Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wendell Berry: "How to be a poet (to remind myself)"

Stillness speaking.

How To Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

from Given, 2005

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A propos Nov 4th

Yes, I am excited about the outcome of the election yesterday. Although it is unclear to me what exactly Obama's change means, his willingness to change and to be a flexible, unifying president rather than an antagonising leader working solely in a landscape of black-and-white and sharp contrasts without being able or willing to see nuances in the complex reality we live in, makes me hopeful.

"The new dawn of American leadership is at hand"? I certainly hope so.

Underneath are two statements from the candidates for presidency reaching outside the area of politics.


"There are greater pursuits than self-seeking. Glory is not a conceit. It is not a prize for being the most clever, the strongest, or the boldest. Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself." - John McCain

"I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP." - Barack Obama


Friday, October 31, 2008

The Pocket-friendly Emily Dickinson

This is a handsome little book I bought about a year ago at Norli in Oslo, Norway. It is about 10X15 cm, and fits nicely in my handbag. I literally carry it with me wherever I go.

During train rides, or when sitting at my desk reading and writing notes and dissertations, I often pick this volume up for a break from what I am doing and for some creative input.

You can open this book on any page; originality and depth and striking metaphors will hit your eye in each poem here selected. Most of these poems are from around 1862 when Dicinson was in her most productive and literary interesting period.

Sometimes you just need a bit of comfort, or a sense of kinship, or you simply wish to be astonished by someone's imagination and perceptability, depth of insight and originality of thought.

Yesterday this poem was a gift of comfort to me. No need to say anything about the poem, it speaks for itself.


There is a pain — so utter —
It swallows substance up —
Then covers the Abyss with Trance —
So Memory can step
Around — across — upon it —
As one within a Swoon —
Goes safely — where an open eye —
Would drop Him — Bone by Bone.


Ca 1862

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Olav H. Hauge: "Your Way"

After having spent many days listening to the audiorecording of the Norwegian biography on Olav H. Hauge (Mitt liv var draum, K. O. Åmås), I find my mind to be more finely tuned into his language and poetry. His strongly marked dialect, which differs in many ways from my own more general and common form of language, in a way carries a specific personality. It's like his language becomes a poetic effect on its own.

The following is another famous poem here in Norway, and in its simplicity it points to something central to each of our particular expressions of existence. A comforting as well as uplifting poem. At least it is to me.

Your Way

No-one has marked out the road
you are to take
out in the unknown
out in the blue.

This is your road.
Only you
will take it. And there's no
turning back.

And you haven't marked your road
And the wind smooths out your tracks
on desolate hills.


Translated by Robin Fulton

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Children's art on environmental problems

I'm just adding this picture to my blog as I think it is so expressive. It is the winner of the first prize in UN's competition for children in portraying some of our planet's environmental challenges.

The picture is painted by a 13 year old girl (!), namely Charlotte Sullivan from England.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gunvor Hofmo: Central female Norwegian poet

Gunvor Hofmo (1921-1995) is a central poet in Norway's literary landscape. The story of her life is closely connected to the poetry she wrote.
The second world war came to have a significant and lasting effect on her. Her first collection of poems to be published is from 1946 and was called Jeg vil hjem til menneskene, meaning I want to go home to the humans. With this she carved out a sense of meaninglessness and despair many people felt after that most inhuman war.
Part of Hofmo's personal despair during WW2 was that her particular friend, the Jewish Ruth Maier, was deported to Auschwitz where she died not long after. Their friendship was very close, and many have speculated whether they were lovers, although there is no real proof that they were more than friends. Later in life she lived with another woman writer, Astrid Tollefsen.
Maier's deportation may have been a major reason for why Hofmo was hospitalized with mental illness in 1943, with many more years of hospitalization before her. Ruth Maier's death was perhaps the most central event in Hofmo's life. Maier's absence seems to be an emptiness Hofmo keeps circulating around throughout her life, much of it recorded in her writings. From 1955 to 1971 Hofmo stayed at Norway's major mental hospital, and she did not publish anything during those years. But from 1971 she moved into a flat of her own and she again started publishing, continuing this until her death in 1995.
The following poem is one of great simplicity and at the same time great clarity and quiet. It is from a collection bearing the same name as the poem, published in 1991.

Navnløst er alt i natten

Navnløst er alt i natten
Stille, time etter time
legger tingene sine
navn fra seg
Treet og stenen
tolker altets stemme
og mister sin egen

At nighttime everything is nameless

At nighttime everything is nameless
Quietly, hour by hour
the things leave their
names behind
The tree and the rock
interpret the voice of the absolute
and lose their own

In somewhat the same vein is this poem from 1973:

Ingen klage

Ingen klage. Ingenting
Som glasset langsomt
fylles med kostbar vin

fylles vår dag
av naken eksistens.


No complaint

No complaint. Nothing at all
Like the glass is slowly
filled with precious wine

our day is filled
with bare existence.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Edith Södergran: "On foot through the solar system"

This is a poem by the Finland-Swedish female poet Edith Södergran, who lived from 1892 to 1923. Her early death was due to tuberculosis. She lived many places during her lifetime, also in the Finnish forests, composing poems quivering with intense sensibility, emotion and originality. She is one of the definitely most interesting poets of her time. As her brief life was punctured by illness, her poems sometimes have a feverish life-celebrating glow to them while others are marked by a welcoming of death.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Swedish-speaking Finnish parents, she attended a German all-girl school in St. Petersburg facing the grand Winter Palace, home of the tzar. Here she was taught German, English, French and Russian - but no Swedish, which was her mother tongue. She wrote her innovative poems in Swedish anyway.

Her verse was free and modern. No doubt she had been influenced by other authors; Nietzsche was of her favourites for a time. But her voice is everywhere clearly a woman's. This in itself must have been a novelty in the early 1900s. She has been described as an expressionist as well as a modernist, but at the same time she is at odds with more central modernist poets. Her poems are often passioned, etheric, visionary, fantastic, feminine (or even feministic) -- all in all different and unique.

I have risked translating a small poem. Seeing as my mother tongue is not Swedish but Norwegian, this is slightly daring, but our languages are so alike that they are almost counted as dialects. Anyone is invited to suggest improvements, though ;-)

Till fots fick jag gå genom solsystemen

Till fots
fick jag gå genom solsystemen,
innan jag fann den första tråden av min röda dräkt.
Jag anar ren mig själv.
Någonstädes i rymden hänger mitt hjärta,
gnistor strömma ifrån det, skakande luften,
till andra måttlösa hjärtan.

On foot my path wound through the solar systems

On foot
my path wound through the solar systems,
until at last I found my red robe's first thread.
I already have a sense of who I am.
Somewhere in space my heart's suspended,
sparks flowing from it, quavering the air,
reaching out to other speechless hearts.


This is one of her minor poems, and I will probably try to translate a few of her other, more famous poems. But when, I do not know.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poetic Playfulness

I would like to launch a theory: A large part of a poet’s or writer's significance may lay in his or her playfulness, her ability to play with language and meaning and creating out of it a sensible whole with surprising turns of sense and imagination.

With this I do not mean playfulness in and of itself as in puns and annoying alliteration (haha), but as part of a larger oevre, with this as another layer of showing a perceptive mind and an ability to use language in a new and original way. Humour shows another meta-layer of language perceptibility or sensibility, and when sense is filtered through a layer of playfulness, this usually adds life to the written work in question.

