The Wasp Nest: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “A Perfumed Garden”

Numerous and nameless,
We watched them explode red and gold,
Now that they are dead and gone,
We see the secrets they concealed:

A wasp nest as big as a football,
A ghost town in the bare branches,
A once complete civilization,
Now a grey collapsing globe.

With the year’s rush of life behind us,
When each day begins and ends in darkness,
We’re afforded clear views in this space
Between fallen leaves and killing frosts.

It is time to celebrate our dead,
Stage our feasts to tempt them
From their congested graves
Into our hollow hearts—

x            Halloween
x   —Día de los Muertos—
x    Día de los Inocentes y
x   Día de los Difuntos—
x   Odawa ghost suppers—
x         All Saints’ Day—
x          All Souls’ Day—
x             Samhain

Lure them with sweets,
Lull them with prayers,
Place flowers on their candlelit tombs,
The wind will still blow it all away.

The wasp nest will become more tattered,
More ragged with each passing day,
The amnesty of the snows arrives
—in its own sweet time, own soft way.

AGG20141114

Tune : “Perfumed Garden”
Fading Plum Blossom
by Li Qingzhao

My small boudoir hides a sprig of spring
Behind locked windows where no daylight filters.
The painted hall adjoining—a retreat of profound seclusion.
The coiled incense burnt out,
Shadows of the sun lengthen below the curtain-hooks.
Lonely as He Sun in Yangzhou, ①
With no one coming to visit,
Need I go roaming distant streams and towers
In quest of wild blossom
Now that the plum I planted
Is blooming luxuriantly?

Unsurpassed in charm,
My Flower cannot stand being trampled on by wind and rain.
And whose is that horizontal flute
That wakes such painful memories?
Grieve not when her subtle perfume dissolves
And snow-white petals fall.
Even though no vestige of her remains,
Her tender love will endure!
And on calm evenings, her lacy shadows
Cast by a pale moon
Will be beautiful beyond words. ②

① A gifted poet in the Liang Dynasty (502-557) whose poems were much appreciated for their subtlety by the great Tang Poet Du Fu. When he was an official at Yangzhou, he very much loved a plum tree in the courtyard of his office. He missed it so much when he me transferred to Loyang, that his superiors granted his request to return to Yangzhou out of sympathy. Thenceforth the tree completely engrossed his attention so that he could hardly tear himself away from it. He loved to sit facing the tree and write poetry whenever he was free from official duty, Li Qingzhao evidently attributed his doting on this tree to a sense of loneliness he must have felt when he considered that to be an official was devoid of meaning.
②A description derived partly from “Ode to the Plum Blossom” by the poet Lin Heqing of the Song Dynasty, generally considered the finest eulogy of plum blossoms in classical Chinese literature

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

满庭芳 李清照
小阁藏春,闲窗锁昼,画堂无限深幽。篆香烧尽,日影下帘钩。手种江梅渐好,又何必、临水登楼。无人到,寂寥浑似,何逊在扬州。
从来,知韵胜,难堪雨藉借,不耐风揉柔。更谁家横笛,吹动浓愁。莫恨香消雪减,须信道、扫迹难留。难言处、良窗淡月,疏影尚风流。

Mǎn tíng fāng Lǐ Qīngzhào
Xiǎo gé cáng chūn, xián chuāng suǒ zhòu, huà táng wúxiàn shēn yōu. Zhuàn xiāng shāo jǐn , rì yǐng xià lián gōu. Shǒu zhǒng jiāng méi jiàn hǎo , yòu hébì, lín shuǐ dēnglóu . Wú rén dào, jìliáo húnsì , Hé Sùn zài Yángzhōu .
Cónglái, zhī yùn shèng , nánkān yǔ jí jiè , bù nài fēng róu róu . Gèng shuí jiā héngdí , chuī dòng nóng chóu. Mò hèn xiāng xiāo xuě jiǎn, xū xìndào, sǎo jī nán liú . Nán yán chù, liáng chuāng dàn yuè, shū yǐng shàng fēngliú.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

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The Gravity of Accidents

The law cannot control this crowd,
This crush of insects,
This rabble of plants,
This riot of birds,
This surge of humans,
Each with an eye for dinner,
All food for one another,
Or a quickie in the bushes,
In this frenetic genetic game,
This tumultuous , bawling,
Barking, squeaking, squawking mass
Lurching to-and-fro,
Listing side-to-side,
Worms away with no aim in sight,
Propelled by the gravity of accidents
To arrive at this random, horrible grandeur.

