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He who sleeps in the raw, is in for a nude awakening! The Poetry Of Clothes.

 

“Clothes make the man”, Mark Twain said, “Naked people have little or no influence on clothesbuilding05society.”

So does what we wear define who we are? Well the fashion industry want us to believe so, for this 1.7 Trillion Dollar industry, it’s well within their interest to keep us up all night worrying about what we’re going to wear tomorrow. Intense consumerism and disposable fashion have changed how we dress, but it’s also created a monster polluter: the clothing industry leaves a huge carbon footprint. Now, most of us would consider ourselves fairly environmentally aware, we recycle, turn out the lights, leave the car at home, but get this: 3 kilos of chemicals, 3,625 litres of water and 400mj of energy, the equivalent of leaving a light bulb on for 116 days, that‘s what went into producing the this pair of jeans I have on today! One pair of jeans. Shocking isn’t it? I should remove them immediately!  But it is what it is, it’s the nature of the beast and every industry has it’s pro’s and con’s, whether we like it or not, we are tied to this industry by the fabric that we wear.

 
And what are we wearing? What, apart from the seasons, are our poets wearing? Well Robert Pinsky is wearing a Shirt, whose history is longer than it’s sleeves.  Pablo Neruda praises the virtues of his woollen socks.  Actually, you can always rely on Pablo to cut through the snobbery of poetry and gift it’s beauty back to where it belongs – with us. Pablo Neruda was the greatest Latin American writer of the 20th Century. Politically he was a socialist, so his focus was on ordinary people, community and equality and through his poems, he dispelled that myth that poetry is out of reach, confined only to academics or to the elite in our society. In his poem, Ode To My Socks, from his three books of Elemental Odes, in which he praises the things of ordinary life – lemons, dictionaries, sea-gulls – he shows us that we can find poetry everywhere, in everything, even in a pair of socks! He receives a pair as a gift, compares them to fish, birds, fire, bestows almost mystical qualities on them, and like any beautiful gift you feel unworthy of, you’re tempted to put it away in a drawer, keep it safe, and out of reach, like the way many of us treat poetry, with great deference, as something set apart, but he resisted he says, ‘the mad impulse to put his socks in a golden cage and each day give them birdseed and pieces of pink melon.’ He tells us that goodness, or poetry, is not out of reach, that the very definition of beauty is a pair of woollen socks in winter. So you heard it here first, Pablo Neruda said it’s okay to give socks as Christmas gifts again this year!

 

Now for the cost-conscious and ethically minded, shopping for second-hand clothes is a clothing-quotes-8fashionable alternative to larger retail chains. By thrift-shopping, you get to look unique for half cost, to your purse and the environment, and your money usually goes to a good cause too!  But have you ever wondered about who the person was who wore the coat, the blouse, the black leather pants before you? Well, after American poet Ruth Stone, brought her second-hand coat home, she began to embody it’s previous owners life. Finding in it’s pockets, all the random things we retain and forget about on a daily basis, like ticket stubs and tissues. Stone wrote poetry her whole life, referring to it as a stream that ran along beside her, talking to her and she just wrote down what it said. Much of it, however, was marked by her husbands suicide, so she broaches themes such as death, grief and loss with a double-edged dose of tragedy and humour.   That pre-loved clothes though, can inspire such philosophical thinking, is surely what makes purchasing them twice as nice

 

Kim Addonizio is looking fabulous, in a tight and flimsy, backless red dress.  Her poetry is clothing-2known for its grit and wit and here she asks   What Do Women Want? from her collection Tell Me. I don’t know Kim, is it thicker materials? Real pockets?  How about full length sleeves or actual breast room? (yes, I’m looking at you high-street retailers!) ‘I want a red dress’ she says, ‘flimsy, cheap and too tight.’ It’s a poem about the negative stereotypes we must endure as women, how we are viewed as bodies first and women later. There’s a feminist v’s femininity interplay going on here, women want to look and feel attractive for themselves, not necessarily for the opposite sex. The speaker is a confident, independent and sassy woman, body, mind and spirit, and as she ‘walks down the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window’, she wants to do it freely, looking how and wearing what she chooses, without fear of being labelled or stereotyped. I don’t have a red dress but I want one now!

 

You know, I think what all our poets have shown us today is that clothes are more than just clothes. They have a huge emotional value, and an association with experiences, people and important times in our lives. Brides keep their wedding dresses, we hold on to a child’s first pair of shoes, there’s your first-loves cardigan (oops) Clothes tell stories, like the Shoes that are the face of Charles Simic’s inner life, Ruth Stones Second-hand Coat and Robert Pinsky’s Shirt with decades of manufacturing history. I wonder if the cloth we wear preserve the dreams of the hands who cut it?  And I wonder what the future holds for the world of clothing? Fashion is always changing and science and design firms are constantly developing new fabrics, some that can even generate electricity, change colour, adjust temperature and charge phones! Apparently, fibre-scientists over at Lacoste are researching self-lengthening pants and dresses, so who knows maybe our hemming days are behind us 🙂

Also featured today: Maxine Kumin How It Is and Charles Simic My Shoes, along with music from Gregory Porter, Suede, George Ezra and The Irrepressibles.

“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.” – Albert Einstein

 

 

 

 

 

The Mountains Are Calling And I Must Go!

