Thursday, August 30, 2007

AN ALPHABET OF SYNAESTHESIA


CHART OF LETTER/COLOUR ASSOCIATIONS


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Synaesthesia: words taste.

Letters have colour associations for synaesthetes.

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REVERSE ASTRONOMY

they put
the lens of the Hubble telescope in
backwards

on earth
billions of infinitesimally
shiny people

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Atheist's Synaesthesia before Creation


(Image from a draft towards a translation of Christian Bok's Eunoia)

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THE UNIVERSE IS THE DEFINITION OF ITSELF

I heard Francis S. Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, yesterday on the CBC radio show, Tapestry. He was discussing 'evidence' for the existence of God. He clearly made a distinction between what science is able to find and what it isn't -- science is a superlative tool to inquire and explain the material world. To understand the immaterial world, to ask fundamental existential questions such as "Why is there something here rather than nothing?" we need something other than science -- religion, philosophy, etc.

He is a clear-sighted and intelligent man and it is refreshing to hear of a passionate religious person who is also a believer in the power of science and, indeed, is an eminent scientist. Too often the dialogue, at least in the popular culture in North America, is seen as exclusive. You either believe in God or science.

I did have one major objection to something he said. He was speaking about how unfathomably improbable it was that we exist. This is what he said (I'm paraphrasing):

If there wasn't the inconceivably unlikely balance between forces at the Big Bang -- if gravity hadn't counterbalanced the force of expansion in the way that it had at the instance of the Big Bang, then the universe wouldn't be here. Likewise, DNA. It seems so supremely unlikely that such a complex thing could exist. (If one read out the letters of the human genome night and day continuously, it would take 31 years.)

OK. So I agree with him that this life situation is fantastically, perhaps supremely unlikely. I am filled with awe that such a thing exists. I look out of the window in front of me and am filled with wonder that there is anything out there (driveway, skateboard ramp, passing traffic, trees, birds, houses, the windowpane, my eyes, my contact lenses, garbage collectors, beetles, blinking.) We should be astounded. But I don't see why that the fact that it seems inconceivably unlikely and improbable is some kind of Q.E.D. argument for the existence of some other force. What's that Douglas Adams' quote?

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

Not to reduce someone's belief in the divine to mere fairies, but to me the presence of a fantastic clock doesn't mean that there is a clockmaker.

Since this is the universe, the universe is how it is. It is the definition of itself. (Is that an O.E.D. argument?) What is unlikely? What is the threshhold of possibility? Well, since this is the way it is, this is the way it is. The existence of existence is exactly as improbable as existence. What are the odds? These are the odds.

What would a guy who won the lottery think about the odds of him winning? Even if the chance of him winning is one in a hundred million, to him, having won, that seems like reasonable odds. He won, after all. And he would (I expect) feel joy, wonder, amazement, awe. That's how I feel about all of this (he stretches his hand waving vastly across the universe.) The fact that all of this is fills me with a spiritual, centred, inspired elation.

As to why it all is here. Well, going back to the idea that 'the universe is its own definition' means, for me, that since the universe is everything, it is also its own reason for being. And besides, I don't expect that I'd really be able to fathom an "explanation". Besides, I'm in it. I can't exactly get a bird's eye view. I "get" existence in some way. I feel something of its infinite vastness and the essential fact of it being here.

I should perhaps say that all of this doesn't mean that I don't think that the spiritual traditions of the world don't help people. I believe that the spiritual traditions can connect us deeply to the universe. Here's a quote to end on, from an interview about prayer with William Segal (as quoted in Parabola magazine -- Summer 1999). And Segal's definition of prayer is very broad and encompasses many spiritual traditions. It would include the walk through the Thornberry Trail that I did with my dog yesterday at twilight, the walk which in fact occasioned this post.

We live in a very complex world. We don't know who we are, we don't understand how our brain and our body function, we don't know who's guiding us, who is guiding the universe (in other words, who is running things)--we don't know any of that. But through prayer we might come to a state of knowing--not so much knowledge as knowing. An unknown knowing.

