Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 8, 2008

Posing Aemilia Lanyer (as Shakespeare; as his Dark Lady; and as she posed)

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Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645), was born in London to Baptista Bassano and his possibly common-law wife Margaret Johnson. At age 23, the then Aemilia Bassano married her cousin Alphonso Lanyer, supposedly after becoming pregnant by Henry Carey, Lord Hudson. She had two children, a son Henry and a daughter Odillya, who died at 10 months of age, and “many miscarriages” as well. The reported miscarriages are are brought to bear, as she is considered a candidate to be the Dark Lady, or Dark Musical Lady, in William Shakespeare’s sonnets #127-154, and thus would have been prone to affairs, and maybe have shared one with the Bard. Note that if she had an extended affair with Shakespeare, five years her senior, or even if they enjoyed discussing poetics and culture together around the court, he would have had an influence on her, and vice versa.

Aemelia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum title pageIn 1611, at age 42, Lanyer became the first woman to publish a book of poetry in English, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, or “Hail, God, King of the Jews.” Within that book is the first known country house poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham“. It predates Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst“, Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax“, and Robert Herrick’s “A Panegyric to Sir Lewis Pemberton“. Here is Emma Jones discussing Lanyer’s poem in the essay Renaissance ‘country house’ poetry as social criticism:

Her country house poem The Description of Cooke-ham gives us an account of the residence of Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, in the absence of Lady Clifford, who is depicted as the ideal Renaissance woman—graceful, virtuous, honourable and beautiful. Lanyer describes the house and its surroundings while Lady Margaret is present, and while she is absent. While Lady Margaret was around, the flowers and trees:

Set forth their beauties then to welcome thee!
The very hills right humbly did descend,
When you to tread upon them did intend.
And as you set your feete, they still did rise,
Glad that they could receive so rich a prise.

Lanyer also may have been Jewish. If so, this would support the contention, being proffered by John Hudson, that she wrote the works we have always attributed to Shakespeare. The idea is that Shakespeare would not have had the requisite knowledge of Jewish lore, written into the plays, that a Jewish Bassano-Lanyer would; and that she agreed to be his ghostwriter, needing the cover of a man’s identity in order to have her work published and performed. Significantly, however, if she were no more Jewish than Shakespeare, the argument that he must not have written the plays, must apply to her as well on this score.

Here is Kari Boyd McBride‘s response to that assertion from her Biography of Aemilia Lanyer:

Lanyer’s father’s family, the Bassanos, were court musicians who had come to England from Venice at the end of Henry VIII’s reign. It has been argued that they were converted Jews (Lasocki and Prior; Rowse, “Revealed at Last,” and ensuing correspondence; Greer et al., s.v. “Aemilia Lanyer”), but Ruffatti has argued persuasively that the family was Christian.

Here is Michelle Powell-Smith discussing Lanyer’s possible Jewishness and the title of her landmark book, in Aemilia Lanyer: Redeeming Women Through Faith and Poetry:

It has been suggested that she was a converted Jew, largely on the basis of the title of her work. This, however, seems unlikely. Lanyer attributed the title of Salve Deus to a dream she’d had many years before its writing and internal clues in the poem, as well as Lanyer’s circle of acquaintances, lend far more certainty to the theory that Lanyer was actually a radical protestant. Susan Bertie, the Countess of Kent, was responsible for Lanyer’s education. Bertie had multiple connections to radical protestantism, including a close relationship with Anne Lock, who translated Calvin and Taffin into English.

Powell-Smith is there referring to the section of Lanyer’s book called “To the Doubtfull Reader“, wherein she writes:

Gentle Reader, if thou desire to be resolued, why I giue this Title, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, know for certaine, that it was deliuered vnto me in sleepe many yeares before I had any intent to write in this maner, and was quite out of my memory vntill I had written the Passion of Christ, when immediately it came into my remembrance, what I had dreamed long before; and thinking it a significant token, that I was appointed to performe that Worke, I gaue the very same words I receiued in sleepe as the fittest Title I could deuise for this Booke.

With this background, let’s look at John Hudson’s website, dedicated in large part to the ideas that Aemilia Lanyer is both The Dark Lady of his sonnets and the “Shakespeare” who wrote them as well: Did this black Jewish woman, Amelia Bassano (the first woman to publish a book of original poetry) write Shakespeare’s plays?. Linked from that site are the following two videos, here from YouTube:

   

Who Wrote Shakespeare?: The Dark Lady Discovery

   

Amilia Bassano Lanier as Shakespeare

   

Lanyer’s book came out five years before Shakespeare died, so we need to note, that if she used his name as a cover before this, then the book she got published under her own name, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, would have been written in a mature “Shakespearean” style, or at least worthy of publication by a mature ghostwriter for Shakespeare. It seems obvious to me that it isn’t. Here are two of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets:
   

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by William Shakespeare
   

#127
   

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name:
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame,
For since each hand hath put on nature’s power,   
Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,
At such who not born fair no beauty lack,
Slandering creation with a false esteem,
    Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
    That every tongue says beauty should look so.

   

   
#130
   

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,
Coral is far more red, than her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
    And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.

   

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Within Lanyer’s book is the title poem, the 1840-line “Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum” written in rime royal stanzas, ababbcc. That poem contains these significant sections: The Passion of Christ; Eue’s Apologie in Defence of Women; The Teares of the Daughters of Jerusalem; and The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgin Marie. To begin the reading of her poetry, and to note Lanyer’s style, here is part of that last section:

   

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El Greco\'s Pieta

   

(lines 1009-1056 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)

by Aemilia Lanyer

from The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgin Marie

His woefull Mother wayting on her Sonne,
All comfortlesse in depth of sorow drowned;
Her griefes extreame, although but new begun,
To see his bleeding body oft shee swouned;
How could shee choose but thinke her selfe undone,
He dying, with whose glory shee was crowned?
        None ever lost so great a losse as shee,
        Beeing Sonne, and Father of Eternitie.

Her teares did wash away his pretious blood,
That sinners might not tread it under feet
To worship him, and that it did her good
Upon her knees, although in open street,
Knowing he was the Jessie floure and bud,
That must be gath’red when it smell’d most sweet:
        Her Sonne, her Husband, Father, Saviour, King,
        Whose death killd Death, and tooke away his sting.

Most blessed Virgin, in whose faultlesse fruit,
All Nations of the earth must needes rejoyce,
No Creature having sence though ne’r so brute,
But joyes and trembles when they heare his voyce;
His wisedome strikes the wisest persons mute,
Faire chosen vessell, happy in his choyce:
        Deere Mother of our Lord, whose reverend name,
        All people Blessed call, and spread thy fame.

For the Almightie magnified thee,
And looked downe upon thy meane estate;
Thy lowly mind, and unstain’d Chastitie,
Did pleade for Love at great Jehovaes gate,
Who sending swift-wing’d Gabriel unto thee,
His holy will and pleasure to relate;
        To thee most beauteous Queene of Woman-kind,
        The Angell did unfold his Makers mind.

He thus beganne, Haile Mary full of grace,
Thou freely art beloved of the Lord,
He is with thee, behold thy happy case;
What endlesse comfort did these words afford
To thee that saw’st an Angell in the place
Proclaime thy Virtues worth, and to record
        Thee blessed among women: that thy praise
        Should last so many worlds beyond thy daies.

