This Is a Poem That Heals Fish: An Almost Unbearably Wonderful Picture-Book About How Poetry Works Its Magic – Brain Pickings

“A poem … is when you are in love and have the sky in your mouth.”

BY MARIA POPOVA

“Poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire,” Adrienne Rich wrote in contemplating the cultural power of poetry. But what is a poem, really, and what exactly is its use?

Every once in a while, you stumble upon something so lovely, so unpretentiously beautiful and quietly profound, that you feel like the lungs of your soul have been pumped with a mighty gasp of Alpine air.

This Is a Poem That Heals Fish (public library) is one such vitalizing gasp of loveliness — a lyrical picture-book that offers a playful and penetrating answer to the question of what a poem is and what it does. And as it does that, it shines a sidewise gleam on the larger question of what we most hunger for in life and how we give shape to those deepest longings.

Written by the French poet, novelist, and dramatist Jean-Pierre Simeón, translated into English by Enchanted Lion Books founder Claudia Zoe Bedrick (the feat of translation which the Nobel-winning Polish poet Wisława Szymborska had in mind when she spoke of “that rare miracle when a translation stops being a translation and becomes … a second original”), and illustrated by the inimitable Olivier Tallec, this poetic and philosophical tale follows young Arthur as he tries to salve his beloved red fish Leon’s affliction of boredom.

Arthur’s mommy looks at him.
She closes her eyes,
she opens her eyes…

Then she smiles:

— Hurry, give him a poem!

And she leaves for her tuba lesson.

Puzzled and unsure what a poem is, Arthur goes looking in the pantry, only to hear the noodles sigh that there is no poem there. He searches in the closet and under his bed, but the vacuum cleaner and the dust balls have no poem, either.

Determined, Arthur continues his search.
He runs to Lolo’s bicycle shop.
Lolo knows everything, laughs all the time, and is always in love.
He is repairing a tire and singing.

….

A wonderfully illustrated, almost heart-achingly beautiful work of art. Find it here..

Source: This Is a Poem That Heals Fish: An Almost Unbearably Wonderful Picture-Book About How Poetry Works Its Magic – Brain Pickings

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I Explain Winter to my Future Grandson

A poignant, beautiful requiem for Winter.

Christian Drake is a spoken word poet who has performed extensively across North America and lived in Washington, DC; Oakland, CA; Albuquerque, NM; and too many places in New England to name. Known best for his slam poetry, he also dabbles in page poetry as well. He is thirty-three and currently lives in his home town of Northampton, MA. He loves singing sea chanteys and playing roller derby. He hopes to some day visit Nova Scotia and Ireland.

Sea Chanteys & Mexican Radio

It was a window that kept out mosquitoes.
A season both savage & dull, like a dog
gnawing a bone out of boredom more than hunger.
You were the bone, it the teeth scraping
like the snow shovels that rasped the sidewalks.
When the wind came from the North, it stripped
your warmth like housepaint. Buried you
in its oblique angle of sunlight, a cold fluorescence
like a xenon bulb. The deer starved & wandered
onto the highway to lick salt. There was something
called sleet, which was rain with knives.

But Winter could be merciful. The falling snow
thickened the air like a cathedral, but didn’t always
dissolve on the ground; it could stay. We even
called it a blanket. The world slept, fitfully.
It slept, & we were the dreams. We stayed awake
with the owls & coyotes. We cursed & stomped,
shook ice off, weathered the fugue. We schemed

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The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt on the Normalization of Human Wickedness and Our Only Effective Antidote to It – Brain Pickings

“Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not… No more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

BY MARIA POPOVA

“Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it,” the great French philosopher and activist Simone Weil wrote in 1933 as she contemplated how to make use of our suffering amid a world that seemed to be falling apart. But modern life is no fairy tale and one of its most disorienting perplexities is that evil isn’t always as easily recognizable as a Grimm stepmother. Maya Angelou captured this in her 1982 conversation with Bill Moyers about courage and facing evil, in which she observed: “Throughout our nervous history, we have constructed pyramidic towers of evil, ofttimes in the name of good.” Joseph Brodsky echoed the sentiment five years later in his spectacular speech on our greatest antidote to evil: “What we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good.”

A core cause of this perplexity lies in the fact that while acts of evil can mushroom into monumental tragedies, the individual human perpetrators of those acts are often marked not with the grandiosity of the demonic but with absolute mundanity.

This was the revolutionary and, like every revolutionary idea, at the time controversial point that Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906–December 4, 1975) made in 1962, when The New Yorker commissioned her, a Jew of who had narrowly escaped from Nazi Germany herself, to travel to Jerusalem and report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann — one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. In 1963, her writings about the trial were published as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (public library) — a sobering reflection on “the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.

