First to read was Caroline with her own English translation of a Turkish Sufi poet. I have to say I am always knocked sideways when I listen to Caroline’s translations, they are filled with such subtlety and beauty. The mystical poem she chose to read us tonight was called: Where Does Your Eyes Come From.
Like I always say, poems can be split into two categories: feeling and rational – the first is a poem of the heart - the second a poem of the mind. The first receives its imagery from the intuition, whereas the other derives its images from analysis.
Caroline’s multi-textured poem drew its imagery from Sufism and mystical Islam. In this work – green signifies both love and mystical surrender or more accurately, union with God. The river runs through the whole piece as a symbol, signifying the ‘spirit’ or the ‘water’s of life’. The narrator cleverly makes all kinds of allusions. To understand the poem one has to find the key-lines, which elucidate the rest of the text. For me those two lines were:
‘your eyes have not dived in the depths of the river.’
‘an eye is made not only of its seeing but reflection.’
Because an ‘eye’ is made of two things ‘seeing’ and ‘reflection’ the narrator is saying that God is contained in the seeing (invisible) and the seen (visible), therefore, he is both transcendental and immanent. The implication is that God is in mankind. The narrator is saying that estrangement from God (‘river’/spirit) seems to happen when there is a split in that seeing process. This split is caused by humanity separating itself off from the universal power of love. According to the poem, spiritual alienation comes about through averting one’s gaze away from the divine. The key-lines at the end of the poem are:
‘You must have looked not within a river but a well
as rivers are plumbed with sights and wells with sounds
people get a dark-black voice from gazes deep as wells.’
The poem is essentially telling us that by looking within we find the ‘river’ or God’s Spirit – flowing into us. The suggestion is that we should make peace with God. Otherwise, you’ll be left with your inner source – ‘dry as a well.’ The ‘well’ then is used as a metaphor for the echo of the mind, which we could call negative inner-dialogue or the counterfeit I (eye)/ego. This ungodly echo – alienates mankind from his divine source – his unfathomable divinity. The dried well reminded me of Friedrich Nietzsche, when he says in section 146 of "Beyond Good and Evil," in the section entitled "Epigrams and Interludes."
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process
he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss,
the abyss also looks into you."
Interestingly, the tears of one who does not know the River (God) – flow just like a mini-river, as though suffering is a microcosmic reflection of a macrocosmic Divinity. Even pain is ultimately a ‘shadow’ or a ‘reflection’ of this beautiful Source. A final lamentation of the River is: ‘we would have flowed into each other.’
Thus the question at the start of the poem is answered: your eyes ultimately come from God; and it reminds me of Christ’s wonderful words in the New Testament: ‘if your eye be single then ye be full of light.’
Your eye (I) is either flowing into the River and is unified in spirit or the eye is split and broken into a plurality of images and reflections – because the false I – takes its power from the dark ‘well’ of the mind that speaks from a multiplicity of dissatisfied I’s; rather than the unity of the single Divine I, i.e the eternally flowing River. Humanity either sees sacredness or profaneness, divinity or pain. Those that suffer, weep into a void – a ‘dry well’ filled with lost ‘dreams,’ that can never quench the thirst of the spirit. Therefore, the only answer to the dilemma comes by ‘looking inside yourself.’
The Turkish author points out that ‘eyes take on the colour of things that they love’, such as ‘olives and grapes’ but that the person he is addressing, has eyes which are coloured by tears. Pain is thus a ‘reflection’ or a ‘mini-river’ that flows away from, rather than into divinity and unity. Also, the author very wisely and unusually chose to address the audience in second person, singular. As always Caroline, I’m stunned by the power of your translation skills. I don’t read Turkish but I feel such a strong poem must carry the essence and the drama of the original. I really loved everything about this poem and its complex themes – addressing the dilemmas of human spirituality.
Tonight, Heather read a witty poem about aging called: Alternative HRT.
The poem charts the thoughts that go through the mind of an aging person – with funny comments - such as the following line:
‘no more luring fellahs
as your breasts spread like umbrellas.’
I particularly like the way the poem addressed both physical and mental aspects of the aging process; whereby:
‘gravity pulls at your flesh and your brain.’
There were lots of economical observations, which were sharply pointed out by the narrator. I liked the grouping together of eyesight and memory and the twist the poet put on the two themes, she says:
‘… eyesight lengthens and memory shortens.’
I enjoyed the metaphysical implications and connotations of the above statement. We can look at it this way, memory is a reflection of seeing and through aging the seeing is becoming increasingly difficult - correspondingly, through age memory has shortening its focus. Therefore, we find that eyesight lengthens towards infinity and memory shortens or recedes towards a single point of nothingness. Heather’s poem really made me smile.
