2019/02/05

Poem: Clouds

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I wish I could cherish 

The uncertainty. I wish 

I could float above 

The void like a cloud,
Happily ignorant 
Of the precipices
And chasms, and of 
The beautiful river plains 
As well – just drifting, 
Fulfilling the role 
Assigned to me 
By circumstance.

Looking ahead 
I would know that whatever 
I did was going to 
Turn out OK; not 
Because I knew 
What was coming,
But because I didn’t. 

Looking behind 
I could see no trace
Of where I’d been,
Or what I’d done.
But that wouldn’t matter 
Because I rained 
Or shaded 
Or evaporated
On cue. 

I had a shape on earth
But left no mark. 
I belonged but 
Never over-stayed. 
I made life possible 
For others without 
Colouring their minds. 
I removed myself 
For their celebrations;
Yet enfolded their doubts
With gloomy darkness. 
I had no need of companions
But never traveled alone. 

I was but was not. 
I became without form. 
I made no move but
encircled the earth. 
I was always 
The obedient servant
Of the sun.



5/2/19


Poem: The Big Bang

A long time ago a meteor struck the earth:
    Life is its echo.
A long time ago the paradox of life struck me:
    I am the echo.

Researchers are just beginning to find out about the one –
    I am just beginning to find out about the other.

Both were given shape by forces beyond their conception;
    Forces noone can unwind.

No dream can be undreamt:
    It can only be lived..

What all these things have in common is that we only discover
    Long after the event
    What they really meant.


Written in the night 0530. 5/2/19

2019/01/31

Poem: The Trouble with Politics

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The problem isn’t politicians, it’s us.
We don’t want to think about things:
We expect to be handed answers on a plate.
We want our whims to be catered for
Without cost. We resent taxes
Yet expect schools and hospitals
To spring up where we need them.

We moan at the state of the world,
Dismiss politicians as useless;
And expect things to get better
Without anyone rolling up their shirt sleeves
Or putting their shoulders to the wheel.

We look to politicians to give us a lead,
Yet we crush the poetry out their souls
And still expect them to sing in our key.
When something frivolous crosses our minds
We expect them to implement it without delay –
The big things we ignore, they’re too hard.
Migration? We’re against it.
Where should the desperate go?
– Answer came there none.
Is child poverty bad? Yes obviously ...
Unless tackling it involves higher taxes.
Is ‘small government’ good? Of course ...
Unless you want new motorways.
The arts? Can’t afford them. Yet casually
We wave through billions on nuclear arms –
which would destroy us if we used them.
Europe? Don’t even go there.

There is no solution to anything
Unless it involves We The People -
Not We The Businesses, not We 
The Tax-avoiding Trans-national,
Not We The Wealthy-who-don’t-use-public-services.
We The People demand that YOU
engage with US. Don’t expect us
To do anything.  It’s not our job.

It doesn’t make a great poetry does it –
Life so raw and lumpy?
        Where nowadays are noble thoughts,
    words that rhyme with climate change?
                       Or sentences that rearrange
              A world disordered, out of sorts?
 They’ve all been used and done no good.
              The simple truths we understood
     Now owned by cynics, whose one aim   
                        Is to make us all the same:
                  Mindless consumers, unaware
        That what we’ve lost is how to share
   The traits which confer on us humanity:
              Compassion, joy and equanimity. 

The abdication of responsibility

The problem is that we cannot abdicate the political sphere to the cynics who say that decency and fairness are no longer possible, for that is what the power-hungry monsters want. (Look at Hungary or Israel.) They seek to corrupt normal society in order to declare that traditional rules no longer apply and grab power while the bourgeois are disorientated. 

That’s the Trump/Bannon playbook, and like the Nazis they tap into a deep memory within the indigenous population of ‘good times’ before whatever current instability has threatened their social values - using im/explicit racism to “explain” hugely complex geo-financial issues (which no one can easily summarise) to create a narrative that ordinary people can lock onto in their uncertainties and parrot as fact. 

I haven’t been to Paris for 15 years maybe, but I was shocked then by the way that parts of it no longer appear to a European city. And I’m sure it’s far worse in Italy. When I visited a friend in Arezzo 6 y/a there were black prostitutes in caravans in lay-bys all along the mountain roads. The scale of the problems is beyond anyone’s capacity to resolve. 

We curse our politicians for failing to deal with what we the people cause by our conflicted priorities: EG demanding low taxes but also good civic services and effective social care. 

