Anniversary of a Renaissance

This poem originally appeared in AZ India Times here.

Prologue written for AZ India Times
Rebecca Danos is very honoured that AZ India Times asked her to write a poem for its second anniversary edition.  Two years ago she read the The Bhagavad-Gita, which greatly impacted her, reflected in her forthcoming novel The Opera Hypothesis.  In this poem, “Anniversary of a Renaissance,”  she strives to express the rebirth she felt when reading the sacred text and honour the Eastern principles she learned while also honouring a Western background.  The Western notions include the glitter/gold Shakespeare reference and Plato’s Cave from The Republic. Ideals of of duty/detachment of the fruits of one’s labour she learned from the Gita.  In some of her imagery she strives to blend Eastern and Western heritage.  In Greek mythology there is a chariot, the sun which Apollo guides across the sky, and in the Gita Krishna is a charioteer.  Another instance is that the constellations have both Greek and Indian names (and other names from other cultures) for the same stars.  The point she aims to make is that we are all children of Earth, and we can all inherit our shared ancestors’ ideals, learning, and heritage, and we can all learn from the diverse facets and people who contribute to our identity.  And so within all of us East can meet West regardless of our origins or destination.

Anniversary of a Renaissance
saber cemented in gray
– a mind –
a windowless world
too attached
to the glitter that is not gold
interred by seeking fruits
that sour into acrid rot
a mind that quests for rebirth

in Plato’s womb i huddled
chasing shadows
that traipsed
across my eyelids
leaden with slumber
before i beheld flames
radiant in cherry reds
and honeyed yellows
lustrous light
that guided me out.

Out i awakened
to an Eastern sunrise
whose fuchsia beams
clothed my mind
with truths
to honour my calling
for this heartbeat’s length
and to detach from my labours’ fruits

the instruction
to obey my duty
baptizes me again
as i summon memories
from its first ignition
two years ago

as i sat absorbed – reading —
those two years past
the sun-chariot traveled West
as Earth rotated East
veils of rose hues anointed the heavens
constellations painted the opal dome
in pointillist inspiration
both for East and West

stars and sky-sketches
different in name only
spiritual inheritances
we may all embrace
as Earth-children
to unhinge our hearts
with love and shared ideals
that bejewel our journey together

Footnote: The lowercase first person pronoun ‘i’ instead of ‘I’ is the author’s artistic choice to minimize the importance and presence of the author compared to the words she chose to capitalize.

 

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Can I join a Ciekiewicz and Biernacki fan club?

LaraTadcrop

 

In the movie Callas, Forever, Maria Callas played by Fanny Ardant says God answers prayers, but the problem is that we ask for the wrong things.  Regardless of religious beliefs, most of us ask for things or want something at one time or another.  I spend a lot of time wanting the wrong things.  But as I awoke today feeling aged, worn out, and irrelevant, I wanted to be enlightened, to find meaning in the wasteland that life sometimes appears to be.  No small order, right?

The answer came.  My request was answered at the Millennium Concert Series performance with soprano Lara Ciekiewicz and Tadeusz Biernacki in the form of poetry, musical poetry.  Their collaborative music was a revelation that penetrated to the deepest of one’s core.

Ciekiewicz’s voice resonated in a powerful magic that spellbound everyone.  Tears swelled in my eyes from her opening notes of the Kálmán piece.

Ciekiewicz.  Her presence — captivating.  Her voice and acting — nuanced in a palette of colours.  Her generosity — boundless.  To choose a word for the collaboration between Ciekiewicz and Biernacki — transformative.  Ciekiewicz’s voice pulls the audience toward the centre of an answer, to life’s very meaning itself, with the gravity of a black hole whose centre is a supernova explosion of beauty.  The answer, my friend, is music.  It must be.

During Dvorák’s Gypsy Songs Lara prefaced the pieces by saying they are about love and death.  The piano and voice carried us on a meditative journey, a peaceful one resonating with a message that everything is okay.  And in that sacred space of the Roman-pillared hall everything was okay.  I felt an answer in that delicate state of being present that life’s questions will be resolved with a surety equal to the piano’s final notes of the seventh piece.

