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.

Quote of the Day: Hampton Sides

What a name for an author: Hampton Sides.

With a name like that, you’ve got to become a writer. If only because it fits the profession like a hand in a glove.

Yesterday, self finished reading The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine and began reading Hampton Sides’ Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission.

Sides’ sources — a handful of them, anyway — have a familiar ring. Then she realizes: she’s read their diaries and witness accounts long ago: in the Hoover Archives on the Stanford campus. She was doing a lot of research for a World War II novel she was contemplating.

Sides’ writing is so engaging. It feels ridiculous — even, pointless — to write fiction about World War II because nothing can equal the excitement of reading a factual account. She has a 300-page manuscript of Bacolod under Occupation. She’ll just put it aside.

And here’s that quote, finally. It’s about the fall of Bataan in April 1942 and the fate of the  31st Ranger Battalion who were crowded onto the tip of the Bataan peninsula with the rest of the U.S. Army. By this time, the retreat had become chaotic:

Hibbs never forgot the sight of the blood-smeared boy dangling over the shoulders of the medics like a sodden rag doll as they retreated into the jungle. They would set the kid down on the ground and resume the fight, then pick him up and withdraw again, then set him down and fight some more. This went on all day, with the boy becoming like a terrible mascot of the retreat.

Captain Robert Prince, leader of the assault division of the 31st, was from Stanford. Lieutenant Henry Lee, “who would dash off lines of poetry from his foxhole” had studied at Pomona. About Lee: “Whenever he wasn’t holding a gun, he could usually be found with a pen in his hand.”

Here’s one of Lee’s poems:

Drained of faith
I kneel and hail thee as my Lord
I ask not life
Thou need not swerve the bullet
I ask but strength to ride the wave
and one thing more —
teach me to hate.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

From “Utopias” by Alfredo Zaldivar (New Letters, vol. 82 nos. 3 & 4)

The poem is in the New Letters Cuban issue.

Excerpt from Utopias, by Alfredo Zaldivar, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Randall:

I romanticized the tent they gave me
the fierce hand that caressed my skin
the assigned word
and promised touch.

I didn’t take into account the fragility
of the dying stag
who sleeps among beasts
the few doves who fly
when the lights go on.

I didn’t see the labyrinths surrounding the tent
the fear of conceding passion to terror.

I fled with such precision
that only my obsession for being on time
could ignore those flights.

Alfredo Zaldivar is co-founder of Vigia, a cultural arts magazine and publishing house based in Matanzas, Cuba.

Quote of the Day: Luisa Igloria, “This”

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THIS

This is all you have, this life, this patch of ground marked by wood
and water, a little strand of caterpillar silk caught on low shrubs at
the wood’s edge. Everything happens here, or doesn’t happen, or
is about to change. Shadows lift at dawn, noon strikes the top of
the stone cherub’s head in the middle of the square. Pigeons blend
in among the cobblestones. It’s not much, you think: a sleepy
town, the cats in the alley, the same old men playing chess in the
park; the row of tailor shops, the bakers pitching bread into the
fire. The loaves get a little smaller every year, though they remain
as sweet. The lovers with only one place to walk. The seawall. The
pier. The post office at one end of the main street, the market at
the other. Rain drips down every house post and gutter. Flowers
and whitewash on grave markers. You can leave if you want, rent a
room in some city crisscrossed by wires and steel. On every rooftop,
gargoyles opening their mouths to the rain, drinking it all in but
never filling, never filled. Crossing the street, you turn, distracted:
flowering wisteria, japonica, scent spilling urgent messages over
a stone boundary. Nothing leaves, merely decants to color, to
sediment, to underlying pulse.

— from Night Willow, a poetry collection by Luisa Igloria

Poetry Saturday: Mary Oliver

I’m Feeling Fabulous, Possibly Too Much So. But I Love It.

It’s spring and Mockingbird is teaching himself
new ways to celebrate.
If you can imagine that — that gutsy talker.
And the sky is painting itself a brand-new
robust blue
plenty of which is spilling onto the pond.
I don’t weigh very much, but right now
I weigh nothing.
And my mind is, I guess you would say, compounded.
Our voice is saying, Ah, it’s Mockingbird.
Another voice is saying, the pond never looked
this blue before.
Another voice says, there couldn’t be a more
splendid world, and here I am
existing in it.
I think, just for the joy of it, I’ll fly.
I believe I could.

And yet another voice says, Can we come down
from the clouds now?
And some other voice answers, Okay.
But only for a while.

Mary Oliver has received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her poetry.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Mahmoud Darwish

  • No spectators at chasm’s door, and no one is neutral here.

— Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish

 

Poetry Sunday: Diane Kirsten Martin

The following appeared in Crab Orchard Review’s The West Coast & Beyond issue, Summer/Fall 2014:

Contiguous

— by Diane Kirsten Martin

Don’t you wonder about the panhandler
On Fremont and Market, sharing his day’s
proceeds with his pink-nosed pit? Or

Frank Chu, with his sign of 12 Galaxies?
What about the World-Famous Bushman,
hiding behind the branch he shakes

at passers-by, or the matching — from pumps
to pillbox hats — Marian and Vivian Brown.
Who are they and who are you, starting out

from the glass eyes of your apartment?
Do you wake in a sweat on an October
night with stars, the moon a fat orange

and the temperature pushing 90
and remember a silver filigree ring buried
under the azalea, the mute orphan who lived

with his uncle, your father who gave you
the back of his hand? Do you, like Frank,
dream of aliens? I’ll bet the man on Fremont

dreams about Thunderbird and wakes up
as if he drank a whole bottle of fortified wine.
Nights like this, with windows wide, you can

hear the rush of the freeway, like the sound
of whitewater Ronald Reagan had piped
into his bedroom for insomnia. Nights like this

we lie naked, contiguous in this warm
ocean that flows around our back and breasts
our arms our throats our lips, necks, thighs.

  • Diane Kirsten Martin won the Erskine J. Poetry Prize from Smartish Pace and was included in Best New Poets 205.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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