Tag Archives: poetry

The incandescence of Aimé Césaire

32649Aimé Césaire has written a most powerful thing, a most beautiful thing, my words can’t do it justice — they bow before the beauty of his words. Especially as it is not for me. It is a poem of struggle still not done, a battle against all that years of slavery, colonialism, exploitation and racism have piled on to the souls of all those who wear dark skin in ways that I can’t fully know. This is the celebration of negritude, and it is wondrous that it is shared with all.

It speaks to shared humanity, shared struggle to overcome fears and insecurities and all of those things thrust on us by the world because of who we are. It speaks to my own class anxieties, a love of where I am from coexisting often with the panic response of being dragged back there. A fear of poverty, a life narrowing in on itself, everyday violence.  But holding to the good of them all the same.

Then I turned toward paradises lost for him and his kin, calmer than the face of a woman telling lies, and there, rocked by the flux of a never exhausted thought I nourished the wind, I unlaced the monsters and heard rise, from the other side of disaster, a river of turtledoves and savanna clover which I carry forever in my depths height-deep as the twentieth floor of the most arrogant houses and as a guard against the putrefying force of crepuscular surroundings, surveyed night and day by a cursed venereal sun. (1)

But still I have benefited from this world in many ways:

Hear the white world
horribly weary from its immense efforts
its stiff joints crack under the hard stars
its blue steel rigidities pierce the mystic flesh
hear its deceptive victories tout its defeats
hear the grandiose alibis of its pitiful stumbling (36)

Surely we must look outside of a rapacious white civilisation guilty of so many crimes and steadily destroying the natural world and calling our survival into question when thinking how to rebuild a new and better world?

Eia for the royal Cailcedra!
Eia for those who never invented anything
for those who never explored anything
for those who never conquered anything
but yield, captivated, to the essence of things
ignorant of surfaces by captivated by the motion of all things
indifferent to conquering, but playing the game of the world (35)

A final note — I cannot resist the botanical language, his love of the plants and geology of Martinique and their weaving into his poetry. Nor this reference to my profession, this understanding that our geography — our trajectory across the world, sense of place, comfort in those places — is something lived, suffered, not simply theorised and drawn.

And my special geography too; the world map made for my own use, not tinted with the arbitrary colours of scholars, but with the geometry of my spilled blood, I accept. (43)



Paris, Baudelaire and Spleen (mostly my own)

Baudelaire - Paris SpleenWho has not, in bouts of ambition, dreamt this miracle, a poetic prose, musical without rhythm or rhyme, supple and choppy enough to accommodate the lyrical movement of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the bump and lurch of consciousness?

It is above all in the habit of huge cities, the endless meeting of their ways, that this obsessive ideal originates. you have yourself wished to put into song the glazier’s grating cry, and render in lyrical prose its heartbreaking resonances, carried up to attic rooms higher than the mist in the street. (3)
— 26 August, 1862

I first read that quote reading Walter Benjamin, and I loved it. There is something about the city that I long to capture, to express, to give voice.

Today in Westminster Abbey with sunshine and thunder outside and about to hear some wonderful baroque choir music and feeling maybe after all I love more in London than I was feeling I did
Today in Westminster Abbey with sunshine and thunder outside and about to hear some wonderful baroque choir music and feeling maybe after all I love more in London than I was feeling I did

Last night I sat in Westminster Abbey listening to Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers of 1610’  and almost cried knowing my words could never do what that music does, nor even capture what that soaring stone vaulting speaks (and god forbid my writing stay trapped in the side aisles growing full of ponderous stone monuments to vanity festooned with putti too fat to fly). Baudelaire, I wondered, what else do we share since we share this ambition? I had read Les Fleurs de Mal a long time ago, I think I struggled through it in French which is why I remember nothing.

Though there was indeed an absence of love in that absence of memory.

There are even so a few things in here I love. Baudelaire wasn’t talking about pulp perhaps, but I adore this quote:

And I quit my room raging with thirst, because wild addiction to bad literature had instilled in me a proportionate want of clear air and refreshment. (96)

And this? Though Baudelaire and I in fact share little to nothing, I do know this well:

10. One a.m.

Alone at last!…At last, the tyranny of the human face has gone, and my only source of suffering will be myself.

