Doing What You Can’t Not Do

Image: '12$,' by Catherine Roy on Flickr

[Image: “12$,” by Catherine Roy. (Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer seems to like taking photos which show objects (and people) of little or no consequence; although she hasn’t organized them into an official “album” as such, she has tagged (as of now) fifty-four photos with the phrase, “feeding my compulsion.” Many of these photos (although not this one, obviously) simply show toilets.]

From whiskey river:

2. Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.

Cold or warm.

Tired or well-rested.

Despised or honored.

Dying… or busy with other assignments. Because dying, too, is one of our assignments in life. There as well: “To do what needs doing.”

3. Look inward. Don’t let the true nature or value of anything elude you.

7. …Only there, delight and stillness

11. When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.

(Marcus Aurelius [source (various pages)]

and:

What Gorgeous Thing

I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.

(Mary Oliver [source])

Not from whiskey river:

On Meditating, Sort Of

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?

Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place—half-asleep—where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter—
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints—
all that glorious, temporary stuff.

(Mary Oliver [ibid.])

…and:

Villanelle [*]

Bouncing along like a punch-drunk bell,
its Provençal shoes too tight for English feet,
the villanelle is a form from hell.

Balletic as a tapir, strong as a gazelle,
strict rhyme and formal meter keep a beat
as tiresome as a punch-drunk bell—

hop talking hip hop at the IHOP—no substitutions
on menu items, no fries with the chimichanga,
no extra syrup—what the hell

was that? Where did my rhyme go—uh, compel—
almost missed it again, damn, can you feel the heat
coming off this sucker? Red hot! Ding! (Sound of a bell.)

Hey, do I look like a bellhop to you, like an el-
evator operator, like a trained monkey or a parakeet
singing in my cage? Get the hell

out of the Poetry Hotel!
defeat mesquite tis mete repeat
Bouncing along like a punch-drunk bell,
the villanelle is a form from—Write it!—hell.

(Campbell McGrath [source])

_______________________

* The villanelle is a poetic form of an almost insanely confining nature. Wikipedia sums it up this way:

The villanelle consists of five stanzas of three lines (tercets) followed by a single stanza of four lines (a quatrain) for a total of nineteen lines. It is structured by two repeating rhymes and two refrains: the first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.

(Here and elsewhere, the stock response to a request for an example is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”) The summary doesn’t even begin to do it justice. For more information, see the rest of the Wikipedia entry; the Academy of American Poets page about it; and/or the (very limited) definition provided by the Poetry Foundation. WikiHow also includes a useful guide to writing a villanelle, for those of you disposed to obsessive/compulsive masochism.

I like about Campbell McGrath’s version, above, that the anguish of constructing one is laid bare in the poem itself.

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