poetry

Poetry Nights and how they put everything back in perspective

Sometimes I love cancelled plans, ironically they come to me with a great feeling of adrenaline rush and countless opportunities. I am an introvert by default – it is evident from my need to catch a break for a day or two after spending a lot of time closely interacting with other people for a while. It doesn’t mean they are not dear to me, I just need a small escape gap to give me a chance to recharge my batteries, and then I’m ready to socialize again and be a happy, functional human woman.

Like most of us, I enjoy being around people I like and who I’m comfortable with, talking is of course the main part of the deal so a healthy cocktail of chit-chattery, gossip, simple topics mixed with something new or more challenging is always the unintentional goal. One of the parts of being a social being in general is no matter how long you know someone, if your relationship is solid, you’ll always manage to discover new subjects, learn something and finally, get excited about things you didn’t even know they excite you.

So, cancelled plans. This week is the best time to be alive for all of us chronic cancellation and postponing loving assholes. It is the middle of a summer, the time when I usually turn into someone who is not a very good person, someone who doesn’t have the greatest conversation starters or any creative ideas whatsoever, someone who will talk about mosquito bites and suicide 90 per cent of the time. I would most likely team up with your grandma and present everyone with the data about the horrible effects of sun exposure and how you should, if possible, avoid it throughout the day. Going to the beach happens only from 6 to 7 AM or after 7 PM, there’s no in between. Literally. I will even casually throw in the word ‘cancer’ just to keep the party going, totally unaware how I’m being a bit of a hypocrite since I used to smoke a pack  a cigarettes a day and no one could say a word about it.

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Back to cancelled plans. The past couple of days the heatwave made everyone act like me. They are postponing work, public events – no open movie projections, even some theater plays got cancelled! Since nothing is going on, all we hear in the ‘news’ is: extreme temperatures, the worst summer ever, hell on earth… I read a title that went like this: Our readers experiences: ‘I went to the store today and died’. The whole article consists of random statements delivered by anonymous Croatian citizens (a.k.a. invented by the author) worrying about how to survive the heatwave. My absolute favourite comes from a brave female reader from Zagreb:

I drink water and pee all day, I can’t eat and I usually love to eat. If I put my clothes on, I’m hot. If I take it off, I get sticky. And the worst part of it all – the coffee doesn’t taste good.

What do I do when plans get cancelled and I’m lying naked in a pool of blood sweat next to the ventilator, but don’t want my brain to go into a complete shutdown? I read poetry – no matter if it’s going back to old gems or accidentally discovering new authors, it’s the best cure. Tonight I’m once again hanging out with my queen, Sylvia Plath.

One of her poems that leaves the greatest impression is called Mushrooms and although I didn’t pay much attention to it because of the title that seemed bleak (seriously?), became important to me right after I read it for the first time.

Mushrooms

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

Sylvia Plath, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960)

 

When I read it now, I could swear that this poem is precisely what first inspired Margaret Atwood to write The Handmaid’s Tale, just look at the last verse. Sylvia Plath is an icon of feminism, a real one, not just a ‘one line pony’ as I like to call them nowadays. She lived in the 50’s and was, in a way, forced into accepting a role of a simple housewife, go after society’s rules, although her mind was way beyond that ever since she was a young girl.

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If I Could Just See You From Up Here by Norman Duenas

This is a poem about oppression and how it will not last forever. I don’t think it’s necessary to limit to the equal female rights problem only when oppression is not just gender based problem (what an understatement in lack of a better word), it is everywhere, it is evident, hidden, sometimes comes in layers, sometimes directly in your face. Oppression is the word I would use to describe what Plath was fearing the most during her young and later adult years, the fear of not being able to express herself and live freely without having to answer to anyone’s expectations deteriorated the state of her mental health leading her towards the tragic ending.

Mushrooms speaks to everyone who has ever felt isolated, misunderstood, underestimated or ignored and although it comes in a depressive tone, it is actually a positive, hopeful poem.  It provokes the thoughts of a revolution that will help restore the balance between the greedy oppressor and the underdog. It is in deed a revolution, but not the roaring, powerful kind, it is subtle and quiet, it comes on its tiptoes while you think everyone on the planet is asleep. Nothing is sure except that in the morning the sun will rise and deliver a surprise on its rays.

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We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.

 

 

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Moonlight

My brain is melting, can’t really read or write anything. Today is ‘take photos and post them on the Instagram instead of studying’ day.

Also, to continue with today’s grand achievements – I made ice coffee and poured in a couple of drops of spoiled milk, drank it right away, loved it. In my defense, it didn’t smell or taste bad, only the texture was… well, questionable.

To get myself mentally back on track, I am posting one of my favourite poems, the one that decorates one of my bedroom walls. Whenever I mention poetry, there’s 95 percent of chance that I’m turning into your grandma and talking about French 19th-century symbolism movement.  This is Paul Verlaine‘s Clair de lune (Moonlight) from his 1869 collection of poems Fêtes galantes. Read carefully, add a bit of (non spoiled) milk, three ice cubes, mix it all up in  a cocktail shaker and enjoy.

 

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.       

Your soul is a landscape fair and fine
Where charming masqueraders swarm
Playing the lute and dancing and being almost
Sad beneath their fanciful costume.

Singing together in a minor key
Of love conquests and the life of risks,
In their fortune they do not seem to believe;
And their song melts into the lunar beam.

The quiet moon beam, sad and beautiful,
That lulls the birds in the trees to dream
And makes the fountain jets sob in a spree,
The tall slender jets that soothe the marbles.