Today is natureall about the natural world around us, from caterpillars to columnar tree shapes, bird-bills to blizzards and snapping turtles to tornadoes; Nature’s got it all going on, it’s wondrous, it is us and it’s a recurring theme in poetry. ‘First follow nature’ Alexander Pope remarked in his Essay on Criticism; ’Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’ asks Henry Thoreau in his part-personal book Walden about simple living.
Poets and writers are akin to spies when it comes to observing Nature, and have always drawn on her beauty, landscapes and seasons, through metaphor – to better understand ourselves and our behaviour, or to convey deep metaphysical messages and stark ecological ones, or simply to celebrate life’s 3 and a half billion years of existence!
To help us, Gary Snyder gets ecological with his observations by Frazier Creek Falls,  a meditation really on the natural world, similar to the Japanese Haiku tradition, which reduces the world to a kernel of acute observation. And as I read this, I found it to be one of those poems that demand absolute stillness, in keeping with the geology and pyramidal pines of the scene he’s describing. He creates a stunning picture of what he sees from the falls and explores the idea that we are linked to everything around us, man and nature are one ‘we are it, it sings through us’ he says. We are interconnected. And if we took the time to really consider this concept, then we could reach a more ecologically sound understanding of what it means to grow and develop as a species. If we stopped trying to control nature and began instead to work with her, life would be far less complicated.  A Zen Buddhist, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, skins his own bullfrogs and spends nights reading the constellations, Gary Snyder is a poet entrenched in the nature!

Jane Hirshfield’s Zen Buddhist training taught her two things: silence and the desire to call forward a complete attention. – Inhabiting her own experience I guess. Recalling Mary Oliver’s attention to detail and Gary Snyder’s meditations, Hirshfield finds a deeper understanding of herself in her interactions with nature. Her poem, Three Foxes By the Edge Of A Field At Twilight, reflects on how much in nature is hidden from us and what in turn we keep hidden from each other. The foxes are visible until she tries to approach, then the woods suddenly take them back. She continues walking with an acquaintance from whom she holds back some of herself. Perhaps the foxes represent the thoughts she can‘t verbalise, the ones that return to the heart, revealing something to herself and to us: that in our desire to be closer to nature we come to realise that we are closer to ourselves than we know. That old Lao Tzu proverb comes to mind ‘he who knows, does not speak. He who speaks does not know.’  The poem is from her Selected Poetry volume Each Happiness Ringed By Lions.

‘Are you bowed down in heart?’ Asks James Weldon Johnson in his poem Deep In The Quiet Wood, ‘Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life? Then come away, come to the peaceful wood, here bathe your soul in silence.’ Those lines are beautiful aren’t they? And they jumped out at me, reminding me of places I often go to escape, the traffic, bustling streets and … disruptive neighbours. My favourite place to recharge, is at the grounds of Ashford Castle in the village of Cong, Co. Mayo.  It’s a wonderful amenity with tranquil woods of varieties of broad-leaf, evergreen and native trees, it’s on the shores of Lough Corrib with it’s meditative crystal clear waters and there’s a school of falconry there also so if you’re lucky enough to arrive during a hawk-walk, you’ll be captivated by these amazing creatures soaring and diving, their bells jingling through the trees. American poet Wendell Berry also espouses the view that we can find solace in nature, that the spirit of the natural world can restore the human spirit. ’When despair grows in me‘, he says ’I come into the peace of wild things’ , there is somewhere we can go to relieve the anxieties of our lives, but you know sometimes even reading this poem I find myself transported and automatically relaxed. From the 1968 collection Openings, we’ll read The Peace Of Wild Things.

There’s a lot to be gained through communing with the natural world, and I suppose we shouldn’t have to try we are a part of it, we are stardust after all. This world is the house we live in, packed full of creatures and plants and natural wonders and our over-exploitation of it is unfortunate, every habitat we destroy today results in the loss of a species tomorrow – we all know this – primates, tropical orchids, numerous species of birds and fish are all at risk. But more worryingly, because they thrive on human activity, things like cockroaches and rats are the only species unaffected! So think on China & America!  All we can do is look after our own patch, make a home for nature isn’t that the tag-line?

Also on today’s show, I read Lingering Happiness by Mary Oliver, Putting In The Seed by Robert Frost and Summer Farm by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig.  Music from Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm, Message To Bears, Yaruma and much more!

Poetry and Politics

So where does dreamy poetry meet gritty politics? Well according to English poet Percy politicsShelley in his essay In Defence Of Poetry ’Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ , what does he mean? That poets have some sort of moral power or influence? I think what he means is that poets are not just writing poems, just like politicians are not just making laws, but they’re both engaged in imagining new ways of perceiving and being in this world of ours.
So in this way, passion and emotion run deep in both poetry and politics, appealing to the sense that things could be otherwise.  Both are concerned with values, rights and nationhood. Rhetoric is a big deal, the basic purpose of political rhetoric is to move men to action or alliance, poetry moves us in emotional, individualistic and immeasurable ways.
Poets are in the business of communication and expression, and have always invoked controversy for their social and political commentary. Politicians use poetry to their advantage too, in terms of speech-writing say. A little bit of flair can make any speech artistic and create lines that will be remembered for generations. Think of JFK’s inaugural speech “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Style is substance in political speech writing and poetry with it’s imagery and rhythm can strike the right chord. Poetry has always been read at Presidential inaugurations, JFK had Robert Frost; Bill Clinton had Maya Angelou and Obama had Elizabeth Alexander and here in Ireland we went a step further, and got a two-for-one offer in our poet-president Michael D Higgins!