A decade after Arendt established herself as a formidable thinker with her incisive inquiry into how totalitarian tyrants take hold of a people, she writes:

The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.

It is through this lens of bureaucracy (which she calls “the rule of Nobody”) as a weapon of totalitarianism that Arendt arrives at her notion of “the banality of evil” — a banality reflected in Eichmann himself, who embodied “the dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them.” In a passage that applies to Donald Trump with astonishing accuracy — except the part about lying, of course; that aspect Arendt addressed with equal prescience elsewhere — she describes Eichmann:

What he said was always the same, expressed in the same words. The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.

The Nazis, Arendt argues, furnished this deliberate disconnect from reality with what she calls “holes of oblivion.” (Today, we call them “alternative facts.”) In a searing testament to the power of speaking up, she considers what the story of the Holocaust — a story irrepressibly told by its survivors — has taught us:

The holes of oblivion do not exist. Nothing human is that perfect, and there are simply too many people in the world to make oblivion possible. One man will always be left alive to tell the story.[…]

The lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody’s grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.

Arendt took great care to differentiate between the banal and the commonplace, but some reviewers — as those pre-bent on a reflexive rebuttal are always apt to do — accused her of suggesting that the atrocity of the Holocaust had been commonplace, which of course was the very opposite of her point. Among those who misunderstood her notion of the “banality” of evil to mean a trivialization of the outcome of evil rather than an insight into the commonplace motives of its perpetrators was the scholar Gerhard Scholem, with whom Arendt had corresponded warmly for decades. At the end of a six-page letter to Scholem from early December of 1964, she crystallizes her point and dispels all grounds for confusion with the elegant precision of her rhetoric:

You are quite right, I changed my mind and do no longer speak of “radical evil.” … It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never “radical,” that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is “thought-defying,” as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its “banality.” Only the good has depth that can be radical.

Eichmann in Jerusalem remains, unfortunately, an increasingly relevant masterwork as we face a world seized by banal tyrants capable of perpetrating enormous evil with their small hands. But perhaps John Steinbeck put it best in his superb letter written months before Arendt arrived in New York as a refugee from Nazi Germany: “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.”

Read more…

Source: The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt on the Normalization of Human Wickedness and Our Only Effective Antidote to It – Brain Pickings

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Insomniac City: Bill Hayes’s Extraordinary Love Letter to New York, Oliver Sacks, and Love Itself – Brain Pickings

“The most we can do is to write — intelligently, creatively, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” BY MARIA POPOVA “If you are too much like myself, what shall I learn of … Continue reading

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Peace through Justice

“Karanga against appropriation
One of the most powerful parts of the Week of Peace was the Karanga Tangaroa, an event hosted by the Pacific Panthers at Mission Bay on Thursday morning. The sky grew dark grey and a bitter rain fell as a circle of wahine toa, powerful women, called out to Tangaroa, the god of the sea, to reclaim him from the grip of the military.”
Deep gratitude to our wahine toa at home – Maori women warriors for peace for this powerful at of reclamation, including our wonderful wahine toa and Green Party MP, Marama Davidson. Nga mihi whanui, nga mihi aroha ki a koutou katoa.

Deep gratitude to the folks back home for their stalwart action in the face of fierce government opposition. The karanga to Tangaroa – God of the Sea –

Auckland Peace Action

uss-go-home-stay-homeIt has been an amazing ‘Week of Peace’ action here in Auckland. The things that we have achieved collectively during this campaign – culminating this week – will go a long way towards building a stronger and more focused peace movement.

Building bridges
One of our main goals at Auckland Peace Action is to “Build solidarity across movements by recognising the interconnected and disastrous consequences of war, colonialism and capitalism for the majority of people in NZ and the world.”

The presence of a huge number of allies at our blockade of the arms expo on Wednesday demonstrates the possibilities of combining our power to tackle the root causes of modern warfare: the use of extreme violence by those who hold power to protect and enhance their power and to steal the resources of the powerless.