Horrible life! Horrible city!  (18)

Still, it goes deeper, this tyranny of the human face. Something in this early book prepared me for Nadja, for so many of the great men who write cities, write women, write themselves over and over again onto the page.

12. Crowds

It is not given to all to crowd-bathe: the enjoyment of crowds is an art; and only he can go, at the expense of mankind, on a reinvigorating spree whom in his cot a fairy wand has left the taste for masks and travesty, a loathing of home and a passion for travel.

Multitude, solitude: equivalent terms for the active and prolific poet. (22)

Why should this be ‘at the expense of mankind’? Yet it is, it is set up this way — artist v mankind. Artist alone and above and born to it, looking out but always looking down. The essence of this:

27. The Old Acrobat

There was no point in asking the poor fellow what marvels or curiosities he would conjure in the stinking gloom behind his ragged curtain. In truth I did not dare; and even though you might find the reason for my caution risible, I confess it came from a reluctance to humiliate him. (28)

The reluctance to humiliate being risible. To whom is he talking that compassion for an old man should be something of which he is ashamed? This is the nutshell I think, the point at which ‘art’ goes where I no longer wish to follow, yet it seems to be a masculine ideal belonging to many a writer and observer who care nothing for others.

Even when it has to do with cake. As in:

15. Cake

Oh glorious title! But so sad:

Before me stood a little human creature, ragged and blackened, with wild, deep-set, supplicant eyes that were devouring my bread. And I heard him moan in a hoarse, low voice the single word: cake! I could not hold back my laughter at the title he wanted to give my off-white bread… (29)

He doesn’t worry about humiliating a foreign child (it could even be little Dicky Perrot, and my heart breaks), only throws him a piece of bread and wonders at a country where two children will fight to the death for it and call it cake.

There are poems of equal callousness musing on mistresses, misogyny regarding wives, tropical fantasies of opium  and women that still contain glorious lines like:

beyond the veranda the noise of birds drunk on light… (48)

ph_0111201517-BaudelaireThe piece I have seen most quoted, describing Baudelaire and his mistress sitting in a new cafe on one of Haussman’s new boulevards and watching a family of people too poor to partake stare at them, drinking in the lights and the warmth and the food.

26. The Eyes of the Poor

As I turned my gaze to yours, my love, to read my own thoughts; as I immersed myself in your eyes…you said to me: “I cannot bear those people with their eyes out on stalks! Tell the waiter to get rid of them.”  (53)

Baudelaire has such eyes, does he not? An intensity to them. Yet I am angered that he seeks only to read his own thoughts in the eyes of a woman. Conflicted when I hate her response as much as he does.

Still, serves him right perhaps, what better woman would care to be with someone so self-centered? Reflect this, mother fucker, is one phrase that might come to mind, here and in another musing that mingles the profound with the sad with the profoundly self-obsessed:

35. Windows

An open window never reveals as much as one closed. There is nothing more profound, mysterious, fertile, shadowy, than a window lit by a candle. What is seen in sunlight is always less interesting than whatever occurs on the far side of a glass sheet. Within that cave, dark or illuminated, life lives, life dreams, life hurts.

Across undulating roofs, I perceive a mature woman, already wrinkled, poor, permanently stooping over something; a life spent indoors. With her face, her clothes, her movements, with almost nothing, I have recreated that woman’s story, her myth rather, and sometimes I weep as I tell it to myself.

Had it been a poor old man, I would have reconstructed his story as easily.

And I retreat to my bed, pleased I have lived and suffered not in myself but in someone else.

Perhaps you will ask me: “Are you sure you have the right myth?” But why should I care what the reality is outside myself, so long as it helped me to live, to feel that I am, to feel what I am? (76)

‘…pleased I have lived and suffered not in myself but in someone else.’ Profanity seems by far the best response since he cannot be slapped. But I will end with one of my favourite ones, as I favour asking things of wind, waves, stars and birds (but not clocks)…

33. Be Drunk

be drunk always. Nothing else matters; there are no other subjects. Not to feel the grim weight of Time breaking your backs and bending you double, you must get drunk and stay drunk.

But drunk on what? Wine, poetry, virtue — the choice is yours. Just be drunk.