Political poetry is a poetry of social concern and conscience, a way to exercise ones right to freedom of expression, which is what today’s poets have done.

In his poem Negro, Langston Hughes gives us a gripping account of the African-American experience through history. Hughes confronted racial stereotypes and his African-American themes made him a primary contributor to the Harlem renaissance of the 1920’s. He wrote the poem around the time of the birth of the civil rights movement, a time of racial pride. It is a direct and comprehensible lesson in black history, violent and oppressive yes, but this is a vital culture, central to the development of the world as we know it, the sense of pride is palpable, I am a negro, black like the depths of my Africa, powerful, there’s a huge freedom there and still a hope for that oft elusive future.

From his prison cell, the romantic communist poet Nazim Hikmet urges us to live life as if there’s nothing named death. Hikmet was a Turkish poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist.  He was repeatedly arrested for his political beliefs and spent much of his adult life either in prison or in exile in Russia. Why did I choose him? Well he was a rebel, a romantic and he stood up for his beliefs, whatever the consequence – which was usually incarceration. His poem On Living, informed in part by his communist leanings, and the length of time he spent behind bars, is concerned with the politics of living; working at ones life as one would an occupation; making it as passionate and fulfilling as possible – living is no laughing matter he says, whatever our circumstances we must live as if we will never die.
Jean-Paul Satre once said ‘Everything has been figured out, except how to live’, but here Hikmet urges us to be happy, achieve our potential, never let our fears or societal expectations hold us back. Our purpose, as is sees it, is to live life, not just look for the meaning in it. For one day this world will grow cold.

We also read The Mother, today, recollecting the emotions aroused by the Easter rising, from Irish revolutionary poet Patrick Pearse. The Rising was an insurrection in Dublin of about 1,200 men and women from the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army and the women’s group, Cuman na mBan. They were fighting for independence from the UK and although the rebellion failed, it did pave the way for the creation of a free state six years later. The rising was led by intellectuals and artists – sixteen of them were executed including the teacher & poet Patrick Pearse whose poem The Mother, written the night before he died, describes a mother’s thoughts on the death of her two sons (both Patrick and his younger brother Willie were executed). Why this poem above other rebel poems of the rising?  Well it’s intensely emotional, it’s the Irish the mother thing, we all know they live for their children.

Political poetry does more than just arouse feeling, it can take us right into the heart of society, it will always be there to remind us where we are, who we are, to move us, to offer solace, to carry news, sometimes that news inspires, sometimes it enrages – ‘Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry’ Auden wrote in his elegy for Yeats and as we’ve seen from Hikmet and communism to Chinese revolution and Irish rebellion, from Shelley after Peterloo in 1819 who said ‘ye are many and they are few’, Gil Scot Heron ‘the revolution will not be televised’ it seems that politics has hurt a lot of poets into poetical response.

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
Plato

Also on the show: Adrienne Rich, Li Young Lee, Muriel Rukeyser along with music from The WaterBoys, Sam Cooke, Billie Holiday & John Grant.

 

A Poet Walks Into A Bar …

The double negative didn’t walk into no bar!humour

What’s a Grecian Urn? About twenty thousand drachmas a year after taxes!

Okay I’ll stop now, so today we’re talking about HUMOUR and like poetry, humour is everywhere and we all respond to it. Cracking jokes can take the awkwardness out of some social situations; at work it can help build relationships; it’s a coping strategy too that relieves tension taking the edge off daily stresses which is critical to promoting harmony in our lives and diffusing negative emotions. In the serious business of poetry, humour is often viewed with suspicion and yes there are a lot of nonsense verses out there, fun nursery rhymes and terrible gibberish but then you get the great stuff, the satire, the irony the comic timing from writers like Billy Collins who uses comedy to lighten the pain of loss in his poem Putting Down The Cat which we’ll read later, but also here about his dead parents in No Time, he writes:

In a rush this weekday morning,
I tap the horn as I speed past the cemetery
Where my parents are buried
Side by side beneath a slab of smooth granite
Then, all day, I think of him rising up
To give me that look
Of knowing disapproval
While my mother calmly tells him to lie back down.

So through humour he crafts a poem that is full of feeling without being over sentimental. This reminds me of something Russian playwright Anton Chekhov said about having a necessary coldness when you write ’when you want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder … the more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make’. So using poetic devices such as humour, satire and hyperbole ensure that otherwise serious topics pack more of a punch.

When we laugh, we temporarily give ourselves over to those who make us laugh and that’s what we’ll do now. Today’s show features Putting Down The Cat by Billy Collins, The Cremation Of Sam McGee by Robert William Service (read by Johnny Cash), God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught, Symposium by Paul Muldoon and also, in Ill-wishing Him British poet Dorothy Nimmo takes a stoical approach to her lovers departure. You know it hurts when somebody leaves us and I think that how we heal depends on how we deal. Our outlook is everything and sometimes humour can help to mend the wounds of loss. Humorists have one cardinal rule: Don’t be inhibited. It’s better to take a rebellious attitude toward sensitive subjects than to pussyfoot around them. Nimmo writes from a pared back place, of a strength gained through painful insight, and with clever sleight of hand, she wittily gets her own back on the man who walks out on her.

