The Earth is Shifting On Its Axis

Dedicated to Kaarina Wilson. I wish I’d understood what you said then, Ma Petite Rouge. Or maybe, I always did. 

The earth is shifting on its axis, where one eye meets the earth, and the other the sea,
and all war nests are torn apart, fought for, to release the cackling, to let it fly free,
leaving runes, and raspberries to lie there, and grow for all eternity.

The earth is shifting on its axis, where the fox reminds you that you’re responsible, forever, for what you have tamed,
where Wonderland grows again, in outside crawls where unbirthday parties have been named,
and you get become and be yourself, and never again be blamed.

The earth is shifting on its axis, in the place where Time goes to die,
between the looking glasses where twins and doppelgangers hide in shiny corners to spy.
Here, in the centre, you know that all of them are true, and encroaching. None of them are a lie.

The earth is shifting on its axis, tilting inexorably to the end of this rhyme,
like the days of Forbidden, independent in the city, in the heat of our prime
I wish, oh I wish, you were still here, before the centre, asking me if it can still be Bed Time.

The earth is shifting on its axis, in the kaleidoscope you find the sisu — the will of the Finn — you follow it, stubborn, down a cinematic path, with a determined warrior grin.
Before the darkness, you laugh and you shout your parting words, your punctuation. “I win!”

The earth is shifting on its axis, after pointing the way that starry night, in the snow, what you already see,
beyond it you have traveled now, left its meandering ways, its pains, its aggravations, its reality.
The only one left to see the earth shift on its axis now, of the two of us, is me.

Hymn to Nautilae

Written and performed by my bard during our D&D Fifth Edition Session. 

If you listen to the chiming laugh of a brook in the wood, 
and follow where the Moon-drake winds,
you will find a cavern, and an ancient bridge, 
with a rock visited by many kinds.

Elves and Minotaurs, Satyrs and Beastmen, 
and all manner of other fey,
they’ve come, like you, to the shimmering disc above, 
where her calm waters hold sway. 

There, she comes to you, smooth and cool,
from an offering dropped into her pool.
Silver given to a silvery sheen,
the Faerie comes with intention keen,
her magic strong enough to let her glean
your wishes that are yet to be seen. 

She’s like a Nereid, a Nymph, a watery Queen,
the finest that you’ve ever seen. 
Beautiful lady, ending with a tail,
to this vision, this humble bard sings this modest hail.

Her silken hair from her head crests out in waves,
like the glimmering veins of the world hidden in secret caves.
Rocks crumble, fires die, and winds move on,
but water, Terra-life’s blood moving, is never gone.

If you are wise, and your manners are fine,
with silver presented she may grant you a blessing undine. 
For with her touch, an axe might shine,
a staff made clear of evil’s brine, 
a hallowed bow’s soul no longer confined, 
each item freed from age or taint or temporal decline.

Yet above all, if you believe only one word of mine,
the Faerie holds the guidance of the watery line.
She offers a map under temples long grass,
sunken cities that mortals can no longer pass, 
traveling down roots where no stories tell,
or to a place of lost souls through an ancient well
where hope, thought long gone, may still yet dwell. 

Such are the mysteries you might find, where rock and waters play,
if you pay homage to the underlake of night and day,
for silver to a silvered tongue is yet the best way,
to court the favour of the Good Queen, Nautilae. 

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2019.

Observations of a Part-Time Poet

Believe it or not, I don’t make poetry often. In fact, poems like Berserker and Necromancer usually come very rarely to me and it is even less often these days that I will post them up publicly for other people to see.

Poetry is not easy for me. It is neither easy to force out nor easy to ignore. It can even be harder to read.

Most of the time when I read prose, I read it silently or skim sentences to absorb the whole and get a greater picture to form in my mind. It is hard for me to explain that in any other way, but that is how it is.

