Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

When you can’t run, amble

In and other spirits, Circus, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Theater on July 2, 2016 at 8:47 am

Two brief encounters last night, like book-ends to an overlong evening at the year-end staff party in a local school.

After a familiar brown face peered out at me from a passing car, I found the owner of the face loitering near one of the local homes sheltering young migrants awaiting validation of their papers. He attended a few of my workshops and shows a natural talent for writing. In fact, in one of those workshops, he told me his life ambition was to be a poet, but he’d settle for social work. Well, he’s made a success of his school year so they’ve signed him up for a Bac Pro (the French designation for a trade-oriented B.A.). In social work? Literature? No, in Entretien des équipements industriels (Maintenance of Industrial Equipment).

He laughed – sort of – when he said it and added he couldn’t send me emails anymore because the computers didn’t work in the Home. I told  him to sign up for my sessions in August and, in the meantime, to read through his writing and attempt to combine into one powerful statement the many attempts he’d made throughout the text at getting a certain something across.

The walk home involved an isolated stretch between the stadium and the pool where I keep a wary eye and a jaunty step. A group of teen-aged boys approached, thoroughly engrossed in their world – no problem there. Then a solitary figure came my way. I gave him a crisp bonsoir in the murky light. He answered something I couldn’t make out as I walked by, then called out Madame in a light voice. The voice was so soft, I hesitated before turning. He laid a hand on his heart to show his good intentions and came closer. “I’m Salah,” he said and I recognized the boy I coached (for a total of four hours…) prior to his French literature exam. He didn’t have the results yet, but he was pleased. The luck of the draw landed him a text by Voltaire to comment and he’d applied the rules I’d pointed out, he said. Held out his hand for a handshake, smiled, said merci with all the hardware glinting on his teeth, and took off.



Something quite beautiful picked out this morning of an article in Le Monde about French poet Yves Bonnefoy who died yesterday at age ninety-three. « La tâche du poète est de montrer un arbre, avant que notre intellect nous dise que c’est un arbre, » he once wrote. (The poet’s task is to show a tree before our intellect tells us it’s a tree.)

Maybe the same applies to fiction writing. Slow going at the moment, in my case. There’s some fascinating stuff to translate (for a fee? wheeeee!) for a circus group and a puppet theatre. Papers, emergencies, laundry, friends…hop-hop-hop.

Allez? hop-hop-hop. Or maybe at a slower, steadier clip because I’m not keeping a hop-hop-hop kind of pace these days.


In Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Theater on June 28, 2016 at 8:51 am

Everything in need of one more push. Paper sorting and filing. Housework. Not supposed to look a given horse in the mouth? Maybe but a given fridge, yes. That part of the clean-up: done. Fridge operational and smokers take heed: baked white enamel can return from years of exposure to tobacco. Personally, I would clean a fridge prior to donating it but that’s me.

Paper. More paper. Emails. Phone calls. The blessed tumble into sleep. (Note to self: when read in an over-tired state, the final act in King Lear sees bodies falling left and right and the dazed reader no longer knowing who the players are. Kent, Gloucester, Albany, Edmund, Edgar, Regan, Goneril, Oswald, a manservant, another, exeunt, enter the mad king, etc.)

Paper. Documents. Scraps with scribbles. Kitchen, cleaning and re-organizing. Bedroom. Books. Office: incorporating a bed in limited space. Books. Sorting. Phone calls. Tiny, precious breaks to allow the child to play with a trinket or find the one and only right spot for a favorite stone or framed photo or book. Food to recover from the neighbor’s fridge. A haircut – must work it into the mix today before the photo shoot tomorrow after the meeting at social services, etc.

Pause. Time out. Seamus Heaney. A poem. Forget generalities. Specifics, always. This day. This moment. This story, searching for its own voice.

At the Wellhead

Your songs, when you sing them with your two eyes closed

As you always do, are like a local road

We’ve known every turn of in the past –

That midge-veiled, high-hedged side-road where you stood

Looking and listening until a car

Would come and go and leave you lonelier

Than you had been to begin with. So, sing on,

Dear shut-eyed one, dear far voiced veteran,

Sing yourself to where the singing comes from,

Ardent and cut off like our blind neighbour

Who played the piano all day in her bedroom.

Her notes came out to us like hoisted water

Raveling off a bucket at the wellhead

Where next thing we’d be listening, hushed and awkward.


That blind-from-birth, sweet-voiced, withdrawn musician

Was like a silver vein in heavy clay.

Night water glittering in the light of day.

But also just our neighbor, Rosie Keenan.

She touched our cheeks. She let us touch her braille

In books like books wallpaper patterns came in.

Her hands were active and her eyes were full

Of open darkness and a watery shine.

