Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

January 24, 2010

Luisetta Mudie’s Climate Change and the Poetic Imagination

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Rock Spirit Germasogeia by Luisetta Mudie

Rock Spirit Germasogeia by Luisetta Mudie

Editor’s note:

As we are challenged in the world by the scientific and technological changes we produce, a line of thinking has been emerging that the English language is not up to the task of allowing us to communicate well enough to address important issues as they arise. And because of the nature of our English language, we are hindered in comprehending our situations, or taking more than a few constructive steps into them collectively. For instance, Frank Wilson at his blog Books, Inq: The Epilogue recently made a post titled Language and reality. He quoted an article in New Scientist by F. David Peat called Is there a language problem with quantum physics? Here is that quote:

Bohm pointed out that quantum effects are much more process-based, so to describe them accurately requires a process-based language rich in verbs, and in which nouns play only a secondary role. In the last year of his life, Bohm and some like-minded physicists, including myself, met a number of native American elders of the Blackfoot, Micmac and Ojibwa tribes—all speakers of the Algonquian family of languages. These languages have a wide variety of verb forms, while they lack the notion of dividing the world into categories of objects, such as “fish”, “trees” or “birds”.

After quoting David Peat, Frank Wilson then writes, “Alan Watts made a similar point many years ago (he also referred to American Indian languages, I believe)—suggesting that we are not so much ‘people’ as ‘peopling’.” Here is an animation called “the Earth is People-ing” taken from the lecture by Alan Watts called Who Am I:

All this said to introduce Luisetta Mudie’s essay called Climate Change and the Poetic Imagination. In it, she challenges our poetic imaginations—in a sense, the poetry we are making. I ditto that challenge here. If you are a poet, please read Luisetta’s article and post a poem as a comment/reply. Your poem need not be a masterpiece—although I hope it is—but a poet’s sincere effort at a new way, or an alternative way, of conversing on the ongoing climate.

Sincerely,
C.

   

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Medieval morality play

The medieval morality play, includes Imagination her/himself as an allegorical Person.

   

by Luisetta Mudie
   

Climate Change and the Poetic Imagination
   

While the world’s leaders converged on Copenhagen for the COP15 climate change negotiations this past December, the rest of the world watched the by now familiar roles play out on television. The Charismatic President, the Representative of a Small Island, the Scoffing Skeptic, the Satirical Comedian; the Environmental Protester; the Cop, the Arguing States, the Brussels Bureaucrat, the Television Journalist, the Leaked E-Mail.

If this were a medieval morality play, or an ecopsychology conference, a few Virtues and Vices would be in there, too, personified: Greed; Temperance, as well as Mother Earth; the Oceans, the Fish, the Disappearing Species, the Demon Carbon, placing his Footprints across the earth, faced by the Angel Temperance, who keeps things in Balance, so that All May Live.

But where are We? We the Consumer, the Viewer, the Individual Polluter, we the Six Billion? What do we, as adults, Imagine about climate change? What are the characters in our dramas? Are they apocalyptic, like the Book of Revelation and the movie 2012, or stories of genocide and endless weeping, the World Ending With a Whimper? Are they Blackly comical, full of selfknowing Dr. Who irony and compassion, like a Douglas Adams script? Or tragic, like the curse of Oedipus that fell on Thebes as a direct result of an attempt to evade Fate?

by Luisetta MudieHow do we imagine the story forward? Our role in it? Is the council Recycling Man a facilitator of salvation? Do we lash ourselves in the knowledge that the Original Sin of our age appears to be that we pollute, irrevocably, the planet that gave us life? Or are we on a heroic mission to Save the Planet, or willing to die in the attempt, knowing that, if it all goes down the toilet, at least we Did Our Best, but Others Would Not Listen?

Can we imagine anything else? Will some Ubergeek or White-Coated Scientist invent something that brings in global changes? Or will lots of inventive people come up with New Ways of Doing Things, or Not Doing Things?

Are we those Inventive People? Or have we lost touch with our imaginations to the extent that the very phrase Imagining Climate Change only brings images of pictures of a panting, smoke-encircled Earth crayoned by children? If so, is that because our imaginations are so very badly crayoned, because they have never been educated beyond primary school, because Imagining as a way of knowing has long been disregarded by scientific rationalism, the only Respectable Way of Knowing anything in our current society?

