Thought Trafficking


there are books that describe all this
March 29, 2012, 4:34 am
Filed under: listening, Reading, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

The internet is abuzz with tributes tonight; both Earl Scruggs and Adrienne Rich have died. I like the banjo, but I have more to say about Rich, so I will add a selection to this, this, and this (among, I’m sure, many others).

I first read Adrienne Rich in an American Poetry class taught by Prof. Luke Carson. It certainly one of the best classes of my undergrad, and Prof. Carson would read each poem aloud before we talked about it. I still have the anthology used in that class, and I still find the notes very useful. Adrienne Rich was one of the first poets that I really struggled with, because as much as I liked some of her poems, others really frustrated me, in particular “Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff”: I felt, at the time, like she was completely denying the grief that Rilke had felt in composing his elegy for Becker. It was only this summer, reading a book of essays on female poets and ekphrasis, that I realized why some of her poems bothered me the way they did: her tendency is to appropriate a “male” way of speaking (and on occasion, of gazing) for “women”–it’s a strident voice, sometimes a confrontational one (I put those in quotes because, who knows, gender in writing is often a fluid thing). Which is also what I so enjoyed in certain poems, my favourite being “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children.” If you would like to hear it read, you can go here (it goes a little quickly, but you can hear a train in the background).

We are fortunate to have, to have had such people in our world, fortunate that they left us parts of their lives.

And then there’s this, this amazing thing.

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Back so soon
March 27, 2012, 3:36 am
Filed under: listening, Reading, writing | Tags: ,

The silence of the desert is a visual thing, too. A product of the gaze that stares out and finds nothing to reflect it. There can be no silence up in the mountains, since their very contours roar. And for there to be silence, time itself has to attain a sort of horizontality; there has to be no echo of time in the future, but simply a sliding of geological strata one upon the other giving out nothing more than a fossil murmur.

Jean Baudrillard,  America

It was the sea’s vacancy that the ancients found most disturbing. Medieval Europeans also viewed the waters to the west as a void, but eventually they turned this emptiness into potentiality, first as a spiritual asset and later as material opportunity. When they finally ventured into the Atlantic in the fifth and sixth centuries they did so in search of a desert in the sea, coveting empty rather than inhabited islands. The initial motivation for voyaging was religious…”Landscape is the work of the mind,” writes Simon Schama; and desert is something we project on a place.

John R. Gillis, Islands of the Mind



Spring Fever
March 21, 2012, 3:10 pm
Filed under: Reading, Toronto, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

The urge to write here always strikes in the spring. The sun comes out, the grass is warm enough for sitting on, I dig out my password for this blog. Inevitable.

Lots of things have happened since last June, many of them nice, some of them difficult. I am in between readings watching the neighbourhood’s muscular black squirrels shimmy up trees.

I turned 27 a few weeks ago. I thought I would be more uncomfortable with that than I am. Time is moving faster than I expect, faster and faster every year, but the people and the experiences I gain so much more than make up for it.  In a certain sense, however, I am aware of living on borrowed time: we are already experiencing highs of 25C or more during the day, here comes summer and the trees have been caught without their leaves on. 

With daylight savings, what Joan Didion (and surely others) calls the blue nights have returned, now there is ample time to enjoy the evening, enjoy being north, or northish. In the sky these nights, Venus and Jupiter are aligned to the west, and opposite them, Mars is visible to the east (or southeast). This is visible from my city balcony, Jupiter and Venus particularly bright and huge. I can remember as a child visiting that I loved Toronto’s sunsets.

And now, since I apparently like to post poetry here, and since I don’t want to type up all of Charles Wright’s “Homage to Paul Cézanne,” here is Lisa Olstein, from her collection Radio Crackling, Radio Gone. Here is what I like: the colour blue, the idea of God as an absence we feel, an absence we need to search out, or a book we open. I like unrhymed couplets, especially the enjambments straddling the gaps. I also like reading all of this while picturing a bear and a man.

Man Feeding Bear an Ear of Corn

What we need is an allegory.

What we want is a parable.

What we remember is a face,

movement of hands like wings.

If God is an absence, what’s missing

is blue. If God is a book, its pages

are blue. Doorways appear green.

Night is a small patch in the distance

where everything swirls inviting–

a place, from this distance, you might like

to stay for a while. An arm extends

an ear to an arm extended.

If you have a hand, place it over your heart.

This necklace will not be mistaken for its chain.

One last thing before I go, from Agamben’s The Open: Man and Animal, from the chapter called “Tick”:

He then draws the sole conclusion that ‘without a living subject, time cannot exist.’ But what becomes of the tick and its world in this state of suspension that lasts eighteen years? How is it possible for a living being that consists entirely in its relationship with the environment to survive in absolute deprivation of that environment? And what sense does it make to speak of “waiting” without time and without world? (47)

Waiting loses its meaning without time. But what constitutes a living subject? The chapter on the tick confused me most, and interested me most, because it describes the way in which we can attempt to conceptualize the tick’s relationship with the world. More than that, thought, I wondered how limited our own perceptions, our own relations with the world, are. This is, of course, not a new thought. We do not know it is blue that is missing, blue that we are looking for, if we’ve never gone looking, yes, but if we find it, we can’t even be sure of really, really seeing blue. “Everything that is readable with the eyes is not everything”–Arvo Pärt.