Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Story of the Weeping Camel

Here is a film directed by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni that is turning heads and raising humps. I haven’t seen it (other than a small, yet impressive clip), but I can’t help talking about my brethren camels. (In my neck of the woods it may take a year or two for this baby to arrive in the theatre!) And thus weeping Al shall await the arrival of the weeping camel. Anyway, it’s about time that we get some recognition on the big screen, though it may be nothing compared to the attention we're getting here in Blogland.

But seriously, listen to this by Emily Blunt:

The star of the film, a rather doe-eyed camel with a pinch of attitude, seems aware of her close-up and gives directors Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni an Oscar© caliber performance…deep, soulful and layered.

And he is a two-humped Bactrian camel he is. A star. Since I haven’t seen the film I’ll say no more about it. But if you’re into hearsay….

Incidentally, I do recall a muslin story about a crying camel. Does that ring any bells? I wonder if that has any connection to the idea behind this film.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Imagine the first poem...

Animal theme cave-painting, Lacaux, France

Imagine the first poem. The very first one. The one they didn’t call a poem then. Wonder if it was about the night sky, its endlessness, or its frailty, all ready to come down outside the cave. No. That couldn’t be it. Too apocalyptic. Was it the one about the dying child—a mother lifting and watching his lifeless hand drop at his side? Was it about those first tears the gathered didn’t understand? No. That wouldn’t be it either. Too sentimental for post-modern Neanderthal poetry, ¿no? Was it about the sharpened lance; how it cut the finger of the hunter during sharpening, stone on stone? No. Ridiculous. Hard to know exactly how they cursed then. Was it the falling hair of the greatest warrior now sitting alone on the outskirts of that forest? No. Too fugit irreprabile tempus (stolen from Machado). Can’t put a finger on it. Just keep thinking about that naked child splashing on the lake, the first snow of winter, the very first smile.

But Catuxa[1] suggests it should be imagined this way:

The first first poem. The first one. There were no poems. The night sky, endlessness, frailty, falling-crushing outside cave. Apocalyptic. Dying child. Mother lifts hand, watches lifelessness. Tears from the gathered? Sentimental post-modern Neanderthals. No? Sharpened lance sharpening - sharpening - sharpening on stone. A cut finger—silence from non-existent curses. Falling hair, lonely warrior. Lost time—irreparably Machado. No. Understanding is never: naked, child splashing, lake, first snow, winter, first smile. Ever. The first.

[1] Catuxa de Palmeira is a Galician poet that recently presented the above two writings at a reading in Spain as examples of a concrete—give the reader all poem—in contrast to a more abstract work that allegedly “lets the reader / audience interact with the poem, thus making it the reader’s since it is no longer the poet’s once it leaves her control.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Snow Amid Cadences

Rhea & Chronus by Elsa Dax

I struggle endlessly with the concept of form vis-à-vis formlessness in poetry; the continuum from the palpable, understandable word to the abstract, disjointed use of it. The struggle—mine—is quite simple: it is a failure to understand how and why words register or do not register in my heart as expressions of sentiment. (Or, said another way, as symbols, icons, codes that spark in me: “feeling”.) It is what I come to poetry for; I seek no other form of enlightenment, no education, no M.P.A. It is not words themselves perhaps that cause such spark to occur or not to occur; it goes beyond my ability—limited or otherwise—to understand meanings from the interconnectedness of words, from their disjunctions, their cadences, silences?, their “throbbing”, as Ron Silliman might say. What is the structure, the unity, the magic that works the trick of feeling in me?

Am I the perusing man that in light of evolution stands flabbergasted at his lack of feeling before an abstract painting where the lines, the colors, the geometry do absolutely nothing for him? Or is “nothing” the “feeling” he is to walk away with? I’d say it is the feeling he is to walk away from. Am I she who dismisses a work’s abstractness because the brush strokes, harsh upwards, and the choices of color, clashing, come through the hand and mind of a monkey instead of a man with equal success? How facile and odious the comparison, but as Ramón del Valle-Inclán noted beware the day when poetry will simply be the setting down of one word after another, without more.

Juan de Mairena through the voice of Machado said that one of the most efficacious means by which art can be made not to change inside, in its interior and substance, is to renew it—or to scramble it—constantly on the outside. That being the reason why original artists would hang, if they could, the poets of a new generation, and why the newbies stone, when they can, their original predecessors.[1] This is true, it seems, of all generations, in all countries and cultures. Wordsworth was stoned in his day as was Whitman.

