“Nothing is free. Everything has to be paid for. For every profit in one thing, payment in some other thing. For every life, a death. Even your music, of which we have heard so much, that had to be paid for. Your wife was the payment for your music. Hell is now satisfied.” ~ Ted Hughes, from Orpheus

Ted Hughes on the first day of trout fishing season in April 1986. Nick Rogers-REX/Courtesy of Harper

“Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter – your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil” ~ Ted Hughes, from “God Help the Wolf after Whom the Dogs Do Not Bark”

Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy and quite warm, 90 degrees.

Yesterday was the birthday of notable British poet Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930-October 28, 1998).

I know that I said I would continue the NRA post today, but I just can’t. I need a break. I worked on that frigging post for over eight hours, and my body hasn’t recovered. When I get into intense writing mode, I don’t pay attention to my posture, and I tend to sit with all of my muscles tensed. Of course, the result is that I pay for it afterwards. Today my shoulders are a bundle of knots, as is my lower back, which negates any relief I may have gotten from the trigger point injections.

I’m still awaiting a prior authorization on my Robaxin (muscle relaxer), which is what I take during the day, every day. I really need that. Well, that, or a masseuse. Don’t have either at the moment.

Corey and I both got a lot done yesterday: I wrote a thoroughly researched article, and he finished the fence on the back pasture for the goats. Hoorah, hoorah.

Sylviai Plath and Ted Hughes in 1956

Anyway, back to Ted Hughes, who some of you may know as the husband of the poet Sylvia Plath; their marriage and her suicide negatively colored his reputation as a writer until his death, but he was incredibly talented in his own right. Unfortunately for Hughes, the woman for whom he left Plath, Assia Wevill, killed herself and their 4-year-old daughter Shura after Plath’s death. Hughes spent the remainder of his life writing and farming with his second wife, Carol Orchard.

If you want to know more about Hughes and Plath, the 2008 book The Letters of Ted Hughes is a great read, as is his 1998 book Birthday Letters. I own the latter but not the former; it’s on my wish list. I enjoy reading the correspondence of writers as the majority of them lay themselves bare in notes and letters. It always strikes me as being much more immediate than a biography.

You can find a good biography here on the Poetry Foundation site. The Paris Review interviewed  Hughes for its “Art of Poetry Series” (No. 71) in 1995. You can find the article here. In the following quote Hughes discusses how location affected his writing, something I am always pondering myself:

Ever since I began to write with a purpose I’ve been looking for the ideal place. I think most writers go through it.

. . . When I came back to England, I think the best place I found in that first year or two was a tiny cubicle at the top of the stairs that was no bigger than a table really. But it was a wonderful place to write. I mean, I can see now, by what I wrote there, that it was a good place.

I chose “A Woman Unconscious,” the poem below, because once again, its content seems so timely, especially in light of the recent nuclear missile explosion in Russia

More later. Peace.


A Woman Unconscious

Russia and America circle each other;
Threats nudge an act that were without doubt
A melting of the mould in the mother,
Stones melting about the root.The quick of the earth burned out:
The toil of all our ages a loss
With leaf and insect.  Yet flitting thought
(Not to be thought ridiculous)Shies from the world-cancelling black
Of its playing shadow: it has learned
That there’s no trusting (trusting to luck)
Dates when the world’s due to be burned;

That the future’s no calamitous change
But a malingering of now,
Histories, towns, faces that no
Malice or accident much derange.

And though bomb be matched against bomb,
Though all mankind wince out and nothing endure —
Earth gone in an instant flare —
Did a lesser death come

Onto the white hospital bed
Where one, numb beyond her last of sense,
Closed her eyes on the world’s evidence
And into pillows sunk her head.


Music by You + Me, “Love Gone Wrong”

“So I sought | The sleep which would not come, and night was fraught | With old emotions weeping silently.” ~ Amy Lowell, from “Crepuscule du Matin”


Two for Tuesday: Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday afternoon, cold and snow off and on, 26 degrees.

