Agonistes Series

Please post your reflections for the ‘dialogic’ seminars of the Agonistes series here.

Warning: Spoiler alert
If you’re not taking part in the seminar the reflections below will probably give the story away.

13 Responses to Agonistes Series

  1. ABC says:

    Reflexions on Dr John Asfour poem in Blindfold beginning with “My father visits”
    word: death
    sentence: Cracks appearing and new or changed things – the time passing since the death of his father
    paragraph: So much to visualise; the poem is lush and alive just like the author’s father on that Sunday in June. Imagining that the father thinks you’ve forgotten him must be powerful. Reminds me on the poem in the sentimentalists, remember me when I am dead, simplify me when I am dead. The simplifications seem to reappear, this time all in one afternoon: interests in coffee, politics, tomato plants etc.
    stream: I’m always struck that even though there is an everyday nature to the language the strength of imagery for me is remarkable.

  2. ABC says:

    Reflexions on Dr John Asfour poem in Blindfold beginning with “I can”
    word: murder
    sentence: Children who have been caught up in horrific murders, and their faces appearing in the newspaper.
    paragraph: Quite a sad poem, with the strong sentimentality of the children’s faces in the newspaper. It seems quite specific to a war torn or crime ridden country and so is hard to place exactly. Is this the writer’s home country or city. The daily coming to terms with violent crimes and lives lost. I’m not sure what frame of mind you need to assume to cope in such circumstances, where your immediate world has no day to day stability. If you were worried about being attacted as soon as you left your house. What a disgusting prospect. I could do on.
    stream: Oh, but this isn’t local, the writers is concerned about the whole world. I’m not sure you could keep up with the news of every violent act which ever takes place. You’d probably get very depressed if you’d try to. I hope this poem is burred within a poem of love or hope. This alone is dark and worrying.

  3. ABC says:

    Reflexions on Dr John Asfour poem in Blindfold beginning with “Each dying day”
    Word: Decide
    Sentence: This is long and there is so much to it to reflect on
    Paragraph: This is powerfully emotive and reads so realistically and heartfelt. I can relate to it, but don’t get lost in it; I get visions of parents, girlfriends, grandmothers, all with different stories, all who have lost people at different times. They become used to the company of a partner, of not knowing how to cope when that changes dramatically and suddenly. Surely only time can fill the void. How do we prepare ourselves for such an event? This is at the core of the human experience and we would all perhaps prefer to skip it entirely.
    Stream: This is complicated, there is a background story that I’m not privy to. The writer is confused, playing over what happened, trying to make sense of past, present and future. The biggest of pressures, where time slows to a drip – drop – drip – drop, thoughts become tangesntial and chaotic. This poem superbly captures this moment.

  4. ABC says:

    Reflexions on Dr John Asfour poem in Blindfold beginning with “Your body”
    one word: Passion
    one sentence: Passionate, sensuous and raw – it’s quite beautiful.
    paragraph: It’s hard to add more words. This strikes me as a great articulation of these thoughts and I don’t want to add. There is a constant warm feeling, a presence of another through memories and dreams.
    Stream: Just great. I have nothing to add. I could read this a million times.

  5. Blur says:

    Reflections on Dr. John Asfour’s poem in “Blindfold” beginning “I can imagine your faces” – June 5/2011 Blur

    One word: brutality

    One sentence: The death of children is recurrently shocking, always half cocked, many times the puzzle that can’t be plainly, honestly, understandably resolved…

    One paragraph: You have the smiles, razor sharp around the edges, soft as tongues melting in their fullness. Teeth & flesh, crescent moons scrabbled, love of life irrefutable – you have the love uprooted, cut down, stretched painfully. This is how it gets too hard to acknowledge, the young so vulnerable, pining, confident, perplexed. This is everything about us that doesn’t pan out, our children reaping the sins of their elders. Ah sweet Mary, Jane, Frank, John – sweet land of never never names – this is all the equations we are missing viable answers to, all our hope on a torture wheel unyielding, all our sense of justice questioned with impossible concussion directing…