Loe, this high message to thy troubled spirit,
He doth deliver in the plainest sence;
Sayes, Thou shouldst beare a Sonne that shal inherit
His Father Davids throne, free from offence,
Call’s him that Holy thing, by whose pure merit
We must be sav’d, tels what he is, of whence;
        His worth, his greatnesse, what his name must be,
        Who should be call’d the Sonne of the most High.

   

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To contrast the writing style of Shakespeare with Lanyer’s, notice her usage of the verb did to emphasize the principal verb to follow, as in “did wash away” and “did pleade for love” (above), instead of “washed away” and “pleaded for love” or “pled for love”. One reason for her to do this would be to keep the iambic meter. Another might be her bilingual Mediterranean ear for language making it sound okay. In the entirety of the 1840-line poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“, she uses the word did 126 times; or 6.6% of her lines contain the word did. But, she is inconsistent, as the first occurrences are in lines 216-217:

Did worke Octaviaes wrongs, and his neglects.
What fruit did yeeld that faire forbidden tree,

So, subtracting out the first 215 lines, we have 1,625 lines beginning where her writing changed; and a recalculation shows that did is used in 7.8% of those lines, every 13 lines of iambic pentameter on average. Either way, rounding off, this is 6 times Shakespeare’s usage of the word in his sonnets. In his 154 sonnets, there are 2,156 lines, and only 26 occurrences of did, 1.2% of the lines, or once every 83 lines on average. Thus Lanyer and Shakespeare are poets with different poetic ears for whatever reason.

On the idea that Lanyer is Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, here is Peter Bassano, who is descended from her uncle Anthony, discussing this possibility in his article Emilia Bassano: Shakespeare’s Mistress?:

Despite an enormous age difference Emilia became Hunsdon’s mistress until 1592 when she became pregnant, she was hurriedly married off to poor old Alphonso Lanier. The son she bore was baptised Henry after his father and grand-father. Henry Lanier also became a musician joining the Kings Musick in 1629. It would take a constitutional historian to work out the hierarchy of this hapless young man’s claim to the English throne.

Here are Shakespeare’s own words on his adulterous lover, she is identified as dark in the extreme in Sonnet 127:

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:

The bastard shame according with Emilia’s unfortunate position in the days of life before birth control!

Let’s look at another of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets, and note that if Bassano is correct, his very great aunt Aemilia, posing as William Shakespeare, would have been writing about herself:

   

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#144
   

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still,
The better angel is a man right fair:
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell my female evil,
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil:
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,
But being both from me both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell.
    Yet this shall I ne’er know but live in doubt,   
    Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

   

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Let’s suppose that Lanyer wrote sonnet 144 instead of Shakespeare. This would mean that instead of a reading of how Eros leads us to both comfort and despair–sometimes into the arms of an evil woman, sometimes into a dilemma-filled love triangle–we would have The Dark Musical Lady herself speaking about the social predicament of women in early 17th-century England. The line, “The worser spirit a woman coloured ill,” would refer to the idea that woman are put down, colored in a derogatory manner, that they have “foul pride.” Her male side could be that she is writing under cover of the respected Will Shakespeare: “The better angel is a man right fair”. But would roles reverse, could “my angel be turned fiend”? She cannot know this until the dark woman comes out from under the mask of the fair man, “Till my bad angel fire my good one out.”

I cannot rectify the writing styles, however, and so cannot jump on the bandwagon to announce, as Dr A.L. Rowse did to Peter Bassano, “it is she!” But I can include below her famous “Eves Apologie” that turns the tables of the “female evil” on the “man right fair” in Eden, the paradise from which, I will point out, they were both expelled or “fired out” of as a couple. We will then finish with Lanyer’s short essay To the Virtuous Reader, which is also in her book, and another section of the title poem in Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum titled “The Teares of the Daughter of Jerusalem.”

Margaret Preston\'s Adam and Eve in the Garden of EdenBut first, how do we pose Aemilia Lanyer as we suppose from our perspectives? We pose her as a radical protestant, writing her fine religious poetry, and yet much of the information we have about her comes from “the astrologer Simon Forman whom Lanyer consulted about her husband’s prospects for promotion.” Apparently she consulted an astrologer. We pose her promiscuously, as at least rubbing elbows with William Shakespeare, with some imagined outside chance that she was his Dark Musical Lady; as having many miscarriages, and marrying one man after becoming pregnant by another, and yet: “Forman [himself] tried, unsuccessfully, to seduce Lanyer.” We pose her with gossip.

The way she posed herself can be seen in the positions she took within her remarkable accomplishments, that she published the first book by a woman, and in doing so circulated a book with the specific intent of showing that women are due considerable respect. She posed herself with gospel. She interpreted the same scripture being used by society to keep women down, and made her case that quite the opposite ought truthfully be done.

Her other significant literary first is her country house poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham“, written in tribute to Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland. Above we quote the five lines Emma Jones cited in her essay Renaissance ‘country house’ poetry as social criticism. Jones then goes on to say:

A far more rational explanation would be that Lady Margaret resided at Cooke-ham during the summer months, and just after she left, autumn came upon the countryside. In order to flatter Lady Margaret, Lanyer implies that the countryside is mourning her departure, but in actual fact she sees the turn of the season, which is not affected by Lady Margaret. Just as in To Penshurst the lifestyle seemed too good to be true, in A Description of Cook-ham, the Lady of the house seems to be too close to perfection to be real. Perhaps Lanyer’s poem is a satirical take on the relationship between the poet and the patron.

Here are the eight lines that follow the five Emma Jones used:

The gentle Windes did take delight to bee
Among those woods that were so grac’d by thee.
And in sad murmure vtterd pleasing sound,
That Pleasure in that place might more abound:
The swelling Bankes deliuer’d all their pride,
When such a Phoenix once they had espide.
Each Arbor, Banke, each Seate, each stately Tree,
Thought themselues honor’d in supporting thee.

She is not flattering the Countess of Cumberland. She is giving all due respect to another woman, the considerable respect that a women is Biblically due, what Jesus gave, as she says: “All which is sufficient to inforce all good Christians and honourable minded men to speake reuerently of our sexe, and especially of all virtuous and good women.”
   

–Clattery MacHinery

   

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Paul Gustave Doré\'s Adam and Eve Expelled

   

(lines 761-832 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)
   

by Aemilia Lanyer
   

from Eue’s Apologie in Defence of Women
   

Till now your indiscretion sets us free,
And makes our former fault much lesse appeare;
Our Mother Eve, who tasted of the Tree,
Giving to Adam what shee held most deare,
Was simply good, and had no powre to see,
The after-comming harme did not appeare:
        The subtile Serpent that our Sex betraide,
        Before our fall so sure a plot had laide.

That undiscerning Ignorance perceav’d
No guile, or craft that was by him intended;
For had she knowne, of what we were bereav’d,
To his request she had not condiscended.
But she (poore soule) by cunning was deceav’d,
No hurt therein her harmelesse Heart intended:
        For she alleadg’d Gods word, which he denies,
        That they should die, but even as Gods, be wise.

But surely Adam can not be excusde,
Her fault though great, yet hee was most too blame;
What Weaknesse offerd, Strength might have refusde,
Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpents craft had her abusde,
Gods holy word ought all his actions frame,
        For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
        Before poore Eve had either life or breath.

Who being fram’d by Gods eternall hand,
The perfect’st man that ever breath’d on earth;
And from Gods mouth receiv’d that strait command,
The breach whereof he knew was present death:
Yea having powre to rule both Sea and Land,
Yet with one Apple wonne to loose that breath
        Which God had breathed in his beauteous face,
        Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.