It is always liberating to see a writer play with his or her own universe, to insert a streak of light heartedness or humour in his/her work. It actually shows a sense of love for language and a sort of return to the reasons he or she became a writer in the first place. Why write, why not paint or play an instrument or act or create in a different way? Language is the writer’s instrument, and through it he depicts every little nuance of what he feels like mediating. Language is also the most diverse and differentiated means of communication we have, which leaves writers with a great and thrilling responsability. Without creative souls reinventing language every day, it would stay static, and professional writers do have an impact on how we perceive reality and our own way with words. I, for one, am happy about this. Thoroughly thought through ways of using language always upgrade the system.

Especially with T. S. Eliot playfulness is a welcome feature. His poems often seem difficult and zig-zawed together from citations and allusions to other literary works. But he has another, more creative side as well, and this is eloquently and enjoyably expressed in his poems in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a work which is quite extraordinarily different from his other works and was meant for children. Here he is inventive and playful and produces a completely different tone from his more austere works like The Waste Land, Ash-Wednesday and most of his plays.

In many ways, writing for children seems to open a vein of creativity in authors. For example, it was not until J. K. Rowling started writing a children’s book that she got published, and why do we love Tolkien’s works so much? Or C. S. Lewis’s books about Narnia? Alice in Wonderland? Fairytales? In them fantasy, imagination and creativity is in free flow! It is a beautiful part of human existence to be able to create new worlds in which many other people feel at home and loved.

Thank heaven for the imaginative writers!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

T. S. Eliot joking about himself

It was almost a relief to find this poem by T. S. Eliot in which he jokes about common (mis)conceptions of him as a person. He was often believed to be aloof, withdrawn, far too formal and rule-abiding. Virginia Woolf has many entries in her diary about Eliot, on how he seemed to dress more English than the English themselves, and how he once took to a strange habit of dabbing his face with green-white face powder. His on-the-whole unhappy marriage to his first wife spawned many malign rumours, and his personal life does seem packed with contradictions and personal oddities. But the more I read about him, the more it seems to me that he was just uncomfortable being around many people, and that in his intimate relationships to women, first and foremost, another, more alive and straightforward Eliot acted out.
In this enjoyable little thing called "Lines for Cuscuscaraway and Mirza Murad Ali Beg" (just the title, it's hilarious!) Eliot shows a ready mind for self irony which is not a common thread in his poems. A timely feature in such a formal being, I find.

Here it is:

Lines for Cuscuscaraway and Mirza Murad Ali Beg

How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
With his features of clerical cut,
And his brow so grim
And his mouth so prim
And his conversation, so nicely
Restricted to What Precisely
And If and Perhaps and But.
How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
With a bobtail cur
And a porpentine cat
And a wopsical hat
How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
(Whether his mouth is open or shut).


Isnt't it enjoyable?

Or maybe my deep dive into Eliot's life and works has made me blind to what is humurous to those not so into his work...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Wallace Stevens: Poetry is the Supreme Fiction

A couple of days ago this poem by Wallace Stevens arrived in my mailbox. I haven't read it before, and I need to look up a few of these words before I completely understand it, but it certainly looks like a poem in Stevens's easily recognizable style.

The following intro accompanied the poem. As it is a good intro to Wallace Stevens, even with a brief biograpy, I simply put the whole thing here:

It's the birthday of Wallace Stevens, born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). Stevens was an excellent student. He went to Harvard. He decided that he would fulfill his father's desires and go to law school. Afterward, he took a job with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, he eventually became vice president, and he remained at the job for the rest of his life. Each day, he walked the two miles between his home and his office, and during these walks to and from work, he composed poetry. Some people thought it was odd for an insurance executor to write poetry. Stevens did not. He said, "It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job." In 1955, just months before he died, he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his volume Collected Poems. He wrote:


Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms
Like windy citherns, hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began.


Poetry is the supreme fiction. I definitely like the ring of that line.

It is an excerpt from "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman", which according to the Wikipedia article on Stevens is a satirical poem in which Stevens plays with our ideas of religion and what to do when religion no longer holds a central place in our lives and societies. Apparently he wrote that “After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption." (From Opus Posthumous.) Only to encounter the troubles with finding this fiction, and ultimately concluding that there is no way to contact or experience reality directly. Well, I don't know whether I agree with Stevens on this point, but it is nevertheless an interesting piece of poetic thinking.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Anbefalt: Stefan Sundström

Denne fyren oppdaget jeg da Nästan som reklam kom ut i 1994. Det var et par år etter at Lisa Ekdal hadde feid over diverse etere med Vem vet og alt det der. Siden jeg har vokst opp med Cornelis Vreeswijk, Hasse&Tage, Astrid Lindgren (hvem har ikke det), Bellman og i grunnen hele den svenske kulturkretsen gjennom SVT, er jeg rimelig disponert for å like denne typen musikk. Det hjelper sikkert at mamma er sørlandsviseentusiast og tidligere visesanger og gitarklimprer også.
MEN altså, Stefan Sundström er visesangeren for de litt mer tøffe, unge av sinn, samfunnskritiske - de oppegående, kan man kanskje si. På samme måte som Vreeswijk har Sundström et galleri av personasjer med diverse karaktertrekk. Sabina (Fina Pina), Jan Banan, Nefertite og Galne Gunnar er noen av dem, og rundt dem spinner Sundström sin egen verden. Og den er ikke vanskelig å tre inn i. Det blir som å lese en bok, eller flere fortellinger som springer ut fra et miljø man etter hvert begynner å føle man kjenner.
I tillegg, eller samtidig, er det selvsagt musikken som skaper denne verdenen. Her er det rett og slett rockeviser av høy kvalitet, utgytt med bravur og pondus, men også med en følsom og poetisk åre som kommer til overflaten ganske ofte.

Grunnen til at jeg fremhever et album som er 14 år gammelt, er fordi det er det jeg kjenner best selv. Senere har han gitt ut bl.a. tolkninger av Allan Edvalls viser, eget samlealbum (Greatest hits) og flere andre studioalbum.

Tidligere har jeg nevnt hvordan Lars Saabye Christensen har møbler mye av oppveksten min med tanke på språklig fremmaling og en viss blågrå, halvmelankolsk oslostemning. På samme måte har svensk kultur, sikkert spesielt populærkultur, preget oppveksten min sterkt. Cornelis Vreeswijk og Astrid Lindgren var nok de to viktigste representantene for svensk kultur for meg som liten, og den stemningen disse to skapte er fremdeles sentral for meg, som en slags egen verden i barndomsverdenen. Og da Stefan Sundström came along da jeg var 14, kjente jeg straks at han var en mer moderne og nå-tilpasset rockpoet som jeg umiddelbart kjente meg hjemme hos.