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Here is another Psalm translation:

PSALM 91

He that dwelleth in the secret places of the belly shines a mighty light and twists poodles out of shadow.

I will say my insides have barked their refusal for I have eaten the wrappers of garrulous cattle and my scars lust after rain.

Surely within 40 minutes they shall deliver the sneer of the turtledove, dispense excess joy from the noisome duffle bags of stars.

For he has covered thee with his feathers, and under his breath there are wings: his teeth are an encyclopedia-size dinner which protects you as the jeweled coleslaw protects a deck of cards from bellicose pickle fencing.

Thou shalt not be fried by the flummoxed terriers of night, nor diced by the drumsticks of the day that flieth towards thee like the bittersweet vagina of lawn

Still not by the penis that juggleth chainsaws in darkness and proclaims it was fathered by magma; and also not by the mispronounciations that wasteth the noondog in the Galleria parking lot and offer not a luminous pylon in comfort

Like the green leaves of cash, a thousand shall stride beside the autumnal blastocyst of winter, and ten thousand shall consider their right hand their left and teach their children so; but it shall not draw close as uranium pinking shears upon the foam of thy bathwaters.

Only with nine eyes couldst thou—the eight-eyed—hold and dandle the infant words of the mewling cricketers.

Because thou hast made loud that which was my silent dolphin, my jar that had no mouth and so was the lightbulb where my blind quiet could live and be the Tinkerbell of beaming ducks.

No ladders shall fall over thee, neither shall any beach sand come nigh thy dwelling and fill it with the mirthful and prehensile haberdashery of lifeguards

For he shall make hyperbolic triangles to flutter over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

And they shall make thy ears into pink airplanes lest thou dash mayonnaise against a stone.

Thou shalt tread only upon the lion and the abacus: the suspenders and the answering machine emerge like a trump card from the silken slit of twilight in which thou ask to travel first class

Because he hath set his dove upon me, therefore will I make a shopping cart of tongues: I will set alight a paper bag upon a nimbus of square waves because he hath made it snow my name all over the parking lot and in cursive.

He shall call upon me as the antidote upon the phone booth and I will answer him as the lucid stapler and the breath of moths herd the ardent buffalo of the cruise ship: I will be with him in trouble; I will be as saliva on the migrating oak, an orange on the bad boy of gladness.

With long life will I satisfy him; and will throw away my tiny shoes.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

GRATEFUL DREAD



My late grandfather was a keen hobbyist photographer. He travelled widely around the world for his business and documented the places he visited. In the 50s and 60s, he travelled to Asia and Europe as well as around Africa. He lived in South Africa and spent many weekends photographing in the game reserves. He had a Nikon camera and a huge zoom lens which he would prop on the opened window of his car and take extraordinary pictures of the giraffes, lions, wildebeest, and other indigenous animals. He also travelled to villages and took pictures. I think the amazing "Dread God" photograph (above) was taken in Speakers'Corner in London.




I believe this striking picture of an African woman was taken somewhere in South Africa. She seems utterly present in the centre of her life.



The last photograph is a portrait of my parents, my brother, and me taken when we lived in Northern Ireland. My parents were in their mid to late twenties in this picture. They also seem in the centre of their life, in the centre of this sunny spring day. They look so young and fresh faced, ready for anything in their future. Looking at pictures of myself and my own kids, I get a baffling array of contradictory and complex feelings. Of course, looking at yourself is obviously more complex. You are living inside the photo, not just looking in. You know all the complexity of feeling that surrounds the instant of the snap. (I'm reminded of a physical example of this: my author photo of my first book Cruelty to Fabulous Animals. My wife took a picture of me standing on Paradise St. Just below the visible photograph, my two sons were running about like tiny maniacs while I tried to look authorly appearing as if my mind were focussed on literary pursuits, rather than hoping my boys wouldn't kill each other or run in to traffic.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Etch A Sketch of Bad Weather


I've been continuing to work on the translation of Psalm 23 that I posted a couple days ago. Of course such a powerfully iconic poem that is read at many very meaningful events is difficult to work with, and especially without a new text turning towards parody. I wanted to write a new text that is shadowed by the original. Here is a new version one now including an Etch A Sketch and some apes. It also used the word "hoggett", a yearling sheep, as well as the word "wether" which means a castrated sheep.