And then to lay the fault on Patience backe,
That we (poore women) must endure it all;
We know right well he did discretion lacke,
Beeing not perswaded thereunto at all;
If Eve did erre, it was for knowledge sake,
The fruit beeing faire perswaded him to fall:
        No subtill Serpents falshood did betray him,
        If he would eate it, who had powre to stay him?

Not Eve, whose fault was onely too much love,
Which made her give this present to her Deare,
That what shee tasted, he likewise might prove,
Whereby his knowledge might become more cleare;
He never sought her weakenesse to reprove,
With those sharpe words, which he of God did heare:
        Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he tooke
        From Eves faire hand, as from a learned Booke.

If any Evill did in her remaine,
Beeing made of him, he was the ground of all;
If one of many Worlds could lay a staine
Upon our Sexe, and worke so great a fall
To wretched Man, by Satans subtill traine;
What will so fowle a fault amongst you all?
        Her weakenesse did the Serpents words obay;
        But you in malice Gods deare Sonne betray.

Whom, if unjustly you condemne to die,
Her sinne was small, to what you doe commit;
All mortall sinnes that doe for vengeance crie,
Are not to be compared unto it:
If many worlds would altogether trie,
By all their sinnes the wrath of God to get;
        This sinne of yours, surmounts them all as farre
        As doth the Sunne, another little starre.   

Then let us have our Libertie againe,
And challendge to your selves no Sov’raigntie;
You came not in the world without our paine,
Make that a barre against your crueltie;
Your fault beeing greater, why should you disdaine
Our beeing your equals, free from tyranny?
        If one weake woman simply did offend,
        This sinne of yours, hath no excuse, nor end.

   

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from the book Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
   

by Aemilia Lanyer
   

To the Vertvovs Reader
   

Often haue I heard that it is the property of some women, not only to emulate the virtues and perfections of the rest, but also by all their powers of ill speaking, to ecclipse the brightness of their deserved fame: now contrary to this custome, which men I hope uniustly lay to their charge, I haue written this small volume, or little booke, for the generall vse of all virtuous Ladies and Gentlewomen of this kingdome; and in commendation of some particular persons of our owne sexe, such as for the most part, are so well knowne to my selfe, and others, that I dare undertake Fame dares not to call any better. And this haue I done, to make knowne to the world, that all women deserue not to be blamed though some forgetting they are women themselues, and in danger to be condemned by the words of their owne mouthes, fall into so great an errour, as to speake vnaduisedly against the rest of their sexe; which if it be true, I am persuaded they can shew their owne imperfection in nothing more: and therefore could wish (for their owne ease, modesties, and credit) they would referre such points of folly, to be practised by euell disposed men, who forgetting they were borne of women, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world: and a finall ende of them all, doe like Vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred, onely to giue way and vtterance to their want of discretion and goodnesse. Such as these, were they that dishonoured Christ his Apostles and Prophets, putting them to shamefull deaths. Therefore, we are not to regard any imputations that they vndeseruedly lay upon us, no otherwise than to make vse of them to our owne benefits, as spurres to vertue, making vs flie all occasions that may colour their uniust speeches to passe currant. Especially considering that they haue tempted euen the patience of God himselfe, who gaue power to wise and virtuous women, to bring downe their pride and arrogancie. As was cruell Cesarus by the discreet counsell of noble Deborah, Iudge and Prophetesse of Israel: and resolution of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite: wicket Haman, by the diuine prayers and prudent proceedings of beautiful Hester: blasphemous Holofernes, by the inuincible courage, rare wisdome, and confident carriage of Iudeth: & the vniust Iudges, by the innocency of chast Susanna: with infinite others, which for breuitie sake I will omit. As also in respect it pleased our Lord and Sauiour Iesus Christ, without the assistance of man, beeing free from originall and all other sinnes, from the time of his conception, till the houre of his death, to be begotten of a woman, borne of a woman, nourished of a woman, obedient to a woman; and that he healed woman, pardoned women, comforted women: yea, euen when he was in his greatest agonie and bloodie sweat, going to be crucified, and also in the last houre of his death, tooke care to dispose of a woman: after his resurrection, appeared first to a woman, sent a woman to declare his most glorious resurrection to the rest of his Disciples. Many other examples I could alledge of diuers faithfull and virtuous women, who haue in all ages, not onely beene Confessors, but also indured most cruel martyrdome for their faith in Iesus Christ. All which is sufficient to inforce all good Christians and honourable minded men to speake reuerently of our sexe, and especially of all virtuous and good women. To the modest sensures of both which, I refer these my imperfect indeauours, knowing that according to their owne excellent dispositions, they will rather, cherish, nourish, and increase the least sparke of virtue where they find it, by their fauourable and beste interpretations, than quench it by wrong constructions. To whom I wish all increase of virtue, and desire their best opinions.

   

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Peter Paul Rubens\' Christ and Mary Magdeline

   

(lines 969-1008 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)
   

by Aemilia Lanyer
   

The Teares of the Daughter of Jerusalem
   

Thrice happy women that obtaind such grace
From him whose worth the world could not containe;
Immediately to turne about his face,
As not remembring his great griefe and paine,
To comfort you, whose teares powr’d forth apace
On Flora’s bankes, like shewers of Aprils raine:
        Your cries inforced mercie, grace, and love
        From him, whom greatest Princes could not moove:

To speake on word, nor once to lift his eyes
Unto proud Pilate, no nor Herod, king;
By all the Questions that they could devise,
Could make him answere to no manner of thing;
Yet these poore women, by their pitious cries
Did moove their Lord, their Lover, and their King,
        To take compassion, turne about, and speake
        To them whose hearts were ready now to breake.

Most blessed daughters of Jerusalem,
Who found such favour in your Saviors sight,
To turne his face when you did pitie him;
Your tearefull eyes, beheld his eies more bright;
Your Faith and Love unto such grace did clime,
To have reflection from this Heav’nly Light:
        Your Eagles eyes did gaze against this Sunne,
        Your hearts did thinke, he dead, the world were done.
   
When spightfull men with torments did oppresse
Th’afflicted body of this innocent Dove,
Poore women seeing how much they did transgresse,
By teares, by sighes, by cries intreat, nay prove,
What may be done among the thickest presse,
They labour still these tyrants hearts to move;
        In pitie and compassion to forbeare
        Their whipping, spurning, tearing of his haire.

But all in vaine, their malice hath no end,
Their hearts more hard than flint, or marble stone;
Now to his griefe, his greatnesse they attend,
When he (God knowes) had rather be alone;
They are his guard, yet seeke all meanes to offend:
Well may he grieve, well may he sigh and groane,
        Under the burthen of a heavy crosse,
        He faintly goes to make their gaine his losse.

   

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March 10, 2008

Life and Death from Beijing: a Poetry Sequence by Luisetta Mudie and Dreamer Fei

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execution-by-yues-minjun.jpg
 

Editor’s note:

The title of this post derives from one of the most important memoirs of the last century, Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng, which came out in 1987.   She recounts in that book her imprisonment by the Red Guard during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Politically speaking, her work represents what many of us would know about China during that time period.

Shortly after that book’s publication, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 took place in Beijing, in which upwards of 3,000 protesters, were killed or injured on orders from the Chinese goverment.   These protesters, many of them students, were by and large calling for democracy.

