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Again With the Yevgeny

Again With the Yevgeny

We have a new essay on Zamyatin, and new poetry on tap as well. Robert Mueller and Tony Jones return with more lyrical and creative writing.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman, in Casablanca.
Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman, in Casablanca.

 

My own writing and reading has slowed a bit as we move to the end of 2008. The holidays have seen me sinking into movies primarily. Nothing of stunning note, though I did enjoy watching the classic, Casablanca, again. My guess is, however, that my own thoughts would not add anything new to the libraries of critical assessments regarding that great story of Rick and Ilsa and the madness in Morocco.

On an entirely personal note, Ingrid Bergman always reminds me of a former girlfriend. Their faces and voices connect for me. Though my ex was originally from Puerto Rico, far, far from Sweden, and generally of a much sunnier disposition than the star of Gaslight, Joan of Arc, and The Bells of Saint Mary’s.

 

Until next time . . .

 

 

Blind Spot: Two Poems by Tony Jones

Blind Spot: Two Poems by Tony Jones


Blind Spot


The scam: the scene in Punch Drunk Love
where the heroine is bleeding and
Adam Sandler takes a tire iron to
the toughs that just wrecked his
car and his life.

What I find disturbing is the concept that
inevitably someone with issues like Sandler’s
must of necessity find true love. I am the age
of his character with neurological issues
of my own, and I haven’t seen its ananke.
A sweet film, but false advertising.

2.
Will the comet shearing a rut through
the heart of the sky, so beautiful
and seeming benificent now on the horizon,
destroy us or is that law of physics
going to be suspended as well?

My life went up in smoke, but the vapors
concretized and reassembled themselves into
a castle of limestone which is where I live
now, with an empty heart that magically generates
enough fire to power cities, to the amusement of
blackbirds that flock in the willows.

3.
Absently chewing a willow frond
I watch you draw cartoons as I
throw stones into the pond whose surface
is too algae-covered to skip pebbles off
of.

The willow branches creak empty
in a contrary wind. A mosquito lands
on my notepad.



–by Tony Jones

 



Open to a fullness
that is seeking to be whole.

Younger traces.
Jade oblivion.
Ambidextrous re-entry.
A world that is new
because you are so old.

Whelm realm
cosmic dream scheme
you mean
I am in this
for real? Not just
nominally?

And I am
incisive
burning
expectant
sorrowful
repentant

not very often though.

The scent off a hunk of
myrrh reminds
you that
you are alive and
pulled into this being
by the very breath that
powders the bones and powers
the phones.


–by Tony Jones

________________

Tony Jones is a 36 year old poet who has been writing seriously for 21 years, and has been published in journals like Virginia Writing and Kronos. He lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and took a succession of dead-end jobs that were nonetheless very productive of creative inspiration, though generally in a negative way, before deciding to finish his Masters in Religion, which occupies him presently. He lives with a cat, Sibyl, and far too many books on history, philosophy, theology, science fiction and, well, you get the picture…

Copyright © Tony Jones, 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Tony Jones: Deep Will Call Unto Deep

Tony Jones: Deep Will Call Unto Deep

Emily Dickinson. 1846. Photo by William C. North
Emily Dickinson. 1846. Photo by William C. North

 

[Guest blogger Tony Jones]

Religiophobia

 

Blindered by heat-flashes
of banality; the sacred barnyard
tells us nothing except it has
no room for us without our becoming
at once greater and smaller.

This is what it means to have
the mind of Christ; to become as a child
with the heart-space of a 1000 goslings,
arrow-tipped with lightning.

 

One of the reasons it’s hard to write good religious or spiritual verse — and I am well aware that the terms spiritual and religious are not synonyms — is that the “truths” of religion/spirituality are so public — known by millions and millions — of people that to even utter them in their publicly known form is to start from the realm of cliché and banality. This doesn’t mean those truths really are banal, it just means that they have been pounded deep into the wagon-ruts of collective consciousness, where they often lie lifeless, or at least embalmed.

Art demands two things: “Make it new,” (Ezra Pound), and “tell the truth but tell it slant,” (Emily Dickinson.) So there’s immediately a tension between the fabrication of any art and the public truths of religion. In fact, note that I have just used the word fabrication, which can also have the meaning of “deception.” Thus art/artifice already lies in a semi-antagonists relation to the public truths of tradition. Generally, the truths of religion are old, very old, because they’re traditional. And as such they fall within the black-box structure of a society, i.e. tend to be among the constellations of meanings within a culture that are not only unexamined but that there is a sense of threat at the possibility of being reflected on.

