Forever Beginning

'Âmes entrelacés par la lumière,' by user viewminder on Flickr.com

[Image: “Âmes entrelacés par la lumière,” by user Viewminder on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) Translation, per Google Translate: Souls intertwined by light.]

From whiskey river:

I wish that I could put up yesterday’s evening sky for all posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound of a mountain stream, a realization as it sets my mind afire, a dance, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen again, line them up in jars where they might be admired in the interim and tasted again as needed.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and (italicized portion*):

We like to think that we are finely evolved creatures, in suit-and-tie or pantyhose-and-chemise, who live many millennia and mental detours away from the cave, but that’s not something our bodies are convinced of. We may have the luxury of being at the top of the food chain, but our adrenaline still rushes when we encounter real or imaginary predators. We even restage that primal fright by going to monster movies. We still stake out or mark our territories, though sometimes now it is with the sound of radios. We still jockey for position and power. We still create works of art to enhance our senses and add even more sensations to the brimming world, so that we can utterly luxuriate in the spectacles of life. We still ache fiercely with love, lust, loyalty, and passion. And we still perceive the world, in all its gushing beauty and terror, right on our pulses. There is no other way.  To begin to understand the gorgeous fever that is consciousness, we must try to understand the senses — how they evolved, how they can be extended, what their limits are, to which ones we have attached taboos, and what they can teach us about the ravishing world we have the privilege to inhabit.

(Diane Ackerman [source])

and:

Begin

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

(Brendan Kennelly [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle

Midweek Music Break: Hanna Bech

[Lyrics]

As I’ve observed before, some mysterious pixie-dust substance seems to have been stirred into the musical waters of Hamilton, Ontario. (See this post for one example.) It probably won’t be the last time I observe it. But I’m pleased to include today’s selection among the lot:

Hanna Bech, and Hanna Bech, and Hanna Bech, and...So far, I have not been able to learn much about our featured artist, Hanna Bech. This reflects both her newness and her novelty, which of course are not necessarily synonymous:

  • As far as I can tell, prior to 2015 Bech was presumably just an aspiring performer. The evidence seems to point to her during that time as a somewhat conventional amateur musician (“amateur” in the sense of not being paid to perform): instructor in voice and various instruments, participant in a couple of choirs, and so on. She certainly does not seem to have spent a decade in the stereotypical pop-star trenches — playing in bars, singing backup in studio sessions, building an audience. Instead, she seems to have just, well, started.
  • …And yet she must have spent much of that middle-of-the-road time thinking about what sort of pop performer she might want to be, when the moment arrived: not an aggressive challenger of status quos, but a, well, a beguiler.

If not obvious from the video, you can probably tell from the promotional photo (above right) that Bech has a playful side: it toys with (without quite parodying) her own video’s quirky* split-screen, commenting-on-itself camerawork and editing. The sound and sense of the song itself provide further hints; musically and in, well, spirit, it seems to me akin to Lenka’s “The Show” (which first appeared in this post seven (!) years ago).

I have the lyrics only for “ABCs,” but much of the rest of her recently released EP (with two exceptions) seems cut from the same bouncy fabric. As Bech says at her site, the EP (called Naked Bones) resembles “a film score and indie pop going on a first date — dramatic, playful, with a rhythm that carries it forward.”

Those two exceptions? Track #3, “Butterfly,” and especially the one with which she closes the EP: “Fear of Crumbs (f u gluten).” Again, I don’t know the lyrics; from the snarky title alone, I’d imagined it would fairly, if not quite stridently, assert the rights of the gluten-intolerant. But musically it doesn’t strike me that way at all; its music — its sound — made me think of Bonnie Raitt’s rendition of Joe Henry’s “God Only Knows.” (Video here.) Not, y’know, pop-y at all: pretty much just a piano and a vocalist, contemplative, maybe even a touch wistful (if not outright melancholy).

Edit to add: According to Hanna Bech herself (as I just learned via email), the lyrics to “Fear of Crumbs (f u gluten)” are “a dry raspy humour.” So much for my discernment!

