Self and reality. Symbol and language. Myth and image. Memory and consciousness.
Dream and unreality: locus communis.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cut and Paste Poetry

In midst of the negative chaos from losing my computer for a few weeks of repair, I fortunately gained time for finalizing some writing projects. Case in point, for a number of months— or even longer to be honest—I stalled working on an idea which began merely as an association between two elements: a humpback whale and the Celtic Saint Brendan. In past posts, vague references were made to the existence of the work, but no real progress achieved itself until late August with the combined reading of poetry from the likes of Yannis Ritsos, Arthur Sze, and Galway Kinnell.

The resulting piece has been almost finalized as of this weekend— after a few hours of physically cutting and pasting the portions of the stanzas in a fresh order. Simply titled “Saint Brendan and the Whale,” the poem displays both realities of the mammal and the human, juggling perceptions between the two, motioning back and forth in an equal exchange of ideas.

The full story of the saint’s journey to the New World includes an encounter with a larger-than-life-whale, the animal’s presence confused as an actual island by Brendan’s followers. Only through a dream communication with God does Brendan realize the circumstance, so he himself is not as alarmed when his fellow voyagers discover the island is not an island. It is the saint’s calm acceptance of the situation which attracted my interest in the first place—he does not question the surreal notion of the facts before him: he simply concedes the Divine’s position and then moves forward into further adventures.

The notion of submission to a higher authority often follows most saint’s and martyr’s hagiographies. Similar to the European folktale formula with an extremely passive, moral protagonist who endures dramatic circumstances to prove a devotion and high code of ethics, Brendan endures severe levels of hardship to prove his loyalty to God. This devotion, tied to his curiosity of his Sixth Century C.E. world, provides much inspiration for creative writing.

The closing two stanzas of the full piece linger with a strong sense of irresolution. They purposely waver, hesitant. The intention lies in the motion of ocean tides themselves, that slight drag of waves which suggest a resulting stillness will develop sometime between high and low tides. Because little is known about the monk Brendan, aside from folkloric tales and speculations, the poem closes with only a suggestive scene: himself in his scriptorium, daydreaming over a text. This scene allows for a sense of transposition, a physical metamorphosis between the figure of the whale in his environment and the monk in his private cell along the Irish coast. In this fashion, readers draw their own conclusion and apply their own personal epiphany to the full work.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fascinating Glen - and something I'd like to read.
    Apologies for my absence. I didn't mean to be gone so long - and have been thinking of you and your work.

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