Tyler Lyle – Ithaca
This song is like a drug. I’ve been listening to it all day and it fades all the small things into nothingness and connects me with the wide, wild and unspeakable mystery.
It swells my heart with a quiet but intense joy, and yet I feel like crying for the mundane and the fantastic.
It’s an epic song, a twelve-minute gem of a song, a song that treads with conscious yet light steps through time and place, through thoughts and believes, searching for what was left behind or maybe what was only a dream, and after a journey around the world it ends in failure. Beautiful failure full of dignity and the inevitability of Greek tragedy.
The pictures are so deep and yet so instantly recognizable. Every word is familiar and everything is woven together so beautifully. This is songwriting on the level of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. If you know me just a little bit, you will know that this is the highest accolade I can give.
[thank you, Adam!]
slain by beauty
What is it about films with choirs? Or is it films from Scandinavia with choirs?
First, there was Oh Happy Day. And last night, my sister made me watch As It Is in Heaven. She bought the DVD as a Christmas present for herself and so far, I’d resisted watching it. Why? I knew it was going to be sad. I could tell from the title.
She assured me that yes, she’d cried upon first watching it. And yes, she’d probably cry again this time as well. Not because it was sad, but because of the beauty. After that, I was even more sure that it was going to be sad.
I don’t dislike films that are sad. My problem is that I get so very emotionally involved. I sink completely into a film, a book, a story, characters and people. And not just for the duration of watching or reading – every time this happens, a little bit of me gets changed forever. I hope for the better. It’s too painful a process to go through otherwise. Beauty can slay you.
To avoid that pain, in recent years, I’ve opted for light and forgettable, funny or serious, action, mystery – anything but emotion and depth and beauty. I was afraid of what it would do with me. (For an impression on what beauty does to me, you can have a look at some of my older posts, when I was very much engaged with the topics of beauty and stillness – here, for example, or here or here – or, for good measure, try this or this.)
I have promised myself to be courageous this year, however. So I was. And you cannot imagine how much I tried to stay in my head, watch with a detached, analytic attitude. I couldn’t hold it up past the first three minutes. Throughout the movie, I got angry, scared, experienced that choking feeling that goes with a sudden and intense romantic scene, felt wistful, afraid, joyful, thoughtful, sad, happy.
It was a wild and beautiful ride of emotions. And to say that I cried at the end would not tell you a tenth of the truth. I choked. Tears streamed down my face. I clung to my sister’s hand as she clung to mine, reassuring each other and all the time not taking our eyes off the screen, not even daring to blink as the inexpressible was expressed in pictures and sounds and filled every cell in my body until it hurt.
The aftereffects? I slept very bad. I always sleep easily and deeply. Last night I didn’t. And when I slept, I dreamed. And when I woke, this was all I could think about. And I’m still under the spell.
If you can, and if you’re up to an intense experience, watch this movie. Don’t read reviews or summaries, just take heart and watch. It’ll be worth it. I’ll leave you with one of the key scenes, which works beautifully by itself (what a song!), but is a hundred times more intense still in the context.
scream down the desert
One of the most persisting and pervading day dreams or dream pictures I have is that of driving my car down from a plateau into a huge, empty landscape, the road rolling straight ahead of me, the sun beating down, the windows wide open, hair whipping in the slipstream, blasting music, not a single soul to be seen anywhere, just endless nature, sand, gravel, rocks, plants, maybe some birds of prey gliding on the thermals and the endless open road before me.
It’s the embodiment of freedom, the mental picture that keeps me going because I know, deep down, that one day I will drive down onto that plain at the fastest speed I can, with the most heart-rending, howling-at-the-sky-worthy music turned up as high as I can take it, and when I’m at the point where I will feel as though shortly I will explode into a thousand pieces and shatter the universe, I will stop the car, screeching and whirling up dust, and jump out and let out an almighty scream to shake the world in its foundations as it reverberates from the mountains behind me and in one tiny moment I will be a part of everything, every particle of this world, of the rocks, the water, the wind, the people, even you, and I will split your heart with the beauty and the magnitude and the free-whirling mystique of this world and leave you changed forever.
my daily dose of poetry & introducing a mini-series, as yet without title
Part of my morning routine is to open my feedreader and ignore all the multitude of updated feeds and go straight for one special one. Then I’ll lean back, sip my tea or coffee and read. That one feed is the feed linking the ‘Poem of the Day’ of the Poetry Foundation, that delivers a new and fresh poem to me every day.
It’s a revelation every day. Some days, I might not connect with the poem. Other days, I just don’t like it. Most days, however, it’ll give me something. A smile. An insight. A thought. A feeling. On the best days, a surprised gasp, a disbelieving re-reading with a growing warmth rising up from my stomach to my chest to my head, where it will pop like bubbles into untamed joy and wonder. Those days are special.
I’ll save that poem and probably write about it or talk about it or share it with friends. Those that are into oetry and those that aren’t. I don’t pay any attention to that – the latter category will just have to give it a try. That poem will colour my day, set the tone for it, provide atmosphere. I save them, and when I read them again, I can recall that first joy, like remembering that first butterfly in your stomach when you realize you are falling in love with the person you’re looking at.
