Tomas Tranströmer’s recent passing has me reading back into his work. Always, I am taken in by the immediacy of his line.
In this week’s poem, “The Scattered Congregation,” this immediacy plays out in quick turns. Whether in nuanced phrase or illuminating flash of image, Tranströmer always makes me a believer. Makes me proud to be part of the “congregation.”
The Scattered Congregation – Tomas Tranströmer
We got ready and showed our home.
The visitor thought: you live well.
The slum must be inside you.
Inside the church, pillars and vaulting
white as plaster, like the cast
around the broken arm of faith.
Inside the church there’s a begging bowl
that slowly lifts from the floor
and floats along the pews.
But the church bells have gone underground.
They’re hanging in the sewage pipes.
Whenever we take a step, they ring.
Nicodemus the sleepwalker is on his way
to the Address. Who’s got the Address?
Don’t know. But that’s where we are going.
Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!
To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.
200 posts = 20 lines!
Some finer points:
To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.
I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).
Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.
And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!
Cento for the 200th post
I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins
p.s. Sources for the Cento:
Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
Brown Penny – WB Yeats
Willow – Anna Akhmatova
XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
“on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
“from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
“Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
“quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
Epilogue – Robert Lowell
If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
We’ve had some steady days of clouds making their way over us. The early mornings have been looking something like this:
In my work, I’ve been working with repetition in some recent poems of mine, trying to incorporate repeating words and images conceptually. The poem below by Tomas Tranströmer is a good model for what I mean. Each time a word or image is repeated, it is reembodied and adds to the overall effect. It’s almost as if the first “blow” in the beginning of the poem sets the details of the poem in motion.
A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer
The storm put its mouth to the house
and blows to get a tone.
I toss and turn, my closed eyes
reading the storm’s text.
The child’s eyes grow wide in the dark
and the storm howls for him.
Both love the swinging lamps;
both are halfway towards speech.
The storm has the hands and wings of a child.
Far away, travellers run for cover.
The house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.
The night is calm in our rooms,
where the echoes of all footsteps rest like sunken leaves in a pond, but the night outside is wild.
A darker storm stands over the world. It puts its mouth to our soul and blows to get a tone. We are afraid the storm will blow us empty.
During my grad studies in NYC, I had the opportunity to go to a reading by Tomas Tranströmer. Sharon Olds and Robert Bly were chosen to present Tranströmer’s work, each reading a selection. Olds delivered his work in a fervent and direct manner, while Bly strode through the poems, pausing at times to exclaim over a line and asking us to listen, really listen.
The words I’ve chosen for each reader – fervent, direct and stride, listen – are key to my understanding of Tranströmer and his poems. There is definitely a passion behind the poems, an unabashed facing of what’s in the world. But his poems are also full of close, deep listening.
In the poem below, Tranströmer evokes the flight of a bird throughout his life, develops the transient flight of a bird to such a point that the bird becomes the constant and the self is seen as the one in transient flight. For me, poetry is much like this.
The Nightingale in Badelunda – Tomas Tranströmer *
In the green midnight at the nightingale’s northern limit. Heavy leaves hang in trance, the deaf cars race towards the neon-line. The nightingale’s voice rises without wavering to the side, it’s as penetrating as a cock-crow, but beautiful and free of vanity. I was in prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I didn’t notice it then, but I do now. Time streams down from the sun and the moon and into all the tick-tock-thankful clocks. But right here there is no time. Only the nightingale’s voice, the raw resonant notes that whet the night sky’s gleaming scythe.
* trans. Robin Fulton, from Selected Poems, ed. Robert Hass