#amreading: Sally Potter’s Screenplay for YES

Last year, self saw Sally Potter’s Yes at the London Review Bookshop and the filmmaker herself was present to do Q & A afterwards. Self asked Potter if the screenplay had been published, and when Potter said yes, it was available in the U.S., self almost broke out into a Happy Happy Joy Joy dance.

Can she just tell dear blog readers how she adores this screenplay, the fact that it is written in iambic pentameter from first to last is glorious.


Scene: An Irish woman (played by a luminous Joan Allen) who’s moved to New York returns to Belfast to visit her dying aunt in a hospital. The following passage is the aunt’s interior monologue:

AUNT

No one explained to me when I was young
Why time only goes forward. Hold your tongue
Was what they said when I asked them about
The universe and such and why we can’t
Do all that much about it when we make
A mess of things. If only a mistake
Could be corrected. Wind life back and start
Again. The second time we’d know the art
Of living. But we only get one go;
No dress rehearsals, this one is the show,
And we don’t know it. I don’t see the rhyme
Or reason in this so-called grand design . . .

(A priest enters the ward quietly and rapidly gives the last rites, making the sign of the cross and softly muttering a prayer)

But then I don’t believe. There is no sign
Of him up there as far as I’m concerned.
See . . . if there’s one thing that I’ve truly learned
It’s this: it’s down to me.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Liu Xia: “Days”

from her collection Empty Chairs: Selected Poems, translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern (Graywolf Press, 2015)

Days

Our life, like the calendar
on the wall,
presents a stale picture.

Friends come at night
and I cook enough dishes to cover the table —
remembering to put salt in each.
You get chatty
without even drinking wine.
Everyone is happy and eats chicken feet
until the bones are sucked white.

At dawn, our friends are suddenly gone
like a breeze.
The sunflowers on the window curtain
are crazily bright
against the light.
Cigarette ashes and beautiful fish bones
are jammed down our throats.
Without looking at each other
we climb into bed.

Liu Xia is a Chinese poet and artist who has lived under strict house arrest since her husband, poet and activist Liu Xiaobo, was imprisoned in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” and received the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2nd Post for the New Year, 1 January 2017: “There For Six Months” (A Re-Post, Because Still Relevant)

A student, Kevin ______, wrote this years ago. The class was Composition & Rhetoric. The assignment was for students to write an autobiographical essay. But self didn’t have the heart to grade the student down for thinking outside the box, especially after he told her it was the first poem he ever wrote.

He was 20. Never wrote another thing.

There For Six Months

Underneath Pink Floyd’s alluring rhapsody
the phone was ringing,
Hey you, out there on your own,
sitting naked by the phone, would you touch me
and my older brother is telling me that
come January, he’ll be in Iraq,
serving his time of duty for six months
in the war
see also: abuse of power, see also: corpses

Meanwhile, people all around are nestled away in their cozy,
unobtrusive shells: human anti-socialism,
one thousand and one bloody bodies, our own an afterthought.
Warming cups of soup, chicken-noodle flavor,
and stacks of crackers on a folded napkin, for dipping.

Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light,
don’t give in without a fight
And my brother is telling me that if he makes it back
there’s a good chance he’ll be based in the west coast,
see also: home, see also: happiness
There’s shake and shiver undertones in his voice
when he keeps saying, Don’t worry,
they trained me how to live, but all I can wonder is
if they trained him how to die.

That last part is so perfect, with the words of Pink Floyd cutting in and out and the “shake and shiver undertones” in the brother’s voice. Self has no words.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Mind Cleanse for the New Year

Self stopped reading In Cold Blood even though she was 100 pages from the end. She had not expected to have the murders described in such detail, starting on p. 237. Every single minute documented through the point of view of the two murderers. The one she ached for most particularly was the 16-year-old, Nancy Clutter. Alone in her room, listening while the killers dealt with first, her father, then her mother, she decided to show herself when they dragged her younger brother from his bed. She had taken the trouble to get fully dressed. She came out of her room smiling at the two murderers, as if to charm them. She faced them.

What. A. Brave. Girl.

So, because of that, self stopped reading at p. 240.

Instead, she browses through one of her poetry books, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. It was the assigned text in a class on Chinese poetry in translation, taught by James J. Y. Liu in the Department of Asian Languages at Stanford.

Here’s a sample:

I Say Good-bye to Fan An-ch’eng

by Hsieh Tiao (464-499)

In the usual way of the young
we made appointments
and goodbye was easy.
Now in our decay and fragility, separation is difficult.