With the Mozart aria, “E Susanna non vien…Dove sono” from Le Nozze di Figaro came more tears on my part.  Any doubt that had bred in me before about anything vanished as music transported the audience to extra dimensions.  Who needs space travel when you can travel through music here in the musical city of Winnipeg?  Listening to Mozart, especially sung in the clear yet resonant tones of Lara Ciekiewicz, can only be described as a spiritual experience.

The musical theatre selection uplifted and also guided the heart and spirit.  In the Sondheim piece “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods was the text that people make mistakes.  Forgive my ignorance for the context of these words, but they brought to me the peace of a confession and an offered forgiveness.

Lara introduced “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music by presenting it as a protest song and to illustrate the relevance of music on the world stage.  She told us to do our part and be good, if recollection serves.  The song did good for the audience as she invited us to sing, to participate, to join her in song in a white musical purity.

I’m privileged to recently have attended concerts performed by Evgeny Kissin, Leon Fleisher, and Rolando Villazón.  Kissin’s virtuosity is unparalleled.  Every note Fleisher plays unveils his genius.  And Villazón.  His joy, playfulness, sonority, and relaxed posture are as instructive as years of vocal lessons.  But I feel privileged here in Winnipeg too to bear witness to the paragons of musical gifts offered by talents such as Lara Ciekiewicz and Tadeusz Biernacki.  Thank you for sharing your gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Landsdowne Poetry Prize Winning Comma by Jennifer Still

Award-winning poet Jennifer Still’s new collection, Comma, meditates on spaces, pauses, and commas in time. Comma is a field guide for taking a breath in the daily rush-hour of life and for finding the poem in the pauses of the day. The poetry collection serves as a map not just for deliberating in the fragmentation both of life and poetry but also for when we cannot locate ourselves.

The pattern of the words on the page, the spaces between them, slow down the trek of thoughts and serve as a compass. The book guides the reader via whispers and secrets and meditations and hums. Its needle points inward, yet not in a claustrophobic, self-indulgent, and binding way, but in self-reflection to inflate and lift the reader out of herself. To float.

The book itself is a secret whisper. A glimpse into different dimensions of language. It’s easy to imagine seeing the words dangling as a mobile or falling down as raindrops, seeing them in three dimensions rather than on the two of the page. Comma includes not only printed text artfully spaced on its pages but also handwritten words, reproductions of images, drawings, and typed fragments cut from paper and arranged on the page all from various sources noted at the end. Still cites the manuscript as a “silent collaboration with [her] brother’s handwritten field guide of prairie grasses, composed while he was in SICU and recovery at Winnipeg’s Health Science Centre” from a coma. The pages presenting visual content form an integral component of the composition. They catapult our imagination and slow time, allowing us to look deeper at the butterflies and the flowers integrated with blurred and erased words and to deliberate on what remains. Some of the words in the images disappear beyond legibility, yet this doesn’t diminish the impact, the message of the secret unknowable and fading of order and direction. In Comma, Still brings something novel to life and a birth, a conception, arises from the methods of erasure and disappearance. Through the fragments, thoughts patch together in a quilt of deep sadness, a stir of the evanescent condition of what it means to be human, a longing, a vulnerability, all the colors of humanity. Still includes photographs of her erasure work and experiments with needle and thread, sewing through the language. The invisible strand of the breath is what connects the piece together, creating a continuity among the white space on the pages.

Much of what Still investigates through stitches, the field guide from her brother, other sources, and turning inward is what lies underneath, the biomass, as her brother says when he awakens: everything underneath the forest that makes it thrive yet remains invisible. She uses poetry to resolve her “conflicting impulse to connect and hide.” The words and images on the page, the stillness, the quietness of the work belie the network and growth underneath. The book provides a haven, the not so elusive safety of the quote she includes from Rebecca Solnit to protect the “frail and vulnerable” and the “impractical and local and small.”

