Monday, March 29, 2010

The Geese Are Back!!

Excerpt from "Le peuple migrateur"("Winged Migration"), a documentary film by Jacques Perrin. Filmed over the course of four years, in 40 countries on all seven continents, involving more than 450 people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers, it follows these winged creatures' amazing odyssey.

The Canadian geese travel more than 650 miles in one day.  These birds mate for life, and live up to 20 years.  They fly up to 3,000 miles on their journey of migration.

Ils sont de retour!!

The results are in.
To wit:
It’s crapulous.

Back to the

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Everywhere, that Trickster

Have you ever written something, spontaneously spilling out what maybe might best have been left unsaid ... and then the next morning, quite randomly and unexpectedly falling upon a string of words on the computer screen that seem related, that jump right out and hit you in the eyes with the impact of a sledgehammer?  In context, they don't apply to you.  (Or do they?)   But they seem like they do, and it's jarring.

Yesterday I had been verbally scolding myself for wasting so much time "playing" my little word-games (as in the day-before-yesterday's engaging but time-consuming 8-8-8-6 exercise)--that is, instead of writing seriously, I get too caught up in distractions, neglecting my housework, being buried in paper up to my chin, at my desk.  Anyway, this morning I'm link-hopping and land on two unrelated pieces whose words jump right out at me, before I've even begun to read:

Twisting syntax and abusing grammar are a poet's prerogative, but these techniques are also always a game of roulette: the lines may clunk through such contrivance, or the wonder of novelty fade.

[From a review of Joan Houlihans' The Us, by Jacob A. Bennett in The Critical Flame.]

"Twisting syntax", "abusing grammar", lines that "clunk" through forced "contrivances", ouch.

I'd begun to sense, on my own, that the "wonder of novelty" (of self-imposed word-playing exercises, for example) was "fading" for me.  You don't have to rub it in, I said to the printed words that jumped out from the page.  They seemed puzzled. They hadn't a clue what I was talking about.

After Bennett's book review I wandered on over to Henry Gould's essay "On Reading Gabriel Gudding."  And it happened again! 

I would say we live in a time of near-systemic obfuscation — political, economic, educational — amid which the sphere of poetry hovers with an air of insouciant and facetious cleverness. Poetry per se has evolved, it seems, into light verse: an occasion for admirable displays of a poet’s intellectual graces (wit, charm, technical facility, humor, thoughtfulness, etc.).

There it was again, words that seemed to be talking--directly to me:  "Obfuscation", "insouciant" and "facetious cleverness", suggesting an occasion in which a poet, instead of creating a real poem, might work feverishly instead to find and/or triangulate and/or juxtapose words to "display" his or her "wit, charm, technical facility, humor, thoughtfulness, etc," passing it off as a real poem.  Double ouch.  

Gudding, writes Gould, "is a star of large magnitude in the current pantheon of witty versifiers" (Are you a real poet, self whispers to Self--or just a "witty versifier"?).  Gould continues, writing that Gudding's tale is:

both absurd and terrible (sublimely so), of the snake shedding its skin, of the emergence of a New World self: a self as Prodigal, lost in the wilderness, and desiring wilderness.

I all but collapsed at this one.  Especially the "sublimely terrible".  They referred to Gudding's tale, but seemed equally applicable to some of the wordplay poems I've at times produced.  Darn words.  What a coincidence:  "snake shedding its skin" (Writers, I had written yesterday, should sometimes shed their skin).   And "self as Prodigal" (I'd referred to voices telling you to leave; a voice that calls you back).  How about "lost in the wilderness, desiring wilderness".   Like my implying that one is lost in poetrydom sometimes, wondering where one fits, or if one is qualified to hang with the masters, so to speak--and despite the occasional unexpected spotlight, shrinks and retreats, ultimately prefering "wilderness".  Man, it's like the little buggers (words) were having fun with me.

Nah.  It was the Trickster.  The Trickster is everywhere.  The Trickster is a pain in the butt.  He wakes you up.   He gets in your face, assails you with your own absurdity.  (Thanks, I needed that.....  I think.)  So it was just another run-o'-the-mill online catharsis confirming the need to be reminded sometimes that you need to get back on the path.  It's almost Buddhistic:  the very thing you find the hardest to do (requiring the sacrifice and immersion and attention of the self, while acutely conscious of the difficulty and strains on Self) is also the thing that can bring you real happiness, when you eliminate the obsession with the selfness of the Self, if that makes any sense.  In context, it meant simply, climb outta yourself and focus on something else for a while:  clean the papers off the desk, go for a walk, go help someone do something, stop shuffling words, the writer you is not the all of you. Poorly expressed, but that was what it implied.

I blame Bloggerdom for this.  Before, I'd just ... write.  In Blogland you have an audience. Now it's like you have to do little dress rehearsals, make sure the presentation is flawless (or at least not completely outrageous), so you won't get laughed off the stage (that is if anyone actually arrives)..  You feel pressured to come up with new skits, if only to show you've still got it in you, can still pass the test of clever.  I think Tom Montag over at The Midwesterner is right, though.  "If carpenters fussed as much as poets/ we'd all fall through the floor."   And Joe (Perpetual Bird) Hutchison's "Diagnosis" of trends OULIPOian suggests that some poets may actually be in danger of OCDing on wordplay.

I honestly had no idea mere occasional wordshuffles, engaged in as a pleasant pastime, might eventually become an actual poetic movement, with its own theories and newletters and competition between practitioners, let alone be capable of driving one maniacal. Ouliponizing Wallace Stevens's snow bird into an unintelligible soap mandible was enough to make me rush to decompulsivate any word-play tendencies I might have, Cold Turkey, ha ha.  (Notice my sentences are getting longer and more sesquipedalian.  I've definitely been infected!) 

