Calligraphy by Keiko Ninoyu Morrison
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Did I read the verse, or did the verse read me? We interact, interweave, intertwine our threads of feelings. A conversation, meditation, contemplation of thoughts in words, words in thoughts. There is no firm boundary between the poem and the non-poem, and ones eyes easily, lazily, glide off the edge of the verse and onto the table top, the scattered papers, the wall, the window, the trees outside. And only then do you realise that you’ve not been reading the words but have been reading your surroundings, all the while still held within the poem.
Sophia trails her hand languidly into the gently flowing water of her life, blessed by the gods with the vision to see the ripples extend far further than our customary, cluttered, vision will allow. Every dip of the oar, every light list of the hull, washes through reed-beds and willow banks, laps at the otter’s hole, rocks the moorhen’s nest. Yet we fail to see this, as we have eagerly rounded the bend, pushing upstream or racing downstream.
Sophia allows her boat to circle tenderly in still ponds, back-eddies and the trampled muddy strands where the cattle come to drink. The stream flows all ways, not simply down, and the poetic voice contemplates those moments of precognition where the future is somehow known. She observes the visible and occult ripples of emotion, of love, hate or confusion that we all, jostling against each other, send out into the stream. Hers is a voice that calmly says, stop. Slow down. Look around you. Look close to you. Look inside you. Where is the border between inside and outside? Which reed-beds are rustled by your ripples?
There are four distinct collections of verse in this volume, each with its own assortment of curios, miscellanea, bric-a-brac. Each with its own spiralling tales. Dip your oar in. Raise the oar and see the dripping water sparkling in the sun, the wavelets circling…
Twisting from within
Pablo Neruda described his early verse as ‘at times growing thin, like the steps of gulls upon the beach’. Sophia describes her words here as swirls, hopping flies, rooks at dusk, words that froth out from the roe of the uphill-swimming spawning fish, ‘ugly and lumpy’. Or even ‘idiocies [which] dribble out of me’. Like Neruda’s words, though, they are not hers. They come from a hidden source and they are destined for the reader. They belong to no-one. They are alive. The poetic voice itself, she contemplates, may even not be hers, but her twin brother who died at birth, or her grandmother’s dead child, seeking a voice from afar, her voice.
We communicate in many languages, she reflects, and we read significance in many ways. Nothing is solid, nothing free of interpretation. If attune to poetic resonance, if perceptive to the hidden ripples, if aware that ‘events trail phosphorence’, we may move within the flow of time and intuit concealed moments of the divine.
The detached language of explanation,
of sciences which tell us the shape and
form of atoms, what lies beyond the fixed stars,
all these are now barnacles, fantasies attached
to their revered creators and we keep them on
shelves, like decorative shells picked from
the beach at low tide. Though we have no
notion of destination they let us see how
far we have come, but does that mean
nearer a cliff edge or a volcano mouth?
Or are we the dogs, described in ‘For example’ who learn a trick, learn another and are then rendered docile through being re-taught the first?
The dance is a striking metaphor for our lives, for the interwoven paths the various dancers weave in time – or out of time – to the music. Tripidium follows the poet stepping outside the dance, perhaps sitting with a drink at a table in the gallery, overlooking the pageant. She recalls those she has known and loved, tracing the patterns the feet have followed over the many years of the dance. She remembers the roommates and housemates, the gatherings and solitudes, the noise and the silence. She follows the increasingly erratic steps of Steve and his father’s sudden departure from the dance. She gazes upon Sal’s gravitation towards a solar and abusive painter. She observes an argument between two strangers, discerning with a mystic’s vision the subtle threads that bind the furious woman with her daemonic form, watching ‘her selves separate, as though her astral body rose from her physical mass and her consciousness snapped back and forth between them’.
The tripidium is the rhythm that feeds us all. It is the dance of life – subtle and yet strong, visible and yet occult, violent and yet passive. ‘The pulse is always on, on and off, up and down, now and then, the beat though can be changed, emphasis can be given. The tripidium is an attitude, a way of counting, changing the bar frame’…
Senseless in the Empyrium
This collection is a gallery of still lifes. Stones, trees and fruit. The poet sits by a gravestone, eats a tomato, drinks tea, describes the warmth of the cup, the heat of a radiator. Each moment is transient yet significant. Each event can bear within it the fruit of knowledge, or it can be enacted and ignored. It is the poet who dwells awhile and explores the poetic possibility of such moments.
But what surrounds me is an amalgam
part emanation and part reception
the mix of myself and world. Heat,
thought, desires, repulsions, and
sounds dwell in this atmosphere
of which I wish to be geographer.
Here, though, human interaction is not described as the dance, but as the interpenetration of countless waves of emotion and experience. Each of our actions produces subtle waves that emanate from us and affect our neighbours. Some waves are so strong as to be immediately tangible, such as when the poet is overcome with grief transferred through the fingers of a grief-stricken girl massaging her head. ‘I struggled to stay conscious, clung to the though “this grief might not be mine”’. At other times we do not detect the transference of emotional energy, and fail to suspect that our shifting emotions may be, precisely, the very reception of them. ‘Such severe invasions can sometimes be caught, but the smaller ones, less dramatic, but arousing doubt or anger, these are easily absorbed unquestioned’. Herein lies the gnawing question addressed throughout this book: how can we maintain our personal, private space, when the shell of our aura is perpetually dented and bruised by so many others? If attune to these subtle waves, if sensitive to the emanations of emotions vibrating away from each individual, we could be deafened.
and in a crowd the noise of them
all falling like thunderous rain
on the wooden roof of a garden
shed obscures my own affect,
and in closed areas, like
shopping malls, the vision of them all,
especially their faces,
and the condition of their skins
connects to too many life narratives.
