Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ A Grain Of Sand

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” — Robert W. Service


“Faith as tiny as a grain of sand allows us to move mountains”— Paulo Coelho

“In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles in every grain of sand”— Bob Dylan

“Individually, every grain of sand brushing against my hands represents a story, an experience, and a block for me to build upon for the next generation.”— Raquel Cepeda, Bird of Paradise: How I became Latina

Midweek Motif ~ A Grain of Sand 

 I read somewhere, “Sand is serious and entertaining”.

In fact sands could be fascinating story tellers of the distant past.

In 1922, a famous necklace with a scarab beetle carved from a glowing, yellow-green, gem-like material which could not be recognized at the time discovered from Tutankhamun’s tomb, came to be known as a unique silica glass (28 million years old and 98% pure, from a particular part of the Libyan desert) in the 1990’s.

There’s a realm of fantasy under our feet when we walk on a beach. We are unaware how the meiofauna there, are striving hard to stop the beach going anoxic [starved of oxygen], in their home of a grain of sand. For them only the sparkling shores have not yet turned into a sticky, stinking mudflat.

A single grain of sand matters in this grand scheme of our universe.

Let A Grain of Sand find its way into your lines today J

Auguries of Innocence
by William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage 
Puts all Heaven in a Rage 
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons 
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions 
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate 
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road 
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 
Each outcry of the hunted Hare 
A fibre from the Brain does tear 
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing  

The rest of the poem is here 


 View With A Grain Of Sand
by Wislawa Szymborska

We call it a grain of sand,

but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.

It does just fine, without a name,

whether general, particular,

permanent, passing,

incorrect, or apt.

Our glance, our touch means nothing to it.

It doesn’t feel itself seen and touched.

And that it fell on the windowsill

is only our experience, not its.

For it, it is not different from falling on anything else

with no assurance that it has finished falling

or that it is falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,

but the view doesn’t view itself.

It exists in this world

colorless, shapeless,

soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake’s floor exists floorlessly,

and its shore exists shorelessly.

The water feels itself neither wet nor dry

and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.

They splash deaf to their own noise

on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beheath a sky by nature skyless

in which the sun sets without setting at all

and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.

The wind ruffles it, its only reason being

that it blows.

A second passes.

A second second.

A third.

But they’re three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like courier with urgent news.

But that’s just our simile.

The character is inverted, his hasts is make believe,

his news inhuman.    

A Grain of Sand
by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
'Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so

To guide each vital stream,

With over all to boss the show

A Deity supreme.

Such magnitudes oppress my mind;

From cosmic space it swings;

So ultimately glad to find

Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,

While round the earth careens,

I hold a single grain of sand

And wonder what it means.

Ah! If I had the eyes to see,

And brain to understand,

I think Life's mystery might be

Solved in this grain of sand.  

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—

                (Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ News Media)

. . . . 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Blog of the Week ~ Bjorn Rudberg and the Aged Librarian

I am sure you have all come across Bjorn Rudberg's series of poems about the Aged Librarian, which he has been writing all winter at Bjorn Rudberg's Writings. This is a series that has interested me very much, and I thought you might like to hear more about it as well. Pour yourself a nice cup of afternoon tea and draw your chairs in close. Let's find out about this intriguing character, and the poet who created him!

Sherry: Bjorn, I have been so intrigued by the series you have been writing about the aged librarian.  How and why did he appear, the first time? Tell us about him.

Bjorn: My very first idea of the aged librarian came from a prompt about Jorge Louis Borges. One of his more famous short stories called “The Library of Babel” has always been close to my heart. I don’t think it was so much the library itself but the sense of a librarian that fascinated me. The idea or a concept of an ancient scholar is a great attraction to me. I think many people reading about him recognize themselves in him. 


The aged librarian collects ideals:
he’s saving fragments, bulbs and seeds
of scribbled shorthand, notes and antidotes.
He shuffles words and stanzas
tries to set them juxtaposed against his memory of youth:
the boisterous marketplace before he closed the doors;
the recollections of the lips he never dared to kiss,
her breasts, her hair and music that he failed to play.

