The Pomegranate ~ On Finding Poetry

 

Pomegranates open and still closed pomegranate seeds costume woman sitting old painting

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.

~ John F. Kennedy

In the quiet of a virgin morning, it feels right to sit with feet in warm slippers and a cup of hot steamy coffee in hand, and languidly let memories and fragments of ideas drift through the labyrinths of my brain. These are golden times, namely, when my monkey-mind is still asleep – maybe simply exhausted from so much chattering, poking and teasing. I can experience the same state of mind in the still of a night, when the dogs, like the day, are curled up to little furry donuts, quietly snoring away.

This is why I find that being in the flow of concentrated and productive writing is a lot like meditation.

As a musical poet and as a songwriter, I very much favour writing short pieces, like lyrics, poems or short stories. They allow me to zoom in on very concise experiences or emotions. Anaïs Nin, the French-born novelist, passionate eroticist and short story writer, who gained international fame with her journals stated:

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

A lot of the time this is true; no matter in which genre. A painter will experience a landscape by looking at it and re-experience it though his interpretation of it. I would like to add however, that writing also enables me to experience things I didn’t know had impacted me – any Freudian oriented analyst will like this statement because it illustrates how much slumbers in the sub-conscience.

The American Pulitzer Prize winning poet Philip Levine uses poetry as an elevating medium:

I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought too that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life—or at least the part my work played in it—I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life.

Foreign Findings like Fallen Fruit…

Whenever I allow myself the quiet time of reflexion, the results are sometimes unexpected: Foreign findings lying there like fallen fruit; ripened, unharvested pomegranates ready to be picked up, weighed in ones hand; their shape, colour, texture inspected, broken open and their inner jewels eventually coaxed into essays, songs or poems. The American poet Robert Frost described his process of writing poetry in a similar way: He said that a poem […] begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness.” This process is what I would like to call finding poetry.

Golden-Pomegranate-by-Illumne-gleaming-Isla-candle-square
Pomegranate candle in brass vessel by Ilume for Anthropologie, 2014

In terms of its reception, the Literature Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz claims that a poem not only demands this utmost focus from the writer but also from the reader – “reading a poem is, after all, always an exercise in attention” he writes. Alas, these moments are rare. Especially with the omnipresence of social media, the constant flood of mostly irrelevant emails and endless to-do lists, it is often very difficult to achieve the amount of necessary focus. Without even leaving our work space we become the distracted virtual flâneur, scrambling and scrolling through endless pages, filling our minds with digital clutter.

But secretly, we all know that often these emails, messages, pages and social media sites offer a convenient escape from the tormenting, growing pains of a piece and to some extent much needed social contact. Because it is definitely not a myth that writing is a very lonely and sometimes frustrating process. Often, towards the afternoon my head often starts to resemble a scrap yard filled with piles of debris of the day – admittedly to some extent self-inflicted.

Most writers write because they have to write. But it takes courage to follow your own musings, to hope for the pomegranate in meditation. Discipline to sit through the editing process is another necessity. Which is why the American writer Ernest Hemingway recommends bluntly: “Write drunk and edit sober”.

I have always written, but at the beginning, when I started dedicating more and more time and energy to my personal writing I would ask myself in dark moments, which purpose did it really serve? My education was in academic writing which always gave me something exterior to focus on and therefore to hold on to – whether it was a painting or a building. These were functional pieces of writing that served exhibitions or guided tours. But starring at a pomegranate doesn’t always feel like the most useful, economically wise, socially valuable or practical thing to do. Which is why dedicating oneself to these seemingly superfluous musings can be scary for multiple reasons.

What happens when we surrender to these doubts of “usefulness” and abandon these creative musings? The Novelist Hubert Selby Jr. writes in his foreword to Requiem for a Dream “Certainly not everyone will experience this torment but enough do and have no idea what is wrong.” Furthermore he asks:

What happens if I turn my back on my Vision and spend my time and my energy getting the stuff of the American Dream? I become agitated, uncomfortable in my own skin, because the guilt of abandoning my Self/self, of deserting my Vision, forces me to apologize for my existence, to need to prove myself by approaching life as if it’s a competition. I have to keep getting stuff in an attempt to appease and satisfy that vague sense of discontent that worms its way through me.