How, excuse me, is this "poetry"?  I mean "real" (as in It-means-something-to-me) poetry?  It seems to me the evolution they speak of vis-a-vis poetry has more to do with emphasis on process and form.  For the sake of Entertainment.  Whatever happened to worth of content?  Artful manipulation that focuses the reader's attention on the artful process, and by consequence on its inventor, can be poetic.  You can love a poem you don't completely understand, because of the language, imagery, metaphors, rhythm, and what it says to you that resonates as you're reading it. But cleverness aside, contemporary avant garde poetry like Chance Operations, however,  that produce lines like those in Jackson MacLow's poem "Stein 100: A Feather Likeness of the Justice Chair":

reason is sullenness: it's there that practices left when six into
nothing narrow, resolute, suggests all beside that plain seam./
Pencils, mutton, asparagus: the table there. [1]

leave me hungry for substance.  Yes, it's interesting, creating unusual syntax and images and poetic experiences that the reader can take part in, but does it mean anything to them?  I find, in reading certain examples of contemporary poetry, that the stagecraft too often gets in the way.  I can't get past it to get to the kernel of the thing.  Remove the costume, the backdrops, and there's nothing there.  But it was a clever, well sewn costume, an amazing production. Definitely innovative.  Colorful, even.  But would I go back for a repeat performance--that's the question.   "What was it about?" someone asks as the curtain closes.  "I have no idea," you say. "But it was interesting."

Trickster says:  Untangle thyself.  Simplify.  Climb back on the train.  Keep going.

Anyway, I'm done with this [subject].  (Thank goodness! the words chime, in chorus, rolling their i's).  Dang buggers.  They're everybloodywhere!

*And of course,  the resolutions made yesterday, about no more word-tweaking or my inherent aversion to de-verbosifying -- have all just been broken.  Oddly enough, I've become enamored of haiku lately.  And the shorter, semi-minimalist, less-than-five-line poem.  To condense what might normally take me 12 lines to say--into three or four.  And have it make sense.  And still allow for alternate meanings.  Now that's a real challenge.

I still like wordplay, though.  "Light" verse, even.  But I don't consider it "real" poetry.  Or that the ruminations above are anything but ruminations.  They'll only lead to ruination, though, if I don't learn to zip it up.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hey You: A Note to Self from Self

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Just because you know a thing, and they don't, is no reason to call attention to that. You're suddenly twelve years old again, but the now-you is still making apologies for not being not-you. Sometimes you get surrounded by your own words, engulfed in dreamy self-absorption, swallowed up in me-ness, obsessed with image, identity, and imagined worth (or lack thereof).

Cleaning out the closet ... finding lots of debris. Funny, hadn't noticed before--how much of it there is. Sometimes the sheer verbiage overwhelms ... chokes, even. You can't take refuge in habit. Habit, too, suffocates. It was so much simpler when you had nothing, when you attended to the task at hand, started the new path, empty, eager. Got beyond, somehow, the too-many-someones, -somethings, -somewheres all pulling, like so many grasping winds. The ghosts kept coming back. When are you coming back? they cried. Don't come back, others said. Who are you trying to be, really?

Words are a tool you thought you might master. You clothe yourself in them, glad to have found a fit, happy when anyone notices, disappointed when they don't, but terrified when they throw the spotlight on the pen behind the words. It's like being blinded by a flashlight in the eyes, it's disorienting. You stumble, lose your balance.

The hardest times are when you're absent, when the you of you is gone, when the focus is on the other--their wants, their needs, their happiness--and you notice that you've disappeared. Your pen takes note, tells your story.

The happiest times are when you're absent, when the me of you is gone, when the focus is the other--their wants, their needs, their happiness--when you disappear but don't notice that you've disappeared. Your pen takes note, tells their story.

Sometimes your you catches you and says: Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Enough. Stop. You don't have to build a castle. Clean your house. Stop taking little side trips. Get back on the path. Talk less. Think more. You don't have to say ... everything, write about everything, comment on everything. Just because you can write, doesn't mean you always must. And don't say "I can't not" write.  Every writer says that. But even when one itches, one doesn't have to scratch oneself raw, nor is one particular person's method of scratching  any more important than another's. Just because you have the urge, and your inkwell never dries, your inspiration never ceases, doesn't mean what emerges from your pen will find receptive eyes. Better that it resonates with one, then bores a dozen.

Write ... but--better. Leave the me of you aside, for once. You will never not be you. Those things that are the most important, will still be the most important, pen or no pen. Will your legacy be quantity--or quality?  Or irrelevance? Does it matter?  The answer to that last question tells you all you need to know about yourself. Joseph Brodsky stressed that "Words matter"--How you choose them, how you say them, how you write them, how you use them, how you abuse them. They matter. One deconstructs, analyzes, flaunts, steals, stretches, conceals, enhances, beautifies or manipulates them, all to make a point, or to fashion what one would like to think is a work of art. Writers come and go. Their words may outlast them--or slide into oblivion, unheard, unread. Again the question: Does it, matter?

The me of you says Yes--yes, it does matter.  If nothing else, it's a legacy for those you love, to pass on. The not-me part of you says No--you have no say beyond the grave and what becomes of your "things"--books, papers, writings, reputation, etc. will cease to concern you.  There is no longer any "you" to be concerned with it.  You have been dissolved into and become one with the All.

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say.  Snakes shed their skin; writers should, too, from time to time.  Reappraise.  Refresh themselves.  Change the ink color.  Get new skin. Look at some things differently.

It's Spring.  Clean the house.  It's time.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poems within Poems

by Annie Wyndham

My hidden
thoughts and unsaid words
collect and build in
pools of angst, like tortured poems
that try to say that things are not okay
These never-finished poems-to-be,
are struggling to escape their tomb.
             They search for meaning to emerge 
which they can not discern. 
It's not a game (though sometimes so) to make as poems
the words that flow like rays of light on window pane
into a mind asleep,  but all 
 too often what you get  is simply soup (and lacking worth).
Down deep inside you know it's doomed, and that it will just fail. 
And yet, one grows, in leaps and turns:  Like
  learning from the masters that this
effort is of value, yet, to writers--one by one.