And if sometimes, on a palace staircase, on the green grass of a ditch, in the gloomy isolation of your chamber, you wake sober or just a little tipsy, ask the wind, waves, stars, birds, clocks, ask anything that flies, moans, moves, sings, speaks, ask it the time. And the wind, wave, star, bird, clock will reply: “Time to get drunk! To avoid the enslaved martyrdom of Time, get drunk and stay drunk! On wine, poetry, virtue, the choice is yours!” (73)


Selling books

It’s tough, it’s a tough business. I spent all of Sunday at the West Hollywood Bookfair, and all on my ownsome as well, though it gave me time to think. And resulted in one book being stolen while I was distracted…a cookbook of low-fat vegan deserts, go figure. I hope they choke on their carob brownies of course, as stealing from any independant publisher is a cardinal sin, especially from my broke self! But I still found it funny. At any rate, we did pretty well I think.

I got there way too early since I’m all new at this, didn’t bring enough stuff, and had far too much time on my hands. And I soon realized that I was sitting next to the Ayn Rand folks, ha! They even gave me some good advice on how to make it look like I had brought enough stuff to fill the two very large tables I was given, and were very complimentary on the aesthetics of my display. They were giving a lot of stuff away…you’d think given Miss Rand’s philosophy they’d be busy proving the worth of their wares by selling it for top dollar…it’s the market that decides value after all! Maybe they figure propaganda works like heroin. It finally got better when the show started, a little old lady singing folk songs in russian, followed by readings of russian poetry, I really enjoyed that bit, hugely, though i couldn’t hear too well. Russian poetry is amazing, though not being close enough, I am not sure what they were reading, it looked like books so I imagine Pushkin and maybe just maybe Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva and Mandelstam and…I love Russian poets. I love the fact that the marquis was packed full of older russian folks to hear poetry.

The people watching was good, you could spot the well-kept and expensively maintained hollywood types, no one exciting though. The police wandered by. They didn’t think much of my stuff, though i thought about trying to sell them a real cost of prisons comix. A jedi knight walked past, followed by vader. A lot of couples were wandering around, and i thought again to myself, how do so many couples look alike?? Is it that people are just looking for themselves in someone else? I think that must be it, or perhaps their expressions come to match each others over time or…I don’t know. But too me that seems a horrifying fate, I’d rather be with someone very different who is always making me think new thoughts, try new things. And who doesn’t make me feel like I’m looking at myself in a mirror when I stare into his eyes. The absurd was not missing of course, like the woman with the dog carrier in camoflauge olive and pink, and her wee silly dog wearing some frilly dress thing with rosebuds on it. And the old guy who looked at my books with disgust, we had mumia postcards and he snorted and said that that guy would slit my throat if he could. I smiled. Then he asked me if there were any right wing bookstalls there, and I happily sent him along to the Ayn Rand folks next door.

The best folks there were the booth opposite to me and to the left. Smart gals productions. Their booth was freestanding, and they set up cloth to hang down on all sides, they hung little stars from the roof…and I’m thinking snidely to myself, ha! damn hippies. Bet they’re selling tiedye and clothes made from old saris…but no, they took the two tables down, opened up their bags and pulled out a large perfectly fitted booth size mat and lots of pillows. Then they proceeded to loll about on pillows, and read. One of them was reading Vonnegut if I am not mistaken. A couple of people came by, sat down, chatted. And when I say a couple I mean two. All day. And that is all they did. It actually seemed quite agreeable to lie on pillows in the middle of a bookfair on a beautiful sunday and read, so I had quite a lot of respect for them as they packed up. Though I am curious to know just how you make a living at that, I rather imagine they don’t.

Anyways, this is the happy stuff, even apart from the economy life has been sucking, lucky for everyone I don’t write about that shit.


Haven’t written this in ages, because I’ve been writing loads of…of…serious writing I suppose. And living brilliantly. But I had the perfect day yesterday, it was sparkling and glorious and included Hatch chiles on my breakfast eggs and incredible music and Iain Banks in the flesh and Macbeth performed on a jumping castle and activist writing and great company and drink and new friends and a drunk Welshman named Gary Cooper (!) and it went on and on, even continuing into this morning when I left folks sleeping as I headed out into the warm Edinburgh sunshine for my Glasgow bus, but a few hours sleep’s not quite enough and the day grew dark like the fog in my mind. Still I’m happy.