Then there is poetry. I used to avoid it like the plague. I once thought that it was all supposed to be formula and rhyme and iambic pentametre all the time. I only rhyme when I want to be clever, make fake prophecies, or when I am exhausted beyond belief: which is more often than I’m going to talk about. I also used to think it had to be sappy and sentimental and all about those dreaded, diabolical things known to and feared by all humankind as … feelings … ;P

Of course, the wonderful thing about poetry that I had the privilege to learn is that it is the ultimate experimental game of language. You can crystallize whole nuances and depths of thought and emotion into as fewest words as possible. If you are really good at it, you can describe a world in a sentence, discover the rhythm of a very catchy phrase or aphorism (a one-line philosophical quote or word of wisdom to make you look smarter than you really are), actually turn a phrase like a musical note, and word-smithing: actually create entirely new words and meanings from old and strange and wonderful things.

I’ll also tell you this: I’m not sure when I started talking as I write or type, but it helps to catch that rhythm and make things sound far less clunky: though I still manage to ramble and not always make sense anyway. Maybe in some part this is because of some of the poetry that I was encouraged to write and then occasionally have to give vent to.

When you write and read poetry, you really have to read it out loud. That is what I have been doing with John Milton’s Paradise Lost so far. Sometimes it feels like I am chanting from a magical tome and somehow making the energy I find in there mine. What really gets to me is that a lot of the time, aside from the fact that some poetry can be very highly metaphorical and charged with so many symbols verging to the point of attempting to record the speed of thought, feeling, observation, and experience is the structure of a stanza.

You know what I’m talking about: stacks of compact, small sentences stacked above each other and separated by line breaks. You can look at my poem above and see that I gave it a stanza organization: though this one doesn’t rhyme and is more free-verse. What I mean by free-verse is that it is not a form poem: I’m not trying to make a sonnet, or a haiku, or a limerick. As an aside, I’ve been told that my form-based poetry is actually better than my free-verse. I’m also told, and I can see that I use a lot of heightened diction. What I mean by that, and what my former teachers also meant is that I use a lot of big words. Either way, I’m just trying to communicate.

But for some reason I know that I myself will be tempted to try and gloss a narrow stanza-arranged poem like I would a piece of prose and my mind will just not get it. Reading a poem like prose can feel like a real chore, and I know I can get frustrated by this seemingly deceptive short piece of writing that you sometimes think you can just scan through and is actually much denser than its “light-weight” stanza arrangement leads you to believe.

So yeah: in case you’ve been skimming past terms like “stanzas,” and such in this post, maybe what I’m saying is that poetry is like Mithril or Valyrian steel: deceptively slight but it packs a punch when it lands a hit or a graze to the mind.

I would definitely not like to get hit with a psychic conceptual weapon made of a poem: though I would definitely like to make one. Take from that imagery what you will.

I’m actually a fan of poetry that shapes itself like prose into sentence structures. You still have to keep reading it very closely, but it just seems more charged and potent for it. The line between poetry and prose is very blurry and I suspect that the first came well before the second.

When I actually think about it more, I wonder if that is how our minds work: if our thoughts are images and impressions that function on a kind of intuitive continuity. And I like that word: intuition. Maybe poetry is from that time when the words were just forming from the symbols and images in our heads that attempted to come into being through our voices and our scrawling. Maybe we dream in poetry and that is why sometimes it takes certain states of mind to understand it differently from one day to the next.

It can be primordial, or mathematically-precise, or the fragments of a life, or whatever it is you need it to be. I tend to think of poetry as a state of mind or perception of reality that can help you write, speak, and express yourself better. But whatever it is, I think is part of the root of creative writing and the clay of expression and as such it is very important. So you may see more of my poems on here at some point. We shall see.

Necromancer

I catch them in a pool
of ruby libation
leisurely prepared
though they try to repent
in haste.

The spirits that always followed
in the grey charnel fields
and faded Edens that trail behind me,
and the ones always loomed ahead
in the spires that haven’t crumbled
and the blankness that is always there
across the furtive lake:
they find the liquid feast
to tide them over before
they return to the repast
of my own mind …

Only to be captured by their hunger.

They scream and cry
as the words come back to them
and they tell me the things
clearly that they hissed
and whispered in the slips
between my vigilance
and the terrible question:

How many red? How many red?
How many … red?

I do not answer what the dead
and the not gone yet already know.

Trapped in silken streams
I take them into my hands
rolling them into my palms
and savour the burning muck
as it finally stains my skin
and self honestly.

I make the pain into a chord
and begin to spread their blended whiteness,
hammering their grey cold feelings,
burning their secrets,
distilling the vapours into an old formula …
until I have all the substance.