The EU and its member governments tried to create a fair framework for handling migrants, but it was wishful thinking; because the northern states simply refused to share the burden. And this all the pretext the demagogues for destroying the remaining social fabric of the European ideal. 

Suzi gave me a book on migration which shows that longterm solutions are impossible, because political instability around the Mediterranean and the range of satellite TV publicising western consumerism mean that Europe is an irresistible magnet, just as the USA is to SAmerica. 

If you look at the history of population movements from the Celtic era, there seem to have been these great migratory moves at many points in history. In Lyon for instance two distinct tribal settlements beside the Rhone stood alongside the Roman town on the hill, in a sort of functional apartheid; and of course the origin of the Jewish nation lies in migration mythology. But before today it didn’t matter because there was enough room for everyone. Now there isn't. 

I see this as the twilight of liberal democracy, and among the reasons is that we the people are largely ignorant of Christian principles. We have become a deracinated people, whose psyche no longer has roots in the transpersonal, with the result that we are blown by the winds of pleasure, and morally defenceless in the teeth of corporate forces. We were told that all the old ideas were irrelevant to the modern world, but nobody has come up with a better vision to replace them. It’s true that a new spirituality is growing, but much of it is consumerist in character, and being heterogeneous and individualistic it is incapable of putting down deep collective ethical roots. And thus its capacity to be a moral fulcrum is lacking. The Right seeks to exploit this moral vacuum by an appeal to the slogans of imperialistic Christian past, but ignores altogether the ethical heart of what it claims to promote. 

Yet we remain herd animals, and part of our psycho-somatic makeup is that we need to belong. How do we create those ethical magnets of elective affinity in the modern world that tap into and draw from the deep wellsprings of perennial wisdom that manifest in the best of all religious cultures, namely to honour the numinous within ourselves and to bring out the best in others? 

For all my difficult relations with the  Religious Society of Friends I still think it’s a great space for exploring the dilemmas of existence in a respectful silence, and that Quakers have historically got a great deal right about social organisation. 

2019/01/13

What happens after the end?

I recently read a review, which I can’t give an exact reference for, in which the writer quoted an AngloSaxon archbishop writing in 1054 saying that the world is over, nothing more is to be expected before the return of Christ. (And we know what happened 12 years later!) I feel this an appropriate response to those today who feel the West is broken beyond repair. It probably is, but the reality is that something else will follow it – whether we like that something or not. So the choice is between embracing the uncertainty of changing times or allowing them to crush us. 

Perhaps our era is not so dissimilar to the era of Charles 1, which saw a late renaissance full of delicate spirituality (George Herbert and the metaphysical poets, Orlando Gibbons etc): yet it was also full of anger at the corruptions of privilege and the indifference of the monarchy to rising tide of proletarian literacy which was to explode as the puritan revolution. The same sensibility existed all over Europe among the intelligentsia (Rilke, Mallarmé, Yeats) before WW1, only to disappear entirely ithereafter. 
I don’t know what’s coming next, but if we want what we value to be part of it we have to throw ourselves into the ‘ungodly’—as it seems—tide. Standing Canute-like on the bank is to be sidelined by the new—perhaps deplorable—history being made and from which gestation a new stasis will sooner or later emerge. 

We don’t know what happens if we try something, but we do know what happens if we don’t. There’s nothing the matter with K’s arguments, but sadly there are no prizes for being right in abstract – or I might’ve won one! The big prize is for weaving a strand of rightness (clear-sightedness) into all the wrongness (which isn’t wrongness so much as stupidity parading its blindness). 
If you can do this job right, like a commando action in enemy territory, and find the sweet spot where the strand will fit and so be absorbed into the main weave – then your only real reward is to return to know that you have been a small organic link in the great chain of those who have carried the silver torch of what I call Yahwism, the inner unmediated wordless encounter with I AM. Like any secret mission, there are only a few people you can tell – to most it wouldn't make sense. But to me that is where dharma and karma meet. 
So: the game is lost: the game is all to play for. In every moment both statements are true. 
Love / truth / joy are words with no meaning unless WE make them true in our own lives. We cannot allow ourselves to be buried by the statistical evidence that change is impossible – or entropy wins :: the forces of hopelessness. 
And perhaps ultimately that is the flaw in K's book,—he limits the capacity of g/God or 'divine otherness' to work within the sprawling mess we have made of (and I would argue were designed to make of) creation because his mind is limited to the imaginable.
But the Powers That Be /Tao aren't – the unimaginable is stock in trade to him/her/it/them. So renewal / rebirth / regrowth is always possible, even if we totally duff up the planet and extinguish our own and other life-forms. 
But on a slightly less apocalyptic note, all that is certain is that when the new thought-forms do emerge they are unlikely to resemble the old. 

