What Possible Pleasures

Now that you are tightly held
By everyone’s final lover,
Leaving us to salt our own wounds
In each other’s wanting arms,
I know, I know you said we must
Get past the problems of today
For the enjoyment of tomorrow,
So please, please forgive us our tears
Because right now it is hard to see
What possible pleasures could be
Born of pain so sharp, so dear.

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(In Memoriam, Doug McColeman, 1962-2014)

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…”

Chrysanthemum and The Empress Reversed: Ken

Chrysanthemum 2c Chrysanthemum 3c Chrysanthemum 4c Sake Cup Chrysanthemum 1c

Let’s sit by the stream
Put soft petals in the wine
Unmediated
We’ll socialize face-to-face—
Laughter rich as chocolate

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(for Ken)

Depth charge:  For brief explanations of the symbols in Hanafuda, click on the blue ribbon card above. To go to Ken’s blog, Talk to the Hump, click on the sake cup card above.

Ken Monteith Cinquain Toi

In addition to the beautiful and delicious Chrysanthemum Apple Pie, Ken contributed this clever cinquain, which he entitled Cinquain Toi, a pun on the fact that I am now 53, or cinquante trois.

This year for my birthday we are having fun with Hanafuda and Tarot cards.
Tarot_03_Empress Reversed

To see all the Hanafuda/Tarot tanka posted to date, click here.

To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffin just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

What makes a poem great?

Chilhuly-by-night_20130813

“A great poem will, paradoxically, take your breath away at the same time as it gives you a voice.”

A lot of ink has been spilled and, of late, bandwidth dedicated to answering the question, What makes a poem great?

I have  noted a fairly common experience that, for me as a poet, at least partially answers the question, most recently, while I was browsing in one of my local bookstores. I pick up a slim but attractive volume of poetry, City of Rivers by Zubair Ahmed. I randomly opened the book and read his poem You Are Gone, Brother, which ends with the lines: We float like eyes stitched to the sky,/Looking for each other/In all the wrong places.

I immediately took out my notebook and wrote some lines that would eventually form themselves into my poem Facebook Photo.

Therefore, I would say that a distinguishing feature of a great poem is that reading it causes you to write a poem of your own. It is inspirational. A great poem will, paradoxically, take your breath away at the same time as it gives you a voice.

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Facebook Photo

Chris Cockrill and Colin McKay 1984 Montreal Bud's protest

Chris Cockrill and Colin McKay 1984 Montreal protest against the raid of Bud’s Bar. Photo Courtesy of Jose Arroyo.

We float like eyes stitched to the sky,
Looking for each other
In all the wrong places.
from You Are Gone, Brother by Zubair Ahmed

A photo posted
From some thirty years ago
This was our beauty—
All smiles and a cigarette
At the corner of your mouth

Permanently pinned in place
Now—only ashes remain
And their phoenix memories
Flicker—just as quickly fade

As for sweet Colin
Proudly riding on your back
In protest of police
Brutality—his wide smile
Invited time’s cruel kisses

Only those who lived through war
Lost as many young men as
Did we in those years of love—
Fear—heroic caresses

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(for Chris Cockrill  and Colin McKay)

Depth Charge: This is a chimeric beast of a poem—half-tanka, half-quatrain.

I had previously written about the role Facebook, and social networking in general, is assuming in the creation of collective and social memory. The posting of this picture of a protest against a police raid of Bud’s bar in Montreal in 1984 is another example of memory synapses activated by shared digital information. Thanks, Jose Arroyo, for this.

Nothing could have prepared us for what was to follow in the years after this photo was taken, the onset of the AIDS epidemic that would rage completely unchecked for more than a decade, and while treatment now offers a degree of security for some, HIV continues to claim lives and loves to this day. For a glimpse at the tenor of those times, watch How to Survive a Plague.

To see all the tanka on this blog, click here.
To all non-tanka writing on this blog, click here.

A new chapbook, as close as the clouds by Andrew Grimes Griffin, is available for free reading online and/or download.

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…”

Facebook and Alzheimer’s: A Tale of Collective and Social Memory

While other people are being snatched away from us, we are being filched away surreptitiously from ourselves. –Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter CIV

When Seneca wrote these words, he was trying to convince us that it was pointless to grieve for the loss of loved ones, because we are ourselves are being changed and worn down by the passage of time, the departed have merely suffered time’s final blow.

I think he has missed a deeper point, however, that the death of someone we loved, with whom we spent a great deal of time and shared many experiences represents a significant change and loss for us because of the oft overlooked collective and social nature of memory. When a friend or family member dies, a huge section of our memory is erased; we still have our memories of them, but we have lost their memories of us.

AGG's parent's 2012-12-25 10.27.50

“When a friend or family member dies, a huge section of our memory is erased; we still have our memories of them, but we have lost their memories of us.”

In our individualistic society we like to delude ourselves that we are autonomous, freestanding entities, including our minds and memories, but it just ain’t so. Memory is collective in the sense that communities are built on shared common experiences and social in the sense that we rely on family and friends to revive (and revise) important experiences.

In traditional, stable societies collective and social memories would be fairly synonymous. If you stay in the same community and consort with the same people all your life, what you remember as a group and as an individual have a much larger overlap than if you are constantly on the move, changing cities, social groups, employment, careers, family members, friends and lovers.

AGG at the age of one

“When we used to have life-long contact with our families, there were usually several generations who knew us from childhood, not anymore.”

This is where the power of modern media comes in. It is crucial for creating collective memories in such a mobile mass: Where were you when Kennedy was shot? What were you doing when the Twin Towers came down? I don’t remember the Canada-Soviet Hockey series of ’72, how about you?

Social memory has become more and more estranged from collective memory and ever more fragile. When we used to have life-long contact with our families, there were usually several generations who knew us from childhood, not anymore.  Families are scattered and old people locked in lodges. Particularly tragic is when stroke, dementia or Alzheimer’s prematurely rob us of our shared social memories.

It seems to me that the explosion of popularity in social media like Facebook, Twitter, blogging and Tumblr is due in part to a desire to reinforce not just collective memory, but , more importantly, social memory. We can no longer rely on a stable group of lifelong acquaintances to mutually reinforce identity through shared memory creation, re-creation and re-vision, so we pass around Internet memes in an attempt to find shared reference points and entrust our photos and stories to the Web and the Cloud, vainly hoping that cyber chatter and networks can replace shared lived experience.

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For a concrete example of what I am talking about here, check out my poem Facebook Photo.