Kanskje ikke noen vits i å si at jeg anbefaler å høre på noe av musikken hans?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Potter Perfect Stephen Fry

An hommage to Stephen Fry's incredible reading abilities

As a long-time self-proclaimed Harry Potter fan, I have read all seven books at least two times, and the last four several more. Which is all fun. But in addition to this I have listened to the audiorecordings read by Stephen Fry an embarassingly high number of times. Sitting there on the iPod they are so easy to access and many a walk, pre-bedtime minutes and times when I feel I need additional comfort, security or just to be surrounded by a sense of family (yes, I know the characters so well I now consider them part of my family), has been graced by Fry's outstanding interpretation of Rowling's Potter world.
I generally like reading for myself better than listening to audio books; nothing above, nothing equal to it. But with Fry's performance I actually think the books gets an extra dimension, or rather that it is so well transmitted through Fry that I stop thinking about that someone is reading aloud, that there is someone else interpreting the characters I know so well from the books. And that, to me, is quite an achievement. Additionally, it is not only me thinking this, but all people I have talked to about this agrees. My mother, whom I had long recommended reading the Potter books, first got hooked when I gave her all seven Potter books on her newly bought iPod. She started out listening to the Norwegian version, but did not find the reading satisfactory (or, perhaps, the translation, as I myself find the books far better in the original British-English than in translation). However, when she - grudgingly, as she does not feel too comfortable reading English novels - started on the Potter series, she could not get enough! I think she raced through all seven books in two to three weeks, something which is quite a feat, considering the length of the last four novels and a packed work schedule. No one was allowed near her iPod as she then might lose track of where she was at in the present Potter story.
This did not surprise me a bit; the Potter novels seem to have that effect on readers. But it did please me, as it allowed my mother some well-earned breaks from her demanding job and probably increased her energy levels.
Isn't it just wonderful that literature can have this impact on people? And how grateful am I that there are interpretors such as Stephen Fry out there. Well, by now you can probably tell ;-)

Monday, September 29, 2008

What is literature for

I'd like to cite an American author who just died but of whom I have never read a word. I came across an obituary in Morgenbladet, one of the few decent Norwegian papers. Central to this periodical is politics, societal issues and quite as important: cultural issues, with a range of book reviews and literary discussions.

Anyway, the citation is from the late David Foster Wallace, and immediately hit a chord with me:

The task of literature is to "disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed".

A simple as that. In many ways I agree with this sententia - it certainly covers central sectors of why literature is such a vitally important part of human society. Reading is important in order to challenge your own world view, and to expand both your horizon and vocabulary. The expanding of vocabulary also has the side-effect of clearing and adding depth and discriminative powers to your mind, something not quite unheard of. Through literature you enter completely different spheres than your own bubble of reality, and in many ways this is a means of gathering experience from fields you would never come in contact with in other arenas. You can sharpen your mind in the meeting of other minds, who through literature has found their own particular style - yet another benefit of a novel, short story, essay etc. A piece of literary art is (usually) a thought-through, carefully composed world of its own and in many ways one of the finest gifts a human can give another human being. "This is my world and you're welcome to enter it" seems a good caption to follow every book.
Quite as important as stirring up the far too comfortable sphere of consensus that most people more or less live in, is the other dimension of Wallace's words: To comfort those who find life hard and difficult and feel outside the rest of humanity. This is also a place many of us will find ourselves from time to time and it can be a great comfort as well as a reality check to read about other people's experiences and thoughts and through this find ourselves to be part of a whole even though we didn't believe it to begin with. We can even find soulmates in authors we have never met and will never meet - this, to me, is one of the greatest gifts literature can offer.
Literature is of course also an outstanding (probably the best) method for conservation of the thoughts and ideas of old masters.
I guess much of what is written in this post comes as nothing new, but it is still nice to remind ourselves sometmes why we read. And of course there are many more reasons for reading than what I have listed here. Want to add some?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Olav H. Hauge - Norwegian poetry at its simplest (and best)

I am surprised to find that I haven't written about this Norwegian poet before.

Olav H. Hauge is a significant voice in the Norwegian literary landscape. In a fashion he also is a significant voice in the Norwegian geographical landscape, as he in many ways expresses its grandeur and simplicity, its wildness and purity, and the human feeling of separateness from each other and from nature, while at the same time he transmits a sense of unity with everything and everyone.

His poetry varies in form, from sonnets to short haiku-like poems, and the quality varies as well, but he has written a great deal of poems of simple beauty and usually with a meditative approach to all things small and universal.

In addition to a body of hundreds of poems, Olav H. Hauge left many volumes of diaries behind when he died in 1994 and they bear witness of a widely read man. Professionally he worked as a gardener, and it seems almost strange that this single man living alone (for a great part of his life) in the green and mountainclad landscape of Hardanger (Western Norway) read Chinese poetry, French, German and British poetry, philosophy, classics, literary magazines - more than I am aware of, naturally. What a library he must have collected in his house at Ulvik.

He writes in a characteristic dialect, and the special tone this brings to his poems is hard to translate, but I think the following is a good translation by Robin Fulton. More of his translations of Olav H. Hauge's poetry can be found in this book. But here is an example of Hauge's poetry:

Drops in the East Wind, 1966

You've left the big storms
behind you now.
You didn't ask then
why you were born,
where you came from, where you were going to,
you were just there in the storm,
in the fire.
But it's possible to live
in the everyday as well,
in the grey quiet day,
set potatoes, rake leaves,
carry brushwood.
There's so much to think about here in the world,
one life is not enough for it all.
After work you can fry bacon
and read Chinese poems.
Old Laertes cut briars,
dug round his fig trees,
and let the heroes fight on at Troy.

A few lines from this poem bring another towering figure in Scandinavian poetry to mind: Tomas Tranströmer. In fact, the whole poem reminds me of Tranströmer, but especially these lines: "But it's possible to live / in the everyday as well, / in the grey quiet day".

This greatly resembles Tranströmer's "Efter en lång torka" which you can read (in Norwegian, not the original Swedish) here. The last stanza goes as follows:

Det går att ringa upp hägringens ö.
Det går att höra den gråa rösten.
Järnmalm är honung för åskan.
Det går att leva med sin kod.

In translation it sounds something like this:

It's all right to telephone the island of mirage.
It's all right to hear the gray voice.
Iron ore is honey to the thunder.
It's all right to live by your own code.

The poem "Everyday" by Hauge also reminds me of Jack Gilbert, a poet I have discussed earlier (here too).

Again there is a certain Easternness in a poem that attracts me. When I say Eastern, I actually refer to a sense of simplicity which I most clearly see in various Eastern traditions. But in fact this is a quality of existence that every human being can occupy to great extent. You only have to look for it. Simplicity, space, openness and quiet is there all the time - it is just that we are usually looking in other directions.

The following poem is widely famous in Norway, and I think the craving for freedom it expresses translates well into any human language.

It's the Dream
Drops in the East Wind, 1966

It's the dream we carry in secret
that something miraculous will happen,
that it must happen –
that time will open
that the heart will open
that doors will open
that the rockface will open
that spring will gush –
that the dream will open,
that one morning we will glide into
some little harbour we didn't know was there.

There is currently a new volume out in English, with translations by Robert Bly and Robert Hedin.

On Sara Palin by Deepak Chopra

The following is a deeply interesting view on what Sara Palin represents not only in American politics, but in psychological terms, hence international and intrapersonal terms.

I agree with Chopra in that viewing political processes from a psychological angle might be questionable, but I find that he has a clear and plausible approach to the matter.

The wish to remain status quo and stick your head in the sand to the world's challenges (like a common ostrich) as many of the conservative republicans do is a trait no politician should possess. When this is exactly what we see in a presidential candidate and even more so in his candidate for vice president, it is timely to be alarmed.

I cannot tell you how apprehensive I am to the upcoming presidential election in the United States. In many ways it seems to me that this is the most important election for a long long time. More is at stake now than ever before in terms of who is chosen to lead the most polluting and most military powerful nation in the world.

The sense of my own single existence's insignificance pervades me and I can do nothing but hope for the best outcome. On behalf of nothing less than humanity.

From: Deepak Chopra
Posted: Friday, September 5th, 2008

"Sometimes politics has the uncanny effect of mirroring the national psyche even when nobody intended to do that. This is perfectly illustrated by the rousing effect that Gov. Sara Palin had on the Republican convention in Minneapolis this week. On the surface, she outdoes former Vice President Dan Quayle as an unlikely choice, given her negligent parochial expertise in the complex affairs of governing.