Poesis, the art of Imagining, is also another word for Making. The essence of poetry lies in the ability to Make New Relationships between things which weren’t automatically related in people’s imaginations: to come up with Image not pre-masticated by the media, by Canonical Literature (which, for many of us in the West, includes the texts of Science), or by the commonness of everyday speech. The current climate change crisis is a direct result of our emphasis on New Ways of Doing Things. Not Doing Things is simply its antithesis, and the best we can apparently come up with, because we are stuck without the full use of our Imaginations and the Different Ways of Knowing and Being that they might bring.

The Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul, photo of jottings by American poet Charles Olson, who was trying to imagine how the soul might be re-educated in the West. Hat tip to Tom Cheetham

Humankind has used Imagining as a Way of Knowing before. So-called primitive societies used animism, shamanism, song and story. But those ways have been skewered for the past century or so in intellectual debate about whether the Savage was really as Noble as some people seemed to think, with both sides caricaturing the other side’s view.

The point isn’t really about the Savage, however, who may or may not have enjoyed peace or health as Imagined. It’s about The Way Nothing Got in the Way of his Imagining about the very difficult environments she was forced to negotiate. Ways were found, like the Songlines of the Aborigines that guided them very practically, apparently for tens of thousands of years, through an Imaginal Landscape, not to Overcome Problems, but to Live in a Tough Place. We have become softened into thinking that we shouldn’t have to live in a tough place, with the Demons and Angels that come with Poverty, Pestilence, Famine, and so on. And yet, here we are, Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

FishEye, part of a shamanic mask, by Luisetta MudieThis is the True Ground of poetry, of Imagination, and the birthplace of New Ways of Being. Science cannot get very far with climate change divorced from its partner, the Mature (not classroom) Imagination. And the more of us who make the transition from Consumer/Viewer to Active Imaginer the better. At the back of the role of Consumer/Viewer, sits the notion (personified, of course!) of the Individual, who Inhabits a Private Reality we call Human Subjectivity. We are now painfully aware that the Realities we inhabit are not only private. Whether we imagine ourselves as Rising Apes or Fallen Angels, those Images are shared, and the Realities they lead to are also shared.

In the Imagination, notions are Persons, ideas are Roles, and all can be modified and re-cooked (as the Temperature Rises) by the Images that emerge between the Rock and the Gum Tree. Climate change forces us into emergent forms of behaviour and the Great Dissonance heard in Copenhagen is none other than the Cognitive Dissonance between our environment and our ability to live in it. As the latest teaching theories suggest, Cognitive Dissonance is the beginning of New Ways of Knowing. These have always emerged from the gap between our situation, and our under-standing of it. While they have been guided and formed by all the resources an educated adult mind can muster, they still have only one source: the Image that comes out of the dark.

   

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Luisetta MudieLuisetta Mudie is a freelance writer specialising in depth psychology, shamanism and the imagination.

   

   

   

The Olive Grove by dreamburo

   

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by Luisetta Mudie

by Luisetta Mudie

   

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October 16, 2006

The Gifts of Donald Hall: "Retriever"

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by Donald Hall
   

Retriever
   

            Two days after Jane died
            I walked with our dog Gus
            on New Canada Road
            under birchy green
            April shadows, talking
            urgently, trying
            to make him understand.
            A quick mink scooted past
            into fern, and Gus
            disappeared in pursuit.
            The damp air grew chill
            as I whistled and called
            until twilight. I thought
            he tried to follow her
            into the dark. After an hour
            I gave up and walked home
            to find him on the porch,
            alert, pleased to see me,
            curious over my absence.
            But Gus hadn’t found her
            deep in the woods; he hadn’t
            brought her back
            as a branch in his teeth.
   

   

   

   

His poem brought to you through the poet laureate’s gracious consent

   

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Donald Hall, our United States Poet Laureate, read from his book White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 for an hour this afternoon at the First Congregational Church in Pelham New Hampshire. He sat at a table as he does now, and read his poems of love, death, New Hampshire, and more, without great animation in body language, but with his kind and aging New England voice. The focus in listening, then, goes onto his words, being sure to make them out, but also on his intonations.

Eric Clapton noted that when Aretha Franklin sings, never is a note simply sung and held for its time. The soul of her singing comes through in how she bends and gives character and feeling to each note, such import to each. In this sense too, Donald Hall is a soul poet. Never is a stressed syllable simply read as a stressed syllable. Each is spoken to hold the accentuated note and meaning out into the room as a gift to the listener, presented with such suspense imparting the emotion and character of his words in their contexts.