PSALM 23 (The Sorrows of Young Wether)

I don’t want to admit it
but I’ve been a bad sheep

for they let me lie down on the sweet lawn
helped me to speechless waters
restored my painful feet

they led me down garden paths that were not ironic
or filled with worrisome garden gnomes
but lit upon the shed of happiness

I’ve walked in death-shade, in night valleys
in paddocks where invariably I was dark
yay! as my niece says sarcastically
and because they followed me I didn’t fear evil

and wasn’t overwhelmed by death
When my thoughts were my enemies
they made reservations in a nice restaurant
and the entire staff obligingly filled my wine trough

picked up my napkin and called me a nice salmon
so when I next catch sight of Marsha and Fred
the two hyperintelligent apes who have shadowed me
with their Etch A Sketch drawings all the days of my life

I shall shake, shake with colossal vigour
disquieting their continuous knob twisting with my furious hooves
There shall be no neverending ape-directed silver lining
for my hillock cleaving will be fearsome to both hoggetts and apes

my fleece shall be as a wolf upon my howling spine
and I will dwell in the my parents’ basement of my own self for ever
one wooly shoulder pushed against the mutinous wheel of these my mutton-fated days

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Wished-for Everything


PICTURE FROM THE GLENS OF ANTRIM, from our recent trip.

As was mentioned on ubiquiRon’s blog, writers mostly have other jobs. I’m preparing to return to my job as a Grade 5/6 music teacher. I spent the day organizing instruments and trying to choose music for the choir and the band. I also was scrambling to work on a few writing projects before IT IS TOO LATE and I have less time. This caused me to reflect on the various things that I have coming up, writingwise. Perhaps I will return to this list when I worry that I’m not getting much writing done during busy times in the term. It will remind of the publications that I have to look forward to and to the projects that are well underway. Nah. I’ll still feel that I’m not getting enough writing done. It’s always that way.


a story “Letter from Grandma’s” in Animal Tales: Favourite Stories from Chirp Magazine – this just out.

a chapter in The Closets of Time, an anthology/novel comprised of chapters written by 12 different authors, published by The Mercury Press, edited by Bev Daurio and Richard Truhlar.

The Wished-for Reaches: On the Death of a Poodle, an essay for Geist magazine.
some visual and text pieces for Rampike

"James Tenney and the Theory of Everything," an article for Musicworks magazine discussing how James Tenney’s essay, “John Cage and the Theory of Harmony,” can be seen to continue the tradition of considering music as a metaphoric representation of current ideas about the nature of the universe. Tenney’s multi-dimensional harmonic sound-space challenges us to imagine the multi-dimensional universe of modern science.

Brainbox, a poetry book forthcoming from Coach House, coming out sometime after my grandkids’ get out on parole

a poem for Taddle Creek

three poems for Hamilton’s H magazine

three prose pieces for rob maclennan’s Chaudiere Books’ anthology of short prose

a six word poem to be published I forget where.

a 31 word poem for Crane’s Bill books collection of 31 word poems

a chapbook, and several periodical publication of poems written with Greg Betts from our The Obvious Flap (see below) project, and two unrelated poems to appear in Jason Christie's Room to Move magazine

things I’ve been working on:

The Obvious Flap
, a collaborative poetry ms that I’ve been working on with Greg Betts

The Unibrow Underground
, a YA novel (which was accepted and then I withdrew it from the publisher since they seemed much too flakey and undependable.)

some poems exploring ‘translation’ with derek beaulieu

performing / composing with Bump Head, a performing poetry/music ensemble with poet Kerry Schooley (Slim Volumes) on vocals and my son, Ryan Barwin, guitar. I play flute, saxophone, computer, and washboard. (I was going to play the washing machine, but I couldn’t manage to carry it upstairs.)