Folded edges fold again
upon themselves and each layer,
each wire moulds them
and the sweetness and pleasure
replaces the churning depths of Agon.

For weaving the ghost-metal
into legions of origami weapons:
their stories now my own
to unleash on the planes
of hindsight:
they are perfection every time.

Berserker

Unhappiness grows within me,
deep inside until, in the end
it becomes mine.

Unfurling through my being,
it ingrains itself deep into the bone
and the still lips of my mouth.

My face unlined, unsmiling
it hollows out the bore
within the centre of my chest:
leaving only emptiness.

But it is not nothing,
for the blackhole is the prelude to an
exploding star.

Anger turned inward
by powder-pegs of savoury bitterness
and the elegant fabric of contempt stretched thin
rips inside out into the red light
of vital defiance.

I taste it on my tongue
and my faceless mask twists
into a quirk of disdain
and then a tight, tight grin.
And I laugh.

The sound is high and cold, encompassing,
and all inclusive.
For the wound-womb of my soul,
shaped by my unhappiness,
is filled again
with the culmination of all these things.

With bloody glee.

With fire.

With power.

It is perfect symmetry
this force that I use,
that uses me,
that I let use me,
to smash the faces of cowardice,
and treachery, of hypocrisy
and promises never made.
And I enjoy their pain.

Especially my own.

Each blow I make is hard
and potent beyond endurance.
It strains and snaps a part of me,
burning edges of myself away,
as I dance.

But I do not care as I am too caught
in the moment to feel the pain
save for how it adds nuance
to the beauty of my rage.

The shadow of me quickly
becomes the dancer of obliteration.

Then all that is left is destruction:
immune to appearance, to sentiment, to reason,
to responsibility, and to conscience.
And I laugh, and laugh, and laugh
gloriously: because it is good …

Because it is freedom.

My hatred is pure,
purging and scouring fire
leaving no mistakes, no good memories,
nothing behind as it starts from
Before: from Ground Zero.

And the small part that wants
someone to stop me only adds
to the meaning of what I do.
Because finally,
when the world matches the darkness
inside of me,
and hatred finally dies,
perhaps then all that will be left
to fill it is love
and compassion.

If not from me,
then from someone better.

Exhaustion takes me:
and the spot made from my unhappiness
lets me come into itself,
as I curl into the warmth of its comforting shadows.

Wrong Genius, Music, and Another Thank You

These past two days and Sarah Howell have been very kind to this Blog. In these past two days I’ve had a lot of traffic, new Followers, and a whole lot of “Likes” for my “Onus of Creativity” and “Ice-Nine Days and Vonnegut Nights” posts. I want to thank you–all of you–once again for finding what I have to say interesting.

This Blog is evolving in ways I didn’t actually anticipate. Like I keep saying, it was supposed to be a Writing or Writer’s Blog with more stories than criticism and opinion. But you know, I really like my opinions. I like taking my experiences and knowledge and making new shapes with them: strange, weird little baubles that really just reveal what I think. Really, my Blog seems random–kind of like me–but I’d like to say there’s some underlying pattern that’s still in the process of making itself known here.

And you know, while I’d really like to think that at least I bring a writer’s sensitivities or sensibilities to my opinions here, in the end I just like to state them no matter what they might be.

There is one thing I’ve been thinking about lately. If you read my “Onus” entry, you’ll know that I referenced a TED Lecture by a writer named Elizabeth Gilbert called “On Genius” or “On Nurturing Creativity” in which she talks about the ancient Mediterranean conception of genius as being a spirit that passes through someone: that may or may not give them inspiration. Gilbert talks about treating modern genius like this: that–as opposed to purely being centred within a particular tormented individual–it can be a force that you can accept or reject on your terms to make your life more balanced.

Yet here is a question that has been plaguing me: what happens when you get the wrong genius?

Let me explain. A few times in my life, but one time in particular, I was asleep and dreaming. And within that dream I heard music. Now, I tend to write my dreams down whenever I’m not lazy enough and it was a very compelling, detailed dream. But here is the thing. I am not a musician. I was not trained as a musician. I do not have many–if any–of the tools to record, pattern, or create music.