In any case, I offer you today Hanna Bech’s Naked Bones: a mix of bouncy, “I may be stuck in traffic but I’m tapping my fingers on the steering wheel”-type moments, and some haunting, anomalous hints at deeper waters stirring below the bounce.

E.P.: 'Naked Bones,' by Hanna Bech

____________________________

* Yes, “quirky”: Bech herself has explicitly embraced the label… Among other examples, she helped organize a show last year, featuring as clutch of other idiosyncratic performers as well as herself. The title: Queens of Quirk.

Send to Kindle

A Day Like No Other, a Day Like All the Rest

'This Is an Old Fishing Device,' by Aurealio Asiain on Flickr

[Image: “This is an old fishing device,” by Aurelio Asiaian on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) The photographer says: “The name is ajirogi, a kind of wicker netting for fishing. I found the word in this old poem: Asaborake/ uji no kawa giri/ tae dae ni /araware wataru/ seze no ajirogi; in a bad translation: When a day is breaking,/Mist hanging over the Uji River/Is clearing off./Begin to appear one by one/From close ones to the ones in the distance./Stakes to support fences to catch fish.]

From whiskey river:

May

The backyard apple tree gets sad so soon,
takes on a used-up, feather-duster look
within a week.

The ivy’s spring reconnaissance campaign
sends red feelers out and up and down
to find the sun.

Ivy from last summer clogs the pool,
brewing a loamy, wormy, tea-leaf mulch
soft to the touch

and rank with interface of rut and rot.
The month after the month they say is cruel
is and is not.

(Jonathan Galassi [source])

and:

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

(Billy Collins [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle

Le Mot Exact

[Image: Cartoon by James Thurber, originally published in The New Yorker December 3, 1932. Caption there: “Touché!” One story about this drawing — I have no idea how accurate — says that the magazine’s editors came up with the cartoon caption first, but needed a cartoonist to illustrate it. They assigned it to Thurber because they didn’t want to gross out the squeamish: no one could possibly believe Thurber-drawn characters would bleed.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

It’s not that poetry reveals more about the world, it doesn’t, but it reveals more about our interactions with the world than our other modes of expression. And it doesn’t reveal more about ourselves alone in isolation, but rather it reveals that mix of self and other, self and surrounding, where the world ends and we begin, where we end and the world begins. That’s the terrain of poetry, and I think that if we experience the world through our senses, or what we recall of the world in memory, or of our experience in memory, poetry has more to say about that than anything else.

(Mark Strand [source])

and:

In Our Woods, Sometimes a Rare Music

Every spring
I hear the thrush singing
in the glowing woods
he is only passing through.
His voice is deep,
then he lifts it until it seems
to fall from the sky.
I am thrilled.
I am grateful.

Then, by the end of morning,
he’s gone, nothing but silence
out of the tree
where he rested for a night.
And this I find acceptable.
Not enough is a poor life.
But too much is, well, too much.
Imagine Verdi or Mahler
every day, all day.
It would exhaust anyone.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and (in a slightly different translation):

How charming it is that there are words and sounds: are not words and sounds rainbows and illusive bridges between things eternally separated?

(Friedrich Nietzsche [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle

A Taste of Darkness, Seasoned with Light

'Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,' by Adam Koford on Flickr

[Image: “Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,” by Adam Koford on Flickr.com. Used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Custom

There is a difference it used to make,
seeing three swans in this versus four in that
quadrant of sky. I am not imagining. It was very large, as its
effects were. Declarations of war, the timing fixed upon for a sea-
departure; or,
about love, a sudden decision not to, to pretend instead to a kind
of choice. It was dramatic, as it should be. Without drama,
what is ritual? I look for omens everywhere, because they are everywhere
to be found. They come to me like strays, like the damaged,
something that could know better, and should, therefore—but does not:
a form of faith, you’ve said. I call it sacrifice—an instinct for it, or a habit
at first, that
becomes required, the way art can become, eventually, all we have
of what was true. You shouldn’t look at me like that. Like one of those
saints
on whom the birds once settled freely

(Carl Phillips [source])

and (italicized portion):

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a buddha with wings,
it was beautiful,
and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—
five feet apart—and the grabbing thrust
of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow—

and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us—

as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,

and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow,

that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

(Mary Oliver [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle

The Resonance of Things

'Resonance,' by user sky rim on Flickr

[Image: “resonance.,” by user skyrim (Ahmed Mahin Fayaz) on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.)]

