I read a Facebook posting recently, shared by a ‘friend’ [all I mean is this was an indirect receipt], where the original writer was chiding another who had tweeted about the tragedy of so many ‘stars’ dying in 2016, with – though I can’t recall exactly – a quite familiar emotive exhortation to the effect that the year should fuck right off. The critical riposte to this was a reminder that the woes of 2016 do not really compare with any of the Second World War years. Of course, this corrective was/is absolutely and importantly true.
But I still thought it rather sniping. Rude, in fact. I understand the frustration after hearing so much sentimental brow-beating about the death of celebrities this year, mainly musicians but also others. Like millions, I have felt that pain on both sides of the expressing.
We don’t need to go to any historical wars for the counter to this focus on 2016 and its celebrity passings. Aleppo today will suffice and there are many other contemporary touchstones of colossal despair. I tried to capture my thinking on these realities in this poem posted yesterday.
My reason for writing now is to post a link to The Guardian editorial on this same ‘debate’, a sensible observation that doesn’t seek to excuse but instead explain the tendencies. Read here.
enough is enough
you can have no more,
neither of the two Beatles,
no one from the Stones – two of them
still adding to the living-pool –
not sweet sweet James
not a single one from CSN&Y
even with their internal enmities,
some of the above teetering
on edges before,
nor Roy nor Yusuf nor José
still strumming their
and this doesn’t mean the New Year is
no holds barred
another continual consumption.
You’ll still have Aleppo –
the whole of Syria, in fact – and the
Mediterranean will have its thousands
plunging from these places,
just as easily taken.
all those competing gods
so who will sing about these?
Whose lyrics will set death to music
if you take all of the good ones away?
Even those who mainly sing about having sex?
These human things,
It’s only natural
and I don’t mean dying
that we can get the balancing awry
remembering the famous,
those who have shaped our lives.
How many loved ones
were once in the world
In so much loss
there is little surprise
it is the memory
of the [www]celebrated
I cannot relate to the Christian message of the poem, but I do to its mythology, and the way Hughes – as only he can – conveys the power of this:
I’ve just had an astounding dream as I lay in the straw.
I dreamed a star fell on to the straw beside me
And lay blazing. Then when I looked up
I saw a bull come flying through a sky of fire
And on its shoulders a huge silver woman
Holding the moon. And afterwards there came
A donkey flying through that same burning heaven
And on its shoulders a colossal man
Holding the sun. Suddenly I awoke
And saw a bull and a donkey kneeling in the straw,
And the great moving shadows of a man and a woman—
I say they were a man and a woman but
I dare not say what I think they were. I did not dare to look.
I ran out here into the freezing world
Because I dared not look. Inside that shed.
A star is coming this way along the road.
If I were not standing upright, this would be a dream.
A star the shape of a sword of fire, point-downward,
Is floating along the road. And now it rises.
It is shaking fire on to the roofs and the gardens.
And now it rises above the animal shed
Where I slept ’til the dream woke me. And now
The star is standing over the animal shed.
I received my own pre-Christmas present today – a gift, of sorts, I ordered for myself – though it has only become a festive one because it took so long to arrive, having been bought online from the States on the 4th December. It is Ray Carver’s collection of poems Ultramarine, not a Random House first edition from 1986, but a 1987 First Vintage Books Edition so a little special in that sense, and I know many of the poems already from his selected poems In a Marine Light.
It is always so easy to read Carver, whether his short stories or poems, both sharing so many similarities in their directness, storytelling, the lyricism of a natural voice, depiction of pain and some pleasure. I never forget what a superb writer he is, but I always love being reminded when reading again and again.
This is the briefest of celebrations of Carver as writer and this poetry book. Anyone knowing my own writing and/or reading this blog will know of my love of list poems, and this Ultramarine collection contains the one I believe was my introduction to its simple style, The Car [though I had read it first in his selected]. The power of the style is in its repetitions – that is an aural effect/impact, if handled well – but also, and more importantly, in the mixing of tones – put simply, the literal with the emotive, for example,
The car with a hole in the muffler.
The car with no muffler.
The car my daughter wrecked.
There is a darker list poem of his, Fear, and this can be found in his selected.
