WORDS FOR MAY AND JUNE

I. Fathers

CARE, by Craig Santos Perez

My 16-month old daughter wakes from her nap

and cries. I pick her up, press her against my chest

and rub her back until my palm warms
like an old family quilt. “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,”

I whisper. Here is the island of Oʻahu, 8,500 miles
from Syria. But what if Pacific trade winds suddenly

became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel
indiscriminately barreling towards us? What if shadows

cast against our windows aren’t plumeria
tree branches, but soldiers and terrorists marching

in heat? Would we reach the desperate boats of
the Mediterranean in time? If we did, could I straighten

my legs into a mast, balanced against the pull and drift
of the current? “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,” I

whisper. But am I strong enough to carry her across
the razor wires of sovereign borders and ethnic

hatred? Am I strong enough to plead: “please, help
us, please, just let us pass, please, we aren’t

suicide bombs.” Am I strong enough to keep walking
even after my feet crack like Halaby pepper fields after

five years of drought, after this drought of humanity.
Trains and buses rock back and forth to detention centers.

Yet what if we didn’t make landfall? What if here
capsized? Could you inflate your body into a buoy

to hold your child above rising waters? “Daddy’s
here, daddy’s here,” I whisper. Drowning is

the last lullaby of the sea. I lay my daughter
onto bed, her breath finally as calm as low tide.

To all the parents who brave the crossing: you and your
children matter. I hope your love will teach the nations

that emit the most carbon and violence that they should,
instead, remit the most compassion. I hope, soon,

the only difference between a legal refugee and
an illegal migrant will be how willing

we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and
carry each other towards the horizon of care.

Plumeria flowers

II. Language

PHOTOGRAPH BY EAMONN MCCABE / CAMERA PRESS / REDUX

In answer to the question “Does poetry play a role in social change?,” Adrienne Rich once responded:

Yes, where poetry is liberative language, connecting the fragments within us, connecting us to others like and unlike ourselves, replenishing our desire. . . . In poetry words can say more than they mean and mean more than they say. In a time of frontal assaults both on language and on human solidarity, poetry can remind us of all we are in danger of losing—disturb us, embolden us out of resignation.”

Matt Zimbel. Photo by Dave Sidaway, The Montreal Gazette

As a New York City native, the idea for me in speaking French was just so glamorous. It’s like you’re an intellectual, an internationalist and a really good lover all at once. That seemed just so fantastic to me. So I really wanted to learn and speak the language and become part of this culture.
Matt Zimbel, who came to live in Montreal and decided to do everything he could to learn French.

III. MEMORIES

Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!
Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

See TRACES, in this regard.

IV. ART 

One of my favourite quotes.  Glorious:

“The way in which art creates desire, I guess that’s everywhere. Is there anyone who hasn’t come out of a movie or a play or a concert filled with an unnameable hunger? … To stand in front of one of [Louis Sullivan’s] buildings and look up, or in front, say, of the facade of Notre Dame, is both to have a hunger satisfied that you maybe didn’t know you had, and also to have a new hunger awakened in you. I say “unnameable,” but there’s a certain kind of balance achieved in certain works of art that feels like satiety, a place to rest, and there are others that are like a tear in the cosmos, that open up something raw in us, wonder or terror or longing. I suppose that’s why people who write about aesthetics want to distinguish between the beautiful and sublime…

Poet Robert Hass

V. Life in a post-Brexit world

WORDS FOR APRIL

This month, I had to let go of many beloved students, which is a fact of my life but always a bittersweet experience. It’s done. I’ve said my goodbyes to thirty or more brilliant, funny and endearing people.

The relationships I make through my work enrich me in ways that are incalculable. I feel that I’m a better person because I carry inside me something of each of these students who, by the miraculous workings of the Universe, has passed through one of my classrooms.

Thus, the brief gem from Seamus Heaney, below.

I also discovered the beautiful autism of Daniel Tammet, who is a mathematical and linguistic savant and, I think, a gentle human being who will help enlighten is all.

