Tag Archives: poetry

… ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. My English translation …

Last month I shared my translation of one of R M Rilke’s Sonnets. Following on, I dug up the poem ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by Rilke, thinking that after our dark moon phase, we could do well with connecting to the Carmen spirit so powerfully expressed in the flamenco dance. When translating poems from German I mainly disregard form & rhyme, instead I try and lift the feeling and essence I experience while reading.

The wonderful image is from a 2014 photo exhibition I saw in Amsterdam. So sorry, I don’t have the photographer’s name.

SPANISH DANCER

As a match, struck by the hand, white,

before turning to flame, breaks out

into flickering tongues, so within

the circle of close onlookers begins,

quickening, bright and hot, her spiral

dance to flicker and catch.

And suddenly it is flame, fully flame.

With one glance she ignites her hair

and in an instant swirls with daring skill

her entire dress into this ardent blaze

from which, like startled serpents, her

naked arms dart alive, rattling.

And then: as if the fire might relent, 

she gathers it all in and casts it off,

imperious, with a gesture of contempt,

and sees: there, raging on the ground

it lies flaring on and will not submit.

But victorious, assured, with a sweet,

hailing smile she raises her face

and stamps the blaze, with small, firm feet.

Spanische Tanzerin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Neue Gedichte, 1907

Translation: Ashen Venema

Spanische Tänzerin

Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzündholz, weiß,
eh es zur Flamme kommt, nach allen Seiten
zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiß
ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

Und plötzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

Mit einem: Blick entzündet sie ihr Haar
und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als würde ihr das Feuer knapp,
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmütiger Gebärde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht -.
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem süßen
grüßenden Lächeln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
Und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Füßen.

Aus: Neue Gedichte (1907)

Also, seven years ago I shared here my English translation of Goethe’s Zauberlehring, an ever relevant theme, now more so than ever. https://courseofmirrors.com/2014/10/09/the-sorcerers-apprentice/

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… without sleep & dreams we’d go mad …

Sonnets to Orpheus    

                Part II

          10

All we gained is threatened by the machine

As it assumes possession rather than obeys the mind,

Ignoring the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand

It wilfully forges ahead, cutting sharp into stone.

Nor does it ever slow down enough for us to win distance,

Yet oiled by itself remains in the silent halls of fact.

It circles in living and claims to know best about living,

And with equal resolve creates, destroys, indifferent to all.

Yet our being remains spun in the mysteries of birthing,

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers,

To behold only with eyes closed, and in adoration.

Words still softly dissolve before the unspeakable state,

While the most resonant stones give form to ever new sounds,

Gathering music into the divine unmade.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Ashen Venema

A friend called earlier, lovingly concerned, wondering why I hadn’t posted anything this month. I don’t plan posts ahead, but asking myself – what lingers in my mind – this poem by R M Rilke asked for attention. I used it to upfront a film degree dissertation (as a mature student) during the mid-90s … ‘Body Electric,’ An Exploration of Human Identity in the Digital Age. Once I discover how to transfer Mac Claris Work from floppy discs into a Word doc. or PDF, I’ll share the dissertation and other articles with my readers.

I like translating poems from German into English, poems by R M Rilke, W Goethe, H Hesse. It’s an adventure to find the right word and phrase. Maybe I should share such translations more often. The title of this post … without sleep and dreams we’d go mad … relates to the above Rilke’s poem, since the internet with its avalanche of information can assume a machine-like relentlessness, and yet, we can’t do without it, which makes me grateful for being able to sleep, so my psyche can assimilate new information during dreams.

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… to shift my thoughts, I read poems by Wislawa Szymborska …

One book of poems I have always at my bedside, for when I need to shift my thoughts, is Wislawa Szymborka’s New and Collected poems 1957 -1997, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavenagh, published by Faber and Faber 1999

She lived from July 2, 1923–February 1, 2012

Apologies for not having the photographers’ names for the two images of her that are spanning decades.

I like the humour, the ironic style, the contradictions running through the poems like a clear spring.

I thought I share a poem in full, since I posted a fragment on Twitter the other day. And also because I remember the protagonist in my novel, Course Mirrors,’ is in search of The Real.

THE REAL WORLD

The real world doesn’t take flight
the way dreams do.
No muffled voice, no doorbell
can dispel it,
no shriek, no crash
can cut it short.

Images in dream
are hazy and ambiguous,
and can generally be explained
in many different ways.
Reality means reality:
that’s tougher nut to crack.