He’s lacking soil and sun of conversations,
Stiff from loneliness and books his life is hushed,
it’s slow and collected possibilities have withered in a corner.
Ideas gather dust and resolutions rust
as the aged librarian is waiting for a crust of metaphors
to grow, connect his dreams.
The aged librarian closes his eyes, sighs.
December 22, 2016

Sherry: I can see him, and he looks a bit like my dream man. Smiles.

Bjorn: Thank you. I think he lacks some social skills in dealing with women. An influence for me is Stoner from the great book with the same name by John Williams about a man who is lost to the world, but still survives with his words. There is something tender and vulnerable with him, yet something very strong. I often draw inspiration from opposites in my poetry, and I think I have poured a little bit of that into the character.


His finger traces spines; blind
he reads the gilded letters
embossed as braille
he’s forming stanzas in his mind.
Heart of darkness, beating.
Craving fleur de mal.
But the aged librarian can only dream in sepia
of nyloned legs
her heels, mischievous curls she’d kept hidden;
the way she used to eyelash him;
loins were longing.

his lips are parchment (dry from poetry)
forever reaching
back in time to the moment she moved out and left him pressed
between the pages
as a bookmark (one of many) in her books unread
January 5, 2017

Sherry: A lonely librarian, pressed between the pages of a book. How poignant!

Bjorn: I always think of the librarian becoming indistinguishable from the books. I think he represents our collective memories, so I also wanted to use him as a character talking about the end of times. Some of the scenes are apocalyptic, and I think the library can be the last refuge of humanity. That's why I refer to Plato and Atlantis in a few of my poems. He only sees the shadows on the wall through his books, but yet I think he sees much more than most of us. I want to capture him as a metaphor about everything we are about to lose.

Sherry: I love that description, and insight. It is hard to see the writing on the wall of these times we live in. I love the idea of the library (books) as the last refuge. Certainly, books have always been mine.

The Stockholm Library


He always thought that
could be built as essays (unabridged).
That if he listened — after-
wards he’d be allowed to speak his mind.
“It’s like crossing ridges —
once you reach the highest point it’s downhill
to the valley below”
But timeslots slips; the aged librarian
and builds his thesis,
breath by breath,
strong with reason — walled with words
and punctuated,
it’s perfected
juxtaposed to synthesis;
“My mouth is filled with pebbles”.
He believes that chasms of treason
can be closed
if just once
he’d be allowed to speak his mind.

He lights a candle. Sighs.
Cause bridges crumble and his pens run dry.
That’s why
the aged librarian just makes sense in
January 10, 2017

Sherry: This has been a wonderful unfolding, with great development of character. Once he was here, what kept him coming back?

Bjorn: Already from my first poem I felt that he can be my spokesperson. Not an alter ego, but maybe a persona that is only part of me. He has begun to appear in my thoughts, and whenever I feel lost for inspiration I think… what my aged librarian wants to say. He has become a voice that whispers words of sorrow, and a bit of hope.

Sherry: That’s pretty cool, Bjorn, "a voice that whispers words of sorrow, and a bit of hope”. We can all use an inner voice like that. Or maybe we all have aged librarians inside us. What are you seeking to express in this series of poems?

Bjorn: I think I want to say many things, but to a large extent he is a metaphor for everything that we are losing. He stands up against stupidity (though he has his own stupidity). I feel that libraries are changing, that the written word has lost its ground. This is why he is often alone, by himself in his large library. I think he has lost a lot of things in his life, but he has gained some things as well.

Library in the Rijks Museum of Amsterdam


On new year’s eve he lets the ancient sunshine in
to dust beloved shelves.
He sits beside the window drinking tea
and watches specks of dust transform from books to stars.
He notices their subtle scintillation
before they fall to rest.
Seemingly so random
dust becomes
(in Brownian movements)
the harbinger of matter,
a silent voice of molecules, an echo of what’s real.
The aged librarian (used to reading shadows)
finds how close to Plato’s cave this daylight really is.
‘It’s like my youth’, he mumbles,
‘I harvest now in aftermath of thoughts,
the random movement
that I once attributed to hormones’.

