Two Mid-winter Poems


these last few nights

of clear skies & sudden gusts of wind
when the moon has been
more or less full on the dozing fields
I am haunted by a question
posed by the title of a book
I’ve been reading: who built the moon?

it sails around my midnight drawbridge
up there outside the window
this question rhyming with the tick
of the battery-driven clock
and I close my mind to the proposition
of an answer offered by the all-too-human
author of the book;   then the next book

asks the question: why did old Sumerians
in their queer tablets seem to know
much more about the evolution of the planets
than all our modern scientists put in a room
together with their so technological gizmos?

asked who is the wisest man alive today?
the Oracle at Delphi gave an answer
that led to the death of Socrates

what is two plus two? say “it all depends”
—the meaning of a question is never
provided by the puniness of an answer

oh my children—keep asking questions
but never rest content with answers that
demean the energy contained in a question

the sum of two megalomaniacs plus
two more megalomaniacs
will give you a different answer
from whatever the sum of two beetles
plus two nanny-goats might provide:
a world-shattering answer easily denied
here in Albion as compared with just
four creatures minding their own business
in this wide & open midnight field

the bark of a fox and the plaint of an owl
plus moonlight on the windowsill
& the bowler-hatted scream in a primeval forest
equals a lurch into the surprise of my study dark

each of our genes

has an evolutionary history
covering at least three and a half
billion years

in China near Beijing
there is a little village called
Zhoukoudian where heavings of the earth
have jumbled limestone and coal seams
together under alluvial deposits
eroded by rain and bitter winds
from central Asia that still send dust
from China halfway round the planet

700,000 years ago hominids came
to the cave system of Zhoukoudian:
for 500,000 years their quotidian detritus
began to fill the caves blocking
the lower entrances and they lived
worked and reproduced on the surface
of the gradually thickening layers
of waste material constantly finding it
necessary to discover new ways to approach
the caves down chimneys and fissures

200,000 years ago the human land-fill
choked the upper chambers and so one fine
Monday (perhaps) they just upped and left

the people of the caves of Zhoukoudian
had crouched over their smoky fires
eating half-cooked bats
for a hundred times as many years
as we have recorded our civilisation—
a hundred times as many years since
the invention of an alphabet

and what do any of us do
that makes us think that we achieve
anything higher than the status of the task
of eating a half-cooked bat in the gloom?

all projects & all commerce  the music
and the mystery and the kerfuffles
of relationships go wiffling down
the fissures and the caverns of the brain
at a hundred yards a second blocking
the lower entrances to snug down
with all the quiet kangaroos assembled
there in ordered ranks each with
their own expressiveness       frozen gestures
like the patient absurd warriors of Xian

8 thoughts on “Two Mid-winter Poems

  1. In Response to these lines of Blundellian Erudition

    oh my children—keep asking questions
    but never rest content with answers that
    demean the energy contained in a question –

    Conscious of my own rush to “come out with something” – in order to join the party

    I’ve set myself a challenge.

    Temporary though it is in it’s nature, as it will last
    only as long as I can find words to fill the space on the page.

    the words that fill the space on the page
    I know will not ever contend with the erudition
    found in the musings of a wild man I have yet to meet,
    yet even so feel I know something of,
    not least from his bravery and generosity of spirit.

    Bravery and generosity of spirit to expose his inner workings
    And offer them up to the outside world to play with
    Constantly setting challenges to think – think and think again –

    Bravery and generosity of spirit to lay bare
    his knowledge and understandings of himself
    it seems with the express intention of provoking us
    to explore and discover more of ourselves through them

    I for instance have never written a poem before –
    I’m not even sure what constitutes a poem
    What constitutes this “poem” if poem it is,
    is apparently writing itself in true Blundellian style
    from various containled “I’s”; so I’ll continue…..

    As so I am learning – – – slowly – – – not what the answer is to anything
    But to revel in the streams of thought from my various “I”’s
    I’s that arise from the complexity of the questions

    The complexity of the questions, reveals not only
    the complexity of the man who poses them,
    But in their depth and provocations reveal the
    complexity of the inner workings of, what “I” call, me

    Our first exchange came out of a question I had asked,
    Once upon a time long ago. when I thought there was but one of me,
    A time when even though I had long understood the concept of parts
    I hadn’t fully conceptualised the fullness of each part in me

    I remember neither the question to,
    nor the answer that came forth from, the Blundellian well.
    What I remember is the response that came bouncing back
    When I said “thank you for your sage like answer”
    Immediately came the repost – Ah yes a sage and so much more……

    From that point on I am learning to slow down
    Allowing the workings of my mind, that is to say the mind of the “I” that is impetuous to prove that “I” have a mind’s, mind,
    to absorb and ruminate on what the question might mean
    deliberately not getting any-where near what the answer might be
    in deed doing my very best to avoid falling into the trap of the finite

    Falling into the trap of the finite I have come to realise,
    without realising; giving an answer, spoils the fun
    what perpetuates the pleasure is asking more questions

    Asking more questions about a particular aspect
    that appeals to a particular I
    that is responding in this moment to that moment
    when I first read the mid-winter poems.