Introducing the Players:

The first eight bolded words of this poem arrived in my head this morning, verbatim, as I was waking up, barging into my consciousness, demanding to be let out--as a poem--but insisting that it be gradual, and somewhat camouflaged, due to extreme shyness.  So I had to find a way to embed them in another poem, and lest they go completely unnoticed,  I gave them their own boldy black badge of color (they fought me on this), as their blue word-cousins attempt to explain the situation.  Together, they constitute an example of what happens when words start taking over, moving in when you least expect (or even want) them to, taking up residence in the subconscious, forcing you to listen.

The blue words then, of course, started complaining that the black words get more recognition here. And  the black words, despite eventuallly becoming accustomed to sharing the stage with the blue words, resented my assessment that they haven't yet quite mastered the art of poem-making--that they only achieved poetic merit here in collaboration with the blue words, who will probably hog all the credit.  The black words initially considered striking ("Without us black boldy words, you blue words, standing alone, are simply unintelligible!"). Sigh.  And as if that's not bad enough, both blue and black words wanted me to "make it sing".

This is what happens when words start taking over your writing life. In the end, however, reason prevailed  After all, I am the one with the pen.  I decide who goes where and what costume they'll wear or not wear.  Apprentice or not, I call the shots here, guys.  (They've all suddenly gone silent.  Good.  Now I can get some work done.)

*Engineering Note: The challenge was to write a poem within a poem.  Had I not bolded those pesky bold words that tumbled out of my head this morning, no one would have ever noticed.  After writing the poem, however, on reading it aloud, I began to be aware of an almost-cadence, as if there were an invisible metronome in the background, ticking away.  I decided to tweak it a little bit, because some of the words now seemed out of step with that invisible metronome.

Haiku usually has 3 lines totalling 17 syllables, distributed in a 5-7-5 pattern.  My poem seemed to be marching to an 8-8-8-6 rhythm for some reason.  (This is a case of the poem telling the poet that it has a different rhythm in mind.  Everyone knows that a poet's forcing words to march to a tune they aren't comfortable with will result in a crappy poem.)  So I broke it into five groups of 4 lines each, the first 3 lines each having a total of 8 syllables, and the last line, only 6. But separating the groups and chopping it up graphically gave it a bizarre appearance and the words insisted I return it to its original format.  So readers will just have to intuit where each group begins and ends.  (I'll give you a hint:  The first word in each group is:  (1) "My", (2) "These", (3) "It's", (4) "but", (5) "And".  (This may be of interest only to fellow word-game players and poem-picker-aparters.  I only include it as an afterthought.)

P.S.  Would you believe, now they're fighting over the darn title!!  The blues are accusing the Bold and the Brazen, as they've dubbed them, of usurping the podium!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When the grooves get clogged

Am swamped with work this week and feeling a bit overwhelmed, trying to meet some crushing deadlines.

Deadlines cause swamps of

i.e., words backed up in a queue, waiting to tumble out, but they can't, 'cause the fingers that would normally type the stacked up poems-to-be and stories-in-formation mode are busy inputting data--endless lists of lists plugged into charts of little cordoned boxes to be extracted and disbursed. The eyes blurr, the fingers cramp, and just when I think it's finished, another batch arrives with a: "Can you get these done by noon, please?"

It's not just a question of time management. There are only so many hours in a day.  What happens when you allot X number of hours to do Task Y and it ends up taking 3 hours longer than you'd anticipated. Tasks X2, X3 and X4 must then be bumped and squeezed and rescheduled, cutting into the time of already scheduled projects.

Am feeling like the curious creature in this drawing on loan from my refrigerator door:

Time for a break. If we don't brake occasionally, we will break.

My way of breaking is to stop and close my eyes and listen to music. This relaxes me and is restful.  I sit back and  wax nostalgic with Vivaldi, enter realms of  pleasurable awayness with Yo Yo Ma on his cello, reach heaven with Mozart.   But there are times I need a little shot of adreneline, to keep going. And for such times, I simply get up and dance. Sometimes it's reggae, sometimes a Greek zeibekiko, sometimes a heart-pumping Bulgarian or Croatian kolo, sometimes the twist or a waltz. (You don't need a human partner to dance the waltz, by the way. Not in your own kitchen, anyhow.)

Well today I feel like an eagle. I want to fly out of this pile of urgencies and breathe a little. And so I've chosen:

One of my favorite mellow-out-the-cramped-up-muscles tunes. (Click and enjoy!)

I actually prefer red wine to tequila. That reminds me--here's another favorite get-the-limbs-loosened-ready-to-start-groovin'-again tunes: Red Red Wine. (Although ... music, not wine, is my drug of choice.)

P.S.  Thanks to Bob Arnold over at the Longhouse birdhouse for introducing me to grooveshark.

Artwork by Isaiah, my 7-year old grandson.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring, right....

This winter has been the warmest, driest and mildest weather in 63 years, for Canada, 7.2 °F (4.0 °C).[1]  Usually it begins snowing around mid- to late November/early December.  Quebec City gets about 14 feet of snow a year.  Montreal is a few degrees warmer than here, and Quebec City a few degrees colder.  January is the coldest month.  In February and March we get the really big snow and it doesn't completely go away until late April (sometimes mid-May).  When the gardens of people a bit farther south of us have already begun producing little sprouts, our soil is not yet warm enough to start thinking about planting. Not if you want it to survive.

  Last year our little tree out front ("Maurice") was completely buried, all winter long, the only evidence of his existence being the tip of a few tiny branches poking through the layers of white stuff.   This picture was taken in March, 2007.  This year it only covered less than half of him.  That was a first.

This is what it looked like on April 7, 2008.
Maurice is in his snow tomb, resting.

Two years ago at this time we had so much snow
we could not open our back door and it was
 almost shoulder-high in parts of the back yard.

  This is a neighbor down the street digging a path from the
road to her front door, so as to allow
 the mailman to reach her mailbox.

 People spent days digging out,and you got to stores
(in our sector, anyway) through shoveled pathways,
 the sidewalks having disappeared under huge snowbanks.

We thought it would never go away!

