Jiddu Krishnamurti. What a funny guy. Groomed by the Theosophical Society to adorn himself in the costume of World Teacher/New Messiah, he told them to fuck that motherfucking bullshit. He experienced nakedness, and once naked . . . well, no costume could ever possibly fit. Is what I hear him saying.
I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. — JK (1929)
Difficult talking nakedness in a language built for costumes.
Wonder what’s for lunch down at the cafeteria as I sit in this hospital out-patient waiting room while my cousin undergoing surgery improves her vision. Love cafeterias. Loved setting out from a little Arkansas town, headed for Memphis and Britling’s bright tile spread where I eyeball glorified grease and inhale the fragrances of fried chicken, fried okra, fried catfish, collards, butter bosomed mashed potatoes, peach cobbler, angel food cake, thick gravy smothered steak, black-eyed peas, fresh tomatoes and cucumber, cantaloupe, and tapioca. Loved what I thought were so many choices. The present keeps sliding into the past. The past produces so many expectations. I still expect choices. Tangled.
Was a time I walked from 14th Street and Avenue A to 48th Street and 9th Avenue every day after work because Miz Vittitow was dying and I’d stop at my place, then walk to hers and spend the night because I couldn’t bear her spending dying nights alone. One evening I was walking and a filthy, drunken, homeless guy stretched out on stone steps looked so beautiful I had to stop and stare.
All perception shifting into wow the plants, swimming in gorgeous green leaves in lovely pulsing pots who knew clay pots could breathe? Buildings, cars everything a glowing beauty never seen before by me before. Wide awake in every cell alive. Wasn’t stoned on anything and stoned was never so going in this direction so beyond human usual detection, amplified colors and textures stirring almost a clarity I could imagine a clarity longed for clarity. Even the trash a garden of delights. Fuck pedestrian rationale. Pulsing connecting glow working every throbbing molecule of luminous city expanding me in every step clear across town to my dying friend wakes up in the middle of nights staring into approaching eternity impatiently going someplace more familiar. She don’t care where. She just really wants to go. It’s so difficult inhaling those slender Sherman cigarettes with lung cancer. No treatment no thank you. She just really wants to go.
Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path. — JK (1929)
A softly sung whistling and swish swish seeds in wooden rattle fling me where costumes can’t go. Trembling fear as threads unravel and dissolve. Nothing to wear and no one to wear it. No boundaries, no skin, no stake in the slightest some thing. All narratives collapsed. And yet, here I am. A narrative terrified of collapsing in the midst of collapse.
I try to say it and it’s just words. But I keep trying to say it. Even though it can never be it, it always turns out to be something frustratingly distant.
The world is such a wonder. Isn’t it shocking, grave, gorgeous, gory, nervily musical, wild, caged, wails and croonings, a theatre of whackings upon the indefatigable nasty habits of a species? The polyrhythmic drumming of all these beating hearts in all these creatures crawling flying tunneling riding on four wheels around a planet. Confusion of separation.
This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. — JK (1929)
Lucid confusion almost such tension in the waiting room. The tv. Reality show. Who will the next fool be? Daydream, ah. The lapse I lay my head in. The enormity of being alive. I’ve spent so much time shutting that feeling down. Daydream. No one else in this waiting except Desk Lady doing her job with papers and computer in this cold room. Me reading a book on my phone. About the Angel of the Present Moment sending shockwaves across the digitized globe.
JK says renounce all authority. In the inner space renounce. All. Authority. Yeah sure. Okay. But. The obstructions that imprison clarity. I’m still so entangled.
Our conscience is such a petty affair. How is it our species has been around so long and hasn’t come to clarity? What are the obstacles which prevent clear perception? — JK (1968)
I wish I could tell you.
Poet and musician Barbara Barg grew up listening to Delta Blues and Memphis R&B. In New York, she taught poetry to at-risk youth in tough NYC high schools where her students introduced her to hip-hop and rap. She is the author of two books: Obeying the Chemicals (Hard Press) and The Origin of the Species (Semiotext(e)). Her poetry, short stories, and strong opinions have been published in many magazines and anthologized. She is also a faculty member of The Chicago School of Poetics.
The Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died, age 74, and the praise for him is universal, both as poet and personality. On one particular Irish website, there was a conversation about what Heaney’s real status as a poet would be. But of course none of us has the answer, time being the judge of that fight. But one of the most interesting conversations occurred on the New York African-American painter Carl Hazelwood’s Facebook thread towards the end of August. Oma Pollitt said that Heaney’s poem “Digging” was African in its construction. I was taken by this remark, and so I responded by saying that “all good Irish writing is African in its origins.”