So why did I get this sound? I tried copying it down in terms of rhythm. I will admit that I had some background playing the drums in elementary school and I even learned how to sing in a religious capacity. My family is a family of singers too. I also tend to listen to a lot of epic music: Classical, modern, Electric Body Music, video game soundtrack and just very eclectic things. So it doesn’t surprise me that some music has rubbed off in my head. I also admit that I am inspired by music and I collect certain tunes I like on Youtube.

But if we go by the hypothesis of the genius, why would it choose me–a non-musician–to make music in? I mean, seriously, the closest I can get is lyrical poetry which, while not completely removed, is really not ideal for its preservation. So do I tell it to go away when it happens? Do I adapt it somehow?

Today on the subway, I was continuing to plod through Lesley Chamberlain’s book Nietzsche in Turin. At one point she goes into some length about Nietzeche’s influence from Wagner: particularly how his form of opera informed the structure of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. From what I understand, Chamberlain seems to argue that Zarathustra is a philosophical opera in written poetic form. Nietzsche also had musical background and attempted to write music and–I believe–librettos as well. Wagner even called him a “failed musician.” I personally think that Nietzsche was one of the most irreverent but paradoxically serious artistic philosophers that we have in the Western tradition.

But did Nietzsche make something new? Did his attention to archetypes, to written leitmotifs and human cycles, and lyrical turns of phrase and conventions make what some have called “bad poetry disguised as philosophy” or did he make something else entirely: something unique in the nineteenth century? Did he make some kind of prototypical medium just as Wagner changed the operatic one: that branches out over several mediums to make something else entirely?

I suppose that is one way to interpret how a genius of music can influence a writer, but I don’t know. Maybe it was the wrong genius. But then I feel music inside of me too. I think it’s in all of us. ln fact, I think one of the most beautiful things about Musicals is that they are art forms that bring to the surfaces the rhythms and sounds that we hear and feel inside of us. They are tonal equivalents of words or brush strokes that can use to mimic our external and internal environments: and only a few people can capture and manipulate these tones well. I am not one of these: unless you count poetry which I don’t do often.

Still … music, by it’s very name is associated with the muses, the daimon, the genius. Music is also structured by symbols: by written notes that are very eerily similar to how mathematic symbols are structured. They are said to have a very similar rhythm. While I have considerable difficulty with math, at the same time I know that it is a construction of ancient symbolic logic and understanding while music utilizes it but has great intuitive and creative aspects.

I guess I really don’t know what to tell you. Maybe it was my left-brain trying to tell me something in my sleep, or my right and left brain-parts trying to tell me a story in a slightly different way. Or maybe I should have more musician friends who can record down something that I can at least hum before I forget it. It’s just really fascinating and I hope that if that genius didn’t find what it needed from me, it went on to someone else he could … or maybe, it did find what it was looking for. I’ll never really know, but maybe I have yet to see.

This Land Like a Mirror Where I Met Gwendolyn MacEwen

I met Gwendolyn MacEwen after she died in 1987. In fact, it was many years later in the early twenty-first century at York University back when I was in its Creative Writing Program. My teacher read us–and then had us read–some of her poems. She chose Dark Pines Under Water and it really left a powerful impression on me.

I recall trying to talk with my teacher about that at the time and I wasn’t even able to remember the poem’s name. I was so ashamed of that fact that when we had to memorize a poem for an assignment, I choose the above. Over the following years, I read all of Gwendolyn’s poems that I could find: though reading poetry is quite different from prose and sometimes difficult to read never mind even explain.

Gwendolyn was a poet deeply concerned with her craft and the power of mythology and the mythopoeic. She approached matters of mysticism along with darkness, sensuality, and a profound sense of psycho-geography: of history and the echoes of all people in the land they used to–and still-live in. Gwendolyn wrote many books of poetry and two published novels: Julian the Magician and King of Egypt, King of Dreams: both of which are dense but incredibly charged and multi-layered stories. An ex-girlfriend of mine bought me the last book as well as two of her selected poetic readings.