Our lives hold a secret, something incomplete that changes. Different shades of blue. In her book, Still shares the breath, the secrets, the nonverbal communication yet via the conduit of language. The language isn’t linear. The words turn inside out and backwards, invert, a topology of language all unto itself. It doesn’t follow rules. It’s saddening to think of how bound our lives have become to arbitrary rules. We often veer from our life’s intended path, deflecting and defecting from the original plan. None of us can imagine when we create our rules where we will land, what illnesses might befall us, and how the rules might break even when we follow them. We think in terms of logical conditions. If p then q. Jennifer Still contests the logic of language, which forms the mathematical basis for our thoughts. She challenges us to break free from our conventions that might be trapping us in some way and to learn to float. Contradictions arise as words scramble, she plays with words within words and words that sound alike. The poems blur the line between secrets and what is manifest, between the sadness that inhabits our identity and the joy of picking something apart and rearranging it and discovering something new, which we might do with our own lives as well as the words on her page. In her poems is a music composed of form as well as language counterpointed with the silences of the spaces interspersed with quotes and meditative prose picked up as pebbles along the path. None of us can anticipate either the comma or the crack. Neither did Still when her brother fell into the coma which prompted Comma.

There are so many ways to crack open and to shatter, despite one’s best efforts to stay intact and on course. Yet in Still’s Comma, a crack, like in the Leonard Cohen song, lets the light in. A detour is not the end. When we break, as the words do on Comma’s page, we can reform into something new and singular and poetic.

Reading Comma, we learn that if we turn upside down, the words we might utter from our own pain that sink and weigh, like the words in the book, float. The poetry offers a lens, a prism, through which we can distort the distorted. Restore ourselves to ourselves, perhaps, through a glimpse outside. Which we do by focusing inward.

Life is but a comma between birth and death, between being and not being. I hope to return to this book again and again when I need a pause, a breath, a restorative Comma.

Maryam Mirzakhani: Higher Dimensional Origins

news of your death at 40
cracked the community
before i comprehended your life

you painted paper with doodles
proved the unknown
& became the lone woman to win the Fields
mightiest of math medals

the same age we were
yet you wandered ahead
traveling curved surfaces
hyperbolic & complex —
& moduli spaces

you joined
geometry with dynamics
shapes with motions —
trajectories that don’t terminate with you
but only just originate

Healer’s Blueprints

I was inspired to write “Healer’s Blueprints” by catalogue cards distributed at Jennifer Still’s Millennium Library’s Serious Play workshop.

colours
visions
fingerprints of your love
bathe the unarmed wounded — me —

stumbled into cracks
the ones the genetic prophets spoke of

truth
flowers I remember
on Venetian masks
before — I —
the lonely traveller
shed the blood of my childhood songs

I find
a renaissance today
face unmasked
all unmasked
while you listen
to the instrument of my words
strained through a voice caught in a cry
and you replied
with a lullaby

Glories

prizes and accolades
of yesterday —
will be buried
under the overgrowth
of time —
like us

Sing.
and sing now.
these vibrations of our voices are
all we can hold
in the grasp of our tiny life

A Dialogue on Reading Clifford Johnson’s The Dialogues

Dialogue

Note: May contain spoilers.

Higgsino: Honey, I can’t follow Star Wars. I’m sure it’s good, but in twenty minutes they’ve introduced 10 characters, and I can’t follow the narrative. I keep thinking about how I’d rather be reading The Dialogues. Can we leave the theatre?

Higgs: Okay, if you need to. These action movies today are all about the action. They don’t have much plot.

A little later

Higgsino: My brain…isn’t functioning. It’s not working. Can’t think. Feel confused.

Higgs: Honey, you’re just having a hard day. Maybe we should call someone for a chat?

Higgsino: Let’s read The Dialogues and listen to Yo-Yo Ma.

Higgs: Okay.

Higgsino: Let’s read them out loud, like a dialogue.

Higgs: Haha.

Reads from introduction by physics Nobel Prize winner and luminary Frank Wilczek

Higgsino: Hey, The Dialogues follows in the same tradition. Plato, Galileo, Johnson…

Higgs: And he talks about “show, don’t tell” like what all the writers instruct.

Higgsino: It’s like a guidebook. And it’s like physics which includes language, equations, even cartoons which are based on the language of math, and visuals. It’s multi-dimensional.

Reading Dialogue I

Higgsino: It’s a really funny and lighthearted discussion. It’s even a meta-graphic novel at times, talking about science comic books.