The aged librarian sighs:
‘I think that Plato knew that only
when you’ve aged with books,
you know how little you have seen
and tomorrow yet another year has passed.’
And in the setting sun the aged librarian
waits; his tea is growing cold.
December 31, 2016

Sherry: You identify with him in some ways, it is clear.

Bjorn: As I said, I think there are things I identify with, but many other things are just the opposite of me. While he is shy and silent, I am loud and boisterous. He would probably like me way less that I would like him. Part of him is an ideal, part of him is a fear of what I once could be.

The tea set by Claude Monet


“Is the library like woods or sea?
Do books resemble trees or waves?”
Maybe they are both, the aged librarian ponders
as he stirs his Oolong tea
while sifting through his childhood memories.
He recalls his mother’s hand in his,
still warm with spring
she taught him trees,
how boughs had voice,
how leaves were syllables
each tree a changing poesy,
each path a syllabus to follow.
The library is woods.
He feels his father’s hand in his,
callous, salt with brine
he taught him of the sails and waves,
how sea is meter, wind the strings
of songs; each wave another iamb.
He taught him
how the stanzas can be storms or doldrums,
how a lighthouse is another path to shore;
another syllabus.
Hence library is sea.

He sips his Oolong tea; he smiles;
his world is woods and sea;
his words are waves and trees;
his home the library, as he was taught.

Sherry: Sigh. I love this poem the best of all. You have developed this character so well, I feel I know him. To wrap up,  I would love to include "Books and Gardens" here, just because it is beautiful and fits so well with the librarian. Let's read:

Books and Gardens

My garden is a library, my books are flowerbeds.
When leafing through my books I find how flowers
in my garden are like poems. A few are buds,
in splash of color, shy, still sparked from hope;
they need my care and warmth of voice before
they bloom. But books are also thistles, thorned
unwanted, proud and wonderful in purpleness.
My garden bulbs are words, my garden is a place
for poesy and posies, for sense and sentences
and even in the winter I can hear a voice of violas.
Words can be like fir-trees, stern but comfort givers,
my shelter when the winds have teeth and claws,
My garden has a hermit’s cave with walls of books
and there I am alone librarian: I am gardener of
willows; I am the caretaker of growth and spelling.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
November 15, 2016

Sherry: This is lovely, Bjorn. I completely agree with Cicero: with a garden and a library, we have all we need. I have been rich in both this lifetime.

In closing, would you like to tell us your plans for this series? Do you foresee a book?

Bjorn: One of the reasons I keep writing about my aged librarian is that I had a vague idea of making him a character in a poetry book. I would really love to do a book that is not a chap book, but a poetry book that you can read from start to finish.  I would probably add information between the poems, and poems yet unwritten. At some point I will write about the library itself as well. But I am open to any ideas on how such a book would be.

Sherry: Your outline sounds absolutely wonderful to me. I am a big proponent of self-publishing our own books, as it is easy and affordable. But your series sounds so original and intriguing, I think a publisher would be very interested. We'll watch with interest for the book to appear. We can launch it here!

Thank you, Bjorn, for telling us more about your aged librarian. Since we have been enjoying this series so much, it is nice to get a more in-depth look at him. I have developed a little crush on him. LOL.

Wasn't this interesting, my friends? I look forward to reading more about this appealing character. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Poetry Pantry #350

A Giraffe Sculpture in Front of an Art Gallery
(just for fun!)
Greetings, friends!   I hope you have had a chance to write a poem to share with us in the Pantry today.

If you haven't read Rosemary's Moonlight Musings, do scroll back.   There is a very interesting discussion going on about whether we should separate a writer from his/her art-- whether or not an artist's personal life (for better or worse) matters.  Do take a look.

We really had an enjoyable Midweek Motif this week, where Susan presented us with the timely topic "Holiness / Holy Day."  It really got many of us thinking.  Sumana's prompt on Wednesday will be "A Grain of Sand."  Think about it ahead of time, and see what you can come up with.