Her state of Alaska has less than 700,000 residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth of New York City. By comparison, Rudy Giuliani is a towering international figure. Palin's pluck has been admired, and her forthrightness, but her real appeal goes deeper.

She is the reverse of Barack Obama, in essence his shadow, deriding his idealism and exhorting people to obey their worst impulses. In psychological terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face: anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of "the other." For millions of Americans, Obama triggers those feelings, but they don't want to express them. He is calling for us to reach for our higher selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind. (Just to be perfectly clear, I am not making a verbal play out of the fact that Sen. Obama is black. The shadow is a metaphor widely in use before his arrival on the scene.)

I recognize that psychological analysis of politics is usually not welcome by the public, but I believe such a perspective can be helpful here to understand Palin's message. In her acceptance speech Gov. Palin sent a rousing call to those who want to celebrate their resistance to change and a higher vision.

Look at what she stands for:

• Small town values – a denial of America 's global role, a return to petty, small-minded parochialism.

• Ignorance of world affairs – a repudiation of the need to repair America 's image abroad.

• Family values − a code for walling out anybody who makes a claim for social justice. Such strangers, being outside the family, don't need to be heeded.

• Rigid stands on guns and abortion – a scornful repudiation that these issues can be negotiated with those who disagree.

• Patriotism – the usual fallback in a failed war.

• "Reform" – an italicized term, since in addition to cleaning out corruption and excessive spending, one also throws out anyone who doesn't fit your ideology.

Palin reinforces the overall message of the reactionary right, which has been in play since 1980, that social justice is liberal-radical, that minorities and immigrants, being different from "us" pure American types, can be ignored, that progressivism takes too much effort and globalism is a foreign threat. The radical right marches under the banners of "I'm all right, Jack," and "Why change? Everything's OK as it is." The irony, of course, is that Gov. Palin is a woman and a reactionary at the same time. She can add mom to apple pie on her resume, while blithely reversing forty years of feminist progress. The irony is superficial; there are millions of women who stand on the side of conservatism, however obviously they are voting against their own good. The Republicans have won multiple national elections by raising shadow issues based on fear, rejection, hostility to change, and narrow-mindedness.

Obama's call for higher ideals in politics can't be seen in a vacuum.
The shadow is real; it was bound to respond. Not just conservatives possess a shadow – we all do. So what comes next is a contest between the two forces of progress and inertia. Will the shadow win again, or has its furtive appeal become exhausted? No one can predict. The best thing about Gov. Palin is that she brought this conflict to light, which makes the upcoming debate honest. It would be a shame to elect another Reagan, whose smiling persona was a stalking horse for the reactionary forces that have brought us to the demoralized state we are in. We deserve to see what we are getting, without disguise."

I can only say as the famously outspoken journalist Edward Murrow used to: Good night - and good luck.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bokfest i Oslo 21. september

Dette er et arrangement jeg gjerne skulle vært på!

Utrolig mange forfattere på ett sted, og ikke noe hvilket som helst sted heller, men den fine hvite nye demokratiske estetisk vellykkede Operaen i Oslo, med virkelig mange forskjellige arrangementer. Hele operaen er i bruk, den store salen, den lille salen, taket, kafeen - det ser virkelig interessant ut.

Dumt for meg at jeg ikke er i Norge akkurat da.
Og: Om du ikke har lest Bisettelsen av Lars Saabye Christensen, er det et lesetips fra meg. Første halvdel kan være vanskelig å skjønne mye av, men språket er umiskjennelig Saabye Christensensk. Og når du har lest boka ferdig, kommer du til å ville starte på nytt igjen - og da får du mer ut av første del. Sikkert lurt å lese Beatles og Bly om igjen også, eller ha dem innen rekkevidde for å sjekke referanser. Jeg savnet det da jeg satt i min ettroms uten barndomshjemmets bibliotek for hånden :-)

LSC er en av mine språklige favoritter blant norske forfattere, og jeg må faktisk erkjenne at hans språkbruk og stemningsskapende metaforer har møblert mye av oppveksten min, noe som igjen vil si at han har vært med på å forme min egen språkfølelse. For meg er dette en sentral kvalitet, og jeg tror rett og slett jeg vil takke ham for det han har gitt gjennom bøkene sine (de jeg har lest av ham, med andre ord).

Det er spesielt å ha en så egen stil at den kan kjennes igjen på en eneste metafor, og slås fast når man leser to eller tre setninger i sammenheng. DET er et kvalitetsmerke ikke mange har opparbeidet seg.

Buckland Hall - again

Once again, this is going to be my location the next week. Green, green Wales.
I hope the weather there will be more like late summer than it has been in Norway these last weeks. Fall arrived menacingly fast this year. The trees are still mostly green, but the temperature has dropped low enough to give the air that crisp autumnal feeling - which I quite like, but I would still like the summer to hang around a little longer than it did this year.
What is definitely going to be good about staying there is the rural surroundings. I really miss that living in the city and look forward to walks in the countryside every day!
So long etc.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Jester Jon Stewart

As in King Lear, we might hear the blandest truths from a comedian's take on what is going on in the world.

In the interesting yet entertaining (an accurate description of Jon Stewart's TV persona itself) article in The Guardian today, I learned more about this satirist and his impact on the English speaking society.

When a number of well educated and intelligent people actually switch over to Stewart's The Daily Show to get a more accurate angle to the news than they get through American mainstream media, it says a lot.

The figure of the jester in the king's court is well known, as the only figure allowed to speak the truth without layers of cloudy rhetorics. In Shakespeare's King Lear, the jester is the one speaking the truth to spectators and readers and adds depth and clarity to the seriousness of the characters' actions. He puts his finger straight to the wound and tells us how and why it hurts. The same can be said about Jon Stewart and his crew.

As a Non-American it is refreshing to see his view on reality. From the outside it is hard to see what the American people actually think about the wildly subjective angles presented in the Fox News Channel, for example, or the black and white rhetorics of the present president, George W. Bush. To see Stewart make as much, or even more fun of the U.S. president than foreign media does is enlightening as well as entertaining for the outsider.

His take on the reality presented through mass media probably reflects many people's frustration with news coverage in the U.S., and I must say that The Daily Show's news angles come as a relief to me. At the same time he feeds us non-Americans with sharp-witted information and creative constellations about what is actually going on in the U.S., without all the filters the news normally seem to go through. So the filters are down, but what's up is an intelligent approach and an eye for surprising parallels between recent and not so recent political climates (like, for instance, the comparison between George W. Bush's speech 8 years ago discussing what he was going to change when president, almost identical to one of John McCain's most recent speeches).

I'd rather see Jon Stewart's news show before many of the "serious" news from different American media, as with Stewart I find witty and to-the-point interpretations of what is going on. Which is quite time saving, really. Why read five different editorials in serious news papers, when Jon Stewart does the job for you five times better?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The soul selects her own society

Here is another poem (apart from the "This is my letter to the world" one) by Emily Dickinson which in some ways explains how she thinks about living in near solitude, as she seemingly did for the last half of her life.

The poem is from around 1862, one of her most productive and poetically successful years, and reads as follows:

The Soul selects her own Society—
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved—she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I've known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

I find this description of the soul's will to decide for herself with whom she intermingles quite accurate. First of all, the word soul is a slightly problematic concept, given the word's many and varying meanings throughout history. But I take it to be something deeply personal to you, yet universal, like it is your specific part of the large Being we all partake in and are composits of.

