Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Words are too much, as is the "adorable world"

WCW called for “no ideas but in things” to shun flowery lyricism with no concrete content. But at this strange moment I can hardly even bear words chained together in any poetic form. I want to distill them even more, down to bedrock. I watch for a clue of some obtuse secret color. Mystery must not be spoken of. It must only be revealed in the subtle flavor of a squash blossom. Latinate words put me off.  "Squash blossom" puts me off—sounding so poeticized! Give me Anglo-Saxon gutturals. Give me ash grey, but not the word “ashes.” Give me an empty wine carafe or old milk bottle, but not the nostalgia for it. Has the heart gotten too saturated, and only a gradual dissipation of its contents will satisfy?

And yet my hypocritical fingers type away.

I wonder what the mind and heart are capable of. Whatever their vastness, they have to be emptied, and regularly. This is the work of meditation. (Or pain.) To dim down glitter and clammer. To get back to the place I remember, as what Virginia Woolf wrote, Mother and son, who are you . . . People drive this way and that . . . Carnations; chrysanthemums . . . Grey is the landscape; dim as ashes; the water murmurs and moves. If I fall on my knees, if I go through the ritual, the ancient antics, it’s you, unknown figures, you I adore; if I open my arms, it’s you I embrace, you I draw to me—adorable world! (from "An Unfinished Novel" in the collection “Monday or Tuesday”)

Will this longing ever return?


  1. i don't know.

    does it matter?

    what replaces it is a bigger pull toward the mystery, is it not? clarity (?)

    i understand.

    and yet.

    also, these hypocritical fingers.


  2. Thank you, erin. It's a fair question: Does it matter?

    Language is the tool I use to scour the soul. This scouring has been my meaning, in the whole of life. The lack of desire for one signifies the lack of desire for the other. Maybe it is a crisis of miniscule proportions. I'm afraid clarity is not what I feel, though it is what I seek, through the "discipline" of this space.

    1. "The lack of desire for one signifies the lack of desire for the other."

      if this is so for you then i understand better the tension that must be created as a consequence. i had not. it is not this way for me. it seems to be the opposite. the silence offers freedom.

      (i love the exchange and the healing i sense in your later comments)))


    2. erin, thank you, and I think I understand. I have heard and learned this from others too. That silence is a gift, of yes freedom. It is not something I have ever experienced in relationship, or individually for myself, and this strange territory has frightened me (not terrifyingly). But like anything, when something comes that sends me into emotions I don't like, I have to examine it. This post's responses have truly helped me, yes, toward healing! Isn't it just wonderful? Thank you for tilting these things in your hands with me as I tilt them in my own. I can't tell you how privileged I feel in this open process.

  3. This is a precious space, Ruth, and a good place to work things through. Your "crisis" is a natural one, and one that so many poets, artists and human beings have had and will always have.

    That conflictual mystery is always there (the gap between experience and description, mysticism and the conveying of it, the world and the soul) and we only ever resolve it partially — even the greatest artists (I'm amazed at just how much of what Wordsworth wrote was mediocre. We often tend to read only the famous and anthologised bits!)

    An "over-sensitivity" to language I think I understand, and, as I say, it's part and parcel of the whole creative personality.

    No wonder you love Seamus Heaney, with his gutteral Anglo-Saxon. But Latinate too has its place ("prothalamium ;))

    I'm only flirting with your deep import here, but what to say in this tiny "comments" space? One needs a book. Or perhaps just a silent nod.

    As you know, I do like, above all, your "bedrock" poems.

    1. Robert, I feel the magnitude of privilege reading your comment. It certainly contains a book, full of meaning and encouragement.

      Yes no wonder about Seamus, and that adorable "prothalamium"—who could resist them?

      I am brimming over with many thanks to you, my friend.

  4. It's only by questioning that we find answers. Since I started blogging, I've read and been oppressed by a terrible weight of generic and to me senseless poetry that squeezes the very meaning out of words and leaves them empty McDonald's bags blowing down the highway, yet also, it's made me examine why writing is so important to me, and forced me to re-examine every word I write to keep some trust with the medium, which is all I have to support my own quests. I hope the joy of reading and writing will return for you, Ruth, and can only say, the place on the road of standing and feeling lost is part of the process of finding the way on. This particular piece is for me, a bit of map building, and also, the external evidence of a partnership with who you are and what the art of words has for you to give yourself and others.

    1. Hedge, you never fail to ferret out the salient point with your steel-trap mind and poetic sensibilities. I sit and admire, and gain so much. Map-building. When I read that yesterday, a window opened. Anything that makes us examine our minds, hearts and work expressing them is very good, and we can be grateful. Just like those little demon critters who keep your pen busy and beautiful. Many thanks.