I’m still suffering from writer’s block. The words just aren’t coming. The good news, though, is that I’ve collected a bunch of quotes and images for future posts, that is, if I can ever write them.

Anyway, today’s selection includes two poems by author and poet Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). The Poetry Foundation has a really good bio here.

I hope you are doing well out there in the ether. Everyone here, human and beast, is doing fine. It’s supposed to be beastly cold for a few days, and then a nice warm up for about a week. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it actually comes to pass.

More later. Peace.


Two English Poems

I

The useless dawn finds me in a deserted street-
corner; I have outlived the night.
Nights are proud waves; darkblue topheavy waves
laden with all the hues of deep spoil, laden with
things unlikely and desirable.
Nights have a habit of mysterious gifts and refusals,
of things half given away, half withheld,
of joys with a dark hemisphere. Nights act
that way, I tell you.
The surge, that night, left me the customary shreds
and odd ends: some hated friends to chat
with, music for dreams, and the smoking of
bitter ashes. The things my hungry heart
has no use for.
The big wave brought you.
Words, any words, your laughter; and you so lazily
and incessantly beautiful. We talked and you
have forgotten the words.
The shattering dawn finds me in a deserted street
of my city.
Your profile turned away, the sounds that go to
make your name, the lilt of your laughter:
these are the illustrious toys you have left me.
I turn them over in the dawn, I lose them, I find
them; I tell them to the few stray dogs and
to the few stray stars of the dawn.
Your dark rich life . . .
I must get at you, somehow; I put away those
illustrious toys you have left me, I want your
hidden look, your real smile—that lonely,
mocking smile your cool mirror knows.

II

What can I hold you with?
I offer you lean streets, desperate sunsets, the
moon of the jagged suburbs.
I offer you the bitterness of a man who has looked
long and long at the lonely moon.
I offer you my ancestors, my dead men, the ghosts
that living men have honoured in bronze:
my father’s father killed in the frontier of
Buenos Aires, two bullets through his lungs,
bearded and dead, wrapped by his soldiers in
the hide of a cow; my mother’s grandfather
—just twentyfour—heading a charge of
three hundred men in Peru, now ghosts on
vanished horses.
I offer you whatever insight my books may hold,
whatever manliness or humour my life.
I offer you the loyalty of a man who has never
been loyal.
I offer you that kernel of myself that I have saved,
somehow—the central heart that deals not
in words, traffics not with dreams, and is
untouched by time, by joy, by adversities.
I offer you the memory of a yellow rose seen at
sunset, years before you were born.
I offer you explanations of yourself, theories about
yourself, authentic and surprising news of
yourself.
I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the
hunger of my heart; I am trying to bribe you
with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat.


Music by Iron & Wine, “Bird Stealing Bread”

“The late evening is the time of times. Then with that unearthly beauty before one it is not hard to realise how far one has to go. To write something that will be worthy of that rising moon, that pale light.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, from Notebooks

Horse at Porth Cwyfan, Anglesey, Wales by Karen Ann Jones Telegraph Big Picture
Horse at Porth Cwyfan, Anglesey, Wales
by Karen Ann Jones, Telegraph Big Picture

                   

“As I loosen up and begin to surrender in a sleepy dreaminess I am suddenly experiencing clarity; I perhaps want to exist in a place where there is no dimension of existence.” ~ Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals Of Sylvia Plath

Friday afternoon. Sunny and cold, 40 degrees.

The strange dreams continue unabated; granted, I tend to have strange dreams most of the time, but the latest crop is intensely strange. I need to ponder them before discussing them.

A stormy day at Jökulsárlón, Iceland by Adrian Metzelaar Telegraph Big Picture
A Stormy Day at Jökulsárlón, Iceland
by Adrian Metzelaar, Telegraph Big Picture

Anyway, I awoke this morning with a migraine, which has slowly eased. The past few days I have not felt quite right, unsettled and achy. Nothing specific, but puny is the best way to describe it. I hope that I’m not getting ready to have one of those weak periods, the kind that forces me to bed for days. I really hate that.

