when I suddenly forgot to flap my arms sufficiently vigorously and finished up at the bottom of a flight of stairs with what turned out to be two broken ribs. They were somewhat painful.
In hospital in the middle of the night, after oral morphine had settled me down a good deal, I was suddenly aware in the room next door of an example of inhumanity at its lowest ebb, probably the result of Mayhem’s ‘hostile environment’: a woman with a posh voice screaming over and over and over again, stuck in some nasty groove, “Don’t touch me, you filthy beasts… Let go of me… Go to hell… What am I doing in this rotten dump… Don’t touch me…” culminating in a long loud wordless scream – repeat groove again and again…
I was carefully poked & filmed & pilled & tossed from here to there, wheeled along corridors for this & that purpose and lastly managed a crabwise shuffle into bed.
After a few hours, everything else having been declared satisfactory, I realised from their comments that there was nothing else they could do for me except stuff me with pills – ribs, it seems, reconstitute themselves somehow. Having been reassured that the loose bits would not float around my system to come out down my nose (or issue from somewhere equally unpleasant), I decided to discharge myself.
But not before I’d taken advantage of immobility to do a sketch or two:-
However, in the ward where I landed up there was a poor old chap two beds away who persisted in shouting out night and day, “Help me! [twenty times]…I’m cold [thirty-three times]… I want to get up [63 times]… I want to go to bed [28 times]… What am I doing here? [four or five times]…” This last shout being, of course, a sound Gurdjieff question that everybody should be asking… I stopped myself from contributing thus to the shouting, as did the other forebearing souls one of whom had had two weeks of it, so I got to learn later!
Back home in the early morning calm I wrote this poem:-
at the nurse given the task this afternoon
of keeping an awkward old man down the end
quiet for the sake of the other patients
unlike the wiry male nurse from Indonesia
(or somewhere) who had sat with him
all the previous night gently engaging
– to keep pace with his frequent loud outbursts –
with the habitual irrationality of his insistent
demand to be acknowledged by a universe
that had (I supposed) hitherto completely ignored
his existence his childlike desire to be noticed –
I smiled at her because she seemed so alienated
– out of sorts with his interminable requirements –
thinking perhaps that my small empathic gesture
……………………but I think
……….she would have
……………………….growled at me
………….in much the same way
Looking out of my own bedroom window that same cloudless blue morning, I noted
500 Canada geese
tight black circle
settled in a field of frost
It occurred to me to spend some time considering the difference between the way what I call a ‘proper poem’ happens and the sudden occurrence of a haiku. A haiku does suddenly occur.
The rough concept for a ‘proper poem’ (left brain operative) flaps its arms into so-called ‘consciousness’; you’re not quite sure how it’s going to turn out, what the upshot will be, till you’ve worked on it; if it flaps its arms hard enough it remains in play for some time and gets hacked around; if it doesn’t it crashes to the floor.
Why & how did this poem happen? I think that in the very moment when I smiled at the miserable-looking nurse with her entirely thankless task, she failing to react to my smile (not that I required it!), I had this sudden spark, as it were, that I might already be in ‘proper poem writing mode’ – the pattern was there and there was too much going on for the penning of a haiku. Between her and me, both physically and conceptually, was ‘the old man’ with everything that the phrase had conjured up in me for 36 hours (‘but for the grace of god…’ etc). Here was the other-than-conscious structure for the pattern of the poem. The whole process was other-than-conscious (right brain process somehow) with a clear awareness, as I got going, of ever longer excursions into the left brain to find the right words (as though they existed…). It always surprises me when what was a blank turns itself into a ‘poem’, when structure and pattern coalesce somehow and become words on the page.
Some would call all this drive ‘inspiration’ but to call it that is to bury the psychology of it quite hopelessly in the formidable curse of an abstraction. All that happens is that a certain something or other, momentarily buzzing around in the neurons, demands a focussed attention that requires a circling of words to confirm its pattern; in this case it consisted initially of my smile, the miserable-looking nurse, her lack of proper response to an awkward old man (an actor on the stage of his own misery), and my rough framing of the experience. All this does require left brain definition and refinement.
On the other hand, conditions for the ‘Canada geese haiku’ just happened at more or less the same time as the old man ‘proper poem’ began to materialise; it just required accurate & spontaneous recording: the pattern of geese, as a congregation looking black, so many of them in a white field in early morning sunlight. The Vertical Axis for the event was an accumulation of the daily habit of raising my arms to welcome the sunrise, my predisposition to notice patterns and a long time acceptance (out of Ouspensky) that everything is connected whatever separation there might seem to be; the tick-tock Horizontal Axis consisted this particular day of a feeling of joy in the moment of release from pain & captivity, knowing I could go smoothly on to the next thing, acknowledging a notebook gift from somewhere or other, and taking forward a happy conjunction of me and all that stuff out there which persists.
I come round to what may be considered to be the rather odd idea that a Haiku is a Gift from the Universe. A proper poem is the more than conscious union of Thinking, Feeling and Doing, all the Being parts of All and Everything working together harmoniously.
Later on, I thought that perhaps many who don’t also write what I call ‘proper poems’ assume that it is the other way round: that to write a long poem is a matter of tapping into some Muse or the other, an abstract phantom who will dictate an outcome while writing a haiku is to do with consciously finding a few words to describe an experience in imitation of the master Bashō ‒ precisely what he warned against: ‘Do not follow in the steps of the Ancients ‒ seek what they sought…’