  5. ruth, i feel with you in this aridity. our hypocritical fingers keep moving, and we hope it means something, even if we can't see it at the moment -- not that it will mean something in the future or in the wider world, but that writing roots us more deeply in the present moment of being (perhaps -- this is the way i say it today :-) ... but we are always aware that the words are not, are never, what we wanted to say, that there is already and always a rift between the taste of a squash blossom and "the taste of a squash blossom" ... our paradox, our bind, our aporia, is that there is no way to approach the broken heart of language except through more language (or through silence -- i will end there one day, i think) ... so we keep speaking and wait in the desert ....

    i won't wish for you that the poetry comes back ... (i do wish, for me, that your words continue, but that is merely selfish on my part :-) ... i wish for you clarity and joy, whether that means a thousand poems or a thousand days contemplating the silence of one corner of an empty room.

    and is it not instructive that WCW, in his pronouncement against rhetorical abstraction, has recourse to the two greatest abstractions of all, the foci where we have drawn all our ellipses during the centuries , ideas and things???


    1. James, I am sitting with hands clasped in gratitude. A wind comes with you, and I know its power, though you hold it so gently. I welcome your refreshing breeze.

      ". . . the words are not, are never, what we wanted to say, . . . the broken heart of language . . ." And I ask you, how did these words say it perfectly, broken as they are?

      Your wishes are a blessing, become mantra. I read this yesterday:

      "I call the high and light aspects of my being spirit and the dark and heavy aspects soul.

      Soul is at home in the deep, shaded valleys. Heavy torpid flowers saturated with black grow there. The rivers flow like warm syrup.

      Spirit is a land of high, white peaks and glittering jewel-­like lakes and flowers. Life is sparse and sounds travel great distances." —The Dalai Lama, as quoted by James Hillman in "A Blue Fire"

      Maybe I have been living in the land of the spirit, and now I have arrived in the land of the soul. Whatever takes a person there is welcome, even if it is a dark corner of an empty room.

      Many, many thanks for your kind attentions.

  6. Two words: Lucille Clifton. "Bedrock" words offering profound meaning. The new collected poems is a feast.

    1. Maureen, thank you, sincerely. I have managed not to have read any of Clifton's poems, though I have heard of her many times. At your prompt I read several and feel just what you describe. A feast of bedrock (which is just right).

      In her poem 'brothers' (Lucifer talking to God) she quotes Carolyn Forche:
      “the silence of God is God.”

      The silence of God is God.

  7. you are so right about the emptying. it is against everything our culture reinforces, ever asking us to fillfillfill ourselves up

    but yet - there it is. how is it that we never anticipate the joy that comes with release, the freeing of burdens? perhaps it is that meditation - or pain as you say - can stimulate this process. and perhaps only then - when the cauldron is emptied and waiting for the alchemy of the new to manifest - that we can get back to the business of finding out just what the heart and mind are capable of.

    1. Amanda, your good comment reminds me of a meditation I used to do: I would let a river wash through me from the top of my [open] head through my feet. Piece by piece I would place the morsels of burdens into the river from my day, and watch them wash into the earth. Then the earth would release them back to me, cleansed, with great joy. What I didn't realize until now is that I can also put morsels of good things that feel too much, and even the very mute emptiness I feel in this soul-place, into the earth. As rosaria says (!), there are few notes to accompany the bird and that is nature's way. Thank you.

    2. what a beautiful meditation, and so true what you say - as much as we unburden ourselves, we can always offer those 'morsels of good things that feel too much' as gifts to mother earth (whom the inka call pachamamma)

      and rosaria's words are spectacular indeed.

  8. We have few paints to catch the rainbow, few notes to accompany the bird, and fewer words to unburden our soul.

    1. rosaria, your wise insight is spectacular. As I noted to Maureen, Carolyn Forche said: The silence of God is God. Thank you so much.

  9. The questions are what's important right now. My dear friend, Annee, said to me when I was in a dark place that 'I don't know' is the closest we'll ever be to God. I really wanted to hit her back then. Eventually I thought she was wise.

    1. Mary, I see you winnowing out the chaff through your life, backlit and beautiful. I'm grateful for how you share it.

      This came to me from a friend this morning:

      maggie and milly and molly and may

      by E. E. Cummings


      maggie and milly and molly and may
      went down to the beach(to play one day)

      and maggie discovered a shell that sang
      so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

      milly befriended a stranded star
      whose rays five languid fingers were;

      and molly was chased by a horrible thing
      which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

      may came home with a smooth round stone
      as small as a world and as large as alone.