But people went out in it anyway.  If your car doesn't start,
or the road is blocked, you just walk.
A fellow on my street still bikes every day,
snow or no snow

"Spring 2008:  Sitting at the window,
trying to remember what it looks like out there
with grass and flowers

We were truly getting spoiled.  A week and a half of  brisk, sunny days with cloudless skies and balmy breezes.  Clotheslines were filled with laundry flapping in the wind.  Suddenly, bikes were everywhere.  No more heavy winter coats!  You actually didn't even need to wear hat, scarf and gloves anymore. I put away the snow shovels and was outside measuring for borders for my garden plots yesterday.

But ... this is Quebec.  It's not done snowing till it's done ...  and it apparently, it's not yet ... done.  The sky started emptying out its celestial snowbucket about 6:00 this morning and didn't stop till afternoon.  Along with strong winds and blasts of  blistery cold, blowing it into drifts,  blanketing the kibble we put out on the porch for our homeless cat visitors.  They usually hide somewhere till the winds have died down but the birds beat them to it today, to the food.  Now why would a bird turn up his beak at perfectly good store-bought birdseed and opt instead to swoop into the carport and eat kibble from the cat dish?  I know it was them because their little tracks are all over the place and I caught one flying away after visiting the kibble bowl.  One would think the poor things would choke on cat kibble.  It's not something you can peck at and swallow easily--like little birdseed or a soft piece of bread.  Birds have no teeth.   It takes a cat a good few seconds to seriously crunch these particular kibble, which are not miniscule!  I can't imagine why these crazy birds don't stick to birdseed.

Anyway, everything is all covered again.  Goodbye grass, goodbye sunny, breezy days with hints of spring.  Hello again white stuff.   Put those T-shirts on hold, drag out the boots again.  One year we couldn't even begin planting till June 15.  I calculated by the time the tomatoes got ripe we'd almost be getting frost again.  In fact one year at season's end I had dozens of rock-hard, blatantly green tomatoes that hadn't even begun reddening yet.  I wrapped each one in newspaper and stuck them in a box in the basement and in a few weeks they all turned bright red and could then be eaten.  I made lots of ratatouille that fall with those tomatoes!  Am already thinking about how many bags of compost we'll need and where to rotate the radishes and cucumbers this year.  I had so much leftover chard last year (lawn bags FULL of it), I couldn't eat it fast enough. I couldn't even give it away.  Most people didn't know what to do with it, had never eaten it before, and therefore declined.  I ended up giving it to a soup kitchen located behind the community garden.  I think I went overboard last year on the chard crop.  I don't understand why the kale doesn't take, though.  I always imagined chard and kale to be sort of like cousins.

 Nikki watching today when
 the recycle truck came by.

 Evening.  Lou, playing in the snow
around Maurice.  He discovered it for the
first time this winter and was fascinated.

The forecast for tonight:  "snow mixed with ice pellets."  For Wednesday:  "Snow."  Great.  The water in the bowl outside froze.  Well, I think I'll stop writing about snow now, and concentrate on thinking about spring.

I wonder if this warming trend means there'll be more mosquitoes this summer....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Watch Your Words

I subscribe to the Skeeter Bites Report, a Vermont-based news analysis and commentary site. Yesterday I received notice that this site has been infiltrated by Chinese hackers, compromising the email addresses of all its subscribers, forcing Skeeter Sanders to suspend publication.

Skeeter believes his site might have been targeted because of an article he posted on the bloody riots in Xinjiang Province last summer.  "Apparently, somebody in China didn't like what I posted," he writes.

Google is aware that its e-mail accounts for journalists and human rights workers are being broken into by Chinese hackers,[1], [2] and has been reviewing whether to continue their business operations in that country. A Stanford University sophomore, Tibetan student Tenzin Selden, also the victim of a sophisicated cyber attack, was told by Google that someone from China was logged onto her email account at the same time she was.

I sometimes post information and opinion about the human rights situation  in Tibet,  China and Burma, particularly with regard to  writers.  I have a Gmail account and this blog is also hosted by Google.  Should I be concerned?

Google has a third of the search engine market in China, which is currently dominated by Baidu. China has the biggest internet population  in the world, with more than 300 million users.[3]  China warned Google's major web partners to continue censoring, even should Google leave.

"Publish and Be Deleted"

Not only do search engines risk censhorship in China but social network sites fall under close scrutiny as well and they can be summarily yanked and deactivated if they don't tow the line.  "You're always keeping your phone switched on and waiting for that emergency call from the authorities requiring deletion of a post," says Zoe Wang, a veteran website developer on a social network service site. Translators, apparently, must also be careful: Yeeyan, a Chinese website that translated articles from The Guardian newspaper in London, had been forced to shut down. 

There are 14 general laws and regulations governing illegal online behavior, all vague and lacking in detailed, practical provisions, according to Li Yonggang, a professor of Internet politics from Nan-jing University, in his newly published book Our Great Firewall: Expression and Governance in the Era of the Internet.  "As a result, it's difficult to draw a line when operators and Web users censor, apart from the well-known restricted field of political issues" ..... There are more than 10 government organs entitled to supervise the Internet, Li said. [4]

"What Chinese Censors Don't Want You to Know"

Some examples from the official Chinese government censorship guidelines:

#5.      No negative news allowed on the front pages of newspapers
           or the headline news sections of Web sites.

#8.      For the “poisonous cowpea incident” in Hainan, only use news
           articles from the Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily and the
           official Hainan media. [Cowpeas from Hainan Province were
           found to be contaminated with a toxic pesticide, setting off
           criticism about why the cowpeas  were sold to other

#12.    Do not sensationalize or feature reports on the joint
          editorial of 13 newspapers advocating reform of the
          household registration system.

#15.   Do not report on cases of detention center inmates
         dying during sleep.

Questioning a government's actions--or non-actions, can sometimes be the basis for retaliation:

Chinese artist/activist/blogger Ai Weiwei and others sent open letters to all the delegates to this year’s NPC meetings calling for transparency in the handling of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai and some volunteers also posted the letter on a popular social micro-blog run by Wednesday morning. But the accounts containing extracts of the letter were suspended, and more than 70 accounts containing the characters Ai or Wei were “killed” by the webmaster Wednesday, Ai told the Global Times. A customer service employee at said the reason for the suspension is the posts in those accounts contain sensitive material. [5].

