Sunday, July 24, 2016

THE OLD MASTER 


THE OLD
MASTER

tells me:
the man

you meet
coming

down the
mountain

as you
ascend

is you.





Thursday, July 21, 2016

Along Highway 64 


from
NOTEBOOK:NEW MEXICO
January, 2016

Along Highway 64

The big trees say
more water stays.

The winter storm says
this is how it's done.





Sunday, July 17, 2016

Towards Abiquiu 



from
NOTEBOOK: NEW MEXICO
January, 2016

Towards Abiquiu

Empty river
calls out to sky.

Sky comes down
to kiss it.




Thursday, July 14, 2016

A TRINITY 




Sandhill cranes
in the beanfield --

father, son, the
holy mother.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

North from Los Alamos 


from
NOTEBOOK: NEW MEXICO
January, 2016

North from Los Alamos

Heavy sky
settles as if

this land belongs
to it. Only

a lone kestrel
seems to care.




Sunday, July 03, 2016

Downtown Los Alamos 


from
NOTEBOOK: NEW MEXICO
January, 2016

Downtown Los Alamos

Raven's black throat,
his deep call of longing
for what's been lost.

Everything here
depends on us.




OLAV HAUGE'S LUMINOUS SPACES 

SOME NOTES ON OLAV HAUGE'S LUMINOUS SPACES
by Tom Montag

Olav H. Hauge, LUMINOUS SPACES: SELECTED POEMS & JOURNALS. Translated by Olav Grinde. White Pine Press (Buffalo, NY: www.whitepine.org), 2016.


What is this "luminous" of which they speak? Things glow with the this-ness of themselves, and Hauge is a poet who sees that glow and can put some of it into words. Often it is enough to set things next to each other and let them resonate: the hum of one and the hum of the other create something larger than the sum of them. Each thing by itself is something, but together they are something greater: 2 + 2 = 5. That is what is luminous in Hauge's poetry, that 2 + 2 = 5.

~

Hauge, from "Luminous Spaces":

"There shall be
luminous spaces
between all things
until the end of time."

-

Hauge, from "I Have Three Poems":

"A good poem
should smell of tea.
Or of raw earth and freshly split firewood."

-

Hauge, from the journal entries:

"Large windows and grand poems - I like neither.
Rather a small opening in the wall
with wavy green glass."

~

LUMINOUS SPACES contains poetry from all of Hauge's books as well as many uncollected poems, plus a modest selection of entries from his 4000 pages of journals. Journal entries are given chronologically, grouped ahead of the book of poems they preceded. The effect is somewhat like that of the Japanese haibun: while the prose and the poetry do not address each other directly, they do illuminate each other: the same fuse, a shared glow. I find the editorial selection of the journal entries to be especially tasty. Someone read the journals carefully.

~

The Chinese masters, whom Hauge admired, wrote a real landscape, with real named features that were clearly there. Theirs was not a poetry of imagination, but of the world as it reveals itself. To a large extent, that is how Hauge writes. His is a real landscape; his are real things. You don't just make up these poems; they are there for the taking, for those skilled at finding them. "Is that a real poem or did you just make it up?" is a silly question with regard to Hauge's work.

~

Hauge, from the journals:

"To shape a poem is like releasing water into the mouth of a river - it will take the path that is most natural."

"You don't write poetry; poetry writes itself in you."

"Many knew more about art than van Gogh, but his secret was to concentrate on what was real, what was core, and he stayed true unto death."

"However much I read, I seem to appreciate these poems from the Chinese and Japanese most of all."

"Chinese Landscape - Note this: it is always a specific landscape being described, with place names, season, everything voiced precisely. Never do you find generalization that ends in moralizing."

~

Hauge's poems are generally short, seldom over a page long; sometimes two poems will fit the page in this SELECTED. They are brief in the way the poems of the Oriental poets are brief, meaning that something continues to roll out from them as you pause after reading them.

~

Hauge, from the journals:

"A good poem is luminous on the page. Long after you have closed the book and returned it to its shelf, it shines in the lonely darkness."

-

Hauge, from "Truth":

"I have never thought of truth
as a tame bird."

-

Hauge, from "Saw":

"Rrrip,
says the saw.
Fine firewood.
She speaks
her mind, that saw."

~

Hauge brings the landscape alive; he gives voice to ordinary things. You might say he had a farmer's heart, but - if so - he's the kind of farmer who notices that the members of the county council expect to govern but "haven't read a word of Plato."

~

Hauge, from "Kin":

"If you're kin to the birch,
you'll last a long time."

~

Sometimes his poems might seem flat, the way that the old Chinese masters spoke without making more of things than they are. You might wonder if something is lost in the translation. Yet you find obvious poetry in Hauge's prose journal entries, and they are translated too. Sometimes the barnacles clinging to Hauge's Norwegian words don't come over into English, I think, and we feel the loss especially in his poetry. This is not a criticism of the Olav Grinde's translations, but an observation on the nature of language, and especially of poetry. I find the same loss attending the Chinese masters sometimes: you know there's something more there, you just don't know what.

