The Poet In Journals – St. Denys Garneau

One of my favorite books from ages ago, The Journal Of St. Denys Garneau which I discovered in a bargain bin at the Coles where Neil Young worked.
I had been frequenting the Champlain bookstore in Toronto, when I first saw a mention of him, picking up books in the European style or French style, uncut pages you had to razor open to read Marie Claire Blais, Anne Hébert(Garneau’s cousin), and others, etc. Which of course led to other readings of Hubert Aquin, Michel Tremblay, etc etc.

All their works were distinguishable from  but inseparable from others such as Marian Engel’s Bear, Miriam Waddington’s poems, Frank Scott’s certainly, or Monique Bosco’s Lot’s Wife.

Favorite because it fit right in with circumstances of thought, countryside and origin (I’d go to read it in solitude in a place near Ottawa, having visited my mother’s birthplace in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec), and the poetic disclosures. The discovery attached to slicing open pages, and translating – since the poems were in French – always felt fresh and new, and I could see what was missed in other translations though John Glassco’s comes closest.

Reminded me that favorites are often due to a time and place, as are poets whose popularity mysteriously decline upon their deaths; similar to the most popular novelists of decades or centuries past whom not many can even recall.

The book lasts for many reasons then, one of which would be the essential self, made bare without being mired in the spectacles which pass for a self these days, through literate and real details as is the case in many of his poems at whatever level they may be taken.

He was as much a denizen of my ‘neighborhood’ of spirits and souls as Shelley, Shakespeare, or reaching back, Archilochus, and Marcus Aurelius.

©Dean Baker

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Sweetness – by Stephen Dun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ….

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
© 1989 by Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn, “Sweetness” from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. Copyright © 1989 by Stephen Dunn.

A truly great poet – with  any number of fine books to choose from.

©DeanJBaker

 

Fishnet by Robert Lowell

 

 

 

 

Any clear thing that blinds us with surprise,
your wandering silences and bright trouvailles,
dolphin let loose to catch the flashing fish. . . .
saying too little, then too much.
Poets die adolescents, their beat embalms them,
The archetypal voices sing offkey;
the old actor cannot read his friends,
and nevertheless he reads himself aloud,
genius hums the auditorium dead.
The line must terminate.
Yet my heart rises, I know I’ve gladdened a lifetime
knotting, undoing a fishnet of tarred rope;
the net will hang on the wall when the fish are eaten,
nailed like illegible bronze on the futureless future.

©Robert Lowell

-excerpt from The Dolphin

Just read the first two lines and know that is not only about poetry but also about how
poetry in the world is recognizable, and the contrary is true: what isn’t poetry is known as well.

The brilliant use of metaphor matched with the physical aligning into discovery: how important poetry is when with only a few lines
endless senses of intellect, art, and personal renewal can be seen and pursued in a manner that the world itself would never allow, and thus must be and remain an object of delight and study,
because in that moment of poetry where the lines resound the reader is forever altered.

For those interested in literary trivia, ‘Dolphin’ is the nickname by which Lowell would often refer to his wife.

Fitting then that I came across this volume and others I relate to it such as For Lizzie And Harriet,   Day By Day and History among others of Lowell’s great works.

©Dean J. Baker

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The Canadian Authors Meet by F. R. Scott

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Expansive puppets percolate self-unction
Beneath a portrait of the Prince of Wales.
Miss Crotchet’s muse has somehow failed to function,
Yet she’s a poetess. Beaming, she sails

From group to chattering group, with such a dear
Victorian saintliness, as is her fashion,
Greeting the other unknowns with a cheer—
Virgins of sixty who still write of passion.

The air is heavy with Canadian topics,
And Carman, Lampman, Roberts, Campbell, Scott,
Are measured for their faith and philanthropics,
Their zeal for God and King, their earnest thought.

The cakes are sweet, but sweeter is the feeling
That one is mixing with the literati;
It warms the old, and melts the most congealing.
Really, it is a most delightful party.

Shall we go round the mulberry bush, or shall
We gather at the river, or shall we
Appoint a Poet Laureate this fall,
Or shall we have another cup of tea?

O Canada, O Canada, O can
A day go by without new authors springing
To paint the native maple, and to plan
More ways to set the selfsame welkin ringing?