So your soul, according to Dickinson, has an inherent ability to choose what is exactly right for you, an ability to select the company or society best suited for you to evolve and expand into your expression of the capitalized Being we indeed take part in.

This I believe in as well, or rather, I know it is so. But I also know that we more often than not let other interests or confusions or mental noise or beliefs about how we should or shouldn't be, disturb our own frequency (you know, like the radios) and interfere with the best way for our souls to pick up signals. If staying by herself is what Dickinson thought would protect her soul's perceptability, that most certainly is her own choice.

Dickinson's isolation seems an actual choice which she made, actively and knowingly. It might be easy to think that she made this choice once and for all, but really what it means is that she made this choice over and over again, every minute of every day. So this quiet and solitary existence seems to have been the better way for her to live and produce her poetry - just herself and her soul. And it certainly looks a most fertile relationship, in poetic terms.

I wouldn't mind having been in the same room as her when she composed some of those remarkable poems, though - and I guess her poems are better company than many people anyway. They certainly last longer.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Remarkable image

Isn't this image just remarkable? It is a sculpture entitled "planet" and is part of an exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, England. The two people picturesquelly walking past are The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
I suspect Chatsworth House to be the house inhabited by Mr. Darcy in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, directed by Joe Wright.

Lipton pyramide white tea

This is a tea that has become quite a close companion during my days at the university computer rooms and study chambers (or whatever you call it), a good number two to real loose-leaf tea which is just too messy to deal with in a spartan, book-infested environment like the university corridor in which I now daily lurk. The pyramid bags are a decent replacement for the real thing; loose tea leaves.
It says "white" tea on the label, but this is a truth up for moderation. If you study the contents carefully, you will find that only 11% of the tea leaves are actually white, whereas the rest is green tea and aroma (a hint of floral notes). I am always a bit disappointed with products not being what they pretend to be, but have grown more and more used to this widespread "moderating of truth" (also known as lying or misleading). You see it everywhere, and being a consumer is no simple task. You have to be highly conscious of what you buy if you are interested in knowing what you actually bring into your body. Read all labels carefully is my advice. I also have to add, that if you are a woman, you should take care to up or at least control your iron intake, as white/green teas have a tendency to flush this (and, I suspect other minerals) out of your system.
Well, this was not supposed to be a moralizing attribution to a large debate on food companies' business moral, but a short update on an OK way to have white/green tea when not at home. And although I am not for advertising any particular company's product, Lipton is the only producer I have noticed bring a pyramid white tea to the people. For which I am very grateful! And hopefully my dissertation will benefit from it, seeing as I write about English poetry ;-)
So long, Pyramid People.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Recommended Read - Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet

This is a book I find it easy to recommend to anyone interested in writing, and especially poetry.

It is a collection of real letters written by Rilke to a Mr. Kappus, a young would-be poet, between 1903 and 1908. Rilke still had a lot of his life's work ahead of him.

In this slim volume, you hear a poet speaking with authority about what writing is really about, and what it takes to be able to call yourself a real writer: If you don't have to write - don't do it. If writing is not a necessity, you should do something else. This is one of the things Rilke tells the eager young man who cherishes a wish to become a significant poet. And beneath everything Rilke says, beneath every line, you sense his deep commitment to the poet's profession.

Writing from several cities throughout Europe and often referring to his having been ill, you also get a sense that being a full-time poet in no way is an easy task. From many of his poems, and certainly most photographs of him (many of whom I find rather too theatrical, but probably reflecting his personality) we get the impression of a man with an intense attitude which is also chanelled through his gaze.
Sorry I don't quote any of his poems, but I'm just not that familiar with his poetry. Some I know, of course, but as my German really never has been up to any scratch at all, and although being a Norwegian means our mother tongues are like first cousins, I just haven't spelled my way through his collected works yet...
OK, changed my mind. Here is a poem fitting the season:


Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen
unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält.

* * *
Which beautifully describes the falling of the Fall.

Emily Dickinson - Queen Recluse?

This is my letter to the world

Slik skrev Emily Dickinson i ett av diktene sine (følger under). Hun meddelte seg og utforsket universet – innover, først og fremst – gjennom diktene sine, og gjennom brev og lapper. Gjennom det skrevne. Hun var svært intelligent, leste mye og skrev stiler på skolen som vakte misunnelse blant medelevene. Der hun vokste opp, i Amherst, Massachusetts, var ikke omgangskretsen alt for stor. Få kunne møte henne på det intellektuelle eller språklig lekne plan. Det var i det hele tatt få som kunne forstå henne eller romme dybdene, himmelstrebingen og de merkelige fargene hun bar i seg.

Etter hvert som det tynnet seg i rekkene av interessante mennesker og frierfristne, verdige unge menn, og etter hvert som årene gikk, gjorde hun sitt valg. Eller kanskje gjorde hun det lenge før. Hun valgte å føre sin dialog (med himmelen, med sin egen menneskedybde) på papiret. Blyant og blekk, kladdet og sirlig nedtegnet i hefter hun selv tråklet sammen.

Det er ikke riktig å si at ingen kjente til at hun skrev dikt. Hun lakk, bevisst, flere hundre små og større dikt gjennom brev og lapper til vennene sine. ”My friends are my estate”, skrev hun i et brev til Samuel Bowles, den mann hun antakeligvis lengtet etter rundt 1860, ”Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them!” Hun ønsket å bli lest, hun ønsket å bli sett og forstått. Dermed delte hun med seg av det beste hun hadde – diktene sine.

Det hun er mest kjent for ved siden av diktene, er tilbaketrekkingen fra samfunnet. De siste 20 år av livet bodde hun for det meste oppe på rommet sitt i huset som bestefaren hadde kalt ”the Homestead”. Det er vanskelig å gi noen god forklaring på hvorfor hun så gjennomført valgte å isolere seg fra omverdenen. ”Emily is the one who has to think. That is her job. No one else in the family has that to do” sa søsteren Lavinia om Emily. Lavinia gjorde det mulig for Emily å bli boende på rommet sitt resten av livet. Gjennom isolasjonen hadde hun tid og mulighet til å utforske tvingende eksistensielle spørsmål, liv og død, og menneskets forhold til Gud og evigheten. En kvinne i 1850- til 80-årene ville ellers hatt liten mulighet til poesi og filosofi av verdensklasse. (om man da ikke var adelig, men adel har aldri vært en del av det amerikanske samfunn – og blant puritanerne i New England virker det ekstra absurd.)

Brevvekslingen hennes var ganske stor, sett i forhold til hvor få hun forholdt seg til i det daglige. Men behovet for å bli forstått og hørt var åpenbart en sterk drivkraft. Hun forsøkte, ordløst, å vise hvem hun var gjennom språket og diktene sine. Og hva hun var. Hun visste at diktene var gode. Originale og annerledes, det visste hun også. Og at dette var skriftstykker som fortjente andre menneskers oppmerksomhet, og ikke bare hennes samtidige, var hun sannsynligvis meget klar over. Hun var ikke isolert, og (på eksistensielt vis) ensom kun av eget valg. Svært få kunne noen sinne ha møtt henne på samme intense plan som hun krevde, og det virker som om ingen var der for henne varig, mens hun levde.