She knew us by our voices. She’d say she ‘saw’

Whoever or whatever. Being with her

Was intimate and helpful, like a cure

You didn’t notice happening. When I read

A poem with Keenan’s well in it, she said,

‘I can see the sky at the bottom of it now.’

Persistent, recurring*

In Animals, Artists, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Poetry, proto drafts on June 18, 2016 at 9:13 am

*themes, that is.

When did this particular theme first appear? In dreams, then in attempts at fiction – scenes, short stories, unfinished longer pieces. I can’t recall. At any rate, it’s back again and insisting on getting it’s share of story time.

For the theme to be so persistent, it must link back to something quite ancient in my personal pre-historical period. I have some ideas about that personal link. Sharing them doesn’t strike me as the best way to feed – and transform – the story.

Last Wednesday, during a coaching session, a small boy asked me if he could draw while we talked “because it’s easier to talk that way”. I said yes, of course. I had just read him a poem about a goldfish with pimples from the measles, hiding under a sponge in the fishbowl. In the poem, a small boy said he knew about the pimples but didn’t tell anybody. Why? Because he liked to hide his wad of chewing gum under the fishbowl. The boy loved the poem so much he even stopped crying. He drew the measly pimply goldfish, the bowl and the wad of gum while talking about his family woes – the tale of which is a confidential issue on which I’m sworn to secrecy.

One source of the crucial need for fictional accounts may be all the times people swear one another to secrecy.  Leaving them the choice of sharing the secret, one person at a time. Or shouting it out in bouts of Tell All. Or of inventing genetically-engineered versions of truths in need of sharing – versions that protect the basic confidentiality agreement, while letting the truth out to breathe a little. Truth has a hard enough time of it – if you can’t air it out in fiction, what recourses are left to the poor thing? To hide its pimples between a piece of sponge and a wad of chewing gum?


Leaving this afternoon to sing with the group. Returning tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the rain raineth and raineth, then raineth some more.

As the man said: “Sanity’s a hard concept to define”.

In Absurdlandia, Drafts, dreams, Hautvoir, photography, Poetry, Rejection, Revision, Synopsis on May 23, 2016 at 7:36 am

Dreams are impossible to share. With some dreams, you try anyway because they were so horrific, you need words to exorcise them. With others you don’t try, because they’re so close to perfection, you don’t want to mess them up.

The dream last night was of the second category. Rather than attempt a description, I flip through the images in my head, secure in the knowledge no one else has access to them. What? a dream of sexual fulfillment? Of world-wide fame and fortune? Nothing of the kind. A dream of someone lost between two cities, wandering in a third and what she records there with her camera. See? You know nothing about what made the dream something close to perfection.

A poem I didn’t copy down yesterday. One of the Russians, I’ll find it again. Sometimes, things you don’t copy down linger the longest.

Last night, I typed in the infamous The End on my latest attempt at fiction. Will it fly? Will anyone else catch the mix of Little Nemo and…never mind. You build your paper plane. A few strokes on a computer can destroy it. Objects built with 3-D printers have more consistency than a piece of unpublished fiction – a thing almost as fragile and elusive as a dream.

Meanwhile, in the world of real: the astounding space of a so-called service provider. With a computer-savvy someone yesterday, I spent two hours finding the access to – well, to the service provider’s automatic answering device. My query now carries a Ticket Number. No, it doesn’t match up to the number of seconds evolved since January 1st 1601 (the computer-savvy someone tells me this is one clocking device used by another entity). I may or may not receive a satisfactory explanation + adequate solution. This is the world of real where things screw up a lot, then a bit more after that.

Occasional stop-overs in dreamland: mandatory, the body decrees. Don’t even think of dealing with Real without them.

Hail to thee, blithe spirit, and all that

In Absurdlandia, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts on March 24, 2016 at 8:23 am

As things stand now, every single word of fiction I’ve ever written will die with me.

No, this isn’t about self-pity. This is about painful truths. I write in English. I live in France, as far as imaginable from the literary powers that be. Most people around me couldn’t care less about writing, whether in French or in English.

I’ve stopped contacting agents since I assume – perhaps wrongly, but I doubt it – they will not be interested in the slightest by what I write and how I write it. When I started blogging, I held the naive belief I would find kindred spirits that way. Kindred spirits turn out to be few and far between. As for the pretty bit about shooting for the moon because you may miss it but you’ll reach the stars? Excuse me but most of space is empty – or whatever other name you want to give to dark matter.


On the list of minor annoyances this morning: the discovery the computer I acquired some two years ago is considered “obsolete” for the latest gizmo updates. I’d hate to hear what the latest gizmo folks would say about the computers at the Social Centre over here. No, this isn’t Africa. It’s not the cutting edge either.


