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More delicate, if minor, interconnections.

By TOM LOWENSTEIN.

 

THE MORE DELICATE, if minor, interconnections.
There are Latinate case endings,
whose sticky nominal mutual adherence
advert us to the impulse to unify in a world of centrifugality.
Diversive pathways leading us to dead-end edges retain potential
and our habit remains to pursue these, and thus nullify
what appears stultifyingly productive.

This, for goodness sake, will stop you trembling:
a strong cup of tea, a slice of homemade bread,
and a word of encouragement which may or may not be forthcoming.

Eavesdropping on the overtones and silences of Claude Debussy,
developed further as these may have been lately,
I return to earlier surprises and am creatively subverted in my old world fashion.

Paradox keeps us rocking in the uncertainty
leading sometime to a temporary direction.

Easy enough to parody these little verses.
I do it myself with facility.

An optimistic sally on high register violins.
But the cellos and violas had convinced us already.

Poet contemplating flower.
That relationship and consequent poetry:
are these not the realities we wish, in our anger,
for the victims of oppression? I looked up through a tree,
and have freedom to stand in the wind.

When the wind comes up and sand blows in your face,
that’s when you bend yourself to the oven and other kitchen work.
And thus we continue to nourish ourselves in the foul weather.

Yes, I enjoy your laughter.
But this won’t release me from consciousness of human failure
and the terrible prisons that pollute every continent.

Some birds have continued chirping.
But there exists in the electronic era a parallel pandemonium,
tactfully informational, of accompanying music.
All that continues to mark territory.
But birds, unlike that this cyber ostinato, have yet to master the bottom line
as it has been construed by the commercial department.

*

I don’t seek a relationship with that power.
It might end in competition
and how things cooperate with ocean.

This must be the mariners’ and the ship builders’ calculation,
demanding both stamina and comprehension of detail.

Landlocked I remain, balanced uncertainly in the margin,
but still facing outward to some theoretically out of reach infinity.

*

Yes, everything creates its own stresses.
Even those situations assessed generally not to be stressful.
Is the answer perhaps to develop a distancing strategy
adapted to each particularity?

*

To have lived longer than necessary
and still not to have acquired wisdom –
this presumably is now a common experience,
and the forest solitude of Hindu elders
has become the benign communality of the Health Service,
while our dementia likewise is a shared component of the tax regime.

*

Haydn piano trios and his celebrated later quartets:
the fullness of the world is never to be exhausted,
however tired we may feel in old age
in the environment of two and half centuries.

*

Is it not an illusion,
whatever we may perceive and believe?
Everybody matters equally
and to write poetry confers no distinction.

*

Who is it’s going to reassure me
that I’m not an absurd person?
Superfluous indeed, like the character in Turgenev
who dissolved against the indifference of a woman?

I should regroup and become useful for a change.
That which was merely comic might then achieve an integrity
no longer narcissistically dependent on external view,
as though anyone in their own subjectivity
might have an opinion either way.

Putting to work the neurotic deficits that may, after all,
and despite condescending and post hoc acknowledgement
be anachronistic, this, perhaps, is what passes for a serenity of knowing,
albeit this stratagem of knowledge
harbours its own misunderstanding and ignorance.

That I’m not you is clear from my absence of empathy.
How could I, without self, project myself from self entanglement?
This may in fact be an ordinary condition of the ego,
and that I anticipate some variety of self-abandonment
that self-centredly I have aspired to.

A despairing gaiety:
hilarity that’s been fizzing
with a perceptible undercurrent which is neither Lethe nor Styx,
but which has injected effervescence into the story.

‘I too dislike it’, as Marianne Moore remarked
about poetry in general and maybe even her own writing.
I value this wisdom.
But if my verses weren’t as disagreeable as I too find them,
I’d be condemned to limbo.
Better really dislike them than to be nowhere for ever.


Tom Lowenstein was born near London in 1941 and educated at Cambridge. He has worked since the mid-1960s as a teacher. Between 1973 and 1989 he recorded materials deriving from intermittent residence in an Inupiaq (north Alaskan Eskimo) village. Previous publications include three books of poetry: Filibustering in Samsara (The Many Press), Ancestors and Species: New and Selected Ethnographic Poetry (Shearsman Books), and Conversation with Murasaki (Shearsman Books). His three studies of Point Hope are The Things that Were Said of Them (University of California Press 1990), Ancient Land: Sacred Whale (Bloomsbury, Farrar Strauss and Harvill, 1993-2001) and Ultimate Americans: Point Hope, Alaska 1826-1909 (University of Alaska Press, 2009). The Fortnightly Review published his memoir After the Snowbird Comes the Whale in parts as our 2018 serial.

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