Category Archives: poetry

Alzheimer’s poetry: My father recounts his life in oddly beautiful stanzas – Jane Macdougall

There is something hauntingly beautiful about language unmoored.

David Shackleton for National Post

Jane Macdougall, Weekend Post · Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

My father is a poet. At least, he is now. Odd, that.

He trained as an accountant. And he was the accountant’s accountant — all ledgers and columns; compliances and balances. Tidy. So at odds with family life. With life, in general.

He wore hats. Always hats: for work, for curling, for yard work, for excursions — a hat for every purpose. I realize now he was always staving off the chaos of the jungle.

Shoes were polished with religious fervour and regular devotion. Sunday morning he would set the boys to the task and, in time, they subverted the job by simply dusting off the unworn shoes. It was, I suppose, a type of catechism; but my, did it annoy the natives. I always said he was the sort of man who gave colonialism a bad name.

Shoe trees were essential.

Wooden hangers: the very backbone of his civilization.

Who vs. whom: I know the difference and I owe it to him.

Are you impressed?

Yes.

Yes, what?

Yes, sir!

And rising when an elder entered the room. We owe him that, too, my brothers and sister. We are better — and worse — for his rigidities.

Archaic English usages I lay claim to, courtesy of a man who refused to let language evolve. Sophisticated would forever rely upon its foundation of sophistry, meaning to deceive, not as we think of it today, meaning to impress.

And now, he is a poet.

He owes it to the presence of beta-amyloid plaques in his brain. We know it as Alzheimer’s, dementia of cinematic proportions. Documented since Alois Alzheimer defined the disease in 1906, there is no cure, no medication, not even a conclusive diagnostic test. From diagnosis to death: on average, seven years.

Seven crazy years.

One need only to see my father now to immediately understand that something has gone dreadfully awry. It’s in his eyes. His hair. His gait. He looks confused; he is confused. The word confused is based on the Latin confundere meaning “to mingle together,” and from Middle English, meaning “to bring to ruin.”

Apt.

Autopsy will reveal plaques that erected Detour and Road Closure signs in his head. Neural signals bounce around until they are abducted by dendrites hungry for instruction. The instructions, however, are misdirected. Although, misdirected doesn’t begin to describe the chaos created by mistaking the kitchen for the bathroom.

If I ever doubted that one is one’s thoughts, I don’t doubt it now.

Like a thief in the night, Alzheimer’s steals the family silver, one utensil at a time, until there isn’t enough left for a single place setting. But the thief is nefarious: He leaves the knives so that danger is ever present. The presence of madness causes madness; ask any caregiver. The caregiver gets ground down to a nub. No surprise there: What can be expected when nothing can be expected? Cancer doesn’t jettison reason; congestive heart disease doesn’t forsake judgment. Alzheimer’s does.

Information on the subject discusses the slow impoverishment of oral and written language, but it’s more profound than just communicating with others; one loses the ability to communicate with oneself.

The hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the loosening grip on memory. Dad is already forgetting who we are. But forget is too feeble a word. Already he wants to know what we are doing in his house.

His notes, with time, date and full signature faithfully listed, offer a chilling glimpse into the mind disordered by disease. Almost without exception, they are incomprehensible.

But there is something hauntingly beautiful about language unmoored; a stream of consciousness that is truly unconscious. He speaks now in a type of haiku that is often illuminating. Dead simple. Child-like. Impervious to outside understanding yet, often numinously transparent:

Go read the rest….

Heartbreakingly beautiful love letter to her father.

"As the Poet Said": A film about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish

We attended our second screening at the TPFF last night, the film “As the Poet Said”, a lyrical documentary about Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008).  The film consisted of footage of the various places he’d lived and worked, with poets reading from his work, both in Arabic and in various translations, including Hebrew, French, English, Portugese, Kurdish, and Spanish.  The score was mainly piano and harp, both women improvising music based on his poetry.

