Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday 29 October 2006


It rained for 3 straight hours, beginning when I walked past the zoo. I carried my desk to the lake in the rain. I was cold and wet through before the day began. By mid-morning, there was hail popping out the grass. And thunder. When the sky finally opened, it turned to rain again. And wind. A tall tree fell on the Shell Gas Station on Aurora, taking down electric lines. The fire department closed south-bound lanes. Leaves fell in waves.

It is too wet to write. The paper won't accept ink. A fragment I jotted down one dry spell:

My fingers are not working. It is almost 11. It has been raining for 3 hours. I am wet through and very cold. I have been reading Hikmet. And now the sun is showing. I stand in full gratitude. The worth of a tree. The worth of wool. The worth of a meadow. In 3 weathers I have grown, in only 2 hours. My tulip leaves have parched and twisted to fists of burned paper. And now that paper is wet and waxen.

There were moments of utter isolation on the path this morning. I am trying, now that it is dry, to open a can of teak oil to protect my desk, but my hands will not do it. I need a down jacket, a windproof layer, gloves. I was not prepared for the cold today.

12:11pm. The bells. One refrain of Amazing Grace. Yes, I forgive you. Of course I forgive you. Come, little sheep, into the world.

Afternoon. I abandoned my desk for hot potato soup at 2pm and waited out a 15-minute storm. I went back then and braced myself for the final stretch and paced until 5pm. Then I walked home in the dark. Not a soul on the bridge.

Surprising how many runners circle the lake on a day like today. And when the sun shines, even for a quarter hour, how the curious come to my desk. I shared with them, today, Hikmet. I read Hikmet to the ears that waddled and fuzzeled up to me. For many, this was their first exposure to Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), Turkey's foremost modern poet. And you couldn't ask for better Hikmet weather! You couldn't ask for more significant bells.

Hikmet deserves such a storm.


This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space ...
You must grieve for this right now

from "On Living" by Nazim Hikmet
February, 1948
Trans. Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk – 1993


And just like the barefoot orphan
lost in the snow
in those old sad stories, my heart
- with moist blue eyes
and a little red runny rose-
wants to snuggle up in your arms.

from "Letters from a Man in Solitary" by Nazim Hikmet – 1938
Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)


I revisit the story of Hikmet's emigration by boat.

After being awarded a World Peace Prize, after surviving a hunger strike, after being granted amnesty by the newly elected government, there is continued persecution. And so Nazim set out in a boat for Bulgaria.

"So then he escaped, across the Bosphorus in a tiny motorboat on a stormy night -when it was calm the straits were too well guarded. He wanted to reach Bulgaria, but it was impossible with a high sea running. He passed a Rumanian cargo ship, he began to circle it, shouting his name. They saluted him, they waived handkerchiefs, but they didn't stop. He followed them and went on circling them in the height of the storm; after two hours they stopped, but without picking him up. His motor stalled, he thought he was done for. At last they hauled him aboard; they had been telephoning to Bucharest for instructions. Exhausted, half dead, he staggered into the officers' cabin; there was an enormous photograph of him with the caption: SAVE NAZIM HIKMET. The most ironical part, he added, was that he had already been at liberty for a year'' (Force of circumstance, trans. Richard Howard (New York; Putnam's, 1965), pp. 390-91).

You can't help but feel close to Hikmet in this weather. You can't help but connect as the temperature drops.

Hikmet exhibits heroic perseverance, in poetry and life. He exhibits unflagging faith, in himself, in his reader, in humanity, despite all who fail him, despite all that befalls him. He is imprisoned for 13 years. Tortured. Sent into exile.

That he exhibits love and not hate towards his tormentors, that he fights for life by exalting in the beauty of small things, simple things, that he exhibits a potential we see in our own selves, makes his a powerful voice.


For the first time they took me out into the sun today.
And for the first time in my life I was aghast
that the sky is so far away

From "Today is Sunday" by Nazim Hikmet
Translated by Talat Sait Halman.
(Literature East & West, March 1973)


"Art is an event, [Hikmet] maintains, in social as well as literary history, and a poet's bearing in art is inseparable from his bearing in life." Here is a man who lives his convictions. As we begin to see this in ourselves, this potential to commit, to convict, we feel a worth and love and meaning we were meant to feel.

What we fail to see in ourselves is shame, disgust and isolation. The non-art we too are capable of.

Hikmet points the way to the heroic, walks that long road, brings us there. "Sartre remarked that Hikmet conceived of a human being as something to be created. In his life no less than in his art, Hikmet forged this new kind of person, which was heroic by virtue of being a creator. This conception of the artist as a hero and of the hero as a creator saves art from becoming a frivolous activity in the modern world; as Hikmet's career dramatizes, poetry is a matter of life and death." (Mutlu Konuk 1993).

Craig, one of my afternoon visitors, recounted how, at age 18 he traveled 10 miles in an open skiff along the coast of Alaska on stormy seas. He could relate to Hikmet's predicament, to his struggle. Craig is a tennis instructor. He is concerned with the heroic.

Craig asks his kids what they want to do with their lives. What they want to be. He encourages them to think about it. He tells me they still talk of their heroes, are still empowered by role models. Craig finds this encouraging. We need to push for more and meatier models. We need to keep ourselves open to heroes as well. We need to keep asking. To keep thinking. Who is Craig's role model? Who is his hero?


How do you make a hero? Focus the spotlight?

The construction and deconstruction of social symbols is a pointed thing. It results from the efforts of art and poetry. Consider Russian poet and artist Anatoly Osmolovsky. With Leopards in the Temple (1992), Osmolovsky reconstructs freedom for his public while deconstructing the much-loved Russian avant-garde writer, Vladimir Mayakovsky. An attentive audience is crucial. The message must be seen to be destroyed. The heightened state of a hungry audience is vital. Not just a drama. Not just a sleepwalk. Not just a social stance or a stare. But an impatience. A searching. An open nerve.

How do you create a hero? Pose a possibility? Return the richness?

Consider Simon Starling's Autoxylopyrocycloboros? After acquiring "Dignity," a boat recovered from the bottom of Loch Long, Starling rendered it seaworthy and set sail in August 2006, taking with him a chainsaw to feed the boat, piece by piece, to its own steam engine. "The name evokes the Greek legend of the self-devouring snake, Ouroboros, as well as referencing other key aspects of the project in auto (self), xylo (wood), pyro (fire) and cyclo (rotating)" [Scotland on Sunday].

Ouroborous is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world. It depicts a serpent swallowing its own tail and forming a circle.

How do you make a hero?

A father/daughter pair at Green Lake came before the court of the poet and began accusing one another of being the truer poet. "She's a poet." "He's the real poet." "I've seen your e-mails!" "Well, I'm not officially a poet."

The most important things still are in the trees. The light. And color. And movement. The dark afternoon absorbing the reds and greens and yellows and browns of the autumny scene.


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