Valget om å betro seg og utforske verden – og med det, seg selv – via papiret og det skrevne ord var ikke ett avgjørende valg. Kanskje tok hun heller aldri den bestemmelsen helt og fullt. Kanskje levde hun hele tiden slik midlertidig, hva vet vi. Det er lett å tillegge mennesker en hensikt med livet etter at de er døde, etter at deres gjerning på jorden er avsluttet og kan ses under ett. Hun åpnet i hvert fall for kjærligheten også i ganske voksen alder. Otis Phillips Lord, en dommer som var 18 år eldre enn Emily, kom i 1870-åra for alvor inn i Emilys liv. Etter at hans kone døde, ble brevvekslingen dem i mellom kjærligere, og en del av brevene leses som rene kjærlighetsbrev. Dette taler jo for at hun ikke stengte andre ute for enhver pris. Hun var ingen fullstendig ”Queen Recluse” - hadde man nøkkelen, ble døren åpnet.

(Leser du Richard Sewells The Life of Emily Dickinson, eller andre biografier, får du innblikk i et tidvis svært produktivt liv, og tidvis svært tilbaketrukket - ofte begge deler på en gang.)

Her er diktet det refereres til i begynnelsen:

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me —
The simple News that Nature told —
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see —
For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen —
Judge tenderly — of Me

© Tuva Langjord 2005

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A rose called Ingrid Bergman

This is the most beautiful rose I have ever seen.
I know the image is a little dark, but it is the only image I could find which transmits the velvety thick dark red petals of this rose. Whoever named this rose is a genius - the real Ingrid Bergman certainly is beautiful, and in an old-fashioned way.
I discovered this rose a couple of years ago when I was walking in the Botanical Garden in Oslo, which is quite close to where I live. In the end of the rose garden, placed like a queen, she stood whispering her red presence.
I do not know why, but this rose actually reminds me of the smile of Mona Lisa. Secretive, I guess is the key word here.

Om lesning

Jeg har mange ganger tenkt på hvorfor jeg leser. Hvorfor det har vært så viktig, og hvorfor jeg fortsetter å holde fast i disse utallige andre verdnene. Leser man mye, kan man bli redd for at det er en slags virkelighetsflukt i bunnen av den livslange aktiviteten, og det er det andre som har tenkt på også. Se bare hva Marcel Proust sier:

"Lesning ligger på terskelen til det åndelige liv; det kan introdusere oss for det; det utgjør det ikke. . . Så lenge lesning er sporen hvis magiske nøkler har åpnet døren til disse rommene dypt inne i oss som vi ellers ikke ville ha visst hvordan vi skullle komme inn i, er dens rolle i våre liv sunn. Farlig blir det derimot når lesning i stedet for å vekke oss til sinnets personlige liv, får en tendens til å ta dets plass." - Marcel Proust.

Proust bør være mannen som kan si noe om dette - grensene mellom liv og litteratur var for ham nærmest usynlige.

Men hvorfor skal vi være så redde for at lesning tar over for et virkelig liv? Jeg vil heller si det slik at den utgjør en egen del av livet til oss lesere, og at det ikke er noe mindre virkelig enn den fysisk utøvende del av livene våre. Er ikke lesningen nettopp et sted vi kan hente informasjon, hvor vi kan vurdere nye tanker, skjerpe våre egne sinn mot andres horisonter, som ofte kan være klarere og mer detaljerte enn våre egne. Lesningen er et viktig rom i manges liv. For min del er det et selvreflektivt rom, et sted hvor jeg kan puste ut og lære noe, og se meg selv utenfra et øyeblikk. Lesning er alltid en dialog. Det er en dialog med forfatteren av det du skriver, men det er samtidig en dialog med deg selv og din egen horisont, som stadig blir oppdatert idet du leser og lærer og oppdager nye ting. Lesning er en av de beste metodene for å oppdatere seg og hente erfaringsbrokker og livsinnstillinger og all mulig visdom fra resten av verden.

Det er mye mer å skrive om dette emnet, men ettersom jeg driver og skriver på masteroppgave, og forsøker å overholde den stipulerte innleveringsdatoen som er 15. november, må jeg gå tilbake til det!

(Foreløpig et prøveprosjekt, men jeg har tenkt til å ha norske bloggposter i Esmeraldas rom - en naboblogg. Så får jeg se om det er noen vits i det etter hvert, eller om det er overdrevent selvdiggende å holde på sånn! )

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dalai Lama exhausted. Anyone else worried?

Dalai Lama is currently at a hospital in Mumbai, India.

This is from a Guardian article, Thursday 28.08:
"A spokesman for Mumbai's Lilavati hospital suggested the visit was unexpected. "He comes every six months for a routine checkup. Around a month ago, a checkup was conducted and he was in perfect health," Mohan Rajan said."

That is, before the Olympics had begun.

Although Dalai Lama has been diagnosed with exhaustion before, in 2006, the recent incident strikes me as a wake-up call. Is it a complete coincidence that this happens right after the Olympics held in China? Can it be completely arbitrary that this man, who is not only well-informed and highly intelligent but also deeply tuned into the waves of energy on this planet, good and bad, suffers exhaustion at the end of an olympic arrangement which in many ways put a gloss over a deeply disturbing rule, and a seeming lack of respect for humankind in the world's largest country?

Dalai Lama has had to deal with the Chinese from their violent takeover in Tibet in 1959. Since then, he has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India. And despite his and the Tibetan government's repeated attempts to have serious and detailed talks with the Chinese leadership about how Tibet - as a part of China, something the Tibetan government is crystal clear about - shall exist both as a part of China and with more autonomy than now, they have not succeeded. At all. Their main interest is to secure their Buddhist culture in the way they wish, allowing it to continue its central place in Tibetan culture.

The exhaustion is probably partly a result of the Chinese hard stubbornness in this religious matter, which means that they for many many years have refused serious talks with the Tibetan representatives about how to work together. Such lowbrow behaviour compared with other two-faced attempts of tricking the Tibetans must certainly strain Dalai Lama. I know it does me.

He is a leader with a people and a geographical area, but who is forced to live away from both. He endures the deep pain this must create and has done so for nearly fifty years. No wonder he sometimes needs a three week rest.

You can read more about this matter here and here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lotus flower - and the Norwegian national flower

I have to say that I understand why the lotus flower holds such a special place in many Eastern cultures, like India and Vietnam. In India the lotus is the national flower, and both hinduism and buddhism honours it with a central and significant meaning.

The most evident quality of the lotus is of course its beauty, but that in itself would not be enough to make so many cultures and religions view it as such a special flower. The delicate beauty of the lotus flower is enhanced when compared with its place of growth, which is usually in a pond or river. Its roots are founded deep down in the mud or soil, while its leaves float on the top of the water. The flower itself rises on a stem above the water, and can in such a way be called unpolluted by the elements surrounding it.

From this unmistakably metaphorical state of existence the lotus has lent itself to symbolism in many of the cultures surrounding its natural habitat, and occurs in many a poem, painting, drawing or saying.
In Norway we actually have two national flowers, one, "bergfrue" (saxifraga cotyledon), meaning "mistress of the mountains", was chosen at an international botanical congress in Amsterdam 1935, probably without the participation of any members of the Norwegian people - except the botanists, of course. This plant I have no relation to, probably because it grows more widely in the mountains than in the woods, and it is in the woods that I have most frequently walked about.

