Please write your reflections below.
SWERVINGS OF THE HEART – Justice James Clarke
Belatedly returning to this discussion. Thank you, Slawomir Paplowski, for putting phrasing better than I could the difference between satisfaction from one’s work and objectives; and thank you, Steve Canty, for expanding eloquently on the two parts of the writing process. (I should perhaps be leaving two separate replies here, but at this point it all feels like an organic discussion.)
Slawomir, as for the question of whose “project” the making-public of poetry was, I suppose I describd the intiiative as yours because my suggestion felt like a general one, and not one that I imagined myself actually implementing. What you put forward sounded so practical that I was a little frightened of letting myself get engulfed by it, which could mean forgetting that I am, at heart, a poet first.
Steve, my experience teaching creative writing has shown that the lines between poetry in particular and psychotherapy are often blurred, sometimes to good effect, though not always. Often, when a writer’s work is extremely well crafted but too controlled, or simply too familiar in its approach and/or subject matter, I find myself making suggestions that, while intended to make the writer productively uncomfortable, make me a little uncomfortable, too, as I don’t necessarily feel qualified to mentor a writer through the emotional journey of writing more deeply into him/herself. I suppose therapists must feel this at times too, though; who is ever qualified for such work? As for the distinction between work that is shared and work that isn’t, I’m surrpised at how many people — sometimes even writers who publish in other genres — write poetry for no eyes but their own. There is something profoundly respectful of language that makes such writers explore their private lives in this form, rather than in the spill of a journal. The effort required to find the right word should, it seems, bring one deeper into the content rather than closer to the surface of the text. This is not how I approached rewriting as an undergraduate, but what I aim for now.
Here’s to spiral notebooks, private or not!
I can say that I was waiting for about 18 years (since starting my social project) for such your words, Stephanie: “I’m surprised at how many people — sometimes even writers who publish in other genres — write poetry for no eyes but their own. There is something profoundly respectful of language that makes such writers explore their private lives in this form, rather than in the spill of a journal”.
I never tried to write even one poem, but I have a big intuitive respect for this art of mastering forms of expressing human reflections and thoughts. It represents for me one of the most graceful forms (plus songs and music that have the same roots) in human communication. Your statement about many people exploring their private lives in this form increases my curiosity/interest for glancing at such ‘fruits’. Of course when available, if authors later decided to publish or it is done after their deaths.
Why do I pay so much attention to it? For me such noticed by you trends in your narrow circle of poets confirm human deep internal need for decoding/discovering individual personalities, destinies and life paths. In the simplest form of earlier tribal traditions existed ‘poetry of naming’ when the elders or parents were choosing names reflecting their impressions and plans for newly born who later, before entering adult life, were also encouraged to choose new names reflecting their very own projections about themselves. In this way we were able to see such expressive for example Indian names as: Night Spirit, Singing Grass, Hunting Hawk, Dancing Star etc. In many religious traditions we are choosing confirmation names that reflect who we are as people and what our future goals might be. It did not need elaborated statements as the chosen single words carried rich context.
I am not sure, if I can treat this mentioned by you personal poetry in “exploring private lives” as developed intellectual forms of the earlier ‘naming poetry’ and as motivated by the same aim: defining own personalities and territories of existence. What I want to hear from you are some available coordinates for seeing this originally ‘private poetry’ that will allow to verify my present assumptions/interpretation.
Thanks, James, for your kind words. One of my favorite ideas from Frederick Buechner goes something like this – Vocation is found at the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. I think the writing of poetry can become that place to which one is called for many people, as we all have experiences in daily life to feel and process, and recording their images in fragments known as poetry is a sure form of personal self-expression, and liberation. I love Emily Dickinson’s comment – again, I paraphrase – about her feeling sorry for people who she saw as being “locked up in prose.” Obviously, for her – and for you, and Stephanie Bolster – poetry has provided a key, and it is liberating for your readers and auditors to feel your words sing. This experience of poetry in this dialogic platform of Dr Cornett has brought me back to my spiral notebook again for some early morning fragment-catching, and in that I would not be surprised if I am not alone. My deep thanks for all.
Thank you Steve for your well-worded and thoughtful post. Let me add a footnote: Frederick Buechner said somewhere that we are our secrets & we become most human when we trust enough to share them with others. And its the sharing with others that pierces our loneliness & binds us in community. Heart speaketh to heart as Newman said. James Clarke
Regarding Judge Clarke’s and Stephanie Bolster’s ideas on the act of creating poetry, I see a common thread at least in their shared belief that its writing is a private, inward event that has its start in how the poet mediates feelings through language as they stir quietly in consciousness as words. Stephanie notes in one of her responses how this private process can appear to be contradicted by the poem’s emergence into the world to effect others and possibly transform lives. In my graduate study of literature I was interested in the novel’s function principally as a political event; then in post-graduate training I saw how the narratives clients bring to psychotherapy are charged with the same activist spirit: to generate change in the most intimate space the speaker shares with his/her attachment figures, past and present. As I have recently returned to teaching literature to adults in the EMSB, I have re-encountered poetry and have re-seen it as a method of both private self-expression and public information/emotion sharing (for lack of a better phrase this early in the day) with an intended auditor/audience. Yet the diaolgic experience with our two poets has encouraged my deeper appreciation of poetry as a means to allow contact with one’s own subjective experience, and in an act similar to meditation, use enough of the ego to write down the words attached to images, feelings, and ideas that would otherwise go unrecorded, unclaimed, and unappreciated by the self who dismisses them unwittingly. In the instance of Justice Clarke, it seems the stakes could not be higher for a male of his professional and social stature to acknowledge those images of a powerless, violent childhood that still rise up from the unconscious and make a claim on his life today. For him, these complex images could be buried more nobly beneath the socially aproved of busyness of “work,” or other quietly aggressive behaviours that would dismiss such images and feelings and give them everything but a voice through his act and art of poetry. Similarly, through her poetry Stephanie Bolster claims the images and feelings that emerge in the quiet of consciousness, gently or abruptly aroused when presenting themselves to her. Something I have taken from this dialogic process is the clearer sense that the writing of poetry affords the personal pleasure of using consciousness for creativity and, if desired, to make the choice to share its offerings with others. If this second, nearly contradictory step, is taken, these images and feelings can be reflected on by others in a life-long concert that informs the place we all share when coming to the poem as poet or reader. The individual act of writing poetry reflects what one feels in response to our deeper human consciousness that is shared, yet is paradoxically unique. The writing of poetry is a creative means to gently take ownership of what is truly one’s own – in the realm of experience coming into consciousness through awareness – and using silent time to write it down in fragments of linked images. Of one kind or another these are poems, and the spring that offers their images as energy are in each human being. Whether or not they are “worth” something to others could be answered by the fact that if nothing else, the private act of their composition makes that writer a healthier person aware of their deeper self, and a poet.