It takes courage to be an artist. According to the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, artists, “are committed to a completely ‘unpractical’ activity.” Czeslav Milosz writes: “Among works of painting, Schopenhauer assigned the highest place to Dutch still life […] they present to him the peaceful, still frame of mind of the artists, free from will, which was needed to contemplate such insignificant things so objectively, to observe them so attentively, and to repeat this perception so intelligently.”

Art is mostly free of purpose when it comes directly from the heart. This is basically what the French expression ‘l’art pour l’art‘ means. It expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only “true” art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function. So to dedicate time and energy to my musical poetry or to a whole solo album with my own song material meant to dedicate time to myself. To see and describe my interior as the “painting” or a building and to deeply examine these constructions of thoughts and emotions – it was to take myself seriously, my inner truth.

Frances Livings © 2013

How to Cut a Pomegranate by Imtiaz Dharker

I wanted to share this poem by another writer, Imtiaz Dharker, because it so beautifully illustrates why historically many cultures have been enamoured by this fruit. Pomegranates are texturally quite wondrous when broken open because of their contrasting insides and outside. They have juicy, jewel-like, and very vulnerable seeds inside a hard and protective husk. The piece also has many references to its long and lasting cultural history and symbolism, like fertility. Imtiaz Dharker is a Pakistan-born British poet, artist and documentary filmmaker. She has won the Queen’s Gold Medal for her English poetry. Dharker was born in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan to Pakistani parents.

‘Never,’ said my father,
‘Never cut a pomegranate
through the heart. It will weep blood.
Treat it delicately, with respect.

Just slit the upper skin across four quarters.
This is a magic fruit,
so when you split it open, be prepared
for the jewels of the world to tumble out,
more precious than garnets,
more lustrous than rubies,
lit as if from inside.
Each jewel contains a living seed.
Separate one crystal.
Hold it up to catch the light.
Inside is a whole universe.
No common jewel can give you this.’

Afterwards, I tried to make necklaces
of pomegranate seeds.
The juice spurted out, bright crimson,
and stained my fingers, then my mouth.

I didn’t mind. The juice tasted of gardens
I had never seen, voluptuous
with myrtle, lemon, jasmine,
and alive with parrots’ wings.

The pomegranate reminded me
that somewhere I had another home.

 

© Abbey Ryan, Pomegranate in Early Morning Light, 2009
Abbey Ryan, Pomegranate in Early Morning Light, 2009

 

© Henk Helmantel, Stilllebenkomposition mit Hommage an Kees Stoop (detail), 2006
Henk Helmantel, Stilllebenkomposition mit Hommage an Kees Stoop (detail), 2006

 

Indulge in some of my poetry recordings here:

Donating = Loving

Please support the arts! You can purchase my music and spoken word – which I hope you will. If you find joy and inspiration in my words, and would like to provide additional support, please be lovely and consider a donation of your choosing – from anywhere between a coffee and a nice dinner. It will be deeply appreciated.

Or, if you liked this post, why not 

Coffe cup laptop tablecloth with leaf pattern darkness
@ Frances Livings
"black and white photo" "gloves"

I Just Lost It

 

I couldn’t find it anywhere. “What? Is it this size?” my husband asks, holding his hands about two inches apart. “Nooooo – much bigger! It’s more like six, seven inches…, leather, it’s thick and heavy and worn, you’ve seen it – or not!!??”

I start searching, yes speed-searching through knicker-drawers, magazine-piles, food-stocks, bed-clothes; I look in the laundry pile, in the dryer, under the dog food, behind the fridge, in the freezer. In total frustration I ring up my girl-friend, who is very sympathetic about the whole situation and recommends staying calm. I cannot stay calm. Yes, I admit, I have hidden things before; things in quite unusual places; keys, money, jewellery, letters, gloves, anger, thoughts and feelings, even memories – mostly from others, sometimes from myself. But this is serious. Where is my diary?

I have lost my diary.