Here we are, approximately two decades later again, and it is the year of the Beijing Olympic Games.   Before the world supports, boycotts, or protests these games, or decides which grounds they will do this on; as events surrounding these issues surface through the media, we in the West may want to take a look at the heart of China, via the heart of one Chinese man, a poet.   Media can blind us to a fact we well know, that a big part of China’s heart is in poetry, and we need this information.

Everything written below here is either written or translated by Luisetta Mudie, who begins with a letter to you, her reader.

–Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

 

 

 

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luisetta-mudie.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Reader,

A journalist friend of mine who is also a poet recently went back to China after 18 years in the US.   He was on the Square the night of the Tiananmen massacre.   Below are some prose reflections on his trip, but also some poems of his and mine relating to Tiananmen, to China, and about his son, who holds his sense of the future.

the-goddess-of-democracy-in-tiananmen-square.jpgThe prose and the poems were written by him in Chinese and rendered by me in English.   There may be other poems written by me at the same time, or in answer to his poems, as we had an ongoing poetic dialogue.   Chronologically, the poem sequence came before the prose, and is the culmination of a three-year dialogue between us, in which the poet is trying to move beyond both the concrete horrors of his student past, and, crucially, the numinous might-have-beens which haunt his generation.

It took those of his generation far longer to give up their longing for the idealized figures common to passionate young souls than it did for most of us, because those figures were made godlike and ultimately untouchable by the massacre that followed their emergence on the Square.   This passion that should have carried them into human life was forced instead into a twilight world of denial and strange attraction by the deaths that night in Beijing, and the government’s largely successful attempts to rewrite history.

But if we have the inclination, a poetic bent towards shade as well as light, those too-good angelic figures will show their true nature, which is also daimonic, and lead us into realms proper to poetry.

He would rather use his pen-name, Dreamer Fei, to avoid being identified.

Warmly,

Luisetta Mudie
Radio Free Asia
RFA Unplugged
 

 

~~~~~
 

 
boydragonpapercut.jpg
 

~~~~~
 

by Dreamer Fei
 

The Road Home
 

The giant Boeing 747 whistles through the thick dark cloud and white smog above the city, and touches down in a drastic way, reminding me that I am home again, after 18 hours of flight and 18 years of nostalgia.

It is about an hour’s drive from the airport to my parents’ apartment.   My cousin wanted to pick me up at the airport and show off his new Toyota Camry, but I declined.   I want to relax on the long journey home to adjust to the reverse culture shock of re-entry.   I have been warned about it by many overseas Chinese.   I get a cab; it costs 10 bucks.   I doze off as it snakes through the city traffic.

I was born and grew up in China.   Even after 18 years in America, I still eat Chinese food at least once a day.   Reading Chinese books is one of my favorite pastimes.   China is remote for me, yet it has continued to haunt my dreams.

tiananmen-square-1989-379x278.jpgI was a college student in 1989 and an eyewitness to the shootings and killings that night along Changan Avenue.   I was almost shot when I tried to persuade the soldiers not to fire on us.   I fled the country shortly after the tragedy.   But the tear gas, tanks, and crushed bodies permeated my dreams.   In one scene, I try to hold a fellow student crushed by a tank, and realize his two legs are gone, with only blood gushing from his body.   Such scenes are rewound and played again, night after night.   No time for healing after such an event.

It has been 18 years since I set foot in my hometown.   The cab brakes a bit and I wake up.   We are on the freeway.   Surprisingly, it has 12 lanes and is as good as any interstate in the U.S., if not better.   It is even more surprising that, along the freeway, you can see signs for W-Mart, Cosco, McDonalds, KFC, and Domino’s Pizza as well as Starbucks Coffee and IKEA, not to mention a Mobil gas station every 10 miles.

Am I in China? Did I take the right flight? In the days that follow, there are even more surprises in store.
 

Day one:   Environment Day

The drum beats.   Firecrackers plus the loudspeakers are deafening.   In the unsettled dust and smoke caused by the fireworks, hundreds of retired women dance cheerfully.   The government is holding Environment Day celebrations in a local park.   Government officials take turns giving the usual long speeches, talking about how environment protection is vitally important.   Everyone is a bit bored until, at the end of the ceremony, environmental officials and local primary school students release several hundred doves into the air, in a “back to the wild” gesture.

These doves fly high in the foggy sky for about 10 minutes before landing next to a huge pigeon coop to get their food on a cart in a corner of the same park.   The cart is owned by a farmer who makes a living by hiring out his doves for exactly this sort of stunt around the area.

It would be unfair to say that local governments don’t take environmental issues seriously.   In some areas, protecting the environment is more than a public show or a ceremony, because officials could lose their jobs if an environmental disaster happens.   A big chemical group in my hometown, funded by the government, planned to spend three billion yuan (around US$40 million) to tackle air pollution problems by reducing chemical waste and planting trees.   The river in my hometown—a mid-size city—used to be dirty and filled with industrial waste and dead animals.   In my memory, the color of the river was the same black as Chinese calligrapher’s ink.

But now, the river glitters on a sunny day (not that you get very many of them) and there are many weeping willows along the banks.   Several public parks have been built along the river as well; you can even see water lilies in one while standing under the traditional Chinese pavilions.   Along the newly built main avenue in the south side of the city, there are lawns with green grass, where huge plastic elephants and giraffes stand.

The locals say these projects are all done for the sake of face and to show off to top officials and tourists.   But hey, trees and grass are good, a glittering river is better than a dark one, and the “face” of the city really looks better than before.
 

Day Two:   Where is my old neighborhood?

One of the things that surprises me the most, is that I get lost when trying to find my own home, even though my folks still live in the same neighborhood I grew up in.   Now, most of the shabby old shacks that the poorer residents used to live in have been demolished, and the area is filled with high-rise buildings and commercial complexes.   Many of my old neighbors live in two-, three- or even four-bedroomed apartments with hardwood floors and all the modern utilities like refrigerators and washing machines.   These were luxuries for most Chinese 20 years ago.

“Life is good!” my old classmate tells me.   He now works at a law firm and bought a big condo two years ago.   He couldn’t afford the half a million yuan (U.S.$60,000) condo on his own, but his parents and his wife’s parents helped with the downpayment.   “Property prices are skyrocketing now.   If we hadn’t bought it, pretty soon we wouldn’t have been able to afford it at all.   And without that condo, my wife wouldn’t marry me,” he jokes.   I can feel his confidence about his future, though; he makes around 5,000 RMB (US$600) per month now.   “The monthly mortgage payment will remain the same, but our income will grow steadily,” he says.

But not everyone is as lucky and confident as my old classmate.   One day, as I am buying a pot of tall bamboos for my father in a farmer’s market, the old saleswoman asks me why I am buying it.   I tell her that my parents have moved into a new apartment and need some plants there.   She says she envies them.   She tells me that she used to have an old-style house in the downtown area where everybody knew everybody.   Now she has moved to the outskirts of the city.   “I miss the old neighborhood.   Sometimes I go back to see the old neighbors who live in the high-rise buildings and chat with them.”   Tears start from her eyes.   I ask why she doesn’t return.   She says the compensation she received when her old home was demolished for development wasn’t enough to afford a place there.   I don’t know what to say to her.