On the heels of comments relating to poetry being read in public, I believe that the poetry festival in Trois-Rivieres uses this technique to appeal to festival-goers. Also, poems have been printed in advertising spaces on buses and I remember being approached by someone on the sidewalk in Montreal who was willing to read me his poem from a photocopied sheet. I then had the privilege of buying it for 25 cents. I thought that this event was a happy marriage of poetry, creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit and I bought several copies of the poem. Related to the moment of writing a poem as a spark of creation and Mr. Poplawski’s comments to that effect which segued into comments about a political system, it is amazing how art, religion and politics are inextricably entangled. It is like a raucous dinner party during which guests happily abandon the unwritten rule which forbids comments about sex, politics and religion and have at it. Am I saying that art is sexy? I suppose so. It feeds at the heart of creation: an intellectual spring and/or a spiritual spring. Mr. Poplawski has identified the sullen, enclosed looks of persons in public transit whose soul is captured by winter. Artists and priests have a distinct role to play in our midst as they remind us that we are children and it is spring, no matter what our life’s counter tells us. I remember singing the music of Theodorakis in the choir with the OSM in New York City. He was condemned to house imprisonment and anyone who sang his songs in Greece during the dictatorial rule of the generals could also be imprisoned. Art has power that the powerful fear. We sang his music with gusto and the orchestra filled the hall. Long live poetry!
Hello Prof. Bolster,
Thank you for your deep response. I fully agree with your explanation and understand catalysts role (chemical notion) of the used world “primarily” that gives different meanings when you talk about writing for yourself and others. It somehow reflects dualistic character of human nature that at the same time can manifest an extreme ego-centrism and altruism – totally different approaches. In another words, beasts and angels live in us what in fact isn’t bad as generates unusual dynamics in human psyche magnifying our abilities in learning, adaptations and personalities development. When it comes to internal processes of genuine ‘creation’ (not copy/paste compilations – haha) we act alone what you explain “The most satisfying moments of writing are, for me, those private moments of composition”. It gives another meaning for the words of ‘writing for myself’ that describes satisfaction from work and not objectives. In this way are activated given by nature mechanisms rewarding all alive organisms for their efforts toward mastering art of adaptation. The same way are rewarded by well defined certain instincts all living creatures for their even sometimes dangerous proliferation efforts. Writing poems is just adapting and mastering the art of converting profound human feelings with logical concepts into perfect in its simplicity written forms that can be easily decoded by other readers and enrich human communication/intellectual development. I am not astonished that this process can be fascinating what yesterday nicely described Justice Clarke “the most satisfying moments in any art -writing, painting, composing- occur generally in the act of creation which, as many have noted, has a certain kinship with divine creation. You’re most alive in the flame of creation.” It sounds great, but in my personal opinion people should be more careful with using the world creation as too much boosting human ego. It would sound humbler and safer if instead we use words realization/mastering/adaptation that truly reflects what human can achieve. We are a priori created and are not able to create. Everything what people can achieve are just results of gradual learning and adaptations that allow prolonging/enriching our lives in constantly changing as challenging environments. The same way act much simpler organisms as viruses and bacteria quickly outsmarting our latest pharmaceutical achievements. Let me give one human example that can demystify this claimed “act of creation” that allegedly “has a certain kinship with divine creation”. We can see/hear today many rewarded composers that also pompously describe the processes of creating their best pieces as accompanied with spectacular enlightenments. Good for them and I believe them in 100% as similar impressions were accompanying my intensive research work many years ago. The point is that very astonished by such rich descriptions of CREATION would be, for example, such composers like Mozart, Chopin, Bach etc. in describing fruits of their work. For them many acclaimed now modern pieces would be made by them in the earlier stages of musical career and classified as simple writing or transposition of internal feelings/impressions into musical accords. For example, Chopin was finding first inspirations in birds’ ‘songs’, country/nature trips or folk culture and his brain was already CREATED this way that ‘translating’ it into sounding perfect music composition was relatively easily achieved. They were just born as super-gifted musicians feeling obliged to work/master their potential and they would never claim reaching ‘kinship with the divine creation’. In reports of many people interacting with the real masters in different fields of human activities typically make impression of being very simple, clear and short what definitely misses my response – haha! It is great that many people after many years of training and hard work can achieve high levels skills in some chosen fields, but they should connect satisfying fruits of it with divine creations. I hope that these spontaneous remarks about overuse the word creation carry some points.
Now after self-portraying as a humble man (smile) I must reject your description of me as the author of “projects (I) propose” as it was de facto YOUR PROJECT. I was only strongly moved/inspired by your concept of loading people for “five minutes” with poems. My only contribution, acting as a practical man, was proposing fast realization of your idea. I did not know about mentioned by you group of authors’ already reading poetry in buses or metro in Montreal. It sounds too intrusive for me and from the beginning does not have any chances to compete with many sophisticated audio devices that the majority of people use today in the public places. I was thinking about your students as only handing single note cards with one poem for willing to take passengers what can be done silently without forcing them to disconnect their audio devices. The poems should be carefully chosen from classics, or freshly written by more ambitious/self-confident volunteers. It can be also dedicated for certain special days (prolonged rainy days, after election, big storm, announcement of war, another ‘black Friday’ etc.). In my opinion it has a potential of emotional awakening and later inducing creative activities among people when combined with the ability of connecting them to share emotions in the Internet space.
The problem is that simple/natural emotions are step by step consistently eliminated today from traditional picture of homo-sapiens. Instead is promoted by the MSM and politics a new kind of homo-economicus/consumerus supposedly acting more rationally who suppress emotions and follow endorsed trends. Yes, such people are easier to control by structural ‘global money/economy’ defining our deformed democracies. Similarly was created isolated and trained to watch only own business model of homo-sovietius overwhelmed by the state’s power in former dictatorial Soviet Union. Such profound transformations started in this country since 1917 with ridiculing religions, family traditions, local patriotism/customs/proud and forcing women to work that allowed governmental indoctrination of kids from even age one. It was accompanied by growing terror in all places of work. Exactly the same processes occur now here. The communists maintained never ending indoctrination by promoting/exporting firstly “wars for spreading revolutions” converted later into “wars for peace” and here is used now a slogan “war with terror” to similarly repress and coach with cheap propaganda many nations.
My ‘proofs’: It was refreshing for me to see relaxed and friendly interacting people in buses/metro of Montreal/NYC 26 years ago after newly arriving from my communist country, but now the passengers’ emotionless poker faces all look the same. I escaped social terror, but it follows me here in only more sophisticated forms. It reminds ‘progresses’ among some bad bacteria becoming almost totally resistant to the latest antibiotics. It looks hopeless, but I remember that in more repressive Russian’s system surfaced very popular in 70-80s poets/singers Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky. They did not fight directly with the oppressive system, but were helping people to notice wider ‘life horizons’ and had an immense as enduring effect on Russian culture. I dream to see similarly influential poets and folk singers ‘resurrected’ here.
P.S. I am very grateful for your mentioning unknown to me term “Random Acts of Poetry”. I googled it and saw among many others this interesting link: http://www.delmartimes.net/2012/01/27/local-man-shares-random-acts-of-poetry/ . Described here Mr. Dylan Barmmer looks for me as one of 12 modern ‘apostles of poetry’ and I wait to see his similarly devoted ‘colleagues’ acting on a global scale and addressing other key problems of our present civilization.
I hope it’s not inappropriate for me to refer to you as “James”; this dialogue leaves me feeling that we know each other. Thank you so very much for what you said, above; your discussion of the need for outside readers as critics, not simply as audience, is crucial, and an aspect I’ve overlooked, perhaps because, as a creative writing teacher, I tend to take it for granted.