I. ABOUT LIFE

A) “Since when,” he asked,
“Are the first line and last line of any poem
Where the poem begins and ends?”
Seamus Heaney

* * * *

B)  ABOUT AUTISM, LANGUAGE AND HOPE

A poem published by the National Autism Association, introduced with the following message:

“A mother writes, “My 10 year old son with Aspergers was asked to write a poem for school titled ‘I Am’ he was given the first 2 words in every sentence. This is what he wrote…”

I am odd, I am new

I wonder if you are too

I hear voices in the air

I see you don’t and that’s not fair

I want to not feel blue

I am odd, I am new

I pretend that you are too

I feel like a boy in outerspace

I touch the stars and feel out of place

I worry what others might think

I cry when people laugh, it makes me shrink

I am odd, I am new

I understand now that so are you

I say I, “Feel like a castaway”

I dream of a day that that’s okay

I try to fit in

I hope that someday I do

I am odd, I am new”

 

John Martin, 1789-1854: "Solitude"
John Martin, 1789-1854: “Solitude”

 

“I hate textbooks. I hate how they shoehorn even the most incongruous words – like ‘cup’ and ‘bookcase,’ or ‘pencil’ and ‘ashtray’ – onto the same page, and then call it ‘vocabulary.’ In a conversation, the language is always fluid, moving, and you have to move with it. You walk and talk and see where the words come from, and where they should go. It was in this way that I learned to count like a Viking.”
Daniel Tammet, Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math

Pi Landscape
Original artwork by Daniel Tammet

 

“Clouds and buttercups exist in poetry, but they are there only because storms and flowers populate the world too.”
Daniel Tammet, Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math

II. ENDINGS

C) “October knew, of course, that the action of turning a page, of ending a chapter or of shutting a book, did not end a tale. Having admitted that, he would also avow that happy endings were never difficult to find: “It is simply a matter,” he explained to April, “of finding a sunny place in a garden, where the light is golden and the grass is soft; somewhere to rest, to stop reading, and to be content.”
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists

 

III. ABOUT BOOKS

A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.
[Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)]”
Carl Sagan

“Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music, like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach. ”
–Roberto Bolaño

Roberto Bolano

 

 

 

WORDS FOR MARCH

Story: a painting by six year-old artist Grace Halmshaw

I. THE FINISH LINE

Paul Kalanithi’s message to his infant daughter, written mere weeks before his death:

“ There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

The message is simple:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does  not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, that is an enormous thing.”

 

Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”   -David Bowie

II. WHO WE ARE

The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering. ”
Ben Okri

Hiatus:
A painting by six year-old artist Iris Grace Halmshaw

III. THE WRITTEN WORD

I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.”
Elie Wiesel, Open Heart

***

In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.”

-Ceridwen Dovey, “Can Reading Make You Happier?”

***

The poetry dispensary doesn’t fit into any framework for “ordinary relationships.” It is not therapy, though I’m a psychotherapist. It’s not friendship or teaching. Is healing happening? Art? At once, playful and deeply serious, it’s a performance and exchange. I rely on people’s willingness to share their stories. I rely on the poem to reflect what might not be articulated any other way. Though its efficacy is uncharted, I rely on it the way you rely on art to do something when you need something nothing else can do.

– Ronna Bloom, “On Prescribing Poems for the Sick, the Dying, the Grief Stricken”

Anima:
A painting by six year-old artist Iris Grace Halmshaw

WORDS FOR JANUARY AND FEBRUARY

I. INNER RESOLVE

« I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it. » ― Maya Angelou

« If you wanna fly you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. » ― Toni Morrison

« And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”  » ― Mary Oliver

II. WINTER

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

FIRST SNOW  by Arthur Sze

A rabbit has stopped on the gravel driveway;

imbibing the silence,you stare at spruce needles:

there’s no sound of a leaf blower

no sign of a black bear;

a few weeks ago, a buck scraped his rack

against an aspen trunk;

a carpenter scribed a plank along a curved stone wall.