On Monday Sherry is featuring one of our very prolific poets -- Bjorn Rudberg. I know you will enjoy this blog of the week!

Now, with no delay, let's share poetry.  Link your poem below.  Say hello in the comments.   And visit others who share their work.  See you on the trail. Enjoy!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Moonlight Musings

The Singer or the Song? 

Should we – can we? – separate the artist from the art?

A few weeks ago, shortly after learning of the death of Derek Walcott, I posted a lovely poem of his in my column The Living Dead, to honour the fine poetic legacy he left us.

Not long after that, I was shocked to read about accusations that he had sexually harrassed two female students at separate universities where he was teaching, giving one a low grade for refusing his advances and threatening the other to stop a play of hers from being produced unless....

Here is a brief and fairly neutral article on the matter.

I found a number of other excellent articles online by Googling Derek Walcott accusations, in several of which the authors consider the thorny question of how much this should influence our opinion of him as a poet. The rights and wrongs of the matter are a bit complicated, due to the fact that Walcott denied the second allegation at least, and the case was settled out of court.

In the first case, apparently he did admit to it. The University dealt with it, upgrading the student's mark and giving Walcott a reprimand. We might think they didn't regard it very seriously. But the case was a factor in the University's eventual reform of its policies around such issues.

Some people think it was all a smear campaign to stop him accepting a posting to Oxford later in his life.

They might be excused for this view by the fact that the woman who was appointed to that posting instead of him was the one who reminded everyone of the allegations against him – unintentionally, she said  – which persuaded him to take himself out of the running rather have the speculation revived. When that fact emerged, she herself felt obliged to vacate the position! (I told you it was complicated.) Some highly respected poets argued for Walcott's appointment, others spoke against it.

I found an article in The New Republic particularly thoughtful and interesting. It mentions other famous writers and public figures who are strongly suspected of conduct in their private lives (in some cases proven) which we might well find reprehensible – from Charles Dickens to David Bowie (and we could probably all add a few more names to those listed) – and postulates 'a literary patriarchy that stretches back centuries,' in which it has been 'easy for great men to hide their offenses behind the magisterial cloak of their art'.

It's not quite so easy any more, but still there are those who get away with a lot. I don't meant this Musing to be about Walcott in particular; he's one recent example (recent in my personal knowledge anyway). Let's take Bowie, an artist whose work I've long loved and admired. Again, it is only recently that I came across allegations that – early in his career at least – he was quite happy to intoxicate and seduce his under-age groupies. Indeed, it was a time when that was pretty much expected of rock stars, and we all thought the victims were willing. On the face of it, perhaps some were, but nowadays we would question whether immaturity and intoxication can really permit of consent.

Whatever may be true about these particular men, I think it's fair to say that not all famous writers are also good people.  But then, most people are not entirely good, are we? How to judge? Where does one draw the line? Tolstoy, we are told, took his long-suffering wife for granted as she supported him selflessly so he could create his novels. Not very nice, not at all endearing; but does it rate with flagrant philanderers, thieves and brawlers (think Villon), addicts or sexual predators? 

And, whatever the sin in the personal life, how does it affect our reading of the poetry? 

Perhaps it's easier to investigate if we think of the visual arts. When I am moved by Picasso's Weeping Woman, do I also reflect on how badly he treated women in his life? Should I? (And what if I don't even know? I do, obviously, but there must be viewers who don't.)

Painting in National Gallery of Victoria. Image used here according to Fair Use.

Or, if I am basking in the sonorous words of Kubla Khan, does it worry me that Coleridge was reputedly under the influence of narcotics when he wrote it? Should it worry me? Should I, rather, rejoice in the way that this habit (presumably) enhanced his poetic gifts?