2018/12/06

Setting Sally Purcell's Songs

Setting poetry to music involves a psychic intimacy which leaves the composer with a sense of a poet’s fragrance similar to the physical memory of a lover. To call the experience erotic is too easy, for it leaps right over that territory to end within a domain of the soul where memories of relationships are stored as a dynamic accretion to one’s own self.

A few years ago I made this journey into Sally Purcell’s poetry, and it was one of the most rewarding of my creative life. There is often a tension as to whether text or music is the senior partner—a clue lying in whether the term poetry or lyric is used—but in my experience of setting Sally’s poetry there was no tension of a hierarchy; just a reciprocal flow of language and music entwining to enhance the emotional meaning.

I feel I can use her Christian name even tho I didn’t ‘meet’ Sally until 14 years after her untimely death. An Oxford contemporary gave me her collected works in 2012, and I was immediately transported to another world. It was like entering a stranger’s house and knowing you were going to fall in love. There was an immediate openness between souls. ‘My friend speaks my mind’ is the phrase used in Quaker circles.

Entranced by her delicate precision of language and the refined awareness it displayed, each night before falling asleep, for a couple of weeks I enjoyed reading a couple of her poems. Immersing myself in the dense and richly mysterious images was like nodding off in a perfumed room.

There seemed to be two main themes in her poetry: erotic love and the spiritual dimension/s of life. Or if you prefer, a single theme: the relationship/s formed by personal and trans-personal love. And what makes her writing so luminous is that, unusually for an educated modern, she saw no a distinction between the two.

Being first attracted to set her Sestina for soprano, tenor and piano that June, I followed it immediately with a themed selection of 11 short poems I titled The Arc of Love. But I could see further diamonds buried within the pages hinting in perfect metaphor at aspects of the perennial mysteries of faith; and in August one of these, Temenos, caught my meditative eye as an ideal text for a poor man’s Spem In Alium.

The poem evokes the magic of sacred space created between humans, and I first thought to emulate the majesty of Tallis’s 40 voices; but as I began I encountered some of the logistical problems that Tallis himself must have faced notating 40 staves of music four centuries ago, the first being to find manuscript paper large enough, compounded by a contemporary consideration now that all scores are computerised, that I would’ve required a 60” screen to be able to read and work on the whole score vertically at any reasonable resolution. As I have only a pair of 27” screens to work on I compromised by using 20 voices as five spatially separated quartets who share and echo canonic exchanges. To be honest noone can actually hear a difference between 20 and 40 parts since there are only seven notes in the scale.

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Sally was truly a poet of kairos. She captured jeweled snapshots of rainbow moments where all the mercurial elements that float in the ether of our lives align. Hers was a quantum craft wherein she crystallised the randomness of life into moments of moral coherence, like a great photographer who uses even ambiguities of focus for expressive effect.

Where I feel kinship is that Sally didn’t write for approval or applause, she wrote because she had seen truth. She understood that truth is both eternal and transient, and that kairos lies in the momentary intersection between them; and it was her faith in an ultimate reality, an ultra-reality that transects and interpenetrates terrestrial existence, that gave her the courage to see and to live under the perpetual whiplash of a vulnerability most of us dim by allowing as-it-were a protective moral cataract to form :: which is the world’s lie disguising the nature of the power, privilege and precariousness of existence.

The pieces I’ve referred to setting were all solitary creative experiences as performers have not yet shown interest in them; however my final excavation of Sally’s rich seam of poetry was to make sequence of poems which trace the outlines of the liturgical year, which I called The Quiet Spaces. And I am delighted that six years on these have been brought vividly to life by Greg Skidmore’s Lacock Scholars.

My decisions about how to treat these poems: Eternal Image – First Mystery –Poem for Lent or Advent –Magi – I see them walking in the Air of glory – Rilke: came about this way. I’d had a composition performed in Manchester, whose timing allowed us to take a circuitous route home via a unique concert of William Byrd’s late motets given by The Cardinalls Musick in Stondon Massey, Byrd’s ‘own’ parish church in Essex.** Hearing his five-part motet Beata Viscera exquisitely sung in this resonant space—accompanied by the spectacular aerial display of an excited bat—was to feel the veil of time dissolve.