Thank you for your kind words about “Gardening.” It’s a strange little poem, and I was startled that it was selected for that anthology. That you appreciated it means a lot to me.
I agree with Stephanie that in writing poetry your primary focus is inward, not outward. You must love the process of creation almost more than the creation itself ( or at least as much). Indeed the most satisfying moments in any art -writing, painting , composing- occur generally in the act of creation which, as many have noted, has a certain kinship with divine creation. You’re most alive in the flame of creation. I’ll go further: to write or create primarily with an audience or readership in mind can be the death knell of art. Success, what pleases , can often highjack originality & inspiration. But as Stephanie says, it’s a two way street; there’s a certain completion to a poem when it strikes home & is appreciated even if it strikes home or is appreciated in a way you didn’t intend or see .There’s another side benefit: sometimes in the euphoria of creation you get lost or blinded & it takes a perceptive reader to point out where you’ve failed to deliver or communicate. Your beautiful vehicle is missing a wheel or has an extra headlight, something essential or redundant , which interfere’s with the” vision” or” meaning.” To change the metaphor the poem has to be able to walk on its own legs independent of the artist to attain full life. As Stephanie pointed out : it then becomes ” real” . A persoan note:
I really liked your poem GARDENING Stepanie in the 2012 edition of THE BEST CANADIAN POETRY, so few words, so much meaning , such a small plot. JAMES CLARKE
You make many valid points, not the least of which pertains to the apparent contradiction between my belief in the power of poetry to transform lives and my claim to write primarily for myself. I’m certainly aware of the tension between these two beliefs, but I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. Claiming that I write primarily for myself — the word “primarily” is key here — is one way of counteracting any desire to associate the success of a poem or a body of creative work with career success. I have an inclination — partly inborn, partly learned — to please, so if I am to write with a view to the success of the poem and not to satisfying my vision of audience expectations, I need to look inward. The most satisfying moments of writing are, for me, those private moments of composition. (This doesn’t mean that the subjects about which I write don’t come from beyond myself; they nearly always do.) That said, connecting with readers makes the poem “real” in a new way, and, as I’ve mentioned in various other responses, I’m increasingly affected by the impact of my work on others.
As for the kinds of projects you propose, others have done these things — there was (and may still be) a group of writers here in Montreal who instigated “Random Acts of Poetry” in which they would, for example, read poems on buses and on the metro — and I wouldn’t be averse to doing so, but as an introvert, I wouldn’t feel entirely at home in such a situation. While exposing unsuspecting passengers to poetry can be extremely valuable, I worry that I would fear I was “inflicting” poems on others. Some poetry is best experienced privately, and on the page. Long story short, I support such projects but don’t think that I’m the best person to organize one. Teaching, giving workshops in non-university settings, doing readings, engaging in conversations such as Dr. Cornett’s “dialogic” sessions, are my way of being public. Hoever, it’s true that, as you suggest, students in my classes might be interested in taking their work to the public in this way. We’ll be doing end-of-year readings in April, and I may well propose that interested students take their poems beyond the setting of the reading and see what happens. Thank you for the encouragement!
Hello Prof. Bolster,
In perfectly organized social life of, for example, ants, we see coexisting in harmony specialized workers, fighters and mother. Humans dream for ages about a world where everybody works in places fulfilling their expectations and abilities. We can expect from such a perspective an emerging idealistic globe with less competitive social interactions and more pronounced efforts toward mastering all kinds of human skills as harmony on macro/micro scales.
Consistently, all professions should be treated and recognized as equally important. In this way, physicians, lawyers, cook, farmers, cleaners, accountants etc. and poets who are convinced of working in their ‘destined vocations’, should feel extra motivation to master their skills as fully aware about servicing the society. At the last seminar, as earlier on this blog, were discussed wider roles of poetry that can be therapeutic, inspiring others as triggering better understanding of others/ourselves.
In this perspective, I liked very much your words written on 04.02.13 at 10:25pm “If all workplaces required everyone to write — about anything — for five minutes at the beginning of the work day or to read a poem, I believe that most people, in even the most tedious jobs, would feel, afterwards, a little more human”. It shows that you care about society and also dream about improving quality of human lives. However, contrasting for me are the words written three days later on 7.2.13 at 9:10 pm: “I write primarily to communicate with myself rather than to communicate with others”.
I simply do not believe this and I am sure of being able to see your few poems inspired by human problems/sufferings or other quandaries and addressing it. There were many examples of creating music, lyrics and poetry among slaves in America. It was helping them survive harsh times. The same, deeper vision need so hardly manipulated and pushed around contemporary people in our society. They definitely can be gratified by your “believe that most people, in even the most tedious jobs, would feel, afterwards, a little more human” when combined with your real potential of making a difference as a well recognized poet and teacher.
What about experimenting with your students focused on creative writing? We see musicians coming to metro and it would be interesting to see one day also your students offering chosen by them pieces of poetry for a couple of days (at the beginning) for the passengers. It can resonate with some people. What about providing also on those given away single pieces of paper with poetry an address of the blog/website (with titles: poetry in metro, united by art etc.) for more engaged people to write comments or send their own pieces? I think that for such a project it can be relatively easy to apply for different grants and search individually for sponsors when your name will be used.
It is sad to see so many passengers in our communication system that instead of enjoying their temporary physical closeness are focused on manifesting their differences and isolation. Reading the same poetry at the same time and glancing in the end at each other can make the passengers for a second “a little more human”. After it we can eventually go further.
Thanks for your question, Barbara. Interestingly, I was just glancing at a New York Times review of two new Plath biographies. They never stop coming, because Plath continues to fascinate. Though I didn’t realize it during my own apprenticeship through her work. an interest in — and often obsession with — Plath’s writing and biography is pretty much a rite of passage for most female poets. I discovered her work at age 16 and she was the first poet I read seriously. Although she is, of course, a dangerous role model, her strong work ethic and painstaking approach to craft in her early work influenced me, and I marvelled at the emotional explosiveness of her late work. The tension between the public and private self is strong there, and this quality draws many introverts, particularly female introverts; that she dared to let the self of her Ariel poems speak remains a very compelling, inspiring feature of her work. It’s a shame, though inevitable, that her biography and her poetry are so conflated in the public imagination, because the poems are extremely strong, smart yet intuitive, “raw” and “cooked” at the same time. Just when I think I’ve outgrown her, a student chooses to do a presentation or a paper on her work and I’m drawn back in again.
I was present at the dialogic session on Sunday the 10th, however, decided to leave my question to you till the end, and then the end came and there was no more time to be had. So, if I may ask now: I’ve read that once you were influenced by Sylvia Plath. Can you elaborate? Why Sylvia and what was it about her writing or being that was influential? Thanks,
How edifying to meet & read the words of so many caring & sensitive people. So many wonderful interlocutors ,- all with something insightful and life enhancing to say. Barry Mack’s remarks on the afterlife touched home as I was having a discussion about this very subject with my wife this morning as I watched the squrrels foraging for seeds in the deep snow in the yard & expressing my belief & yes my feeling that I could not imagine or concieve that the glimpse we get of love , the greatness of others, the deep yearning for transendence observed in people everywhere will disappear like a dream into a white & eternal blankness, with so left much unsaid & incomplete. Such a denouement would bes like reading a gripping book with the last chapters missisng.One of saddest things I ever saw in Europe were the Roman tomstones engraved with the words: ” Farewell my loved ones Forever” ; a child’s illusion , maybe, but a conviction I hold, which , answers my deepest instincts & desires, makes me a wanabe Christian, & helps me empathize & reach out to others.