The other one is called "røsslyng" (calluna vulgaris) - "ling" or "heather" in English, and in all of its minimalistic insignificance, this choice I can understand. Anyone who has wandered through the woods in the fall, or across the wide mountain plateaus, will have met this sweet-smelling, unpretentious little plant - and that includes most of the Norwegian population. Suitably, this one was chosen in a large radio programme in 1976 (a programme which still has the most listeners in Norway) and probably reflects a widespread fondness for nature and hiking.
This post took a most unexpected turn for me, I intended to write more widely about the wonderful and significant lotus flower, and then a kind of natural nostalgia caught up with me in the middle of the whole thing. And now I have to go back to what I am supposed to be doing; writing along on my masters thesis in comparative literature.
It was nice with a little break, though. So long, existent and non-existent readers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yeats on the art of life vs writing

This excerpt from a poem called "The Choice" by W.B. Yeats is highly interesting, coming from a man of letters in the middle of life:


The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the word
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark

Similarly he wrote this on life vs writing in his diary at some time in 1909:

"To keep these notes natural and useful to me I must keep one note from leading to another, that I may not surrender myself to literature. Every note must come as a casual thought, then it will be my life. Neither Christ nor Buddha nor Socrates wrote a book, for to do that is to exchange life for a logical process. "
I find these thoughts rather soothing as well as disturbing, as I find the balance between writing and living somewhat difficult. Not that I am a writer of any kind, but I recognize Yeats' fear of wrapping one's thoughts or insights into a larger logic, a logic aleady defined and lined up, ready to mould and melt your independent thought into a larger pattern of sorts.
This time I might actually take someone's advise and follow it. I think I will try to be conscious of this while writing in my journal - whenever that will be.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rumi for the people

Some Rumi wisdom on your way:

I swallowed
some of the Beloved's sweet wine,
and now I am ill.
My body aches,
my fever is high.
They called in the Doctor and he said,
drink this tea!
Ok, time to drink this tea.
Take these pills!
Ok, time to take these pills.
The Doctor said,
get rid of the sweet wine of his lips!
Ok, time to get rid of the doctor.

The image is from a Rumi festival in Sweden in September 2007 - looks like a female Nordic dervish to me.

Life can be so sweet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Silver Needle - Bai Hao Yinzhen

Almost as a followup to my previous posting of the Japanese-like poem "The Rider", I would like to devote a post to the delicious tea called Silver Needle, or Bai Hao Yinzhen. This is a white tea, and one of my favourites - I guess I can even say the favourite tea of mine.

If you have tasted this tea, you will have no problems understanding why I would like to write a hymn to it. The taste is more delicate than the smell of dewy roses in the morning, the texture smooth and supple as silk, and both its colour, taste and textuality is of such subtlety that you could almost miss it, if you are looking for a strong green taste to hit your palate.

Let's start with the way this tea looks: Like water with a little sunlight in it. The colour is so pale that you could almost mistake it for water, but there is a golden glow to the water that is unmistakable and hints at what it contains.

Next, if you bend down to sniff the pale gold water, you notice how ringlets of floral notes hit your nostrils, so sweet and watery that you could suspect someone for having opened a phial of eau de cologne in the other side of the room. But no, it is the contents of your cup that is producing this mild, sweet nose-tickling odour.

And then, when your curiosity as well as your mouth and body is intensely tuned into this surprise of a fluid, you raise the cup to your lips, sniff, and take a sip. What now? If you are not sufficiently fine tuned, the taste might pass you by. And this is part of the wonder with this tea! It demands something from you in order for it to reveal its secrets. "Why would I reveal my hidden landscape of white petals and flowery minerals if you behave like a brute and expect me to thunder your tongue with rude, grass-like tones" it whispers with a wry smile. But if you do meet the whiteness with a wide and ready mind, palate and senses, this tea will tell you stories! (I know I sound a bit exalted and exaggerating but the beauty and subtleness of this tea is so appealing to me that I have started a bit of a love affair to it. And haven't people in love always been a bit loud about their objet du désir?)
So, yes, this tea will tell you stories. It will tell you stories of rolling hills and slopes covered with the bush of camellia sinensis, hill after hill of green and juicy vegetation in the Fujian province in China. This is another element of why Silver Needle is such a gem: it is only grown and picked in this province, between March 15 and April 10 - taking care to pick them when it is not raining. Solely the top buds are good enough for this tea, and they are also supposed to be undamaged to be able to call its brew a real cup of Silver Needle. Does this not meet your standards for something rare, pure and refined? It certainy does mine.

Another virtue of this tea is that it is relatively low in caffeine. To me this is really an advantage, as I find it hard to sleep if I drink something close to coffee later than 3-4 pm. This tea I will at least dare to drink up to 5 pm ;-).

Did this post make you feel like trying a cup, or a bowl, or a glass of Silver Needle? Nothing would make me happier.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Rider, by Naomi Shihab Nye

There is a slight Easternness to this poem, a simplicity of sadness and lightness combined which appeals to me, particularily a Japanese feel towards the end with the pink petals silently falling. This is the image that remains with me after reading it, and the main reason why I want to go back reading the poem over - the slow, soft petals that are barely pink, existing next to nothing, held up by air alone in a waltz teasing gravity.

The overall feel of sportmanship to this poem (and what underlies the wish to win) is not at all unsuiting in these olympic times, either.

I have never heard of this poet before, though she might be very well known in the English speaking literary world. Sometimes being a Norwegian, a Scandinavian, makes me feel like sitting on the edge of the world, but then again that is often where I would like to be! No complaints here.

The Rider

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.
From Fuel, 1998
Can't you just smell the silence in the end of this poem?
I think it is wonderful. It equals to sipping a delicate brew of Silver Needle tea, with its hints of floral and mineral notes in the soft transparent golden liquid.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Birthday of Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

I remember Wuthering Heights as one of the best and most passionate love novels I have ever read, but looking back carefully I actually don't think I ever finished it. Although I remember a lot of the novel's action, it had a deeper emotional impact than an intellectual one. Recounting this piece of literature, it is the feeling of despair and impossible love, a contraction around the heart and a sea of sadness in the chest that is present with me. And this hints at why I never finished the story - I simply didn't stand the anguish and turmoil. Being quite an emotional reader (some times, at least) the story's innumerable difficulties were simply too much.
A little biographical information:

It's the birthday of the novelist Emily Brontë, born in Thornton, England, in 1818. Emily Brontë, who wrote what is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time, Wuthering Heights (1847), but who never had a lover and almost never talked to anyone besides her family and her servants. She and her sisters Anne and Charlotte and their brother, Branwell, educated themselves at home, reading their father's large collection of classic literature, while their father locked himself up in his room and even ate dinner alone. Emily was interested in mysticism, and she had no friends. Emily also wrote poetry. Her sister Charlotte discovered some of her verses: "I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me, —a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, not at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music—wild, melancholy, and elevating." In 1848, Emily died of tuberculosis when she was just 30 years old, standing in the living room of her family's parsonage with one hand on the mantle. Emily Brontë wrote in Wuthering Heights:

"I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of creation, if I were entirely contained here?"

"I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind."
I think this last sentence, of dreams permeating one's mind with a watery colour resembling that of wine through water, is exquisite. What a sensual, tactile, even tasty impression it makes! It really is tactility, vision, taste and smell in one image. Remarkable as well as eye and mouth-watering.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Auden, Icarus and Truth

As always, a few musings follow the poem.

Musée Des Beaux Arts
by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

For a better view of this painting and to get a better chance of spotting the next to invisible splashing of Icarus's legs into the green ocean, thus catching the depressing insight of an apparent human insignificance, click here .