©F.R.Scott

Frank Scott has many fine poems, but this one I think applies not only to Canadian authors…

©Dean J. Baker

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Ithaca by C.P.Cavafy

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As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

 

©C.P.Cavafy

 

©Dean Baker

https://writingsofdeanbaker.wordpress.com/

C. P. Cavafy, “The City” from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.

***NOTE – I used Keeley and Sherrard’s translation for this poem. I believe the book with an intro by W.H. Auden and the translation by Rae Dalven to be the absolute best:

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Poems-Cavafy-Expanded/dp/0156198207/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Everywhere I Go by John Newlove

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What are people talking about. Everywhere I go they whisper.

They stick their eyes at me, right at the base of the breastbone,
when I’m not looking.

The breastbone seems flat, pointed like a dagger to the top
of my stomach.

O, my stomach, my stomach… when the knife rips you open
it will find coffee and four strips of bacon, pieces of chewed
beard and a handwritten note saying I have left town forever
again.

©John Newlove
– excerpt from his brilliant work, Lies, jnewlovelies1972 and from A Long Continual Argument, The Selected Poems of John Newlove

John was a friend of mine – yet I had only said hello back him when I heard him read this live one time at York University. I’d been searching for the room in which the reading was to be held, and came around a corner to come face-to-face with him and Joe Rosenblatt.

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©Dean J. Baker

Henry Miller: Books, and Life

 

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In the main photo you see these books by Henry Miller, sitting on a portion of my desk:
The Wisdom Of The Heart, The Books In My Life, Stand Still Like The Hummingbird, Remember To Remember
…books which summon everything he has had to say which resonate within all his works… though there is no substitute for reading all his major works.
And within the photo – top right – these books recommended by Miller in his book The Books In My Life off to the side of the other books on my desk

Visions and RevisionsJohn Cowper Powys
The Absolute CollectiveErich Gutkind
Krishnamurti and The Unity Of ManCarlos Suares
The Dance Over Fire And Water Elie Faure
The Maurizius CaseJacob Wasserman

By the time I was 18, I’d played piano at the Royal Conservatory, been across Canada twice (once by myself), hitchhiked to Montreal from Toronto with …75 cents in my pocket, and slept on the ground in Mount Royal Park, rudely awakened and kicked out by cops on horses and was back, by hitchhiking, in Toronto within 24 hrs.
I’d seen The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Janis, etc etc.

I’d met Burton Cummings, been invited to a late night party with him to talk about meeting John Lennon.
I’d met Albert King, played his Gibson ‘Flying V’ guitar backstage, hung backstage with Paul Butterfield, and sat and yacked with John Hammond.
Been kicked out of high school permanently. Kicked out of the house.
Been to New York City. Gone to Miami and stayed there a few weeks, once again by myself. Witnessed the South as if civil rights had not taken place.

Played guitar, bass and piano in rock, soul, and blues bands. Seen dozens of blues and soul groups.
You still looking at your phone, or the internet, you free and independent person… You have to live it…
which brings me back to the great Henry Miller….born December 26, 1891, he struck out for a writer’s life with $10 in his pocket in 1930, leaving for Paris when he was 39.
Of course I was sneaking Miller’s works into my reading life the entire time. By the time I was able to afford even some paperback books of his I’d written more than I consciously conceived possible and experienced much the same lifestyle to a great degree.

There was no way I could imagine actually meeting the man.. but I did, briefly. He was in Toronto, accompanying Erica Jong. It was like meeting a brother you only suspected you had.
One of the things he did say, about poetry, after speaking of the great Greek poet George Seferis, was that poetry is it.
Hanging out with Lawrence Durrell in Pacific Palisades in California where he lived, whose great book The Alexandria Quartet is a brilliant recreation of life and times surrounding the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, in the year he died I was fortunate enough – and is it coincidence? – to be shown casual photographs of Miller and Durrell* enjoying every day life, writing, drinking, talking, etc. by a woman who’d just returned from California after living with them, along with letters between all of them.

Miller’s greatest affinity perhaps was with the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, of whom he wrote in The Time Of The Assassins where he’d might as well have been speaking of the Poet in society and as a personage doing his work despite the rough roads of family and convention. Vague traces of the words of R.W.Emerson, Otto Rank, and John Cowper Powys resonated throughout the entirely unique book.
Whatever these great writers wrote it is a feast, particularly Henry Miller. There is never enough appetite and passion to suffice.

Nothing ever became a static stultification measuring such emotions and trajectories by the accumulation of books, objects, and contemporary mores or status symbols of ‘right thinking.’
Want to be truly free, then read – particularly Henry Miller, the great poets, and live in worlds they only once imagined, then distilled, taking the well-spring of inspiration into themselves.

© Dean J. Baker

  • in 1974, I was fortunate  to have some poems published alongside Durrell’s work in a literary journal.

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