Of course, I was thinking of Roddy Doyle’s great music novel The Commitments. If you’ve ever seen the film of this novel, you may recall the protagonist’s soliloquy about the Irish in which he says the Irish are the blacks of Europe, and the Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, the north Dubliners the blacks of Dublin. So say it once and say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud. There is also a long Irish tradition of the black Irish, a type of Celt usually from the west of Ireland, out beyond the lamps, beyond the Pale.
Several years ago, the BBC conducted a study in the west of Ireland, trying to determine the ethnic origin of the black Irish outside of Galway, in County Mayo. It was discovered that nearly everyone tested had the same DNA as people from the Basque region of Spain, which explains the dark Irish if not the black Irish. Black Irish is not just a dark complexion, though, it is a kind of mood that pervades someone. It is not a racial thing.
Seamus Heaney was many things to many people, in and outside of literature, out and about Ireland, both North and South, but also significantly in America, his second home for many years. I met him several times in my life, the first time at Fordham University, where I was working in the early 1980s. I had the job of entertaining him before a reading, and so we drank Old Bushmills in my office overlooking the quad. The second time I met him was again at Fordham, and this time he had a toothache, and we had to find him a dentist. He had that Irish curse of teeth. I remember meeting him at the train station in Princeton, in the late 1980s, and once again we had to find him a dentist before he could read. But teeth aching or not, Heaney was good company.
If there were a prize for the nicest poet, he would win hands down. Sometimes I think that if Heaney is to be judged harshly, someone will take umbrage with the niceness of the poet, making it the ultimate failure of his poetry. The lesson I learned from reading Seamus Heaney was that his poetry was magnificent in his early career, but that the later work was corny, even sentimental, at least to my ears. But that is not the lesson I learned; the lesson was that a writer can’t be all things to all people, and this is not only a problem Seamus Heaney faced, it was something that all Northern Irish writers confronted.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which includes England, Scotland, and Wales, too, among other entities. Most Northern Irish people I knew in London, where I lived for twelve years, carried the British passport or the Irish one, and sometimes both, depending on the situation. Heaney and Paul Muldoon, singled out of the crowd of Irish poetry, were given a chair at Oxford for a British poet. You can’t hold that chair if you are not British. We may think of these poets as Irish poets, but they are also British poets too.
There is a price to pay for this sleight-of-hand, and it is usually in the poetry where consequence reveals itself. Heaney never offended anyone; Muldoon has a way of writing inoffensively, too. Derek Mahon, another Northern Irish poet, has played this hand less well, being curmudgeonly and misanthropic, not willing enough to play the game with his Britishness and his Irishness. Northern Irish humor is dark, and from the gallows, and certainly Mahon’s poetry is filled with such examples. After all, he wrote the introduction to the poetry of Jonathan Swift, the ultimate gallows humorist, kind of the Richard Pryor of his own day.
Earlier when I wrote that all good Irish writing was African in its origin, I meant that Ireland’s music, the root of its poetry, has a sound whose origins seem to hark back to Northern Africa. Bagpipes are very Islamic in their souls. One may not think of Ireland as the westernmost reach of the European Oomah, and yet the west of Ireland had a long history with Barbary pirates. They ransacked the town of Rochester, taking all inhabits in slavery back to Northern Africa. One day Rochester was a flourishing town; the next day there wasn’t a soul in it.
I don’t hear African rhythms in most of Seamus Heaney’s poetry. I hear the north of Ireland, its soul even, which is part British and part Irish.
M. G. Stephens is the author of eighteen books, including the novel The Brooklyn Book of the Dead (“a great, great book,” says Roddy Doyle), and the essay collection Green Dreams, which Joyce Carol Oates picked as one of the notable nonfiction books of the 20th century in Best American Essays of the Century.
Between teaching for The Chicago School of Poetics, coordinating the Myopic Poetry Series, occasionally blogging for the Best American Poetry blog, and everything else inbetween we’ve been busy but Lina and I are happy to announce that our big rollout of the new milk site to Word Press is nearing completion. Word Press will allow us (as well as other guest bloggers) to update the site much more frequently! We’re looking forward to more news soon. In the meantime, in January Lina published a new book, A Neon Tryst and in May I published my second book of poetry, Vertigo Diary.