So the poet, say — could be another artist but for argument’s sake let’s say poet because that’s what I am, as well as a very poor bowler — in trying to make it new, because this is unalienable to the craft of poetry, is already paddling against the stream, and will both be likely misunderstood by the majority of the public and also, because of the nature of the truths s/he appears to call into question by the very nature of his/her rhetoric, that public is likely to be hostile as well as unsympathetic. Well, an elucidation of the role of a poet or artist in society is yet another subject for yet another time, but we should recognize that even apart from some of us writers and artists consciously taking an adversarial position toward societal norms, the meta-cultures we dwell in are likely to think that we’re being adversarial anyway, and that will flavor our relations, especially when we write about subjects that touch on religion.

The “tell it slant” part is also problematic as well, because generally public truths demand straightforwardness, so when you are involved in writing any sort of abstruseness, you get back into the 1) not being understood area and 2) suspicion of your motives territory. I know this is a stretch, but I see a similarity between public perceptions of the slant-telling poet and, say, military perceptions of a general like Stonewall Jackson in the American Civil War, who tended to keep his movements secret, not just from his enemies, but from his own officers and troops. It drove them absolutely nuts. And often made his superiors very suspicious of him, even though he won battles. Why? Because the public demands straightforwardness. And always will. So the slant-teller, the jester, the troubadour, the outflanker who holds her/his cards close at all times, will never be quite accepted, even if at times they are seen to be performing a useful service for society.

So where does this leave us in the writing of religious/spiritual verse? Firstly, if we are inspired, inflamed by vision as well as the passion that first produced the art in and through us, then we are going to be telling things anew. That is going to make some people suspicious. Or at the very least (and possibly better) they just won’t understand, won’t see anything in it for them, and they will ignore us. But for a critical mass of people, that vision will speak to them — deep will call unto deep — and, intrigued at first, they will look into the passionate vision and become entranced. They may or may not actually be inspired, but at least the form you have shaped with your art will be replicated in their minds and souls, without which nothing else would be communicated. And maybe, just maybe, you will have illuminated a heretofore hidden corner of some religious (or other) truth that they had never considered before.

 

 

Tony Jones: Pizza Space

Tony Jones: Pizza Space

[Guest blogger du jour Tony Jones]

Master Po and Kwai Chang Caine
Master Po and Kwai Chang Caine

What’s the mystique about mysticism? (Or is the question itself just a misleading fork in the road, excluded middle term, dun leaves dead on a worm-ridden tree, as in “not seeing the forest for the … ”, regarding spirituality).

When I watched Kung Fu as a young child, then as now I was entranced by the mixture of action and the ambiance of a kind of deep inner peace that drove it. I think I missed the master-pupil “grasshopper” dynamic, but I was only two or three years old. But then again, I have never really been content with the notion of master and pupil, either in being a student, or in being a teacher. Of course, then I had absolutely no idea what the show was about on an intellectual level and would not have begun to be able to articulate it until late in high school, possibly. There was a kind of scary and alluring negative space about it for me.

Bizarre side note on “Pizza Space.” One of the kid shows I watched had a recurring film segment about a man making pizza crust from scratch. As he tossed it into the air in slow motion, and the crust sort of percolated and flapped around in space, it seemed to me that it actually left the room and hung in the void for a while, and then returned. This was only an optical illusion created by the camera angle, and probably not one intended by the film-makers. But “Pizza Space” — which I did not name until a couple years ago — then existed for me as an archetype of the creative void, the emptiness in which artistic craft occurs, possibly ex nihilo. (In fact, I think now, never ex nihilo, because there is always some antecedent, but that has not always been my thinking on the subject…)

I find myself also thinking about religion in general in parallel to mysticism. They are not identical, but they always inform one another. Even those who pursue mystical experience from a secularist perspective — or materialistic, empiricist angle — are to some degree relying on the insights of those operating from within a religious tradition. (Even to use the term “mysticism” is to repeat a meme that originates within religions.)

Where does art fit in? For many of us, artistic experience is our primary engagement and appropriation of the numinous. And perhaps, in many instances, where the numinous grabs us. (To be “raptured” after all, does not always imply literal translation of the body into heaven … to be “caught up” is maybe not the province of just one spiritual tradition.)

Why did I in two instances above reach back into childhood to lay hold of some dimension of mystical experience? Is it because the impact of the numen in my life then was more intense because of my developmental stage, and because less crowded out by other concerns in life? Is this related to what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God”?

Just ramblings late at night as my stomach rumbles unquiet at the thought of a long work week, and my cat paws my leg for attention. Not unlike the numinous, either in the cat’s paw, or the work week, or the indigestion.

 

 

New Poetry and a Short Film

New Poetry and a Short Film

We have some new poetry on tap from Sheema Kalbasi, Alessio Zanelli and Tony Jones. Sheema also tipped me off to a very good short film and hopes our readers will view the movie here.

The filmmaker in question, Hossein Martin Fazeli, is also a poet. One I hope to publish here soon.

