Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas with Dylan Thomas!

Wherever you are and whatever you believe, Christmas has become a kind of universal festival for sharing with friends, giving gifts and remembering those who aren't quite so fortunate.

In the Middle East, our Muslim neighbours celebrated with us (and we celebrated Eidd with them), and this year we're invited to share the day with Israeli friends in Italy (it's Hannukkah at the moment).  There are also Scandinavian and Dutch communities in Pietrasanta and they celebrate different things on different days and, back home in northern England, the Solstice festival will be in full swing because the 21st is the day when the sun begins its long journey back towards summer.

So it was very important to me to find a piece of poetry both gloriously festive and also inclusive.  Much rummaging about in books and Google!  Then, suddenly, it became clear. One of  my great childhood memories is listening to Dylan Thomas's 'A Child's Christmas in Wales'.  As an adult I loved reading it to my own children, and I thought that it would be nice to share it with you all.   Poetry as story-telling, language as music, rooted in the old Welsh oral tradition.

                                                                    Editor: Kathleen Jones

If the video doesn't work, please follow this link.

Whatever your beliefs, and whatever you're doing this week, we in the Tuesday Poem community wish you peace, health, wealth, creativity and happiness - oh!  and the very best of luck -  for the coming year.
Thank you to our regular readers and supporters and those who just stop by.

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Edited this week by UK author and poet Kathleen Jones who also lives in Italy.  You can find her Tuesday Poem at www.kathleenjonesauthor.blogspot.com and one of her poems is featured on Helen Lowe's blog this week. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Life by Lyn Hejinian

You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon. My father had filled an old apothecary jar with what he called "sea glass," bits of old bottles rounded and textured by the sea, so abundant on beaches. There is no solitude. It buries itself in veracity. It is as if one splashed in the water lost by one's tears. My mother had climbed into the garbage can in order to stamp down the accumulated trash, but the can was knocked off balance, and when she fell she broke her arm. She could only give a little shrug. The family had little money but plenty of food. At the circus only the elephants were greater than anything I could have imagined. The egg of Columbus, landscape and grammar. She wanted one where the playground was dirt, with grass, shaded by a tree, from which would hang a rubber tire as a swing, and when she found it she sent me. These creatures are compound and nothing they do should surprise us. I don't mind, or I won't mind, where the verb "to care" might multiply. The pilot of the little airplane had forgotten to notify the airport of his approach, so that when the lights of the plane in the night were first spotted, the air raid sirens went off, and the entire city on that coast went dark. He was taking a drink of water and the light was growing dim. My mother stood at the window watching the only lights that were visible, circling over the darkened city in search of the hidden airport. Unhappily, time seems more normative than place. Whether breathing or holding the breath, it was the same thing, driving through the tunnel from one sun to the next under a hot brown hill. She sunned the baby for sixty seconds, leaving him naked except for a blue cotton sunbonnet. At night, to close off the windows from view of the street, my grandmother pulled down the window shades, never loosening the curtains, a gauze starched too stiff to hang properly down. I sat on the windowsill singing sunny lunny teena, ding-dang-dong. Out there is an aging magician who needs a tray of ice in order to turn his bristling breath into steam. He broke the radio silence. Why would anyone find astrology interesting when it is possible to learn about astronomy. What one passes in the Plymouth. It is the wind slamming the doors. All that is nearly incommunicable to my friends. Velocity and throat verisimilitude. Were we seeing a pattern or merely an appearance of small white sailboats on the bay, floating at such a distance from the hill that they appeared to be making no progress. And for once to a country that did not speak another language. To follow the progress of ideas, or that particular line of reasoning, so full of surprises and unexpected correlations, was somehow to take a vacation. Still, you had to wonder where they had gone, since you could speak of reappearance. A blue room is always dark. Everything on the boardwalk was shooting toward the sky. It was not specific to any year, but very early.

                                         Editor: Bernadette Keating

The first time I had the pleasure of hearing Lyn Hejinian was her lecture ‘The quest for knowledge in the western poem,' (free under the Naropa University Archive Project and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets) which introduced me to her particularness about language.