This city used to have many state-owned enterprises (SOEs), but since the early 90s, most SOEs have gone bankrupt, and thousands of workers have lost their jobs, many forced into early retirement.   The city is clearly divided into haves and have-nots, and in recent years, the gap between them has widened.   When you go to a luxury store, you can see Burberry shirts and golf clubs at prices higher than in London or New York.   Mercedes and BMWs prowl the streets, but in the farmer’s market, customers are haggling over a penny.   There are restaurants where you can spend US$100 per person for a seafood buffet, but you can also have a feast for only US$1 in a roadside vendor’s stand.
 

Day three:   Is social harmony possible?

In front of the gates of the city government, hundreds of tricycle taxis stage a quiet demonstration; they have signs on their tricycles saying “Legalize the tricycle!” “we want to survive!” “We want to pay taxes!”.   Since the systemic reforms and privatisation of the SOEs, strikes and demonstrations like this have been happening quite often in this city.   Some unemployed workers have managed to get some compensation due to the attention paid to the strikes and demonstrations, but it is barely enough to get them by, meaning they won’t be starving, but not enough to support their family, or pay for their kids to go to school, or for medical expenses like the occasional hospital visit.   Thus, some of the unemployed workers have made new jobs for themselves by using tricycles to taxi people around the city.   This has found favor with other people on a low income, especially the elderly, because they are cheaper than the bus and more convenient.   But now the cab drivers have had their noses put out of joint, and have complained to the police.   Others complain that the city’s 3,000 tricyle rickshaws are blocking traffic in the downtown area.   The police are always fining them, but they carry on with their business afterwards.

“They shouldn’t be legalized.   Shame on the city for letting them loose!” said the driver of one cab I rode in.

“We should be legalized.   We need to eat! It is better than stealing!” a tricycle-man told me while I took a ride with him.

I found out later that this saga has already dragged on for more than a year.   “The city government has a dilemma,” an old classmate who works for the municipality told me.   “If we legalize the tricycles, then more tricyclers will come out to make money, and we will get more complaints from taxi drivers, and traffic will be worse; but at the same time, we are under pressure to find those unemployed workers jobs.   If we ban all the tricycles, they will come to us for jobs.   Now what we do, we keep our eyes half open on this issue, which means we do nothing at this point, we only contain the amount of tricycles.”

One sunny afternoon, I take a walk into a riverside park.   I see the big rally going on.   Hundreds of old men and women all wearing Mao suits are listening to an old man’s speech.   He says:   “Our representatives went to Beijing to petition and they handed over the paperwork.   Now they are back; let us welcome them!” People burst into applause, welcoming the petitioners home as heroes.   Later I found out that the man giving the speech was a former Party secretary at a big factory who led the workers and cadres to complain about corruption on the part of the factory manager and asked for more compensation.   It seems to me that they are able to take a swipe at social injustice, including Communist Party officials without fear.

This is a surprise for me.   As a young student, I always admired Hyde Park in London where people can voice whatever opinions they want, and here they are having a public rally on such a sensitive issue; in China!   Even though the mass media are tightly controlled, people really do have some personal freedom now.   They can talk about politics and even say “President Hu Jintao sucks” in a restaurant, teahouse or even in the office.   Nobody holds you responsible or reports you to the police for that, because people just don’t care much about politics any more.
 

Day four:   The way back

My cousin insists on driving me to airport.   He says:   “You are impressed by too many good things.   I will show you something on the way back.”   We take a detour instead of the highway.

The road is dusty and bumpy, and the buildings and factories are the old ones I recognize from 20 years ago.   They are exactly the same, which is a shock.   I just can’t piece the two pictures together.

Now I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of China.   I don’t know where it is heading.   China is changing drastically, and it’s impossible to say whether for the better or the worse.
 

 

~~~~~
 

 
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~~~~~
 

 

Poem Sequence

 

 

June 4, 2006

by Dreamer Fei
 

Tomorrow we will rise like the sun
 

Your images have floated outside my window
in I don’t know how many dreams,
suspended in endless youth.

Hand in hand, you stand, staring.
I push open the window, call softly:
Are you hungry? Cold?
Eyes look back like dark tunnels,
unknowing. The mouths make no sound.

They follow me, these eyes,

as shade follows shadow—
without name.
 

I know I should find your graves;

pay my respects to your families.
My son bounces along beside me,

fists full of yellow flowers—

but I don’t know where to find them.

You seem to ask how I could have fallen so,
from the night we drank, smoked, and sang the same song,

hand-in-hand on the Square.
 

It is the years that have fallen, I reply,
garlanded in mourning flowers, now rotting.

Wait for me, I say, follow me!
We’ll go see the world
or maybe our families will intermarry.

You kept me company for years

until one day on the June grass
you sat down and said:
Tomorrow we will rise like the sun
and scatter warmth on the green earth.

Don’t forget to bring your child.

Bring the future

and we’ll set off together
on the long road home.
 

 

~~~~~

 

June 4, 2004

by Luisetta Mudie

for the survivors of Tiananmen Square
 

The Price of the Asking
 

First love: the quavering call
to the cosmos,
the soul in ashes shudders in desire,
yet still imprisoned
by grammar.

Fresh loves succeed, first love gone by.
It’s you, of course, and you too—
love as the answer!

Fresh loves mature, no longer enough.
We ask again, work, drink, smoke,
take the veils of flesh, or words.

And all the time the forgotten soul
is waiting, knowing that the first love
is always, always
a question

for which the price of the asking
is life’s deepest response,

the price of the answer
the soul’s great work,

the price of the loving
a self given up to the whole story.
 

 

fandian.jpg
 

~~~~~

 

February 13, 2005

by Dreamer Fei

to Christopher, at one year old
 

Midnight Sun
 

Nestled in the crook of my arm, you sleep,
Fingers hooked around my shirt-button.
I carry you like a stringed instrument,
whose milky chords permeate the night.

Since you were born, I have held
The light of your arriving cry that night
When your first ray of life broke through
Big snows and winter dark, guiding

My soul-ship in its wandering ways,
A song thrummed from a well-earthed string.
So many days and nights lie before you,
My son! Ready to ensnare your heart

As you grow through wind and storm,
A far cry from tonight’s soft moonlight. Here,
Now, I am mindful of your spring fragility:
That I will be gone before you fully bloom.

What dream will sustain you, or what path
Your feet will take, I cannot know.
Soon, all that time will be as tonight, when I
Stand at the doorway, watch you on the way

to your heart’s home.
 

 

~~~~~

 

July 2004

by Luisetta Mudie
 

I have followed you
 

delawarebeach.jpgTo a small island near the courtyards
of the Huangpu Military Academy
where the river sleeps its long siesta

Mud-sluggish down past Tiger’s Gate,
bathing the estuary in oblivion—memories
of shame and gunfire are left for humans

To where a northern township lies
battered in a sea of bitter dust, the earth
and its people tortured by history

Along the sand of a Delaware beach,
voice crackling across microwaves—the cry
of lonely ghosts swept away by the wind

Out on the dark wings of memory to a night
that changed the world’s dream forever,
leaving us to pick up lost echoes of love

With the hot closeness of words in the throat,
words fought for, bought and paid for, picked
up by the roadside and between train carriages

Into poems as unanswerable as the weather
at the rain-soaked borders of sea-country,
poems that promise the storm but can never hold it

And there I saw you first, still see you, happy
on a boat in yellow, fish held high in the sea-sway,
your brave and careful eyes asking one question. When?
 

