Saturday, April 17, 2010

From 'The Gathering'

"There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick."


"Daddy grew up in the West - he always knew the right thing to do. He had beautiful manners. Which, if you ask me, was mostly a question of saying nothing, to anyone, ever. 'Hello, are you well', 'Goodbye now, take care', the whole human business had to be ritualised. 'I'm sorry for your trouble, 'Put that money away now', 'That's a lovely bit of ham', 'It is your noble call'. It bored me to tears, actually: all that control. The dignity of the man somewhat undermined by his crazed rate of reproduction."

Read Anne Enright. She'll do you in to some place so shabby and curious.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"He thought of himself not as something heavy that left tracks behind it, but if anything as a speck upon the surface of an earth too deeply asleep to notice the scratch of ant-feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust."

- from Life and Times of Michael K

This is one of the few sentences in the book that is conspicuously poetic. It is also one of the longest sentences in the book. I once read somewhere that for a sentence to be legible its length should not exceed 17 words. Coetzee's sentences average 10 words a sentence.

I am fascinated by writing that is simple. I think it speaks of a certain modesty, a certain self-discipline. Too often (and I berate myself enough for this), I find that I become preoccupied with the appearance of a sentence. When this happens, the meaning is lost. There are many big words, and perhaps some intelligent phrases, but on the whole, the sentence sticks stiff in the throat.

I hope that I will be able to write simply.

Monday, April 12, 2010


The reason I read poetry is that it helps me think thoughts more vividly.

If you’ve read a poem (a ‘good’ poem, I mean) you may have noticed that it’s sparser than prose of equivalent meaning. So, in my understanding, poems offer vision and truth in shorthand, which is to say, they offer the reader the seeds to something. Just the seeds. The reader may do with these pretty much whatever she chooses: she may eat them, fondle them, stick them on pretty chart-paper, or she may grow them. So a poem’s ‘use’ is discovered uniquely by each person who cares to dwell on it.

I once attended a poetry reading session in which we discussed verse by Emily Dickinson. The person chairing the session interspersed the readings with bits of biographical information. So we learnt that Emily was a loner, that she never married or even had lovers. When we came across her love poems, therefore, an air of scepticism scoffed its way through the classroom, and a girl asked, “What does she know of love? Don’t you think that a poem must come from real, lived experience?” The girl was pretty; she had been in love (the mutually recognised variety) and she had written her poetry based on her relationships. No one quite knew how to answer her question; we shrugged and continued to the next poem.

A year later, I think I have an answer to her question. It may sound full-of-it, so be prepared. Maybe brace your chest or raise an eyebrow, in advance. But I think that the living of an experience is only partly the result of it ‘happening’ to you in ‘first person’. The poignancy of love, for instance, may be felt by its absence in a person’s life. It may even be felt by reflecting on the experience of someone else. And oddly enough, one can sometimes experience something simply by writing about it.

What I want to stress, I suppose, is the importance of reflecting on things. We reflect so that we may begin to see things in their details, and we need to see them this way if we want to live vividly. All art I think, and poetry, and maybe even science, is annexed to a greater appreciation of living. They usher in the sensibility of wonder and pause and excitement. And maybe it is this essential quality of reflection that makes the ark for efforts in science and literature today.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I feel like a toad just climbed down my spine and passed out in my underbelly.


god knows I've tried.
tried to write a song, a liturgy,
to conclude you
but I can't.
you spill over the sides of every word
you are a fumbling sky and I can't place your blue.
though I neighbour you, and pull at your skin for entry,
you come to pass without me. you leave me innocent.

Friday, April 2, 2010

comb me of my borders and i'll pee on you

Everything I know has a border.
The curtains over the door,
the hair on my arm,

There’s even a border between
my roommate and me
though it’s negotiable,
and punctured by nibs of love, and envy,
so our pitchers leak into each other.

Why do you recoil at their mention?
Why do you dissolve them
in milk, laughter and opaque things?
They are a way of beginning, a way of ending,

They are the chassis and can make you an ark
of toys and gaunt, thinking men.
Beginnings and endings are important.
Any storyteller will confirm that.

Whatever, man. I know dreams and poets
say that borders do nothing good:
that they make sheds of anger and orphans
and war where none need exist.

Maybe I’ve missed a sweeter truth,
But borders have been kind sometimes:
A way of putting off the lights
and breathing into a pillow;
Of reading Marx in my underwear
with the music stirring the night
into so many moths.