On my return the music for each poem came to me as fast as I could write out the previous one. My intention was that the first five motets should be performed together as they share a transpersonal dimension, and then after applause, the sixth, Rilke, be offered as a subjective encore featuring solo voices singing ...
    Even if we know love’s landscape
    and the little churchyard with its mourning names,
    and the frighteningly silent ravine for which others are bound,
    time and again we walk together under ancient trees,
    time and again lie down among the flowers opposite the sky.
Lake and Labyrinth 1985

To enjoy The Quiet Spaces I recommend turning captions on to display the text.

What I adore about Sally is how she illuminated the mystical realities of faith real without surrendering an iota of the complexity of a modern viewpoint. Like Olivier Messiaen she retains a naive belief in the ultimate goodness of Life with a kind of intensity that Tallis or Byrd would have recognised. Both modern visionaries offer a way forward for contemporary consciousness which sidesteps the sterility of intellectual art, and in Sally is the more remarkable for sustaining an authentically feminine vision within a life that offered precious few material comforts, and probably an unfair amount of gender discrimination.

Temenos, the 20 part motet, exists only with synth voices. As it makes great demands of the singers, time alone will tell whether I shall hear it with my physical ears or the ears of spirit – but I know that I will eventually because it speaks of the perennial truth that Sally expressed, which cannot be crushed or extinguished because it is Life itself. Whatever my state when it is performed I expect to clasp Sally’s spirit hand, and we shall be like two separated parents acknowledging the graduation of the child they conceived but could not raise together.

**Ironically, as a fierce recusant Byrd was regularly fined for his refusal to attend Anglican services. Notwithstanding which, there is a memorial in the church to him which records the obituary where Byrd was cited as ‘a father of music’.

2018/10/03

The Quiet Spaces

The birth fairies give some people things they don’t understand or necessarily even want. Mine was to be given Faith. All my life has been about coming to terms with an experience of confidence in my life’s eventual outcome which many people search for with a life of nighttime tears - and yet I feel I might have been better off without. 

These thoughts are in my mind because I’ve just published the Lacock Scholars’ exceptional recording of my Quiet Spaces on YouTube using subtitles to provide complete clarity. If the business of art is projecting one’s inner world into or onto the outside world, then this could not have been done better than by Greg Skidmore’s committed performance of my choral songcycle to words by the mystical poet Sally Purcell. 

It lifts a burden from my shoulders because I feel this piece at last represents perfectly what I have striven for during so many decades of silence – to project what is not merely a musical voice but a spiritual one. Altho I have always been conscious of what my authentic voice (/meaning) was, I could not make it audible to others because I could not find people to perform what I wrote. Notwithstanding; I remained convinced that my 'children' were as deserving of a fair hearing as anyonelse's; so it was only my faith that 'my redeemer liveth, and at the latter end he shall stand upon the earth' that kept me sane and on track. (Prophetically, this aria from Messiah was my audition piece for choir school.)

People, other than family, who know me would probably not have detected this cognitive dissonance I carried. My family alas probably saw or felt it all too clearly. For there has always been a paradox within the idea of meaning (/voice). For most people, I’m guessing, Meanings are forms of shared communications with families, lovers, friends and the wider world. In a word they are, in the classical sense, eros – the ‘relatingness' dimension of existence. But for me Meaning was always the voice inside me, logos the intellectual antithesis of eros – which I had to find a way to project if I was to have any place or raison d'être in the world. 


Because these issues were not yet clear to me, in my youth I espoused demotic music, and sought to compensate for the isolation which my voice seemed to enforce by seeking work within broadcasting where I could borrow shared musical Meanings, and pretend to belong. But this was not how I experienced authentic inspiration, and eventually in the late eighties it became increasingly clear to me that if I was to reach my potential as a creative and spiritual individual I should have to voyage throu darkness to find where /what /how my true meanings were. The ordeal by fire, where everything is reduced to ash, and only the refined gold remains. By that time I had fashioned a lot of the tools by which to extract meaning from my inchoate interior, namely how to cognise and make imagery of my Inner Otherness – whether or not it held value for others

A central tenet of Jung’s was that our Unconscious always shows us the face (/respect) we show it. My sense of my Unconscious has always been so strong (through dreams and direct inspiration) that I would almost turn the dictum around and say that I have had to learn how to show my Unconscious the respect it has always shown me. And to do that truthfully was something I felt that noonelse could help with—which was why I refused all higher education after running away from school—for instinctively I felt any form of ready-made answer would contaminate the authenticity of the thought-form I sensed taking shape within me, but which as yet was painfully lacking in coherence. 

