One more for Elise Partridge

Hello friends. A three-way conversation between Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, and myself on the life and work of our loved friend Elise Partridge has now gone live at the Winnipeg Review. It’s to be found here.

And, if you’re curious, I wrote a bit about the challenge and wonderment of the conversation itself here. You can read some more about Elise herself here. And Barb’s wonderful blog is here. Steph doesn’t have a blog but here’s her publisher’s page here. Enjoy, please, do.


I hope Elise’s spirit won’t mind me appending this.

I was invited to a celebration of Rosh Hashanah tonight and we were asked as part of our lovely evening to express an intention for the year to come. Mine was, to be more patient with others and myself. What’s this have to do with Elise? She wasn’t especially patient with herself or others. In fact I loved her impatience, it was was wise, it was holy! At least when she was skewering someone’s pretensions it was, very.

But my impatience is most often crap. (And that, that’s impatience with impatience. Yeah baby gotcha.) And I’ve just now started sitting zazen again, after years off the cushion, and I’m feeling what a difference it makes to be okay with not getting it exactly right all the time. And a little bit more patient with me, I’m a little more so with some other, too. Does seem to go that way.

Came as this a few ago

TD 90V - imageKshanti paramita = the perfection of patience, or patience beyond patience. Patience so sunk in itself you might not recognize it as patience. That was Elise, too. Barb, Steph, tell me, wasn’t it?

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Elise Partridge – Launch of The Exiles’ Gallery

Oh late, oh night, and here are give or take some words I said at the Vancouver launch for Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery, now out from House of Anansi Press, you can find one here.


So we’re here to celebrate a new book of poems by Elise Partridge. Elise can’t be here with us in a bodily form. After her struggle with cancer she has gone what some faith traditions like to call home. Not her tradition, as far as I know, or mine, but the word, “home,” gives me a comfort when it shares a sentence with her name. Too, it gets me thinking about her title. It’s an odd title. The Exiles’ Gallery. The sounds in it hardly touch each other. THE EXILES’ GALLERY. It’s as if our mouths were to be acrobats, temporarily. Or as if all the phonemes in there were jonesing to get the eff out of there. I hope that way of putting it wouldn’t, doesn’t, displease her.

You might even say the sounds are exiled from each other. And something like that’s true with all her book titles. FIELDER’S CHOICE. CHAMELEON HOURS. The phonemes are oddly at odds. I say “oddly” because she can sure as hell do euphony when she pleases to

 some small donations from these golden trees

 Now we welcome the widening water

The, not dissonance of her titles, their refusal to euphonize, she’s up to something.

Quick check, everyone raise their hand who’s not exiled in some way or other from something. Thought so. (Two guys raised their hands here. Really? Really?)

To be at home isn’t a given, and it isn’t that common, and maybe it isn’t even a right, to judge by how mostly we treat each other. It’s a lot more common for us to be in exile of one sort or another. Exile from your country or your spouse or your own sadness or the soil in your hands planting a flowerbed.

And there are so many things that a girl outside a country dance staring up at the planet Mars, and the parents who last danced grudgingly on their wedding day, and a homeless man under the Burrard Street Bridge living out of a shopping cart, and for that matter Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar in leaky fishing boats and wanted not anywhere, don’t have in common.

A thing they do have in common, and all us with them also, and her poems point us to it, their attention is a lighthouse on it, is such home as they do have, at a given moment, they’ve made it for themselves. For sure there are gifts, a look, a drink of water, no life without those. But home’s made through one’s own activity, dogged or desperate, out of what a moment offers, whether that’s ample, or it’s meagre, or it’s barely anything at all.

And that’s what I’ve been finding most lately in the poems. In their sounds, the extraordinary heterogeneity of them, which I’m embarrassed to be only now hearing. Sometimes the mixture heightens anxiety. Sometimes it darkens satire. Sometimes it’s pure praise for sheer mixed-up-ed-ness of this world.

             [W]e strode
back to our avenues,
jaunty, just nineteen,
to troll like rowdy gods.

My neighbour’s daughter claps
as they lurch right
again

Praise for the sweet various flowershot dungheap of our world. Only world, her poems say, we get. Read them.


Then some beautiful readers reading some beautiful poems in beauty. I can’t give you those so here instead my beautiful friend.

partridge


(I was the last reader and told this little story and read this poem.)