    And, such as it is – the above and below is my response to the first midwinter poem –
    Circles and Spirals of words and thoughts and feelings,
    ricocheting around and bumping into various “I”s along the way,
    and recognising my own words eventually coming back to me in some form or another

    This is the luxury of the mid-winter break for me
    a time to think and not just to do
    but in the thinking, ultimately “doing” differently. One hopes.

    Perhaps a suitable resolution would be to make time for more of the same before I start to doings of every day, so that my actions in the world are more deliberate, more often, than the thoughtless automaton that can sometimes overtake the best of intentions.
    And to give my-“self” the space to receive insight from the gaps – to be open to the moments when the “obvious” previously apparently completely obscured, reveals itself with blinding clarity. If not for those moment’s I would be living a blundering life, rather than a Blundellian one.

    and what do any of us do
    that makes us think that we achieve
    anything higher than the status of the task
    of eating a half-cooked bat in the gloom?

    all projects & all commerce the music
    and the mystery and the kerfuffles
    of relationships go wiffling down
    the fissures and the caverns of the brain
    at a hundred yards a second blocking
    the lower entrances to snug down
    with all the quiet kangaroos assembled
    there in ordered ranks each with
    their own expressiveness frozen gestures
    like the patient absurd warriors of Xian

    My personal hope on this one is that via the plasticity of epigenetics, which seems to have proven that we are not simply the result of a fixed set of particular inherited genes. And that we can undo, switch off or switch on genes through examining, teaching ourselves to think and do things differently. Oooh really?

    Through the “life examined” one way or another, we can indeed switch other parts of us off and on and so “be” different to the entrenched patterns of the past.

    Funny thing is, that the ancients, “knew” all this stuff eons ago, how did it become so lost that it now appears new? Is it that the “knowledge” in the world operates much like our minds, circular, spiral, cavernous and ricocheting and occasionally colliding with the obvious, or has the “newness” occurred in part through the blind conviction of scientific and/or other persons thinking they had the “right” answers to everything thereby guaranteeing stagnation? This unfortunately coupled with the general population’s willingness to become entranced into believing the same. How very strange.

    There is much to be said for asking questions, rather than merely seeking answers – since the attachment to the answers negates the purpose of the question, which might be to gain understanding?

    Why is it so difficult to admit that we “know” the answers to nothing very much at all? Why do we think we have to know the answers? What does thinking we know the answers do for us? and what would accepting that we don’t?

    So thank you for your poems and everything else – Wild Sage!

    I’m on with the “doings” of the day – ah well it was nice while it lasted. But I am a confirmed member of the why why tribe.

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  2. Dear Honorary Chief,

    Yep – Hadfield used to call them innate tendencies – or inherited traits. “They” have discovered that these are not fixed in our DNA and just as these genetic tendencies have been inherited transgenerationally their future onward transmission can be changed to switch the gene expression off rather than on.

    The Genes remain the same – the expression of the genes is however changed by changing/manipulating environmental factors – I think.

    Darn it – now I’ll have to look it up properly. There are some fascinating articles on the subject.