She understands that she must ‘glaze her vision and muffle my ears, shield my body as best I may’. She must remember to retune herself, though, for dullness to these subtle waves is the denial of a divine gift. Furthermore, this gift affords protection, a guide for the unwary, and she remarks how her sensitivity granted her the vision to turn down the offer of help from an expressionless young man, who, were he to smile ‘would reveal vampircally long eye teeth’.
And in my Flesh
Jung knew that the body was part of the psyche. Sophia here contemplates her body, her physicality, the peculiar alchemical space where dreams arise and onions are digested, where thoughts operate finger movements and blood flows unbidden through unconsciously formed veins.
The problem of the individual within the crowd becomes here a paradox illustrated in the need for a hug. We need to hug and be hugged and yet we live constantly jostled and elbowed in trains and streets. We yearn for company and solitude, to be hugged and to be distant, protected from the disturbing rays emitted by people who are themselves disturbed by rays emitted from others…
What is inside and what is outside? Thoughts and emotions dip and weave like swifts chasing insects on the wing, desires pull us with a force almost physical. Outside are people, the window ledge, the trees and its ‘brown berries recently grown red’. Whilst most people tend to run away from their bodies, or to transform them through fashion or mutilation, here she chooses to run into the body, to contemplate its mysterious, autonomous machinery. She listens to the quiet noises of the body’s functions, gratefully stating that ‘I find the pulsation coursing through me pleasing’. She considers her hand, the veins, ‘distant as the pole star’. She explores the liminal space between waking and sleep in which the body becomes spirit-filled and the spirit, body-filled and from which dreams arise.
Borges suggested that the puzzlement and wonder were the essence of poetry:
But this fact of wondering at life may stand for the essence of poetry. All poetry consists in feeling things as being strange, while all rhetoric consists in thinking of them as quite common, as very obvious. Of course I am puzzled at the fact of my existing, of my existing in a human body, of my looking through eyes, hearing through ears, and so on. And maybe everything I have written is a mere metaphor, a mere variation on that central theme of being puzzled by things. (Conversations: 177)
Sophia’s poems honour the poetic spirit of Borges, questioning, contemplating, wondering, following the wavelets as they ripple away from a person or an event, engaging the most treasured of all gifts – poetic imagination – to follow the them upstream and downstream. A beautiful sense of puzzlement, of mystification, of gratitude, pervades all. Questions go unanswered. Some calls find no echo. Some stones skimmed across the surface of the water skip on to the distant shore, some drop into the depths.
Here is poetry.
William Rowlandson, Canterbury, August 2010
From the back cover:
Sophia Wellbeloved writes with beguiling wisdom on the subtle interplay of contemporary life and ancient mysticism: like her debut collection, admired by discerning readers on both side of the Atlantic, her new work serenely encompasses philosophy, physics, theology and a wry female gaze through and into the waterfall of the world. Here, though, in this poem in four parts (including ‘Tripidium’, as always intended by the author), a sustained and heightened sense of form compels a yet more satisfying amplification of her themes. Captivating, mesmerising, in its long, confluent unspooling of personal revelations, fables, and meditations on illusory dualisms, Praying For Flow powerfully enacts the sublime current it invokes. Memories, reassurances, speculations, all quietly pour forth; yet despite the cascading variety of her imagery and contemplations, in Wellbeloved’s poetic universe the human urge to classify and judge is dispersed—suspended in language like dust motes in a sun-stream through a veiled, yet open window.
Hopkins and Wellbeloved are the only modern poets whose work I will take out of the house with me, to read in a park or a cafe, for example. In Praying for Flow, I have found new companions on the path: enigmatic, humorous, spirited, profound and wise. And all in a language which is as accessible as it is refined and potent. Here, art is raised to a new nature through the alchemy of Wellbeloved’s sensitive awareness.
Dr Joseph Azize, Visiting Fellow, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Many Thanks and Much Praise
There are always more people to thank than ever do receive the thanks and recognition due to them, for getting the whole activity through from brain to page, and page to printed book form. I want to thank everyone who found their way into this poem, as well as to the patient and exuberant kindness of readers, including Andrew Rawlinson who suggested the overall title ‘Praying For Flow’, and who was the first reader of the poem; to Joseph Azize, John Robert Colombo, David Head, the team at Waterloo Press and most especially to William Rowlandson for writing the Introduction.
The visual presence of Japanese influence in the cover painting, and the calligraphic rendering of the title and subtitles are not specifically to do with the subject matter of the poem but part of the respectful dedication of this book to Machiko Kitamura.
Peter Cavaciuti a Cambridge based painter in the traditional Japanese manner made the front cover image, and Keiko Ninoyu the calligraphy. Working in collaboration with them gave me much pleasure.