    Stream of Consciousness: Violence, violence against children – head-banging, heads shaking – violence & what do we do with what never will add up? I take you out by the river to see if we can clear out our heads, our hearts, our souls – emphatically, just at this bloody moment it’s a no go. & then we break down, & then we break out, & the thought of victimizing ignites anger. Only momentarily, though – it’s as if as far as we’re willing to look hard is a way out of blaming because all our empathy suddenly strengthens: thousands of us victims, children who escaped singing in the key of A minor, A minor a sloughing off of guilt, a mourning of wrong doing, life uplifting among the tragically lost, hope just to the left of everything sacred. Those kids, their lessons ended with a shot – here you go, too difficult to accept, too important by chance to forget just because. We will not forget, we will defy hatred, the next place we land a place to cradle love…

    Say the names: “Seeing” – because the seeing at issue here is so important yet distressingly fragile – what’s ‘seen’ whether actually or metaphorically is destined to fade away in spite of intention, the deaths so many piling up & fading, the hope of remembrance slant hope, time & how mortality insures disappearance, love & maybe it’s love that endures, the recollection tempered by heartfelt propriety…

  6. Blur says:

    The dear John letters (for J.F. & J.A.)

    “…when you turned away
    I, unable to invite and renew kisses,
    heard the note of my failure.”
    John Asfour


    “Love is a mirror that hides no flaws.”
    John Amen

    Do you remember when I was the holy of your audience
    squatting for hours on end in the motley crowd
    babies crying, lovely women swooning
    & me keeping an eye on
    your stutter reveal –
    do you remember it was me
    had you whole, welcomed & diced?

    I am the potted plant you decided was excess,
    the girl in tight jeans & roomy sweater toppled,
    a thought you barely had time for giving credence to,
    small room lost in the panoramic scheme of things.
    Do you remember asking me why & what for
    on the eve of realizing I was everything I said I was –
    even more so?

    Dear John it’s 3 in the morning,
    I see I’ve drawn the blind,
    under my eyelids there’s all these lost souls
    remembering love is serve & volley.
    You’re not here, you’re never here –
    keeps me honest, asymmetrical, hollering.
    That’s it – that’s the light penetrating the pall of the room…


    “What is it about beauty that lands me in the throat of grief?”
    John Amen

    Dear John I’ve fallen out of my own orbit
    & the sky has skinned itself, clouds at war
    with love preening like a picture in a locket,
    humming posture & sedentary hope –
    dear John able is as able does,
    hope gives torrents of favour,
    life allows.

    Was that beauty I embraced
    or only a story of fever pulsing?
    Dear John all your footwork coming to a head
    & me inscribing blessings after the fact.
    We could tell each other it’s all right
    knowing it isn’t – land
    & fall short of recovery – touché.

    It’s much less about turning away than facing up.
    Dear John I’m on the brink of inevitability,
    this is where all the finest themes
    hone their raw skills. Now that you’re
    a rose in my teeth wilting, calm
    evacuation of my burning building –
    now I’m all that too, & friable…


    “Do not leave me in this wilderness!
    Or, if you do, pay me to stay behind.”
    John Ashbery

    How high the house that John built stands –
    can’t reach every poignant detail, posters
    of Hiroshima on the walls, bowl
    of origami cranes by the window,
    faint light of the antique radio playing Roy Orbison –
    can’t reach but not for lack of trying
    as I count out the ways we do & don’t
    belong here, the ghostly flicker of cheap tea candles
    handsomely tattooing
    a chair, an arm, a mood –

    how deep in the cellar Reason hides
    trying on chaotic jocular for size,
    air trapped in its own throb,
    psyche cadaver rolled up in a Persian rug,
    our first words exchanged rattling the radiator,
    make-shift sleeping space cold & snow-blind,
    sure ground, shifting ground, tumblers –
    how Folly, the fiddler, keeps sarcastic time
    in the moment I’ve realized
    no stable leaving exists.