I was thinking thinking thinking about music and writing and wondered if poetry could always become song or song always be poetry, but that thought wasn’t deep enough for my mood and I sang to myself “I’ve legs to walk and thoughts to fly, eyes to laugh and lips to cry, a restless tongue to classify, oh I’m born to grow and grown to die,” which I love because the music and the words together turn my heart inside out and I think perhaps words demand their form as you write them and words meant to be sung must be different than words meant to be spoken aloud must be different then words written to be simply read by someone who can understand them. They all live in the spaces between people; to write for no one is to write words that lie dead. To breathe them life you must strip yourself bare, give everything, spare yourself nothing, seems to me music is the same, the hardest fucking thing you ever do and lucky there’s something driving you to it. And you truly love those few who have somehow found this immense generosity, you know them right away…yet still it is only between the one who gives and the other who truly hears that the greatness happens, I think that’s the beauty of the thing Es algo imprescindible. It’s a fierce rare joy to write something and get it exactly right, you ring golden like a bell, and you share its resonance then it becomes magic…songs, words, music, they are gifts, I saw it yesterday, think that’s partly why I am so happy. So tonight I’m wandering among some of my favourite words and tunes…and I have to say that without paper I would write my words into the sand even if I were the only person on earth, but it’s an amazing thing to give what you create, and to share what others have given.

At my window,
watching the sun go,
hoping the stars know
it’s time to shine,
the day dreams
aloft on dark wings,
soft as the sun streams
at day’s decline,
living is laughing,
and dying says nothing at all,
my babe and I lying here,
watching the evening fall
Townes Van Zandt

Lady in the frilled blouse
And plain tartan skirt
Since you have left the house
It’s emptiness has hurt
All thought
In your presence
Time rode easy
Anchored on a smile
But your absence
Rocked love’s balance
Unmoored the days
They buck and bound
Across the calendar
Loosed from the quiet sound
Of your flower tender voice
Seamus Heaney

Así te amo porque no se amar de otra manera..
Sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres
Tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía
Tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueno

(I love you thus because I do not know another way to love
Only this way where I am not I and you are not you
So close that your..nhand on my chest is mine
So close your eyes close with my tiredness

the moon is hiding in
her hair
of heaven
full of all dreams
draws down.

cover her briefness in singing
close her with intricate faint birds
by daisies and twilights
Deepen her.

upon her
the rain’s

pearls singly-whispering

Possibly the most beautiful poem in the world, ee cummings

With singing
Darkness kindled back into beginning
When the caught tongue nodded blind,
A star was broken
Into the centuries of the child
Myselves grieve now, and miracles cannot atone Dylan Thomas

Las palabras fueran avispas…………………The words were wasps
Y las calles como dunas…………………….And the streets like dunes
Cuando aun te espero llegar…………………While i still wait for you.
En un ataúd guardo tu tacto………………In a winding sheet i keep your touch
Y una corona ……………………………….And a crown
con tu pelo enmaranado……………………..tangled in your hair
Queriendo encontrar…………………………wanting to find
un arco iris infinito………………………….An infinite rainbow
Mis manos que aun son de hueso……………my hands that are still of bone
Y tu vientre sabe a pan..…………………….and your stomach tastes of bread
La catedral que es tu cuerpo…………………the cathedral that is your body

No se distinguir………………………………I don’t know how to distinguish
entre besos y raíces………………………….Between kisses and beginnings
No se distinguir………………………………I don’t know how to distinguish
lo complicado de lo simple………………….The complicated from the simple
Y ahora estas en mi lista……………………..And now you are on my list
De promesas a olvidar……………………….Of promises to forget
Todo arde si aplicas………………………….Everything burns if you apply
la chispa adecuada……………………………the adequate spark
Los Heroes del Silencio

Forgive what I give you. Though nightmare and cinders,
The one can be trodden, the other ridden,
We must use what transport we can. Both crunching
Path and bucking dream can take me
Where I shall leave the path and dismount
From the mad-eyed beast and keep my appointment
In green improbable fields with you.
Louis MacNeice

Green improbable fields, damn I wish I wish I’d written that…and to end, all the things I try to believe in, Silvio Rodriguez, though cantera is hard to translate…talent isn’t quite it, ability perhaps…and masa’s hard too…dough might be better than flesh, corn flour mixed with water, but it could never mean the same in English