As I pondered in silence,
Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,
A Phantom arouse before me with distrustful aspect,
Terrible in beauty, age and power,
The genius of poets of old lands,
As to me directing like flame its eyes,
With finger pointing to many immortal songs,
And menacing voice, What singest though? It said,…[2]

Wordsworth himself said that “every writer, in so far as he is great and at the same time original, has the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed.”[3] So is the word that triggers no feeling in me today to shake the foundations of future generations tomorrow? I am the man who called Wordsworth a language poet centuries ago. Tendencies change, schools of thought dominate, then die. In the end we are left with the poem—dressed in sheep’s skin?—and the word: turned, tossed, washed, dried. Does one ever kill the father, his word,—tearing him to pieces—, as the Galician poet Rafa Villar said to his generation in the 1990’s?[4] And does the killing proceed, in part, in the form of formlessness and abstraction?

I’m gladly afraid the sonnet isn’t dead (anymore than the traditional novel or the three act play). Imagine our existence without the precise 22-minute sit-com; the Hollywood flick without the car chase; the rock ballad without the electric guitar solo. I feel safe. There can be no poetry without form, without minimal structure, i.e., the structure of a single word?, or taken to extremes, of a single “,” or, further, a single blank page?)—methodically placed between multiple blank pages—of a manuscript aptly titled “Snow Amid Cadences”. (Hasn’t this been written yet?) Extremes in form must necessarily threaten every art form and the reader’s ability to digest it.

I am therefore not bound by the chains of my ignorance. I may yet be saved. Though the muse may come to some “with a ruler, a pair of compasses, and a metronome”[5], I may also be bemused by the goddess that walks bare-ass naked in the woods flicking rose petals randomly. I remain willing to lick drops of dew from the cup of her hand. Shall I be enlightened or killed by poisoned dew?

[1] Juan de Mairena, Antonio Machado, Bibliotex, S.L., © 2001, p. 134.
[2] “As I pondered in silence”, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman.
[3] “Poets, Critics and Readers”, No Other Book, Selected Essays by Randall Jarrell. Ed. Brad Leithauser, © 1999, p. 225.
[4] In December 1996 Rafa Villar presented in Santiago de Compostela his lecture “Theory of Poetic Generations: To kill the father. To tear him to pieces and bury him in burned limestone so that the only remembrance that he will leave us will be the verses that inspired us.”
Jarrell at 250.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Camino Posted by Hello

“…most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit.”[1]

In my case there is little choice in the given. I belong to the family of the Romeros and someone down the line started this, I presume, though perhaps not by the grace of God, but by the egging on of some devil, to move on, away from everything that is at it shouldn’t. Though she may have simply walked to think things through –“to contemplate”-- (were she no doubt worthier than I): “Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.”[2] True. Partly. I often ruminate, though I have seen other beasts—most quite more glamorous—capable of such feats.

I can’t escape from the past, from my family name and all the steps that have carried it here. It has come from “the Latin romaeus, and this from the Greek, ῥωμαῖος, literally, “roman”, name that was given in the Oriental Empire to occidentals who crossed in peregrination to the Holy Land and, in posterior dates, to the pilgrims of St. James and of Rome.”[3] And as far as I know at least one of us—my great grandmother—died on a road walking westward. I didn’t yet; made it at least to Santiago, yesterday. “Now I re-examine philosophies and religions, / They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the / spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.”[4]

[1] Walking, Henry David Thoreau.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Dictionary the Royal Spanish Academy, 22nd ed. 2001.
[4] “Song of the Open Road”, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, 1856.

Friday, November 05, 2004


My Wheels Posted by Hello
The last time I went for a walk I came back 20 days later. Nothing compared to my friend José; he came back two years later and got tired just shy of Finisterre. Then he went on—almost literally dragging himself—towards the end of the world. I was there, his witness. True and quite symbolic. José finally looked at the sea and threw his walking stick into the waves. Watched the wood float away like something he wanted to forget. And then he stopped walking.
Suddenly I got that walking feeling myself. Will follow José’s tracks like that other time I arrived dead at Burgo Ranero. (Thanks for the warm fire, José, “compañero”.) No other word I know, hearing it from you, describes friendship best. What will your smile do for me in this my season of cold and rain?


Don’t know. Seems my jeans tumbled on the sofa, one leg here, one leg there, wrinkling as I speak, bear more resemblance to truth than so much talk about pain and how terrible life is: in the city, in the suburbs, in the hawk’s nest. Words. Words. Words. Are they all the same? Their meaning, their order, their space? Is green “green” like in everybody’s everlasting valley or is “green I want you green” any different? Green fields, green grass, green money, green with envy: green with envy over the true poet’s green.

...cause the Seahorse was taken...

Camel by Picasso Posted by Hello

...and there was somethin' about ridin’ one of them little ones, right beneath the surface, though you had to hold tight to them tiny ears if you didn't wanna fall way down, down, down, till you hit the sand and blurred the crystalline quiet of the bottom deep. This makes you afraid now, which is why, older, unable to travel thus, you simply shudder at the muffled hiss of that wiry little body between your fingers. That’s right. That’s when you close your eyes and wonder for the last time. Remember what it was like, child?