 

~~~~~

 

2005

by Dreamer Fei
 

How I wish
 

I could rock you to sleep
like carrying a baby, telling stories
under unknown stars

I could guide and protect you
wipe away tears
bring back a smile

Or one Saturday at the piano
I could just hear you
then read you my poems
with the sun streaming through the window

We could stand, hands idly linking
in the front garden, watching the children
Or later, in the back, watch the sun sleep
and the night fall, and come gently to each
other in the flesh

We could explore the whole world then
sail the impossible blue

Later still, when the deadline is near,
we could say together in fragile voices
that we are not sure if there’s a paradise ahead of us
but didn’t we just live one on earth?

Strangely, it’s already enough, my love
with the present to share and a future out there
We have the dream fulfilled and beyond the dream’s scope
poetry, imagination and a growing passion

Now I know that a bittersweet teardrop
can serve to moisten a dry old heart

Dissolve me; make a better man
 

 

~~~~~

 

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~~~~~

September 24, 2007

Alley War Poetry

   

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Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, April 15, 1985

Announcers: Al Bernstein and Al Michaels

   

Alley War Poetry

   

The pugilists are in the desert, somewhere far from most of humanity and society. They are at a resort, however, a magnificent getaway, elevated in the middle of a roped-off ring, with cameras surrounding. They have taken the center of the world from us, and placed it into that squared area they occupy. They are poets, informing us of brutality and violence from this very different point of view.

We must relinquish our individual world centers to theirs, but in doing so, these centers merge in passing. In the merger, the metaphor is no longer a metaphor. It does not stand for affecting our lives; it affects our lives. Thus created is poetry, a poetry written before a word is spoken, before the words for it are thought of, and in vivo. Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns are scripting the wordless narrative out of earshot, the good and the bad of it, a new violence for us upon first viewing, something to reflect upon afterward, something brutal with important aspects, both a metaphor and a reality to re-use for different purposes, even now again, 22 years later.

There is poetry to be found in violence. Poetry is not anti-war as such. Witnessing a four-dimensional Rubik’s cube with one color wrong, the alley war poet intuits how much unravelling must be done for a short period of resolution, until new aspects bear themselves into the world, and the cube must be re-solved–this whether one or a billion dark sides surface the wrong way, whether in times of peace or war. Violence will always be an unsolved part of the whole of us and each one of us. Indeed, when he was 13, Hagler’s home was destroyed, and people around him killed, in the race riots in Newark. But as an athlete poet, when his ideas and rhythms prevail, he is prevailing, and his message comes through.

Civilly speaking, the fight could, and arguably should be stopped (if it should have taken place at all), upon Hagler’s profuse bloodshed. In earlier ages and other places, such an event would be a fight to the death, though. This violence and brutality of boxing matches are not in our civilized centers of commerce and community centers, but under the preserve of state sanction and institutional procedure. Even still, boxers like soldiers, our young adults die and become disabled through their fighting. We understand that such brutality exists, and make it against the law. Our society, through our humanity, has drawn legal and moral lines.

Yet, we are able, through such an event, to allow our shadows, what is inhumane of our humanness, to be spoken to. This is an aspect of life that has never gone away. Like the sex drive, it may either be brought out orgiastically; or in recession, monastically; but it remains part of us. The taller we are in the light, the longer the shadow, from each given vantage point. Hagler, for instance, his entire adult life, no matter where he has lived, has given himself to causes for children, as they mature in the world, and as they die in hospitals.

Sometimes the line before violence and brutality disappears. This can happen within the individual, within families, within social groups or gangs, and, during wartime. Poetry may unveil this.
   

by Wilfred Owen
   

Dulce Et Decorum Est
   

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

   

Wilfred Owen gives us brutal word poetry here, the violence everpresent in being human is heavy, the darkness brought to light. From where he stood, the darkness is out in the open. The events in this poem, however, were neither staged nor so scripted by the people doing the violence. The main character, the hero, is dying, then dead. It is gruesome. The poem existed where muses exist, and was written into words by one who would otherwise be a background player, one of the other soldiers.

But where is the poetry? Is it in his words? Not essentially. Essentially, it is in the unfolding story. It is pre-verbal: Chopin, Marceau, and Hagler. In this sense what we usually think of as poetry, is a sub genre. It is word poetry.

Let’s attempt to shift the metaphor of the poet from the pugilists to the announcers, Bernstein and Michaels. This makes Hagler and Hearns the main characters in an unfolding drama. The announcers are witnessing an event. Before their eyes, two warriors with great heart, hope and humanity are duking it out. A golden story seems to be unfolding, inspiring them. Bernstein and Michaels are streaming their words, as they relate this to us, their imagined audience, spontaneously, with repetition, simile, metaphor, alliteration, and meter that together borders on the music of song. Sometimes they really are singing.

This, then, could be thought of as a (p)entacostal event. The shaman (here, the pugilist) takes the journey into the breadths and depths of human nature, and comes back with something that the village priest is capable of interpreting into the lives of us lay people. Nowadays, the poet is expected to do both, take the inspirational journey of the hero, and then write it down for the rest of us to read and re-center from, or at least keep in our pockets for later reference. But there is a catch.

When Owen wrote Dulce Et Decorum Est, it was reflective. His journey was internal and after-the-fact. A poet may tell us fiction, but Owen relates something that had happened, something he witnessed in real life. Both the essential poetry and the verbal poetry came from him–what we have come to expect from our poets. Note too that, although it is often recited, the poem’s birth event is in written, not spoken, form–not to say he was not whispering or even singing the lines as he composed, maybe he was. Nor was he dancing or beating a drum. Both Hagler and Hearns, however, were in their ways dancing. Our shamans speak to us in many ways.

Bernstein and Michaels have a poetic event unfolding before them. Their poetics are of the spoken language kind (and here I don’t mean to compare or even debate poetic ability, simply to grant that they speak in verse). Note instead, that their rhythms are different from the rhythms of the fighters. That’s the catch I mentioned. It is a split we witness, between the movement and focus of the pugilists, and the versification of the announcers. The event a poet relates, is decidedly different from the event of its relating. The verbal poem has a different sense, sound, and rhythm than the essential poetry inspiring it.

In case there is any tension, let’s bridge this gap between the spontaneous relating of an inspirational event, and the practiced writing of poetic reflection. Here is Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous bop prose, as he called it, in “On the Road”:

“He’s mad,” I said, “and yes, he’s my brother.” I saw Dean coming back with the farmer in his tractor. They hooked chains on and the farmer hauled us out of the ditch. The car was muddy brown, a whole fender was crushed. The farmer charged us five dollars. His daughters watched in the rain. The prettiest, shyest one hid far back in the field to watch and she had good reason because she was absolutely and finally the most beautiful girl Dean and I ever saw in all our lives. She was about sixteen, and had Plains complexion like wild roses, and the bluest eyes, the most lovely hair, and the modesty and quickness of a wild antelope. At every look from us she flinched. She stood there with the immense winds that blew clear down from Saskatchewan knocking her hair about her lovely head like shrouds, living curls of them. She blushed and blushed.

The rhythms in Kerouac’s bop prose, are not the rhythms of a car being yanked out of a ditch. The sounds are not close either. What a racket it must have been, and a sight and emotional sense for all to witness. But the pacing at first is as if Kerouac was somewhat out of breath, or maybe becomes a bit breathless as he recalls the event. In describing the beautiful daughter, we do not get her rhythms either, nor the rhythms of the wind blowing. We get the pacing of the witness (Jack Kerouac’s Sal Paradise), his vantage, his rhythms. We understand at once, how we could be him with his eyes, how this certain part of him seems to be a certain part of us, but in our own reflection, how we are different from him. Through his wording, we surmise as best we can, what was really taking place, both within the scene described, and within the describer.