 

__________
 

If I had another life to live, I think I would be a filmmaker. The ability to make art that way, to combine prose, poetry, music, soundscapes, landscapes, paintings, photography, motion. It has it all. And I don’t think that “all” has been fully exploited. One could do a life of a poet, a musician, a novelist, a painter, a philosopher. One could utilize most of our senses and hint at the rest. He or she could create a world and go beyond any one form of art by itself.

Of course, it can not match the sustained connection between reader and writer provoked by the greatest works of literature, or focus our attention on one image like the greatest paintings and sculptures, but it could place and replace words on the screen to stir different emotions and links. It could and should provoke us to experience the multiplicity of art forms in a single sitting. Never to be the end all and be all. But one more catalyst. One more outreach program. One more initiation experience to beat the band.

 

New Poems by Tony Jones

New Poems by Tony Jones


Atonement


Grind your teeth on atonement pangs. Lone rocks crop the low sky. You reach up with a steady hand. The clouds elude you.

Walk the brown stream, dip in your hands and face, drink deep. Forget the water leads always down. Brown drops crumble in heat to ascend, as must you.

2.
You’ve got to stumble three times. You try to walk, and that staggers your first summers. Drink love and fall forever.

You enter the brown room, where an hour stretches to blackness before time, songs flash bright between your ears, there is no difference between the song and your voice, your mind.

3.
You bleed brown into your chest, your head.
Luck cleaves to the gray channels. Don’t cling
too tight, you might miss it. Keep one eye open,
or you’ll miss her. Two eyes, and she’ll run away.

4.
You dive through the murk to the stone, pry it loose with tired fingers. Every day you dive
again, lungs ache and muscles scream as you drag it a hand’s breadth farther.

When the stone is on the shore, glistening, you laugh. The gazelle ran by as you pushed stones underwater, in a flash of brown.

Her flanks lit up the evening sky.


Ibiza 08 (after a pic by doris)


Vertical gelatinous sun,
like the final image of Robert
Duvall in THX-1138, standing triumphant in the telephoto lens, the waters heal my sore feet and the salt air purges my hangover. The distant scent of fish and oil and car exhaust cannot compete with standing on the edge of an element and willing yourself into the center of the solar system,
even if only in your imagination.

The sails flap contented, Gina takes off her top and lies in the sun. I  fall asleep and sunburn. The pages
of her diary flip in the breeze. A gull watches us from the boom.

A cosmos is born in the sailboat’s wake, one far better than the one
I usually travel through in a sleeper ship at infinitessimal fractions of the speed of light, and wake up from
with bloodshot eyes and a creeping sense of defilement along my limbs and in
my soul.


beguining


raspberry twist of a girl
with all comets in her
jean’s pockets,

the atmosphere
I am losing because
we can’t breathe or
have breathed too heavily

and she dances
sings
plays guitar
intones the name
of God in
79 flavors

we are
rejoicing for the first
time since before the
war.


Tony Jones is a 36 year old poet who has been writing seriously for 21 years, and has been published in journals like Virginia Writing and Kronos. He lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and took a succession of dead-end jobs that were nonetheless very productive of creative inspiration, though generally in a negative way, before deciding to finish his Masters in Religion, which occupies him presently. He lives with a cat, Sibyl, and far too many books on history, philosophy, theology, science fiction and, well, you get the picture…

Copyright © Tony Jones, 2008. All Rights Reserved.



Tony Jones: The Perils of Binary Thinking

Tony Jones: The Perils of Binary Thinking

 
Friday, March 28th, 2008
Another way of saying “binary thinking” is “dualistic thinking.” It’s become something of a cliche in postmodernity to decry “western dualism,” so I’m going to avoid the phrase to stave off my own boredom and perhaps make a more trenchant point.
I’ve noticed that North Americans are terrible about seeing things in (cliche again) “black” and “white”, good or bad, this or that. To some extent, just to use ordinary conversational english you have to employ antonyms but that’s not what I’m talking about. Somehow for Northams (I’m not going to use the term Americans b/c of course that includes our friends in Canada and Latin America, and I’m not talking about them in this critique, mainly because I have little knowledge of whether they tend to see things the same way, but I suspect not. . . ) we hypostatize all of our dualisms into Manichean cosmological struggles. So you’re left wing or right wing, “saved” or “unsaved,” skinny or fat, whatever.

You know, at one point in my life, in a more spiritually and philosophically conservative headspace than I am in now, I was told that the critique of dualistic thinking is actually an evil -even diabolical – deception to get people to reject the most fundamental tenet of morality – a deed is either good or evil. It can’t be both, and it can’t be something else entirely. There was a sense that, if you began to question the fundamental binaryness of morality, you were approaching a “slippery slope” whose end was antinomianism (no moral law at all) and moral and ethical anarchy – the damnation of the individual and the shipwreck of society. Even profound thinkers such as C.S. Lewis (in his Space Trilogy for example) fall into this thinking.