Dreams have keys.
The real world opens on its own
and can’t be shut.
Report cards and stars
pour from it,
butterflies and flatiron warmers
shower down,
headless caps
and shards of clouds.
Together they form a rebus
that can’t be solved.

Without us dreams couldn’t exist.
The one on whom the real world depends
is still unknown,
and the products of his insomnia
are available to anyone
who wakes up.

Dreams aren’t crazy—
it’s the real world that’s insane,
if only in the stubbornness
with which it sticks
to the current of events.

In dreams our recently deceased
are still alive,
in perfect health, no less,
and restored to the full bloom of youth.
The real world lays the corpse
in front of us.
The real world doesn’t blink an eye.

Dreams are featherweights,
and memory can shake them off with ease.
The real world doesn’t have to fear forgetfulness.
It’s a tough customer.
It sits on our shoulders,
weighs on our hearts,
tumbles to our feet.

There’s no escaping it,
it tags along each time we flee.
And there’s no stop
along our escape route
where reality isn’t expecting us.

Wislawa Szymborska 

Her Nobel Prize speech inspires … if you are shy to call yourself a poet, follow this link and soak it up.

Poets, not being profitable, get little screen-time. Wislawa Szymborska says … ‘Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens … Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?’

‘I’ve mentioned inspiration. Contemporary poets answer evasively when asked what it is, and if it actually exists. It’s not that they’ve never known the blessing of this inner impulse. It’s just not easy to explain something to someone else that you don’t understand yourself.’

‘Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.’

Her words bring to mind a Rumi quote: ‘Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.’ 

Follow this link to Brainpickings and find a number of write ups about Wislawa Szymborska

Brainpicking’s Bulgarian creator, Maria Popova honours language, and somehow manages to bring context and coherence to the irrational and the imagination. Her curiosity is unlimited. She writes about my favourite people in the world. Among them are poets like Wislawa Szymborska.

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… speed – falling upwards into spatial & temporal bewilderment …

Always keen to bridge and connect seemingly unrelated intellectual territories, I tend to dip into essays of poet-philosophers and cultural theorists stacked near my bed.

Paul Virilio’s ‘Open Sky’ is a recent addition, translated by Julie Rose in 1997. Not an easy read, but the analysis of the social destruction wrought by modern technologies of communication and surveillance drew me in. The last chapter, Escape Velocity, relates a striking experience by Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission. I share it here, within a short excerpt from the chapter, curious to discover what my readers make of it:

… Inflated to fill the dimensions of the world’s space, the time of the present world flashes us a glimpse on our screens of another regime of temporality … Outrageously puffed up by all the commotion of our communication technology, the perpetual present suddenly serves to illuminate duration. Reproducing the alternation between night and the solar day that once organised our ephemerides, the endless day of the reception of events produces an instantaneous lighting of reality that leaves the customary importance of the successive nature of facts in the shade; factual sequences little by little lose their mnemonic value …

… In his memoirs of the first moon landing, Buzz Aldrin in his own way confirms this disqualification of sunlight. Listen to what he has to say from the surface of the night star:

‘The light is also weird. Since there’s no atmosphere, the phenomenon of refraction disappears, so much so that you go directly from total shadow into sunlight, without any transition. When I hold my hand out to stick it in the light, you’d think I was crossing the barrier to another dimension.’

It is as though, for the astronaut, shadow and light were two new dimensions, inasmuch as any kind of transition no longer exists for him. The loss of the phenomena of atmospheric refraction produces a different perception of reality …

Virilio draws a comparison to a similar loss for earthlings … the different degree of illumination which, before the invention of electricity, still marked the hours of the day or the days of the year has become of diminished importance. Under the indirect light from screens and other control centres of the transmission of events, the time of chronological succession evaporates, paving the way for the instantaneous exposure time as harsh as that floodlighting of which Aldrin tells us:

‘On the moon, the sun shines on us like a gigantic spotlight.

All three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission had problems after their return to earth. Spatial and temporal disorientation are not easily reconciled with one’s reality identification. Virilio writes … as for Aldrin, after two nervous breakdowns, several detoxification treatments for alcohol abuse and a divorce, he was to wind up in a psychiatric ward.

Struck by Aldrin’s experience, I thought about the increased screen time, especially now so many of us engage in since the corona virus changed our rhythm of interaction with nature, local environments, family, friends, and the wider world.