    Best wishes – Pat

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  3. Poems can, and often do remind us of our mortality, they contain bits and pieces of eternity, surprising twists and turns determined by the infinite possibilities of a lucid and sometimes lunatic mind. I’m not suggesting Blundell to be a lunatic; that word is saved for politicians and corporate blood suckers. I give him and anyone else praise for heightening language into a worthy poem. It’s just that seeing things up there, spinning alongside the moon can offer a stark and sobering view of our disquieted planet. “Who built the moon?” asks the poet, a preposterously ingenious question that causes the reader to pause. In this age of know-it-all technology the word ‘built’ gives an ironic nod to anyone who reads small screens, and has no need to ponder such a wonderfully ambiguous question. The moon wasn’t built, it was made by God, or the Big Bang, created billions of years ago, and we know this because science can prove it! Let’s take a longer look at, “these last few nights” from my own lunatic lens just for the hell of it.
    The first three lines of the poem use sound and image to create a place and an atmosphere. The slant rhyme between the words “wind” and “bend” contrast the long vowel sound in the word “nights” allowing for tone and harmony. This melodious structure is mirrored again at the end of the first stanza with the words “book” and “moon.” Also contributing to the lyrical thrust in the first stanza is a curious line break that occurs at the end of line six, “posed by the title of a book/I’ve been reading: who built the moon?” (6-7) The enjambed sixth line shifts the rhythm of the stanza, alerting the reader to the speaker’s question. If form is content we can guess that this poem will be filled with musical “gusts of wind” (2) grounded in the cold earth.
    The speaker wastes no time in the second stanza using a fluid image, “it sails around my midnight drawbridge” (7), and then juxtaposing it with the slow “tick” of a clock. The musical word-play notable in the first stanza continues, but this stanza opens a new space. We can feel the ideas percolating between the sailing moon and the poet’s personalized “drawbridge.” A lesser poet would’ve left this stanza out, too eager maybe, but Blundell deftly holds back, and we get to contemplate our own all too human ways of thinking. It’s a good thing because the poem takes off into its own orbit beginning with the 3rd stanza. Like many good poets Blundell is a juggler standing on a tightrope, moving from book to book, traversing through time, searching for the next architectural cornerstone that the poem demands. I think it was Rilke who said that there is little difference between the work of a poet and the work of an architect.
    The third stanza begins with a musical hook of a line break, which rests in the white spaces before hitting the reader with a five line question. The poem is gathering momentum and we are now eclipsing time, traveling and enjoying the speaker’s biting philosophical posture, and for our patience we end up sitting in a room with the Sumerians and their “queer tablets” (15), and “our modern scientists” (17) and their “technological gizmos” (19). The feeling of being trapped in this imaginative room is the sense of conflict that we feel every day, if we feel at all? How much has been lost since the moon appeared in the sky? The room of ancient and modern science gives off an impression of magic and hopeless forgetfulness. The moonlight “on the dozing fields” (3) is now a faint dream. Modern man’s arrogance has no boundary; we really believe we are the only ones to have stepped on the moon.

    asked who is the wisest man alive today?
    the Oracle at Delphi gave an answer
    that led to the death of Socrates

    The fourth stanza above is as relevant today as it was in ancient Greece. Blundell’s question that begins the stanza is another reminder of the passively cheap notice we give today to the knowledge of our past. It’s hard not to compare the Oracle at Delphi with today’s smart phones. The poem falls here and becomes tangled up in man and machine. As the hemlock dropped from the philosopher’s hand, something else dropped with it. The poem is digging at us, each question offering a glimpse into our own loss, our own small minded machines.
    The speaker doesn’t leave us staring at our navels and asking why, instead we are lifted up and out of our smart phone ideology by a gift of insight. Stanza five begins by rebuilding the structure of our interior rooms. “what is two plus two? Say “it all depends”/- the meaning of a question is never/provided by the puniness of an answer” (22-24). The brilliant line break at the end of line 23 (using the word never) allows us to take a deep breath for what’s to come. The phrase “oh my children” (25), harkens back to poets from the past and to thinkers of a different age. In a flash the word “energy” fastens our pathos together – both modern and ancient voices together under the same moon.
    The tension builds in stanza six as the speaker’s plea to today’s children pours onto the page in Socratic reason. The stanza is a lesson in the Socratic Method and in the wonder of possibilities present “in this wide & open midnight field” (36). Blundell uses the word “Albion” in the stanza as an allegory, or maybe a signpost, something to connect us with our human folly and our human ancestors. The poem ends with surreal images, animal eloquence and intellectual play, as if something wild in us is needed now more than ever. There is a beautiful madness to the end of this poem; a damp and fertile awakening that closes around our fur and our moonstruck eyes, something eternal waiting for us in the dark, these last few nights.

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  4. Thanks both Pat & Patrick for the excellence of comments! All of which have me re-reading my poems as though they were somebody else’s with added meaning. There’s the thought-provoking snappy little NLP dictum which asserts that the meaning of a communication is in the mind of the communicatee so it’s lovely to get the responses of two communicatees constructing a slightly different poem from the one I thought I’d written down – or rather responses that have me looking at my poems in a different way, different emphases, enroute to more writing.

    In What is Literature? (1947) Sartre points out that when 100 people read a novel it becomes a hundred different novels. Same goes for a poem. Thus confirming the snappy little NLP dictum twenty years before its invention.

    Patrick’s close words-on-the-page comments fill things in with uncanny accuracy. Going beyond accuracy… Pat’s Not-even-being-sure-what-constitutes-a-poem-I deftly comes up with the kind of questing series of words that I’d call a poem! Perhaps it’s best never to be sure about anything; give or take, that way stuff happens.

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