Imagine that Bernstein and Michaels could not make it to Las Vegas. Instead, the promoters asked if they could put a microphone up to Hagler in order that he give us, in his own words, the unfolding details of the fight. Could we expect poetry from his words? I cannot help thinking of Muhammad Ali, who may have been poetic with his words before and after a fight, and maybe during as he taunted his opponents, but the poetry of his athletics was something else again. Bob Dylan is a poet in this wider sense, a song poet, which is different from being a word poet. Chopin is a poet of the piano specifically, and Marceau a poet of mime. The poetry of the artist or athlete is found in what is practiced.

Owen and Kerouac, were each able, at some juncture, to experience the poetry of the moments they relate–then as poets of the word, communicate such essence to us after the fact. In both cases, there is nothing goody-goody about what the people are doing. Owen’s war is evident. His hero is dying, a victim. Kerouac’s scene, on the other hand, involves the reckless destruction of a car, leading to the potential womanizing of a 16-year-old girl by a couple older guys passing through town. His heroes are culprits.

Whereas Owen has us look squarely at the dark side of human nature from the attitude of the light, Kerouac has us looking at the light from the vantage of the darkness. Hagler is doing the same as Kerouac, only instead of bringing fiction to an actual event, he actualizes a hoped-for event, walking through the necessary dark alley to get to the light–taking us with him like a good poet would. Here is such a poetic relationship with violence, through Iraq veteran and poet Brian Turner:
   

   

Turner begins his poem “Here, Bullet,” with what could have been the words of Marvelous Marvin Hagler if he could have scripted words into his fight with Thomas Hearns:

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started.

The world yearns for the good fight, a real live hero fighting for good to prevail, and knows the violence of it exists out there, even if in a far-off desert where poets or shamans sojourn, even if ducking from bullets in a tenement in New Jersey somewhere.
   


   

After the fight, Hagler spoke of his concern, that he hoped the fans got their money’s worth, the scheduled 15-rounder ending before the bell of the third round. He was assured that this was the case. This is not a necessary attribute of a poet, wanting others and posterity to benefit from individual inspiration. It’s good to see, though. But, whether they care or not, the poets’ service is invaluable, if only in that we come together as witnesses to each other and, therefore, ourselves. What’s even better, is if we can then continue with a conversation, informed by the poet. Here is the ending to Turner’s poem:

                        Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

As the modern poet, he accepts that he is shaman, who must complete the communicative process, and write it down for us, how “the world ends, every time.” He continues the conversation, from the vantage point of a soldier who has witnessed too often what Owen witnessed. It is from here, he seems to be responding to Carl Jung’s thoughts on death:
   

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August 28, 2007

Taslima Nasreen: Women’s Rights vs the Holy Hell

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Taslima Nasreen, International Women’s Day, March 8, 2007,
Women’s Rights, the Veil and Islamic and Religious Laws

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Taslima Nasreen or Nasrin was born in Mymensingh in what then was known as East Pakistan. Read more about this poet, writer, physician, radical feminist, human rights activist, and secular humanist here:

Family Security Matters: Taslima Nasreen: A Woman of Moral Substance

Here is an excerpt from that article:

The life of Taslima should be protected. If India fails to protect her and panders to its Muslim community by not punishing imams who incite hate, then Islamist bigotry and intolerance will have destroyed its secular ideals as surely as they have already destroyed those of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

That article also links to several Taslima resources, including an excerpt, which is essentially poetry, from her book Nirbachito Kalam which is here:

Digital Freedom Network: In Their Own Words: Nirbachit Kalam

Here is the first section:

I am alive. I also tell the half naked woman cooking her rice on a makeshift fire on the footpath, keep alive. I tell the anxious woman with a heavily made-up face sitting on the park bench, keep alive. I tell the sad woman arrayed in her fineries in the air-conditioned mansion, keep alive. I tell the innocent bride of the drunkard who returns home late at night, keep alive. Keep alive, woman; woman, live. Live abundantly.

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taslima-nasreen-by-jayanta-shaw-reuters.jpg

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Here is a link to her web site:

Taslima Nasreen/Nasrin

There, you will find links to her biography, her books and reviews, along with her banned books, articles by and about her, and more.

The link there to her poetry, translated into English, is here:

Poetry

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taslima-nasrin.jpg

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April 18, 2007

Nikki Giovanni’s “We Are Virginia Tech”

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Click on Nikki Giovanni‘s picture to be taken to the CNN article from which you can watch and listen as she stirs the crowd with her poem “We Are Virginia Tech.”

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by Nikki Giovanni

We Are Virginia Tech

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devestated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think we are and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

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April 1, 2007

Gill Dennis on Johnny Cash & voice in poetry

   


   

I thought this was very good:

Poetry Northwest: Unchained (by Gill Dennis): In which a screenwriter listens to Johnny Cash and considers the origins of a sound and in so doing sheds light on the subject of voice in poetry

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

In a second, he was on his feet, pacing. Agitated. “You want to know about my daddy? I’ll tell you about my daddy. When my daddy was on his deathbed and said he’d made his peace with God he was still a racist. Do you think that’s possible, to have made your peace with God and still be a racist? Well, he was. You want to know about my daddy? I’ll tell you about him. His brother was a county sheriff in Louisiana, who didn’t want black people in his cells. When a warrant would come in for a black man, my uncle would deputize my daddy and they’d go out to the man’s house, knock on the door, and ask, ‘Is Leroy in?’ And when Leroy appeared, they’d take him around back and shoot him. That’s who my daddy was.” John studied me. He looked down at the tape recorder. “Is that thing on?”

“Yes.”

“Turn it off.”

   

. . . .

   

And here’s an excerpt from the heart of the article:

The casualness of his voice gives it a striking intimacy. It is close to you. The voice encloses you. It sometimes sounds as if it is inside you. Once in Hendersonville, Tennessee, going out to John’s farm in his truck, I asked him what he’d sing in the fields picking cotton with his family. He thought a moment and then sang “My Grandfather’s Clock,” the whole thing from beginning to end with great care about a clock that “kept its time with a soft and muffled chime . . . / And it stopped . . . short, never to go again, when the old man died.” He sang quietly in that deep voice. It was as if he was speaking to you, you alone in the car with him, finding his way into the song to get it to you, as if there was no one else in the world but the two of you. It was riveting. What you wanted was everyone you love to be there. You thought, I wish I could make a few phone calls here.

   

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My Grandfather’s Clock by Johnny Cash


   

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor.
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.

It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
And was always his treasure and pride,
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering,
His life seconds numbering,
It stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found.
For it wasted no time and had but one desire,
At the close of each week to be wound.

And it kept in its place, not a frown upon its face,
And its hands never hung by its side,
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

It rang an alarm in the dead of the night,
An alarm that for years had been dumb.
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight,
That his hour for departure had come.

Still the clock kept the time with a soft and muffled chime,
As we solidly stood by his side,
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering,
His life seconds numbering,
It stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

   

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October 3, 2006

Mark Doty Physically: "Heaven for Paul"

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a Margaretta Mitchell photograph

   

by Mark Doty
   

        Heaven for Paul
   

The flight attendant said:
We have a mechanical problem with the plane,
and we have contacted the FAA for advice,

and then: We will be making an emergency landing in Detroit,

and then: We will be landing at an air force base in Dayton,
because there is a long runway there, and because
there will be a lot of help on the ground.

