Monday 11 November 2013

Singular - a poem and comments


All our singular
voices were joined in the choir
of the vanishing.

We were not ourselves.
We were a single body
and so we vanished.

It was a single 
terror, indivisible.
We could not know it.

Out there the planets
were counting themselves. Their eyes
were looking away.

The terror out there
was happening inside us

We had dreamt it all
before. It was quite common.
It was what joined us.

We were united
in our singularity,
our dreams and dying.

We dream all the time
of this commonality,
the wild singular.

So when the water
rose and the wind gathered
we knew it as dream.

The wind was wailing
with us. I too was wailing
with others as choir.

So things vanish: we,
our invaluable dreams,
our terrors, our lot.

We can't grieve ourselves.
The water and wind will have
to do it for us.

We are the dreaming
congregation. Our voices
are yours now. You grieve.



I was wondering whether to include this comment as a prologue but realised it would be too long and too clumsy because it wants to cover too much ground. First, the fact: this poem, which I always thought of as a single poem, was actually devised as a series of tweets early in the morning. The subject will be recognisable - it is the tragedy in The Philippines. Several thoughts arise out of this.

There is the question of propriety. I myself have violently disliked those moments when poets rushed to write about a war without first-hand experience, so why might this be all right? Two reasons occur to me. 
1. The poem isn't 'about' the disaster in The Philippines. It is chiefly about my own thoughts, dreams and memories. I have sometimes dreamed of mass disasters - nuclear attacks, cataclysms - and there were always great crowds, not in the moment of happening but in the minutes before it. I am sure such dreams are common. Why? Because that is the world we live in, a world of great undersea anxieties. The poem doesn't mention The Philippines. The disaster is in us, triggered by events there. 
2. Natural disaster (and I don't discount the possibility that human actions in terms of climate change might have been a contributing factor) are different from war. In war there are sides. There are no sides in natural disasters. We are all on the same side. It is not this or that human action we are looking to enter, but the great familiar yet unknown: our sense of being in a world that is not comprehensible to our consciousness. 


The speed of writing might be wrong in some way. But I have always written fast, and have said, several times, that writing is a form of momentum. If I wanted to illustrate this with an image I would compare this to setting out on a tightrope. Put the foot down on the rope, feel the weight, the wind, the tension and set out. For me it's run-stop-run. I can't help that, never could. It is not the production but the editing that is at issue. But one edits on the run. The act is both productive and reductive: it is the balancing act.


Who could possibly produce anything serious in a format so apparently flippant as Twitter? The very name gives it away. It's inconsequential chat. - Maybe, but I don't care what it is called. For me it is primarily a form and I have always lived through forms. In terms of a given form 140 characters is no different from 14 lines, from the 17 syllables of what we in the West have tended to regard as the form of the haiku. It is simply a chance 'given' with a developing history. Frankly I am not much interested in chatting or twittering. From the beginning I was fascinated not only by the brevity but by what kind of literary space it opened up. The haiku form is one, among others, that fits. Not that I am haiku devotee as such but it is fascinating to explore the kind of space we have made of it. I don't really think of my 17-syllable sequences as haikus. They are what the are: a length and a shape. They may stand alone (and in one way, they have to stand alone even in a sequence, because they appear alone) or link in a narrative or cumulative way.


The question of evanescence. Why bother with a medium that eats itself as soon as arrived. Why insert these texts (poems, anecdotes, enigmas, proverbs, incidents) into the fabric of general conversation? This perhaps is the most pertinent question in respect of literature. I would argue that evanescence is our human lot and that even literature takes its place among the other activities of life. I can save the texts of course, but their very nature is to be born out of immediate obsolescence. It is not so much a question of what it is like to be within that immediate obsolescence but what it is to have been within it then moved out. I don't really know the answer to that.


Lastly, the question of the place of such work in the context of other, more conventionally produced and published work? I think the two domains have been edging closer and there is material that appears here that might reasonably appear in a book among other poems. We shall see.


Dave Bonta said...

Terrific poem (and I agree with your comments about Twitter). Even though it may not be "about" the disaster in the Philippines, I'd encourage you to share the link in the new Facebook group page created by California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, Hawak Kamay: Poems for the Philippines After Haiyan,

Gwil W said...

I took to the poem immediately. As far the Philippines goes I don't think not being there disqualifies anyone from a artistic viewpoint so long as the poet can find by some device the sensitivity to put one's self in the position of those who are there wherever there is be it war or typhoon. The reason I wrote about Crystal Night which happened 75 years ago is obviously not because I was there but because I am in a place today where it happened and so I become sensitive as stranger in a strange land does to the atmosphere. I think I pick up the subliminal signals in the ether. And so I make the effort to get it down before it escapes me. And if I can relate to the present this also serves a purpose. Good to have you back at the blog!

George S said...

Thank you both. I'll see if I can get the poem on to Poems for the Philippines, Dave.

I have been hesitant with the blog, Gwilym, but I do want to continue it as best I can. Thank you for your support.

George S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luisa A. Igloria said...

Thank you for your poem, and this post.

As for obsolescence, evanescence, the apparent futility of even attempting to make a(ny) statement against the inevitable (plus taking into consideration the seeming incongruity of using media that embody the fleeting and superficial) --

Why we do these things is precisely because of what you've said here as well: "It was quite common./ It was what joined us."

George S said...

Thank you, Luisa. Coming from you that is great encouragement.

Clover said...

Spotted your write – ups, it’s cool. Very beneficial and interesting there are some ideas I haven’t heard before. Thanks for sharing.