Pina talk intro by Kobus Moolman
Whose hands are these I wonder
that wave across the curtain at night?
Who is standing on the other side
of the window and waving his big hands?
Who is trying to get my attention
so late at night, amidst the wind and the rain?
in the morning until late at night he sat in front of the open window and looked out at the garden. It was not actually the garden that he was looking at. What he was looking at instead was the place that was the open window, that was once closed and yet transparent, and was now open and still transparent. It was this idea that he looked at continually. Because he could not understand it. The presence of absence.
in the rain and in the cold and the dark
chasing flies away
from his naked flesh.
On the other side
of this skin
a small light burns.
Turn on a lamp
to ward off
Windows and doors
are lying down
where the rain droops.
Night is a knife
“Unless it’s broken – smashed . . . poetry won’t ever rise up from its grave.”
– Tadeusz Rozewicz.
Robert Duncan wrote that a poem “is an event. It is not the record of an event.”
In other words, then, in my words, a poem is not about something. It is something. So what is this thing?
And suddenly I wonder to myself, how do you even define thing? What is a thing?
Whilst typing up my previous journal – journal sixty-seven – I found this:
“The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity,” wrote Anne Truitt. Or as Thoreau put it more descriptively: “Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life . . . Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.”
So what, then, I am forced to ask myself, is my bone? What is it that I as a writer must gnaw away at my whole life? Is it my own body that I must circle round and round for my entire life? Is my disjointed body the old bone that I must gnaw away at every day? And never grow tired of its stale white taste.
Dogs are fighting with something
down in the street, obscured by trees and bushes.
They rattle their hoarse voices above the high fences
and gates of their little territories.
They want to chase something as far as it can run,
chase it down, then lick all its skin off.
And Rosmarie Waldrop: “This is a thirst that resembles me.”
A few days ago I saw a documentary on the work of the German choreographer, Pina Bausch, and her Tanzteater Company. Her piece entitled, “Café Muller”. Which she had choreographed and performed first herself in 1978. I recognised it because Pedro Almadovar used a short section in his 2002 film, Talk to Her. He also used a second piece by Pina at the end of the film.
I was struck by the repetitive, obsessive intensity of her choreography. Its unmistakable violence, both physical and psychic.
But also, crucially, the vast meditative stillnesses, the holes or gaps, in and around the climaxes or events as one could call them.
And running through everything – hurling itself through everything – the absolute centrality of the body. An almost transfiguring centrality of the body.
Carnal. Physical. Wholly without symbolism. Or any attempt at representation.
Every movement wholly all present and in itself in the lived moment.
And the cost! Oh! Oh the cost! The cost!
More precisely – the extraordinary demands placed upon the dancers!
How much they were required to give of themselves. Wholeheartedly to their creation.
And what does all of this say for poetry? To poetry? To my poetic making?
“To collapse the distinction between the literal and the metaphoric, between the actual and
the imaginative.” – RB.
The daily devotion to one’s own dirt track. The daily, even hourly, even minute by minute, looking down. Not to get away from the sky. But to be able to see and to follow one’s own footsteps. To be true to the sound and the placement of one’s own feet on the narrow pathway.
Dogs that run in circles
around the earth.
Trees that stand
all day in the same place.
Crows that fly
where no shadow falls.
I’ve been watching a range of documentaries on the Japanese Butoh. A style of modern dance theatre characterized by angularity, non-lyricism, even the grotesque. Some commentators have tracked its origins to the aftermath of the American bombings of Japanese cities in the late 1940s, especially to Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Many of the movements recall wounded bodies. Broken bodies. Bodies in failure and distress. Bodies in extremis.
Butoh dance master, Kazuo Ohno, said: “You must first realize that your dance is not something remote from your day to day life.”
and getting back up
and falling again
and getting back up again
and falling again
“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” My favourite line in all of Samuel Beckett.
There are two possible ways of understanding the body.
Either it is a fifth element.
Alongside fire, water, air and earth.
Or it is not.
In which case it is dissolved into the other four instead.
Like some small white painkiller.
It is out
of the physical struggling with my body and self that my poetry now comes. Not struggling. No. That is too grand. Too melodramatic. Rather acts of engagement. Of confrontation with my body. When my body talks back to itself. When it speaks back from the inside of its own experience of being in its world. Back to itself. So that it hears itself anew and is heard afresh.
A poem is first and foremost
a way of speaking
about what a poem is
and the kinds of things
it can be.
According to the German artist, Gerhard Richter, painting “is an attempt to find a form for inability and distress, to visualize them”.
Doing and Being
We are often tempted to ask the question, ‘What is the poem about?’ Thinking about this issue of a poem being ‘about’ something I realised that actually I’m not that interested in answering this question. Often I cannot tell what a particular poem is about. Because, to be honest, it no longer matters to me. That is not what I read for. Instead I am much more interested in asking, What does the poem do? How does the poem do whatever it does? So the emphasis is upon Action. Even Macleish’s idea of a poem just ‘being’ is too static. (“A poem should not mean, but be.”) Too fixed. It is the action/ activity of the poem that intrigues me now.
Then last night I went to a modern dance performance with Dada Masilo in one of the lead roles. An incredible, mesmerizing dancer. And suddenly I understood something related to the ideas above. That poetry can / could /should aspire to the condition of dance instead of music. I think it was Whistler who argued that art should ‘aspire to the condition of ‘music’. The idea, of course, that it is the no-representational quality of music that art should attempt to aim for. In some sense this does relate to Macleish.
And in Masilo’s performance last night it suddenly became clear to me that it was the act, the action, the embodiment of poetry in the body of its form, its form as a body that made sense to me.
But also, if we extend the analogy of the relationship between Form and Content to that of the Body, then we start to see how complex it really is – and how difficult it actually is to separate Form from Content and vice-versa. For, using the analogy of the body, if Form is skin (the external, shape-maker) and Content is what is inside (what goes inside), how then do we think of memories, feelings, thoughts?
Just because they cannot be seen does this make them internal, as opposed to the external of skin, which can be seen? Where are thoughts? Where do they happen when they happen to us? The same with memories. Can we really say that memories and feelings happen inside us? I don’t think so. They are in fact neither external nor internal. They rather force us to re-think our very notions of the external and the internal. Our division between the two. And they suggest instead that there is another way of thinking about this; a more complex, more encompassing way that views the body not as divided into internal and external, but as co-relational and co-extensive. All the parts, all the sides (inner and outer, tangible and intangible) happening together in the same place, in the same moment, together.
According to Emerson, “The way to write is to throw your body at the target when all your arrows are spent.”
What is this saying? What does it say to me? Is it about whole-heartedness? To throw your all at the target. To give of your all. Not to hold anything back in writing. Yes. But I also see something else in it. I understand it also in another way. There is something for me about desperation, about what to do when you can do nothing more, something about being at the very end of one’s efforts. That writing require, or it brings the writers always to that point of complete failure. All your arrows have been shot. And they clearly missed. Or did not do the job. There is now nothing else left for you to do except to throw your own body at the target as if your body was some kind of projectile.
“Eat your hand and keep the other for tomorrow”
Arthur Rimbaud. A Season in Hell
I am writing things now,
saying things, that you, dear reader,
can only now read
on your knees, crawling,
as if across thin glass.