Seamus Heaney Tribute (possibly part 1)

Aside

Seamus Heaney wrote a lot about the past, which is one reason that it’s sort of appropriate that he translated Beowulf. For those who don’t know, Beowulf is an Old English epic poem, possibly the earliest work of literature in English (although Old English doesn’t bear much resemblance to modern English). His version begins with what is possibly the greatest start to an epic, as well as the best single word sentence ever: ‘So.’ I have used this a few times, and you can be sure every time I use the word ‘so’ to start off something, I am thinking of Heaney’s Beowulf. Here are several examples.

As a rare… thingy I will give some notes on the pieces. The first is about San Francisco. The line ‘shredded you to a whimper’ owes something to T.S. Eliot. Kerouac, as some may know, spent a good deal of time in SF, and in fact there is a street named for him. While I was there I drank in the bar that he used to frequent (although I forget the name and I shall not guess at it). The line ‘somewhere under the rainbow’ is a sort of reference to SF’s thriving gay population; and of course the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ from the Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland being something of a gay icon (by which I mean an icon in the gay community).

The second is a piece about writing, and what poetry is or is seen as today. I shall also give away that the quotations in the piece are entirely made up by me… part of the point is that a common trope in poetry is quotations from unheard of, or at least obscure, people.

The third is about love (from Nanowrimo day 20). It is basically about how I met someone I loved, and still love. It contains a few little references that I will share with you. Taiheiyoh is the Japanese for Pacific Ocean. Little Fluffy Clouds is a song by The Orb. Most of the rest is specifics, real or not, of a now long past relationship. Sighs.

Sadly I forget what I was thinking when I wrote the fourth one. My apologies. But you are free to read into it whatever you wish. Let me know your thoughts and I’m sure I shall recognize it if you’re thinking what I was thinking.

So
After the Spear-Danes
And shields
And myths have passed
This is how it ends
After the city has shredded you to a whimper
Twin peaks slope everything down
Through smog to the idle of the bay
Kerouac clatter down alleys
Lettered in gold
Living here
That sharp smell of impatient words
Burnt coffee
The twitching eyelid muscles
Leach out the beauty under the eyes
You become more tourniquet than tangerine
The only happiness you can grasp
Is the happiness of knowing
That you can survive
Totally alone
Somewhere under
The rainbow

shuffle the words
a fan of cards
spread hand
five and fifty
it is almost
amazing
the lengths we stretch
to
normalize
spin money away
flatten our dread
into stocky equaliser lines
maybe I shall
begin with a single word. So.
A fragment: surely that
will course up the ire and itch
of prescriptivists
incite a war in the margins
or perchance
a dictionary definition
the delicious skill of
copy and paste
is our lunge and riposte
[it will save time if
you declare your ignorance
in the prologue]
Franz Gruber said
‘we fall back on the classics
because
we are too lazy to improve’
I shall begin with quotation – in latin for preference
[it will save time if
you declare the reader’s ignorance
in the prologue]
history is a puzzle that is mostly sky
Perhaps I should bring out
a squat blue fragment
at random; magnify it until
it fills the frame of reference
until everyone can see
yes this is a piece of sky
‘Is it gold flecked, imbued with
the sweat and suds of promise,
with crystallized language?’
no, no, it is after all, only sky
George Wolfram said
‘If I name all shades of blue
in a towering column, that must
be poetry’
It certainly cannot be science
You are
the discarded parings and dregs
of history and philology
perhaps we should move
away from the 800

So.
The sharp points
In days gone by
All pointed at me
And I said ‘Look at me’
Whereas now I would say the opposite
And by saying it I met you
Always sitting at the front of the class
(I always sat at the back)
You wore that skirt I loved
And clutched your books in slender fingers
And we crashed together like two waves bound for the same shore
And we held hands under the table
And I caught you when you jumped off the steps
In a puff of rosin
And we read together, our fingers entwined with the lines
You touched me like punctuation
We skimmed stones over the tai hei yõ
And I felt my present drift away
Like little fluffy clouds
There was an ocean of you
I could dive into