For around a decade Elise and Steve were regulars on the property I owned on Salt Spring Island. While I was away they would tend to a plumbing system Byzantine in its complexities—clean up nightly prezzies from my cat—and once endured a plague of tent caterpillars I have to admit I thought they were exaggerating to call Biblical, till I got back, and had confirmation from the locals.

They did good work there, despite the distractions, Steve on his articles, Elise her poems, and this is one such of hers, “Invitation.” I read the poem, as not a last poem, but a leave-taking poem, full to the brim and then some with the love of life I loved and love still in her.

INVITATION

The stag and doe
lift their heads
in the brush

ears raised
as if
attuned to our tears

The grass reaches through chairs
by the shed
as if to thatch cushions
for the pair of us

The gate that won’t quite shut
with its scruff of lichen
invites us into the orchard

to pick “till time and times are done”
our choice of the bursting plums.

On playing well with others (I)

Hard to be a person. Hard to be one with other people. And yet how rich and how rich. I’m sounding like a self help book back cover. Kill me now? Or not. I’m thinking this, after a hard mother’s day (not having one of those right now) as I reflect on a couple of recent collaborations that have me (lord let me always write from just here) at the edge of my game.

One, a three-way conversation to be published in honour of a close friend who has passed. With me in it my two dearest friends in the world. And we have made each other nuts in the doing of it. E-mail conversations about our e-mail conversations about how to draft our draft of our rough draft. They all deferral and demurral, and I (this is deeply gendered of course) all irritation and eruption.

No one’s fault and no one’s foul. We each have a lovely fluid friendship with each the other. And those rare times we three are together, it takes an hour to choose a restaurant for dinner, and sitting there we are more three two-way friendships at one table, than one threesome.

So take three writers, each with their own way of working, each on their own arc of mourning, each vexed by the tricky work of plucking, from their private grief, what they’re ready to risk to say publicly. And each has well worn paths to the doors of each the other – ways of speaking and being together – shared language gesture and understanding – to which the third’s not privy, nor need she or he be.

The project could have been done by any one pair of us with some hardness and some tears and many walks back and forth along one of those footpaths. But we are three and every passage from one door to another has had to be done in the gaze of and for the understanding of a third. What were we thinking when we said yes to this?

Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, intemperate ventings (that would be me), bendings over backwards not to offend, lost gists, broken threads. Tensions, bumps, bruises, gaps. And always our unfinished work of mourning ready to gush hotly up through the fissures.

And yet – this is the point I’ve been headed for – no worry ever that the friendship was in danger. That ground has felt solid as a sky of stars.


The fruit of our work, of being our lumpy selves together, it’s going to be quite something. A lot more true honest real and fierce an honouring of our friend than the usual celebratory fluff you see at about this point after someone’s passed. If I do say so ourselves.

We find in good friends the parents our parents however they may have wished to couldn’t be for us. The “good enough mother” I read about in Winnicott I found in the flesh in these two. They’ve raised me up – what Pound said, m’elevasti. Much of what’s good in me, they’re to thank for.

89R scrap 1

One, lovelykind, wrote after I apologized for another grump. “Chris, no wonder Mother’s Day’s hard. A friend posted on FB yesterday, ‘Hugging everyone for whom today is a kick in the face.’”

After a day I couldn’t cry it’s that that gets me. My heart feels kicked in the face. Though I know “heart” is a dumbass metaphor and “Mother’s Day” a marketing contraption.

I wanted to write about collaboration in teaching, as well, but this post feels full, so I’ll save that for another.

The image atop is, leaves from from my red osier dogwood yesterday afternoon – thank you red osier dogwood god – plucked and scanned, for I said I was about total translation here, and that means translate the moment of translation, and one moment as I made some marks that afternoon was, leaves blowing out back there blowing into mind. So I went out and picked some fer yehs.

Intertitles

Funny how one thing connects to another. The mind’s a rhizome. In the mix right now for me so many. My friend Elise’s memorial yesterday. (What’s that you ask. Drafted this the day after never finished and come back to it now.) Voices of twins I woke to on NPR a few mornings ago and couldn’t shake from my head and bought the CD on iTunes (I never do that) and now listen to twice daily entracedly. The intertitles of a sweet fond symbolist early silent filmic confection called The Blue Bird by Maurice Tourneur.