It was clear in the 65 minutes that Darwish has had a huge influence, not only in the hearts of Palestinians, but also on poetry.  Readers included Jose Saramago, Michael Palmer, Dominique de Villepin, and Joumana Haddad.  One of the most moving moments in the film was a scene of a group of schoolgirls reciting “We have on this earth what makes life worth living”:

We have on this earth what makes life worth living
Mahmoud Darwish, 1986

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
April’s hesitation
The aroma of bread at dawn
A woman’s opinion of men
The works of Aeschylus
The beginning of love
Grass on a stone
Mothers living on a flute’s sigh and,
The invaders’ fear of memories

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
The final days of September
A woman leaving forty in full blossom*
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
The peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile
And,
The tyrants’ fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
On this earth, the lady of earth,
Mother of all beginnings
Mother of all ends.
She was called… Palestine.
Her name later became… Palestine.

My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

*Alternate translation “A woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty.”

This was my first exposure to Darwish, and I plan to read more of his poetry.  Zouheir wants to get a book of his work in Arabic, but I will have to settle for an English translation.  This is, in fact, what made the film a little awkward for me.  While everything was subtitled, there is so much lost in trying to match the reader’s intonation and expression with the translation.  When I mentioned this to Zouheir, he confessed to closing his eyes from time to time so that he would not be distracted by the subtitles. 

This film was not so much a documentary but rather an homage to the life of Darwish.  We are not left with facts about him; not even his birth and death dates are presented.  Rather, we have a collage of his work on a backdrop of visuals from his wanderings and an intense score that seemed to capture the longing of his people.

I embed a trailer for the film that gives an idea of the experience. Note that the print that was screened had English subtitles.

 

 

 

Sensational haiku Wednesday – Reality!

Join the fun!
This week’s theme is REALITY.
sometimes I leave them
soaking in the sink all night
to be done at dawn

That’s right folks.  The Lost Season 5 premiere was last night and we had to watch the recap first, as Z dropped out a season and a half ago.

So the dishes didn’t get done.

Welcome to my reality!

See more haiku over at You know…that blog?

Sensational haiku Wednesday – Reality!

Media_httpyouknowthat_fnfcg

This week’s theme is REALITY.

sometimes I leave them
soaking in the sink all night
to be done at dawn

That’s right folks.  The Lost Season 5 premiere was last night and we had to watch the recap first, as Z dropped out a season and a half ago.

So the dishes didn’t get done.

Welcome to my reality!

See more haiku over at You know…that blog?

Seamus Heaney and the bog people.

I listened to a BBC Arts and Ideas podcast while walking Wilson today.  It was an interview conducted by Matthew Sweet with Nobel-prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, and his work written in response to seeing images of bog bodies, a recurring symbol in his work.  He first read about the bog people in a book by P.V. Glob called The Bog People, containing photos of Tollund Man.

I wish I could link to the actual podcast, but the BBC doesn’t keep them online more than a week or two, and it was originally posted in early December.  I haven’t read any of  Heaney’s poetry before, but the sound of his voice reading “Punishment”, linking the treatment of women who dated British soldiers in Northern Ireland in the early 70s to the bog bodies, some of which were murdered and buried in the bog.  His voice just pierced me. Walking through the quiet snow-covered city streets with these images of hatred, revenge, and death was a very powerful experience.

I would very much like to own an audio recording of some of his poetry, and read more about these bog bodies that so inspired him.

Try to read this and not be moved.

Punishment
Seamus Heaney

I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adultress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.

Seamus Heaney and the bog people.

Media_httpwwwgingerel_gaxie

I listened to a BBC Arts and Ideas podcast while walking Wilson today.  It was an interview conducted by Matthew Sweet with Nobel-prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, and his work written in response to seeing images of bog bodies, a recurring symbol in his work.  He first read about the bog people in a book by P.V. Glob called The Bog People

Media_httpwwwassocama_ehdpz

, containing photos of Tollund Man.

I wish I could link to the actual podcast, but the BBC doesn’t keep them online more than a week or two, and it was originally posted in early December.  I haven’t read any of  Heaney’s poetry before, but the sound of his voice reading “Punishment”, linking the treatment of women who dated British soldiers in Northern Ireland in the early 70s to the bog bodies, some of which were murdered and buried in the bog.  His voice just pierced me. Walking through the quiet snow-covered city streets with these images of hatred, revenge, and death was a very powerful experience.

I would very much like to own an audio recording of some of his poetry, and read more about these bog bodies that so inspired him.

Try to read this and not be moved.

Punishment
Seamus Heaney

I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adultress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.