You only spot the rabbit’s ears and tail:

When it moves, you locate it against the speckled gravel;

but when it stops it blends in again;

the world of being is like this gravel;

you think you own a car, a house,

this blue zigzagged shirt, but you just borrow

these things.

Yesterday, you constructed an aqueduct of dreams

and stood at Gibraltar,

but you possess nothing.

Snow melts into a pool of clear water;

and, in this stillness,

starlight behind daylight wherever you gaze.

III. MIGRATIONS

The more one is able to leave one’s cultural home, the more easily is one able to judge it, and the whole world as well, with the spiritual detachment and generosity necessary for true vision. The more easily, too, does one assess oneself and alien cultures with the same combination of intimacy and distance.”
Edward Said, Orientalism

picture_91323652666649

« It’s not like your personality changes when you speak a different language.
It’s more like you’re just putting on a different pair of glasses through which to see the world each time. » —Alex Rawlings, polyglot

« If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave. »
******
« […] Certainly when I’m traveling, especially to the major cities of the world, the typical person I meet today will be, let’s say, a half-Korean, half-German young woman living in Paris. And as soon as she meets a half-Thai, half-Canadian young guy from Edinburgh, she recognizes him as kin. She realizes that she probably has much more in common with him than with anybody entirely of Korea or entirely of Germany.So they become friends. They fall in love. They move to New York City. (Laughter) Or Edinburgh. And the little girl who arises out of their union will of course be not Korean or German or French or Thai or Scotch or Canadian or even American, but a wonderful and constantly evolving mix of all those places. And potentially, everything about the way that young woman dreams about the world, writes about the world, thinks about the world, could be something different, because it comes out of this almost unprecedentedblend of cultures. Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going. »
An excerpt from Pico Iyer’s TED Talk
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A poem by John, a grade school student in London, Ontario (Canada), and winner of The Meaning of Home contest, which  invited Grade 4, 5 and 6 students from across Canada to submit a written essay about what home means :

THE MEANING OF HOME

Home is a place, like no other place can compare.
It gives a wonderful feeling that everybody should share.
It is the place where you find lots of new things to discover
It’s the place where all your injuries recover.
When you look at it you smile so bright.
So you think to yourself, what a beautiful sight.

You learn even more things there that you never knew.
You learn what is false, and what is true.
You learn to walk, crawl and run at home.
You will find lots of new places to roam.
Think about the times you share with family.
All the moments you spend, smiling with glee.

The memories you make there will never fade.
There is almost never a time there when you are afraid.
When I see someone without the warm feeling that I feel,
I think to myself that, this can’t be real.
But there’s a sad truth that’s looming around.
It’s been here for days, waiting to be found.

That sad truth is one that I hate to say.
There are people around who have no place to stay.
They don’t feel the same warmth and love as we do.
They don’t have the life we’re used to.
But we can bring them the help they need.
I know we can, and we will succeed.

We have let it rest for much too long.
Let’s give them a place where they feel they belong.
We can all make a difference today.
And we can fix the world the right way. 

IV. FROM SHAKESPEARE’S MACBETH

Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.

—Malcolm’s comment on the execution of the Thane of Cawdor, whose title was then given to Macbeth.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
Macbeth

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”Malcolm, from Macbeth

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Malcolm (right) speaking to Macduff, after he has learned of the slaughter of his family.

Words for December

1. 2015: The Year of the Refugee

COSMOPOLITE, by GEORGIA DOUGLAS JOHNSON

Not wholly this or that,
But wrought
Of alien bloods am I,
A product of the interplay
Of traveled hearts.
Estranged, yet not estranged, I stand
All comprehending;
From my estate
I view earth’s frail dilemma;
Scion of fused strength am I,
All understanding,
Nor this nor that
Contains me.