However, taking to bed does allow me more time for reading, that is when I can concentrate. I decided against writing yesterday and sat down with a book, but then I kept finding my concentration slipping, my mind racing, and I was unable to read more than a few chapters. I ended up watching television. I don’t pretend not to watch television, but I have kind of an unwritten rule that I don’t turn the television on until after 8 p.m. Part of my reason for doing so is that my mother has the television on from the moment she awakens until the moment she falls asleep. I always told myself that I would not allow the TV to serve as my primary means of getting through my days; although immediately after Caitlin died I did nothing but watch soap operas for a year, another reason that I do not allow myself to turn on the television during the day.

“And language, drowned somewhere
at the endless bottom of senses, dictates
an underground flow of images to the tongue” ~ Boris A. Novak,  from “A Dream is Snowing”

So I’ve been thinking about the concept of false modesty. Let me explain:

We all know individuals who are self-deprecating, but only in the hopes that their assertions about their negativity will be rebuffed by the listener and replaced by a compliment. My mother used to call this fishing for compliments.

Winter Day at Beachy Head by Jackie Watson Telegraph Big Picture
Winter Day at Beachy Head, UK
by Jackie Watson, Telegraph Big Picture

I am not in this category. When I say that I think that I am X, I truly mean that I am X. I am not trying to get anyone to say, “Oh no. That’s not you. You are so Y. How can you say that?”

Corey and I were talking yesterday about my poor self-image, and he said that he just doesn’t understand how someone can live in a state of constantly chipping away at themselves. It’s hard to explain to someone who does not suffer from this, hard to make someone who is relatively self-assured understand that feelings of inadequacy are very real and not some attempt to garner compliments. In fact, I have never known how to accept compliments gracefully, so adept am I at believing only the worst of myself that to hear anything else just doesn’t seem realistic.

But the truth is that I cannot lay all of the blame for this on my mother, as much as I would like to do so. Yes, my mother has spent most of my life pointing out my flaws, patting my belly, telling me that I need to do neck exercises, etcetera ad nauseam. But, and this is a big but, I have listened to her. I did not have to listen, did I? But I did listen, and I heard, and I believed.

“—Our words, like blown kisses, are swallowed by ghosts
Along the way,
their destinations bereft
In a rub of brightness unending:
How distant everything always is,
and yet how close” ~ Charles Wright, from “Night Journal”

True story: When Olivia was just a few months old, my mother was holding her, and she looked down at this new baby, this wonderful, happy baby, and commented on her double chin, saying something along the lines of “You’ll have to watch that.”

What happened to my mother to make her so completely obsessed with the physical? Is she a product of her times, the decades in which women were valued not by what they knew but how they looked? Okay, those decades have not disappeared completely, but you know what I mean here.

Sunset at Reynisdrangar, Iceland by Phil MacDonald Telegraph Big Picture
Sunset at Reynisdrangar, Iceland
by Phil MacDonald, Telegraph Big Picture

Or is my mother’s seeming obsession with the brutal cut a result of her unhappiness in her marriage, her way of coping with a man who had affair after affair, quite probably leaving her completely insecure and wondering what was wrong with her that he could never be happy?

I have no answers to these questions. I only know that as an educated adult woman who has seen a measure of success that I should not be so self-loathing, and truly, truly, I wish that I were not. There have been periods in my life in which I was riding high, feeling quite self-assured, quite happy with the way that I looked, happy with how I was being received by people, but those periods were fleeting, completely dependent upon how much I weighed, which clothes I could wear, how my hair looked.

“I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.” ~ Albert Camus, from The Stranger

I fear that I’m not doing a very good job of explaining what it is exactly that is bothering me. Let me back up:

When it comes to my brains, I am probably more than arrogant. I know how smart I am, and I also know in which categories I am deficient. But when it comes to the physical . . . I am still that young girl on the playground in elementary school who looked around and didn’t see anyone who looked remotely similar. Surrounded by blond, blue-eyed girls named Kim and Brooke, I felt sorely out of place.