Shalom to all . JAMES CLARKE
I was at James Clarke’s reading last Sunday as well, and am grateful to him for signing my copy of his memoir and to Norman Cornett’s platform, both here and in real time, to allow for these dialogic exchanges. I came relatively late in life to the study of English literature and received my MA in it from Concordia in 2008. I went on to post-graduate study in Marriage and Family Therapy, leaving my training in its final year to return to teach English literature, now in the Adult Ed program with the EMSB. I have been interested in representations of subjectivity as they are nurtured or traumatized within our first social system of the family, and was so impressed to read James’ memoir throughout this week, to hear its honesty and feel his resiliency as he had to relive the trauma of those early life relationships by feeling deeply of them again, and with a poet’s grace render them something other than traumatic, perhaps called art. I agree with Stephanie Bolster that the writing of poetry is not solely exercise done to communicate – or activate – change; but rather, it is done to communicate with oneself, to allow the details of otherwise minute experience to become energized and emerge into awareness. If, in fact (as Stephanie suggests) more of us allowed time for this, as a kind of meditation or therapy, the insights of self could be communicated to and honored by our own consciousness and those we are close to. But the recounting of traumatic events is not an opportunity afforded to children in all family systems, nor sadly prized by their parents. But through his memoir James shares with us an excellent model of its benefits, both in person and in writing, and I am so grateful to know him these ways. Thanks to Dr. Cornett for making this diologue possible.
Re: the Transfiguration. The only problem with the apotheosis of justice and light is that one has to die before having the chance to witness the darn thing, if it exists. The “new humanity” is the ideal that some of us strive to achieve while still drawing breath. Progress is incremental and often temporary. The merchants are still ensconced in the Temple of our hearts so the challenge consists in finding non-caloric and non-addictive training methods to improve and sustain the movement towards the light. Poetry, dance, song, theatre, etc. and combinations thereof are strong motivators. And another judge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, is quoted as saying: “Many people die with their music still I them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out. “
In my understanding, the “new humanity” has already begun in Christ. We live this side of the Resurrection. That is what the old nomenclature “Anno Domini” signified and what in its own way CE (Common Era) also points to. The question then is whether or not we are going to part of and particpate in the new Age “while we draw breath” and which has already begin in Christ. if we are not part of it NOW, there is no reason to believe that we will be part of it in “the hereafter”. (This makes life our life now and our decisions now, none trivial because there is continuity and overlap between the present age and the age to come. Of course “progress is incremental and often temporary.” We only catch glimpses of the transfiguring light of God in the present. But it is enough to help us to live in hope rather than succumb to despair. (That’s Calvin’s point!)
“Poetry, dance, song, theatre, etc. and combinations thereof are strong motivators.”
They certainly can be.
“The only problem with the apotheosis of justice and light is that one has to die before having the chance to witness the darn thing, if it exists.”
Yes and no. Our experience in the present counts for something – evebn if it does nto amount to total “verification” . Consider Stephanie Bolster’s sense, even as a child, that she was going to become a writer/poet. This faith. belief, conviction (is it a form of KNOWLEDGE?) is only only publicly confirmed as the story of her life continues. As Judge Clarke told us last week, life is unfair. Much potential is squanded. Therea re many dreams which are not realized – containly not in our present life times. And yet we have within us the sense that, hwoeevr life has turned out that “within us there is more”
Is there not something in our common experience which points us to transcendent completion or fulfillment? If perfect justice is (obviously) not acheived in this world, where does the expectation, hope for such justice come? Is it simply to be dismissed as an illusion? Should we all become sterile “realistists” who accomodate ourselves to the stern and obvious fact of human mortality? It is true that (as we will say on Ash Wednesday) “Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return”. But is that ALL? Is that the end of the story?
I, for one, do not believe it. I don’t believe that time necessarily “runs out” for human beings. On the contrary, what is begun here will come to completion in the hereafter and the inevitable limitations and constraints of our present lives will give way to an unexpressible glory which is represented – especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition – in icons and mosaics of the Transfiguration.
I have just read “Pavilion” and my lover’s response to it some time ago + Bolster’s comments here. Nope – not selfish to “write to communicate with ourselves” because Bolster’s poems for me are a simple remembering of noticing of my life also. Basically, we and our poems and other writings, other arts, are part of our sameness, our flashes of atomic particles that interact with each other, our breath that is exchanged with plants and each other. When I read “Pavilion”, I read myself, as in a mirror, as the girl in the pearl earring looking at me. When I read my lover’s confusion about the poems, which requires a lot of research into wikipedia, I am enlightened as to his confusion about me. Then I know more about men of reason and women who may think and speak poetry. Thanks, Stephanie Bolster! Sophie
As the lover whose response is mentionedby SQuest, here’s my webpage http://tinyurl.com/bjn29nk of illustrated comments on Bolster’s Pavilion poems.
Hilary Mantel’s non-hero says in “Bring Up the Bodies” p.336, we are each responsible for
“the spaces and the silences, the gaps and the erasures, what is missed or misconstrued or simply mistranslated” as news of our doings slips to places where we are a “dark myth, a place where men have their mouths in their bellies and women can fly, or cats rule the commonwealth and men crouch at mouse holes to catch their dinner”. 😉
I recall having spent some time with this webpage some time ago and I may not have said at the time how much I appreciated this honest, detailed, and innovative response to my work. It makes me want to write more poems in response! I beileve that the gaps in a creative work often make it difficult for the reader to enter (the door may be the wrong shape or may not look like a door at all), but if the reader is willing to be patient and to risk being changed by the process of entering the work, s/he finds a way in. I know that I am most profoundly affected by those works of art that require the most of me.
At the risk of incurring kf’s wrath for “churchy cliches”, I send along tomorrow’s sermon – at least in its current form. I trust that my debt to last Sunday’s “dialogic session” is obvious and hope that it may be an acceptable excuse for my presumption. In the Church calendar, tomorrow is the end of Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday. And we are now about to enter the season of Lent.
THE TRANSFIGURATION OF LAW: Exodus 34: 29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2; Luke 9: 28 – 43a.
Last week, Arlette, Anita and I went to hear Justice James Clarke read some of his poetry and to talk about his life as a judge and as self-described “wannabe” Christian. For me, at least, it was an afternoon well spent. I heard a voice ripe with a gentle wisdom, one chastened by hardship but aware of the place that good luck and grace have played in his life – a man humble in the face of life’s limitations and those realities (including perfect justice) that lie beyond us. I came away wanting to read and hear more from him. Stories from his childhood or some of his poems may well turn up in a sermon. I just hope that he is not the last of his kind, and that there are still some judges like him being promoted to the bench.
He got me thinking about law; about where it comes from, its necessity and its limitations. Simply following the law doesn’t always add up to justice.
