Surely compelled

Ann Lauterbach from her book The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetic Experience

We make music, painting, sculpture, films, novels in order to mediate our mortal visiting rights: a specifically human wish to intercede, to punctuate the ongoingness of time and the seemingly random distributions of nature. This punctuation is called history or, more precisely, culture, or, more precisely still, history of culture…

The phrase “to mediate our mortal visiting rights” feels particularly resonant these days, as some of my elderly best-beloveds appear to be navigating that region–mediating it–at present; [to mediate: “divide in two equal parts,” probably a back-formation from mediation or mediator, or else from Latin mediatus, past participle of mediare “to halve,” later, “be in the middle,” from Latin medius “middle”).  –thank you Online Etymology Dictionary]. The two halves, between one world of what we call the living and another which is the end of life, there is really more of a continuum, however. The “gray area” can be quite enriching and lively. Or not. These are ways we create, or punctuate, our personal histories: the year grandmother broke her hip, the year Susan entered school, the year the Twin Towers were destroyed. These, among other “random distributions of nature.”

I think it is true that the arts help us with the wish to intercede somehow, and also–a different sort of wish, it seems to me–the wish to mediate. Lauterbach seems to conflate these wishes. I see her point, but I am not sure I agree wholly.

~~~

Intercession. Isn’t that also a form of prayer?

[“intercessory prayer, a pleading on behalf of oneself or another,” from Latin intercessionem (nominative intercessio) “a going between, coming between, mediation,” noun of action from past participle stem of intercedere “intervene, come between, be between” (in Medieval Latin “to interpose on someone’s behalf;”]

~~~

…the way words make sentences and sentences paragraphs is also a kind of constellating, where imagined structures are drawn from an apparently infinite fund: words, stars….these acts of narrative and imagistic invention were surely compelled by the inexhaustible human desire to transfigure the incomprehensible into intelligible form.