Now there’s a joker in every pack isn’t there. There’s always someone who will, I don’t know, lets say eat the food someone else was saving! We know who you are William Carlos Williams! Somebody has eaten all the plums – and New Jersey doctor and poet William Carlos Williams gives us a poem written in the form of a note or memo left on a kitchen table, probably a note to his wife that turned into a poem, or as the experts call it – a found poem – where you take an existing text and refashion and reorder it. Was it a fair trade for the plums she was saving for herself? Is he really sorry? Known as an innovator, his poem This Is Just To Say is written in the imagist style, a poetic form that focuses on precise imagery and sharp language.  It reminds me of younger days when I used to house-share with people and we’d all have our names left on random grocery items in the fridge or in the cupboard and woe betide anyone who put their hands on my plums!

Next, the American poet and playwright Kenneth Koch gives us a spoof on the plum poem in his Variations On A Theme. Labelled as just a comedic poet, Koch himself spoke of the comic element as something that enabled him to be lyrical. But he was a very funny poet and here in Variations On A Theme By William Carlos Williams, Koch extends the original poem from one to four topics in what seems like almost a retaliation for Williams having eaten the plums! The plums were being kept for breakfast but with Koch now having nothing to do he chops down Williams’ house and so on, asking for forgiveness as Williams does in the original.

Remember humour can have a significant positive effect on our lives. Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine and it’s one of the first things we learn to do as newborns. And funny people receive a lot of attention and admiration don’t they? Most studies find humour to be a highly desirable attribute, which probably explains why the acronym GSOH is so popular in dating ads. Humour is big business too, when you think that it influences many of our daily decisions about what books or magazines to read, TV shows to watch, marketers’ are constantly trying to grab our attention with funny ads and products, all with their own in-house humorists writing them. And for writers, its all about imagination, constantly asking what if?, looking at ordinary things in extraordinary ways, it’s imagination that drives comedy and practically everyone has an imagination – or else no one would ever get married BOOM BOOM!

Music from Clem Snide, The Divine Comedy, Morcambe & Wise, Cathy Davey & more.  Enjoy the show!

… p.s.

funny dog sign

 

 

Don’t Regret Your Regrets

To regret deeply, is to live afresh. Henry Thoreauundo

Regret is a way of thinking, in which we blame ourselves for things that happened, or when we feel responsible for a decision that came out badly.  But lamenting things that occurred in the past is part of life, it’s a universal pastime, and this show is more about seeing regret as a reminder of things we can do better as opposed to things we believe we’ve done badly. It’s all about how you look at life really isn’t it.  Regret is an emotion, and we experience it when we think we could be happier now, had we done something differently in the past. Our writers to day are going to help us understand regret, like WS Merwin as he considers that some regrets haunt us more than others. Of the many studies and theories on the subject, it’s been found that regrets over things we didn’t do, persist longer than regrets over things we did. Mainly because, psychologically, when it comes to inaction, our mind’s are then free to imagine in limitless ways, what might have been, what we could have done and how it would all be playing out now in the present. Whereas if we had done something, then there is only one alternative to play with and that’s not having done it, so there’s less opportunity for regret.

We’ll consider where some regrets come from on a familial and marital level, with thoughts from Ann Truitt, who realised too late the necessity for complete honesty in marriage and in love.  Regret can feel so awful because it kind of implies we’re at fault in some way. With thoughts from Parker Palmer and Rumi we’ll consider the benefits of being reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.

 

 

Life is full of choices. Some go well, others go badly wrong, and those that go wrong lead to regret. And as we’ve discussed, some regrets are worse than others. Doing things or not doing things that affect our own lives is bad enough but doing something that has a negative impact on somebody else’s life, is a difficult regret to live with. But we have to live with it, making peace with regret is essential to healthy living.
There’s some comfort in numbers though I think, knowing that there are millions more of us feeling the same level of regret, maybe worse, over education, career, marriage, kids, that hair-cut or dreadful tattoo, consoles me a little. Don’t get me wrong, I mean I torture myself with regrets about not staying in college longer, coming back to Ireland when I was doing well in Europe, I regret the things I say when the red mist comes down, (I have a terrible temper :)), the list is endless but in order for me to move forward, for us to move forward, we have to find ways of forgiving ourselves, having more compassion for ourselves and learning to welcome regret as we would joy or any other emotion, preferably without judgement. Accepting it as part of the human experience, which is easier said than done. American poet and novelist Charlie Smith, I believe, exemplifies this idea of embracing the negative, in his poem In Praise Of Regret.

 

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Galway Kinnell, reminds us of all we have to be thankful for. Reminds us of the importance of engaging with  the ordinary things in life. Despite the horrors of the world, the atrocities committed by us and to us, we are a blessed and fortunate people, living in and with the miracle of creation. In his poem, Why Regret? from his collection Strong Is Your Hold, he pretty much turns regret into gratitude.

