Thursday, 15 March 2012

Three Poems, One Art

 Or You May Leave a Memory, Or You Can be Feted by Crows

Last night we sat talking, as it happens ever so often when the rain refuses to abate and all life and meaning gets erased by the sight and sound of water. From water we came, and water shall obliterate us. But in the meantime we talk– about art. For when life all around us seems to be going down the drain, art is the tiny straw that one clings onto in a desperate attempt to keep one’s head above the raging waters. Nietzsche said we have art in order not to perish of truth. I would like to say after we had been talking for hours the sun broke through the clouds and once again it was glorious spring. But the truth is there is only snow and rain. And the forecast for the next seven days is equally grim.

But we continue to keep talking about art. Sometimes late into the night, sometimes via email. Is it a comfort to know that you too are not waving but drowning? We keep repeating the same things– our sacred chant. Few words suffice– craft, judgment, sanity, fun. However, three poems would be, perhaps, even more eloquent.
In My Craft Or Sullen Art
By Dylan Thomas

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
After Arguing against the Contention That Art Must Come from Discontent
By William E. Stafford

Whispering to each handhold, “I'll be back,”  
I go up the cliff in the dark. One place  
I loosen a rock and listen a long time
till it hits, faint in the gulf, but the rush
of the torrent almost drowns it out, and the wind—
I almost forgot the wind: it tears at your side  
or it waits and then buffets; you sag outward. . . .

I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble  
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark—
“Made it again!” Oh how I love this climb!
—the whispering to stones, the drag, the weight  
as your muscles crack and ease on, working  
right. They are back there, discontent,
waiting to be driven forth. I pound
on the earth, riding the earth past the stars:  
“Made it again! Made it again!”

You May Leave a Memory, Or You Can be Feted by Crows
By Dick Allen

Three years, Huang Gongwang
worked on his famous handscroll,

As he put successive applications of ink to paper
over the “one burst of creation,” his original design,
it is said he often sang like a tree frog
and danced on his old bare feet.

One day, he adds one hemp fiber stroke,
the next a moss dot.

What patience he had,
like a cat who comes back season after season to a mole’s tunnel.

Honors may go to others.
Riches may go to others.
Huang Gongwang has one great job to do.

And he sings like a tree frog,
and he dances on old bare feet.

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