A phrase underlined won’t suffice. Must embed them. My friend:

Read this poet's poems! Click to get to some.
Elise Partridge (click and go to her website)

And these amazing haunting singers, somehow right at the core of a cross where sensual & spiritual & naive & old soul meet (okay little crush):

Ibeyi (click and go to their river)

And the only intertitle I can find online from The Blue Bird:

(The sentiment — gah. But — the elegance with which the H curls to encase the quotation mark and the terminal r stretches out to offer shelter to the ellipses. Decadence, sure, but guileless.)


All linking and clicking and clinking in unexpected ways. I have, e.g., and am sure of it, been trying to rescue Elise from the grave by making Inanna of her and bearing her through hell and out the other side. I spoke at the memorial about my propensity for magical thinking but didn’t get into the thick and gristle of it.

I don’t think it’s going to work, I think she’s gone from matter, already metamorphic-indestructible otherwise, but it’s a rite I seem to need to go through. So when I post, in weeks to come, comic book panels collaged out of junk mail depicting Inanna’s trip underearth and back, you can know it’s her, too, my friend, too.


Here are the first two. A bit of opening narration:

1. When they tire

And her setting out:

2. Hell (tattoos)

All the visual elements, script aside, are derived from junk mail, mine or friends’. (Sorry about the crud on the right side, my damn scanner.) Galla: demons come to claim their due.

Going in the script for something a bit like cuneiform and a bit like the scribal hand in medieval Old English manuscripts and a bit like graffiti and with a bit of the energy moving my hand through ascenders and descenders and cross-strokes in the moment of marking. A bit of embodiment that’s been a long time coming and I find me greedy for it increasingly.


So that’s what Elise has been up to in here. The intertitles? Ibeyi? Together they suggested a possible elegance —

5. Sister is - title

— about which I’ll hope to have more to say later. For now a link to my friend Kaveh Askari’s book on early cinema including Tourneau’s The Blue Bird:

BFI
Read this book!

One more for Elise

I thought I would post here, with her husband Steve’s most kind permission, the remarks I made at the memorial this weekend for Elise Partridge. It was a beautiful occasion, the afternoon. Our seats arranged such that our seeing went out the frames of the windows and frames of wood and frames of stone and frames of shore pine and out over ocean into the frameless mountains. (I have it in mind because two days later Stephen Burt spoke in that same space, differently em-placed, on the poetry and poetics of place.) One might almost feel one was a spirit passing through bodily frames, one, another. The words I said were about these.


In the weeks around Elise’s death I’ve been talking with some of my students about animism. The thought — to be a bit simple about it — that the world is alive. Every part of it and the whole of it. Which I think might mean, if it’s true, that when you go, you’re not really gone, you’re just differently here.

I start with that because I haven’t been able to get my head around it very well. Elise — here. Elise — gone. It’s the most elemental thing. We get to live so we’ve got to die. And, as Elise leaves the tangible world, I am finding it makes almost no sense to me at all. I keep looking for ways to find her not gone but instead differently here. And so maybe all I’ve got for you is four and a half more minutes of magical thinking.

It’s a sort of thinking Whitman was fond of. And Steve’s asked me to read a late poem of his. And so I guess through him Elise is asking me to read a late poem of his. It’s called “The Last Invocation” and it goes like this.

1.

At the last, tenderly,
From the walls of the powerful, fortress’d house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks — from the keep of the well-closed doors,
Let me be wafted.

2.

Let me glide noiselessly forth;
With the key of softness unlock the locks — with a whisper,
Set ope the doors, O Soul!

3.

Tenderly! be not impatient!
(Strong is your hold, O mortal flesh!
Strong is your hold, O love.)

Whitman, who said we could find him underfoot. I don’t think of Elise as under our boot soles — I think she’d find the notion undignified — so much as behind our eyes. Entering our vision to sharpen it with us. Forgive me for going back to my class but they’re on my mind because they had to bear with a teacher thrown off his game for a while by grief. I might put it to my class this way. If the proposition of animism is, oh, when you go, you’re not really gone, the problem for us moderns is, yeah, we’re here, but we’re not really here.

That’s a problem Elise concerned herself with. In her work, in her life. Maybe the problem though I don’t want to presume. What, every one of her poems asks, stands in the way of seeing more clearly, hearing more kindly, touching more tenderly, feeling more feelingly. And go — the poems say, to whatever that what is — go stand somewhere else, there’s a life to be lived, fully, lived well, lived lovingly. The first lines of the first poem of her first book —

Nothing fled when we walked up to it,
nor did we flinch.

