Wednesday, July 09, 2014

the ten thousand things years

a couple of days ago i was listening to a radio program while running a few errands after work.  the story: how to build signs or symbols that can be understood by people living ten thousand years from now.  to teams of eggheads were given such a task.  the reason: nuclear waste has a half-life of like forever.  it is deadly for several millenia.  how do you make warning sign of the dangers of nuclear poison for people who will not know our languages, not know our cultures very well, when meanings change over time.  how do you communicate with people who will develop into something we can't know.

which got me thinking about my own silly ego.  my writing/reading.  all the ten thousand things that try us, burden us, worry us to an early grave.  seriously, even shakespeare won't last for ten thousand years.  all our quibbling and bickering, our jockeying for a small space of light, will amount to nothing.  i'm not saying why bother.  i'm suggesting that the ego can get in the way.  in the end if it doesn't matter in ten thousand years, why fret.  do your work.  get on with it.  and don't practice assholeism.

ah shit, crudely said there.  but you get the drift.

which put me in mind of my own beloved art and the people who practice it.  i want to celebrate all of it, poets, poetry and poems.  i want to read and write until i die.  i want you to do the same.  i try to give up my ego.  i belong, to quote a poem by james dickey, to the world.  i will do what i can.

which brings me to the canadian poet michael dennis.  i've quoted him here and there on this blog before.  i wrote to dennis a few weeks ago telling him how much i love, what i've read of it, his poetry.  he responded by sending me three of his books.  i'll write a review come november for eileen tabios' review zine galatea resurrects.  in the meantime i want to talk a little about dennis' chapbook forgiveness, my new sideline [proper tales press; 2009].

the poems in this short chapbook are travel poems.  the poet and his wife journey to croatia and russia.  dennis writes a deceptively simple poetry.  these are poems using common language.  they are usually narrative.  and they have an open humility that i find lovely.  take for example this poem.

     Hockey Night in Croatia

     in the last month I've butchered six languages
     and misunderstood six different currencies
     today, in Croatia, on a small island, Cres
     hidden on the Dalmatian coast
     a store clerk, where I bought a notebook
     and another bottle of cold gassy water
     refused to believe I wasn't Russian
     I practically had to sing my national anthem
     and show him my hockey scars

     not that Russians don't have hockey scars
     but Canadian doctors sew a straighter line

 a short, clear, concise piece of travel writing.  what i find astonishing is how dennis breaks the line.  each line sings its piece and leads toward the next line.  the fluidity of the language is remarkable.

dennis is also a poet of our insane world too.  domestic intervals and travelogues populate this book but so do the turbulence of terrorism.

     Last Words to Allah

     I press this button and all is glow
     all noise begins and ends
     I press this button and I am mist
     I am vengeance
     I press this button and serve my father
     as I turn to deadly rain
     I even the score that morbid more

     I enter this eternal darkness
     thinking glory

     I remember strapping on my future
     like a wedding shawl
     putting the bomb on
     and for the first time in my life
     understanding I had a future
     and what that future was

     hear my last song
     as it rings out of my memory
     and blasts 
     into yours

this poem is quite a feat.  no accusations and no judgment, at least not located in the text.  rather, we are given the mind of a man intent to destroy for god.  we can argue that the act of writing this poem is a political act.  but the content is even-handed and controlled.  it is not sympathetic to the bomber.  the poem exists in its own, to use the phrase coined by the late joseph brodsky, plane of regard.

still, michael dennis is a generous soul.  a person who embodies poetry.  not very many of us would title a book of ours with the declaration of forgiveness as a practice.  he is a poet for the ten thousand things.  who knows, michael dennis might be here still ten thousand years from now.


At 7:08 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

As a fan of Michael's — thanks, lovely review that describes Mike's work and aesthetic very well.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Radish King said...


At 5:11 PM, Blogger Richard said...

I like his Allah poem. But I don't think you need to say 'symathetic to the bomber'. You might compare it to the poetry (beautiful, almost surreally precise, almost cold) such as 'How to Kill' or his (German title) 'Forget me Not'. It was not that he thought that the pity might not be in the poetry as such, it was a combination of the fact of his compassion but paradoxically a kind of cold detachment working together. Now this poet has taken one step further. There is in fact no judgement. Judgment means we ascribe to some kind of gooey belief in "goodness" but Michael Dennis has done what policemen and politicians never or rarely do: he is imagining himself as the bomber. The philosophic implications are huge. It is a bloody good poem. Thanks for this one.

By the way Richard, your Blog is on a list just below that of Jack Ross's 'The Imaginary Museum' so as he hasn't posted I come to you: but of course I should visit more often! So much on the internet but your Blog is great also.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Richard said...

I forgot to mention the name of the writer of the poems - I meant those of Keith Douglas who was always keen on being a soldier, and enjoyed tank battles etc (lol!) but wrote extraordinarily great poetry. Unfortunately died quite near the end of the 2nd WW. He felt he was destined to die though, and it is almost as if he looked forward to it. There is no idea of "fighting for freedom" or any of that rubbish. He is just there, taking part in the cosmic drama so to speak...


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