The standard that the law applies is “reasonable doubt”; is someone guilty of a criminal offence beyond “reasonable doubt”? Quite often, Justice Clarke would go home at the end of the day suspecting that someone in his courtroom had probably been guilty of the offence with which they were charged, but being unable convict them because there was still some measure of reasonable doubt their guilt on the basis of the evidence presented to the court. There are lots of things that human beings simply do not know. Some people are very good liars; other people speak the truth in ways that sound fishy, hesitant and unconvincing. Sometimes you learn things after the trial that you wish you had known when it was time to render judgment.
Or we were told of of a case of an Jamaican elderly couple who had invested their life savings in a boat and a truck. They planned to finance their retirement using them to set up a business back home. Through no fault of their own, the ship on which their good were transported ran into heavy seas. Neither boat nor truck had been securely enough fastened to withstand the storm. When the cargo arrived in Kingston, it was worthless wreckage and it represented their life savings. Their case came before Justice Clarke because, although they had engaged lawyer, their claim for damages exceeded the three month statue of limitations. It had been filed three days late.
He had a sleepless night as he struggled to avoid handing down the verdict, but he could see no way to avoid it. The law, in this case, was clear – even though the result was not right, not fair. They were entitled to no compensation. As a judge, it was his job to administer the law as he receieved it, not to make it up as he went along on the basis of his own sense of right and wrong. Life is unfair, partly because of inecapable limitations in the law.
Although a measure of justice is available in Canadian courts, it is skewed in favour of the wealthy and the powerful. They hire the best lawyers, call in the high-powered experts and and can pay all their witnesses to turn up at court. At best human judgments are one-sided and incomplete. Imperfect. (Many of the Pslams involve an appeal to God from the vagaries and crooked ways of human justice.)
Christians recognize the law as necessary but also limited and provisional, an imperfect instrument which looks forward to the great court of appeal that is the Last Judgment, when the judge will be all knowing, the law not distorted by technicalities, justice will be pefectly tempered with mercy and we will have, in the Son, the best lawyer on our our side.
Where does law come from? The Bible is clear. It comes from God. That is what the light on Moses’s face signifies. Moses has talked with God and his face shines because he has been in the very presence of God at the top of Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commnadments. Law is not something that human beings just make up for themselves. It is not arbitrary. In some countries you are supposed to drive on the right side of the road, on others on the left. But beneath superficial differences there is a consistancy that is tied to the rational order of nature and the God of creation.
Ultimately, law comes from the God who has rightly distinguished between light and darkness, divided good and evil, right from wrong. But law doesn’t come to us directly – but through human intermediaries like Moses or Mohammed. And even Moses has not looked at God face to face (or at least the tradtion is clouded with ambiguity on this point)! His vision of God is real but veiled and indirect – as the law is a real although veiled and imperfect expression of God’s will and purpose. The law as it comes down to human beings from Mount Sinai is not to be mistaken for Godself, or turned into an idol.
Christians affirm that the law is not absolute. It is a guide, an approximation, a teacher, as we strive for the perfect righteousness of Christ. So there is no place in Christian faith for the equivalent of sharia law; no place for chopping off someone’s hand or head and then holding it up in triumph as the absolute expression of the will of Allah. No place for the endless scrutinizing of egg yokes and lettuce in supposed obedience to Torah, as in some versions of Judaism. There is a false legalism, says Jesus, which strains out insects and swallows camels.
In the Transfiguration, we see Jesus as the fulfillment of the law once given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and preached by prophets like Elijah. Jesus sums up that tradition in his own person. All the glimmerings of God justice’s converge and come to completion in Him who is and will always be the world true light and ultimate judge. In his courtroom everything will be taken in to account because he is all-knowing, unconstrained by the “reasonable doubt” that attends all human endevour. In Him, we see what God’s perfect justice looks like. In Him, the Torah, once given to Moses in words on tablets of stone is made flesh, made incarnate, lived and continues as a living presence in our midst.
Our Old Testament lesson points to both the ultimate origin of Torah and the indirectness of God’s self-disclosure in the law. Study of the law, like the study of nature teaches us something of God’s nature and being. And yet there is something lacking which is only revealed in Christ. Only in Him, and not Moses, St. Paul insists, that we see “with unveiled face and behold the glory of the Lord.”
Paul says that some of his contemporaries – in looking to Moses as the ultimate ruler, legislator and prophet – forget what the text in Exodus says about his face being ‘veiled’. There is something that gets in the way of complete sight, of a comprehensive understanding. Moses’ grasp of God’s purposes is limited, incomplete, imperfect. Only in Christ do we see God’s face directly.
That’s what the account of the Transfiguration is telling us. In looking on the face of Jesus, radiant with the divine light, we see the unveiled face of God. In Him the office of ruler (Moses) and prophet (Elijah) are combined and Luke is now going to show us how, in going to the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus becomes the world’s true and ultimate priest.
Jesus is Israel’s prophet, priest and King. In human law courts, the judge who pronounces the just sentence of the law and priest or minister who points to the mercy and reconciliation of God are different people. But in Jesus the roles are combined in the one person, the one Lord in whom all things cohere. He is both Judge and Saviour and the one in whom the light of God’s presence is perfectly revealed and perfectly transparent. It all comes together at the Transfiguration.
Its all here. The whole Trinity is manifest for the strengthening of the faithful says Martin Luther; “Christ, the Son in his glory, the Father in the voice which declares the Son to be Lord and heir, the Holy Spirit in the shining cloud or in the generating of faith.” God is this One who lies mysteriously above and beyond law or any other human appropriation or claim to divine authority. Here is God’s great Yes to the world.
That is why the Transfiguration is the favourite image in the orthodox church, the image in which the good news for the world is summed up. Here is the mosaic in the orthodox monastery of St. Catherine, at the foot of Mount Sinai.
To say that Christ is the light of the world is to make a deep confession of faith about the world about the shape of reality. It is to say that here is the key to human relationship and human destiny. The appropriate response is to fall on our knees like Moses before the burning bush because we find ourselves on holy ground. It is not a confession to be made carelessly, thoughtlessly, casually. “Well, whatever.”
Which takes us back to the question of baptism. What does it mean to be baptized into such a faith? It means, at the very least, that we want to walk in the light and become people of light. To be called children of light. That is what the Christian life is about; becoming more and more filled, more and more transparent to the light of God so that we, like Moses and Jesus, begin to radiate God’s glorious light in a dark world.
That’s why in the olden days, saints were portrayed in paintings with halos. They had begun to reflect the glory of God. John Calvin writes, “During our whole life…God makes His glory to shine on us little by little. Our present knowledge of God,’ he says, ‘is indeed obscure and feeble in comparison with the glorious vision we shall have at Christ’s last appearing.” Our knowledge of God is obscure and feeble; God remains hidden, illusive and always just beyond our grasp but, in prayer, meditation and contemplation, we can glimpse fleetingly something of the glory of God in Christ. Over a lifetime of worship and obedience, of gazing at Christ, we will be transformed and transfigured by God’s Light.’
The law – Torah – which comes from God and reflects God’s radiance on Moses’ face , returns in Christ to the light of perfect completion and perfection. The partial is overcome in the complete. What Paul says about the resurrection is anticipated in this story of the Transfiguration. “The glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.
