To crack a nut is truly no feat, so no one would ever dare to collect an audience in order to entertain it with nut-cracking. But if all the same one does do that and succeeds in entertaining the public, then it cannot be a matter of simple nut-cracking. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it turns out that we have overlooked the art of cracking nuts because we were too skilled in it and that this newcomer to it first shows us its real nature, even finding it useful in making his effects to be rather less expert in nut-cracking than most of us.
– Kafka (quoted in Kafka’s mouse)
I came out from my hole, from my dust pit, from the rubble and rubbish of myself, like a worm coming out of the ground. I found myself in a field. In the centre of the field was a chair and a man seated on it maintaining a constant silence. The trees were undressing with sly secret smiles.
All roads are the same road. Destinations. We set out in different directions past fallen signposts. I prefer hilltops to valleys, clear views to a dark sleep, and the birds thrown up like a cloud of fertile dust. The sky sends me baffling directives — a twisted tree on the skyline and, when I reach it, the way the sunlight grows into the bark.
Making love, my alter ego waiting behind the screen, she is a mirror of my left side. If I rub her body some breath will cloud the glass. A column, a trunk covered in bark like lizard skin, this is how she was found, escaping from the tyranny of verse.
Behind a stilled screen of eyes bodies are marching down the street, more or less upright. The countryside has to be tamed with titles.
And now the desk is cleared for breath.
– John Welch
They started arguing. Their house became an evil place, a dreaded thing to return to each evening: the ill will waiting for them like a black dog in the den, angry at being left alone all day. Then he began blacking out whole days with drink. The usual story, I remember saying to someone, except this one went far too far. We read about how he did it in the paper the next day, what he used.
What if Judas hadn’t hanged himself but the real punishment had been to stay and haunt the Garden like a second unexpelled Adam, to watch his past gain power by the hour? I can almost see him, shuffling between the trees, a barely tolerated tramp grown prematurely old, mumbling to his lost Messiah: the Christ of the Garden, the transparent Thursday Christ visited for advice by other Judases. Too much Christ too soon, too little Judas too late — always too soon or too late. Yet even so the betrayer’s hope, the prayer for a past accepted and transfigured at last.
This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me
– Leonard Cohen
Finally I can breathe.
The dying geyser seethes
The retreating tide respires
I took you way down deep
Drank you to the bitter lees
Now the poison’s left the heart
And mist blows over the trees.
Again, sitting at your desk, you catch yourself
Arranging your future personality,
Bent over some dubious payoff,
Bluffing your way onto some scene.
The danger is to blithely tarnish the vein you mine
Sticking your flag on another’s territory,
As if it were your own ultima Thule.
Don’t play traitor to your weakness
(Achilles’ heel of every man you’ve known)
There’s no one left to please, no one left to torture
The older he gets the faster his failed, almost forgotten failed past speeds into the present until, at the moment of his death, it catches up to him and he can do nothing but accept it — as his life narrows to a point and bursts open.
Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death. Do not fix your burning eyes on me when you speak about love. If you want to impress me when you speak about love put your hand in your pocket or under your dress and play with yourself. If ambition and the hunger for applause have driven you to speak about love you should learn how to do it without disgracing yourself or the material (…) The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country. If you declaim it and blow it up with noble intentions then you are no better than the politicians whom you despise. You are just someone waving a flag and making the cheapest kind of appeal to a kind of emotional patriotism. Think of the words as science, not as art. They are a report. You are speaking before a meeting of the Explorers’ Club of the National Geographic Society. These people know all the risks of mountain climbing. They honour you by taking this for granted. If you rub their faces in it that is an insult to their hospitality.
- Leonard Cohen
The finest poetry creates its own place of power through words. It does so by itself, not through somebody selling the words. The words in the best poems don’t need any more than speaking. You don’t have to put emotion into them. What you have to do is to hear their strangeness and, within the strangeness, to hear the emotion in them, the whole odd electric experience vibrating as in a diaphragm. The diaphragm is all you really need. You could practically whisper poems like prayers. Their words will fall into the silence of the transformed space like a meteor shower.
- George Szirtes