In lieu of my customary whiskey river Fridays post today — computer crisis last weekend, and other real-life obstacles (all pleasant) since — I thought for today I’d just direct your attention to the source itself.

Particularly, take a look at the excerpt from Jan Zwicky’s poem:

Practicing Bach

There is, said Pythagoras, a sound
the planet makes: a kind of music
just outside our hearing, the proportion
and the resonance of things — not
the clang of theory or the wuthering
of human speech, not even
the bright song of sex or hunger, but
the unrung ringing that
supports them all.

Is the cosmos
laughing at us? No. It’s saying

improvise. Everywhere you look
there’s beauty, and it’s rimed
with death. If you find injustice
you’ll find humans, and this means
that if you listen, you’ll find love.

(Jan Zwicky [source])

Not a bad note to round off (or to kick off) any week at all, hmm?

 

Send to Kindle

The Other Side of Some World (Maybe This One)

'Antipodes' (detail of Sanborn sculpture); photo by user wanderingYew2 on Flickr

[Image: Detail of “Antipodes,” a sculpture by James Sanborn. (Photo by Flickr user wanderingYew2 used here under a Creative Commons license.) “Antipodes” is currently in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC; it combines elements of two other — arguably more famous — encrypted sculptures by Sanborn: “Cyrillic Projector” (in the collection of the University of NC-Charlotte) and “Kryptos” (on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters).]

From whiskey river:

Looking Around
(excerpt)

It’s only in darkness you can see the light, only
From emptiness that things start to fill,
I read once in a dream, I read in a book
under the pink
Redundancies of the spring peach trees.
Old fires, old geographies.
In that case, make it old, I say, make it singular
In its next resurrection,
White violets like photographs on the tombstone of the yard.

Each year it happens this way, each year
Something dead comes back and lifts up its arms,
puts down its luggage
And says—in the same costume, down-at-heels, badly sewn—
I bring you good news from the other world.

(Charles Wright [source])

and:

Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us — more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

and:

Design

I pour a coating of salt on the table
and make a circle in it with my finger.
This is the cycle of life
I say to no one.
This is the wheel of fortune,
the Arctic Circle.
This is the ring of Kerry
and the white rose of Tralee
I say to the ghosts of my family,
the dead fathers,
the aunt who drowned,
my unborn brothers and sisters,
my unborn children.
This is the sun with its glittering spokes
and the bitter moon.
This is the absolute circle of geometry
I say to the crack in the wall,
to the birds who cross the window.
This is the wheel I just invented
to roll through the rest of my life
I say
touching my finger to my tongue.

(Billy Collins [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle

Perfectly Mistaken

'D1 / typo incident,' by Zoolette Des Bois on Flickr

[Image: “D1 / typo incident,” by Zoolette Des Bois on Flickr.com. Used under a Creative Commons license. Edit to add: the sign seems to be a marker at this location in London, on a particularly bad day I guess.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

if i have made, my lady, intricate

if i have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes (frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body’s whitest song
upon my mind—if i have failed to snare
the glance too shy—if through my singing slips
the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

—let the world say “his most wise music stole
nothing from death”—
you will only create
(who are so perfectly alive) my shame:
lady whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.

(E.E. Cummings [source])

and:

Based on my experience of life, which I have not exactly hit out of the park, I tend to agree with that thing about, If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And would go even further, to: Even if it is broke, leave it alone, you’ll probably make it worse.

(George Saunders [source])

and:

Descriptions of Heaven and Hell

The wave breaks
And I’m carried into it.
This is hell, I know,
Yet my father laughs,
Chest-deep, proving I’m wrong.
We’re safely rooted,
Rocked on his toes.

