place under a lightning rod ...

and I am misted by the softest spray.
The tint of rain is a creamy green
hid in avocados, deep within,
as wanton herbs glisten a sweet array

of marsh grass, undulating fur on a pet
in a thunderstorms sweet caress.
Startled birds raise like a dress,
metal cars, stray shoppers ... mudflats all wet.

Cilantro macerated a fragrant apology
to a bloodied tomato, an onion grated to tears
to further press an avocado, reveal its fears
in lime to a wound. Here's a salty astrology

of a heaven strung in voices, in hope
streaking marshlands in the wet of rain
billowing hair, breezily dry, partly pain
reining love like a braided rope.

As I queue, it's clear these specks of colour
plan a future meal. I hear a cashier speak
both of us tinted in poems, a brazen leak
on a pastoral painting, stained to blur.

Process:

The stanzas follow the rhyming sequence of quatrains , each stanza a different sequence from the previous one. The stanzas alternate between engagement with store produce in the real and the imagining of the weather, outside. The entire article itself is an attempt at visual storytelling using prose poetry and free verse. I wove in the recipe of guacamole after Kavanaghs fist line of colour in ‘The One’.

A simple way to Guacamole:

A simple way to Guacamole
A couple of ripe ready avocadoes, a tomato, half an onion and a green lime. Grate the onion and tomato, chop some green chilli and coriander, mash lightly the avocados with a fork, squeeze a lime ... add salt ... serve with sourdough bread or simply, without.

References:
[1]Patrick Kavanagh A Poem About the Beauty of Home ~https://onbeing.org/programs/a-poem-about-the-beauty-of-home/
[2]Patrick Kavanagh 1904-1967 ~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/patrick-kavanagh
[3]The One by Patrick Kavanagh ~https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2020/3/30/the-one-by-patrick-kavanagh

Defining a beach birthday

Here are some more attempts at imagery through Ekphrastic poetry triggered by a photograph of my birthday Crème brûlée from last year. There are many months to go before another one and hurrah, I will be two !

Birthday minimalism

Ekphrasis refers to “Description” in Greek and an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. (Poetry Foundation). I have veered away from the traditional in that I have chosen an object from the everyday for the subject of my poem, in this case a sweet dessert.

Hannah Huff has described it best [1] in that Ekphrastic poetry about art is the use of rhetorical device, where art amplifies art. In the original Greek Ekphrastic exercises, Huff maintains, there was a lot of ‘rhetorical sashaying’ unlike as in the more rigid definitions used in latter times, in the poetry oft used as examples in illustrating Ekphrasis. Ekphrastic poetry makes for vivid imagery and draws the reader into the artwork, it brings a fresh perspective on a painting or any form of visual imagery created by another artist. The most over used example I think is John Keats’, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, but in her essay, she has analysed Edward Hirsch’s “Edward Hopper and the House By the Railroad (1925)”, in a thorough Ekphrastic Poem Literary Analysis for it’s lucid detail, poetic response and focus on a painting. This is a great starting point to understand the nuance of image amplification.

Here below is less of an Ekphrastic poem, as in, it started off intending to be one and then simply became a poem wandering in wondering.

Aging in Sand A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing an aging carapace amidst / a sage gathering of beach sanded feet / in stringy thongs of varicose veins / confined to callus corruptions that splice / into years of cloudy hair // Candles are wished away in smoke / as a monsoon carafe pours over a thatched roof / and time slows until the sun returns / and dries the grains of sand to measure the minutes / to another cake finale // Do you not sometimes prefer knowing the days you didn't remain born ? But these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

The other attempt at making the object itself interpret or thread the theme of the poem has a bit more of Ekphrasis but I am unsatisfied that it isn’t wholly Ekphrastic as yet. This calls for further explorations in this genre.

Caramel Halo                    A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing a wise halo amidst / a sage gathering on sand / as pale as the sugar from Morogoro* / The years string in sweet zest / like streaks of happiness in the hair / every old day stamped in cloudy white reflections / but soft like cream / and every new day burnt like sugar, as promising as a new sunrise / Candles are lit in hopes of happy sunsets / as a monsoon carafe pours love / in rain that drops over sand // Do you not marvel that we are alive for a singular spark in the eternity of death ? And these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

*Morogoro is a region in Tanzania that has some of the major sugar plantations in the country.

In a very interesting essay [2] on the evolution of Ekphrasis, of the various writers that engaged in it, is one by Marjorie Munsterberg. The author has explained in great detail about John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) impassioned defense of the painter J.M.W. Turner in brilliant ekphrastic passages where he described Turner’s painting , ‘Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On”, also known as ‘The Slave Ship’. She has also included in the essay William M. Thackeray’s Ekphrasis of the same painting which serves as an art criticism of Ruskin’s work. These are tremendously informative exercises on Ekphrasis.

My Ekphrastic poetry exercise also triggered the gustatory, so I looked for a recipe that I should try sometime soon given that I bought six very fancy ramekins recently and I haven’t even ever used my older ones for a Crème brûlée!! The reason I chose this one from ‘Sally’s Baking Addiction’ [3] is because she wrote something towards the end, that struck me as quite poetic. Her recipe is well illustrated and the dessert looks supremely delicious.

"Burnt sugar on creamy custard = simple beauty and decadence. Doesn’t this make you feel fancy? We should be wearing pearls and eating our crème brûlées with crystal spoons while sitting on our gold thrones calling each other on our diamond encrusted phones talking about how fancy we are."

~ Sally

Speaking of birthdays and aging, I would add that as a woman grows older, she must hopefully do it like Sophia Loren in Mambo Italiano. Here is a woman who knows how to have fun [4] like she is the last one standing. Thank you for reading !!

References:

[1]Ekphrastic poetry: When Art Kindles Literature; Hannah Huff ~https://notesofoak.com/discover-literature/ekphrastic-poetry/ (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)

[2]Ekphrasis; Marjorie Munsterberg ~https://writingaboutart.org/pages/ekphrasis.html (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)

[3]~https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/creme-brulee/

[4]Sophia Loren Mambo Italiano ~https://youtu.be/XL8_WRJmFJU