Si no creyera en lo mas duro…………..If I did not believe in what was hardest
Si no creyera en el deseo……………………If I did not believe in desire
Si no creyera en lo que creo………………If I did not believe in what I believe
Si no creyera en algo puro…………….If I did not believe in something pure
Si no creyera en cada herida……………If I did not believe in every wound
Si no creyera en la que ronde………….If I did not believe in what surrounds
Si no creyera en lo que esconde……….If I did not believe in what is hidden
Hacerse hermano de la vida…………………In becoming a brother to life
Si no creyera en quien me escucha…….If I did not believe in who listens to me
Si no creyera en lo que duele………………..If I did not believe in what hurts
Si no creyera en lo que quede……………If I did not believe in what remains
Si no creyera en lo que lucha………………..If I did not believe in my struggle
Ay que cosa fuera……………… …………..Ay what would I be,
que cosa fuera la masa sin cantera………What would the flesh be without talent
un amasijo hecho de cuerdas y tendones…A mass made of cords and tendons
un revoltijo de carne con madera…………….A mix up of meat and wood
un instrumento sin mejores resplandores……An instrument without greater splendour
que lucesitas montadas para escena………Than little lights staged for a scene
que cosa fuera, corazon, que cosa fuera…..What would I be, heart, what would I be
que cosa fuera la masa sin cantera……What would the flesh be without talent
un testaferro del traidor de los aplausos…A figurehead of the traitor to applause
un servidor de pasado en copa nueva………..A server of the past in a new cup
un eternizador de dioses del ocaso……….…An eternalizer of the western gods
jubilo hervido con trapo y lentejuela…Experience boiled with rags and spangles
que cosa fuera, corazon, que cosa fuera…..What would I be, heart, what would I be
que cosa fuera la masa sin cantera……..What would the flesh be without talent

Fucking hell this is long, inspiring at least to myself but long, I cannot be concise when this tired, and i can never tell whether what emerges from the fog is truth or rubbish…and there are so many lyrics poems words I love, better than sleep to read them but no, I’m off to my bed…


Woke up early this morning (damn the world cup, I knew this would happen), and it was already hot.  Am currently sitting on the floor in the front room with the fan on full and very little on.  If my house were cleaner it would be nothing, but given its current state that would not be wise…I keep meaning to clean but it is far too hot!  Might attempt it at midnight.

A glorious Monday and no work!  Independance days off today and tomorrow, though i don’t think we’re quite free yet.  Am reading Louis MacNeice, and it’s sent me all lyrical.  I buy old volumes of collected works from used bookstores, but I think I must stop because it fills me with immeasurable sadness to live and breathe and grow old with someone, to dream, fall in love, question, lose faith, grow tired, and then when the poems stop you have lost a friend to the silence…much better to dive in at certain points happy in the boundless possibilities of what they could have once been or what they later became.  Everyone seems to lose faith, it makes me sad because I still hope to find something…Yeats: “and I shall find some peace there for peace comes dropping slow” crumbling to “things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”  ee cummings from

the moon is hiding in
her hair
of heaven
full of all dreams
draws down.

cover her briefness in singing
close her with intricate faint birds
by daisies and twilights
Deepen her.

upon her
the rain’s

pearls singly-whispering

to a maze of letters and lost punctuation and black designs upon white paper and

(life imitate gossip fear unlife
to succeed in not

Neruda, now, I do not know never having read the collected works I am free to believe he kept love and faith til the end.  TS Eliot I am equally free to believe found faith somehow after passing through the wasteland.  MacNeice had only hope and sadness

Forgive what I give you.  Though nightmare and cinders,
The one can be trodden, the other ridden,
We must use what transport we can.  Both crunching
Path and bucking dream can take me
Where I shall leave the path and dismount
From the mad-eyed beast and keep my appointment
In green improbable fields with you.

Still, it inspires me to write, can’t you tell?  Though I am no poet.  I wish my great novel, my Catcher in the Rye would take form, it would be often funny and sometimes sad and sometimes profound and find great comfort in things like a little sister riding the merry-go-round in a blue dress and if I could find it anywhere in myself it would call forth hope like a trumpet because that is chiefly what is missed.  Should I go to the beach?  Or sit here before my computer and allow it to mock my formless thoughts?