Saturday, May 23, 2009

Here and There, Everything and Nothing

A while back I wrote a poem describing what it feels like (to me) to be physically firmly planted in one place but find myself still mentally there in another place that nostalgically gnaws at the heartstrings. Apropos my posting the other day about location disorientation, I revisit the memories but can’t imagine actually living there again because Now is not Then, and I am not the same, and even if I were, it still wouldn’t work because There isn't the same there anymore.


When you reside in one country
but your heart lives in another…
the Here becomes the new familiar.
What may have begun as reluctant acquiescence
turns to habit
as the Now slowly compartmentalizes
all former knowns.

Sometimes, lured by the pull of nostalgia,
you return to the There,
only to be met with a chill of alienation
wrought by time
and changes,
prompting you to question:
Where do I belong?

You vacillate between the There
and the Here,
between the Then
and the Now,
struggling to hold a life remembered
against the blistering winds of change
that take you sometimes
where you may have never
to go.


This morning I came across a poem called “Here and There” by French poet Jean-Michel Espitallier.

I was intrigued by these particular excerpts regarding his take on the Here and the There because it seemed to clarify something that I myself have been unable to articulate:

The world is all that is there... one cannot conceive a universe comprised of there only. However, all that is not here, does not exist... and thus the world does not exist. Save here... The totality of other people over there corresponds to the totality of the potentials of here... Each there is the there of all the other theres at once... The frontier between here and there is not very neat... The statement “I am there” is a logical impossibility.

And he ends the poem with these lines:
"Just one here for two there is a logical aberration. Or is it the war."

[Click here to hear Espitallier read the poem in French, with the accompanying complete translation in English.]

Nicholas Manning’s Review of Espitallier’s Theorem gave me a somewhat more complete picture of Espitallier and his style of writing. I like the way Espitallier pushes the envelope, so to speak. His poems make you think. Of course the problem with satire is that it can get overdone, become the sole costume for which one is known, obscuring the unexpected insights hidden in the play on words that could open doors of perception previously inaccessible. Reading a satirical poem--one starts laughing (or perhaps, as Manning suggests--ending up groaning).

Manning's review includes Espitallier’s poem about:

"Something rather than nothing ... Everything rather than something ... Something rather than everything ... A little nothing in each thing ... All of everything in each nothing ..."

(excerpts, not in order [apologies to Espitallier] , but it’s like a song that if I listen to it over and over again, pieces of the puzzle slowly begin falling into place.

I’m not making much sense. I don’t pretend to understand Wittgenstein, or mathematics “poetically rendered”, or what this particular poet might actually have been trying to say in these poems. It could be that what resonates with me here is applicable solely to my own personal conundrums re: the Here and the There, the foggy worlds of Somethings and Nothings, and existence in general, and the trail threads more to philosophy than poetry.

Sometimes a single poem or story is innovative and interesting enough that you seek out more writings from the author, and discover a pattern--but when the pattern gets sequelized, reader boredom can set in. Not always. Some readers, insatiable, demand more. But for me, when the formula becomes predictable, such that what jumps out at me IS the pattern, not the content, my interest wanes. And that's a shame because the single poem, on its own, is still powerful. The pattern should not be dominating the content. When all one's poems start sounding alike--the impact lessens. (Or does it? I suppose that depends on the poet.)

Linguistic combination and intentional attempts at satire aside, with this Here and There thing at least, I’m finding in Espitallier's poems certain threads that have particular current meaning to me, which is neither here nor there [no pun intended], but it’s helped me understand the nature of the Here and the There, of Something and Nothing, not in the Wittgensteinian sense but more in a kind of Buddhistic sense--if that makes sense.

Perhaps the confusion lies in our frame of reference. You try to understand something and you can't express it in words. Someone suggests maybe you're not using the right WORDS. Let's analyze the words. What do they MEAN? No, let's just be quiet and BE. Stop dissecting and just breathe it in. It is what it is. You feel it. You ARE it. Why do you need to SAY it?


Can a painter not paint? A dancer not dance? A writer not write?

I’m babbling. How can I express this?

Let's see:

I disagree that THERE does not exist. (Jean-Michel says “All that is not here, does not exist.”)
(Define Exist.)
To exist is to be. (Define Be.)
To have real life. (Define Real).
Be where you are (they say).
I was There, but now I’m Here.

(Sometimes I’m not Here, though.
Sometimes I’m still THERE--the There that is there but now different… that one.)

Which one is a place?
Which one a state of mind?
Does it matter?
All the Theres are me. The Collective Me.
The Here is me and Not-me. Both, all.
My choice.

Espitallier believes that "Today, the poet is no longer the spokesman of the deeper Self – that is completely outmoded. Writing poetry does not mean cutting yourself off from the world. You are right there in it.” [1]

But the "deeper Self" is part of the Here and Now. Be where you are. Be here.
And included in the Here is all the Theres that ever existed--even the ones that don't exist.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“It must be the war.”
You’re right, Jean-Michel.
It must be the war.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Some of Jean-Michel Espitallier's other poems:

Monsieur Cossus's Thoughts
History of Amorous Discourse
On Civil War [audio]

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