Vancouver poet George Stanley’s most recent book is West Broadway (New Star Books, 2018). Here are three poems from the book. Dooney’s thinks that West Broadway and its partner volume, George Bowering’s Some End, may be tipped – well, okay, ought to be tipped — for a Griffen Poetry Prize.
* * *
Writing Old Age
Old Age foresees an end, but need writing have an end in mind?
The end Old Age foresees is non-specific. Old Age has no apprehension of the way it might end; it’s just a thought, a persistent thought. For the last year or so it’s come to attach itself to whatever else may be happening, to insinuate itself into any other thought, or wrap around it.
So when Old Age thinks of himself (does a ‘selfie’ as he calls it), it’s never without that sense of an ending being part of it.
But now Old Age is writing, and he goes back to his initial question, does his writing also have to imagine coming to an end? And as if in obedience to an underlying intuition, his persistent thought of an end departs from the present moment and goes off sort of like a dog and lies in its corner.
It doesn’t leave the scene, no, by no means, it keeps an eye on Old Age from its corner.
Writing answers the question: Sure, Old Age, writing will come to an end, this piece of writing we’re engaged in now will come to an end, but that’s never what’s on my mind. When I’m Writing, my sense is always one of beginning. I’m on my way somewhere, somewhere I’ve never been, or have even imagined. I’m beginning even if what I’m writing has already begun.
Whatever’s already been written is past, even if it was just five seconds ago. If there’s something I’m writing, I only know it as the to-be-written, the way it’s going. What’s on my mind, the mood I’m in, is one of beginning. I lift my pen to begin the next sentence.
The next sentence: I never think of old age. I don’t care about old age.
Wait! I don’t mean you, Old Age. I care about you. I’ve written poems about you, whole books. But I can’t live with thoughts like the ones you’re describing, thoughts wrapped around other thoughts. Sheesh! Give it a rest!
What do you care about then, Writing?
I care about, I wait for, a true line.
A true line. To hear it in language, bypassing thinking. But lately I’m less able to do that. My hearing has gone bad. I admit it, for the last year or so, even though I want to write, I find myself thinking instead. Sitting here, stuck, thinking, not writing. My name is not just Writing. It’s Writing Old Age.
Yet you’ve been writing, writing sentences.
But the sentences are about thoughts. And just like you4rs, Old Age, one thought inserts itself into another, or wraps around it. I’m hoping for a true line, and a thought comes and lays itself out alongside a few random words I’ve written – like a dead body.
People are crying for sentences! But not for sentences about thoughts.
* * *
Remonstrance on Behalf of Thoughts
First off, are there two of you guys, or just one?
Old Age says he’s bedogged (sorry!) by one particular thought, that of his coming demise (the opposite of mise en scene), so, his leaving the scene.
(Or as Ed Dorn called it, the set.)
And he can’t refer to himself (‘do a selfie’) without thinking (of) it.
Speaking as a thought, myself (and as a member of NAT, the National Association of Thoughts), I think I have a little more freedom than that. I don’t think my right to appear is dependent on the thinker’s intention to refer (to himself, or in any way). Maybe if Old Age could be more welcoming to his thoughts, he might feel less oppressed by us.
Then there’s Writing (as I’ve said, I’m not sure if this is a separate being or a hand puppet of Old Age).
Writing presents himself as unconcerned. That’s how this brash, youngish guy wants us to take him, as unconcerned with anything other than his task – one of ‘self-actualization’ you might say. Writing writes writing. There’s nothing on his mind – his plate – but his anticipation of the next sentence.
The next sentence. I don’t believe Writing – his presentation of himself as a one-dimensional, self-generating linear process coming into being sentence by sentence. Not a thought in his head? What about NAT (National Association of Thoughts), wasn’t that a thought popping into his head in the middle of the night? A free gift to him as a writer. A thought. What about the thought of NAT occurring to him again, just now? Just occurring, no credit to him.
These are members of my bargaining unit, even if working under the table. They have to pay dues. NAT, Local 0000, Inspiration.
Those kind things you say about Old Age, Writing, before you merge back into him, those are kind, loving thoughts.
Bypassing thinking? Not by a long shot. Are you some kind of language machine, attached to a hand?
I believe you more, Writing, after youi’ve made your peace with Old Age. Now, like Old Age, you acknowledge the presence of thoughts – but you, too, like Old Age, are spooked by them. But you’re spooked in a different way from Old Age. Old Age feels thoughts wrapping around him. When he ‘does a selfie,’ there’s the end of a cerement, a strip of winding cloth, curling out from behind one ear. He feels like he’s being stifled, mummified.
But for you, Writing, your work space has become like a tomb, your access even to your own writing materials blocked by a thought that lies on the table ‘like a dead body’. You go to reach for your writing book and it’s under the thing’s cold shoulder, your pen just out of reach behind a knee.
Well let me run some footage off a CCTV camera you’ve never noticed, just up there behind your head (we put it there to catch thoughts working under the table). Well what do we see?
It’s a dark room. The timer reads 7:29 am, a Wednesday in mid-October. Off-camera audio: sound of a shower running, then a young male voice, singing.
Now from the adjacent bedroom there enters an old man, wearing just glasses (and, oddly enough, a Vancouver Canadians baseball cap). He approaches the table and climbs up onto it, then lies down prone over an open writing book and some pencils and pens, and apparently goes to sleep.
Look, Writing, as you emerge from the washroom, that’s no thought, that’s no dead body, it’s Old Age, stretched out on your half-finished page.
. A thought (rank and file)
* * *
When, nightlong, I await her arrival,
life, it seems, is scarcely bearable.
What is acclaim, what truth, what freedom,
next to her sweet presence, flute in hand?
She’s here already! Drawing aside her veil
with an attentive mien she regards me.
I say to her: ‘Did you dictate to Dante
pages of Hell?’ She answers, ‘It was I.’