~

Hauge, from the journals:

"You need to practice sorcery if you are going to be a poet - in other words, to use words and phrases for their sound anbd mystery, without them necessarily having a national meaning. Black magic, you say; perhaps so, but this is a great art. You need to master sorcery."

"Play the instrument you have. Nobody says you have a Stradivarius at hand."

"In the beginning, my poems resembled the gardens we learned to draw in gardening school. Straight paths, straight flowerbeds, square lawns, well-pruned trees and bushes. Slate and gravel. Now, however, I let nature and function form my garden. I keep the paths I walk open. Clover and plantain grow in the yard, wildflowers and grass grow by the walls. A large patch of white yarrow has found a place by the steps; now they're flowering beautifully. That's how poems should be."

-

Hauge, "No Cause for Worry":

"Mount Vassfjoro
has donned sackcloth and ashes
and pulled down its hood.
The other mountains bathe
in the evening sun; there's
no cause for worry.
Storms over the North Sea,
says the weather forecast."

~

In 2008, Robert Bly and Robert Hedin published their translations of Hauge's "selected and last poems" in a bilingual edition under the title THE DREAM WE CARRY, from Copper Canyon Press (www.coppercanyonpress.org). The poems and journal entries in LUMINOUS SPACES come to nearly 400 pages. THE DREAM WE CARRY is 125 pages total, only half that in translation, which was a modest but intriguing introduction to the poet, yet it led me to the much roomier LUMINOUS SPACES. It would be foolish to disparage the work of such notable poet-translators as Bly and Hedin, and I wouldn't want to; yet I must also give credit to Olav Grinde for the fine job he has done. Perhaps it is enough to put a poem from one volume side by side with the same poem from the other volume.

The Hedin translation of Hauge's "The Old Poet Tries His Hand at Being a Modernist":

He, too, wanted to try
these new stilts.
He's gotten himself up,
and strides carefully like a stork.
Strange, how farsighted he is.
He can even count his neighbor's sheep."

-

The Grinde translation of "Old Poet Tries His Hand as a Modernist":

"He too was determined to try
these new stilts.
He's hoisted himself up,
strides warily as a stork.
Amazing how far-sighted he is.
He can even count his neighbor's sheep."

~

Hauge worked a small orchard he inherited, caring for his trees, picking and packing apples and cherries, more husbandman than poet on most days. Like Lorine Niedecker, he lived among the ordinary folk and their ordinary tasks. Not as unnoticed as Niedecker was during her lifetime, still Hauge kept his head down, refusing "at once" to go to Oslo to accept the Norwegian Literary Critics Association Award for 1961. I feel a special kind of loneliness looking at the Wisconsin Literary Map - which is supposed to mark locations associated with Wisconsin writers - and seeing that the poet's house in Fairwater is not on it. If the task of the poet is self-promotion, obviously I'm a failure. I think Hauge was a failure in the same sense. Shouldn't the poetry itself be enough? I don't mean to make this about me, but in some ways Ulvik is Fairwater, and Fairwater is Niedecker's Fort Atkinson. In these places, poetry is a lonely profession.

~

Hauge spent a total of five years in a mental asylum, often at about five year intervals, corresponding to publication of his books of poetry. He chose not to say much in his journal entries about his mental illness or his experiences while institutionalized, except to praise a few of his fellow patients, and sometimes to speak about the beauty of what he saw while he was delusional.

~

Hauge, from the journals:

"I happen to believe that what a psychiatrist may call 'mental illness' is often the highest order of mental health. But one had better keep such thoughts to oneself."

Hauge, "In Memory of Old Vamrak":

"Every morning he stood up in his cell and sang.
They could have shut him up in an empty barrel,
he still would have praised God through the cork-hole."

~

Hauge indicates he had an essentially cheerful nature. I have struggled much of my life with depression. Yet I see the same darkness in Hauge's world that I've encountered in my own life. A kind of loneliness. The weight of loss. We've both been neglected in similar ways. I don't think we necessarily must suffer in order to write poetry, but sometimes we do suffer, and sometimes we make poetry of our lives.

~

As poets we see what others do not see, or do not admit to seeing. How far out on the bell curve can we go before they lock us up? Hauge found out. Others call what he experienced "mental illness." Hauge himself thought he was perhaps seeing something beyond, something on the other side, and he considered it something of a gift. He greatly admired some of his fellow patients (such as Old Vamrak, above), at least until he saw them defeated by electro-shock or medication, ending as shells of their former vibrant selves.

~

Hauge, from the journals:

"Ecstatic states of terrifying intensity can often be of a nature where others think you have lost your mind. And afterwards there are often periods of powerlessness, confusion and lack of awareness."