      For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
      it's always ourselves we find in the sea

      And Natalie Merchant's song version, just tremendous:


    2. I love this poem (I hadn't seen it before) and Natalie's song of it. I'll share it with my grands. Thank you. For me, the sea is always a place where I find myself. One of the things I appreciate about you is your generosity. How much you share even from a place of words being too much.
      I found this favorite again this morning by a Native American Elder. It uses another finding place- the forest- and I offer it to you (and may it be so):


      Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
      are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
      and you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
      must ask permission to know it and be known.
      The forest breathes. Listen. It answers.
      I have made this place around you,
      if you leave it you may come back again saying Here.
      No two trees are the same to Raven.
      No two branches are the same to Wren.
      If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
      you are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
      where you are. You must let it find you.

    3. Mary, that empty (and full) sea.

      And ... Or the forest! This is wonderful. What I feel from this Native American poem you've shared is the connection I need, of being known and witnessed, being unconditionally loved. Did I ever tell you, I have a mother tree in Tara, Ireland, who found me? I knew I had come home.

      Thank you for reminding me this place is Here, even if it feels strange, and shocking.

  10. I have experienced this recently as well... The emptiness, the drought, the lack of inspiration that feeds and nurtures the soul/heart; wanting *something* to inspire, to fill that gap...

    But as you say - "Mystery most not be spoken of. It must be revealed" through ..."the work of meditation" - the work of Silence. Deep silence and waiting for what wants to be revealed in the way it wants to be revealed... And to sit with the not knowing, the not longing, the not hearing - being emptied... Maybe it is the soul not longing for externals, or expression, but the company of your own being - listening to its whispers... Simply Being...

    1. Thank you, Christine. I am grateful not to be alone. All that you say must be true. I have been flooded for so long with inspiration, that coming to this place has been a shock. I didn't see it coming. The responses here, including your "deep silence and waiting" have encouraged me more than I can say.

  11. This poem of mine surprised me, coming in Every Day Poems today. It was like hearing a different spirit, a different soul, speaking, with a hint of what was to come:

    Doorstep of a Dream

    In a dream, a house is my self,
    each room an aspect,

    their windows a glaze of eyes,
    as these poem lines

    are my skin, the letters ears—
    small shells

    that hear the weeping
    overflow of the apple tree,

    which exhales tales of the sea
    in waves, of its lost city,

    fragged stones on a mythic beach,
    which is anyway

    and after all lozenged
    here in the house of me.

    On the doorstep of a dream,
    or in the sand of this poem

    leaves fallen on the ground
    are my next hands

    recasting what would otherwise
    be blown, buried or

    forgotten, into this day's
    room, with a window, open.

  12. Oh, my friend. And--ohhhh my! friend. Your poem is exquisite (is there a better bedrock word than "fragged"? I think not.). I have only these to offer: Dr. Williams' plums, "logopaecia" and the memory of a diary entry of Virginia Woolf's--she was, I believe, contemplating The Waves--in which she wanted to leave everything out and yet "to saturate." To saturate, one must steep. You are saturating, Ruth. Saturating.
    Oh my friend.

    1. Dear ds, it is delicious the way words adhere to you, for their beauty alone, and then for what they represent. (I have tried to find out logopaecia, to no avail.) I have discovered the short fictions of Woolf and adore just what you say, the way she leaves everything out and yet is saturated in people, things. I want to travel around in her bag.

      Thank you for your response to this poem, written nearly a year ago now at synch-ro-ni-zing. I had forgotten I sent it to Laura Barkat. Now she wants more poems, she has run out of mine, and I want to send her some. It hurts not to be able to! But thanks to such kind responses in this space, I have courage to be silent in response. Maybe soon I'll even be glad of the silence!

  13. To find the right word, the right expression... is definitely an art. Having left my land of birth soon 40 years ago, since then practising other languages more or less well, I have at last a feeling that I don't really know any language, definitely not prefectly well anyhow. Am I not any more able to express exactly what I wish to say?

    1. Peter, it is an extraordinary thing you experience, to have that sense that you don't know any language perfectly, because you live with others than your mother tongue. On the other hand, you have the nuances of multiple languages, which those who have "just one" don't have—something I feel from Turkish, even though I know it only a little. But I will always feel grateful for the things I can say (and understand differently) in that language, as if it opens new windows in my mind.

  14. Margaret grew tired of words and left poetry to break glass


All responses are welcome.