Jan on the other hand read a moving tribute to her father and his work. In her super-powerful poem, she charts the change in Britain’s Housing Policy in 1966/7, which was inspired by Stamford’s play, Cathy Come Home. Jan says her father’s work was ‘rubbished’ because of this change in Government Policy. Ultimately, the daughter recounts the physical and mental deterioration of her father’s faculties up until his death. We learn in the poem that her father is ‘fighting to protect the right’s of people.’ His life’s work involves working with vulnerable people:
in short, the ‘homeless, fearful, societies rejects.’ In a moving passage, Jan laments:
'your housing policy was thrown, a stone into the sea
media-waves held you down, unsupported we watched you drown.'
Great writing rebounds in this poem, Jan comes out with powerful images to describe the gut-wrenching poignancy of her father’s passing. She describes the worn out man, with his skin the ‘…texture of fine sifted sand.’
This piece was a wonderful retrospective of her father’s work. I could see Jan’s face change from profound sadness to joy as she moved between the lines of the stanzas. Ultimately, the young narrator is unable to prevent her father’s work been smeared or nature taking its course, so she reads him psalms from the bible and sings to him hymns. Her dad has not touched any food in four days. The narrative of the poem is circular, beginning and ending with the powerlessness invoked through death. In a brilliant summary, placed in an early portion of the poem Jan say:
‘you smile, the mists around you shift and lift
into a mobile moving light filled place.’
Thanks Jan for your beautiful contribution at this week’s Chinwag.
In contrast, we had some fine humour from Nicky in her short story: ‘Community Engagement.’ The narrative opens up with a man tapping out his pipe ‘on the rail of the defendants box.’ The poor judge has to try and work out what transpired in an argument between a group of young disabled people and a party of unruly pensioners. Unfortunately, an unlucky Police Constable gets involved in the argument when things start to get messy. Stolen cream buns, dodgy china plates, assault and battery – not to mention running over policemen in wheelchairs are some of the antics this mixed-party of antisocial deviants get up. It’s hilarity all the way in Nicky’ mad story of ASBO pensioners and revolutionary wheelchair users. In the end, the judge is so exasperated that he throws the whole lot out of court and they go and have a picnic with some of the stolen merchandise.
Jenni this week provided a poem about the pains of infidelity called: ‘Feet of Clay.’
I love the cleaver biblical allusions in the title as to the idolatrous ‘feet of clay’ of the narrator’s boyfriend. These ‘clay feet’ are too morally week to uphold and support fidelity, – the upstanding qualities she craves for in a man. Unfortunately, the narrator dates a man she ‘deifies.’ It’s a form of idolatry through a mixture of genuine ignorance and adoration. Sadly, her ‘hope began to die’ when it starts to become obvious that:
‘girls looked guilty when they passed me by.’
The narrator is left with only one option and that is to say ‘goodbye’ to her straying lover.
Jenni also read a poem about her terrifying driving antics that kept the audience on the edge of their seats. She finished her set with a rather charming poem about the death of community spirit in the old mining communities of Wales. Her poem, Valley Lament has some lovely images in it such as the ‘geometric winding gear’ of the old pit. Here in the valley, the ‘river runs with litter.’ As usual, Jenni’s poetry pulls on a mixture of humour, sharp observation, and hear-strings to hit you with its full impact.
In contrast Word Distillery poet, Sadayo set her gaze on the slopes of Mont Parnassus. In this atmospheric poem, the song of Orpheus haunts the mountain. His ghostly fingers pluck the strings of a lyre, singing ‘songs of his melancholy’. In this poem, goats:
‘… wonder about
on the mountain slope
blistered by olives’
The music travels down into the caves and hermitages of the gods and goddesses of long ago, bewitching the sleepy countryside. Orpheus’ song carries into the village, now abandoned by the oracles – yet something of their spell remains inside this delightful little poem.
In the next piece Sadayo read, she captivated her audience with a short poem called Byron’s Muse. An old statue of the Romantic poet was the theme and inspiration behind this work. In a ‘cobbled alleyway’ encircled by ‘white jasmine’ – ‘the Daughter of Athena’ embraces a cold lifeless Byron – his gaze fading out somewhere towards the ‘horizon’, out towards ‘Piraeus’. Forever, he lays secure in the statue’s ‘marble arms.’ In the second stanza, the author makes a transition in viewpoint. A beautiful waitress suddenly captivates the narrator, she sees the girl:
‘… under the acacia trees
through flickering candlelight.’
The narrator notices that the thick ‘black coffee’ just served her - contrasts with the waitress’ ‘alabaster smile’. The candlelight flickering on the girls ‘frozen’ white cheeks has a strange and melancholic affect on the narrator – it reminds her of the marble statue she so loves, holding forever her favourite writer in her arms – Lord Byron – hero of the epics!
For Sadayo’s third poem, she wrote another one about Byron’s life called: Ton Vyronos. In this poem, Lord Byron is inspired by his muse to help fight for Greek independence. Ultimately, it is a deadly muse that whispers in the ear of the young poet. This noble cause leads Byron to an untimely demise. In death, he lays, naked on the ‘lap of Athena:
‘under the moon gazing at the blue space
over the Aegean Sea.’