Friends and comrades from the Pacific Panthers, No Pride in Prisons, Auckland Action Against…

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Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting. BY MARIA POPOVA on BrainPickings

“The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”

Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen (b. September 21, 1934) is among the most exhilarating creative spirits of the past century. Recipient of the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and countless other accolades, and an ordained Rinzai Buddhist monk, his music has extended popular song into the realm of poetry, even philosophy. By the time Bob Dylan rose to fame, Cohen already had several volumes of poetry and two novels under his belt, including the critically acclaimed Beautiful Losers, which famously led Allen Ginsberg to remark that “Dylan blew everybody’s mind, except Leonard’s.” Once he turned to songwriting in the late 1960s, the world of music was forever changed.

leonardcohen

From Paul Zollo’s impressive interview compendium Songwriters on Songwriting(public library) — which also gave us Pete Seeger on originalityBob Dylan on sacrifice and the unconscious mind, and Carole King on perspiration vs. inspiration — comes a spectacular and wide-ranging 1992 conversation with Cohen, who begins by considering the purpose of music in human life:

There are always meaningful songs for somebody. People are doing their courting, people are finding their wives, people are making babies, people are washing their dishes, people are getting through the day, with songs that we may find insignificant. But their significance is affirmed by others. There’s always someone affirming the significance of a song by taking a woman into his arms or by getting through the night. That’s what dignifies the song. Songs don’t dignify human activity. Human activity dignifies the song.

Cohen approaches his work with extraordinary doggedness reflecting the notion that work ethic supersedes what we call “inspiration” — something articulated by such acclaimed and diverse creators as the celebrated composer Tchaikovsky (“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”), novelist Isabel Allende (“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”), painter Chuck Close (Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”), beloved author E.B. White (“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”), Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (“My belief of book writing is much the same as my belief as to shoemaking. The man who will work the hardest at it, and will work with the most honest purpose, will work the best.”), and designer Massimo Vignelli (“There is no design without discipline.”). Cohen tells Zollo:

I’m writing all the time. And as the songs begin to coalesce, I’m not doing anything else but writing. I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is. So I’m working most of the time.

[…]

To find a song that I can sing, to engage my interest, to penetrate my boredom with myself and my disinterest in my own opinions, to penetrate those barriers, the song has to speak to me with a certain urgency.

To be able to find that song that I can be interested in takes many versions and it takes a lot of uncovering.

[…]

My immediate realm of thought is bureaucratic and like a traffic jam. My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV… So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interests. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.

But why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with my payload.

He later adds:

Freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song. These are just … ideas. I don’t have the sense of restriction or freedom. I just have the sense of work. I have the sense of hard labor.

When asked whether he ever finds that “hard labor” enjoyable, Cohen echoes Lewis Hyde’s distinction between work and creative labor and considers what fulfilling work actually means:

It has a certain nourishment. The mental physique is muscular. That gives you a certain stride as you walk along the dismal landscape of your inner thoughts. You have a certain kind of tone to your activity. But most of the time it doesn’t help. It’s just hard work.

But I think unemployment is the great affliction of man. Even people with jobs are unemployed. In fact, most people with jobs are unemployed. I can say, happily and gratefully, that I am fully employed. Maybe all hard work means is fully employed.

Cohen further illustrates the point that ideas don’t simply appear to him with a charming anecdote, citing a writer friend of his who once said that Cohen’s mind “is unpolluted by a single idea,” which he took as a great compliment. Instead, he stresses the value of iteration and notes that his work consists of “just versions.” When Zollo asks whether each song begins with a lyrical idea, Cohen answers with lyrical defiance:

[Writing] begins with an appetite to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt. It begins with that kind of appetite.

Cohen addresses the question of where good ideas come from with charming irreverence, producing the now-legendary line that Paul Holdengräber quoted in his conversation with David Lynch on creativity. Cohen echoes T.S. Eliot’s thoughts on the mystical quality of creativity and tells Zollo:

If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. It’s a mysterious condition. It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun. You’re married to a mystery.

But Cohen’s most moving insights on songwriting transcend the specificity of the craft and extend to the universals of life. Addressing Zollo’s astonishment at the fact that Cohen has discarded entire finished song verses, he reflects on the necessary stick-to-itiveness of the creative process — this notion that before we quit, we have to have invested all of ourselves in order for the full picture to reveal itself and justify the quitting, which applies equally to everything from work to love:

Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.

Cohen returns to the notion of hard work almost as an existential imperative:

I always used to work hard. But I had no idea what hard work was until something changed in my mind… I don’t really know what it was. Maybe some sense that this whole enterprise is limited, that there was an end in sight… That you were really truly mortal.

