Thursday, 26 July 2012

Love at First Sight: An Urban Romance

“A bus I seek that’s station bound,
I walked from there this morning.
But, oh! my leg it’s hurting now,
I’d like a bus returning.”

“The buses they don’t run from here,
But yonder left they turn in,
Near where the roadworks are you’ll find
The bus stop that you’re yearning.”

“But then it’s still a way to go
To reach that intersection.
And though my leg must suffer more,
I thank you for direction.”
“But why not let me be the cure,
For, my! you are so pretty.
I’ll lend my arm, so come with me
And rest the leg you pity.”
“A funny deal you do propose
To help my leg recover.
Perhaps you think that through your grace
My leg will be won over?”

“My arm will serve as you desire,
Your heart it would win over
And even should the rains come down,
Then I would lend you cover.”

“Why must you dream of thunderstorms,
So you can find me shelter?
When now my leg is burning hot,
And while you speak I swelter.”

“Then come at once back to my place
Let me blow your pains away.
The sun will hide its jealous face,
Darkening as our shadows play.”

“I had a feeling from the start,
That when we met, it was fate.
My sorry leg has touched your heart,
But what if it were just a bait?”

“Walk on by, dear maiden fair
And I will always think of you
And how you stood so sorry there,
Wondering if this love were true.”

“My mind was never more made up
My heart never felt so sure,
But when my leg has found relief
Would you still your sweetness pour?”
“Come gentle nymph across thy sea
Of petty uncertainty.
I will rid you of all trace
Of the worry in your face.”

“Then seal the pledge upon my lips
That you’ll ever faithful be
To me, the stranger from afar
Whom you happened once to see.” 

(They kiss in passionate embrace)

What next? no information —

The transcript ends: it’s left to grace...
And your imagination.


The image is "Le Coquillage" (The Shell) 
by Jean-Baptiste Valadié (born 1933).

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Symbolism: East and West

A collection of quotations, followed by a little video of the paintings of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) accompanied by Cerys Matthews, formerly of Catatonia, singing the Welsh song of unrequited love "Myfanwy".

Jean Moreas ("Manifesto of Symbolism", 1886)
"To clothe the idea in perceptible form..."

François Cheng (Chinese Poetic Writing, 1977)
"The influence of a language conceived no longer as a denotative system that "describes" the world, but as a system of connections that provokes the act of signifying, is decisive here. Poetry, calligraphy, painting and myth form a semiotic network, both complex and unified, which cannot be compartmentalised. The three talents (san-tsai) of Man, Earth and Heaven participate in a relationship of both correspondence and complementarily. The role of man consists not only of "fitting out" the universe, but of interiorizing all things, recreating them so as to rediscover his own place within. In this process of "co-creation", the central element with regard to literature is the notion of wen. This term is found in many later combinations signing language, style, literature, civilisation, and so forth. Originally, it designated the footprints of animals, or the veins of wood and stone, the set of harmonious or rhythmic "strokes" by which nature signifies. It is in the image of these natural signs that the linguistic designs of calligraphy were created, and these are similarly called wen. The double nature of wen constitutes an authority through which man may come to understand the mystery of nature, and thereby his own nature. A masterpiece is that which restores the secret relationship between things, and the breath that animates them as well."

Odilon Redon "My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined."

Chung Hung (6th century) "The Breaths animate beings and things; these in their turn inspire man. Pushed by the impulsions and feelings which dwell within him, man expresses himself through dance and song. His song is a light which illuminates the three spirits (Man-Earth-Heaven) as well as the ten thousand creatures. Thus it makes an offering to the spirits, and makes manifest the hidden mystery. For unsettling Heaven and Earth, for moving the gods, nothing equals poetry." (The Chinese, like the Egyptians, have a myth of how the linguistic signs of writing were stolen from the gods, analogous to the Greek myth of Prometheus who stole fire.)

Goethe (from Prometheus)
"...Do you somehow imagine
That I should hate Life,
Flee to the desert,
Because not every
Flowering dream should bloom?
Here I sit, I form humans
After my own image;
A race, to be like me,
To sorrow, to weep,
To enjoy and delight itself,
And to heed you not -
Like I!"

Yen Yu (12th century) Man, Earth and Heaven correspond to human feelings, natural wonders and the language that is beyond language. "Among the great poets of the T'ang, the highest place is always given to the ineffable spirit. Like antelope horns which blend with tree branches in the forest, their verses are little preoccupied with observation or analysis. They possess a radiant transparency which can never be discerned. Sound which vibrates in the air, colour which shimmers like a mirage, the moon reflecting in the water, the face looking out of the mirror: such is the appearance of their poetry, a poetry of limited words, yet of meaning always extending Beyond."

Evelyn Pickering de Morgan "Art is eternal, but life is short…"

Ch'ing yuan Wei-hsin (8th century) "Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters."