~

The work of Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker is even more condensed than Hauge's is, I'd say, and there is less of God in her work. Both Niedecker and Hauge have learned from the Chinese and Japanese masters. Niedecker wants to make a poem that leaps; Hauge is content with his plain-style flatness. Solitude is essential for both poets; solitude, and its companion, loneliness. Over a cup of tea in Niedecker's cabin on the Rock River or in Hauge's farmhouse at Ulvik, I think these two poets would have much to share, and once you got them started - why, there'd be no end to it.

~

Solitude is a blessing; loneliness is the curse which sometimes accompanies it. One can be lonely in solitude; one can be lonely in a busy household. Solitude is something we choose; loneliness seems imposed. Loneliness threads through many of Hauge's poems, even as he celebrates solitude.

~

Hauge, from "This Is Not the Kingdom of the Poor":

"This is not the kingdom of the poor
nor a house of grief,
but take your hat off
when you enter."

~

Hauge, from the journals:

"If you write for others, your writings all too easily become ordinary."

"I am feeling emptier than I have for a long time. Neither a thought nor a poem occurs to me. Abandoned."

"It's best when you can live anonymously and unnoticed. Then you're left in peace and can do what you wish, perhaps even making poems and enjoying it."

"It's unusual for me to have someone to exchange ideas with, someone I can trust and who has the heart to embrace them, to understand. Certainly I have known people, written letters, spoken with people. But was there anyone with whom I could truly trust? No, not until now, Bodil."

"While we are young, solitude can be a challenge, especially one's longing for women. But as you get to be older, you appreciate solitude more. You learn to savor it like an expensive wine. You gradually realize what a treasured thing it is! And precious! Solitude is the dearest of all luxuries. And the cheapest, like water and clean air. Still. While it lasts."

"To only listen to your own voice, your own demands, your own feelings, that's daring for a poet. He may be considered an eccentric, a hermit."

~

Hauge spent his life intensely observing the world around him. This was not a life wasted. It never is. Those of us who must observe intensely do see the beauty of the world, yet the very act of paying attention makes the world beautiful, whether we ever write about it or not. Yes, you are welcome. In the same way the silence of the Cistercian monks makes the world a better place, Hauge's poetry has made the world better.

~

Hauge, from the journals:

"That's right, listen for the poetry; that's exactly what you should be doing. It may be found in many places."

~

Hauge, from "The Sawbuck":

"God knows what
the night tells him,
God knows
what he's pondering
out under the stars."

~

A poem such as Hauge's "I Stand Here, You See" reminds me of the work of the American poet Alfred Starr Hamilton in A DARK DREAMBOX OF ANOTHER KIND. I don't know what more to say about the similarity except that Hauge and Hamilton seem to have inhabited similar places where there is a common language spoken.

"I stand here, you see.
I stood here last year too, you see.
I'll keep standing here, you see.
I'll take it, you see.
You know nothing, you see.
You just got here, you see.
How long shall we stand here?
We have to eat, you see.
I stand when I eat too, you see.
And throw my bowl against the wall.
We have to rest, you see.
We have to sleep, you see.
We have to piss and shit too, you see.
How long shall we stand here?
I stand here, you see.
I'll take it, you see.
I'm going to stand here, you see."

Compare that to Hamilton's "Oh Give Us the Storm":

"Oh, give us back our thunder
Oh, give us a beach that has been lashed
By rain and quick gusts of salt winds
Oh, give us the storm!
But, Oh give us again the sailor
Who'll wait for the turn of the ocean tides
Oh, give us an ocean that is full of stars
Oh, give us time, nor change of winds,
And save us the sailor past Little Rock
Who'll sail homeward with the change of one tide
Oh, give us ever again
A sledge hammer that has been thrown to the moon"

~

Things set together which resonate. 2 + 2 = 5. The poem "Cold Day" illustrates what Hauge has been attempting, I think:

"The sun squints
behind the frozen
mountain range.
The mercury
crawls lower
and lower
- our warmth
curls up
in a tiny
pocket.
I burn firewood sparingly,
keep my verse
short."

~

If I were to select one poem that could stand in as a metaphor for Hauge's life and work, which would it be? It would be "Lone Pine," I think:

"Plenty of space, here you were able
to reach high and spread your crown
wide.

But you'll stand alone.
When the storms come, you have
no one to lean on."

~

Hauge, from "When It Really Counts":

"When it really counts, so little is needed
and your heart has always had this knowledge.

In Egypt the god of wisdom
had the head of an ape."

~

Hauge, "It Is That Dream":

"It is the dream we carry
that something wonderful will happen,
that it must happen -
that time will open,
that our hearts may open,
that doors shall open,
and the mountain shall open
that springs will gush forth -
that our dream will open,
and that one morning we'll glide
into a cove we didn't know."





Thursday, June 30, 2016

East of Santa Fe 


from
NOTEBOOK: NEW MEXICO
January, 2016

Along I-25, East of Santa Fe

Where water, trees,
naked for winter,

leaning out of darkness,
waiting for the light.




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