The nature of this sacred obligation is one that I tried to run away from, like Jonah, because it aroused impossibly conflicted emotions in me. Due to the complete lack of encouragement to express myself from my parents or teachers, composition, to which I was inwardly impelled, was at one and the same time the most acutely painful activity because I had been taught that the end process of engaging with my unconscious was unwanted; and thus to produce a gift for the world was to be brought face to face with my isolation from the Meanings of others. 

Thus I felt as if I had to make my entire creative personality from scratch. The responsibility seemed utterly overwhelming; and I have described the process by which I did so in The Creative Voice. A main event for me has been to determine the nature of this Otherness I experience? Is it my mind? Is it access to a greater collective Mind? And/or is there a transpersonal element, and if so what is its nature? When I first became aware of this concatenated tangle of issues, at the age of 13, it was bound into questions of identity and sexuality and my alienation from almost everybody in the world. The result was an intense depression, from which I thought it impossible to be released. And yet within me was the conviction that it would all make sense one day; and if I could survive the next 40+ years, in old age people would be willing to hear from me what in youth there were unable to. I would therefore describe my life as a crescendo of happiness, which was begun by the intervention of Jane Clark Dodgson in my life, followed by meeting and marrying Clancy in 1975; and the joy that children and grandchildren and other relationship have brought.

Yet the meaning of these eros=relating relationships existed in parallel with the logos=inner-arising Meaning which I felt it my dharma to express; and my karma to overcome the barriers which inhibited its expression – on whatever plane of reality these may (/not) have existed. I knew, in fact, that I could not die until I had accomplished it; and so, in a way, I knew that no lasting harm could come from my hurling myself and those I love into difficult situations because I had to reach (by the blind guidance of the unconscious) the destiny and destination of accomplishing some kind of autonomous authenticity before as-it-were converging with my soul at the point of death.  


Despite writing a setting of Dylan Thomas's There was a Saviour when I was 21, which I believe stands comparison with what anyonelse was doing at the time, I was quite unable to obtain any performances. (I eventually conducted a recording of it myself with a volunteer choir in 1999.) I had not found a way for my Meanings to gain traction in the minds of others, far less in the collective Mind. 

The thing that terrifies us about some forms of (mental) illness and addiction is that they are without periodicity. There does not appear to be an intervention able to bring an end to anguish, which is as painful for observers as for patients. I was in the interesting position of being able to see and chart this experience (which I did in my play The Watcher in the Rain) – since so long as my 'voice' could not be heard, to passing musicians (those whose only meanings are ones they can eat off) I was just another ‘time-waster with a manuscript’. While I could not exhibit what my Meaning/s meant in the real world was because there was no defining output distinguishing intention from accomplishment for others to grasp. 

The music and the ideas behind it did not synchronise with contemporary cultural discourse, for reasons known only to the Ancient of Days. So until this point, at the age of 72, a meniscus of silence around my major works (written after 2003) has been preserved, and it is only now, thanks to Greg and the Lacocks, that the ambrosia can seep out. 

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I am not claiming these experiences as unique. I suspect they're perfectly normal for such individuals who—by whatever accident of genetics—have mindsets where there is a strong awareness of Inner Otherness, regardless of the vocabulary or medium in which describe what appears real to them. What has been important to me however, and for which I found the perfect vehicle in Sally Purcell’s pœtry, is that my music embodies a Christian spirituality that moves beyond the straightjacket of formalised religious thought to embrace a world in which all faiths can meet and respect each other. All true Art represents the small nuggets of eros-meaning we refine from the logos-enigma from the privilege of existence.

I would love what I compose to be popular, in the sense that I would love it to be a vehicle for others bringing people together to share its Meaning/s – but this outcome is unlikely for such thoughts that lie outside the general discourse. All I can do is be a witness to a view of humans that acknowledges their 'within-ness' is simultaneously their access to 'outwith-ness'. 

And the role of Faith in this? Well without this ‘delusion’ I wouldnt’ve built what I have, because for one thing I wouldnt’ve had the plan. And now at last, hearing The Quiet Spaces, I feel vindicated – that my redeemer or advocate does indeed stand upon the earth.