Considering his ongoing interest in the process itself rather than the outcome, Cohen makes a beautiful case for the art of self-renewal by exploring the deeper rewards and gratifications that have kept him going for half a century:

It [has] to do with two things. One is economic urgency. I just never made enough money to say, “Oh, man, I think I’m gonna get a yacht now and scuba-dive.” I never had those kinds of funds available to me to make radical decisions about what I might do in life. Besides that, I was trained in what later became known as the Montreal School of Poetry. Before there were prizes, before there were grants, before there were even girls who cared about what I did. We would meet, a loosely defined group of people. There were no prizes, as I said, no rewards other than the work itself. We would read each other poems. We were passionately involved with poems and our lives were involved with this occupation…

We had in our minds the examples of poets who continued to work their whole lives. There was never any sense of a raid on the marketplace, that you should come up with a hit and get out. That kind of sensibility simply did not take root in my mind until very recently…

So I always had the sense of being in this for keeps, if your health lasts you. And you’re fortunate enough to have the days at your disposal so you can keep on doing this. I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot.

What a beautiful testament to the creative spirit and its true motives, to creative contribution coming from a place of purpose rather than a hunger for profit.

Songwriters on Songwriting is a treasure trove of wisdom from cover to cover, featuring Zollo’s conversations with such icons as  Suzanne Vega, k.d. lang, David Byrne, and Neil Young.

Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hardwork and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting

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The day the music ended.

November 10, 2016

There is something sadly synchronistic that we should lose Leonard Cohen in a week that has held up a mirror to democracy in the US and beyond, in which a man who has deliberately and calculatingly fanned the flames of bigotry,  racism, separatism,  Islamophobia and homophobia has been elected by the American public as the US President-elect.

America is in turmoil and most of the world is in shock, although notably, not Russia.

What has been revealed is the dark underbelly of democracy. Violence, hatred and fear are now  unleashed and for now have been given full reign.  Vicious assaults on women, on Muslims, on LGPTQ people and people of color anyone of color have brought  grief upon grief.

During all of this, Leonard Cohen quietly left the planet.  Dams have given way and finally, we weep.

From my somewhat misspent youth to these days of approaching cronehood and eldership, through the  darkest nights of despair and the most shining moments of joy, you sang me through them all. Thank you for it all.

Finally, presciently, in your last days on this planet, you gave us,

“I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim. You want it darker? Then kill the flame. ”

“If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame.” You Want it Darker

Ours is indeed the shame.  #RIP Leonard Cohen. I will miss  you forever.

Number 15.

This is the way we summon one another, but it is not the way we call upon the Name. We stand in rags, we beg for tears to dissolve the immovable landmarks of hatred. How beautiful our heritage, to have this way of speaking to eternity, how bountiful this solitude, surrounded, filled, and mastered by the Name, from which all things arise in splendour, depending one upon the other.

  • Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 1984.

 

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Love and War with Spoken Word Artist Andrea Gibson – YouTube

On the morning after the most unthinkable US election result, when the Black American US President will meet to talk about transition to the white man who has given license to unbridled bigotry, hatred, racism, xenophobia and so much more, this. Because the pain is so great, the despair globally pervasive, and because hope seems so forlorn… this.

If you ask how did this happen? Listen to the second poem. Yet hope must triumph,  love WILL triumph, and both live in our hearts and in our outstretched hands.

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Max Richter – 2002 Memoryhouse – YouTube

If ever there was music which captures the mood of this November in 2016, Max Richter’s 2002 Memoryhouse is surely it.

From climate change occurring at an ever-increasing rate to the Clinton vs Trump debacle of the US election just days away, the exhaustion and anxiety of so many people everywhere as we face our collective uncertain future is palpable.

Yet hope remains, hope that can only spring from action. Surely, at the deepest level, action is what we are called to in this day.

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Nukes are back in fashion: proliferation, a terror we thought we had left behind

“Aotearoa New Zealand was a voice of reason in the 1980s with a principled stand against nuclear proliferation. We were at the forefront of what became a cacophony of voices against the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction. Today, we are comparatively quiet, even muted, happily following along behind the leaders, our tail wagging. My mother always used to say, “if your friend went and jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” Salient words. We need to lead again for the sake of our humanity.”

First We Take Manhattan

In the beginning of October, 40 million Russians engaged in three days of drills in preparation for a nuclear or natural disaster. Last week, Vladimir Putin instructed Russian officials overseas to bring all their relatives home. India and Pakistan are escalating their decades old conflict in the Kashmir. Syria and Iraq seem quagmires that more and more powers are determined to sink their feet into. The United States authorised firing of cruise missiles into Yemen in response to a “failed” attack on their warship. Saudi Arabia’s financial links to Daesh were made clear this week, to which the USA collectively shrugged. China is aggressively extending its claims in the South China Sea. The USA seems determined to play Trump out to the end, potentially permanently fracturing their collective commitment to nationhood. North Korea is playing with increasingly sophisticated nuclear missile capabilities. Russia is investing again in an upgraded and expanded…

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