Nothing irked him more
Than asking, “What is there
Beyond death?”
His theory once was
That love greets you,
And the loveless
Don’t know what to say.

(Mark Jarman [source])

and:

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self…

I wind my experiences around myself and cover myself with glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed, I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me I am my own mistake.

(Thomas Merton [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle

Midweek Music Break: Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Anyhow”

Tedeschi Trucks Band - photo by Mark Seliger

[Tedeschi Trucks Band. Photo by Mark Seliger.]

We first encountered the Tedeschi Trucks Band here just about four years ago, following the release of their first album, Revelator. They haven’t been sitting on their hands since then, not at all: “Anyhow” is the first single from their newest (third) album, Let Me Get By. [Lyrics here.]

Of today’s musical selection, No Depression writes:

On “Anyhow,” Tedeschi starts out moaning like a lost soul but ends up soaring, channeling the spirit and sound of Bonnie Raitt, while Derek conjures up Duane [Allman] behind her.

Yeah, that. I’m not 100% sure I buy the specific comparisons. But if any voice could match Derek Trucks’s guitar work for sheer forceful power, it’s Susan Tedeschi’s. The woman can flat-out sing — and soaring is dead-on.

I found a high-quality video of the band performing the song in their Swamp Raga Studio in Jacksonville. I have no idea if this specific recording made it onto the album. But what especially interested me is that from the audio alone, I’d never have guessed that almost everyone performing is sitting down. Tedeschi Trucks has a solid reputation as a live band (I myself have never seen them in concert); you might think, y’know, Boy, that group must really move when they’re alone and into their music. Not so, apparently. (Which doesn’t bother me, I hasten to mention; I think what we’re seeing in that video is discipline. “Things” happen in live performances, and they’re not all happy things: people can trip over wires, bump into microphones, get distracted by bees — certainly not the kinds of events you want to capture in a studio recording.)

This reminds me a little of a conversation I had with a guy I used to work with, back in 1990-91. At the time, I’d taken a leave of absence from my stable job in New Jersey, moving to Virginia to see if I could write and publish a book. (I could, as it happened.) On a visit back to Jersey, my friend John B asked me about my workday as a writer. He couldn’t picture the act of writing. (Back then, I didn’t do first drafts via computer, but via good old pencils and paper.) “What do you do — you just sit at a table and… and you, uh, write?” I wonder what I do look like when I write. Come to that, I wonder what any writer looks like when in the act? It feels to me as though there must be an awful lot of staring into space involved.

“Anyhow” is certainly soulful. At the other end of the energy — and danceability — spectrum, though, I could pick any of a handful of other songs from the album (which this time around, includes all original material). Let’s follow up “Anyhow” with… oh, say, with “Don’t Know What It Means.” I wonder if they all sat still in the studio for this perky bit of sheer funk?

[Lyrics]

Send to Kindle

All of a Piece, a Piece of All

'Broken promises Project 365(3),' by Keith Williamson on Flickr

[Image: “Broken promises Project 365(3),” by Keith Williamson (user “elwillo”) on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

All good things are one thing. Sunsets, schools of philosophy, cathedrals, operas, mountains, horses, poems — all these are mainly disguises. One thing is always walking among us in fancy-dress, in the grey cloak of a church or the green cloak of a meadow.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Where Is God?

It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.

(Mark Nepo [source])

…and, from whiskey river’s commonplace book:

People Like Us
for James Wright

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can’t remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can’t remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It’s
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he’s lonely , and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you’re safe

(Robert Bly [source])

and:

Japanese Shape

The way it forces you to look
watching your step
so as not to turn your ankle
on a rock
or step into water nearby

The way it turns the torso
this way and that
view after view
spaces between spaces
and spaces between

The way it slows you down
step after step
no skipping between
there is no short cut
to the edge of this garden

The way it swirls the vision
into brown and black
and green and light with
sound in the air until
only a blanket remains

The way it stops the mind.

(Harry Palmer [no alternative source located])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle