Saying “My Story”

Saying “My Story”, this is an Irish poem from the 7th-13th century. The author is unknown. This is translated by Brendan Kennelly. From the Penguin Book of Irish Verse.

A simple poem, but you can feel the winter “snarling” in these simple lines. It’s not very cold in Paris yet, but winter is coming. What’s more, our heating is broken down. Tomorrow we’ll get it repaired.

The thought of saying words, even a translation, that date from more than a thousand years ago; strange to think these fragments of a civilisation from so long ago. Fragments that come to us over the ages, here is it the story of the land? Whose story is it?

I am learning all of these poems and thinking of the desires and wishes that the poems contain. The time that these poems cross to come down to us. How something so fragile can cross time is a marvel… Can we leave things for others to find? Can we cross to others through time? Messages that cross through time and space…

The photo on this page is of the Gallarus Oratory, one of the earliest Christian buildings in Ireland, dating from 6th – 7th century. It is in Kerry on the Dingle Peninsula.

My Story

Here’s my story; the stag cries

Winter snarls as summer dies.

 

The wind bullies the low sun

in poor light; the seas moan.

 

Shapeless bracken is turning red,

The wildgoose raises its desperate head.

 

Birds’ wings freeze where fields are hoary.

The world is ice. That’s my story.

 

Anonymous from the 7th-13th century. Translated by Brendan Kennelly. From the Penguin Book of Irish Verse.

 

 

Saying This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

Saying This Be The Verse this week. An easy poem to learn by Philip Larkin with a simple rhyming scheme offset by the message.

I have always seen this poem as a joke, very black, gallows humour. The poet tells you to “get out of life as early as you can”.

Growing up I heard this from my uncles and aunts at family get togethers chuckling over the opening lines. It was first published in the New Humanist in August 1971.

Now that I remember, it must have been funny to my aunts and uncles surrounded by nephews and nieces… Thinking about getting out… Thinking back on them at that time it reminds me of Larkin’s other great poem High Windows.

This Be The Verse is an incredibly popular poem and is so easy to remember that people can take the poem, learn it themselves and change the words.

It has the status of a poem like a nursery rhyme (albeit rather older kids…)

Having walked around the streets with this poem it is so easy to get inside of and yet like all simple things, it is only deceptively simple. The message in the poem is very deep.

Best Laid Plans, Yet Containing Synchronicity

I had intended to read this at an open microphone session where some of my friends would have been. But instead of an open microphone session there were some musicians. Their name made me chuckle : Père & Fils. They sang songs of rebellion.

So even there we would be fucked up… This is what Philip Larkin is getting at in the poem, that no matter how good we are and we try to be we are still going to fuck up our children.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
By Philip Larkin.

 

 

 

Saying The Thought-Fox by Ted Hughes

Smell in your Dreams

The Thought-Fox by Ted Hughes is a poem about making a poem, almost like a dream it starts with the poet and a lonely clock ticking and then he senses something more nearer, he gets glimpses of this idea/being, slowly revealing itself to be a fox, everything building, until the final stanza when with ‘a sudden sharp hot stink of fox, it enters the dark hole of the head.’ The animal smell of the fox, this closeness to the idea/fox, wakes us from the dream. ‘The page is printed’, the poem is there.

Blood in his Dreams

When Ted Hughes read ‘The Thought-Fox’ in public he used to introduce the poem by telling the audience about a dream he had two years before he wrote it. At that time Hughes was studying English Literature at Cambridge. He believed that his studies stifled his creativity. He dreamt that a burnt and bloody fox, the size of a man with human hands, walking on his hind legs, came into his room. The fox put a bloody hand on the essay he was writing and said, ‘Stop this – you are destroying us.’ When he wrote ‘The Thought-Fox’, he may not have been thinking about this dream at all, but it is interesting that he subsequently made this connection.

As in so many things creative, it is often in hindsight that we can see the golden thread which links them together.

Why the Fox?

I am no stranger to foxes and wrote a poem which you can find elsewhere on this website called “Why the Fox?”.

Hughes claimed that the fox was his totemic animal. In some shamanic traditions the shamans never tell who their spirit animals are, while in others the shamans are quite open about this. Your totemic animals change and you may have several during your life in shamanic traditions.

I have been drawing a fox man for nearly a year now. I do not know why. I find it easy to draw him. It is of course partly autobiographical and an easy mask to hide behind. I can say or attempt to say things about the world I live in, while all the time imagining other worlds.

The fox is a cliché. it is often invoked to represent a mixture of the civilised savage: ourselves. Many people talk to me about Mister Fox the great film, and of course from time to time in my drawings the Crow puts in an appearance with the Fox. The Fox has a resonance in our culture- he is so common as to be invisible. He is known for the folk qualities of slyness and his trickster attitude. At the same time the fox is lovable. And deeper still the fox is wild. The fox is a wild animal.

The Fox in Contemporary Art

A friend of mine explained to me that the fox is very popular in contemporary art because it is easy to find stuffed foxes in antique shops. The fox dies, is stuffed and reborn again in an installation. If the fox is lucky its physical remains are not too badly treated in this reincarnation. For some it would be better that they were forgotten beside the battered, empty valved dusty trumpet at the back of the antique shop. When I see the fox’s helpless body mistreated and disrespected I feel sad.

Meeting the Fox for Real

I just came back to France from holidays in Dublin, my home town. This is also part of the reason why it has been so hard to post this video of me saying the Thought-Fox. I also have stopped drawing foxes. I don’t know why. Holidays I suppose…

Dublin is full of foxes. Real foxes and surely many false ones too. I saw a fox crossing the road in broad daylight. A fine healthy fox, well-fed with a beautiful coat. A couple of nights later I was coming home late from a friend’s house and I saw a fox in the same place in the dark. It may have been the same fox. It crossed the road in front of me and went down another road. It stood beneath the yellow lamp. I looked down the road after him and it turned to stare at me. We held the stare for a long time and then I reached for my phone to somehow capture it; a bad photo, a shaky video. It looked at me from the lamplight and I tried to discreetly take out my camera. Then it turned and was gone. I stood there with my useless smartphone.

I went on home thinking about how do we meet foxes? How do we meet animals? How do we meet that wild part of ourselves? And then we try to capture it. And if we capture the wilderness it runs away.

The Fox-Catcher

‘So you see, in some ways my fox is better than an ordinary fox. It will live for ever, it will never suffer from hunger or hounds. I have it with me wherever I go. And I made it. And all through imagining it clearly enough and finding the living words.’ Ted Hughes (Poetry in the Making)

Not everyone would agree that catching the wild thing is the right thing. And this is a Thought-Fox, notice that hyphen in the title now?

Attempt at Conclusion

It’s late at night, you are alone trying to find an idea, trying to draw, trying to write, trying to write music, trying to imagine a new thing, a way to put into something a something that you sense…

This is what the Thought Fox is about. It is about the birth of a poem.

So. I have started learning a poem by heart a week. At the end of the week I post the poem on my website and on my instagram. I am on week three and I don’t really know why I am doing it. I enjoy the process of learning and I imagine that I will start to see other benefits. But for the moment it is a way of selecting poetry that I love, an echo of the infinite contained in the finite body…

I am trying to learn a poem a week but this one has been a little tricky to learn and to find the time to say it.
There is nothing more useless and useful than poetry. Especially now so many of us have a need for the promise of poetry, the rawness of poetry, the true lies of poetry, the possible impossibility.
I was about to give up– I know so many people have done this before. I am doing this for me alone and my own enjoyment. I post it to give myself an obligation and a deadline. If you don’t like it, I don’t give a f**k… 🙂

I hope that it will give you the wish to do something that you want to do yourself- you don’t have to post it…

The Thought-Fox

by Ted Hughes

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox,
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

~

From The Hawk in the Rain (1957)