With the first poems Hall read, the chant of the song within the poem could be heard, the soul of each stressed syllable revealing the meter of his freest verse poems. It was during these first minutes that he read the poem “White Apple” which contains the line, “white apples and the taste of stone”, the title of his latest book. That line came to him years after he first had the dream of the poem, and brought the poem together and to completion. In this and other senses, he is also a mystic poet, and thus the chant of his song-poems. But then, shouldn’t a poet who writes at once in a word about love, death, and his home, be naturally rooted in the mystic?

For the next minutes, it was as if he warmed to the occasion, and he read poems to make the audience laugh and feel at home with him. His delivery became more animated in his facial expression and tone of voice. The chant receded to the yarn of conversation, and yet the soul still alive within each stressed syllable. It was during this time, that he read his poem “Mount Kearsage” that begins:

            Great blue mountain! Ghost.
            I look at you
            from the front porch of the farmhouse
            where I watched you all summer
            as a boy.

and the poem “Great Day on the Cows’ House” with the first-stanza lines

            Now she stretches her wrinkly neck, her turnip eye
            rolls in her skull, she sucks up breath,
            and stretching her long mouth mid-chew she expels:

            mm-mmm-mmmmm-mmmmmmmm-ugghwanchhh.

Mid-poem there he interjected that friends tell him that last line is his best line of poetry.

The soulful singing of his poetry, the down home mysticism, the friendship with the audience well-established, all came to bear as he directed his audience’s hearts to his Jane Kenyon poems, of which “Retriever” above is one. The moments were naturally riveting, a great time in literature. Donald Hall’s Jane poems are as important to the poetry canon as Chopin’s Nocturnes are to piano music. There is a wholesome life, yet very mortal captivation to them.

After the reading, came the questions from the audience, and in response to one, he mentioned Thomas Hardy. In Claire Tomalin’s biography of Hardy, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, to be published by Viking on October 19, she writes of his wife Emma dying:

She did not complain or ask for the doctor to be sent for, but she did ask Dolly to fetch her husband. Dolly ran down to the master in his study, where he was making an early start on his day’s work. He told her to straighten her collar–she wore a blue dress with a white collar when she was working–then he climbed the narrow stairs to his wife’s room and went up to the bed. He spoke her name: “Em, Em–don’t you know me?” But she was already unconscious, and within minutes she had stopped breathing. Emma Hardy was dead.

This is the moment when Thomas Hardy became a great poet.

And then:

Filled with sorrow and remorse for their estrangement, he had her body brought down and placed in the coffin at the foot of his bed, where it remained for three days and nights until the funeral. The gesture would have been remarkable in a lover who could not bear to be parted from the body of his mistress, but for an elderly husband who had for years been on bad terms with his wife it seems almost monstrously unconventional, until you realise that he was thinking of his situation quite differently. He had become a lover in mourning.

The parallel between Hall and Hardy is unmistakable in the great poetry that followed their wives’ deaths. Furthermore, Hall noted that he was born following the winds the same year Hardy died in January (and here I note almost nine months later on September 20, 1928). Indeed, he looked to Hardy’s Emma poems in writing his own Jane poems.

The differences are striking, however. Whereas Thomas Hardy was estranged from Emma Hardy while in the same house, Donald Hall was in a loving and close relationship with Jane Kenyon. Jane had great love poetry written about her by a soulful poet, who loved her as she lived, and gave tribute to this love after her death.

Hall’s and Kenyon’s separation was in that their offices were as far apart as they could physically be in that same house: poetic solitude, distance for the sake of the creativity they had in their separate rooms–a creativity they could then share when not writing. Hall noted that where there were two in solitude, now there is one, and that being one in solitude is the worse. He spends his days writing letters, trying to write poetry, and taking walks and naps from time to time.

   

   


   

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Donald Hall: Deciding to become a poet

(Duration 5:03)

   

Using your RealPlayer, here is Donald Hall at the 2005 National Book Festival:

Donald Hall: Book Fest 05 Web Cast

(Duration 36:35)

   

Also at The Library of Congress site, is an excellent webography of Hall, with links to readings and interviews:

Donald Hall: Online Resources

   

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Click on the picture of the book, to see a list of Donald Hall’s works at the Houghtin Mifflin Books site:


   

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The history of one’s poetry is the history of gifts.

–Donald Hall, October 15, 2006

   

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