 

You know, I’ve always believed that people who say they have no regrets are simply lying. If we’re living we’re regretting. And that’s okay, it’s possible that our regrets aren’t as bad as we think they are and they can be important teachers. Obviously we can’t change the past but we can change how it affects our present. Forgiveness is crucial. I guess instead of beating ourselves up about things beyond our control, we could recognize more the productive side of regret, improving ourselves and putting things right. And remember every moment is an opportunity for change, we can change our attitude, our thinking, we are free to begin again, in the words of Rumi “Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.”

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain.

Music today from Midge Ure, Morrissey, Ben Lee, Yann Tiersan & more…

 

Hope Floats

 

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. – Proverbs 23:18

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our show today is all about HOPE. A salv to last weeks poetry of FEAR we’ll take a slightly more optimistic attitude of mind to look at what role hope plays in our lives. The things we hope for in people, politics, health and in society.  Puritan American poet Emily Dickinson famously called HOPE

The thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

Creating a beautiful metaphorical description of hope as a bird singing in the soul. And it’s interesting she does that because two symbols of hope that come to mind are the Dove and the Swallow, the swallow being the first bird to appear at the end of Winter, heralding the beginning of Spring. She goes on:

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Meaning that nothing, not even the worst hardship or storm could weaken the strength and resolve of the human spirit of HOPE. So with the help of our featured poets we’ll be looking at the places we might expect to find hope, or where we may be surprised to find it with Lisel Mueller.  It is spiritual and physical we are surrounded by it. ‘It hovers in the dark corners’ she says, it’s hope that’s in the earthworm segment, the dogs tail, ‘it drops’ she says ‘from the mushroom gills.’ Sometimes it hides in these places making it difficult for us to maintain hope in tough times, but it is there, inventing our future, inspiring us, it is she says ‘the singular gift we cannot destroy in ourselves’. Meaning hope is intrinsic to life. It is our survival mechanism.

Khaled Mattawa reminds us that it was the hope of a better future that kick-started the Arab Spring five years ago. Young people in the Middle East and North Africa led a major uprising demanding political, economic and social change.  In the early days of the revolution, Mattawa wrote ‘Now that we have tasted hope, we would sooner die than seek any other taste to life’. Hope in the sense of it being a provocative day-dream as opposed to a passive one, people were not content to just accept the bad that exists. It’s true that many cities involved in the uprisings were left traumatised and beleaguered, and fatal mistakes were made, but there were victories, not just ends, but beginnings, evidence that sometimes we can win, hope and  encouragement to keep going.

Irish poet Derek Mahon reconciles the shadow and the light to reassure us that despite the worst that is certain to happen, everything is going to be alright.

You know hope can an have impact on everything from health to work to personal meaning. And as we’ve learned from our poets today, the hard times are going to come but as Emily Dickinson said, it would take some sore storm to abash the bird of hope.  But when I think of Ernest Dowson’s poem on how fleeting life and everything in it is, I just wonder how much it really matters whether we choose hope or despair, neither are wrong, they each reflect human feeling. Story-teller Maria Kallman says We hope. We despair. We hope. We despair. This is what governs us. We have a bipolar system. And I suppose, at the end of the day, we do whatever we can to get ourselves through situations. I know for me anyway I can’t be positive everyday, but on those days, when I can’t be hopeful that everything is getting better I try, at least, to hope that everything is not getting any worse.

Hope is important, because it can make the present moment, less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, then we can bear a hardship today.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Music today from Glen Hansard, Foy Vance, India Arie and more ….

 

 

The Other Side Of Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. Nelson Mandela Fear Headlines

We live in a generalized culture of fear don’t we.   Advertising, politics and news coverage, communicate messages that produce fear and the perpetuation of it through these media has become so insidious, ’if it bleeds, it leads’ is a well known maxim for what determines newsworthiness these days. For example: media coverage of crime and violence seems to be on the increase while actual crime rates are falling. Terror groups appear to have a free media platform, with suicide missions receiving extensive coverage which probably explains their popularity among these groups. Fear is the most powerful force in society, we are preoccupied with it: ISIS, Ebola, Gun Violence, Climate Change and these fears only pave the way really, for a more authoritarian society giving governments more reasons to intrude on our lives and rights. What do our poets think though? Charles Simic put it like this:

Fear passes from man to man
Unknowing
As one leaf passes its shudder
To another.

All at once the whole tree is trembling
And there is no sign of the wind.

Meaning that fear is contagious, suddenly we’re all afraid and nobody remembers why. To further expand on the theme of Fear we’ll read about issues of xenophobia with Thomas Lux who lists the various acts of violence and retaliation carried out over time by different civilizations.  Since the dawn of time one culture has always been pitted against another. The Greeks v Persians, Romans v Phoenicians, the Mongols v Chinese. We fear the ’other’ and in The People of the other Village, Lux highlights this hatred that mankind often exhibits towards itself. He explores the brutal human condition.

The media have a huge role to play in the level of fear in any society. Most of us form our opinions about what’s going on in the world based on what we see or read in the media. Sensationalist media coverage of things like Zika, Cyber Attacks, Terrorism, even Gluten! only serves to keep us in a constant state of fear. Adrienne Rich explores the problems within cultures, the things that keep us afraid. An Atlas Of The Difficult World is basically a mural of the American landscape painted with images of ordinary people, especially women and their experiences. It could be any country’s failures really, its broken promises, poverty and oppression of women. She concludes however, that it’s how one views the world that is important.

