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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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