Because they are special (to me), I want to share some of these poems. Or rather, since they aren’t mine to share, I want to share my feelings about them and maybe give others the chance to feel something similar. Or something different. Each according to their tastes. So I’ve decided to start a mini-series. I’m not a fan of weekly schedules and I don’t want it to feel forced, to me or to others, so I’m not going to write a weekly installment, but rather whenever it feels right to do so. I’m still thinking of a clever title for that venture and so far I haven’t got it. (Titles are my great stumbling blocks, I hate having to think them up. I’m open for suggestions.)
The first one I want to share is one that has come back to me the last couple of days. I first read it some months ago, three, four, something like that. I’ve thought of it in the meantime, but for two or three days it’s been very present in my mind. It’s set in spring and written from a guy’s perspective. I don’t know why it speaks to me so much right now, in the middle of summer. I’m guessing that it might be something to do with my itching feet and the fact that I want to travel and see new places, meet new people, have fresh winds blowing in my face. Or maybe it’s just he fact that it’s a great poem. Judge for yourselves. Here goes:
……..A Color of the Sky by Tony Hoagland via The Poetry Foundation
…….. Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
…….. driving over the hills from work.
…….. There are the dark parts on the road
…….. when you pass through clumps of wood
…….. and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
…….. but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.
……… I should call Marie and apologize
…….. for being so boring at dinner last night,
…….. but can I really promise not to be that way again?
…….. And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
…….. in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
……… Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
…….. the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
…….. are full of infant chlorophyll,
…….. the very tint of inexperience.
…….. Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,
…….. and on the highway overpass,
…….. the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
…….. MEMORY LOVES TIME
…….. in big black spraypaint letters,
…….. which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.
…….. Last night I dreamed of X again.
…….. She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
…….. Years ago she penetrated me
…….. but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
…….. I never got her out,
…….. but now I’m glad.
…….. What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
…….. What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
…….. What I thought was an injustice
…….. turned out to be a color of the sky.
…….. Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
…….. and the police station,
…….. a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
…….. overflowing with blossomfoam,
…….. like a sudsy mug of beer;
…….. like a bride ripping off her clothes,
…….. dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
…….. so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
…….. It’s been doing that all week:
……. making beauty,
…….. and throwing it away,
…….. and making more.
I love every line of this. Every single line. In the following, I’ll just jot down a few notes on what this makes me feel and think. (I give you leave to not be interested in that, so you don’t need to feel bad if you stop reading at this point. The important thing is the poem itself.)
It starts right off with the picture of driving on a road through woods, with glimpses of the ocean, and straight away I want to be off, driving down that road. I think I have driven down that road, and if I haven’t, I will. I also like that kind of wry humour, when he says ‘but that doesn’t make the road an allegory’.
I love the honesty. He should follow the social conventions, but, whatever… can’t be bothered, will only do it again anyway, so what’s the use… And anyway, the tossing trees are much more interesting. (I agree, by the way)
Is it possible to top that part about ‘the only metaphysical vandal in America’? I don’t think so. It’s a funny, intelligent, throw-away remark, as is the line underneath: ‘which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back’. It makes me smile and nod in recognition. It’s the kind of half-silly, half-deep thing you’ll think when your thoughts are drifting and maybe you’re a little tired, but at peace with yourself.
And there, buried in the middle of it, as if to hide it, is that lyrical, wonderful, suggestive stanza, that sounds as if it’s straight out of a beautiful pop song: ‘What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle. What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel. What I thought was an injustice turned out to be a color of the sky.’ Can’t you just hear that being sung? I definitely can.
The end, everything onward from ‘Outside the youth center …’ is perfect. I cannot even pick out one line or one part that I want to highlight especially, because I feel that once you’ve read it, there is nothing left to say. The dogwood tree, that is ‘loosing its mind’ – can’t you just see that? Coupled with the tossing trees in sexual arousal and the spring wind from the beginning, it makes such a painfully vivid picture.
I could write so much more about it, and actually, the more I write, the more I have to say, but this is already very long, and anyway, I’m sure you’re much more interested in using your own imagination and go and explore the pictures this poem has conjured up for you. I hope you have fun.
I never learned to love poetry
I never learned to love poetry. On the contrary – every time poetry came up at school, all it did was bore us and later on, faintly embarrass us (all that soppy stuff on love and passion! A poem on flowers – yawn! Poetry on dead people! How bizarre. Poetry on wars?! wtf?!?). And always the same questions. ‘What did the poet mean?’ – ‘What rhyming scheme was used?’ – ‘What literary devices can you make out?’ – ‘What is the historical context of this poem?’ – … ENOUGH ALREADY! While I generally read at the same pace as I was able to eat chocolate ice-cream (= very fast) and in amounts that sometimes seemed equally unhealthy to my family, I never touched poetry. I didn’t see what the fuss was about. I didn’t see it until I read Leonard Cohen.