GEORGE VLADIMIR W. BIN GANDHI



GANDHI IN MY EAR

I stand on my own shoulder wearing a Gandhi mask
tell myself: you are the frying pan upon the flame
the Dustbuster upon the bespeckled road

there may be skidmarks between
the two buttock-lobes of your brain
but with courage you can continue

you are brave enough to sweep this floor
your hands on the end of sticks
you persevere through infinite dust

Big Guy, one day you will arrive at the white wall
the smooth cool of the white wall
I have swept the floor, you will say

I have swept the floor

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Quorum Sensing Chairs, Bacteria, and Glowing



the world barks
you discover you are a flea

you join a flea circus
you cease to exist

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Some thoughts on chairs, their communication, and new technology:

"Whether embedded with technology or not, all furniture is breathing and talking, say the researchers.

If you cannot hear it, ancient Japanese philosophy might suggest you need to inspect the silence inside yourself."


Quorum sensing in chairs which glow with bacteria



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chairs which change colour when you’re fat



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the virtuoso folding chair:


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the more plain chair/bookcase combination

Monday, August 13, 2007

PSALM 23


PSALM 23


I don’t want to admit it
but I’ve been a sheep

but you let me lie down on the sweet lawn
helped me to speechless waters
restored my painful feet

you led me down garden paths that were not ironic
or filled with worrisome garden gnomes
but where I had to go

I’ve walked in death-shade, in night valleys
in places where invariably I was dark
yay! as my daughter says sarcastically
but I didn’t fear evil and wasn’t overwhelmed by death

When my thoughts were my enemies
you made reservations in a nice restaurant
and the entire staff was there filling my wineglass
picking up my napkin, feeding me salmon

Surely I will not dwell in the my parents' basement of life forever
but will soon take my place on cosmic TV where I shall be light

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In the third line of this poem there is the word 'but'. It's a bit of an important question whether I delete this 'but' or not. It's the difference between the narrator being a sheep because he/she has accepted the help from the 'you' of the poem and, despite having been a sheep, he/she has been helped by the 'you.' And, in this, case, I'm assuming that being a sheep is negative. Obviously it isn't in the original "The Lord is my shepherd" context. (In 'translating' this Psalm, though I omitted the references to "Lord", I wanted it to be possible to read this poem both ways: with the you being 'You' and with the you being 'you' and open to interpretation.)

Here, by the way, is the original Psalm read in Hebrew.

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I was talking to Greg Betts a while back about using sacred texts. Greg showed me this great poem that he'd written using only the opening lines from every (I think every) chapter of the Old Testament and the Koran. It makes for an interesting poem, one mixing a panoply of cultural and religious resonances. I don't know about the Islamic tradition, but I know that both the Christian and Jewish traditions often weave in allusions and quotations, even particular word uses, from their sacred texts. Texts are often paraphrased. (Many hymns are paraphrases of psalms.) It's not considered profane to use the texts in other contexts. I didn't think that it would be in any way offensive to most Jews or Christians for Greg to use the texts in a collage. I have the impression that, at least in the Jewish tradition, texts -- being the finite expression of an infinite God -- are open to infinite examination.

I didn't know how the Islamic tradition would respond. (Not that I was suggesting censoring the piece, I was just wondering how the tradition would regard such a use. Clearly part of appropriating a text is understanding how the tradition from which it was appropriated from would respond. And not that one has to in any way abide by --or be bound by-- the traditional or in indeed the orthodox response.)

Greg's piece, (published in the last issue of dANDelion), I've heard, has got an excellence response from readers. I understand that many people found the interleaving of texts from both traditions a powerful statement, opening up dialogue and understanding.