Although I quite agree with Auden on the single human being's relative insignificance, I am also deeply convinced that humanity has an immensely important role to play in the development of the universe. As the most intelligent life form known to us, we carry a wonderful responsability of continual development, of keeping creation alive. Of course, as is becoming more and more clear with pollution, global warming, never ending wars and a violently unfair balance in money and food planetwise, this responsability at the same time holds the danger of corruption and human weakness or even evil (strong word). But great progress, blinding insight and ever deeper love for the rest of existing forms tend to get its opposite pole of stagnation/reactionism, new ways of suppressing and witholding of information and boon that should be to the benefit of all.

As I see it, this dualistic tendency, this inevitable polarity, is just part of a universal law. With expansion comes the possibility of even greater contraction and walking backwards; with blinding light even deeper darkness.

However, this does not make me pessimistic. I have too much faith in human goodness, and in another universal law: Truth will out.

This, as I see it, is deeply true.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The 14th Dalai Lama in Britain

There is an interesting article out about the Dalai Lama, in the July issue of The New York Review of Books called "How he sees it now" by Jonathan Mirsky.

Here we get a glimpse of the difficult territory this spiritual leader navigates in.

The article is written on the backdrop of the 14th Dalai Lama's visit to Britain in May. China's political importance is reflected in several ways: Prime minister Gordon Brown would not receive the Dalai Lama in 10 Downing Street, in the same way his predecessor Tony Blair would not. A frail diplomatic balance must clearly be kept at all costs.
Also, rather absurdly, DL visited Oxford, but as no one was allowed to say precisely where, or take any pictures at the place he was welcomed (?), the building remains nameless. This seems rather paranoid, and also a good indicator of the enormous influence China has on practically every other country in the world. No one wants them as an enemy, and it doesn't exactly seem difficult to get antagonized by them.

For probably the ninehundredth time the Dalai Lama had to answer questions about whether he wants autonomy for Tibet. To this he answered "I have said one thousand times we do not seek independence. China should manage defense and foreign policy. Inside Tibet, Tibetans should be responsible for education, religion and the environment. We want the preservation of Tibetan culture inside the People's Republic of China." (page 4 in NYRB.) This statement is as clear as anything, and I find it strange that the Chinese cannot trust this. If anything, this shows how little they understand about this man's culture, morality and sincerity.

Tibet is a state, or an area or whatever we should call the place now, of great cultural and religious depth. Or at least it was, until the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959 and demolished huge amounts of buildings and priceless, old artefacts expressing Tibetan religion/spirituality and their long cultural tradition.

The article ends with a priceless citation The Dalai Lama made to the writer of the article:

"In Oxford the Dalai Lama whispered into my ear that 'my doctors tell me I am in very good health. Everything fine. They think I will live to 102'."

What better than 29 more years of this peaceworking, loving, wise man?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Is the time for the long reads over?

Today I was thinking:
Is the time for concentration over?

Is the time for longtime commitment to thorough reading a forgotten art?

Are "slow texts" and literature that demand more from you than 30 minutes a day, perhaps even spread out between text messages, phone calls and checking your mail losing the battle in these efficient times? I really sensed a voice telling me that I couldn't possibly consider sitting down a couple of hours every day to do what I enjoy so much: read.
Walking past a shelf in a book store today with a display of Proust's In Search of Lost Time or Remembrence of Things Past, a memory of reading the first volume of his long mémoire filled me -- or rather, my memory of reading his wonderfully rich text brought back the feeling of how it was to read him. It actually feels like a deep, fluid-like presence in the whole of my chest, particularly in the heart-area.
But this sweet, thick fluid was immediately mixed with a mild melancholy, as I felt how rarely I get to sink into the wonderland of makebelieve and literature that I inhabited as a child, when this kind of excess was allowed.
Proust's texts are a mix of makebelieve and real life, and offers a texture so rich, so deeply reverberating in your soul (at least in mine) that it's strange how seldom I actually find the time to dive into them and similarly magical literary landscapes.
Naturally, when our macrostructure tends towards fragmentation and speedy efficiency without time for depth and continuous study, the small structures suffer the same destiny. You are such a microstructure which is part of the macro; in fact you are the ones making the macro, and that means you can also change this structure from within.
Want the world to allow you to spend a few hours a day with continued, unabrupted concentration? Just do it! Spend those hours by yourself. You will help make this place better to live in.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Mary Oliver: The Summer Day

What better this warm, yellow, leaf-humming day than a true and simple summer poem.

Mary Oliver has visited this blog before, and in this poem you can recognize her pure and spacious curiosity and her heartfelt concentrated presence. Sorry about all the adjectives, but how explain a poet's voice?

Better just to read her:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

* * *

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
How about kneeling to your own nature, or to your one wild and precious life?
How about agreeing to the simplicity Mary Oliver is expressing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Beedle the Bard and I

Today I'd like to post the text I entered for the Beedle the Bard-competition held by Amazon UK and US. The winner of this competition would be awarded a trip to London, stay in a hotel, and most important of all - be allowed a reading of Ms Rowling's unpublished book of handwritten stories (which only exists in 7 copies), namely The Tales of Beedle the Bard. As I would be thrilled by this experience, I naturally entered the contest.

There were three tasks you could choose among, writing in a "creative" way. (This adjective annoys me a little; what writing is not creative?) You were only allowed one entrance, and that entrance should not consist of more than 100 words. Which is not a lot. Of course, judging by the 10 finalists in each of the two age groups (13-18 and 18 and above), every smartass understood this as writing in verse, that is to say, old fashioned, rhyming poetry. To me, poetry can exist everywhere, not only in rhythmical, pulse-driven verse. Although you get to say a lot in a few words with the tried and tested ballad-style.

Nevertheless. The three options you had were:
  • What songs do wizards use to celebrate birthdays?
  • What other sports do wizards play besides Quidditch?
  • What have you learned from the Harry Potter series that you use in everyday life?

- and I chose the first, as the theme of music and magic struck me as the most poetical of the three. (Of course, the winner wrote a versified answer to the least poetical of the three, namely the last one. And it really was quite good, also she was under 18, which is a good thing in this kind of competition.)

So, tata, here is my response to what songs wizard sing to celebrate their birthdays:

When each wizard is born a colour surrounds them, and in this colour there is a sound. Every birthday allows the colour of their soul to seep out for a while, bringing with it a new sound. In this way a song starts to form. When a wizard's birthday is celebrated, their family and friends gather and listen to the new song performed by the wizard himself and sing it back to him. In the end of his life the song envelops the wizard as a deeply coloured fabric. Purple is only worn by wizards with especially beautiful soul songs.

© Tuva Langjord 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A sucker for covers

I may be strange, but I have always really enjoyed this cover for T.S. Eliot's collected poems. On the screen you can only see the graphics and the colouring (all good), but in real, tactile life you can touch the simplicity, elegance and smoothness of the book. The cover is made in some kind of smooth carton which is just luxuriously simple and supple beneath your fingers.

It is the honourable house of Faber&Faber that publishes Eliot's work. Eliot himself worked there for several years, providing him with a much needed steady income. Poets and playwrites never did get a lot of money for their hard work.
Have a great, summery Tuesday
(Here it is rather windswept, but sunny all the same)
Love from me and

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Tuscan "unicorn"

I know, I know, I am an incurable dreamer, but I did enjoy this article in the Guardian about a one-horned deer in a park in Tuscany, Italy. A little magic is often just what I need.
And why should we not call it a unicorn? After all, uni+corn literally means one horn, something this creature certainly possesses.
I would love it if unicorns actually existed, though...