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.
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
…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:
I cannot see the
My faith is
not so simple,
I ask for proofs
and the universe
spasms of hilarity.
God is laughing
but I, stubborn
fail to crack
© 2017 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
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:
framed for a moment
like aquarium fish
Alec Guinness called it the “greatest theater in the world” and ol’ Alec likely knew a thing or two about such matters.
I took along a handheld digital recorder to capture snippets of sound along the way and decided that a live reading at Epidaurus was just too fantastic an opportunity to miss.
I selected a few of my recent poems, ran through them a few times, then had Sherron hold the recorder while I did my thing. I was reluctant to place myself anywhere near stage centre, where the uncanny acoustics would carry every single syllable up to the cheap seats. Instead I stood at the very front, right against the first row of seats.
We were lucky enough that most of the tourists had left by then, chased away by the scorching sun. But you can still hear a few morons, clapping to confirm that, yes, indeed, the acoustics are phenomenal, as the last person demonstrated…and the person before that. Everyone lining up to take their turn.
During this trip I learned to really loathe tourists. There’ll likely be a post on that later.
For now, join me at Epidaurus, right around noon, this past July, the temperature hovering in the mid-30s.
Get the picture?
Great…now click on the MP3, sit back, close your eyes and listen…
© Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
Maybe you were a subversive.
Part of a cell.
Or you ordered some questionable books.
Matching some profile.
Compromised by a friend.
Betrayed by a rival.
Brought in for routine questioning.
Vehemently denying all charges.
Tragically expiring while in custody.
The official inquiry tactfully deflecting blame.
A closed casket, to spare your poor mother.
© 2016 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
Photo credit: Liam Burns
God the eternal scold
not the touchy-feely type
No wonder we’re so
lousy in relationships
denied parental approval
The times we needed
you offering stilted prayers
on sore bended knees
While you sulked in the
Aether using the ol’ guilt trip
to try and get your way
© 2016 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)