       

* Finding different versions of poems, even from professional translators can be pretty frustrating because the new version never completely captures the whole point, the core of what the poet had in mind. It’s probably one of the main reasons why I will never stop learning foreign languages – to be able to enjoy literature in its original form. One day.

 

 

 

Symptom Recitle

You know, sometimes I want to talk about complicated stuff in sincere, simple way, but that’s way harder of making plain facts seem super intelligent. And sometimes I try to project my state of mind directly on the paper/keyboard, but the words turn out to be embarrassingly weak when compared to the original line of thought I had in mind.

And sometimes, while I’m in that specific state of mind, like now – nervous, jittery and restless for no particular reason, but for all the reasons, I stumble upon a short story, a poem, song lyrics that I have never encountered before, and they manage to describe everything I feel. How weird is that? Specific emotions, detailed thoughts, moodiness, pain and boredom, it’s all there. That’s why great authors and storytellers are timeless, they manage to recognize parts of themselves in everyone else. Or at least it looks as if they are not completely self concerned. Even if they are thinking exclusively about themselves, the talent allows them to express feelings in a way that is so familiar to us mortals. There’s no greater feeling than finding a safe place in stranger’s words.

This is my newest discovery, I’m sure it’s not a temporary fascination. Today we mark the date when I fell in love with American poet, writer and critic Dorothy Parker.

 

Symptom Recital

I do not like my state of mind;
I’m bitter, querulous, unkind.
I hate my legs, I hate my hands,
I do not yearn for lovelier lands.
I dread the dawn’s recurrent light;
I hate to go to bed at night.
I snoot at simple, earnest folk.
I cannot take the gentlest joke.
I find no peace in paint or type.
My world is but a lot of tripe.
I’m disillusioned, empty-breasted.
For what I think, I’d be arrested.
I am not sick, I am not well.
My quondam dreams are shot to hell.
My soul is crushed, my spirit sore;
I do not like me any more.
I cavil, quarrel, grumble, grouse.
I ponder on the narrow house.
I shudder at the thought of men….
I’m due to fall in love again.

 

The ‘Enfant Terrible’

About a week ago, a gun that Paul Verlaine used to shoot his lover Arthur Rimbaud was sold for 434 500 €. The story that led to one of the most famous love quarrels of the art world developed something like this (at least this is the version I’ve came across many times): on the morning of the 10th of July 1873 Verlaine bought the gun in Brussels with one goal on his mind – to end the passionate, but highly dysfunctional relationship with his 18-year-old teenage prodigy lover.

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The vagabond, tortured genius, a rebel, tragically lost and unadjusted, and to complete the cliché – died too soon. This is our hero – Arthur Rimbaud, the one that never grow up, but wrote better than anyone while it seemed like he’s not even trying. He probably wasn’t, it was a matter of true talent, just like when Bob Dylan later described his 60s songwriting skills as something that simply came to him, he can’t completely grasp it or reproduce it, and just like the rest of us, now can  only admire it.

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This is the hotel where on the 10th of July 1873 P. Verlaine wounded  A. Rimbaud by a gunshot

He didn’t die from the bullet coming from that famous  gun, during a drunk, probably absinth induced fight in a hotel room, Verlaine fired two bullets at him and only one hitting him in the wrist. Nothing serious, especially for their bohemian, crazy, poetic, drunk standards, but Rimbaud got scared, called the police, Verlaine ended up serving a two-year sentence of hard labour. Apparently, Verlaine was feeling anxious and suicidal because he couldn’t get rid of his companion and wanted to move back to his wife and children, which obviously didn’t sound like an acceptable plan to Rimbaud.

Ever since the roots of my different interests were formed I created a firm connection between the two rebels I liked, although they were different and separated far away in time – Rimbaud and Sid Vicious. The latter I don’t appreciate through music as much as I did in my ‘formative’ years, but more because of his true punk attitude, although, lets face it – he was a junkie and an idiot. Still, up to this day as a small, careless homage I wear a cheap locker pendant around my neck, just like I did for the last 8, 9, 10 years. During those early highschool years, Sid was to me an ‘ideal’ image of a fucked up friend/boyfriend who I could love only because I have never met him or had a chance to do so. Otherwise, things would be different, needless to say (no pun intended).  When I grew up a bit I realized that having a Sid & Nancy relationship is not something I strive for (visual aspects aside), getting stabbed to death in a hotel in weird circumstances , even if it’s the cult Hotel Chelsea, is not at all attractive or glamorous. The edge, rebellious attitude and rejection of the rules of society and imposed authority are the traits that are still and always will be stuck with me.

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This also reminded me of a story when Patti Smith explained Arthur Rimbaud was kind of like her boyfriend when she was young because of so much time they’ve spent together. Their relationship obviously payed off and brought a lot to her unique expression, and Patti wasn’t alone of course – it wouldn’t be a real post without mentioning  an impressive list of musicians, writers, cultural  heroes who were directly inspired by Rimbaud’s surrealistic poetry: Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Pablo Picasso, Vladimir Nabokov, Richey Edwards, Jack Kerouac…. What would have happened if he didn’t stop writing at the age of only 21? Maybe that’s where the magic came from – a sudden, intensive and mysterious explosion that will continue to inspire generation after generation of those who love to play with words in their own way. The imaginary old, long bearded Rimbaud would be sitting in a rocking chair at some point of his long life and say something like : I don’t know how I did it or where it came from, it just happened and I was a lucky, reckless bastard who had the privilege to let those verses out, save them on paper and put my signature underneath. 

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