2. The Montreal Winter that arrived a bit late

 

« I LOVE THE SNOW! IT MAKES MY HEART BEAT FASTER! »

-Penelope, my 3 ¾ year-old granddaughter

“All Heaven and Earth
Flowered white obliterate…
Snow…unceasing snow”
Hashin, Japanese Haiku

Just around the corner from home.
Just around the corner from home, 29-12-2015

3.  Elizabeth Gilbert, in an interview on CBC Radio One’s program, Q.

« Unused creativity is not benign. »

 

Words for November

The month of November tests the resolve of most Northern populations.

It feels like a slow and relentless withering away of life and light.

This morning, for instance (November 30th), the sun rose at 7: 13 a.m. and will have disappeared by 4: 12 p.m. A scarce nine hours of daylight in which to go about the business of living.

Which is why we wait for the snow and its moonlight & sunlight-reflecting whiteness and sound-dampening cover ; and for the festivities and gatherings that buoy our spirits.

Since November 13th, many are also living in a state of «What next?» wondering what can possibly follow the horrors of the Paris attacks.

November sunrise in West Vancouver, BC (photo courtesy of Marie Payette-falls)
November sunrise in West Vancouver, BC
(photo courtesy of Marie Payette-falls)

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2)

These words are read every year, at this time, by Christians and Jews alike, and are familiar to many more.

But it was thoughts of millions of refugees, worldwide, that just brought them to mind. What must it be like to exist in a state of anticipation so acute and so desperate that it leaves almost no room for living?

Here are some of the quotes I gathered this month. They all touch some part of my personal credo. In some way, each shrinks the distance that separates me from the world around me. They evoke passion and compassion.

*******************

a) «In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks.»- Ceridwen Dovey, «Can Reading Make You Happier?»

(From: http://www.newyorker.com/…/cul…/can-reading-make-you-happier)

 

Gaunt bookstore, London, UK.
IMG_1552
Inside Gaunt Bookstore

b) From Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days

«DECEMBER 20TH

 The Encounter 

The door was closed :

            «Who is it?»

            «It’s me.»

            «I don’t know you.»

And the door remained closed.

The following day :

            «Who is it?»

            «It’s me.»

            «I don’t know who you are.»

And the door remained closed.

Then the following day :

            «Who is it?»

            «It’s you.»

And the door opened.

—From the Persian poet Farid al-Din Attar, born in 1142 in the city of Nishapur»

c) Rachel Elizabeth Griffiths,  Excerpts from a PEN.org interview:
language« Every time I sit down to write I dare the universe. I dare my own death. I dare my 26 horses into syllables and we take off. I’m aware of the risks—everything that my silence would keep hostage rears before me.»

« Language is such a fire. It’s difficult and necessary and maiming and magnificent. I don’t have its wings, but through literature  I have experienced  flight over and over. Words and vocabularies also graze my body with wildfires that have taken years to extinguish.»

d) From Voltaire:

« Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. »

e)  Dang Thuy Tram :

«Come to me, squeeze my hand, know my loneliness, and give me the love, the strength to prevail on the perilous road before me.»

 

A fiery November morning sky over my neighbourhood.
A fiery November morning sky over my neighbourhood. The trees are leafless.

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f) From Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days: 

«OCTOBER 12th

This World Enamored of Death

Today, International Day of Nonviolence, let us recall the words of Dwight Eisenhower, who was not exactly a pacifist. In 1953, as president of the country that spends the most on weapons, he acknowledged:

«Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.» 

 

 

Words for October

My front yard, October 26th, 2015
My front yard,
October 26th, 2015

LIFE & ART:

“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.“

Gustave Flaubert

Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Joss Whedon

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.“—Simone Weil 

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
James Baldwin

LONDON:

All my life I’ve wanted to see London. […] I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die.”
Helene Hanff,The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

London – beautiful, immortal London – has never been a ‘city’ in the simplest sense of the word. It was, and is, a living, breathing thing, a stone leviathan that harbours secrets underneath its scales. It guards them covetously, hiding them deep within its body; only the mad or the worthy can find them.”
Samantha Shannon, The Mime Order

“Nothing is certain in London but expense.” –William Shenstone