Caroline, this week read a couple of poems about death. I liked the titles of her poems – ‘7 skips,’ ‘End of Life Recycling,’ and ‘Murder.’ One of the poems was about clearing out a room after somebody has died – presumably, a close relative. I love Caroline’s writing it’s very sparse and yet detailed. There were some images in that piece that were nicely observed, such as, the narrator staring into the void of a TV monitor and seeing her own ghostly face – almost like a premonition of her own mortality. Another image that grabbed me was the cushion imprinted from the absent weight of the deceased gentleman. She ends the poem on a poignant paradox:
‘death is an empty room full of things.’
As the audio quality is not that great and my memory is even less, I can only recall a single image, from Caroline’s next poem, which rose like a phoenix from the crematorium of her mind:
‘the flesh gives off its knowledge
to those still able to use it.’
In the next slot, our reader George read an extract from his small comical book: Pop Idle, which is about an art theft and murder that goes ‘terribly wrong.’ The book is full of humorous anecdotes and is based on a 10-minute film made by his friend, which he himself stared in. The film is on Youtube: ‘track it down if you want to laugh at me being awful,’ said the author rather dryly.
The humour in the writing reminded me very much of Douglas Adams, as the narrator says, philosophically:
‘I think there is a lot to be said
for a liberal underclass upbringing.’
Another witty contributor was Roy, who forgot to bring his poetry folder and so decided last minute to adlib – half-forgotten fragments, weaving them seamlessly together from his memory. Roy referred to himself as a ‘little old cockney spat out in Wapping.’ His spontaneous recital (all the more impressive without notes) centred on his trip to Wales and the birthplace of St. David’s mother. In his poem, we followed Roy surfing on:
‘Wandering waves of poetic thought’
We find him spending the night with some nuns for company. They give him a cell to sleep in with a very basic bed and:
‘a wooden pillow to etch the splinters from my mind.’
Next morning, he enjoys a breakfast of boiled eggs, newly hatched from the ‘clucking cacklefarts.’ Near the end of the poem, old Neptune spins, frothing and whipping up:
‘the washing machine of the earth.’
It was a great performance from Roy. He had no notes, only his imagination to guide him through his performance – his on-the-spot-no-messing recital was a big winner at Chinwag.
This week my special guest was Kath Stansfield. Kath is a lecturer in Creative Writing, a novelist, and poet. She read selections of her novel, set in the fictional Cornish village: Skommow Bay. Ultimately, the novel is a love story about loss and takes place between the years 1880 to 1936. I loved the atmospheric descriptions in Kath’s book, the dark winding alleyways – the shady shop entrances. It very much reminded me of the real St Ives – on which the novel bases much of its inspiration from. It’s a haunting book, filled with the protagonist’s reminiscences and the ghosts of her past. The novel overflows with psychological undercurrents, in which the protagonist starts to feel herself slowly drowning. Her book is packed with historical references – the pilchard fishermen of long ago; Victorian legends – the author even mentions Cornish zombies. It’s a cool read, well worth buying.
Also, Kath treated Chinwag to a selection of her poetry from her forthcoming collection: Playing House, which will be out sometime in 2014. I loved her witty monologue about - Bleach. Her poem, tells of the narrator’s love hate relationship with that caustic household chemical. The piece came into being because Kath once shared a house with a flatmate who refused to open the windows. As a result, the whole place turned green with mould, and the bleach made her skin ‘squeak.’ In a lovely line she says:
‘You chewed my fingers and swelled my prints with your stink.’
Frustrated, the narrator ends her love affair with bleach, exchanging it for:
‘softer ecological bottles under the sink.’
The author’s next poem dealt with the technicalities of making a perfect crisp sandwich. In A Ground Rule, we learn that it is important to construct a ‘scaffold’ between the two slices of bread. The crisps must be laid on top of a ‘greaser’: ‘butter, mayonnaise, or chutney’. The bread must be ‘firm’ to hold the contents – she suggests, ‘two days old’. Because ultimately a crisp sandwich is ‘all about support.’ This is why ridged crisps (plain or beef) are preferable to flat ones as they have a better texture… And, always remember that once you’ve built this mega-monster of a sandwich, don’t what ever you do: ‘break your hold.’
Kathy was a delightful guest – she read immaculately, some wonderful prose and poetry. She also kindly signed books for the audience.
As always, I’d like to thank the lighting and sound engineer Pete – along with the girls on the door. Thanks also, to Rachel for her sharp posters and e-flyers as well as the management team at the art’s centre. Thanks Simon in the book shop for his help with supplying Kath’s newly released novel. Also, I’ like to thank the bar staff and the men and women who work in the cafeteria (your food is great). Not withstanding, Gill Ogden for all her support in organising the venue and her behind the scenes work, in helping me to put a great show on. Also, I’d like to thank Sarah for photographing and filming the event – you’re a great publicist – thank you for all the technical support you do on the social media sites.
Next Chinwag is 6th March so paste the date in your diaries. Our next Guest Speaker will be David Parry – a Pagan High Priest and poet of the highest calibre. His book, Caliban’s Redemption is a classic in modern literature.