Perhaps you think drug addiction is a different kind of flaw, victimising only oneself? A man I once knew was a friend of Australian poet Michael Dransfield's mother, whom he met after her son had died from an overdose. This man was furious with Dransfield for the sorrow he had inflicted on his mother. Also, he had seen some of Dransfield's poems in manuscript and roundly castigated them as 'chicken scratchings' which in no way justified the drug use and early death. I don't know what he read, and it's true that Dransfield's last published poems were fragmentary compared with earlier ones, but many of his fellow-poets (myself included) will tell you he was a beautiful and important poet. I would say (and did say) that the quality of the verse is a separate issue: that the drug taking was a sad fact that didn't justify the writing whether it was chicken scrawlings or beautiful poetry; and also that it is beautiful, lasting poetry, which does not depend on his drug use to make it so.

But I am just reading a new memoir, The Green Bell, written decades after the event by Paula Keogh, who was Dransfield's fiancée at the time of his death. A beautifully honest book, it makes it clear that Dransfield himself believed that the drugs would serve to enhance his poetry (even if he was also vulnerable to them for less conscious reasons). I never met Dransfield in person, and I suppose no-one can be sure if he was right or wrong in his belief. (My only comparison is alcohol, and I learned a long time ago that writing while drunk doesn't produce good poetry.) But it's my opinion that he had a phenomenal talent which wouldn't have needed chemical enhancement.

However, it appears he did deliberately engage in self-destructive, illegal behaviour which caused great hurt to others as well as to himself. Does that stop me loving what he wrote? Does it taint my experience? No, not at all. I feel sad about it, but then much of the poetry is sad anyway. But what if he was right? What if the drugs did make the poetry more beautiful? If he should indeed prove to be an important and lasting poet, was he in fact justified by his immortality, no matter who else suffered? A difficult question!

I'm afraid I don't spare a thought for Picasso's lovers when I am sitting in front of Weeping Woman. At other times I am aware of what a nasty so-and-so he could be, and deplore it. But while I'm looking at the painting, that predominates.

On the other hand, I can't hear a Rolf Harris song any more without revulsion at the thought of what a hypocrite the man turned out to be. Is that because of the type of wrongdoing? Is it because of the relative powerlessness of the victims? Harm to children is particularly horrifying.

What about Walcott? Can we still read his magnificent verse with the same delight in its magnificence? Or does it seem different now? What about Bowie? Is our enjoyment of his work diminished in the face of his exploitation of minors? Or can we excuse and ignore that on the grounds that (a) it was a different era with different mores and (b) he was a multi-talented genius who left the word enriched by his art? (Do you wish I would have just shut up about them both and not destroyed your illusions?)

Should we all stop writing because we have done things we feel guilty and ashamed about? (I'm certain we all have.) Many of us are honest about our failings, I think, not trying to deny them but seeking to grow past them. This, if so, makes us better human beings – but does it have anything to do with our art, either way? Indeed, if we all lived perfectly clean and wholesome lives and had only pure thoughts, would our art even be interesting?

Relax, I'm not suggesting we should be evil. (Well, maybe just a little bit naughty would be OK? Just sometimes?) But I suppose if a law-abiding, kind-hearted citizen can write successful crime thrillers (and I know two commercially and critically successful women writers who fit this description) then perhaps a person with serious character defects can nevertheless create works of art that uplift the human spirit?

Is it a matter of degree? It is said that Hitler's master of propaganda, Goebbels, wrote poetry and thought of himself as a sensitive man. The mere idea makes me shudder! There is no way I would read poetry by Goebbels if I ever got the chance. I wouldn't care if it was the most brilliant poetry ever produced. (I doubt that it could be, coming from a person like that, but life is strange and human beings complex; anything's possible.) I wouldn't even bother finding out. The point is, in the end – and even though my life has revolved around poetry since I was seven – there are human values more important than art.

Which ones, and how much more important? And which art, come to that? Goebbels is an extreme case, on which it's very easy to take a stand. So is Rolf Harris, in a different way – no-one would claim Jake the Peg to be high art. But what about all the in-betweens? Where does one draw the line?

What do you think?

Feel free to express your opinion in the comments. I'd love to know how others deal with this dilemma – if indeed it is a dilemma for you. And do pop back during the week to see where the discussion leads!