We fear what we don’t understand and that fear can lead sometimes to brutality. Our failure to accept people because of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation keeps us tied to what we fear, to bigotry and misunderstanding. Mark Doty’s poem deals with homophobia in particular and thinking about it, religion is the worst propagator of this. It’s preposterous, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church States that, homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. All major Islamic sects too, forbid homosexuality, which is a crime under Sharia Law and treated as such in most Muslim countries. Charlie Howard’s Descent examines the damage that this kind of intolerance can do to people and communities. In Maine in 1985 a 21 year old gay man named Charlie Howard, was harassed and chased by three teenage boys and despite his pleas that he couldn’t swim, they threw him over the State Street Bridge. He drowned. I cried and cried after reading this poem, the imagery is unapologetic as Doty imagines what the boy must be thinking, it’s stark yet warm because despite the bullying, the hatred and discrimination, this innocent boy bears no grudge. Grace is the order of the day and I think simply that the only way for us to fear less is to try to understand more.

Educating ourselves about what’s going on around us politically, socially and economically is the only defence we have against being frightened to death by media coverage of the next new threat. We can no longer afford to lounge around content in our mediocrity, mindlessly accepting as truth, what we’re being fed by those who maintain control by keeping us stupid and very afraid.

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
Plato

Other poets on today’s show Sara Teasdale, Anne Michaels and Randall Jarrell along with music from Ben Howard, The National, Sarah McLachlann, Blue Oyster Cult and more.

 

Letters Mingle Souls

letters

The world is full of paper.
Write to me.
Agha Shahid Ali 

 

I found a box of old letters in my attic. It was full to the brim of all sorts of messages from school friends, work colleagues, letters from family letting me know they’re still alive!  Notes of thanks, beautiful love-letters from Berlin, postcards from Amsterdam, Basil, Hawaii, even a telegram from New York wishing me well in my college exams, this was the Golden Age, long before the dawn of emails or mobile phones and I’ll tell you some of them had me in tears. My goodness what a treasure trove and you know when it comes to memorabilia I am quite the hoarder so finding the bundles of memories wasn’t too surprising but what did catch me off-guard though was the over-whelming sense of nostalgia, how emotional I found re-reading about myself, my past, the people I knew, places I’d been and how in letters everything is so much more intense, more profound than talking face to face or on the telephone. You can really get to the heart of somebody through their letters, in fact I think it was the columnist Phyllis Theroux who said writing letters is a way of going somewhere without moving anything but your heart. And it just got me wondering about how the great poets, writers and thinkers of our time tackle the art of letter writing, what letters mean to them, how in their written world, relationships can evolve and deepen through correspondence. So I’ve chosen a couple of poems on the theme, poems that moved me or spoke to me in some way and I’d like to juxtapose these with actual love letters, maybe not mine but the most heartfelt words written by some very famous people including Beethoven, Albert Einstein and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. We’ll have music too from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Nick Cave and more….

So it’s not nosey to steal a look what the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had to say, we’re just curious okay!

 

 

 

When he was a little known musician he fell in love with a girl named Aloysia Weber, a successful singer from a musical family. She didn’t feel the same however but in 1782 when Aloysia’s father died the Weber’s rented rooms in their house to cover the bills, Mozart, now a promising musician moved in, and soon fell in love with Constanze — the third Weber daughter. In August of that year the two were married and remained together, very much in love, until Mozart’s death nine years later.
Shortly before his sudden death, Mozart wrote to Constanze from Frankfurt, where he had gone to find work to ease the family‘s debt burden. He starts off explaining a few things then he’s unable to mask the depth of his feeling and his playful nature spills onto the page. He writes:

Dearest little Wife of my heart!

I get all excited like a child when I think about being with you again — If people could see into my heart I should almost feel ashamed. Everything is cold to me — ice-cold. — If you were here with me, maybe I would find the courtesies people are showing me more enjoyable, — but as it is, it’s all so empty — adieu — my dear — I am Forever

your Mozart who loves you
with his entire soul.

Sometimes it’s difficult to hold yourself back when you’re in love and I suppose when you’re writing a love letter you imagine it will only ever be read by it’s recipient, but happily for us some of the greatest minds were prudent with their correspondence. I wonder if people would be interested in my love letters a hundred years from now? I wonder if the people I sent them to kept them like me or tore them up and threw them away? Who knows J Someone who held onto his was German born Physicist Albert Einstein. His correspondence with his fellow student and future wife Mileva Maric began in 1897. His family totally disapproved, not least because Einstein was only 21 and they felt that settling down so young would compromise his career prospects. She was his intellectual equal however and based on these letters, he felt that in Mileva he had found his soul mate. When I think of Einstein I think of the philosophy of science, physics, that most famous equation but thinking about him in terms of relationships and love makes him so much more normal.
He and Mileva spent many summer’s apart holidaying with their respective families and during one such absence, he writes:

When I’m not with you I feel as if I’m not whole. When I sit, I want to walk; when I walk, I’m looking forward to going home; when I’m amusing myself, I want to study; when I study, I can’t sit still and concentrate; and when I go to sleep, I’m not satisfied with how I spent the day. No matter what happens, we’ll have the most wonderful life in the world. Pleasant work and being together.