    Dear John something of a scandal
    has swept up unrepentant residual flak,
    released it in the form of cool ash onto the front lawn,
    sown seeds of nostalgia, thought better of that, screamed
    bloody murder yet remained unheard –
    dear John the tirades of our ephemeral hopes
    gone on a bender don’t
    bleed the way they used to, something
    I appreciate remembering how you had
    neither coinage nor humility enough
    to take the ineffable
    to gutsy heart…



    “The body’s discomfiture, bodies of moonlit beggars,
    sex in all its strangeness: Everything conspires
    to hide the mess of inner living, raze
    the skyscraper of inching desire.”
    John Ashbery

    Tinderbox of virtues buried beneath the leafless willow – explosion
    to follow, the invisible voluminous with dry core, small
    ally of a salted heart, a windy compulsion, dreams
    stilled by onslaught of tired saying, wide love
    on the lam again.

    This morning I reveal what I am
    to what I’m not, make the necessary introductions,
    offer to translate the fine print of misapprehension,
    discover yet again the obvious – there is no translation for
    wired hope, dead star, frippery: touché.

    At the new birdfeeder first bird arrives, at least
    the first I`ve seen, a tiny blithe of a creature hovering
    for seeds, a mini pause of intention
    I drink in along with coffee & lost concentration
    on dog-eared book in hand.

    I think of waking you, of watching you sleep,
    of making love all day long as though
    we’re twenty again, wet behind the ears,
    sinuous as vivacious mood swings, our bodies speaking
    in the tongues of neither god nor devil arriving –

    think how the day will be all arms & legs
    & the little pulse in departed bird`s breast
    off to sing his mating song, & the glimmer
    in your fine open gaze
    rivering our shared slippage, live albatross, joined hands
    on the cusp of springtime feral…


    “The brain is a messenger with blood on his hands.”
    John Amen

    Dear John flicking stones over river left to right,
    a hand glider sampling palpable direction
    & how it’s come to this, looking
    to others for balance – dear John
    in plasticity pushing for commitment:
    well maybe tethering baloonish breath
    to mysteries & dead ringers is
    long on sticking, short on arrival –
    maybe dear John is bereft of a synonym
    that could lead to keeping
    comfortable beat?

    I make of how I speak of you
    a cozy igloo, only on the upside
    of signals like corrections
    go baffled forward.
    I tell a mess of homage
    to gods I don’t witness for
    hoping generic wrath
    keeps to unloaded highways –
    dear John this & everything
    more – mannerisms, homilies, health –
    handcuffed anomalies?

    I’m tracking a deer to the edge
    of the campground, holding
    my morning cup of dark coffee
    close to the chest whispering.
    You once again allot like dust
    like harmlessness like treason –
    dear John am I sideways or stung?
    The next cull de sac is where I see you
    running on empty, stepping flat-footed
    between the gap & the gape
    that’s been us slipping haywire –
    been the black thumb in the pudding, puddle
    of marked…

  7. Blur says:

    Reflections on Dr. John Asfour’s poem in “Blindfold” beginning “Each dying day” – June 3/2011 Blur

    First word – mourning

    First sentence – I don’t want to dwell on what I have lost through the irrevocable “no” longer than it takes to understand that it had to do with perishable “us & them”, “you & I”, “myself & me”, “yourself & you”…

    First paragraph – The “no” may come at the most expected, the least expected of moments, situations. Love in terms of physicality has a body, a memory of touch, of being touched. What about the rest of love, from raucous to gentleness to anger to hope – what about the emotional & mental aspects. Something about this piece suggests love is anchored steadfast in the physical & pretty much only there. I say this because the beloved here seems devoid of any qualities beyond the body. Is she a dreamer? Does she prefer coffee over tea? What’s her favourite colour? Etc… I am probably asking the wrong questions, but I feel the need to ask them. The lover here is engaged in a meditation on permanent absence, a kind of death as he calls it. That is all well & good, something we go through with the loss of a lover. I wish I had just a few little details about the beloved beyond that she is a body…

    Stream of Consciousness – Losing the loved one’s love makes it hard to breath, turns a lover into an emotional cripple often enough, teaches the sting of dependency thwarted, brings the house of sensuality down on one’s head. I remember losing a beloved, as much through my own fault as the beloved’s. That was in the days I learned thriving in love included almost failing, & this through the fault of nobody. The lover & the beloved create a world in which what is delicate can take root confidently, at least in my experience. See the tender man, lovely woman, the cocoon of feeling colouring the cheeks. Losing the beloved leeches colour out of the landscape, can perpetuate myriads of wounding, make leaning walls of confidence tumble, bloody the finger tips, unleash bitterness. I think of love as a kind of balm, however difficult said love is – I hope the death of love doesn’t erase prior beauty…

