Blogging offers a forum for musing about the craft of writing and the events that surround us in a very frustrating and yet exciting time, as we are faced with many issues similar to those of the 1960s: A government that lies to us, neo-colonial incursions into other countries, repression of ideas and serious threats to the well-being of the human race, while offering bread and circuses at home in the form of rampant materialism. A groundswell of protests against authority again reflect the response that was given by youth in the 1960s. Writing once again can explore those moods and present an alternative.
The woman spirit Chalcedony sends more images and feelings through my thin, tattered psyche than I can follow, much more. Not enough time or energy to sort them or find them places. One friend, who knows better, gave me high praise and said I was a “hero person,” when I’m mostly slogging though mud, trying to keep up. Then he tempered his words, lest we poets become proud.
“But remember, – who said it? – “I want to wash when I meet a poet’: I hope someone might say it about me. It’s elemental primitive with an enthusiasm and never give up. The trajectory of nakedness and slime still oozing from the
Ah, yes, the nakedness and the slime pull at us, and we are part of its momentum. My friend gave too much credit to others: his insight was his own. He was turning a quote on its head, from a Basil Bunting poem, “What the Chairman Told Tom,” where Bunting writes the words of an educated punk who doesn’t see the value of poetry.
“Poetry? It’s a hobby….
It’s not work, you don’t sweat….
Nobody pays for it….
You’ve got a nerve….
Nasty little words, nasty long words,
I want to wash when I meet a poet.”
A study in Psychology shows that washing makes people view unethical activities as more acceptable than if they had not washed. What does this imply? That when our hands are dirty, we know nasty acts -Â those “nasty words” -Â are close to us and more likely something we would do? And therefore objectionable. But if we’re clean, what’s unethical seems less likely a part of us, and therefore forgivable.
The muse takes us where she takes us. Into darkness, into a world of myth and power, of intuition, of passion, of chaos, into a world without morals. My friend’s image, “nakedness and slime” at the water’s edge, oozing around our feet, points toward primordial power. It’s far stronger than ethics or reason.
John Wieners’ lines come to mind, from The Hotel Wentley Poems. “The poem does not lie to us. We lie under its law.”
(With help from Ed Mycue, Kate Madden Yee, and April Renae.)
I dreamt I was walking with a striking redhead, six feet tall, to a Shakespeare play. The show was in a huge enclosed coliseum. People were milling about and tension hung in the air. There was a palpable, fearful rumor that lions were part of the performance.
Peering through the crowd I saw two lions standing together, old lions, not too scary. Between me and the lions was my older brother. He moved at a tilt, staggering as if something had happened that was more than he could handle, and he didn’t recognize me. The lions looked peaceful enough, and as we got closer I saw a young lion next to the older ones.
This animal’s aura different: it was wild and untamed.
The performance was not about to start. The floor was dirt, and my companion and I were drawn to a hut at the far corner of the coliseum. Inside a heavy brick and cement wall and primitive doorway were two rooms, one bare, and a sense of familiarity came over me. In the dream I remembered this was a place I had lived, on Sixth Street in West Berkeley, with quite low ceilings. That house was titled. The floor in the dream was even more steeply tilted. We went up into the second room, and there was a single bed with a stew of bedclothes. I knew this was my bed.
And the rooms were the lions’ den. We were invading their territory, but I felt welcome. This bed was where I wrote my poems and dreamed my dreams. We poked our heads through an opening in the far wall of the room. It looked out on the performance area and the lions were directly in sight. Fear washed through me.
The opening was rimmed with a sort of animal skin, three-inch long hairs in a rim of fur. As I poked my head through I felt wonder along with fear. The lions knew I was there. The opening was like a vagina, the source of life, open into the world.
Chalcedony (Kal-SAID-en-ee) would be familiar with this territory. She would find some harmony with the lions. If lions guard the portal to the treasures of the unconscious, we need to make friends with them. We need to do whatever penance allows us to enter those energetic places.
The Bronx in the 1960s was a difficult place, and one of our writers lived there in a sixth floor walk-up apartment with her mother. Rents were cheap, and as immigrants at poverty level they had been attracted to the neighborhood. But some buildings were burning, the streets were contested by gangs, and political groups were in conflict or disarray.
One day the City condemned their building, and all five floors beneath them emptied out. Mother and daughter stayed a while longer. When they came home at night to the deserted hallways, her mother stamped her feet hard on the floor and all the way up the five flights of stairs. Her daughter did the same. The mother called out, again and again, “Hurry up, George!” as if her husband were just behind them. In reality he was at work across town, but the muggers didn’t know this.
Years later the writer asked her mother how she felt about that time.”I didn’t think much about it. I thought it was just the way things were.”
“Just the way things were”? When neighborhoods are burning, and it’s dangerous to walk to the corner store and buy a quart of milk? We wonder what that does to a young writer’s psyche, and how she might react later.
But the writer calls herself a “recovering MFA graduate” and says she likes staying in touch with chaos. She did five years traditional training in literature and, ultimately, she found it boring to her creative impulse. She must have felt some resonance with the chaos, or its familiarity made chaos necessary to her work, or part of her recognized that at least some uncertainly is a quality of life. Everywhere. It was certainly present those years in the Bronx.
She says, “I invite chaos into my writing.”
Chaos is familiar territory to Chalcedony (Kal-SAID-en-ee), the spirit woman in my collections Chalcedony’s Songs. She lives in the passionate, archetypal currents running through our bodies, and the ride is often rough. Often chaotic. Her world doesn’t conform to our wishes, certainly, of how things should be. But Chalcedony likes the wildness and the rambunctiousness, and wants everyone else to enjoy it, too. Or at least to come to terms with it.
Especially her lover. Doesn’t he recognize that parts of life are always spinning out of control? In “Song Three” she admonishes him, one day when boundaries had dissolved and their impulses were overlapping. Everything was mixed up and intertwining, even at the atomic level.
“You think this is aggravating?” she shouts, “You think this isn’t the way of the world?”