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Yesterday, I attended the Hamilton Fringe Festival and heard "The Ballad of Monisch, a Yiddish/English Comic Operetta based on the classic poem by Peretz translated, set to music and performed by Marty Green."
Among the more remarkable things Green performed were Yiddish translations of country songs. They're on his album "A Boy Named Sureh) (i.e. a boy named Sue.) Check out the link to hear "My Way" and "The Ballad of Yankel Yisruel" (The Ballad of Jimmy Brown, also known as Three Bells.) Green explained how he translated this texts, creating great humour in the cross-cultural transformation. In "My Way," the narrator did it not 'his way', but 'His way'. The line refers to how he did it 'according the Torah.' In "The Ballad of Jimmy Brown," Green manages to weave in the opening words of the Jewish prayer for the dead. Green has a book, Tales of a Wandering Jew, a translation of Falk Zolf's memoir of life in Tzarist Russian that begins in English and then gradually turns to Yiddish. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to check it out, but the concept of a book gradually changing from one language to the other is beguiling.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

INSIDE OUT


derek beaulieu and I are playing around with "translations" of Christian Bok's Eunoia. Above is something I did with the beginning of the A chapter. We're just figuring out what to do. We're at that time in a collaboration when you haven't even set the terms of engagement, the canvas or the image to be worked on, the nature of the interaction or the project. You might note a few changes to Christian's original.

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NATURE POEM

even on the sidewalk
I want to be a nature poet

this summer light is nature
so is the air and
the rain-soaked road

scooping to pick after my dog
the bag warm as my dog’s insides
is nature

yes it’s nature inside
and out
here in Hamilton, Ontario

nature inside and out
this poem

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Arf Father

My dog, Dude, in a philosophical pose. He does my homework.

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Gabriel Gudding is the author of the mind-bogglingly refreshing A Defense of Poetry. Here is the text and an audio file of the title poem. Trickster-like he delights and thumbs his nose. Remarkably, even behind his most scatological, school-boy pranksterism, there is an earnest, spiritual compassion. I am reminded of Zen Koans and those stories of monks who thwack their pupils in order to teach them some lesson.

On his blog Conchology, Gudding has posted an essay of his which will appear in The New Writer's Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career (Scarlatta Press, July 2007) I find this essay refreshing. Not only is it wise, smart and incisive, but it reminds me how the range of ways that we think about teaching writing is so narrow. I note how the essay isn't advocating a kind of writing that is vague spiritual new age mush. It is talking about writing -- and an approach to writing pedagogy -- that is very awake, whatever that means to the writer. It is a writing of surprise and creative alert energy. It isn't advocating any style. It's a very radical essay .

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My dog has eaten my chair, my glasses, cellphone, other dogs, my lesson plans, turkeys, but never poetry.

THE ARF FATHER

take a regular dog
boil it down
to a speck

take this tiny dog
on tiny walks
in a miniscule park

teach the dog
what we know
the water bowls of heaven

the leash between
living and dying
the arf father:

arf father
who arf
arf! arf! arf! arf!

arf!

arf! arf!
arf!
arf! arf!

arf! arf! arf!
arf! arf!
arf!

arf!
arf! arf!

arf!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

GOD'S COMPUTER HAS A SMITE BUTTON


There's this site where you can upload your photograph and then personalize how it adapts your ugly mug into a Simpsons' character. This is me, supposedly.

I got this off the ever-beguiling Generator Blog which has an enormous list of "Generators". For example, George W. Bush's computer:



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BARK

I promised myself that everything would be true
at least in this poem. My friend Martin
told this joke to a Buddhist monk:

In a spiritual mood, a guy phoned Pizza Pizza and asked them
to make him ‘one with everything.’ The monk laughed heartily
then asked ‘What’s Pizza Pizza?’

Some of our friends kill themselves and some
are still with us. There’s a spot on a tree-covered hill
where one autumn my sons and I had lunch after the High Holidays.