The vision of transfiguration granted to the disciples anticipates the glory of the resurrected One. Here is the prototype of the new humanity into whom we are summoned by Maker and Redeemer.
“The first man, Adam, was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
That is the contrast set out in the Transfiguration. Part of what it means is that human law, human justice, human courts, will be transfigured by God’s glory into a perfect righteousness and an absolute justice, freed from all of the constraints and limitations and compromises that human justice necessarily involves.
In Exodus, chapter 33, just before the text that Nancy read to us, it says that Moses pitched his tent outside the camp. This tent became the place of meeting with the LORD, the place where a ‘cloud’ descended and the LORD spoke to Him. In the Bible, the cloud descending, the holy cloud, is the Shekinah, the sign of God’s Presence.
This is the story that obviously lies in the background of Peter’s unexpected suggestion (“not knowing what he said”) that he and James and John build three “booths” or “tents” for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. It is a silly suggestion because Jesus doesn’t’ need a booth. It is unnecessary because He is, himself, God’s “tent of meeting.” In the prologue of John’s gospel, we read, ‘And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.’ Jesus is where we encounter God and God dwells in our midst. He is where we are transformed and transfigured by the divine glory and prepared for life in the Kingdom. Or not.
I liked your connection of the notion justice with the Church’s teaching. Many Bible’s verses express negative opinions about going to courts. In this perspective, it should be difficult to find good and consistent with their faith Christians working as judges. It magnified my positive reaction when Justice Clarke mentioned last week about his decision to work as a negotiator between those planning to use courts for solving their problems soon after his wife’s death. I treated it as a genuine reaction and consistent/logical/straightforward spiritual development. It was really great to see someone starting to act as a lawyer (negotiator with rich judge’s experience) focused on reducing the number of court cases by calming down the adversary parties instead of continued work as the judge. However, it lasted only a few months. It would be interesting to think/speculate and finally know why?
Thank you, Sophie, for your engaged response to my work. It’s interesting to me that during the past six months, when I’ve had very little time to write, I have received, it seems, more responses to my work than ever before, and have been increasingly moved by the connections that result. When creating art, it may be that through reaching in, one reaches out, perhaps more effectively than if one began by trying to reach out. There is no desire to impress, only to understand. It means a great deal to me that you and your partner have reached into my work and found something of yourselves there.
On Sunday I was hearing the poems for the first time, and missed the discussion at the beginning… so I was hearing the poem that began and ended with spring imagery (crocuses and hyacinths) with no preamble, and was very moved by it. The ache and longing were very much there in the imagery, without background notes, so it did its work on its own (with the added joy of hearing it read aloud). But I was taken aback by the invocation in the “guilty” poem — so much rhetoric (o my lord, etc) interjecting a kind of falseness into the stunningly brilliant imagery used to connote “reason,” for which the author was so sorry. It stuck with me, my intense dislike of the churchy cliché, until finally it dawned on me that the beauty of the imagery was in fact showing this “reason” to be worth taking another look at. If we use coded language as a mantra to say the thing we’re afraid to say, especially in poetry, it seems to make a nice foggy zone for another kind of truth to sparkle mischievously, eroding our “good intentions.” Or perhaps transforming them into something we need to see. I can’t help but think that whatever god is, it/he/she/they must love that beautiful Reason… Thanks, Justice Clarke, for sharing your thoughts and poems, and for giving me a great conundrum to dwell on this past week.
“Write a poem that scares you” is a suggestion I give to some of my students; I take it from an American poet, though I regret that I can no longer remember who. It seems to me that if the writer isn’t at least somewhat lost in, baffled by, frightened of or shaken by his/her work, then s/he isn’t really writing poetry that matters to him/herself and, thus, to the reader. The deeper we go, the more rewarding the process, ultimately, though when in the dark and confusing middle it can be difficult to believe in that eventual affirmation.
staying against confusion , has been offered as the space of the poetic habitant by justice clarke. the confusion of voices and affects, memories and distortions, reach deeply into our being in the face of catastrophe, trauma and loss. we do not want to consider the Reality of these painful events, yet we must ( a great confusion of memory and meaning, reworked sometimes for a lifetime in forgetting, going on , reflecting or refining) . The search for our humanity in all of this is the center of the poet’s struggle to be authentic and truthful to himself. sharing this journey resonates with all of us if it is indeed a struggle from that edge of ‘confusion’. when we are engaged in active listening of therapy, we often push to remain at the edge of not knowing and bearing this confusion , it is the only way forward in our work as therapists. we are all trying to heal ourselves, but our life and not an object of art, is always dynamic. a poem or a work of art, still resonates with some part of that human journey, helps us to feel less alone, more connected to each other. justice clarke was clear that the loss of his wife triggered inner events that led him to the work of poets , in parallel, his life as father , husband, judge or other parts of himself, came along. poets offer us a lens of honesty and authenticity , a mirror if we chose to look, great poetry at least does rise to that confusing task.
I, too, am honoured to be in such stimulating company in this series. And I certainly agree that most poetry is written out of necessity. The craft of writing — not to mention the challenge of finding an audience for one’s work and (if one even dares to attempt this) drawing together a semblance of income from it — is difficult enough that were there not some urgency behind the process, who would write? It is one thing to write in a flash of inspiration; it is another to revise one’s work until it is the best that it can be (which means, of course, determining what “best” means); and it is another still to continue to write over a period of years, constantly challenging oneself not to write the poems that one already knows how to write. If the writer is continually engaged, the likelihood of the reader’s engagement is greater.
Someone has defined poetry as a stay against confusion. This underlies Stephanie Bolster’s remark that poetry ( or any writing or art ) that is serious and wants to reach out to others , be a bridge to the world for the poet , can’t be just a Sunday pastime ( though there’s nothing wrong with Sunday pastimes) but must be part a lifelong vision and this involves learning the”long and sullen craft” as Dylan Thomas called it. We can express our thoughts and emotions in words for therapy , but if part of our aim is to reach out to others it’s necessary to chose & arrange words in such a way that they form a bridge over which others ( the reader) can walk. Which is not to say that good poetry always has to immediately accessible or that a reader does not have to learn the language of poetry; sometimes the walk is not easy. Most poets I know (I’m sure Stephanie would agree with this ) write because they have to write , not because they’ve decided that being poets gives them some sort of special status. In short, it’s the compulsion or vision ( life or death, to put it dramaically) that drives their art. I’m honored to have had Stephanie Bolster as a dialogic partner in this series.
Dr. Guzder use of the expression ” the wounded healer” is apposite. You have to have been there to even begin to approach , let alone heal, the deeply traumatized. This ability to relate to the deepest wounds of others is often one of the offshoots of having gone through the same or similar experience. I also like her phrase ” the long, walk of wisdom” , because I believe tragedy can sometimes slow us down , give us time to reflect ( I don’t know many who have raced to wisdom) & permits us to glimpse the imponderables, the great mystery of things. Finally I agree with her that art ( poetry , music, painting etc.) is a marriage of craft, feelings, thought & emotions & all have to be present for a work of art to live; put briefly , experience ( or life/thought) plus craft produces enduring art or art that speaks meaningfully to others. The objective corelatives of the vision ( Eliot’s expression , I think ) are the bridge of meaning for others. I found Dr. Guzder’s remarks
to be profound & insightful. James Clarke
I, too, agree about the necessity of balancing the emotional, the intellectual, and the aesthetic in creating a work of art. And I find that the art that moves me most offers these three kinds of appreciation . . . and, in fact, points to the fact that these categories are blurred and provisional.