I didn’t even know about Anne Bronte until I read about her on The Guardian yesterday. After reading the hatchet job one of her famous sisters did on her kid sister and her writing, I immediately ordered The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Apparently, in an earlier book, Anne Bronte wrote about the less-than-romantic life of a governess in homes where no passionately desirable and wealthy owner dwelled. If The Tenant proves to be good reading, I’ll order the other book too. No wealthy and desirable heirs in my life; the parents of the kids I coach don’t fit into that category and I’m a few months short of my seventieth birthday.

Thursday, March twenty-fourth, two thousand and sixteen

Bits of certainty

In A post to keep afloat, Absurdlandia, Animals, Current reading, Local projects, Music, Poetry, proto drafts on March 5, 2016 at 8:58 am

This morning, the birds started vocalizing around four thirty am.

around six, the rain clouds formed a massive slate-grey feature toward the east. During a brief sliding brake in them, a sliver of a crescent moon I found delightful.

to the reams of screeds, rants, wails of despair or wacky who-cares kind of stuff available online, I preferred reading the first part of André Markowicz’ analysis of a poem by Mandelstam.

from here on, everything’s uncertain, save for the fact there’s a new cat in the neighborhood, presently miaowing below my living room window.

everything uncertain (and much that’s absurd) except for the fact – the fact? – the knowledge I love bird song at four thirty am, and a sliver of crescent moon around six.

Favorite things

In Animals, Artists, Break - coffee, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts on February 29, 2016 at 8:58 am

This, for example (while I cringe at the thought of Things I Must Do Today):

One of my favorite online news sources (Mediapart) publishes a blogger’s enthusiastic report concerning a fiction writer/poet/painter’s prize for literature. I take a look, of course. No more than ten words into the reading, my eyes start to skip away. I ask them to be polite and read some more. They comply but it’s no good. You’re wasting precious time here, they say. Why? Because both the writer’s words and those of his admiring public remind me of the worse moments in French literature classes. Moments when chaste-by-obligation nuns turned ecstatic in dubious ways over some roiling sentiments by Gérard de Nerval, for instance.

So I revert to Seamus Heaney. Of personal contact with Irish soil, I have nothing but a brief stopover at Dublin Airport for some unexplained “checking” of the plane boarded in Paris, and supposed to cross over the Atlantic all the way to Montreal. Of the airport, I recall nothing but the sight of a priest with a full and beefy red face downing a huge mug of black beer. Plus, of course, tales by and about me Irish grandmother.

All this to explain there’s no trace of a brogue when I read Heaney’s poems out loud to myself. (Other times, I read them silently, because then, I definitely hear the lilt and the ponderous, the wondrous, and so on.)

The one I read over and over with delight last night – after endless dreary dealings with provisional budgets better described as desperate scrapings:


The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise

Were all at prayers inside the oratory

A ship appeared above them in the air.


The anchor dragged along behind so deep

It hooked itself into the altar rails

And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,


A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope

And struggled to release it. But in vain.

‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’


The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So

They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back

Out of the marvelous as he had known it.

Seamus Heaney


Is there a moral to this post? Two, in fact:

1 what works for you, works for you. What doesn’t, doesn’t.

2 the second I’m still struggling to carve out in fiction, with grateful assistance to those voices that matter to me.


More urgent, trying, pesky dealings with bureaucratic deadlines and dead ends today? Afraid so – with whatever delightful breaks I encounter in passing. You don’t tell an old horse to speed past a luscious bit of greenery by roadside – not unless you wish the old horse to jerk down his head and spill you out of the saddle.



In Break - coffee, Food, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on February 27, 2016 at 9:52 am

A neighborhood butcher with a sense of humor is a pleasant addition to daily living. “Lots of blue out there,” he said when I stepped into his shop.

“With touches of white,” I added as the third vehicle from the gendarmerie pulled up.

“Well, it’s nice to see them around. It’s all about who wins the intimidation contest.”

I agreed, for obvious reasons. Still, I said, with so many of the downtown shops closed down, and so many young people striving to take the young entrepreneur route…

He fell right in. True, he said, and reached for my supper selection. The self-employed are France’s future. If a young man wants to sell small bags of baking powder, why arrest him? His friends wish to make self-rising crêpes, the American kind. Because I don’t care for them, should I stop others from eating them?

We bantered on in this vein for a bit because any given day is like what the title of this post says – an aggregate.  In geology, the term refers to a loosely bound mash-up of various minerals that went through a number of separate  traumatic events, and ended up glomped together for two or possibly ten million years. (The term “loosely bound” being a relative concept).