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Lord of the East (Qu Yuan)


This is the first of the shamanic "Nine Songs", in Chinese Jiu Ge (九歌), supposed to have been collected by Qu Yuan in the 3rd century BC as part of his anthology Chu ci, or songs of Chu, often known as "Songs of the South". This is as a very late celebration of dragon festival day which is said to be in honour of this poet. The songs almost all express a love between the shaman and the god/goddess to whom the song is addressed, all except the first, addressed to the supreme spirit called "The Lord of the East". Here it is in translation alongside a beautiful video of Bei Bei playing "Under the White Wind" on the gu zheng (or zither)For more zither-playing by Bei Bei, see:


The Lord of the East

On this auspicious day, favourable and sacred,
Let us turn east and pray that we may please the Lord.
I hold forth for Him my long sword by its jade guard.
Clothes adorned with jade pendants make a tinkling sound.
Gifts are laid upon the jewelled mat with its jade weights.
I sprinkle the rich and fragrant flower-offerings,
Served with orchids, tender meat wrapped with scented grass.
I set out the cassia-wine and peppered drink.
Now the sticks are raised, the drums are struck,
To beats distant and slow, the chanters gently sing.
Then the reed organ and zither loud reply.
Finally come priestesses dancing in their splendid robes
And all the hall is filled with the sweetest fragrance.
The five sounds mingle in mellifluous harmony.
The Lord is well pleased, his heart at rest.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Archaeology & Genealogy in Foucault


What did Michel Foucault (1926-1984) mean by archaeology and genealogy? 

This is my simplified understanding: Foucault is interested in the production of truth, and how we are unaware of the subconscious assumptions that underlie this production. One way of discovering this hidden subconscious is through the use of history. 

In archaeology, we take a snapshot of rational discourse at some point in the past, when we had a very different way of thinking under different assumptions, and we look at these ideas as conditions of possibility for subsequent events.

Genealogy is more high-tech. We run a video over critical time periods to see how truth is produced and reproduced as our thinking shifts. It uncovers the unpalatable truths concealed by imaginary origins, thus exposing any rational explanations in terms of progress which might be made later in retrospect. But it also reveals how society enforces these changes.

It occurred to me today that this is brilliantly encapsulated in the following little video I came across on YouTube about the five monkeys. If we believe something, archaeology is like seeing how the monkeys lived before they were subjected to this experiment, and what made it possible for them to be so conditioned. Genealogy however, is interested not only in the moment of conditioning, but also in the historical process how this conditioned belief is institutionalised and so persists through time.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Three World Poets in Translation

This is a 3rd video recording I took from an excellent and free reading-of-world-poetry-in-translation event I went to yesterday.


Mbarka Mint al-Barra' (Mauritania)

Poetry and I

The sin is that I wasn't a stone
     And the troubles of the world make me sleepless
And I shield myself with poetry
     And it keeps me company when I'm far from home
And poetry is my satchel that I will always carry with me
     It holds the taste and fragrance of the earth
It holds thickets of prickly branches
     It holds palm fronds loaded with dates
It paints all the stories of love in my language
     Its colours form the spectrum from grape to dawn
And I said bring the most beautiful of stringed instruments
     So the universe may know how music flows
And play its soothing melody
     That brings justice to those who are in love
Letters burden this world of mine
     Trouble leeches ink from the quill
Trouble leeches ink from the quill
     When I read of the longing of lovers I burn


Reza Mohammadi (Afghanistan)


There was a voice and it coursed
from a pair of parched lips,
drawing me out of my body.
The voice was despotic, uncurbed
as a horse dragging my soul
across rocks and up scree.
I don't know why the voice,
the maker, drew me as unroofed,
as a vagrant, a fool,
or why it split me in two
and then drew me from you,
sliding the earth in between us.
It sketched a door of death then
and depicted me nailed to the door -
but that wasn't enough so it rubbed us out
and started from the beginning,
drawing us in the likeness of doves,
caged in separate cages.
It wasn't enough
so it drew me with neither wings nor feathers
but it wasn't enough
so it dashed us to pieces
and drew me as your son, you as my father,
and a moment later I was a stone
and you were a star shining down on me,
making me into the most precious thing...
It wasn't enough.
It drew you as a desert and me as a breeze
on the long wander through you.
It wasn't enough. It erased us
and sketched me as a cup of tea,
full of good and full of evil,
and made you the sugar that sank in me
and got dissolved and finally we
were lifted up to a pair of parched lips
and drank


Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (Mauritania)


Poetry - may you be a green body.
May you be a language
in which I wander
with my wings and my self.
Be the inspiration of my tongue,
so that I may pasture
the tribes of my voice - though they are silent.

and alone, I see
you will not be
a green body.
You were neither
a good master, to be bought,
nor the muse.
My longed for delirium, my memory.

A Body

The body of a bird in your mouth
breathing songs.
Raw light spills from your eyes,
utterly naked. 

You must breach the horizon, once,
in order to wake up.
You must open window after window.
You must support the walls.
I let alphabets cling to me
as I climb the thread of language
between myself and the world.
I muster crowds in my mouth:
suspended between language and the world,
between the world and the alphabets.

I let my head
listen to the myth,
to all sides praising each other.
And I shout at the winds from the top of a mountain.