Ai Weiwei recalls having been forced to burn the books of his father--the poet Ai Qing--"before the Red Guards came to punish the family with having such material."  (His father was sentenced to be "re-educated" and the entire family sent away to Xinjiang province.  Weiwei grew up there in a labor camp.)  Burning books, obliterating the printed word, will not quell the need to question, to read, to write, to speak out.  Weiwei feels that "To use art is not enough, to describe your view, in the old traditional forms, such as painting, sculpture… as a citizen you need to express your views, writing, blogging, giving interviews, is a part of that..."[6]

Of mounting concern--still--is the continuing physical restraint and imprisonment of people simply asking for the truth to be told.  "Activist Tan Zuoren, who had been investigating the deaths of schoolchildren in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, has just been sentenced to five years in prison for inciting subversion of state power believed to be linked to his quake investigation as well as essays he wrote about the 1989 student-led demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that ended in a deadly military crackdown." [7]

Last month, prominent writer and  retired university professor Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years' incarceration (eleven years!!!) for writing and advocating democratic reform. "It was the third legal defeat this week for veteran Chinese activists ... Asked whether China's treatment of dissidents might negatively affect its image overseas, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu responded, "There are no dissidents in China." [8]

I realize some readers will have been put off by the sheer length (and information overload--all those links and references!!) of this post today. But perhaps someone who wasn't aware of the extent or seriousness of the problem and wants to know more may find it useful.  Some of these news items I, myself, actually had not recently heard about--I initially intended writing only about a single fellow blogger being forced to stop writing on his blog.  That's the problem with the Internet--one link leads to another, then to another, and another .... In any case, it seemed somehow more important today than trying to wrack my brain to come up with a new story or poem, to prove I'm not pencrastinating.  Which I do, but ...

It will be interesting to see where this goes.  Will true democracy ever come to China?  Will Google pull up stakes and let Baidu rule the search waves there?    Will bloggers everywhere be more cautious in future about saying what they truly think, or will we one day find our websites routinely scanned, tagged, and databased for eventual shut-down?  Inquiring minds want to know.

March 22: Officials at Google confirm that the company is redirecting its search engine for China to Hong Kong ... "The Chinese government could react by blocking access to Google's services, much as it has completely shut off Facebook, Twitter and the Google-owned YouTube."[9].

For Mainline China service ability for Google (as of March 21, 2010), click here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fun with soundy words

In the English language there are certain words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. My word challenge for the day was to write a poem incorporating certain paired words in this category and see if I can morph them into a "sound" poem (no pun intended), rhythm dancing with text.  There is sometimes rhythm, even in life's tortured rumblings.  Life is not a game. But we play anyway.

Let's make this hard.  Write something about those who want to speak, but can't; about how some spend their lives dreaming of what will never be--pounding along, anchored to their time and place, taking life's bites, one sharp nick at a time, but who still manage to hear the music of all that is. And just to make it interesting, include a subtle reference to the mixed blessings of free trade, showing that the best marketing campaigns in the world can sometimes backfire and come back to haunt you.  (Stop laughing. It's doable.)

Here are the words:

alas/a lass          sees/seize          mourn/morn        wear/ware/where
err/'ere/air         bear/bare           piece/peace         naught/knot/not
hear/here           while/wile           brake/break         sight/site/cite   
shore/sure          road/rode          how'll/howl           soared/sword     
sum/some          heel/heal           we'll/wheel            see/sea   
mane/main        feet/fete            flour/flower          do/dew                  
week/weak        isle/aisle             by/buy                 eye/I             
fleas/flees          no/know          
I've decided to title the poem "Even".  (i.e., the opposite of Odd.  Why burden a new word creation with negative connotations, before it even has a chance to stand on its own?)

Here is what I came up with, after a bit of shuffling:


what you hear, here waits to be confirmed
by what you see, but in the sea of time,
no word of how’ll you know in any given week
what's a howl and what's a plea
from those too weak to say.

How oft we err, and 'ere you think the air grows dense ...
well, some have soared--in sum, escaped the sword, the plow--
to wile their days while on the road
to their dreamt isle beyond the aisle of now.
They rode a piece, to get their due,
to find some peace in fields of morn's fresh dew, away.
T’is naught to mourn, just brake to break the knot that binds,
and will you ever get there?  Some say not.

Alas, a lass can wear her ware, where unaware
of worn out heel and tousled mane, she in the main
still seeks to heal..
She sees a flower in eye of sight--an "I" on site--
to seize a poem from which to cite
what comes by her small cell.
(One must not always buy and sell
on every shore, with jingling feet (no fete is sure
and one must bear the sting of fleas before one flees, all shorn and bare.)

We'll discount all this raucous shill and
grab the wheel and listen--list, then,all the ways
in which a choking jangle mends,
with balm of sound, no longer bound,
untangled, free, the sounds all whirred and morphing

--Annie Wyndham
First (and, thankfully last) publication.

What to some is music, to others is noise.
Behind every sound there is a story.
Behind every word there is a sound.
Some poems can be oiled to work better.
This one may be what one here might call, "in the moon".

But birthing  it pulled me outta my slump.  :)

Doodle by awyn, on a piece of cardboard box, sprinkled with the word "word" in English, French, Spanish, Bulgarian, Polish, Swedish, Dutch, Serbian, German, and Greek.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A quirky little film...

"Very Annie Mary" is a 2001 film written and directed by Sara Sugarman and starring Rachel Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce. It's an eccentric coming-of-age tale, set in South Wales, about a woman in her 30s who lives with her verbally abusive father who runs a bakery. After her father suffers a stroke, Annie Mary takes steps to emancipate herself and find the courage to sing once again.

