from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

findings, nuthatches, prometheus and promiscuity

It was good to see at Exeter University last night such a turnout for poet Kathleen Jamie's reading. Her landscape work is often pleasingly simple; rarely slight. And yet her lyrical Scottish voice conveyed a substantiality to her poems that isn't always quite so obvious on the page, reminding me that a poem may not be complete until it's voiced (and heard), 'coming back in a wave at you from the far wall', as she said. It was uplifting, being immersed in her poems for an hour. If you don't know her, then a good place to start may be not with her poems but with her book of reflections, Findings.

Here in sheltered places the snowdrops, crocuses (croci) and daffodils are making catwalks of the damp banks. This morning, on the birdfeeder in the garden, at last a nuthatch has arrived. They should be here, in our habitat; many other species pack the garden and the courtyard, but the nuthatch has been stubbornly absent. I have been waiting for it to manifest in all the eighteen months we've had the birdtable up, rather like an idea incubating; and now the thought has been born and matter has accumulated to shape it.

Mulling over the genesis of idea>incubation>thought-form>manifestation, coupled with something KJ said last night, takes me to a recurring thought of mine: that the creative imagination that drives a compulsive poet (and to some extent a novelist, and this is probably true of all other artforms too) is a bit of a hussy, really. Polygamous, promiscuous; in the creative, emotional and intellectual realms, anyway. We're very hard to live with, I think. What we are true to is our star: the notion of the constant-and-subtly-changing Other, whom we seek wherever fire sparks (and in whatever form: god, person, place, idea, situation, substance). Think Aphrodite, think Hermes. The imagination is/becomes/issues from a god; this god is not naturally faithful, or steady, or stable. Once you've been pierced with the arrow (you will see I'm muddling my gods willfully here – mixed immortals, as well as mixed metaphors – but yes, Eros is definitely in the picture; or Aengus, in the Celtic tongue, the god of inspiration and the fire in the head) – where was I? – once you've been pierced by the arrow nothing other than the true Promethean fire will do. It sets you out wandering to no known destination. It's transcendent; a peak experience. It's intense and obsessive. It's an addiction. It can wreak havoc. It can cause immense confusion, especially if the star, or the Other, is muddled with a flesh-and-blood person or situation. It can burn one, and others, up. It can be a lifelong avoidance of actuality. It can inspire ecstasy, and fear – in oneself, in others. (And for some, it's too much, and they will take a safer route, keep their feet on the ground. It's a sad thing, seeing a god with its wings clipped.)

And it can make a Keats, a Rilke, a Rumi, a Hildegard of Bingen, a Shakespeare, a Scheherazade ...

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