What would Barthes think of his Hermès scarf? – The New Yorker

“It is fair to say that there exists in our era a tragic discrepancy between the staggering richness of the visible world and the extreme poverty of our capacity to perceive it.”

word pond

” . . . world blindness, a disease described superbly by Robert Harrison in his book “Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition”: “It is fair to say that there exists in our era a tragic discrepancy between the staggering richness of the visible world and the extreme poverty of our capacity to perceive it.” The cure, Barthes knew, can be found in the study of literature, photography, and other art forms, optimal training grounds for developing the kind of attention necessary to see what surrounds us.” – Christy Wampole

What would Barthes think of his Hermès scarf? – The New Yorker

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What exactly is matcha and why is everyone talking about it? – Eater

“Meet matcha, the current darling of the tea world. This finely milled green tea powder – the staple ingredient upon which traditional Japanese tea ceremonies were built in the 12th century – has seen a surge in popularity recently thanks to its visual appeal, purported health benefits, and beautiful, distinct flavor.” (Kathy YL Chan, in ‘Eater’)

word pond

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A meditation

Quite without effort,
words coalesce: the bright brooch
of significance.

A wisp, a whisper
of wistfulness, of wanting …
gritted teeth, desire.

Breathing empties me;
a single candle flickers,
sparks a forest-fire.

All futures blossom
on one ancient tree; sways still
the eternal dance.

(08 February 2015)

 

Surrender to the sky

Selected Poems of James K Baxter; Paul Millar (cover)

Selected Poems of James K Baxter, edited by Paul Millar (cover)

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Baxter ambushed me again
today. (Yes, okay, I’ll explain.)

I’m in the New Zealand Reference Collection, Wellington City Library, and making my way to one of my habitual reading spots. Having already picked up the latest issue of Sculpture, and a Vidar Sundstøl novel, I have plenty to occupy my afternoon … but some library staff member has set up this book of Baxter’s poems on the end of a shelf.

Opening the slim volume at random, I smile my way through some familiar verses, but eventually turn back to the first in Millar’s selection – the iconic High Country Weather, which Baxter had penned in 1945 at 19 years of age:

Alone we are born
…… And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
…… Over snow mountain shine.

Along the upland road
…… Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
…… Your heart of anger.

The opening lines seem like a contrary echo of “Thee, God, I come from, to thee go” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844–89). And the supercharged description, “red-gold cirrus”, takes me straight to the final cadence of The Windhover, in which the poet gazes not up at wind-winnowed clouds but into the glowing coals of a camp-fire:

… shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

From the first, I suspected I might be reading too much into Baxter’s lines – would the adolescent poet have (as I had) read Hopkins? At school, he had certainly read Auden, Spender, MacNeice, and Day-Lewis – and also, later, Rimbaud, Dylan Thomas, and Hart Crane (Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand). We know he had been turning out poems since the age of seven, “and completed six hundred between the ages of sixteen and twenty” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Whereas Hopkins revelled in the arcane, characteristically seeking out “All things counter, original, spare, strange” (from G M Hopkins, Pied Beauty), Baxter delighted in a beguiling simplicity, an almost facile fluidity. We do well to remember, though, that “Baxter was a compelling mix of high and low culture, sacred and profane” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Some see existentialism in High Country Weather – it certainly carries little trace of the Catholicism that was later to infuse the poet’s work. To me, it seems more Buddhist than existentialist. In Sexual Personae [p5], Camille Paglia asserts that “Buddhist meditation seeks the unity and harmony of reality,” but later on the same page adds that “Every time we say nature is beautiful, we are saying a prayer, fingering our worry beads.”

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”

I cannot avoid pointing to another James: James Dean, in Rebel Without a Cause – although, of course, High Country Weather predates the 1955 film by a decade. Baxter described his adolescence as “a testing time”, and his university experience as a “long, unsuccessful love affair with the Higher Learning” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Hopkins and Baxter, each with very different sensibilities, both tap into something of how the human mind makes sense of things. Camille Paglia argues that “Poetry is the connecting link between body and mind” (Paglia, 1990), elsewhere contending that “Poetry is the way into a spiritual vision of society and the universe.”

Perhaps I’d have been closer to the mark had I connected High Country Weather with words from Be Happy in Bed (1958-9, 1979, also included in Millar’s selection):

The self so persecuted by enigmas
prefers a mountain to a nagging mother.


NOTES:

The “today” in my opening couplet refers not to the date of publication, but to the day (a week or more ago) on which I started writing this piece.

Paul Stanley Ward’s story, James K Baxter: On the Razor’s Edge, appears on http://www.nzedge.com/james-keir-baxter/

Article on life and poetry of James K Baxter is found on Poet Seers, a web-site developed by members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre.

Analysis of The Windhover: https://hokku.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/deciphering-hopkins-the-windhover/

Paglia, Camille. 1990. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Yale University Press; Penguin (paperback, 1990). See: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300043969

Profile of Camille Paglia: http://www.uarts.edu/users/cpaglia

IMAGES:

The cover image for Selected Poems of James K Baxter, edited by Paul Millar shows Baxter outside “Canterbury University” in 1947.  Image credit: Hocken Library.

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause” appears in a piece titled “100th Anniversary Of The T shirt” on the web-site, http://www.designbyhumans.com/forum/dbh-news/1153137/100th-anniversary-of-the-t-shirt/

 

Summer morning

laundry (02 January 2015)

laundry (02 January 2015)

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This summer morning …
a few honey-bees are drawn
to my lavender.

Sipping camomile
tea, I contemplate the lines
of drying laundry.


“After enlightenment, the laundry. It’s a Zen proverb,” writes Jen Zbozny in her blog piece titled After enlightenment, the laundry (24 January 2014).

On Daffodil Day

daffodils, Te Horo (15 August 2014)

daffodils, Te Horo (15 August 2014)

Today there are phony daffodils all over the place – because, as everyone in New Zealand must surely know, this is Daffodil Day.

“Daffodil Day is the Cancer Society’s annual flagship event,” says the homepage of the Cancer Society’s web-site, which regards Daffodil Day as “one of the most important fundraising and awareness campaigns in the country. As well as providing an opportunity to raise awareness of cancer in New Zealand, Daffodil Day is a major funding source for the Cancer Society. We are proud to be regarded as one of the country’s most trusted charities and this is reflected in our fundraising practices.”

In the past, I have been only too happy to donate to the Cancer Society, and to wear a plastic daffodil. I have fond memories of carrying bunches of cut flowers around the city and – on occasion – deriving pleasure from giving them away.

Today, though, I looked at daffodils in Moore Wilson Fresh but did not buy any. Nor did I poke a twenty into any collector’s tin.

The truth is I’m feeling exploited – by commerce in general, and by the Cancer Society’s principal sponsor in particular (even though I bank with the ANZ Bank).

I’m confident that the people of the Cancer Society are well-intentioned and honourable … but I’m sorry, I’m just not in the mood to wear a fake daffodil today.

So here’s a photo of some real daffodils clustered around a tree on the lawn of friends who live in Te Horo.

Breakfast discipline

toast soldiers

toast soldiers

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My soldiers are
tall and slim today, with the
marmalade spread thin.

I have taken care
to make the coffee quite strong
(no sugar, no milk).

__________

The image connects to a recipe (on Orgasmic Chef) for eggs and toast soldiers – even though I’m not especially keen on boiled eggs – because I liked the narrative style.

Image credit: I Knead You (a WordPress blog).