    Say the names – “No” – this little word sums up what’s at issue in this poem for me, no way around it…

  8. Shape says:

    Reflexions on Dr John Asfour poem in Blindfold beginning with “My father visits”

    One word: guilt
    One sentence: Even in memory, it is the criticism that remains.
    One paragraph: this is an exercise in guilt. But what good would guilt be if it was not nourished by love? The children’s love, the love of the father touching his son’s face. But must we remain in absolute devotion? When is it ok to let go of the dead?
    Stream: the question of the remaining duty to care for the dead is one that puzzles me. The dead are dead. They do not know what we do, or think. They are not helped by us. They are not hindered. We can do nothing for them and they can do nothing for us.

  9. Shape says:

    Reflexions on Dr John Asfour poem in Blindfold beginning with “Your body”

    One word: inhabited
    One sentence: What can be a poem almost done?
    One paragraph: I seem to be full of questions when I read this poetry as if something contravened to my way of approaching life. But the person is a body dreamed up; this body is a mind, in a mind, from a mind.
    Stream: we are of course nothing but bodies, but this body holds the mysterious brain that holds the body, and transforms it into a universe. An invading universe that takes possession of the brain…

  10. Shape says:

    Reflexions on Dr John Asfour poem in Blindfold beginning with “Each dying day”

    (each dying day)

    One word: unlove
    One sentence: It is a bit odd that a no to physical love, or I assume it, means the end, the death of a relationship.
    One paragraph: A last bitterness. Not the first. Was it really a fight? Is it unavoidable? Do we all eventually fail each other through lack of desire? How could we say there is death when it lives on, in our brooding?
    Stream: No is invokes every daily, but we have to turn off the music to hear it. Maybe. Do we not exaggerate our own stories? No need for the neighbors. The images are sad, leaving th reader with a sense of powerlessness and resignation

  11. Blur says:

    Reflections on Dr. John Asfour’s poem in “Blindfold” beginning “My father visits” – May 31 – Blur

    First Word – seminal

    First sentence – In many lives fathers loom large in the ominously subtlest of ways, suggest without wholly revealing, touch but it may be self-indulgent, expect & are puzzled by their children, even as their children are puzzled by them…

    First paragraph – This was somehow familiar & puzzling all at once, specifically regarding the ending. Family, isn’t it that Russian author Tolstoy who said that happy families have no stories…The family here appear to act towards each other at slightly crossed purposes, at least where the patriarch is concerned. The way the patriarch/grandfather is delineated one gets a sense that he is interested in practical details, less so in pleasures or emotions. This comes through via the selected detail, pleasure in the signature of a boy’s Game Boy & a daughter’s new cat, practicality (& indirectly criticism) in the grandfather’s questions as well as conversational subjects. One gets the sense that the speaker is revealing nothing beyond bald statements as far as the father goes – that is, to get to the heart of the matter you’d need either to decide for yourself based on details afforded what kind of man the grandfather is, or else query the narrator himself. The details do speak significantly, just not in a direct way.

    Stream of Consciousness – Families always reading each other between the lines – fathers & their ostensible powers, grown kids with kids of their own recognizing so much of themselves in the mothers & fathers & yet not so – veiled criticisms that bite at the extremities – can we love someone who speaks a different emotional language? Well naturally, but then again, then again – the house with its cracks & all you can do is feel the scrutiny as judgement – mothers, where are they in this book? I’ve yet to read enough to know if there are mother poems – this is the first except we’ve been given that includes a female, a girl child with her new cat – I had a cat young – Bijoux was her saccharine name – loved Bijoux, protected her from the rough play of boys – families & rough play – love is a first & second & third helping of shimmering guilt often enough in the pit of the familial – also first & second & third helpings of tenderness – the practical can drain yet ironically is necessity if you’re going to get through – a fine ingenuous piece of wisdom simple as a child’s nursery rhyme coming up to bite you in the back of the heals – prayers, how do they fit in as you sort through treasures & debris both – treasures & debris on a muggy day in a life, hanging out the family’s unseemly laundry, cottons & silk & denim & wool – the grandfather in that poem missing the apple trees – what does that say – you could see the guy in an entirely different way without much difficulty – I had one of those gentle fathers, lucky me, in yet not such a gentle mother – where are the women in these poems – am I going to find them once I get the book? Or is even thinking about them wrongheaded due to the needs of this memoir…