Why does my tongue tell me to climb this far?
What is the distance between my voice and my longing?
What is there?

A body transcending my body.
A body exiled by desire.
A body sheltered by the wind.

Three Poems by Conceição Lima (São Tomé)

This is a 2nd video recording I took from an excellent and free reading-of-world-poetry-in-translation event I went to yesterday.



They bore sunsets and roads
Thirst for the horizon called them
- Who do you belong to?
Who are your people?
That's how our grandmother held out
A mug of water to the traveller

Three Contemporary Truths

I believe in the invisible
I believe in the levitation of witches
I believe in vampires
Because they are

Cataclysm and Songs

Happy what's left of me after I'm gone
If only one of the songs sung
Lives beyond the person singing in me now.
Yet I would not save from the slaughter
A single one of the songs I sang and sing.
Instead from the entrails of oblivion
I would steal the laughter of children
And the age of the proverb.
And so to those who come 
I would offer intact the enigma of light

Three Poems by Ribka Sibhatu (Eritrea)

This is a video recording I took from an excellent and free reading-of-world-poetry-in-translation event I went to yesterday.


Locusts, darkened sky,
flayed earth. A mother
panting in bed.

A gloomy month, September,
void of vegetables and greenery.


Her crying started as soon
as she came into the world.

Freed from suffering
the search for milk began
going from door to door.

Emaciated livestock lacking milk -
how to soothe the guest?
How to quench a new mother's thirst?
if the goats are not merciful.

In that desolate moment
she devoured the milk that had just been milked
and took up her crying once more.

'Is that chubby one crying again?'

'Roly-poly's crying -
as if there wasn't enough trouble'

'My poor little one... born into 
chaos and famine!'


To a bride, her virginity can be more important than her eyes. In
our tradition, if a bride isn't a virgin, the day after her wedding, we
return her to her parents' house, dress her in a wonciò, and set her on a donkey. This is considered a disgrace by the whole family. During the war, people fled the city for the countryside. To adapt, you had to make sacrifices, like carrying twenty litres of water on your shoulders, even if the well was three or four kilometres away. In 1981, I was a refugee in Adi Hamuscté, some twenty kilometres from Asmara. One afternoon, a handsome youth and four old men came to the house where I was staying, and explained that the young man, whom I'd never seen before, wanted to marry me, because a day earlier, he'd had the misfortune to discovered that his bride had been violated! If my father had agreed, and I'd refused their proposal, I'd have risked either being married off or being cursed by my father. The curse of a parent is a child's worst fear. So I had an idea: to declare that I too had suffered an irreparable incident...! I leave you to imagine my father's reaction who, in the eyes of our community, was also disgraced. This young man of ours left without a word in search of his virgin.

Mother Africa

Cradle of mankind

baobab of the soul,

in your savannahs

and sacred forests

death dances.

You hear the echo, the scream

of the mother

who delivers diamonds

and receives armoured tanks.

O dying land, 

that for decades 

has met the elders,

the elders who keep
the ancestral treasures.

When will dawn break

for generous

Mother Africa?

Madre Africa (Italian version)

Culla umana!
baobab dell'anima,
nelle tue savane
e sacre foreste
danza la morte.

Si sente l'eco, l'urlo
della Madre che
consegna diamanti
e riceve carri armati.

Oh moribund
terra, per decenni
saluta gli anziani
che portano con sé
i tesori ancestrali.

Quando sarà l'alba
della generosa
Madre Africa?

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Poetry & Qi Gong accompanied by Bach

Qigong demonstration by Mingtong accompanied by four movements of Bach's Flute Sonatas in E minor and E flat major playing in the background.


Ann Taylor (1782-1866) — The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.


Mary Oliver One

The mosquito is so small
it takes almost nothing to ruin it.
Each leaf, the same.
And the black ant, hurrying.
So many lives, so many fortunes!
Every morning, I walk softly and with forward glances
down to the ponds and through the pinewoods.
Mushrooms, even, have but a brief hour
before the slug creeps to the feast,
before the pine needles hustle down
under the bundles of harsh, beneficent rain.

How many, how many, how many
make up a world!
And then I think of that old idea: the singular
and the eternal.
One cup, in which everything is swirled
back to the color of the sea and sky.
Imagine it!

A shining cup, surely!
In the moment in which there is no wind
over your shoulder,
you stare down into it,
and there you are,
your own darling face, your own eyes.
And then the wind, not thinking of you, just passes by,
touching the ant, the mosquito, the leaf,
and you know what else!
How blue is the sea, how blue is the sky,
how blue and tiny and redeemable everything is, even you,
even your eyes, even your imagination.


Hadewijch (13th century) — All Things

All things
are too small
to hold me,
I am so vast.

In the Infinite
I reach
for the Uncreated.

I have
touched it,
it undoes me
wider than wide.

Everything else
is too narrow.

You know this well,
you who are also there.


Rabia al-Adawiyya (717-801)

I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:
With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames of Hell
So that voyagers to God can rip the veils
And see the real goal.