Kissing you from the bottom of my heart,
Your Albert

Leafing through a book called the 50 Greatest Love Letters Of All Time by David Lowenherz I was struck by the missives of Ludwig Von Beethoven, the worlds most beloved composer, who never married but in his forties fell in love with a mystery woman referred to only as his immortal beloved. Again when I think of Beethoven I think of the symphonies or the great mass Missa Solemnis but reading his love letters is something completely new. They are breath-taking and what makes this story even more tragic is that they were found among his personal possessions, they were never mailed. One reads:
Even when I am in bed my thoughts rush to you, my immortal beloved, now and then joyfully, then again sadly, waiting to know whether Fate will hear our prayer — To face life I must live altogether with you or never see you… Oh God, why must one be separated from her who is so dear. Be calm; for only by calmly considering our lives can we achieve our purpose to live together — be calm — love me — Today — yesterday — what tearful longing for you — for you — you — my life — my all — all good wishes to you — Oh, do continue to love me — never misjudge your lover’s most faithful heart.
ever yours
Ever mine
ever ours
Imagine receiving a letter like that? Words can be irresistible can’t they?

 

Finally, James Joyce was one of Ireland’s most celebrated writers. Famous of course for his work Ulysses which brought us Leopold and Molly Bloom and also for his unconventional,  yet loving relationship with Galway woman, Nora Barnacle. Well she loved him enough to leave Ireland for him in 1904, living in Europe for most of the rest of their lives. Around 1909 however when Nora was in Trieste raising their two children and Joyce working in Dublin there began a period of quite explicit correspondence, actually one of these letters set a Sotheby’s world record in London in 2004 when it was sold to an anonymous buyer for an astonishing £240,000!  So whatever you do don’t destroy any of those old love letters you never know who’ll be interested in them in a few years. So I’ve some extracts here from the Selected Letters of James Joyce by Richard Ellman. Sometimes Joyce wrote to Nora in the third person as a way of further conveying his depth of feeling for her, then he tackles the thorny issue of a false infidelity before completely breaking out the poetry. He writes:
Twice while I was writing these sentences tonight the sobs gathered quickly in my throat and broke from my lips.
I have loved in her the image of the beauty of the world, the mystery and beauty of life itself, the beauty and doom of the race of whom I am a child, the images of spiritual purity and pity which I believed in as a boy.
Her soul! Her name! Her eyes! They seem to me like strange beautiful blue wild-flowers growing in some tangled, rain-drenched hedge. And I have felt her soul tremble beside mine, and have spoken her name softly to the night, and have wept to see the beauty of the world passing like a dream behind her eyes.
I love you deeply and truly, Nora. I feel worthy of you now. There is not a particle of my love that is not yours. In spite of these things which blacken my mind against you I think of you always at your best… Nora, I love you. I cannot live without you. I would like to give you everything that is mine, any knowledge I have (little as it is), any emotions I myself feel or have felt, any likes or dislikes I have, any hopes I have or remorse. I would like to go through life side by side with you, telling you more and more until we grew to be one being together until the hour should come for us to die. Even now the tears rush to my eyes and sobs choke my throat as I write this. Nora, we have only one short life in which to love. O my darling be only a little kinder to me, bear with me a little even if I am inconsiderate and unmanageable and believe me we will be happy together. Let me love you in my own way. Let me have your heart always close to mine to hear every throb of my life, every sorrow, every joy.
So there you have it, Letters – of love, of tragedy, of truth, they may change our lives, some may take us our whole lives to write but there’s a magic and intensity to the written word, an enchantment from one warm hand across an ocean to another that cannot be replicated by texts or emails or phone-calls. So go write …. write for your life!

 

Also on the show today, Frida Kahlo, Diane Wakoski, Yusef Komunyaaka, Diane Thiel.

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Journeys: Travelling within

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.  Emerson

The idea of life as a journey is a well worn theme in poetry and it’s the focus of our show this week.  And what’s the message?  What great wisdom can we expect from our featured poets? Well, I guess it’s that life is a trip we have to take, no matter how bad the roads or the accommodation! In his poem The Journey, journeys 2American poet James Wright finds the secret to living in this world, in a quiet moment of reflection while visiting the medieval village of Anghiari.  Accepting life for what it is, its experiences and burdens but not being weighed down by them is the message he imparts to us.  ‘Step lightly all the way through your ruins’ he says.  We have a tendency to over-criticize and pick holes in every little thing we do, hold on to negativity and not let go of the baggage of the past, but Wright urges us to walk free from all of that and just be.  Be here now.

Life is is a voyage of discovery, of ourselves and others and we have nothing to fear on this journey only what we’ve conceived in our minds before we set out.  We spend so much time worrying about what might happen in the future that we’re sometimes blind to the magic that is happening around us.  Greek poet C P Cavafy prepares us for a great adventure to Ithaka, metaphorical destination and home of the legendary Greek king Odysseus.  I think Ithaka is about enjoying the pleasure of being alive – the people we meet, places we visit and knowledge we gain along the way.  Dreams and goals are important but I think the real value is gained through the process of living.