Higgs: I never thought about how because of science, we all have access to superpowers. Even simple objects like the optics in the glasses we wear are tools that give us better vision.

Higgsino: Yeah! I love how the characters connect over scientific discussion. So romantic…

Higgs: Why isn’t that how people meet in rom-coms more often?

Higgsino: I don’t know. It should. This book makes a contribution by introducing science as fun, significant, provocative, and accessible in an analogous way as science improves society.

Higgs: And you’re smiling. I like that.

Higgsino: And it really does demonstrate that within math and equations is a beauty that can rival van Gogh that I dare anyone to refute.

Higgs: You won’t get an argument from me!

Reading Dialogue II

Higgs: This one is sweet, cute, comedic, and playful!

Higgsino: That’s how science should be done, and life lived, not this stressed-out mode of publish or perish!

Higgs: I love how the kids conduct an experiment and test their hypothesis!

Higgsino: Exactly. And their curiosity about food. Food and coffee play a major role in this book. It’s like the science and playful repartee between the characters nourish us just as the food and ideas do for the characters.

Higgs: I like how The Dialogues explains pragmatic phenomena as well as presents more sophisticated theories that will appeal to a wide audience.

Higgsino: The point is that science is not just a rarefied field for elite scientists to develop. It’s the world we live in, and we can all be curious about it and participate in one way or another. Even when we’re thinking about daily activities, like cooking.

Higgs: Yeah, cooking doesn’t have to be a chore! It can be a chemistry experiment!

Higgsino: These dialogues show how wonder about science enriches everyone’s experience of day-to-day life and is as fun as playing games.

Higgs: Isn’t that what science is all about? Solving riddles and mysteries? This book definitely shows how fun it is!

Reading Dialogue III

Higgs: Hey, those sequence of pictures are in time, like a diagram would be in a physics book.

Higgsino: What I like about this conversation is the brilliant presentation of the multiverse and anthropic principle. I never thought about it this way, but Johnson’s thoughtful analogies with history and other fields of physics is ingenious!

Higgs: The optimism about the state of physics is great too! I’ve heard from some physicists that the field will die unless something new is discovered at the Large Hadron Collider. But Johnson shows there will be an endless supply of questions and theories.

Higgsino: It’s definitely an uplifting read. The discussion of the “controversy” of string theory is accurate and gently teaches the readers that sometimes the media misrepresents the state of things. We all need to be scientists and detectives to discern the validity of press releases which might sometimes be sensationalized to attract an audience.

Higgs: Yes, it’s valuable for teaching readers to check their sources and provides comprehensive ones for further exploration at the end of each chapter. It’s an important part of doing science not to treat every statement as fact but to see how it’s motivated or backed up or to question where the fact comes from.

Higgsino: There’s just one thing I can’t find easily.

Higgs: What’s that?

Higgsino: These images are gorgeous. I wonder where I could find out all the locations for the visuals?

Reading Dialogue IV

Higgs: This dialogue continues from the first one. It’s about how beauty sometimes lies in the imperfections, both in art and physics.

Higgsino: Yeah, this dialogue illustrates that art and physics aren’t as different as people think, since both have symmetry as underlying principles.

Higgs: And that both get messy which can be beautiful too.

Higgsino: All the characters in this book are smart, diverse, and really witty. I wish I could know these characters; they’d make great friends!

Higgs: Just open the book when you get lonely.

Higgsino: I wish each dialogue were longer though.

Higgs: Each dialogue presents an idea, like how theories originate in each period in history. It’s like our lives. We’re each on a segment of the time-line. But there isn’t always a nicely tied up resolution.

Higgsino: The book mimics a Feynman diagram in physics where instead of particles interacting, exchanging particles, and then going off in their own directions, the people do and exchange conversations about science – the spark of light is the dialogue in each scenario.

Higgs: Yeah, it’s kind of like life. We’re all just passing through, in each other’s lives and in the universe.

Reading Dialogue V

Higgs: Platonic ideals, religious debates, and making peace about human mortality! These are things we all grapple with!

Higgsino: This one’s in the middle of the book, a keystone that offers how science can solve pragmatic issues that plague humans on a philosophical level.

Higgs: It also has an in-joke reference to Johnson’s blog.