AGG20141112

Depth Charge: At last Saturday’s Quebec Writers’ Federation workshop on revision led by Bruce Taylor, we chose from a selection of short prose pieces and transformed our choice into a poem. I chose a paragraph from Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species: “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” I’ve reworked the original poem a bit, it was a revision workshop after all, but it initial outpouring remains pretty much intact.

The Art of Revision

Last Saturday, the Quebec Writers’ Federation hosted a workshop on revising poetry. It was led by Bruce Taylor. The attendees brainstormed a list of revision techniques. I have taken that list, edited and expanded it. My thanks to all involved. Do with it as you will.

  1. Write/read the poem in reverse order, from last line to first
  2. Try writing another poem, or short prose piece, that expresses the opposite or negative of what the poem is trying to say.
  3. Change the form of the poem: If it is free verse, write it in a more structured form, like a sonnet, etc. If it is in a highly structured form, write a free verse version.
  4. Read the work out loud. If possible, have someone else read it out loud to you.
  5. If you are used to revising onscreen, write out and revise on paper. If you are revising on paper, move it onscreen.
  6. Change the title. See if this allows new ideas to emerge.
  7. Force new, possibly random, words into the poem.
  8. Summarize the poem in prose. Then revise the poetic version.
  9. Sleep on it (but be sure to wake up again). See number 13 below.
  10. Storyboard it. Stick it on the wall. This is especially helpful for a series of poems, very long poems, and/or assembling manuscripts. Stand back and look at the poem or poems as a whole, read it/them through, rearrange the order, put whole poems on the sidelines, cut pieces out with scissors and rearrange them, put suspect pieces aside, insert blank pages where you feel something is missing. Of course, this can all be done on a computer, but physically doing it will allow you to see the work in new ways.
  11. Write to a deadline for a contest or magazine submission in order to force yourself to revise.
  12. Consider removing words, lines or sections and putting them in a toolbox for use in future poems. Alternately, look in your Toolbox and see if something in there is appropriate for the poem you are working on.
  13. If you know something has to be fixed, or something is missing, but you don’t have the solution at the moment, highlight it, move on and comeback to it later.
  14. Leap or Transition? Do two separate sections need a connecting transition? Should two currently conjoined sections be separated?
  15. Randomize the poem completely. Change line order, line breaks, word order.
  16. Pass it through multiple language translations on Babelfish or Google Translate, eventually arriving back at English.
  17. If you speak another language, translate it into and then back out of that language.
  18. Convert a piece of prose by another author on the subject you are writing on into a poem and then incorporate that poem, or pieces of it, into the one you are working on.
  19. Read the poem several times and then immediately launch into some automatic writing. Does anything interesting popup?
  20. Keep everything and every new version. You may find an earlier  version was the superior one and want to revert to it. Or, you may find completely new poems in them. If not at the time, possibly at a later date.
  21. Do you have any other suggestions? Write them in the comments below.

My poems are little demons

My poems are little demons

Invading my skull
My poems are little demons
Hungry for my thoughts
And they must be exorcised
Often—they just die—famished

AGG20141110

Banging out another one

Counting syllables
Banging out another poem
My fingers thrumming
Across the invisible
Broken one-note piano

AGG20141110

Depth charge: a couple of tankas about the monomaniacal nature of the writing process.

 

All the words needed

Guttural growling—
High piercing squeals—soft gentle
Whispers—all at once
All this in rhythms—heartbeats—
In our breathing—together—

All the words needed
To describe us are in tongues
We hear but can’t speak
For understanding to come
Shut the fuck up and listen

AGG20141108
(after the Tanya Tagaq concert, Phi Centre, Montreal)