And, a fourth question (which really isn’t) :in terms of this mini-discussion – are you are male or female? (no reply is necessary)
Sorry for not responding immediately as I went to bed after the second post. My CV briefly from your unusual perspective of looking at people is:
1). I lived in 3 countries (Poland, the US and now in Canada) and traveled to about ten.
2). Married very late with 2 young kids now – I liked to joke when introducing my wife at parties about 20 years ago: “This is my first wife, Maria”, but it was short living as not becoming popular/liked by others to reveal jokily such details (including my wife – haha!).
3). It seems that the third and forth answers are included in the first two.
Now I am waiting for your full psychological characterization of me based on a deep correlation of those answers with my two comments.
Let me only add that my personal hero is Kant, never traveling but thinking so ‘globally’ that I want to dedicate to this nasty modern devil – TOURISM, causing so much waste of energy, pollution and superficial reflections among people or rather compilations of stereotypes instead of ‘traveling’ deeply into own souls.
Now after humbly answering your questions here are my ONLY two requests to you:
1). Estimate briefly from your perspective 3 biggest problems of modern men living in our Western civilization today and
2). Do the same for people living over 200 years ago in the Europe of Kant’s times.
Sorry – three questions.
I do have two quick questions, before signing off (and so I know where to start from tomorrow): how many countries have you travelled to/lived in? And, where are you from, and now live? And are you married, or single? These are not judgemental questions, just so I know who I am speaking with.
Well, it’s late, and I’m wrapping up getting stuff ready for press (such is a publisher’s never-ending journey, and timeless endeavour), so I’ll respond tomorrow. But I thank you – on first read – for your response.
I will agree with you that there are the “haves and have-nots.” Otherwise, we all have the opportunity to use connections to better ourselves/secure for ourselves (and our family!) a better future, especially in the face of hardship… and is that not what one’s life is about: enriching and fulfilling your future by connecting with people who can open doors for you (or those whom you can open doors for); who respect you (you respect them); who appreciate you (you them), and what you (they) are about? – albeit there are those who subvert these “opportunities” for overt personal gain, but that is millennia of human history, still in the making! (and it will not change for a long time – we must find the silver lining when presented, and go with that, for our own personal pursuits.)
BTW – James Clarke’s writing is certainly not a “hobby” but a “personal and professional” craft fine-tuned over many many years.
A second BTW: without the Canadian federal and provincial and local government support systems, Canadian culture would quickly be swallowed by our neighbor (US spelling, ha ha) to the south – we require, in all their formats of support, the assistance – and we are happy to acknowledge it! Be grateful we have such a system in place (one which the US, and most countries do not have – a mechanism to support our culture, and all the outlets, such as Cornett’s wonderful forum and what it represents).
I would be more careful in declaring so loudly that “without the Canadian federal and provincial and local government support systems, Canadian culture would quickly be swallowed by our neighbor (US spelling, ha ha) to the south”. Just in a flashy example/comparison we should not forget that the most despotic monarchs in feudal Europe were the biggest promoters of culture. I see our Canadian governments more as petrified bureaucratic federal/provincial systems that are more corrupted inside. We must admit that in the US big and small taxpayers are treated more equally in comparison to Canada where for example a big producer of whiskey from Montreal was able to take out of the country over $2 billion without paying accumulated taxes after tricky help of our government establishing secretly a special tax regulation only known for a few people. One brave man tried to expose it in our corrupted/political courts and after 3 years the case was dismissed. Similarly it would be impossible in Canada to cause problems for our previous press magnate by a simple share holder exposing certain ‘financial games’ as here are more developed internal links of feeling above functionaries – and this guy was ‘nailed’ in the US.
What quality and level of help/support receive here artists is a joke in comparison to Europe. Yes, Europe as it is too easy/cheap to use very populist by nature the US for comparisons in the field of culture.
BTW, our present relatively good financial position in relation to the world is obtained thanks to natural resources that are exploited similarly as in Africa in 50-60s – no local investments and only exporting raw materials to other countries with minimal care for protecting natural environment. Our artists and intellectual elite are rather silent. They do not rock the boat much by exposing their visionary/intellectual power against such corrupted governmental approach as many of them are kept on life support by governmental agencies.
I do not belong to people who like politicians and lawyers. It sounds simple and trivial, but I am not ashamed. However, after reading Justice Clarke’s pieces I started to think about him as an exception. Judges in my experience represent the typical ‘consumerist elite’ with their never ending talks about travel, good resorts and restaurants. This petty picture was in the last 6 months additionally ‘enriched’ in Canada by news about a judge couple trying to lure a poor client into their sexual games, the murderer of an old wife for starting a new life with his younger secretary and about two drug clients from Quebec denounced by a police informer.
Justice Clarke looks very different with his hobby as a poet and novelist. He ‘looses’ his time for creative writing what means something very different to mastering art of leisure and fulfilling all kind of sensual pleasures. He has chosen to sacrifice his free time for developing his own personality, sensitivity and contribution to human culture that haunts typical consumerists as the hardest work. The most impressing me was his declaration of being Catholic what definitely does not sounds politically correct in his profession when the party line of today is promotion of atheism and erosion of traditions as the family values – eagerly implemented by many judges in their decisions. The question is, why was he tolerated and promoted to such a high and powerful social position?
My personal interpretation is simple. Our political circles that nominate similar to them judges also need a few different individuals like Justice Clarke for improving picture of our judicial system. It reminds me of typical situations from governmental offices where at the lowest paid entry positions (servicing directly the clients) are in over 80% given for people representing visual minorities. The point is that inside those buildings the best paid jobs are occupied in 99% by networked ‘locals’ looking very similar. This somehow ‘explains’ why in the link given by Dr. Cornett was written at the end of a short trailer that this production was sponsored by the Government of Canada.
For more on James Clarke, the book, and his views, please take a look at this article from themontrealreview.com:
Dr. Jaswant Guzder provided the drawing for the text.
I was delighted to be part of the program. The questions were probing and the ambience warm & friendly. Indifference is the worst thing that can happen to a poem. By the variety of reactions to the poems it was clear my words evoked differing & strong emotions. I found that encouraging as it confirms what I’ve always believed: a successful poem should have a life of its own independent of the poet. It is not always possible to draw conclusions from a single poem as to an poet’s permanent state of mind or philosohy, as poetry very often expresses feelings or moods of the moment.Sometimes too a poet speaks vicariously . The lively and often penetrating discussions were stimulating & gave me much to think about. Poetry permits us to lift the veil on our deepest emotions, obsessions and thoughts & Dr. Cornett’s approach through the ” dialogic” format opens the door in a unique way to free ranging, frank and honest exhanges. Once again , my gratitude ( as well as that of my wife’s and daughter who enjoyed the session & people very much ) for a wonderful and unforgettable afternoon .
