Saying Digging by Seamus Heaney

Saying Digging by Seamus Heaney…

This is a poem that I started learning at the end of August. I have been trying to learn a poem a week. It is now mid September.

I don’t really know why but this poem turned out to be so difficult to learn. It is a little longer than the other ones I have learnt so far but I think there is something about the message in the poem. Something about it that I can hear but not really feel.

The poem is one of Heaney’s earlier poems and he is looking at his father and his grandfather and how they were brilliant at digging. The rhymes are beautiful and subtle and it just sounds so natural. It is a beautiful poem. Maybe the core message did not vibrate with me.

Why so difficult?

Some of the reasons that made it so difficult to learn this poem was that there was a lot of stuff going on: it was the end of the holidays and then it was back to school for my young family. I tried a couple of times to record it but nearly everytime I tried to record it I got something wrong. Either when I was saying it or else something happened during the recording.

I have seen great advantages from learning poetry though. I have seen it  in re-learning some of my music and lyrics for the groups I play with.

Why learn?

There was a concert with Onze Onze and it was so easy to relearn all the lyrics after the holidays. In an earlier post I wondered about the utility of learning these poems so I suppose I am getting an answer already.

I can also feel it in my writing. I have continued drawing as well and there are things changing with that too. I will announce the news in relation to drawings on a separate post.

Last night, I was at the birthday party of a friend and he co-celebrated his birthday with his father. We improvised some music with some musician friends. I improvised some lyrics.

What can we say about time passing? About those who have come before? How can we live up to the ones who were before us?

Heaney answers you have to use the tools that you have.

Hope you enjoy this poem and see you soon…

Digging by Seamus Heaney.

Between my finger and my thumb   

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound   

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   

My father, digging. I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   

Bends low, comes up twenty years away   

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   

Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.   

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.
Seamus Heaney, “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney.

Saying The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Robert Frost
Robert Frost

Saying The Road Not Taken

Here I am saying The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (1874–1963).

At the moment I am on holiday in Ireland. I am trying to memorize a poem every week. This is the second poem that I have learnt. It was rather difficult to recite it, as every time I have tried to recite it I was interrupted. I am in my parent’s house with lots of nieces and nephews and of course my own children. That is why I am reciting it hidden in my bed… Even still you can hear some children if you listen carefully, shouting in the distance, as I say it.

This poem was originally intended as a joke by Robert Frost to his friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas who was famously indecisive, especially on their walks together. This was when Frost lived in England for a short time.

Generally people imagine this poem to be the decision, made earlier in one’s life, about a road not taken. However, having spent some time with the poem you hear that

“and both that morning equally lay

in leaves no step had trodden black.”

So, in fact there is no real choice to be made. The general understanding of this poem, at least in popular culture, is that this choice was difficult and that the narrator made a choice “the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”. In fact, both routes are the same. You cannot make a real choice between them. In reality we know that there are rarely situations in which we fell there is a black or white choice.

Perhaps we see all these choices only in retrospect. As the narrator imagines himself somewhere in the future, sighing, regretting the route that he took.

Sometimes we don’t even see what choices there are. We imagine the choices afterwards.

As I was reading about Frost and learning the poem I found it a little difficult. It is beautifully written and yet there are no images really. A yellow wood, leaves that no step has trodden black and a road that bends into the undergrowth. That is what is so beautiful about this poem. It has structure and a stark, simple beauty. It is delightful to see how effortlessly Frost has put the spoken patterns into the meter “though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same”.

Parallels

hopper.road-maine
Road in Maine by Edward Hopper 1914; Oil on canvas, 24 x 29 inches; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Recently, I have been looking at Edward Hopper‘s paintings again. There are parallels between Hopper and Frost. Hopper was a 20th century painter yet like Frost he seems to have 19th century concerns. Everyone knows his work, at least superficially. We can see that his selection of reality is an interpretive one. His interests seems to be formal ones, also like Frost.

Everything in Hopper’s work is deceptively simple. For me it is fascinating to think that Hopper was also a contemporary of Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko. In the 40s and 50s abstract expressionism was the direction that painting took in America. The expression of the individual. The cool calculated approach of Hopper was no longer relevant.

Learning poems and saying them

It is easier to learn a poem with a rhyming scheme. I thinkthat I will be able to learn many poems. It is an interesting way of approaching a poem. You begin to get inside the poem.

However, I do not know what the point of this is. I do not really know why I am doing this. I think of it as a way of learning forms of poetry (stanzas, iambic tetrameter, etc) and maybe reproducing them in my own writing. Maybe that is what I will tell myself after…

It is hard to recite poetry. What I mean by that, is it is hard to just say a poem in a simple way so that you can hear the words and not the way it is being said. It is hard to say a poem to people.

I tried a couple of times, just in the middle of the day, just to say to somebody “would you like to hear a poem?” It is strange. Maybe we think of poems as being very personal. I know I am not sure if I would like someone to recite poems to me. It is an interruption. I want to know how long the poem will be. It’s like looking at a video on the web and being able to see the time that it will last. We have no attention span anymore.

What form? What for?

So I will just keep learning poems. It is a little like learning songs that no one will ever hear… Or the time spent looking at things that nobody ever knows. Going back to Hopper, you can see from his very detailed notes that he really imagined his paintings beforehand.

I always wonder how much artists really know before they do or make something. It is a mix of both approaches. We never really do know. Then we have to make a choice… And perhaps never do but make believe that we have made a choice afterwards.

So, enjoy the walk?

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

 

fail 2016 means succeed 2016

fail 2016 means succeed 2016

To create you have to fail, fail 2016 means succeed 2016!

To create you have to fail. This is 2016. Fail 2016 means succeed 2016?

Time to create the uncreated. To create you have to fail. I set out to fail really well this year … and here are some of the ways I am going to do it. I set out to succeed: the ways I intend to do that are exactly the same.

This post is a perfect example! I put it up last night and then it disappeared! So fail spectacularly because you’re taking risks. And maybe you’ll succeed.

Here are some of the ways you’ll be able to watch me failing:

11:11

An electro group I’ve been playing with for nearly a year with Gabriel Guerin and Mathieu Autin. Live shows coming so watch this space!

Zarboth

“There’s No Devils at All, it’s Just the System” the third album by Zarboth and where I am a special guest came out on Friday the 13th November 2015. Yes, that Friday. Its weird in -your -face rock will be playing around France and the universe. The album artwork is by yours truly.

Zarboth website

Voices from the Other Side

Speaking of artwork, I will bring together my drawings in a small pocket sized book. You will be able to walk around with this book in your possession. The form for acquiring it has to be defined. A perfomance, a conference, a meeting? You can see the kind of images that it will contain here:

Macdara Smith on Instagram

Welcome to my Studio*

Finally my main resolution : post every week observations and notes about my creative activity on this website. In other words you will be able to come into my studio* and the non-stop party that this is my life. This will be to allow you all to create your own work, to have a laugh, to sigh, to get jealous (maybe) but most of all it will make you want to make you do your own stuff.

I’ll share links to other sites that have similar approaches.

*studio : a sketchpad, the corner of a table, the back of a cardboard box… whatever I have to hand.

Fail better, fail often

I’ll think of some other ways to try failing. And I’ll tell you about it very quickly…