In Journey To The Interior, Margaret Atwood compares the rough Canadian landscape to the inner journey of self-discovery. Something not to be undertaken lightly as ‘only few have returned safely’ she warns.  I can completely relate.  Sometimes these inner journeys can be tough to navigate, there’s a fear of going too deep, of making discoveries you wish you hadn’t, but the reverse is also true and can lead to some self-illuminating moments.  Sometimes I find I just need the distraction away from myself though and take a journey out of my own psyche and into someone else’s … that can be illuminating too!

Mary Olivers’ recognition of the inner voice, the true authentic self is the subject of one of her best known poems The Journey, where she tells us to go out into the ‘wild night’ and find the voice that will ‘keep us company’ as we go deeper and deeper into the world. For most of us, the decisions we make are based on externals like what other people think.  We think it’s better to fit in, but you know what fitting in is?  Fitting in is resisting yourself … and resisting yourself can only lead to a life full of uncertainty, self-doubt and self-reproach.  Being honest with ourselves is risky business but big risks yield big rewards.  So take a friendly attitude towards your thoughts.  Be bold enough to live your truth, turn up the volume on your inner wisdom and in the words of (I think) Allen Ginsberg “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness”.

Audre Lorde and Philip Levine also feature on todays show, along with music from Mick Flannery, Tom Petty and Bjork.

photo credit: http://www.trans-siberian-travel.com

Saudade: The Love That Remains

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.
― George Eliot

Recently a friend and I were discussing this idea of human longing and nostalgia. Missing SAUDADEsomeone or something that we once loved and that is no longer in our lives. It’s a concept which heavily informs his work as an artist and which has inspired some of the most powerful love poetry & music ever written. It can be condensed into one beautiful Portuguese word Saudade (pronounced Saudadji in Brazilian). It’s a feeling of incompleteness and melancholy characteristic of the Portuguese and Brazilian temperament. And today we’re going to look at a general overview of the topic and some poetry and music I feel best illustrate it.

So basically, Saudade is a longing. For love, for acceptance for a connection of some kind. We all have this desire for presence, missing something which is gone and wanting it back, especially love, losing love gives rise to enormous longing and suffering. I’m sure you’ve experienced that feeling that gnawing at the heart, the pain of remembering. Actually in Portuguese culture Saudade often carries the knowledge that the what is lost might never return – it’s much darker and melodramatic than the upbeat Saudade of Brazil which through hundreds of years of assimilation of cultures has become a much more amorphous term in that you can have Saudade for people, things, food, even for places you’ve never been. Saudade is the crossroads if you like, between loss and desire, something’s gone you want it returned. The great Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo describes it as ’a pleasure you suffer and an ailment you enjoy’. For me it’s the heartbreaking language of the soul, I suppose the best way is to describe saudade as the hearts desire and I can hear in these lines from Russian poet Anna Akhmatova:

‘This remorseless black separation’

I bear equally with you.

Why cry? Rather, give me your hand,

Promise to visit me in dream.
You and I – are like two mountains.

You and I – not meeting in this world.

If only sometimes, at midnight,

You’d send me a greeting through the stars.

 

 

 

Love is a huge matter when talking about Saudade. It’s what most poets and musicians write about and are inspired by. In terms of lost love you are missing part of yourself that you can no longer access. Even though reminiscing and vain hope are incredibly painful, you don’t want to let go of the heartache because you let go of the person, so you carry it with you. And this is the interesting point about Saudade, it is a missing and an absence but because you carry it with you it is also a presence.  On love, firstly I went for this one by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda for it’s tender pleading ‘don’t go far off, don’t leave me’ It’s one of his 100 love sonnets dedicated to his beloved wife Matilde Urrutia. Neruda is well aware of what the sorrow of separation is like, he does not want to risk the agony of it and cannot bear even the thought of it. In Sonnet 45 he writes:

Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because –
Because – I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
And I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
When the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
Then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
The smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
Into me, choking my lost heart.
Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
May your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

Because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander maziliy over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

 

 

Secondly, from her collection Radio Crackling, Radio Gone, American poet Lisa Olstein writes a sad poem of longing and disappointment. Dear One Absent This Long While stirs up those old feelings again of loss, rejection, sadness that something is unfinished or imperfect without ones other half. I know myself, losing love, it’s the bitter-sweetness of the longing that somehow lulls you back to it.  Hear the yearning in the words ‘I expect you’ as she goes on to search for little happiness’s while coping with the reality that her lover might never come back. She says:

It has been so wet stones glaze in moss;
everything blooms coldly.

I expect you. I thought one night it was you
at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs,

you in a shiver of light, but each time
leaves in wind revealed themselves,

the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak.
We expect you, cat and I, bluebirds and I, the stove.

In May we dreamed of wreaths burning on bonfires
over which young men and women leapt.
June efforts quietly.
I’ve planted vegetables along each garden wall

so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.

I have new gloves and a new hoe.
I practice eulogies. He was a hawk

with white feathered legs. She had the quiet ribs
of a salamander crossing the old pony post road.

Yours is the name the leaves chatter
at the edge of the un-rabbited woods.

 

Poets Norman MacCaig WS Merwin, Sheenagh Pugh & Kahlil Gibran also feature today along with music from Estrella Morente, Gilberto Gil, Dulce Pontes and Nick Cave.