I won’t deny that antinomianism has its dangers, but there is more to life than 0 or 1, this or that. We are not faced with just two choices in life, but a myriad of choices with consequences. Really making sound moral and ethical decisions is an exploration of a rich landscape. In that scape are fascinating characters, places, treasures, and some monsters. (Okay I played too much d&d growing up…)

Rather than the binary this or that approach, I suggest we try at least experimentally to think of moral life as an experience of choice and relationship within a rich matrix of possibilty and consequence. (Yes I used the m word, but the Matrix trilogy actually does deal with some of these very same philosophical concepts.) As this meme expands into other areas of our awareness, we may find ourselves not consigning others to one of two categories, and may have much richer emotional lives because it. We may find – I believe Kierkegaard said it – that life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.
 

–Tony Jones

 

Copyright© 2008, by Spinozablue and Tony Jones
 

Enumerations: (On Listening to Hendrix) by Tony Jones

Enumerations: (On Listening to Hendrix) by Tony Jones

Enumerations

 

I am sitting in a wooden upholstered chair built in the nineteen fifties (I know because the table it came with had the original sales receipt from 1957) at my computer desk listening to Jimi Hendrix performing with the Band of Gypsies on New Years 1970 at the Filmore East almost two years before I was born.

My cat Sibyl is sleeping behind me. She is almost 13. Hard to believe. She looks five and has the most beautiful black/orange tortoise-shell fur I have ever seen. She also has an incredibly sweet and talkative disposition. (I have known many cats and by far she is the most gregarious)

I am 36. Time is spinning a web around my head. I am thinking that the chronometric parsing of our small gasps of life may be the death of us, machinelike, or at least make our oxygen scarcer and sleep consequently less pleasant, but would we know the difference? But not tonight, as the cd rips and my thoughts kick into a level of medium awareness, equanimity, this is where I like to be, lucid, but inspired.

Jimi is playing Machine Gun, this double cd is great because it actually has both versions he played on the two nights of his Filmore East shows. Non-sequitur, but Vernon Reid, guitarist for Living Color once mentioned in an interview that he had been certain Hendrix was a Vietnam vet because of the passion that infused not just the song, but every note of that specific performance of it. (The original Band of Gypsys album only had one of the two performances, I’m presuming that’s the one he meant…) But no, Jimi never went to war, though he was in the 101st Airborne and jumped out of airplanes many times, the experience no doubt influencing the scope, the spectrum, the vast sonic VISION that was core to Hendrix’s genius.

Hendrix knows how to squeeze every bit of feeling out of each note and he does it in technicolor. I am pulled into the walls of tonal smoke and chronic fire, the blaze of combating chords and screaming notes, whammy drops and pulses that he authoritatively energizes from massive fingers. When I think of my own finger-shredding struggles with the instrument over many years – I am a decent rhythm guitarist at best, comfortable with barre chords but don’t ask me to do any lightning work – and relatively small hands and fingers my own difficulties with the physicality of the rock thing make sense to me. It’s taken me almost thirty years to get a modicum of guitar technique when the Maestro was wowing them within a few years of picking up the instrument, although by all accounts even he had a learning curve. But what an apogee! how far he could take it and make it scream in ecstasy!

And here I am 38 years later grooving to the beat and the heat and the thought. The other anecdote that sticks out to me about the performance is something I think I heard from the 1972 Jimi Hendrix documentary which VHS tape I still sometimes throw in now and again. Hendrix began his New Years performance with the usual showmanship shenanigans – playing with his teeth, beyond his head, etc. – and Promoter Bill Graham, who wanted a solid recording, said something to him about it, not in the nicest way. Jimi was enraged but went back out and performed, well, standing stock still, but he put every iota of his being into the show, and that is the performance we have recorded (and the one I am listening to as I type this). One of the most incredible pieces of extended improvisation we have from a rock musician, and it speaks profoundly of the good in human beings placed there by the creator that we experience when we hear it. And as he says goodnight to everyone and the cd fades to silence I am left with more than I can even begin to know how to describe.

 

–Tony Jones

______________________________

Tony Jones is a 36 year old poet who has been writing seriously for 21 years, and has been published in journals like Virginia Writing and Kronos. He lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and took a succession of dead-end jobs that were nonetheless very productive of creative inspiration, though generally in a negative way, before deciding to finish his Masters in Religion, which occupies him presently. He lives with a cat, Sibyl, and far too many books on history, philosophy, theology, science fiction and, well, you get the picture…

 

Copyright ©2008, Tony Jones and Spinozablue. All Rights Reserved.