What really gets to me, however, is that this woman–who was shy, quiet, small and sleight with a round face, dark hair, and kohl-lined intensely dreamy blue eyes in her youth–was born and lived in Toronto. I think about it sometimes: that she once walked and biked to many of the places I’ve walked or drove on the bus past. She lived in the places that I visited and somehow made poetry and art there. From the sixties to the eighties she did this: learning Kabbalah, a multitude of languages, and she read her poems a loud. And while she did travel from time to time: to Israel, Egypt, Greece and England she tried to find herself–and find–Toronto’s spirit. Her series of short stories in Noman and Noman’s Land are some of the best Canadian literature I’ve ever wanted to read. I remember my time taking those books out of York and the Toronto Public Library fondly: especially since they meshed so well with the mythological writing I was doing, developing and planning on doing.

She was a complex character in herself, something that Rosemary Sullivan explores with a certain creative flair in her Shadow-Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen: a book that I liked for the most part, though there were some psychological intimations on some of Gwendolyn’s behaviour on Sullivan’s part that I found to be very reductionist and necessarily the result of simply one particular potential trauma. Nevertheless, I really liked how she incorporated Gwendolyn’s life and works together into her narrative and it gave me another glimpse of the emerging literary scene and talent in Toronto at that time.

I won’t lie. Gwendolyn MacEwen and I have a lot of similarities, and despite years and death I sometimes felt close to her in a way. We both really like Star Wars and, as she knew it, the Marvel Family: though I wonder what she would have thought of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s interpretations of the latter. She even wrote a poem about it called Fragments From a Childhood: a superhero poem which I found online and fell totally in love with. It is also no coincidence that I wrote a glosa in undergrad of her poem Shadow-Maker: something I won’t show here … at least not for some time.

I wanted to write a story somehow from all I learned about her. I still have that idea. I spent a significant amount of time at the Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto going through the collection of manuscripts and notes that she left open to the public: including an unpublished novel about a female musician’s life growing up in the early years and turmoil of modern Israel called Gabriela. It was so strange to see someone writing about a culture that I grew up in, something that she did not grow up in, and yet get many of the nuances that were there along with some insights I’m not sure even I knew about.

When the Fisher was open until the evenings on Thursdays, I would spend many a time holding the very pages she did when creating her own works as the light of the afternoon sun turned into evening. It was some of the most peaceful and exciting times I had traveling to St. George campus to take a look at her works and hold them in my hands.

I wish I could have met her. I think we would have had a lot to talk about. I also know that she was a genius and she deserved to be acknowledged as such. She did a tremendous amount of research for her second published novel King of Egypt, she wrote prolifically and she did and learned to do so many things having not even been a high school graduate. Although she gained praise from her peers, I feel she deserved much more than she got. Gwendolyn MacEwen, as far as I am concerned, is one of the best Canadian and Torontonian creators we ever had and it is a shame that she’s gone and her work is not that well-known outside Canadian writer and academic circles.

Sometimes I thought about visiting her in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, but I’ve never gotten around to it and I’m not sure I ever will. I am glad that I looked through her Fonds at the Fisher however. I wish I could convey how it felt to look through the notes, drafts, and unpublished manuscripts of a writer and person that I respect: who influenced me so much and came into my life long after her own had ended so unexpectedly and easily like she was always there without it sounding creepy and ridiculous. But there it is. People come into your life for a reason and I believe she made my life richer for it.

In case you are interested, Gwendolyn’s collection can be accessed by anyone with a registration card at the Fisher. You just need to go and provide an address and ID and you are all set. I really recommend Gabriela because it is still very relevant and timely to today: especially with continued Israeli-Palestinian and Arabic relations being as they are. I wish it had been published, but I also loved reading it in that lovely Reading Room with the miles-high levels of bookshelves that the Fisher possesses.

I also want to link you to a review I did on Julian the Magician–Gwendolyn’s first published novel–on my Goodreads profile. It does get full of a bit of literary jargon, but I am pretty proud of it and what I got out of it. Sometimes I wonder if Neil read Gwendolyn, and if he hasn’t he definitely should.

Finally, I would add that Gwendolyn loved to read her poems aloud and at gatherings such as those at the Bohemian Embassy Club. There is a documentary made about her called Shadowmaker: The Life and Times of Gwendolyn MacEwen by Brenda Longfellow that has some filmed shots of her giving interviews and reading her poems. She has a melodic, resonant voice. It is worth seeing and listening to because her works make up a land that does, in the end, turn you inward.