‘Is there such thing as God? & where is he?” they ask.
When I return, there are my sons’ questions,
more leaves than people I know, and names cut into trees.

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I should credit the joke. It belongs to Martin Avery.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Nietzsche Family Circus


Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus: one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and gray. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him.

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The Nietzsche Family Circus Generator matches a Family Circus image with a random Nietzsche quote.

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LOST BALLS


there’s an almost perfectly round rock on my desk
where did it come from? how did it get here?

once my doctor told me that I had a ‘floating testicle’
then it went missing; they searched for it but it was gone

some stanzas have two lines; this one has one

what should we expect from the world?
humour, meaning, kindness, the retrieval of lost balls?

all night I wished to write a great poem
all night the world wanted me to write it

so I did.

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Yesterday, we went to my wife's grandparents' grave yesterday. My wife's grandmother died last month while we were in Europe. We put the above-mentioned little round rock on her grave. One of my sons put a special quartz-lined rock that he picked up when we were touring the Roman Forum. It was moving, not only to see the graves of my wife's grandparents, but to wander around the little Jewish cemetery across the street from the mall. Beth and I knew or knew of many people there. Her old allergy doctor, the wife of the Rabbi who married us, a friend of her father's. Also graves going back to 1865 with no one left to place a stone down for them. Beth and Aaron placed stones for these people.

Somehow all these people and us intersected at this particular moment in spacetime. A small gathering on the edge of Hamilton, some of us happened to be alive at that moment, some not.

We read the inscriptions. Many alluded to some quality of the person, of relationships with friends, family, and -- sometimes -- their professional life. Some included a saying that the person might have used. "Glad to be Seen." Some inscriptions were evidently written from a husband to a wife before he died, and then, he took his place beside her some years later. A few included a small stone memorializing other family who died in the Holocaust and, I assume -- had no proper grave, or no proper grave with family and community. Older graves of children were sometimes in the form of a marble cut down tree. Double graves for husbands and wives. (The man always on the left.)

Not only have I found myself living my life where these people did, but, like them, I am connected through relationships with family, friends, community, place, generations, history.

I was surprised to find myself in this little forest of community, a community that I was surprised to find myself connected to, standing there with my wife and children in this small unassuming field surrounded by trees two hundred metres from the highway.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why I'm Not So Sad!: David W. McFadden's Poetry


I was up late last night reading and writing. My sons were also up late, watching Trailer Park Boys. It's the kind of series that T.S. Eliot would have written had he lived in rural Noval Scotia in a mobile home, assuming his friend Ezra woke up and got out of his car and helped him with plot.

I was also reading the extraordinary Why Are You So Sad?, David W. McFadden's selected poems, edited by Stuart Ross. (The link is to Amazon, right now, the Insomniac website doesn't seem to be working.) This book astounds me with the range of its invention, humour, humanity, compassion, description, self-aware sentimentality, insight, fun, and ability to take the form of the poem to surprising and startlingly creative places. I feel a mixture of joy, wonder, bemusement, sadness, incredulity, delight, exhilaration, recognition, and inspiration when reading McFadden's work.

When I think of formal invention, of exploring what language and the poem can do, I think of these poems: I see them as deeply inventive, as formally innovative, and structurally rich and surprising as anything I've seen in the traditional 'avant garde.' The formal structure is an important part of the 'meaning' of the poems. These are poems that are completely aware of their tone, imagery, structure, and their construction of place and persona and use even that awareness to deepen their philosophical, psychological, and emotion insight.

The selection ranges from all over McFadden's career, though it seems, less of the more recent work. Whenever the poems were written, they are startlingly fresh. They leap off the page with jaw-dropping humour, emotion, and insight. This book (and McFadden's poetic project as a whole) is a major achievement in Canadian poetry. He should be a shoe-in for the GG's, Griffin, and indeed the Drummer General's Award. We ought to notice a writer such as him.

You could say that I like this book.