I’d listened to Cohen’s songs since my early teens, and they were some of the first reasons that I really went through the struggle of applying my school-taught English to a specific task (understanding the lyrics; ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ in particular). I’d never considered the lyrics as poetry though. So one day, as I looked through the books in my Dad’s study, I came across a collection of Cohen’s poems. The ones he transformed into song, and even more that were just poems. I sat down on the floor and started reading. By then my English was good enough to get at least the gist of most of them.
And what a gist it was! It blew my brain. There were images that I could see without ever having seen them, sensory explosions in my mind as the written words travelled through my eyes into my brain! And the rhythms… and none of it rhymed or was forced or dealt with any high-brow topic – just a guy talking about the women he had loved, who had left him and who he missed and hated at the same time… just talking about this personal stuff, so very vulnerable and in such simple words, and yet every single thing he said was universal and I could understand it – no, not just understand it, feel it – even though I couldn’t be more of an opposite to him – female, two generations removed, grown up in a different culture and time, not even having really been in love before… And yet, I GOT what he said with every fibre of my bone.
It was a revelation.
I’ve stayed true to the master, and I will defend to the end my opinion that he is one of the greatest poets that ever lived, but he also helped me to appreciate other poets. I’ve bought books full of poetry; anthologies and books by individual poets. I read poetry online. I listen to the poetry of songs. A new poem finds its way into my mailbox every morning and reading it has become a treasured part of my morning routine. Hell, I even write poetry myself! And since that time, the only criterion that I use when approaching a poem is this: does it resonate with me?
That is the only thing you really need to teach about poetry in school: to read a great deal and a great variety and to pay attention to what each poem does with you. All the rest will follow by itself. I wish they’d taught me that. I might not have missed out on years and years of enjoying beauty.
I’d like to read
one of the poems
that drove me into poetry
I can’t remember one line
or where to look
The same thing
happened with money
girls and late evenings of talk
Where are the poems
that led me away
from everything I loved
to stand here
naked with the thought of finding thee
(Leonard Cohen – I’d like to read )
Roses – who can refuse them? I love all flowers (and taking photos of them), but this post is about roses. Because there is something quintessentially beautiful about them. Even their shape is beautiful.
And the way they seem to have more petals than is possible – there are just layers and layers and layers of velvety petals.
That smell… When they open up and you put your face close to them, there is that sweet, wild smell of hot summer and beauty, of longing and soft touches, of humidity and adventure.
And they grow in such an abundance. Reckless numbers of budding roses climb all over each other, each growing more beautiful than the other.
What do you call a group of roses? A bunch? A pride? A cluster? A flock of roses?
Whatever the correct term is, it’s an honour and a joy to have them growing like this in the garden.
this day of beauty and stillness
I have not written here in weeks. I had nothing to say except the mundane. Today, on this day of beauty and stillness, I have. I have written several things, to friends, to myself, in my diary. I’ll collect them here, because together they make a picture. It may seem melancholic, but it wasn’t written in that spirit.
This morning I wrote this in an e-mail to a close friend:
I woke up this morning to an amazing stillness, outside and inside. There were almost no sounds and I did not feel anything. Do you know this state, when you just cannot make out any feelings inside you? No joy, but also no misery, no nervousness, no contentedness, … just empty. Maybe the slightest bit expectant. A bit like the stillness before a storm, yet without the undertones of threat. I took my diary down to the kitchen to write in while I was drinking tea and eating porridge and it helped to just put into words all my jumbled thoughts as they came into my head.
Now I’m just back from a walk around the park. It was cold, but also very beautiful, with a high, pale blue sky and sunshine that seemed more like March then January. There were some things that made me smile… children in the playground, a group of mentally disabled adults with friends or carers who marveled at some birds that are kept in a small aviary in the park, a kite that had got stuck in a tree some time before and provided a dash of vivid red in between the bare, graceful branches.
Yet now I’m back at my desk and still I feel this emptiness. It’s not unpleasant, it’s not pleasant, it’s nothing. It’s simply nothing. I don’t even want to shatter it, as I think I could, if I put on the right music, for example. I want to wait it out and see what happens. I have the feeling that something will happen before the day is over.
Right now, all I can say is that I’m very calm and very awake. Waiting, but without impatience. Something will emerge from the emptiness.
And this is what I wrote just now, sitting on my bed next to the window in the afternoon light, a cup of hot tea next to me and candles giving warmth to the day:
I can feel my soul breaking as another day goes by in silence. Finding my feet has never been so hard, considering I know exactly where my feet are. Why is it so hard to express what is inside me? So much hope and so many dreams and everything so hard to unlock.
Everything is full of beauty. If you look closely you can see that there is life everywhere. It all fits together. It all fits in. I would like to cry, but my eyes remain dry.
Letting the days slip by without leaving a mark on them nor letting them touch me does not seem like a good way to spend the limited number of days at my disposal.
For the first time in weeks I feel awake. I am awake to see that I am sleeping with my eyes wide open.
A seagull just flew by my window. The low afternoon sun gilded the underside of its wings. The beauty of it made tears spring into my eyes.
I am so awake it hurts. I am so awake that I cannot see my life.