Dusk at the Giant's Causeway, County Antrim by Dacian Tiberius Telegraph Big Picture
Dusk at the Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
by Dacian Tiberius, Telegraph Big Picture

Some women would delight in their differences from the mainstream, and at times, I have been quite happy to have someone tell me that I am exotic looking, that they liked my looks precisely because I did not look like everyone else. But more often than not I have felt like the outsider.

Another true story: When I worked as a sales manager for that major retailer I was among a management staff that was, on the whole, quite attractive. There was the woman of Greek heritage who was gorgeous. There was the perky blond with the big chest. There was the brunette with the big beautiful eyes and ready smile. And then there was me.

“The heart, being full of blood, casts a shadow.” ~ Henry Gray, from Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body

Okay, what is it I’m saying here? Hell if I know. I only know that Corey is relentlessly frustrated by my self-denigration, that he wishes that I could like myself more. I wish that I could like myself more, too.

Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland, UK by Richard Hayward Telegraph Big Picture
Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland, UK
by Richard Hayward, Telegraph Big Picture

It’s no picnic being this wracked with insecurity, and in fact, I’m quite sure that this shroud of insecurity is one of the main reasons I do not do more with my writing, that I am terrified of being rejected for my words, having felt rejected for my difference for so long.

You are probably sitting there thinking to yourself, “Sheesh. Get a life already.” And you would be correct. I should be more grateful for what I have and less worried about what I feel I lack. I should focus more on the things at which I feel I excel and focus less on the skin around my neck or the flab on my upper arms.

I should do these things. I know this. But should and can are a world apart in the universe that is me, a seemingly unbreachable chasm. And I make myself tired all over when I do this.

Enough.

More later. Peace.

(All images are taken from the Telegraph’s Big Picture series)

Music by Aidan Hawken and Carina Round, “Walking Blind”

                   

I’m trying something new today: So that you can see the poem with the breaks and indents as the poet intended, I have snipped the original and inserted as two jpegs, still working out the kinks. HTML does not allow (or I don’t know how in HTML) to place indents within consecutive lines. Let me know what you think. The following poem is taken from The Poetry Foundation:

Evie Shockley part 1Evie Shockley part 2

“Writing is a job, a craft, and you learn it by trying to write every day and by facing the page with humility and gall.” ~ Stephen Dobyns, Interview in The New Yorker

“Chateau Noir” (1904, oil on canvas)
by Paul Cezanne

                   

Two for Tuesday: Stephen Dobyns

Cezanne’s Seclusion 

“I have begun to think,” he wrote in a late letter,
“that one cannot help others at all.” This
from a man who once called friendship the highest
virtue. And in another he wrote: “Will I ever
attain the end for which I have striven so long?”
His greatest aspiration was certainty
yet his doubts made him blame himself wrongly,
perceiving each painting a disaster. These swings
between boldness and mistrust, intimacy and isolation
led him to stay at home, keep himself concealed,
becoming a sort of hermit, whose passion for the world
directed every brushstroke, changed each creation
into an expression of tenderness, which he dismissed
writing: “a vague sense of apprehension persists.”

(Heard Garrison Keillor reading this one on Writer’s Almanac. Beautiful.

                   

“The Alley at Chantilly” (1888, oil on canvas)
Paul Cezanne

Finding the Direction

It is quiet. It is a place where
the grass sleeps and I have come to it.
When it wakes, my clocks will turn twice
and discover the necessity of stopping.
Buses pass such places. Their passengers
are mostly asleep. One light in the back
and a man who has read that mystery before.
Who calls to the deaf? To cross water,
to learn knowledge of fire, I shall
move myself backwards. A crab has always
forgotten something and dies in pursuit.
Awake and moving, I know of houses where
my pockets have emptied themselves of essentials.
Backwards, I shall find them. There is
too much shouting in a forward direction.
There is no analogy in sleep. The man
reading does not experience the road,
has forgotten his family. To discover
the fence posts, then to reach the gate.
Awakened, the grass shifts, twisting
within itself, as I do, scurrying. The teeth
of some dragons are very small. Plant them
carefully. Water and watch the ground.