Category: Poetry

God, the concept

SophiaGolgotha

If there is a God, that
Supreme Being would
have to endure every
unkindness, every injury,
the abuse and mistreatment
of innocents, the unspeakable
acts we inflict on each
other, pain and torment from
time immemorial.

God would bleed and die
and scream and whimper
and plead for one more
breath of life, while expert
torturers worked their wiles,
wringing false confessions,
betrayals, a crown of thorns
carefully arranged just prior
to execution.

 

(All Rights Reserved)

Cypress Hills (An Idyll)

Just returned from a weekend at Cypress Hills, a park in the southern region of the province.

Accompanied by my pal Laird, I attended a “stag party” for our mutual friend Tom. Ten guys in the semi-wilderness, celebrating the betrothal of one of their own. And a good time was had by all.

While I was there, I wrote three short pieces, inspired by the environment or conversations around the fire.

* * * *

Meteorology

The weather is strange these days
overcast with a chance of melancholy;
on the weekend, the sun never shines
and the grass smells of tears.

The Elements (An Introduction)

There is a tendency to
envy fire for its clear conscience
or over-praise the transparent,
placid gaze of water.

Yet no one spoils the
earth with lavish gifts
and we frequently embarrass
the air with our coughing.

Religion, summarized

Might as well fear the clouds
or prostrate yourself
before a 1000-year old
yew tree

Jesus, put away your cross
Buddha, no thanks

I’m investing my faith
in some special place
worshipping where there
are no altars

 

 

July, 2017  (All Rights Reserved)

Manchester

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.50.20 AM

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

 

From my notebook: two new poems

I’ve been going through a notebook I’ve been keeping since 2010—kind of a “scratch” book, to horse around in. Poems, lyrics, essays and short stories, in very raw form.

Found the following two poems, which may or may not make it into my next compilation, slated for release Spring, 2018:

Learned Behavior

We emulate our gods
by turns jealous and paranoid
desirous of silver and gold
hiding our indifference
behind impassive masks
reluctantly doling out favours
callow, prone to deceit

* * * *

Nothing to do with rockets

hopeless trajectory
miles off course
navigational malfunction
spiralling out of control
threatening civilian populations
programmed for self-destruction
to prevent serious harm

shipplanet

© 2017  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

Best Reads of 2016

9780812987232Managed to read over a hundred books and view about the same number of movies in 2016.

You’ll find my list of favourite films over at my blog, Cinema Arete.

Read slightly more non-fiction than fiction last year, a bit of a worrying trend. I’ve really cut back on my genre fiction in the past while; I’ve found the suspension of disbelief rarely works for me any more. The last horror novel I read, by Peter Straub, struck me as completely implausible and I barely finished it.

More and more, I’m looking for quality reads, books that are innovative, literate and unique.

And, more and more, contemporary fiction just doesn’t meet that criteria.

 * * * *

Best Books Read in 2016

Fiction:

Fortune Smiles (Stories) by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Execution by Hugo Wilcken

The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

The Heavenly Bible by Donald Ray Pollock

Today I Wrote Nothing (Stories) by Daniil Kharms

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

The Adulterous Woman (Stories) by Albert Camus

Honorable Mention:

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

Poetry:

Without by Donald Hall

Felicity by Mary Oliver

Non-fiction:

Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes

Ghost Wars: Secret History of CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden by Steve Coll

Contrary Notions by Michael Parenti

When the Facts Change by Tony Judt

Disaster Capitalism by Antony Lowenstein

Young Orson: The Years of Luck & Genius by Patrick McGilligan

We Learn Nothing (Essays) by Tim Kreider

Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

Honorable Mention:

The Idea of Communism by Tariq Ali

Goebbels: A Biography by Peter Longerich

My Life & Travels by Wilfred Thesiger

Hogs Wild (Essays) by Ian Frazier

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