While I generally agree with these remarks, I’m not certain I agree that indifference is the worst thing that can happen to a poem. Perhaps because I write primarily to communicate with myself rather than to communicate with others — and I realize that this sounds, and in some respects is, selfish — by the time a poem is published or read publicly I’ve already received ample reward simply from the writing process. Although it’s very moving for me when readers engage with my poems, this feels like an extra gift, and I certainly don’t expect all readers to respond. Not all poems for everyone, and it is by freeing myself from concern about the reader that I’m able to figure out what my poems need to be and do. I do, though, appreciate a diversity of responses, and I agree that once a poem is published, it no longer belongs to its writer. I’ve learned a great deal about my work, and myself, from others’ responses to my poems.
From the Publisher of A Kid From Simcoe Street: so wonderful to read such positive and warm responses as to how James’ writing, and presence, have been able to touch those who attended – and I see even those who were not there… That is the power of great writing, and of a story that needs to be told, and shared.
* The book also features two short video links in relation to the author’s introduction, one a reading of his poems, the other on the suicide of his first wife: “The Human Face of Law” at
http://www.tinyurl.com/KidSimcoeStreet-HumanFace, and, “A Suicide Opened the Door” at
* You can view a video trailer for the book at: http://www.tinyurl.com/KidSimcoeStreet-BookTrailer
* And if you’d like to buy the book online, you can order with PayPal direct from the publisher, $22.95, shipping included in North America: http://www.tinyurl.com/Buy-KidSimcoe
* If you’d like any other information, you can contact me with a response to this post.
Michael Callaghan, Publisher, Exile Editions
Je n’ai pas eu le privilège de rencontrer Justice James Clarke. Je ne l’ai vu que rapidement sur un vidéo et j’ai aussi lu un extrait de lui concernant le drame du suicide de sa femme.
Récemment aussi j’ai vu à la télévision un film sur Alexandra David Neel qui a lutté des années durant pour arriver à Lhassa au début du siècle. Les paroles qu’elle a prononcées après coup me paraissent appropriées au thème d’aujourd’hui: “Ce n’est pas d’arriver à Lhassa qui fut important, mais le voyage en tant que tel”.
Justice James Clarke semble être en train de faire un voyage très riche et inspirant.
La grande sauterelle
I’m sorry that I wasn’t part of the conversation in person on Sunday, but I appreciate the opportunity to join it now. When I’m asked why I write poetry, I usually answer that it’s my way of understanding the world. The process of writing is, for me, a process of thinking, feeling, and imagining. I do not write to communicate, and yet, as Dr. Jaswant Guznder’s comment above indicates, the time spent on revision of creative work reflects the seriousness with which it is taken and, implicitly, a desire for the work to be read by others. Regardless of whether the intent of writing is therapeutic, whether it is prompted by a transformative experience (positive or negative) or is the result of a lifelong vocation, writing at once takes us out of and puts us in deeper in touch with ourselves. And, in doing so, it instills in us, as Justice James Clarke’s piece suggests, a deeper understanding of others. Reading does this, too. If all workplaces required everyone to write — about anything — for five minutes at the beginning of the work day or to read a poem, I believe that most people, in even the most tedious jobs, would feel, afterwards, a little more human.
P.P.S. I also read “Swervings of the Heart” after I posted the above comments. I read it this morning as the link is available on the WEB site – but after I posted my comment. It is a very poignant account of Justice Clarke’s great loss and the “bouleversement” that changed his life and that of his children. When I read something like this which contains incredible emotional impact, I need to step back from it and that’s why I didn’t mention it. His second wife told me yesterday that they had been together for four years only, that it took him years to navigate his way through the shock waves of grief. And probably, to finally talk about the traumatic events that had shaped his life as a boy and an adolescent with an abusive babysitter and alcoholic parents. He says so himself. There is enough material here to write a libretto and a musical score for an authentic Canadian opera, or a screenplay for a movie. And I’m not being facetious. Art can provide a balm for the suffering heart and moments of uplifting hope for the despairing, discouraged and, worst of all, the indifferent.
P.S. And as President Obama said in his inaugural speech last month, “some truths are self-evident but they are not self-executing”.
I’ve been an avid reader all my life as I endeavoured to push back the limits of my small town and the walls of the house I lived in as a child and teenager. And so, even before reading Justice Clarke’s memoirs, I was under the impression that I had met a kindred spirit: a person concerned with matters of the heart and soul and a lover of justice and fairness. These last two are not the same, as Justice Clarke’s poetry clearly indicated. And he very clearly and honestly elaborated on this during our dialogue yesterday afternoon. His “gravelly” voice did add an extra distinction to his printed words and he dealt with a difficult topic and passage in his life with the strength of the survivor. The response to his poetry attests to the universality of the themes of love, loss, life and death that he managed to convey with success and humility using strong but spare language and imagery. The added dimension in his case is his unique experience of being a judge. Ordinary people make judgements all the time and, as someone had pointed out bitterly, we are taught that we are the objects of God’s judgement. This is hard to take if one has been taught that God is vengeful and full of wrath. Some of us, through our life’s work, have also had to make judgements about other’s work and performance. However, Justice Clarke’s level of responsibility is a special one in any society and we are fortunate that he is a compassionate man. Compassion cannot be legislated. Empathy and mercy are not codified.
Being present in a room filled with words and varying emotions with respect to Justice Clarke’s words and emotions, reminded me how important it is to exchange in dialogue. In small groups, larger ones, or just between 2, communicating is insightful. On this occasion something was either read or said regarding the act of reading poetry –silent or aloud. Justice Clarke’s reading aloud of his own poetry made the words and emotions come alive in a different way than when the poetry is read silently or aloud to oneself or by someone else. Where and how I place emphasis on certain words or phrases is not the author’s tone or nuance. This changes interpretation. In conclusion, James Clarke has a kind face.
I, too, am grateful for the afternoon, Norman – and want to read and hear more from him. I heard a voice ripe with a gentle wisdom, one chastened by hardship but aware of the place that good luck and grace have played in his life – a man humble in the face of life’s limitations and those realities (including perfect justice) that transcend us all. Hope there are more being promoted to the bench like him.
He struck me as the opposite of a pompous “self-made” man – which is, I guess, what makes him a poet and receptive to what lies beyond. As a preacher, I am always on the scrounge for good illustrations. I expect to find some in ‘The Kid from Simcoe Street’ and his poems.
it was a privilege to hear justice clarke and share in the dialogue on his poetry yesterday. his childhood story was not the theme yesterday, but resonated with me throughout the session with our discussion of suicide. despite encounters with very great personal pain, his life trajectory has been like the story of a wounded healer. our dialogue on the ambiguities of justice, the dark night of our conscience, the need to accept what we do not not know, the realities of struggling with the realities of life’s unfairness, all part of the long walk to wisdom. i found his humility and accessibility very moving. his poems were gifts; one person in the audience mentioned that creative productions are given to us and we are simply conduits for these gifts, but i would say there is also courage in justice clarke’s sharing of these memoirs and poems. poems and paintings do not spring fully formed, they are usually shaped and refined. so yes, they may spring from our mind in some form, but to nurture them to this form, has taken effort and consideration. justice clarke has taken some time to share his deep awareness of privilege, entitlement, as he refined his humanity through is working life. thank you for inviting me.
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