It got some terrible reviews, calling it an "embarrassing and desperate attempt to create a heartwarming comedy out of a collection of ancient clichés, outrageous stereotypes and slapstick humour" (BBC News),  a "half-klutzy, half-engaging, eccentric comedy  falling prey to a general disorganization in tone and structure" (Variety Magazine), "alternately mushy and farcical ... with an undertone of satire that keeps the film from choking on its own cuteness" (The New York Times), a film with  "a very derivative Monty-ish plot" (The Guardian),  but one that is nevertheless "likeable and good natured" and "churns up a few genuinely funny bits," including a climax "that is almost worth waiting for."[1]

I really liked this bizarre little flick.  Yes, it was funny--at times downright hilarious. Is she for real? Who behaves like that?  And her father--what kind of a father gives his grown daughter a cabbage for her birthday? If you've ever lived in a small town, some of it will seem cannily familiar.  It's about people who do stupid things, without thinking ... and suffer the consequences; giving a best friend the one thing she really wants, above all, before she dies, that will take every ounce of courage inside you;  it gives interesting little glimpses of the wacky and the wonderful, and the community that harbors them.  Maybe, had I read the reviews, I'd not have bothered to see it. But it played once on TV and I stopped to watch it and can't get the conversations, images and music out of my head for some reason.  Weird.

Okay, it's not a great film.  And yet ...  those breathtaking mountains and valleys of South Wales!  Another fictional underdog gets her day in the sun.  The lessons of forgiveness.  Lost happiness, somehow recovered.  Sometimes, even when wading through shlock, you get to the kernel of a thing and something else emerges. Something that resonates, has meaning.   Comedy and cliché aside, there's something for everyone here. And it really was, despite what they say, funny, sad, and heartwarming.

So ...

My quirky film recommendation for the week.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Joy, Unfettered

                                 They show us how to laugh again
                                 infect us with their joy
                                 you get caught up in it
                                 find a well inside erupting
                                 spilling out all that love you forgot was 
                                 astonishing the observer-you
                                 into complete


Photo by awyn, February, 2010.
V, sharing a moment of mirth, with her Grammy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let Them Blather On

If I said to you "It was an inside job", or "They knew", chances are you'd know immediately what I was referring to. Because they're catch words.  Their very utterance shouts "conspiracy theory."

These words carry an invisible trigger that guarantees that if you say those words, 99% of just about anyone will summarily discount, a priori, anything you intend to say.  Such triggers have proven quite successful as a means of dismissing dissent or quashing serious inquiry.  And if countless someones emerge with strong, logical arguments backed by science, challenging the official pronouncement of a thing, citing strange, alarming coincidences, coupled with intentional suppression of evidence and ignoring of information regarding said incident, one need only activate the trigger to insure that such concerns will not be taken seriously.
Ridiculing, downplaying and/or marginalizing the questioners of an official "story" is the favored response.  Attempts to silence these voices only meets with ever more voiciferous resurfacings.  A more powerful and pervasive response would be to--just do nothing.  I'll tell you why.  By not responding--as the authorities, named parties and media did when, for example, whistleblower Sibel Edmonds offered testimony regarding treason within the U.S. government, which was ignored and/or squelched by the FBI and Justice Department--the message comes loud and clear:  "Nothing to see here, folks.  Move on."

The Internet is rife with articles and sites inviting discussion concerning 9/11--that what we've been told, the "official story", doesn't make sense. More and more, people are calling for a new (serious, this time), unbiased, thorough investigation of what really happened on that day at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.  And everybody yawns.  The media find the Tiger Woods "story", the balloon boy "story", and celebrity crime "stories", far more important, replaying the same footage 24/7, day after day, endlessly discussing it from Every. Conceivable. Angle.  Would that they could devote even a smidgeon of the time spent on such "news" to getting answers to the unresolved questions about the most serious event that has ever taken place on U.S. soil in modern times.

Methinks the natives are getting restless--not just about the economy or the fact that the country is coming apart at the seams--but at the government's continually ignoring them, never taking them seriously.

A few weeks ago, a simultaneous press conference was held in 31 cities, 19 states and  six countries, calling  for a new investigation into the 9/11 attacks.  During the conference a petition was presented signed by over 1,000 licensed, professional architects and engineers, seeking answers.

According to Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth,

There was evidence of foreknowledge of World Trade Centers destruction. The BBC reported live that it had fallen twenty minutes before it actually fell; viewers could see the building standing in the background. 

Physics professor, Dr. Stephen Jones, along with an international team of scientists, analyzed World Trade Center dust from several sources and claims they found unmistakable traces of nanothermitic composite material--explosives that could be used to demolish the three skyscrapers. He and other architects and engineers say this explains the pools of molten metal found at ground zero weeks after the incident. Jones co-authored a peer-reviewed paper on the subject which led to his being fired from a tenured faculty position at Brigham Young University [1]

Nine years after the fact, and the U.S. government still refuses to convincingly explain what really happened that day.  Why? 
  • Why were America’s air defenses first told to 'Stand Down'?
  • Why was the Pentagon, of all places, caught completely offguard?  They have technology that can  pinpoint a person on a sidewalk but hadn't a clue that a plane had entered restricted airspace heading directly for the Pentagon, until it plowed into the building?
  •  Why did TV newscasters start announcing, by lunchtime, that Osama Bin Laden was the one responsible?
  • Why did the FBI already have mug shots of the dead hijackers ready to be distributed, some of whom, it turns out, are not really dead after all, but alive and at home back in Saudia Arabia, surprised to learn they had something to do with 9/11?
  • What caused Building 7, that was not hit by an airplane, to collapse, as in a controlled demolition, and fall imploding to the ground in a huge collapse, all 47 stories, in just 7 seconds?
  • Why were the passenger lists never released?
  • Why did it take a full year before an investigation was even started;  why were some witnesses never contacted, why were imporant leads never followed?
How you make this all go away--and certain people would love to make this all go away--is to continue to keep ignoring the questions, i.e., let the blogsphere blab all it wants, no one takes "these people" seriously anyhow.  They're all "conspiracy theorists", after all.  End of story.  You make a thing disappear by not acknowledging its existence.  Strategically speaking, that's so much more effective than secretly trying to silence them.  That takes effort and is reactionary.  We live in a democracy.  Just let them talk themselves to death.  The issue will soon go away.  People have short memories.  Life goes on.

