Kay Ryan #1: Stumbling down the mountain into ink again

Imagine a
train-track figure
made of sliver
over sliver of
between-car
vision, each
slice too brief
to add detail
or deepen: that
could be a hat
if it’s a person
if it’s a person
if it’s a person.
Just the same
scant information
timed to supplant
the same scant
information.

KAY RYAN, Train-Track Figure

I was lying in my bath last night (2 cup full of Epsom Salts in the tub water, Reggie’s tip. Or was it my friend Candy’s? I can’t remember) and I was pondering the issue of blogging.

For years, I was an avid blogger. And then somewhere in the midst of my aged-43 meltdown I lost my Eden. Before I had tasted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, blogging seemed like an unenviable good – expressing myself, creative, communicative. Then some serpent somewhere pointed out that all public offerings were 1) a part of the industrial-social complex ruled by Google and Facebook and thus a piece in the puzzle of corporate carpet bombing and 2) usually ghastly echoes of childhood need or narcissistic flatulence dressed up as creative communication (“I am feeling so sad today” i.e *love me or “Look at my shiny new shoes “ i.e.*love me/ envy me). So for the last few years I have drifted away from blogging. Hiding my sputtering light under the bushel of my own privacy.

That retreat into the cave of my own experience has been wonderfully healing. Working with Reggie and understanding the primacy of somatic experience – what I am actually feeling in my body not what my mind thinks I’m feeling – has been transformative. Like Plato’s cave dreamer saying “Fuck these shadows.I’m going out into the Greek sunlight to eat me some olives and smell me some oleander.”

Private reality tastes good. But too much privacy is also a problem. Once we have our ontological tastebuds back then we still need to have pomegranates and plums to taste. Less poetically: we need to communicate with others or there stops being anything worth communicating.

In the tub, I realised that a lot of my hesitancy about blogging is now about cowardice. “Why would anyone listen? What if what I say gets shot down? Who will trample me when I lay my entrails on the pavement?”. It’s true there’s nothing new in the world to say and that one person’s opinion is another person’s pet-peeve but it is in the telling and re-telling and the trampling and the up-scraping of self, that the Self (Jungian capitals, notice) gets strengthened.

The self in the cave is easy to maintain (repeat, confirm and name) but the Self in the world is much more unstable, quantum and outlandish – banging up against other people’s opinions and elbows, resplendent in the sunshine, tiny in the drizzle. So, I’m coming back to blogging.

And I thought I’d start by poetry. Kay Ryan’s to be precise (the 16th US Laureate, I notice from the dust jacket of her book). Her modest-seeming but internally expansive poems lead me all over the place – but circle around the areas currently close to my heart having just come down the mountain from Reggie’s 4-week retreat in Colorado (like a polite, English Zarathustra).

The self of the thinking mind and more specifically here the others around us are ‘sliver over sliver’ of half perceived projection. The scantness of the information we glean from the fields around us is paltry – but enough, it seems, to build a complete scarecrow to stand in for the splendour of the person seen. Glimpse after glimpse, lazily/hazily transformed into a full-on hologram of projected desires and fears.

There’s lovely line in the morning chants at Crestone which runs: “Mesmerized by the myriad variety of appearance/ Mad with hope and fear / Beings roam the endless wastes of samsara”. We live in a holographic world (not David Icke holograph, no lizards) but one that is a pale but mesmerising imitation of the real splendours of the world ( I wrote a poem when I was 22 that contained the lines “Splendour! Splendour! Beaver always after splendour!/It swizzles at the end of your/Finger! Finger!/Launch it gleeful into your mouth” ). Sadly the splendour of the world gets laminated all over a paltry layer of projection.

What we fear in our bones (“People will hate me / I am not meant to be alive / others will always exploit me”) and what we desire in our lymph nodes (“Everyone must look after me / he or she will be my father or mother / they will provide me sex”) gets sprayed out over the surrounding countryside like so much DDT. IN our frenzy to harvest what we want to see and experience in the World we end up with handfuls of chemically-scorched nothing.

Ryan’s uncertainty (it’s striking how there’s no pronouns in her poem, no ‘I’ or “we” or “you” – just the implied vantage of the imperative: “Imagine”) is about the scantness of information (is it even a person?). The flickering paucity of material as the train carriages patter past and the slivers of platform seen between them become ever-more fleeting doesn’t stop us imagining. It’s just the imagination isn’t very ‘deep’.

Mountain retreat – with its long hours of silent sitting, highly regimented and simplified timetable and rarefied atmosphere (and I’m speaking literally there – at 9,000ft I was often gasping on the hills) – allows the gaps between the railway cars to widen enormously. You can see the whole platform. You can see that there is a hat. Indeed, there is a person. You (and by you I mean I) might begin to see that the people are real and kind and three-dimensional, not flickering projections of the fearful or desiring mind.

The poem from my twenties continues:

Thinking :
quick thumb nails pinned up
slowed down.
Thought number ten zillion nine hundred and nine.
Some fusing thing will bind them up
and number will in love be slain.
I hope.

Here’s to love. Perhaps I’ll get to that in the next Ryan poem, the next blog…

Leave a Reply