Don’t say “One cup of wine.”
Tomorrow will we hold this cup?
And if in dreams I can’t find this road,
how, thinking of you,
will I be comforted?
And if in dreams I can’t find this road

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Path: The Daily Post Photo Challenge, 23 December 2016

But the beauty is in the walking — we are betrayed by destinations.–Poet Gwyn Thomas, quoted by Cheri Lucas Rowlands in The Daily Post

The Daily Post Photo Challenge this week is PATH.

Here are a few paths self encountered in 2016:

Walking into Green Apple Books on Irving Street, San Francisco

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The elevated walkway over the de Young Museum Sculpture Garden, in Golden Gate Park:

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Pedestrian Crosswalk, Park Avenue, New York City:

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Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Reflective Monday

From Richard Schnap’s poem, “As The Road Narrows,” in the 13 December 2016 issue of the Eunoia Review:

We attach meaning
To many things
That have no meaning

Read the rest of the poem here.

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The Beach at Capitola

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sally Potter’s YES (Potter Wrote the Entire Thing In Iambic Pentameter)

Self’s favorite scene in the movie is when SHE (played by Joan Allen) goes to visit her dying aunt in a hospital in Belfast.

Aunt:

The thing is, no-one told
Me I’d have all this time, but far too late
To use it for the things I dreamed of. Fate
Delivers upside down and back to front.
I’ve more to say than ever, but they shunt
Me back and forth all day from bed to chair
And back to bed again; it isn’t fair.
All this experience I’d like to share.
Not that it all adds up. Not that you care.
I’d better stop — it’s time for you to go
Already, isn’t it? Five minutes — oh,
Well maybe ten . . . you see, I never know
When you’ll be here again. It’s such a blow
Each time you leave, it’s hardly worth your while
To come at all. I mean it! Don’t you smile
Like that! Oh, you’ll be sorry when I’m dead.
I’m only joking, dear. I only said
That for a laugh. Although of course it’s true.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Liu Xia: EMPTY CHAIRS (Graywolf Press, 2015)

Liu Xia is the wife of Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize awardee Liu Xiaobo (Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an eleven-year sentence in China for the Charter 08 Manifesto).

The excerpt from Black Sail is in her collection, Empty Chairs (Graywolf Press, 2015)

Black Sail (translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern)

You reach out your arms and pull the man
close, quiet, until his hair floats like seaweed.
Then you calm down and light a cigarette — green smoke
rises. The next day, when firecrackers
clear the way for a full black sail,
you become a gust of wind, a cloud, an eye.

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Lake Annaghmakerrig, Ireland

Poetry for After November 8, 2016

Excerpt from “I Copy the Scriptures,” by Liu Xia

Day and night,
I copy the Diamond Sutra
of Prajnaparamita.
My writing looks more and more
square.
It proves that I have not gone
entirely
insane, but the tree I drew
hasn’t grown a leaf.

from the collection Empty Chairs: Selected Poems by Liu Xia, translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern (Graywolf Press, 2015)

Most Amazing

The London Review Bookshop has a film club. Once a month, they show a film, and bring in the director for Q & A. When self was there, earlier this year, she caught a showing of Sally Potter’s Yes.

The entire film is told in iambic pentameter. Self gets goosebumps just remembering. She asked Sally Potter at the reception: “Is the screenplay available?” When Sally said yes, self wanted to do cartwheels. As soon as she could, she ordered a copy of the screenplay.

The heart of the movie is a woman played by a luminous Joan Allen. She visits a dying aunt in Belfast. The SHE in the excerpt below is Joan Allen’s character. The setting is a hospital:

Aunt:

You’re late again. Don’t worry. Never mind.
I know you’re busy. It’s the kind
Of life you lead. But then you chose it, so
I guess you want it. Always to and fro,
You never stop.

SHE tiptoes into the ward and stands looking down at her aunt who lies immobile, her eyes closed, in the bed.

Aunt (cont’d):

Unlike myself. I’m here
To stay. For just how long, who knows. I fear
It could be ages. It creeps up on you,
This funny business. First a creak or two,
Your knees, perhaps, and — bingo! — then you’re old
And in a bed.

SHE kisses her aunt’s forehead gently, pulls up a chair and sits down by the bed.

She (whispering):

Oh, auntie . . .

When you’re watching the film, you’re aware of the rhyme, but instead of distracting you, it helps you concentrate. Amaaaaazing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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