Lovely–and here, I agree completely: “surely compelled.”

~~~

Writing for me is associative, meditative, and digressive.  ~ Ann Lauterbach

images                                        pompeiian woman-writer

 

Thanks to art critic and blogger Sigrun of sub rosa for alerting me to the existence of this book.

Questioning

Next week, on May 5th, I’ll be the featured poet for the River Poets of Bloomsburg, PA (info here and here). Bloomsburg is situated along the Susquehanna River, and the region will be beautiful in early May.

Linda Dietrichson, the MC for this event, has posed a theme for the poet (me) to consider when choosing poems to read and to follow up in a Q&A with the audience. The theme is “Questioning.” At first, I read the word as questing–the mythic journey toward some remotely-attainable goal. But question’s etymology offers a varying perspective:

japanese maple

Quest (n): early 14c., “a search for something.”

This searching comes to Westerners mostly via chivalry’s poems and Arthurian legends, derived from “Old French queste ‘search, quest, chase, hunt, pursuit; inquest, inquiry’ (12c., Modern French quête), properly ‘the act of seeking,’ and directly from Medieval Latin questa ‘search, inquiry,'” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Question, the noun, derives from “Latin quaestionem (nominative quaestio) ‘a seeking, a questioning, inquiry, examining, judicial investigation,’… early 13c., ‘philosophical or theological problem'” with even a suggestion of interrogation (or torture!).*

These definitions overlap in some areas; but the word-basis does differ in the Latin. The act of seeking tends to connote search for an object–a physical search for a physical something–whereas inquiry and examination (yes, even torture) suggest that the “question” has a rhetorical object: the abstract or metaphysical aim (never an answer!) that’s more contentious and usually more ambiguous.

Questioning offers interrogation toward the unknowable, and that is poetry’s territory.

So this is where I begin next Thursday evening’s reading: with the unknowable. Who knows where we’ll go from there?

~~

 

*(see the site Online Etymology Dictionary for further brief origins–or any OED).

Jargon

Having just spent some time in Scotland, encountering Scots accents and language, and having read Kathleen Jamie’s book Findings while on my trip, and having visited castles and a distillery (even though malt whisky is not something I drink), I find myself thinking again about words. In particular, specialized words–those used by the ancient crafts such as beer-making, by vintners and distillers, weavers, farmers, and builders of defenses, ships, and of cathedrals, architectural terms and words specific to a trade: jargon.

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Barley. Glengoyne Distillery, not far from Glasgow.

Jargon, the word itself, comes from the French. As per the Online Etymology Dictionary:

jargon (n.) Look up jargon at Dictionary.commid-14c., “unintelligible talk, gibberish; chattering, jabbering,” from Old French jargon “a chattering” (of birds), also “language, speech,” especially “idle talk; thieves’ Latin” (12c.). Ultimately of echoic origin (compare Latin garrire “to chatter”).

From 1640s as “mixed speech, pigin;” 1650s as “phraseology peculiar to a sect or profession,” hence “mode of speech full of unfamiliar terms.” Middle English also had it as a verb, jargounen “to chatter” (late 14c.), from French.

One of the things I like best about taking tours of and reading books about distilleries or castles and the like is the chance to savor those unusual and often strangely lovely-sounding special terms. The lyne arm. The tun. The potstill, the draff, the spirit safe. Wort and wormtub.

And there’s the donjon, the voussoir, the queen-post, the feretory…in addition to all those buttresses and gargoyles and portcullises. Not to mention the terms, many of them archaic, associated with the making of tapestries and the cooking of meals and the husbandry of sheep or falcons or cattle.

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Or the laying of stones for roads or masonry walls, for the engineering of moats and the design of crenellated defenses. So many words, and only highly specialized historians know them today; whereas once, the mostly illiterate men and women who did the work used the language of their trades.

It’s still true today–perhaps more than ever–that jargon is used among the people in a given industry, computer tech or realty or politics. I suppose those words will as surely fall out of use, or evolve in their meanings, and perhaps more rapidly than the jargon of yore.

Obscure terms, highly specialized in their function as means of communication. Sometimes, quite beautiful to know.

 

 

Epiphany

This week includes the date of the Epiphany, January 6th, the close of the Christmas celebration. Christian tradition confers religious importance to the day because it commemorates the visitation of the magi, the “Wise Men” or “Three Kings,” to the infant Jesus; more metaphorically, the Epiphany hallows “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12),” as Google’s dictionary puts it.

12-01-05MagiFraAngelicoGoogle’s dictionary offers a little graph at the close of its definition, if the reader scrolls down far enough. The use of the word epiphany has risen considerably from the 1800s; I suspect the reason for that is that the term has migrated toward its other meaning as a revelation, particularly a creative revelation: “a moment of insight.”

Epiphany is a word encountered when reading about artists, inventors, philosophers, writers. It has become something to treasure–the AHA! moment, the reveal, the serendipitous appearance of a solution or concept–which is a meaning closely derived from its etymology: epiphainein, ancient Greek for “reveal.” The challenge for the artist or writer is to make manifest that revelation, if one is lucky enough to encounter it. The true epiphany must be acted upon, or lost.

~

And, of course, the other challenge is to continue to write day by day by day, when revelations seem few and far between or totally unforthcoming. That is a different order of activity, one which I’m currently engaged in, without epiphanies to help me along.

 

 

To endure

I have been contemplating the word endure, particularly in relation to my continuing curiosity about consciousness and in relation to physical enduring when the body is in pain.

Reading an excerpt from Husserl (the first proponent of transcendental phenomenology) that–admittedly, taken out of context–places consciousness in relation to time, I realize endure implies the concept of time itself even though time doesn’t make an appearance in its etymology (see below). Husserl writes:

Every temporal object has a duration…but in the type that is duration we have a distinction between the expanding, flowing duration and the momentary durations.

He suggests that there are “filling-in” types of duration, or time-phases, that arise to create “a continuous consciousness of unity whose correlate is an unbroken unity,” giving us the impression of sensuous unity in time. I wonder if our sensations of  physical pain operate in the synapses of the brain in somewhat the same way: momentary (acute), and filling in over time or flowing (chronic).

When we suffer, we call upon endurance to sustain ourselves. The verb form connotes the negative more commonly, such as to endure oppression, abuse, harassment, pain, humiliation. It is an active verb.

etymology: late 14c., “to undergo or suffer” (especially without breaking); also “to continue in existence,” from Old French endurer (12c.) “make hard, harden; bear, tolerate; keep up, maintain,” from Latin indurare “make hard,” in Late Latin “harden (the heart) against,” from in- (see in- (2)) + durare “to harden,” from durus “hard,” from PIE *dru-ro-, from root *deru- “be firm, solid, steadfast”

Nonetheless, strength is also implied, a resilient firmness that people tend to value. What is the current perspective on being steadfast? Is it to harden (become stubborn and inflexible) or to be solid? Don’t we admire the person who has endured much and yet, one way or another, lived life as it presented itself however hard the circumstances? And are those positive or negative traits, as our culture views them? Customs endure. Prejudices endure. When we call someone a “hard person,” it is seldom a compliment. Yet being steadfast is generally considered a virtue.

It’s interesting to note that the adjective form of endure has a more positive connotation–

enduring (adj.) Look up enduring at Dictionary.com

“lasting,” 1530s, present participle adjective from endure.

An enduring work of art; an enduring love. Something that defies time by lasting through those temporary durations and through the fillings-in. We human beings wonder whether our consciousness, what many have called our souls, are enduring in the sense of expanding over time and past the demise of our corporeal selves. But great literature, great music, great art suggests there are many ways to endure.

In the New Year, my hope is to become attentive to what endures; to extend compassion and love more widely and more deeply; to read good books and take in good works of art; to be good at what I do reasonably well, tending to myself and to others with as much grace as I can muster. Some years challenge us more than other years. Let us choose to endure.

Love is all you need

 

Some endings

On a bleak wet day: thinking about revising my poems. The pile of “needs work” drafts appears daunting; I have put off for too long the required work of rethinking, the hard, conscientious effort–and unstructured time–necessary to the craft. I have always enjoyed the task of revision because it offers a chance to revisit the initial urges of the poem and to refine and reconsider my ideas, but lately my motivation has abandoned me.

I notice, above, all of the words that begin with “re.”

Latin: “in the matter of” or, (res), “thing.” But as a prefix: “again,” likewise, to indicate a backwards or repetitive motion.

revise   §    require      §      revisit     §    refine   §

    rethink    §     reconsider

Maybe I am eager to move forward instead of always going back. Nevertheless, one method of moving on is to complete what one is working on so as to create a sense of closure. Sometimes, all a poem needs is a better ending.

When I think of revision under that perspective, as a means of completing an unfinished job in order to prepare for the next, new task, the pile seems slightly less unmanageable.

And by way of re-envisioning the endings…Molly Spencer’s blog The Stanza offers a good list of closure options here.

sunset1~The ending of a day~

 

Pro+crastination

procrastination (n.) Look up procrastination at Dictionary.com
1540s, from Middle French procrastination and directly from Latin procrastinationem (nominative procrastinatio) “a putting off from day to day,” noun of action from past participle stem of procrastinare “put off till tomorrow, defer, delay,” from pro- “forward” (see pro-) + crastinus “belonging to tomorrow,” from cras “tomorrow,” of unknown origin.

This, thanks to OE, the Online Etymology dictionary, a favorite site of mine. What I was hoping to find is some aspect of “pro” as in Latin’s for, ie, the positive side of putting things off until tomorrow. Surely there are times when a bit of delay works toward the desired goals. The more leisurely approach to accomplishing a large task allows a person time to think things through and avoid some of the risks that the jumping-into-the-lake-all-at-once method contains.

At least, that’s my rationalization for putting off the next set of tasks I have set for myself regarding my writing.

~

Delay can be fruitful, if it’s the right sort of delay. Procrastination that arises from distraction, however, tends to be of the less productive sort. When putting things off because of distraction ends up being somehow beneficial, it’s usually just a lucky strike.

~

~

distraction (n.) Look up distraction at Dictionary.com
mid-15c., “the drawing away of the mind,” from Latin distractionem (nominative distractio) “a pulling apart, separating,” noun of action from past participle stem of distrahere (see distract). Meaning “mental disturbance” (in driven to distraction, etc.) is c.1600. Meaning “a thing or fact that distracts” is from 1610s.

The drawing away of the mind. What a perfect description. Just how it feels.

~
 
But the mind can be drawn into the tasks at hand, a Zen-like or Taoist middle-way approach. The steps to the goal neither hard nor easy. The delay can be a time of focus and serendipity, a way to establish equilibrium before proceeding on what appears, initially, to be a daunting project. What belongs to tomorrow is not here now–live the day.
 
My three-month project is to send out two manuscripts, revise and organize my current work, submit new poems for publication, compose an essay and a couple of reviews. But it turns out there are a number of other tasks I had to accomplish before heading into the larger project. It’s all part of the process, during which I have discovered some poetry drafts I had forgotten about and revised older work and found a cache of images and ideas I had filed away “for later.” And I realized I had not finished transferring my poem files into new digital folders… It all needs to be done, but it follows the same general path.
 
Not distracting, exactly. A different form of–positive– “mental disturbance.” The pro aspect of procrastination.