There is in this collection the poem Mother that I initially thought I could write about today, Christmas Eve, with its opening line,
My mother calls to wish me a Merry Christmas
yet it is too dark for the moment, but it ends with the following lines that are wonderfully ironic in their rhetorical, emotive tease, because of course he has in this poem ‘explained’ to the reader even though it is ostensibly about the inability to explain to his mother on the telephone,
….It snows and snows
as I hang on the phone. The trees and rooftops
are covered with it. How can I talk about this?
How can I possibly explain how I’m feeling?
Carver writes about simple, everyday events, most from the past and how these invade the present as memories, filtered through time and subsequent experience, though he rarely uses that experience to judge. Instead, he reports. The poem The Projectile [for Haruki Marukami] could have been a pretentious reflection on one author talking to another,
We sipped tea. Politely musing
on possible reasons for the success
of my books in your country
but this is exactly what it is, the matter-of-fact account of a moment where, as the poem then immediately shifts, Carver thinks back to an incident when he was 16, driving a car and getting involved in a snowball fight, and this memory becomes the content of the poem, ending,
Why remember that stupid car sliding
down the road, then turning the corner
We politely raise our teacups in the room.
A room that for a minute something else entered.
Like all truly good storytellers, Carver usually doesn’t provide conclusions. The Autopsy Room is a poem about a job he once had cleaning up [yes, a euphemism] and we can imagine the wealth of events/episodes this experience could provide a writer. And it does, but not quite as we’d expect. Its ending reminds me of the conclusion to his short story Neighbors where, put briefly, a couple go into their absent neighbours’ apartment to feed Kitty, and water the plants but increasingly intrude into their friends’ private lives [dressing in their clothes and so on…]. One night the woman has been in the apartment, nosing around again and finding even more private details, some ‘pictures’, but on returning to her own flat remembers she forgot to feed the cat and water those plants. However, when the couple want to return to sort, the woman realises she has left the key behind, in the apartment, and probably left signs of the couple’s regular intrusiveness. The story finishes without our discovering the consequences of this, and I will never forget the impact of that ending on a first read in its simple power of expectation,
They stayed there. They held each other. They leaned into the door as if against a great wind, and braced themselves.
It helps to have read the story to appreciate this! And that is a long preamble to get back to The Autopsy Room where this poem does present, naturally, details of the ghoulish nature of the job, including a reference to a left-behind, severed leg, and returning home to his wife that night, in the story of the poem, Carver is caressing her leg at which point the narrative could be macabre, but Carver doesn’t deal in those morbid connections in this way – though I suppose we do at first instinctively as readers – because the poem concludes,
was happening. Everything was happening. Life
was a stone, grinding, and sharpening.
This isn’t deconstructing but rather, I accept, decontextualising. The point is the poems often work as simple surprises that are also apocalyptic because they are real and ordinary – that paradox Carver captures as a writer.
One of the most poignant of all Carver’s poems is Gravy from his final collection A New Path to a Waterfall. Reflecting on surviving ten years after a diagnosis of lung and brain cancer, a drunk now sober, finding love with his partner Tess Gallagher, and finding success late in life as an author, he writes at the end of this short poem,
……”Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.”
This is put even more movingly in the observation from the last poem in that same collection, Late Fragment,
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on this earth.
I refer to these two emotive favourites because the final poem in Ultramarine is The Gift, dedicated then to Tess who he was soon to marry, and it is similar in its overall sentiment. This poem concludes in another typically tender, wholly honest observation and I was again moved to read this today,
As if we knew what the other was feeling. We don’t
of course. We never do. No matter.
It’s the tenderness I care about. That’s the gift
this morning that moves and holds me.
Same as every morning.
Reported today, no musician/s have yet been sorted to appear at president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – Ted Nugent presumably having been asked but already committed to a hunting engagement on that day – but likely current and shameless front-runners are the Beach Boys.
Should they agree to attend, here at mikeandenglish I’d like to offer an ironic collection of pre-categorised songs already performed by the group from which to select their set list for the event:
On the Man Himself
Honkin’ Down the Highway
The Man With all the Toys
Afterthoughts on the Election
I Should Have Known Better
Heads You Win – Tails I Lose
Strange Things Happen
It’s Over Now
God Only Knows
Let Him Run Wild
Here Comes the Night
Let’s Go Away for Awhile
Livin’ With a Heatache
Don’t Worry Baby
This was written in my final year of teaching, retiring at the end of the school year 2010:
I take care
and keep well
sun and shadow
in my life.
to hunt out
in the hospice;
in these words
keep in touch
and it is me
finding ways to
to have known.
His and my
To live, eh?
of a writer