Maybe.  Is it just me, or does anyone else sense a revolution coming?  Little revolts are happening worldwide, against governments for lack of health care, shrinking basic resources,  jobs eradicated, the education system  being dismantled; against do-nothing officials and a complicit media who continue to lie and manipulate  the public. Bury your head and hope for the best is not everyone's style, though.  Some people are becoming seriously impatient. Enough is enough.

I honestly don't know where this'll go.  Maybe nowhere. Petitions change nothing.  You could gather a million names and it'd just get filed somewhere, collecting dust on a shelf.  Everything'll be swept again under the rug of apathy or down the memory hole while the Left-Behinders wait for the next catastrophe to occur.  Meanwhile, there's always anchortainment to keep the sheeple occupied, the chirpy pablum that poses as "news" these days.

Do I personally think 9/11 was an inside job?  I have no idea.  But warnings were given--more than just once--and were totally ignored, and then denied.  NORAD was told to "stand down"--How convenient that wargame exercises were occurring on that very same day. What a coinkydink.  One would hope the national defense would be able to tell a war-game-exercise attack from a real one.  Important evidence from Ground Zero was quickly scooped up and has completely vanished.  Well, hey, stuff happens.  Unknown entities sought to profit from this event through the stock market, indicating they knew in advance that a certain airline's plane was about to crash.  Wait, let's not start accusing.  They could have been psychic.  The "story" seemed already ready, while the fires were still burning, and was repeated, unchallenged, to quickly become the official "story".  Pre-emptive crisis management? This all actuallly happened.   Does that make one a conspiricist, to want certain questions looked into again, and finally, truthfully, answered? 

The Do-Nothing and It Will Go Away strategy intrigues me, though.  Because it's a pretty representative  example of the You-Can-Get-Away-With-Anything mindset, just "because you can."

And labels.  Labels function as handy instant mini-descriptors for people who would rather not deal with the thinking part--I mean, who has time? Somebody's already identified, in the produce aisles of life, which are the fruits and which are the areas that contain things of a more, shall we say,  "meaty" substance. All you have to do is read the labels. ("Organic" doesn't really mean organic anymore, by the way.) People today already know what you're going to say before you even open your mouth, it seems, according to whatever label has been slapped on you.

Many a time the label fits. Unfortunately, often.   The lunatic frindge will always be with us.  But let's not label everyone who questions their government with a single derogatory term. Labels constantly get misapplied. Imagine being allergic to peanuts and buying a food item sporting the announcement "Peanut Free", only to discover it was incorrectly labeled. If you got sick and died, your next of kin could sue the manufacturer for false representation. The label wasn't "true" in this particular case. Nor is the label "Conspiracy Nut" an accurate description of the growing number of questioners who want to know what really happened on 9/11.  I'm just saying.

What's done is done; stop dwelling on the past, some would say. Why dredge up more pain? (recalling the horrific scene of people jumping to their deaths out of a burning tower).  But some things just don't compute.  Bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian, attacks the U.S. and we go to war with Iraq to get Hussein.  They've stopped looking for Bin Laden years ago.  Never mind, let's change the subject.  Why investigate whether past acts could be construed as "torture"? Let's not get bogged down in definitions, someone counters.  "Enhanced interrogation technique" sounds infinitely more palatable, a bit more vague yes, but open to other interpretations.  It's all in how you look at a thing.  Besides, the country has moved on. That's all old hat by now. Bigger, more pressing things to worry about now. Stop re-hashing history.

And so it goes.

So a thousand or more people--professional people not normally labeled as "fruitcakes"--have signed a petition calling for 9/11 to be re-investigated (for which they will now all inherit the label "conspiracy theorists", joining the "other" 9/11 nutcakes). Millions more are glued to their TV sets waiting the next word on what's up with Tiger Woods. Will he lose his sponsors?  What really DID happen when he crashed his car?! Inquiring minds want to know!

What really did happen on 9/11?? Some of us would still like to know. 

Guess which questioners will get their questions answered first...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sugar Shack in the Woods

Yesterday we took a little drive out of town to go walk in the woods, and came across this little cabane à sucre (sugar cabin or "sugarhouse"). We stopped to chat with the owner and his sister, who were in the process of making maple syrup. 


Maple-sugaring season has arrived a few weeks early this year in Québec.  Conditions have to be just right for this process, i.e., the days have to begin to be warm but nights remain still below freezing.  At this time sugar maples will begin to produce a watery sap to feed their branches in preparation for the little buds that will eventually become leaves. The sap is then extracted to prepare for making syrup.  Inserting a spout into the tree to extract some of this watery sap does not hurt the tree.

Buckets are attached at the base of the tree to collect the sap.

There were about 500 buckets here, in the woods surrounding
the cabin, some already nearly half full.

The long, slow process of extracting the sap begins,
drop by drop.

The sap collected from the buckets is then poured into this huge
holding tank and piped into the cabin, where it will be boiled,
as it slowly thickens into syrup.

A lot of wood is needed to fuel the fires of the stove
that will heat the sap for boiling.

Another pile cut and stacked inside the cabin, 
waiting to be fed into the woodstove.

The stove used to heat the evaporator pans.

The sap flows into the evaporator pans and is heated to about
219 C. (426 F).  At this particular sugarhouse, it takes around
40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.

Steam rising from the boiling sap, escapes through an
opening near the ceiling.  It may be chilly outside but
inside the cabin it is warm and toasty.

As the sap boils, the water evaporates; it becomes denser &
sweeter, slowly turning the color of amber. It is then filtered 
through a cloth mesh and poured into bottles. 
We were offered a taste of the newly made syrup. 
It was exceptional. 


We say goodbye to the fellow at the sugar shack, thanking him 
and his sister for their hospitality in allowing us inside to see them at
work, an opportunity not generally afforded casual passersby.  

