Manchester

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23/05/2017

The morning after the Manchester bombing
an old grey tomcat sleeps under a white maple
in our backyard, oblivious to human affairs,
indifferent to the harm we inflict on one another.

I wish I had his equanimity, then I wouldn’t feel
so bewildered by a universe that seems to condone
random violence, so disappointed in a species that has
forgotten the simple joy of napping beneath a shady tree.

Automatic writing

Yesterday, after spending most of the afternoon cleaning and re-arranging our garage (onerous task), I settled myself on the back deck with a glass of scotch, a small cigar, my notebook and a volume of The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert.

Herbert was a Polish writer who, despite growing up in an authoritarian environment, managed to compose magnificent, soul-rending verse.

As I was reading poems like “Mama” and “Chord”, I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it wold be like to live as an artist in a society where personal and aesthetic freedoms are strictly curtailed, the regime relentless in its pursuit of any kind of opposition, the smallest display of rebellion.

Censor

It was someone’s job to
scrutinize every syllable,
search each metaphor
and allusion for
significance, a deeper
meaning that might
subvert the apparatus,
throw a monkey
wrench into the works,
or cast the slightest
aspersion against the
omnipotence of the
ruling elite.

…but artists like Herbert and Vasily Grossman and Andrei Tarkovsky managed, somehow, to frustrate their ideological masters, producing works of lasting genius. What was it that made them so strong, so immune to the powers of the state, when so many of their colleagues caved in to pressure, conformed, compromised their visions? Was it some form of faith? Pride? Strength of will?

My God, the courage it would take to stand your ground, refuse to dilute or skew your art. Would I be that strong under similar circumstances? Could I resist the blandishments and threats? Choose exile and disgrace over safety and security?

Which somehow led me around to:

Punch Line

I cannot see the
radiance of
ordinary things.

My faith is
not so simple,
so profound.

I ask for proofs
and the universe
responds with
spasms of hilarity.

God is laughing
but I, stubborn
and unmoved,
fail to crack
a smile.

© 2017  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

New poem

A few days ago I was sitting in my favourite pub in Saskatoon, having a pint of Guinness (and to hell with the Celiac nonsense), with a chaser of Tallisker, occasionally glancing outside at passersby—

—and then suddenly I was scrabbling for my notebook as the following came to me:

See World

window people
framed for a moment
like aquarium fish
exotically drifting

Photo: Sherron Burns

 

Self-publishing: just for losers?

We all know that the only reason books are self-published is because they’re amateurish and inept, their authors barely capable of stringing two words together.

Except…wasn’t Virginia Woolf a “self-publisher”? After all, she released her work through Hogarth Press, which she co-owned along with her husband, Leonard. It was a going family concern—Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell designed some of the book covers.

And I know for a fact Ezra Pound wasn’t averse to paying out of pocket, if it meant seeing his erudite, obscure poems get into print.

Robert Browning, ditto.

If I’m not mistaken, James Joyce put up part of the publication cost of his first collection, The Dubliners (regardless, his nervous publisher held the presses for years, wary of violating Ireland’s stiff obscenity laws).

I guess I’m saying that historically self-publishing, the vanity press, whatever you want to call it, wasn’t always the province of the hack and the wannabe. And I think the same is true today. There is a lot of shit out there, don’t get me wrong, but there are also a few genuinely talented, innovative authors in amongst the dross.

Don’t give up on us.

Keep looking…

Quote of the day: Ray Bradbury

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”

― Ray Bradbury, FAHRENHEIT 451

Charles Beaumont, Co-Creator of “The Twilight Zone”

About twenty-five years ago, I wrote a short essay on the life and work of Charles Beaumont that was eventually published in a small press magazine in Florida.

Since that one-time appearance, that essay has sat in my archives, gathering dust. I thought it was high time I dug it out, polished it up and posted it on Beautiful Desolation.

Beaumont had enormous influence on my early writing. He and Richard Matheson were my guys, the ones who felt (like I do) that horror/suspense is at its best when it tells small, intimate, gripping, intense, human stories.

In the case of both authors, many of the tales they wrote in the 1950s, long before Twilight Zone was even a gleam in Rod Serling’s eye, exhibited all the best qualities of classic TZ episodes: brevity, satire, empathy and bloody great twist endings.

I don’t want to steal any thunder from my essay—click on the link below and it will take you directly to the PDF, which I make available, like everything else on this site, at absolutely no cost. Just one of the perqs you collect for hanging out here in my odd little literary salon.

Read on:

Charles Beaumont: An Appreciation

Quote of the day: Matt Taibbi

With the election of Donald Trump, the Republican Party gets what it deserves:

“If this isn’t the end of the Republican Party, it’ll be a shame. They dominated American political life for 50 years and were never anything but monsters. They bred in their voters the incredible attitude that Republicans were the only people within our borders who raised children, loved their country, died in battle or paid their taxes. They even sullied the word ‘American’ by insisting they were the only real ones. They preferred Lubbock to Paris, and their idea of an intellectual was Newt Gingrich. Their leaders, from Ralph Reed to Bill Frist to Tom DeLay to Rick Santorum to Romney and Ryan, were an interminable assembly line of shrieking, witch-hunting celibates, all with the same haircut—the kind of people who thought Iran-Contra was nothing, but would grind the affairs of state to a halt over a blow job or Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

A century ago, the small-town American was Gary Cooper: tough, silent, upright and confident. The modern Republican Party changed that person into a haranguing neurotic who couldn’t make it through a dinner without quizzing you about your politics. They destroyed the American character. No hell is hot enough for them. And when Trump came along, they rolled over like the weaklings they’ve always been, bowing more or less instantly to his parodic show of strength.”

Matt Taibbi,  Insane Clown President (2017)