Higgsino: Yeah, this book really balances profound insight into science, and people’s search for understanding, with lightheartedness.

Reading Dialogue VI

Higgs: This one’s my favourite!

Higgsino: Why?

Higgs: It gives one of the best explanations I’ve seen about the stretching of spacetime and debunking the myth that space travels faster than the speed of light during inflation.

Higgsino: I also love the analogies. Is it true that the strings in string theory are part of space-time?

Higgs: Well, a graviton is a massless state of a string. But in relativity it’s a quantum ripple in space-time.

Higgsino: This book will spark a lot of dialogues; it’s a launchpad for physics discussions among lay people and physicists alike. Especially since the different areas of physics can be so specialized.

Higgs: But it also brings abstract concepts down to earth with concrete analogies. Love the sport and cooking analogies.

Higgsino: Yeah, but it’s making me hungry for stew.

Reading Dialogue VII

Higgsino: The ideas in The Dialogues are completely distracting me from the daily toils of life.

Higgs: Yeah, I think that’s the point and at the heart of the book. You can lose yourself in the fireworks of scientific dialogues.

Higgsino: It’s got everything: black holes, the Big Bang, beginnings, endings, general relativity, special relativity…

Higgs: It’s true. This book is proof that thinking about science melts away anxieties of the human condition and elevates us through telling the story of the universe. What could make a better story than the history of the universe and the attempt to understand it?

Reading Dialogue VIII

Higgsino: Hahaha, it’s funny how Johnson introduces Feynman diagrams which are pictures used to calculate many phenomena such as particle interactions and then mentions the power of cartoons, since the book is a graphic novel.

Higgs: Yeah, the book is really funny at times. I love how the visuals reflect the discussion and often include relevant math. As a character mentioned in an earlier dialogue, anyone can appreciate the beauty of the math, like a work of art, and Johnson often breaks them down for clarity.

Higgsino: This dialogue really explores the nature of how science is done.

Higgs: And makes quantum electrodynamics accessible and leads you into deeper ideas.

Higgsino: The Dialogues covers so many major areas of cutting-edge modern physics and more subtle points usually reserved for rarefied academics. But it makes science exciting and accessible.

Higgs: Like translating a book from Latin to English for English speakers.

Higgsino: This chapter even makes me want to review quantum field theory. I forgot how fun it is and haven’t thought about it in so long!

Higgs: Advancing science is one of humanity’s finer feats. I think this book celebrates the wonder and delight we can all share in physics and offers light in bleak hours, just as Maxwell’s equations describe light.

Reading Dialogue IX

Higgsino: This chapter really hones in the idea that all scientific research might be useful, even mistakes along the way.

Higgs: What do you mean?

Higgsino: Sometimes I have philosophical crises about research since there are so many models to hope to understand or learn about some phenomena, but most of them are wrong. The point is not whether your contribution is right or wrong because it’s all useful in the journey.

Higgs: I really like the idea of the fluidity of dimensions. And the conceptual and technical aspects captured in the visuals.

Higgsino: Yeah, the beauty of ideas is paralleled by the stunning visuals. I’ll have to reread the book to absorb all the artistry and the notes and references at the end of each chapter. I kept wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Reading Dialogue X

Higgsino: This chapter introduces really current areas of research.

Higgs: A lot of the chapters do, but the multiverse controversy and quest for a satisfactory resolution make it particularly germane.

Higgsino: It all comes together as characters appear in more than one dialogue and interact with the different characters, converging all the dialogues. And a lot of the ideas build on each other too and return.

Reading Dialogue XI

Higgsino: This one made me want to cry.

Higgs: Why?

Higgsino: It talks about how anyone interested in science should explore it. I wish I hadn’t been so discouraged in life to pursue a life in physics.

Higgs: Well, let the characters encourage you now. It’s never too late. And anyone who wants to learn can. Even just by taking the first step and reading this book. It’s not like a secret club with people with special brains, as Johnson writes.

Higgsino: Yes, and to quote the last words of the last dialogue, “Thanks for the story.”

The Dialogues is a hip, multidimensional, stunning tour de force where science meets art, and, like good art and science, medicine for the mind, heart, and soul.