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It’s hard to know which of McFadden's poems to cite here. Some are beautiful, some wicked, some funny, some clever, and some take you on a wild ride of invention. Or all of the above. I’d like to quote the entirety of a longer one, especially to show the play with structure. However, that’d require typing. Here are four shorter ones.

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I love how this first poem is able to be funny and compassionate at the same time. The guy in the poem is a nutcase but yet has very human yearnings, yearnings surely like the poet’s hope for his poems, or our own hopes for ourselves.

THE SEARCHLIGHT

He was well groomed and well dressed
and he stopped me on the street
and asked for a quarter.

When I gave him one he said:

I can draw power
from the ground
up through my legs
to make my heart
shine like a searchlight.


McFadden is a master of the fruitful leap from one stanza to the other. In his poems he often wishes for a pure path, a carefree release, a delight in the mystery, beauty, and it’s-so-simple-ness of the world. Yet of course, he’s self-aware and knows that it’s not so simple. The pleasure and simple joy of wishing is a pleasureable and simple joy in itself. Look! his heart shines like a searchlight!

LOVE’S GOLDEN SPLENDOR

A woman is reading a book called Love’s Golden Splendor
on the bus heading down to Pape station
and I look out the window and see a young man
pushing an old lady in a wheelchair, quickly,
for it is about to start raining.
Later, on the subway, there’s another woman
reading Love’s Golden Splendor, and a young
African woman, fashionably dressed, sits by herself
unself-consciously singing Billie Holiday songs.

My verses are subtle yet unschooled, amateur but never
didactic. The twentieth century means nothing to me.
This could be ninth-century China for all I care.
Everything is a myth. I’ve wound up all my affairs
and am about to put all my possessions in a boat
and push it out in the bay and sink it. We have never
taken a step out of eternity. I think it’s time
for you to come with me. Let’s just go
and let’s not know or even care where we’re going.


This is a beautiful poem which nevertheless, with a kind of complicated and bittersweet humour, reflects both the power and futility of art and memorials to stop actual events (in this case, war). Again it is a greatly compassionate little poem.

It also is a commentary on the poet’s (artist’s / person’s) wish to help, to believe in the power of art, and despite how little he can do, embodies his ability to inspire and to broaden our vision through his words, compassion, and humour.

IN HONOUR OF THE WOODY GUTHRIE MEMORIAL

Jan 20/68

At this moment in Viet Nam
as I write this the clear moon I imagine
shines down on one peaceful scene.
It’s night and the village sleeps.
Everything is quiet as the universe.
The moonlight lies everywhere
illuminating chance corners.

There was about to be an attack
but I’ve deflected it with this poem.



This last poem is a joke yet works on many levels. It pokes fun at Hardy's famous poem. It plays with McFadden's persona. It addresses the tiny funny revealing details of daily life. It is self-referential -- McFadden did call attention to this child's actions. And readers will remember McFadden. Not because he would notice the child's action, but that he would comment on it and comment on his observation of it with his particular wit. How are we going to be remembered after we die? We have our very human perspective, our point of view, our wish to be remembered for great things. Our wish to be remembered. Even this little poem, using the persona of 'McFadden' the writer, views the human condition with a droll and accepting compassion.

AFTER THOMAS HARDY’S “AFTERWARDS”

After I’m dead
& time
continues on without me
much as it did before I was born

a child will pick up
a piece of dog shit
& taste it

& someone will say Look!
McFadden was a man who
would have noticed that.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

O

My daughter gave me Ireland
I put it in my pocket

out of my other pocket I gave her France

O things with shape and no shape
keep it up!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Muddlehedge


Words are a muddlehedge grovelling with who I am lo these many years. 'Whom?' I say to myself when I wake. To whom is it do I speak to myself?

But I have a name. At the meet-and-greet of my birth, my parents gave me a tag, a "Hello, my name is" blaze of identity upon my infant breast. ‘Free to a good home,’ it said. It still says.