    Say the names – “On the subject of hegemony” – I got the sense that hegemony in this family was anything but clear, that the narrator was talking of being-with-others (in this case the father) more than being-in-the-world because in this case that was the overpowering situation. It is a kind of ironic title to me, anchored in the subtle suggestion of the details re the grandfather given…

  12. Blur says:

    Reflections on Dr. John Asfour’s poem beginning “Your body” – May 31 – Blur

    First word: homage

    First sentence: It feels like a sanctioning of wondrous difficulty, this “poem almost done”, the kind of difficulty that reworks, re-strengthens, rewards – or almost – & that it has to do with the sense of flesh becoming what one holds to while insisting on sensory deprivation brings to mind learning to morph the physical to the spiritual, without losing the essence of the physical – morph the possibility to the promise.

    First Paragraph – Lovers take many side roads & main roads, sink into the ground via travelling footsteps, hold some sense of the given fiercely, learn intrusion is a chance for thickening, trail behind them cartloads of desire. That the beloved can either stay or depart yet both ways remain intruder says something profound about the nature of love, physical as well as emotional love. So many seeds, how many spilled in a pile of what has failed, how much the mutative governing the steadfast, how simple an open palm held up open. Secrets are dangerous, secrets are blessed, & thinking on tallying we do well to keep the heart fresh, the soul honest, the imagination timely & alive…

    Stream of consciousness: Because desire is light well shadowed, because I lost you abandoning shadow, my body still speaks of what it can’t put to rest, shadows looming everywhere. A healthier problematic would see me making peace with the impossible, if only at later luminous stages of the night. I like to walk the shoreline thinking of the nothing I can entertain only there, knowing that it has to do with what I might dream of not ready, really, to fall under any spell – under any tidal under pull as strange blankness settles in, my thought of you, a precious thought, ungovernable on dim nights, anxious mornings after. There are footprints everywhere I go belonging to neither you nor me, yet somehow tracing out our trajectories over decades – I’m making this up, it’s one way I can get to the mysterious heart of the matter, finding me & you where we’ve never actually been until I claim we have – I’m drawing this out, how your singularity is at issue in where I go ready to once again recognize nothing, abandon everything, for the sheer fractious joy of doing so. All I am alluding to now was a long time ago, before I’d learned that this too would pass. If this all sounds particularly sad, well it is. Nevertheless it is lovely & substantive & fragile enough to disappear leaving no home address. I want to sing what I know of this in the forest where the tree falls & no one hears it – that seems a fine way to pay homage, alone, listening…

    Say the names: “The sentient coming to poem” – such a title seems to me to hinge the disparate reflections here, how there is acute awareness shaping understanding of what I take to be the missing beloved discussed & talked to & recognized in flesh as well as spirit, or perhaps more accurately, spirit/flesh…

  13. Blur says:

    Dear widower uncle

    “My uncle cooked
    his own meals,
    ironed his days
    and polished his own shoes.
    We found him
    sprawled on the bathroom floor
    his bitterness
    three days ripened by eternity.”
    Dr. John Asfour

    See what we’re left with
    a storm before a calm
    rant without rage & yet raging
    how we turn to incite after enticing –
    see the little man belittled
    by his own lack of confidence,
    everything even-handed over-measured.
    Seeking the plausible is not necessarily
    the best way to get to the heart of things.
    See the thin man in shadow disconnecting.
    Now comes a moment to stumble through his demeanour,
    relish the way we empathize despite the way we darkly suggest,
    move into recognizing just barely our own selves,
    give alms to the moment, moments to the history –
    see how we don’t lack breath for ironic pronouncements.
    Uncle is dead – long live uncle –
    somewhere in this observing
    is a kind of broken lens –
    the push-you-pull-me radically deaf,
    godhead looking down staying
    numbly mum, love
    & all the rest of it
    another way
    to try…

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