Mentally too overwhelmed to think clearly, I let myself sink into our thick velvety sofa, grabbing a cushion to hug, for comfort. I try to think back: Diary! Where are you? I almost feel guilty, like a bad parent whose child has been kidnapped: Have I neglected you that badly?  Is it all my fault? Oh, forgive me! Pleeeease! Where are you!

I slump back, my neck is killing me. I close my eyes and try to focus: I suppose, I have been overspending lately – to be honest, almost daily. Perhaps I just haven’t had enough verbal supplies left for you. Am I some kind of verbal traitor, spending my daily female allowance of forty thousand words whining away in the isolated scope of a therapist’s womb? What a fool I am! Who am I to think it would matter – just a slot in someone’s appointment book? I’ve spent far too much time blah-blahing, swirling thoughts through mid-air. Truthful, thoughtful and agitated words that have nevertheless been aimlessly drifting, only to be sucked up by the greedy grey vents of a rattling air-conditioner!

I should have known better! I should have known that only with you my thoughts can thrive! That with you, whiney and superfluous midget thoughts just shrivel away to make space for grand and thriving musings laid out in proper order, ready to become valuable memories. That one by one, in proper sentences, on clean and crisp white pages, row by row…. bound in soft leather, embossed with my name… my thoughts are something – just because of you! I am so sorry. I should have trusted you. Although, I do have to admit to myself, that lately, there haven’t been many neat rows of carefully composed words and symmetrically stacked paragraphs. I know, I should have confided in you.

There haven’t been that many neatly composed words lately because of my anger. Dear diary, I know… I have bruised your pages with this anger. My pen has been in rages, chicken feet scraping and scaring your delicate white skin, leaving blue tattoos with bleeding and blustering edges. Like those of criminals, rudimentary and raw, crude jail-house tattoos. I am sorry. I have hurt you; I have hurled you up and slammed you down. I have grabbed you, opening you up like the legs of a whore, bending your spine with a vicious crack.

Perhaps you have just had enough. Have you walked out on me? Diary, have you left me?

I cast the cushion aside and get up from my velvet enclave and start pacing again: What if it is just gone, I debate with myself – as in lost and someone finds it…?! A whole tsunami-worth of panic suddenly grips me, rides me and holds me hostage, stuffing my knickers into my gaping mouth. Then a deep feeling of shame rises from my crotch through my stomach, flushing my cheeks on the way. Shame ferociously spreads over my skull that has turned into a blowfish, only to perch like a goblin behind my ears, making them ring like bakelite telephones. The thought is so unbearable; similar to the memory of unexpectedly bumping into that guy you had really bad sex with. But now he is the one who doesn’t remember you; at all.

Where are you, diary?

My husband joins the action again. He is tired and has already shifted into twilight mode. He lifts a somewhat guided hand, half in limbo like a dangly puppet – or rather like a circus seal: “Perhaps in the dining room…”, right hand flap-flap signals. “Perhaps in the bookshelf…”, left hand flap-flap signals. Of course not! Books sit in bookshelves, ready to be read! Books have a cover, an index… As if, as if – it’s literature. “It’s my diary” I mumble, exhausted.

I realize; he really doesn’t have a clue – neither of what my diary looks like nor of the painstaking logistical manoeuvres I get involved in to hide these very private thoughts from anyone. And yet, I have been careless at times, have left you, diary vulnerable and exposed to the eyes of any intruder. But was I really worried that he had sneaked a peak or was I secretly disappointed that he hadn’t?

It hits me like a dump truck, that perhaps, my diary isn’t just gone as in absent or misplaced, but that it has actually left, as in never-coming-back-again. Suddenly, I feel as if I am walking with naked feet and wobbly knees through deep snow, so icy cold that my toes have turned from a deep beetroot red to corpse-blue and are going to drop off like plump raisins left for the ravens. In my mind the scene is playing in slow motion: I turn my head and look back and realize – after a brief moment of dizzying shock – that there are no imprints. I haven’t left a single footprint, no marks. Nothing. I am a nonentity. But like in a bad floaty-type drugged-out dream, I then stare down at my open hands, at the swirls of my fingertips which are blank and flat like molten wax.

© Frances Livings 2012. All Rights Reserved.

(c) The Morgan Library and Museum, 2011