The copy I have of Hejinian's My Life esteems both its wide readership by 'hundreds of colleges and university courses around the world', as well as status: a 'great work of contemporary literature.' Some are obviously convinced as to its merit, and searching the work's title reveals pleas from confused students who fail to discern its worth.

Yet, the more I read of My Life, the more I'm convinced it is a praiseworthy attempt at documenting the vagaries of memory, thought and nostalgia, which necessitates experimentation and a commitment to language. Hejinian talks about being 'in place', and the self awareness such a statement relies on. As an autobiography, the reader is allowed into much of Hejinian's personal life through these frank phrases, however one really only ends up with a small sense of her way of thinking, less tangible events, people or places.

Originally thirty-eight stanzas of thirty-eight lines—Hejinian’s age in 1980—the updated work is forty-five stanzas of forty-five lines. What I sense from this work is that perhaps to characterize a life by its beginning, middle and end, is to restrain the multiple possibilities of thought and action that occur every second and our ability to reference both past and future without reference to structure or according to entertainment value.

With that in mind, this poem as an autobiography works in a way that I could not have expected until reading it and seeking to understand the poet's purpose.

This week's Tuesday Poem editor, Bernadette Keating, has just completed a postgraduate diploma in art history at Victoria University. She also writes poetry and occasionally blogs about writing and art. Bernadette lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"The Artist Knows—" by Helen Bascand

how Leda must sit: how she will pick
feathers from her breast: how
the frame of an hour waits for more –
a soft whistle, chill of shadow, dark kite –
he comes.

Sky wraps itself in the wing-span of storm-
brilliance. And the cold whirr of myth turns her hot.
Smell of grass and mute desire, trap her under
rough wings, grasping for the soft down of his belly.
Even a Sun turns aside.

The artist knows the hard ground they lie on: how
a god wraps lust in beautiful places, how trees bend,
flowers lend fragrance. And how she will fool herself,
whisper phrases for him – he will peck
the words from her throat.
Who can deny a god?

Leda un-twines his neck, her legs, his wings. He sleeps
as she holds him, and she clutches crushed
tenderness in a raw cleft, beneath an arched sky –
She’s a woman –
a sackcloth of afterwards – hanging her
crumpled garments like plucked purple skins, broken
eggshells already spilling.
At the river,
his shadow dips, the bony keel
of disguise shrinks, the bastard wing becomes
a god’s hand, raised to bless the empty
hollow where he took her. Feathers
take a last spiral flight –

and he is gone.
Lust remains.


Leda lies
back in the marital bed
under the soiled covers – a haze
of white rain falling, sinking
into soft easy ground.

                                      Editor: Joanna Preston

Helen Bascand is a Christchurch poet, and stalwart of the Canterbury haiku scene. Her first collection, Windows on the Morning Side, was published by Sudden Valley Press in 2001. Her second, Into the Vanishing Point, was published by Steele Roberts in 2007.

Plenty of poets have written about Leda and the swan, with varying levels of success and/or misogyny (surely I’m not the only one who wants to slap Yeats for the “feathered glory” line?). What I love about Helen’s poem is that we see Leda as Leda, not just victim, or vessel, or mother-to-be (of Helen, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux). She is a woman and a wife, and someone with thoughts and desires of her very own.

I love the way this poem opens up the question of what Leda did afterwards, how she went back to her husband, literally as well as metaphorically. (Just imagine the conversation – ‘so, my love, what did you do today while I was out Kinging?’) And I love the ambiguity of the first two lines in the last stanza, and the way that last line could be simple factual description, or a hint of how and why the wife of a king might take a little walk on the wild side …

“The Artist Knows—” is published on Tuesday Poem with Helen’s permission.

Joanna Preston is a poet, editor and freelance creative writing tutor from New Zealand. Her first collection, The Summer King, won both the 2009 Kathleen Grattan Award and the 2010 Mary Gilmore Award. Visit her Tuesday Poem at A Dark Feathered Art and the other Tuesday Poets using our blog list.