The product of their labor is not destined for supermarket shelves--
they make it simply for themselves and their families and friends. 

Neither these photos nor any description can adequately convey the pleasure of our experience that day: the sun filtering through the tall trees reaching up to a brilliant blue sky, the crunch of the ice and snow on the path underneath the feet, the sound of birds and the wind--but mostly silence; the smell of wood burning; the warmth of the cabin's small, inviting ancient kitchen; the smooth, delicious taste of that first sample, the sense of being completely at home with and part of nature.

You would have had to have been there.

And a nod hello again to the old, familiar Love Tree, 
where scores of passersby were compelled to inscribe their initials or
carve little hearts as proclamations of affection for someone--
that bizarre cultural practice of knifing into a tree
to have one's say, or leave one's "mark".

All in all, a magnificent afternoon out in the woods
among the birch and pine and maple trees under a magnificent sky
walking arm in arm in the snow, awaiting the arrival of Spring.

Quebéc produces most of the world's supply of maple syrup. The United States is the only other major producer and the leading consumer. [1]. It takes an incredible amount of work to produce this syruppy delight. To learn more about how maple syrup is made, in detail, click here--and for everything you ever wanted to know about maple syrup itself, click here.

A bit of history:   Maple sugar was one of the New World's first natural sweeteners.  Long before the arrival of European settlers, the Native American Indians dwelling in the Northeast were setting up sugaring camps.

The Indian process of sugar making, crude by modern-day standards, employed hollowed out logs, heated rocks for evaporating the sap, and handmade birch bark containers for collecting the sap and storing the maple sugar. Most of the tribes boiled and crystallized the sap they collected into a granulated maple sugar--bypassing the syrup stage as syrup was harder to store--ending up with a more transportable sweetener...

Although the Indians couldn't scientifically analyze maple syrup, they recognized it as a valuable food commodity. Today, scientists know it's composed of 88-89 percent sucrose, with fructose and glucose making up the rest. Maple sugar is particularly rich in potassium, containing from 1,300 to 3,900 ppm, and calcium, containing from 400-2,100 ppm, depending on the source. Other trace minerals present in appreciable amounts include magnesium, manganese and phosphorous. Maple products also contain trace amounts of malic and citric acids, as well as some amino acids.[2]

Maple sugar season is also the time for "sugar on snow" parties.  Already they have begun having such type festivities here in our province. "Sugar on snow" refers to a bit of  piping hot, carmelized maple syrup poured over a bit of packed snow, which you then eat.  Or you can use small wooden sticks to scoop up the syruppy sugar-snow concoction from special boxes or troughs set up outdoors (or sometimes inside a facility).  (If you do this yourself in your back yard, use only clean snow, please!).  :)  

 There are over 200 cabanes à sucre (or sites de l'Erabliè, as they are called), here in Québec--places where one can go to celebrate maple syrup season and experience the traditional "sugar on snow" festivities, popular here since the 19th century.  You go there to eat maple-laden snow with a bunch of other people and you all sing, dance, and have a whopping good time.  Well, not everyone sings and dances, mostly they just eat, but I've never been to one yet where lively, foot-stompin' music didn't factor into it.  :)

Click here for a list of Québec restaurants, inns or sugarhouses (some of which provide rides on horse-drawn sleighs!) that offer this traditional fête, grouped according to region.  And for those interested, click here for recipes of dishes commonly served at these festivities, such as crêpes, pea soup, omelettes, ham, des oreilles de crisse (deep fried, smoked pork rinds, with bread), baked beans, and maple syrup pie.  (People with weak teeth, watch out for those pork rinds!  They're wicked hard!  I won't touch them myself, being a semi-vegetarian--but lots of folks really love them..  A bit heavy on the cholesterol, but hey, it's only once a year.)

Sugar snow parties don't only occur in Quebec.  You can find them all over the New England states and New York state as well.  Probably more, but I'm only familiar with the upper northeast side of the continent.  Here is a list of sugarhouses in:  Maine, VermontNew Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island; and in New York State.

Thank you, First Peoples, for introducing us to this delectable substance.
Welcome Sugar Maple Syrup time!
Welcome Spring!  (enfin!)

It's also soon the beginning of the dreaded Mud Season ... but we won't go there just yet.  For now, let's just enjoy our maple syrup days!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Books, as Pocket Gardens

A true paucity on the Internet these days--a really good essay, one in which you find yourself nodding in agreement, resonating to its rhythm, where you want to pass it on to others. And so I am.

Check out Seattle writer and poet John Olson's essay entitled "A Garden in the Pocket" posted on March 4th, 2010 over on Steven Fama's blog, "The Glade of Theoric Ornithic Hermetica."

It opens with a Chinese proverb: "A book is like a garden carried in the pocket."

Books, writes Olson, have "a feel and a smell that you cannot find in anything electronic ... the end result of a great deal of effort. So that whatever making goes into the making of the book will make you wonder at what a wonderful thing a book is..."

Look down. Down at the ground. There is consolation in seeds. They become trees. Leaves. Pages in a book. The book opens, and a skeleton of sound dances from page to page in an astronomy of ink...

One day I pulled a meaning out of a word I did not expect and it grew into an orchard of fruit, peaches and plums swollen with light, a larynx extending the granite of a wooded solitude...


"Books may disappear but their essence will not," he says.

And yes again.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Worth a Look

Cerise Press's Spring 2010 issue is out!

If you have never visited this online international journal of poetry, translations, essays, fiction, photography, art, interviews and reviews, you are in for a treat.  This is a publication well worth reading and subscribing to.  It is by far, the most beautifully produced, easiest to navigate, and most interesting selection of writings, art and photography of any online journal I've ever seen.

In this issue:

-- Poetry translated from Albanian, Japanese, Bosnian, Chinese, French and Russian
-- (Six Poems by Osip Mandelshtam!)
-- Naomi Shibab Nye on the political voice of poetry in America

to name but a very few.

Check it out!  You will not be disappointed.  And it's free to subscribe.