Do bodies – live, dead, barely living or about to be born – glomped together in a rubber dinghy also form an aggregate? They do, but of a briefer duration. And despite everything, grateful, so grateful (the living ones, that is) when human decency shows up on the sea or on the beach in order to extract them safely, one by one.

The relief after the ordeal is of shorter duration than the fateful crossing? Still. Better some food, some water, some medical care and kindness than none at all. Considering the indescribable jumble awaiting said bodies on the shores they so longed to reach.

What else in the mix, today? Fun, funny, boring and annoying things. Plus nonsense of every possible description. Was it Ferlinghetti or another who wrote the poem I should have jotted down years ago, and didn’t? The one about drawing a small circle on a piece of plain old dirt – then discovering the stupendous amount of unknown things revealed before your eyes. I think the poet had mentioned the number three hundred such revelations. If he did, I guess it was because he stopped counting so he could write down the poem instead.

Next up in this day: some very disagreeable stuff relating to accounting and funding requests. Mixed in with whatever makes that dreariness bearable. Dreaming up a provisional budget? Writing someone an email that says we’ve spotted sixty errors in the balance sheet you sent us?

As one of the characters would say: joy, joy, joy.


(For writing and general living purposes, the chewed up garden gnome has joined the bunch that keeps an eye on proceedings around here. He considers himself “honored and pleased” to feature in this shot with La Bienheureuse Germaine and a few other significant lares. He wishes to thank the ones who saved him from a disgraceful plunge off a cliff overlooking a parking with lots of late-night activity of a dubious kind.)

Accounting, RL. Accounting, yes. Coming right up.


Time out, time in

In Artists, Circus, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, Poetry, proto drafts on February 23, 2016 at 9:58 am

Time calculations always being relative to something, vacation time flows at different rates and in different patterns from work days. No must be at such a place at such a time applies – except for meeting plane or train schedules and showing up at the museum during opening hours.

In this frame of mind, I’d gladly spend a leisurely hour or two going through all of Stephen Ellcock’s postings on his Facebook page. Space and time travel guaranteed for art lovers of all ilks. (Does the plural exist for the word ilk? Perhaps I’ll check, perhaps I won’t.)


Proto drafts – the bumpy road. Something like putting together a puzzle for which all the pieces do not tumble out of a box, and no one has provided the finished model. For starters, you have a word or two, and a handful of characters in the making perhaps. Regulars who’ve changed since the previous appearance or newcomers you’ve yet to appraise beyond physical traits or stated purpose of visit. You have assumptions, reversals, surprises. What it’s all about, you may not even find out after the final revision.

Voilà. You stick with it because you do.

Books. Doodles. Scribbled notes. Bills, appointments, domestic chores. The lifelong process of meditation through observation. The word meditation seeming to imply sitting in a special posture suggestive of something static and becalmed. Yet, whether sitting in a prescribed way or chasing down the day, there’s  nothing passive about the process, especially when one organized flow pattern of inner dialogue or imagery gets superseded by another. The brain switches gears, so to speak, a different hormonal flow starts up. What seemed self-evident or unsolvable a milli-second earlier appears in a different light or under another rhythm.

For the time being, one section of the proto draft comes to a temporary halt.

Whereto now, and to what purpose.


In and other spirits, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts on February 17, 2016 at 9:36 am

I sent a reply to the job posting as soon as I found it in my email. Will I receive so much as an answer? I don’t know. Jobs and I form an odd couple in which the misses happen more often than the scores.

Meanwhile, reading, writing, people. The poetry section of my bookshelves is heavily skewed toward Russian poets of the twentieth century. My favorite French translations being those of André Markowicz. Did I ever think I’d chance across a Facebook page on which he describes the process the Russian original undergoes during its reincarnation in French?

The mix, on any given day. The smashed bottles out on the esplanade, for instance. The usual pattern suggests a moment of disgust and anger aimed at the bottle for no longer yielding up rotgut rum, vodka or pastis. A bottle hurled, in other words, and smashed in fairly large pieces.

This morning? There was a carpet of finely ground glass near the bench most night drinkers use as the spot from which to consider the world and all its ills. The asphalt glittered and so did the fine layer of frost encasing the parked cars. In order to achieve such a fine grain of glass out of one bottle 1) someone had enough money for a large container instead of the usual halvers and 2)the someone went to a lot of trouble to pound the bottle down in the cold night.

Apart from which, in my living room yesterday afternoon, two young men sat through the reading of an eight-page legal document. They followed along and left with their personal copy. If nothing wonderful comes out of their court hearing on Friday, at least they’ll own a document that says an important someone in the French hierarchy not only agreed things weren’t done right by them, but found all the words to make the matter as clear as day to any judge who wishes to examine the matter as an appellate court judge should.

The day. Reading. Writing. People.