Her voice broke slightly on the word help,
and she switched off the microphone, hung it back on its hook,
turned to face those of us seated near her,
and began to weep.

Could the message have been more clear?
Around us people began to cry themselves,
or to pray quietly, or to speak to those with whom
they were travelling, saying the things that people
would choose to say to one another before
an impending accident of uncertain proportions.

It was impossible to hear, really, the details
of their conversations–it would have been wrong to try–
but one understood the import of the tones of voice
everywhere around us, and we turned to each other,

as if there should have been some profound things to be imparted,
but what was to be said seemed so obvious and clear:
that we’d had a fine few years, that we were terrified
for the fate of our own bodies and each other’s,
and didn’t want to suffer, and could not imagine

the half-hour ahead of us. We were crying a little
and holding each other’s hands, on the armrest;
I was vaguely aware of a woman behind us, on the aisle,
who was startled at the sight of two men holding hands,

and I wondered how it could matter to her, now,
on the verge of this life–and then I wondered how it could matter to me,
that she was startled, when I flared on that same margin.

The flight attendant instructed us in how to brace
for a crash landing–to remove our glasses and shoes
and put our heads down, as we did long ago, in school,
in the old days of civil defence. We sat together, quietly.
And this is what amazed me: Paul,

who of the two of us is the more nervous,
the less steadily grounded in his own body,
became completely calm. Later he told me

how he visualised his own spirit
stepping from the flames, and visited,
in his picturing, each person he loved,
and made his contact and peace with each one,

and then imagined himself turning toward
what came next, an unseeable ahead.
                                                                                      For me,
it wasn’t like that at all. I had no internal composure,

and any ideas I’d ever entertained about dying
seemed merely that, speculations flown now
while my mind spiraled in a hopeless sorrowful motion,

sure I’d merely be that undulant fuel haze
in the air over the runway, hot chemical exhaust,
atomised, no idea what had happened to me,

what to do next, and how much of the next life
would I spend (as I have how much of this one?)
hanging around an airport. I thought of my dog,

and who’d care for him. No heaven for me,
only the unimaginable shape of not-myself–
and in the chaos of that expectation,

without compassion, unwilling,
I couldn’t think beyond my own dissolution.
What was the world without me to see it?

And while Paul grew increasingly radiant,

the flight attendant told us it was time to crouch
into the positions we had rehearsed,
the plane began to descend, wobbling,

and the tires screeched against the runway,
burning down all but a few feet of five miles of asphalt
before it rolled its way to a halt.

We looked around us, we let go
the long held breath, the sighs and exhalations,
Paul exhausted from the effort of transcendence,

myself too pleased to be breathing to be vexed
with my own failure, and we were still sitting and beginning to laugh
when the doors of the plane burst open,

and large uniformed firemen came rushing down the aisles,
shouting: Everybody off the plane, now, bring nothing with you,
leave the plane immediately

–because, as we’d learn in the basement
of the hangar where they’d brought us,
a line of tornadoes was scouring western Ohio,
approaching the runway we’d fled.

At this point it seemed plain: if God intervenes
in history, it’s either to torment us
or to make us laugh, or both, which is how

we faced the imminence of our deaths the second time.
I didn’t think once about my soul, as we waited in line,
filing into the hangar, down into the shelter

–where, after a long while, the National Guard would bring us
boxes and boxes of pizza, and much later, transport us, in buses,
to complimentary hotel rooms in Cincinnati.
   

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“Heaven for Paul” comes to you here, following a conversation with Mark Doty at this year’s Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. It is from his 2005 book School of the Arts, published by and available through HarperCollins Publishers.

Here is a link to his web site: Mark Doty
   

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I will keep exegesis to a minimum below. Instead, I want the poet to present the poem through his own speaking, through a spoken reading of “Heaven for Paul” that took place in 2004, before the book came out. First, though, we’ll look at an excerpt from an interview with Mark Doty found through the Audio page on his web site.

The idea in this presentation, then, is to first present “Heaven for Paul” as a poem to be read and valued off the page as above, however you had come to it; then to garner some ideas from listening to the poet, which I will take a brief tangent from; and then to listen to him read. Thus, we will have tarried with the poem and poet for a little extra time.

Here is the link to the the web page, where you can click onto a RealAudio broadcast of the interview:

Mark Doty on WBUR’s The Connection, in an interview with Dick Gordon, discussing SOURCE, Walt Whitman, and the complexities of writing about contemporary American life, recorded in March, 2003

At 6 minutes and 32 seconds into the interview, this conversation takes place:

Dick Gordon: Mark, when you compose your poetry, do you do it out loud?

Mark Doty: I begin scribbling in notebooks–makings of random notes on the computer screen–and very quickly I find myself mouthing those words, wanting to feel the language in the muscles of my jaw and in my tongue. And pretty soon, I am muttering to myself at my desk, and frequently taken for a person who’s a little too far gone into his inner life in public spaces.

DG: But, they’re written to be read out loud.

MD: They’re written to be heard. And even when we read a poem alone, I hope that what’s happening is that there’s a subtle kind of sounding going on, that we’re physically participating in those words, in the sonic texture of the verse. Poetry lives to be physical, to be in our bodies.

In an edited version of an address to the National Library of Australia’s literature conference, “Love and Desire”, published last week in The Age as The write of way with a reader, Dave Malouf writes the following:

When we speak of being unable to put a book down, it isn’t that we can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’s that we don’t want to give up the close and quite tender intimacy that has been established; we do not want to break the spell.

When Doty says “that we’re physically participating in those words, in the sonic texture of the verse” and that poetry “lives to be physical, to be in our bodies,” he is saying to me that there is to be a physical intimacy between the poet and the listener (or reader as it were) of the poem. In listening to the sound of Doty’s voice, even in conversation with Dick Gordon, what stands out is how he articulates his words beyond the syllable level into each letter, each “t”, each “n” that precedes a “d”, the whistling “‘s”–in physical enunciation.

This physicality shows thematically in Doty’s poetry as well. In “Heaven for Paul”, via the communication of crying, for instance–the stewardess wept, and the poem goes on, “people began to cry themselves.” There is the scene with “two men holding hands,” (each holding each, therefore), but also what ensued, that this “startled” a woman, how the speaker wondered “how it could matter to her” and then, on her reaction, “how it could matter to me” (each mattering to each, therefore)–a repeated and operant word of physicality being matter.

Doty becomes playful with taking us in and out of what we might think at first wouldn’t be, but then must be physical: disappearance from this world:

sure I’d merely be that undulant fuel haze
in the air over the runway, hot chemical exhaust,
atomised, no idea what had happened to me,

And doesn’t he bring Paul’s heaven and trancendence physically to Paul, and to us readers in such a way that we physically understand?

Here, from the Poem Present series is the Mark Doty poetry reading, in which “Heaven for Paul” begins just over 24 minutes in:

Podcast #38. Poetry reading by Mark Doty: A poetry reading by Mark Doty as part of the Poem Present series at The University of Chicago. © 2004 The University of Chicago (mp3)

It is a preview reading from his latest book School of the Arts.
   

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School of the Arts, at HarperCollins

   

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