I first pondered the cultural implications of the digital advent during  a mid-1990s film degree as a mature student. For those interested – my post from 2018 gives a flavour of my dissertation – click here for ‘Body Electric- – it’s worth a visit.

John Wheeler came up with the idea of the universe as self-observing system (being.) Light travels at 186 000 miles per second. When we look into deep space we are seeing galaxies over ten billion years old. In that sense everything we see is in a past, which our observing consciousness creates. So I ask myself what realities do we envision during this surreal corona time, individually and collectively?

Is Paul Virilio’s bleak vision justified? Is the hyper centre of present time becoming the sole reference axis of worldwide activity? Is the individual of the scientific age, with diminished positional reference, losing the capacity to experience him/herself at the centre of energy?

Click here for an article from the Frieze magazine.

And if you’re brave, read this fascinating & sobering interview of Paul Virilio by Caroline Dumoucel.

Or – can we create enough pockets of stillness to counter the acceleration of the fall upwards, of progress propaganda, and instead re-connect to body, earth and roots?

P. S. All links in the post open a new window.

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… the weirdest person I know …

… that’s me, a dreamer. Dreams re-appear, like a déjà vu. A trick of light will superimpose an image on a scene gleaned in passing. Or a sound, a name, a number, a movement, colour or scent may link up to a dream’s mood. Similarly, memories of seemingly unrelated events from years ago can pop up while doing mundane tasks. This reminiscing improves for me as I grow wiser (older,) a subtle re-organising of events.

One morning after the recent dark moon, and the solstice, while staring vacantly into the sky, a dream image returned from the blue – an empty studio space with interlocking rooms – the sun streams in, dappled light dances across pale shades of colour peeling from the walls, a space for friends to meet, play – bursting with intense creativity. There was a hint of nostalgia (I initiated like spaces in the past) and grief over not having access to such a creative hub. Grief aside, a sense of potential remained.

Consequently, I finally opened my ‘Shaper’ MS again and got stuck into editing, this after many months of having lost faith that what pours from my mind in terms of stories will be appreciated by anyone.

With little chance of publication, giving this sequel once more editing time seems irrational; then again, I’m the weirdest person I know. The irrational has always impelled me forward from deep states of being, in search of wholeness. Like some writers, I juggle for rhythm and balance with a multitude inside, until a character, a theme, or a poem persists and generates engagement.

In this way Ana, Cara and Mesa came to be – three stories that comprise the odyssey of three soul sisters across time.

Even when it comes to my posts here, I don’t plot, nor aim to be topical. Every day brings new thoughts and connections, while something incubates in want of wings. The process of information weaving continues during sleep, and dreams bring home glimpses of this process.

‘Shapers’ was already complete when I published Course of Mirrors. Both my beta readers/editors love this sequel, even after several rounds of reading, which is encouraging.

Yesterday I came upon a note from one of my readers with a plea – make Ana real, please.

I scratched my head, giggling about the irony, since Anna’s quest is in search of the real. How to explain what is mysterious? The paragraph my reader, Susan, referred to does need adjusting, to avoid confusion. Myth or not, Ana’s story is Cara’s deeply meaningful and internal truth.

Maybe this is the time to add, my felt sense of reality was confirmed by the innovating ideas of modern physics, quantum potential being one such case. A friend, Rob, reminded me of this yesterday when he forwarded a wonderful video about David Bohm. Please watch the film. It sheds light on my fascination with time, and also poignantly illustrates how innovators of new ideas were /are blocked by the establishment.

In Shapers time moves back and forward and often becomes simultaneous. Both Ana and Mesa meet up with Cara, the suspended story teller.

Like me, Cara feels most at home on bridges. Anyway, why am I writing this post? To give thanks to a dream that drew me back into editing ‘Shapers,’ irrespective of outcome.

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… a dream of being in the dark …

How to reconcile moments of pure beauty and light our restless world offers, with the heavy darkness of human ignorance? How is it the guiding spirit that is shining through everything so often escapes the unseeing eye? Is it our wounded hearts, or our anxious busy thoughts that prevent spontaneous being?  Many of us like twilight, the dawn, the dusk, mist, where darkness and light do not negate but enhance each other. They mingle. As friends do, or lovers.  Twilight is poetry in motion.

And what, you may ask, does she mean by the guiding spirit that shines through everything. It’s a core in me that connects to the one soul-being I belong to, the only self I really know. And while I’m not enlightened, I do experience timeless moments, glimpses into the sixth dimension, nodal points around which the fiction of my existence is woven.