What a note to start a life in poetry on. “Everglades” is the poem. It has a vision of that swamp as a wild and wildering democracy —

Tropical, temperate, each constituency spoke —
the sunburned-looking gumbo-limbo trees
nodded side by side with sedate, northern pines.

“Gumbo-limbo trees”! What better evidence of a life well lived? (The phrase, I mean.) The line following —

Even the darkness gave its blessing

A darkness from which I’d like to think Elise blesses or raises an eyebrow at us.

I wanted to touch on her e-mails, how they quivered with joy on one’s behalf, and with outrage at banality, idiocy, herd mind, also how they made the exclamation point safe for human perception again — there may have been seventeen of them but you knew each was uniquely meant — but I’m about out of time.

Just this — a postcard from years back, after Steve and Elise had looked after my house and cat on Salt Spring, one of many times. I still have it on my fridge. It’s a photograph of Robert Creeley taken by Allen Ginsberg at a diner in Boulder, CO.

Postcard - front (cropped)

Ginsberg’s inscription: “I wanted to focus on a sharp clear eye — Robert Creeley’s friendship.” Elise’s inscription on the back begins: “Hello Chris! I admire your poetry! —Robert Creeley.”

Postcard - back (cropped)

Elise and I had gone down different paths aesthetically, and at this point in our friendship, she was feeling really kind of pretty unsure what the hell I was up to. And yet she found a way to express, with grace and class and decency, and without dishonouring her own instincts, encouragement and faith in me.

That’s love. That’s the love of a friend for another. It’s a rare thing and it doesn’t die. I don’t think it does, I really don’t.

Paperwhites, for Elise

An exercise I give my poetry students: “Write a flower. Don’t write about a flower. Just write a flower.” Heh heh. Evil sumbitch I am. But I think I might have done that this morning. I had vaguely in mind to cut some paperwhites (narcissus) I had growing indoors from bulbs when they first began to falter and bring them to the photocopier and see what they had by way of elegy in them.

So I did. This one’s I think the best to stand alone. If I keep thinking so it’ll end Dumuzi under a title something like “Paperwhites, for Elise.” Click on it once, twice for a blowup.

Image 16 - 8

Elise was always a bit scandalized (and skeptical and intrigued and mortified and drawn) by my drift in this direction (“Chris, you’re not going to abandon MUSIC, are you?!?!?”) and I offer her this elegy in the cheerful teasing spirit in which our overlapping divergent aesthetics met. I’ve rarely loved disagreeing, being disagreed with, so much.

(Really. That many ?s and !s and more. Of how many people can you truly expect to say that you’ll miss their e-mails acutely?)

Of the two dozen or so scans I made, quick quick, little thinking, the latter half come together as a kind of sequence I think, also elegy. And something about ones and twos and threes, and how when you’re close to yourself there are more and fewer than one there, just as when you’re close to a friend there are more and fewer than two there.

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Junk mail bricolage

A few weeks ago I took Dumuzi — a manuscript I had thought pretty much done — back into the shop for an overhaul. Started incorporating handwritten bits, pages of journal writing, fragments of the myth stroked out on scraps torn from junk mail envelopes, and’ve been pretty pumped about where it seems to be headed.

And my feelings in the wake of Elise’s passing, which have surprised me in their intensity, though why should they really, I loved her as a true friend, far from derailing the work seem to have thrown themselves into it for fuel. (I showed her one of them, not posted here today, and true to generous form, she flared, though it was far outside her taste, amazement on my behalf.)

Here’s one. I should say, this is the part of the book that tells the story of Dumuzi’s consort’s, Inanna’s, journey to the underworld, i.e., death and metamorphosis. As she readies for her journey (as if anyone chose such a journey) she gathers her me, her powers, which are all the powers of culture, our being as civilized beings.

Her me (1) 3

And the other.

Her me (2) 3

You’ll see some anger in it. Okay so yeah I’m pissed. Some of it’s, I’m pissed at the world, it took my friend. Even, let’s say it, pissed at my friend, she got took. Shan’t pretend to be more admirable than I am. And, some of it’s anger at, well, junk mail, and a life among and as commodity, even as it’s also an effort to subvert commodification — oh Christ I’m sounding like a lit prof shut me the fuck up.


What am I doing here. I don’t quite know. Something about an elegy in motion. If the blog (I first typed glob) as form lets me do something my private journal nor a public statement don’t, as well, it’s something to do with catching the gist of the feel and the feel of the thought on the fly.