Sure, sometimes there were storms
And the waves would crash against the beach huts
And the rain would run down the buildings like tears
But, until the day I poured away the ocean
You always had your piano-slim hand in mine
And your smile brushed against me
Like light shining off the water

So.
I was the sparrow
Skipping like a child
Branch to branch
I caught butterflies
On every twig
Snapped them from the air
Like dying stars
But in me now something has changed
The heart of a sparrow is gone
And in its place
The slow beat of a hawk
Rises
All terrible hovering adumbration
I can nearly see the blood pumping
In something small
As a shrew
Such a pretense of innocence
That will not save it

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Defeated … by the ballad

Apparently there is just something about ballads that I cannot write. Day 25 of the napowrimo had an exercise to write a ballad, and I just couldn’t do it. There is something about the rolling, rhyming lines of the ballad that I couldn’t do. Not that I can’t rhyme. I have written quite a few rhyming things in the past and all of them seemed to work fine. But the ballad seems an insurmountable obstacle.

Oddly, this isn’t the first time that this has happened recently with a ballad. I’ve also been working through exercises from Stephen Fry’s excellent ‘The Ode Less Travelled’, a book I would absolutely recommend to beginning or even advanced poets everywhere. What is an advanced poet exactly? I’m not sure. But anyway. There was an exercise in that book to complete a ballad started by Stephen, and I couldn’t do that either. I’d written one once before (done the same exercise) and all that kept popping into my head was the lines I’d already written. Clearly there is something about the ballad that drives one towards insanity, or at the very least, non-productivity.

So I shall end this quick post with a question or two. Have you ever run into a block when writing something, especially a ballad? Do you have any advice for me writing ballads? And finally, what on earth is your appendix for anyway?

Day 23 – triolet

A triolet is a poem of the form ABaAabAB where A and B are repeated lines and a and A rhyme, as do b and B. I’m sure I could make all that into a poem but I don’t think I shall.

It makes me think of diamond rings

the house all empty and decayed

a lonely voice, abandoned, sings

It makes me think of diamond rings

All falling and precarious things

An eye so pretty, yet dismayed,

It makes me think of diamond rings

the house all empty and decayed

Day 22 – Earth day

In the beginning was the word

And the word was ‘ouch’

And the word was in pain

And the pain was palpable

In the beginning was the word

And the word was ‘seriously?’

And the word was flabbergasted

And the word looked upon all that man had made and said

‘It is not good’

In the beginning was the word

And the word was considered

And the thought behind it was great

And from the word sprung many tiny violets

And the word was settled

And the word was peaceful

And the word was ‘earth’

Day 21 – Fortune cookies

I found a new place for prompts – thank you http://www.napowrimo.net/.

 

You will bring great happiness to others

You will be as fluid as mercury

You will travel to strange and unusual destinations, and stay inside the whole time you are there

You will meet a tall handsome stranger on the bus, and never say hello

You will fall in love and out of love and in love and out of love…

You will have a child whom you love above all other things

You will bring great unhappiness to others

Beware of those who throw tomatoes

You will never stop moving

People in glass houses with stones are probably up to no good

You will have an unhappy birthday

You will eat too much and feel bad about it the next day

You will never learn your lesson

You will stop, and in stopping, learn to live

Day 20 – Love

After today there are no more prompts on the prompts post I’m using. Does anyone have any ideas for prompts I could use?

So.

The sharp points

In days gone by

All pointed at me

And I said ‘Look at me’

Whereas now I would say the opposite

And by saying it I met you

Always sitting at the front of the class

(I always sat at the back)

You wore that skirt I loved

And clutched your books in slender fingers

And we crashed together like two waves bound for the same shore

And we held hands under the table

And I caught you when you jumped off the steps

In a puff of rosin

And we read together, our fingers entwined with the lines

You touched me like punctuation

We skimmed stones over the tai hei yõ

And I felt my present drift away

Like little fluffy clouds

There was an ocean of you

I could dive into

Sure, sometimes there were storms

And the waves would crash against the beach huts

And the rain would run down the buildings like tears

But, until the day I poured away the ocean

You always had your piano-slim hand in mine

And your smile brushed against me

Like light shining off the ocean