The other day, my long-ridiculed romantic fool tossed out these lines:

like tiny cherubs

white butterflies loop across

green teeming canvas

thou – sweet silent mystery

do you sense me sigh

when the cold moon-rock rises

as luminous globe – hello dear ones lost in time – your intense living – is forever part of me

‘Long live the dead because we live in them.’  …  Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life

When there is no other near to share such paradoxical quickening with, I may call on those who enriched my life but are no longer present. I adore the moon, the ancient chunk of earth, reflecting and making tolerable the blinding beams of the sun, granting us poetry and symbolic language.

That night I had a dream and remembered its last facet … I’m floating through a soft, vibrant darkness. A small voice says, ‘You’re the light, look again.’ Sure enough, I spot the outline of a building and bright points, like glittering stars. A series of scenes unfolds, which brings clarity to a puzzling questions. Darkness holds memories, visions and vital knowledge, though it requires trust in the guiding spirit as a mode of orientation. Insights are shy; they wait to be found.

Nature, being energy manifested in slow motion, breathes life into countless rhythms and tunes from the recorded symphonic sounds of the universe – to continuously re-animate the one being of eternal life. Yet we humans, who pride ourselves in aiding this process with heightened consciousness, are increasingly busy destroying the homeostasis life depends on. Can a virus offer a long enough pause for the powers in charge to acknowledge this self-destructive madness? Below anger, I feel the deep sadness, the spiritual starvation, an unfulfilled longing for meaning, for being worthwhile, accepted and loved.

I sense a change of mood in the collective mind, a call for change. Upfront are manic voices using the language of warfare against the invisible enemy – let’s control it – defeat I – kill it – get on top of it. I feel this kind of rhetoric misses the point entirely.

In Sept. 2012 I did a blog post on the unseen stuff.

We must see things fresh, not through tired ideas our establishments bank on, that destroy nature’s homeostasis and spill imbalances into cultures too poor to afford resistance. I say – let our children and young people decide what’s worth living for?

 ‘A day, whether six or seven years ago or whether six thousand years ago, is just as near to the present as yesterday. Why?  Because all time is contained in now.’   – Meister Eckhart

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… impromptu garden do under apples and stars …

as this wet August

ends in glorious hot days

a mild night brings round

friends to guard a fire

and surreal stories circle

high into midnight

 

under ripening apples

and sweet stars glowing

in the deep violet dome

calm nature absorbs

the quirky suppositions

of weird human minds

talking birth, death, consciousness

possible futures

superficial differences

global politics

recent IT advances

plant-drugs and cyborgs …

 

are we indifferent

to overwhelming data

can we make choices

on how limited knowledge

is being applied

do we have sacred values?

 

once ice-cream arrives

a silence charms the garden

tongues put thoughts on halt

body and soul nudge closer

senses celebrate

taste – sight – smell – touch – sound – this night

everything matters

for now – though must fade in parts

the very next day

when our best ideals give way

to daily routines

and we survive best we can

 

hard questions endure

take shape-shifting neutrinos

… so much goes missing

yet for all our dares it is fine

to have mystery

define this amazing life

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… loss and restoration …

This time of year I like reading in the garden. Last week I forgot to take a book inside – ‘The Hand of Poetry,’ collected poems from Sanai, Attar, Rumi, Saadi and Hafiz, translated by Coleman/Barks, with introductions taken from talks by Inayat Khan. During a short but heavy shower that night, the book greedily feasted on rain. I found it blown up, like a balloon, to double its size.

Restoration would atone for my failing. Gently lifting page after page, I placed toilet paper between each, twice and three times over. On the third day I hung the book by its spine on the washing line. Once dry, I managed to press the volume with a heavy vintage iron into reasonable shape again. The ordeal required my undivided attention. The re-read pages during those hours lodged themselves with refreshed presence in my heart.

I recalled a scene from ‘Shapers’ –  the not yet published sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors.’ The story starts with a shipwreck.  Surviving this tragedy, my protagonist finds her diary drenched to pulp. The irreplaceable loss gained her unexpected access to internalised memories, and the ability to exchange virtual letters with her soulmate of the future, scripts made visible in the thin air before her.

This phenomenon happens to me frequently these days. Just before sleep, or waking, I see screens with writing, sometimes even Twitter pages, which later turn out real. Beats me – explanations are welcome.

Memory is fluid. The child in us not only imagines the future, but also re-imagines the past. While I was lifting apart the soaked poetry pages during my restoration, it struck me they resembled crumpled and discoloured reminiscences of my father a trailing grief about our dissonance brought to light in dreams, with messages to abandon this nonsense. Can you miss a surreal projection? Yes you can – releasing a feeling of rejection that ruled years of your life takes getting used to. Had I not taken my dad’s anger with the world, and me,  so personal, I might have implored deeper into his heart pain, and mine, since, after all, deep down, our sensitivity for beauty and nature, even our humour, were much alike.

I had resisted my father’s expectations and boldly followed my heart, which, while gratifying, brought its shadow of existential anxieties. My rare brave attempts to cross the dividing bridge were met with contempt for my quixotic worldview. Bridges then became imaginary sanctuaries between varied realities, a neutral zone for my rebel to gather strength for the next quest ahead. Bridges became a major theme in my novel ‘Course of Mirrors’ – see book page on this site, or my twitter page @mushkilgusha

Rejection can add fuel to a journey. But what if a regular fuel runs out? Consider the weird silence when a monotonous background noise stops … suddenly. I identified my inner background noise as the subtle lament of blame that long ago slyly settled in my unconscious. Blaming something or someone can achieve an emotional distance, displace resentfulness, a hurt,  – but now – this peculiar silence …

The symbolic intelligence of psyche’s inner dimension communicates not only through dreams, but also through our surroundings: world events, people, objects, images. My restoration of ‘The Hand of Poetry’ resonated. Compulsive energies shift when time slows,. Familiar scripts may assume fresh meaning, and re-write themselves with different rhythms and new pauses for the spirit of surprise to enter.

Meanwhile I enjoy some treasures close by …

 

 

 

 

 

And I’d like to share a Hafiz poem from the restored collection. Hazrat Inayat Khan says of him:

The mission of Hafiz was to express, to the fanatically inclined religious world, the presence of God, which is not to be found only in heaven, but to be found here on earth.’

THE BANQUET

A gathering of good friends

talking quietly outdoors,

the banquet being served, a dry Rosé

with a bite of Kebab afterwards,

a wink form the one who pours,

Hafiz telling some story,

Hajji Qavam with his long laugh,

a full moon overhead,

the infinite mystery

of all this love.

If someone doesn’t want the pleasure

of such an openhearted garden,

companionship, no, life itself,

must be against his rules.

Hafiz

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… souls roam and arrange impressions …

let sleep do its work

so the spirit will guide you

and leave helpful dreams

in that rich abode

of our collective being

– the only being –

 

awake souls roam and arrange

streams of impressions

rebel angels see

the judge slaves under man’s law

… while nature rules all …

in this earthly home

we catch our face in mirrors

that slowly unveil

through rhythms of remembrance

the source of freedom

 

heeding the heart’s pulse

your hand cascades poetry

and transmits secrets

I really must start to sort my poems …

The left sketch is a possible cover for my first poetry chapbook …

I was recently encouraged when two of my poems were published with Queen Mob’s Teahouse:

https://queenmobs.com/2019/05/poems-photographs-ashen-venema/

And then mentioned once more in a Berfrois magazine article by Joe Linker. Thank you Joe.

Paintings and Poems: City on a Hill

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… to let in a blessing …

I read daily, in bed, for an hour or so before escaping to dreamland. Apart from novels or essays on the go, I keep a stack of books close by to dip into when dark clouds need lifting. One such book is John O’Donohue’s ‘Anam Cara.’ (Bantam Press 1997)

Frequently, these days, my sarcastic imp dominates, and I’m deaf to wisdom, even my own. That said, I respect imps; they cut through the bullshit ignorant people spout around the globe. However, to tune down this sharp wit takes a firm request for silence. When I manage, the imp cuddles up, like my cat used to cuddle up every time I sat quiet.

I call it soul remembrance. You might try and trick your little imp into silence, if only to soften the heart enough to receive this blessing by John O’Donohue …

A BLESSING

May the light of your soul guide you.

May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and those who see and receive your work.

May work never weary you.

May it release within you wellsprings and refreshment, inspiration and excitement.

May you be present in what you do.

May you never become lost in the bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.

May evenings find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.

May your soul calm, console and renew you

my boy – used as poster for a workshop once

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

I want to also share a joy. The poetry editor of Queen Mobs, Joe Linker, has published two of my early poems yesterday. A wonderful perk …

https://queenmobs.com/2019/05/poems-photographs-ashen-venema/

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