I was Practising Flying


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:-

I smiled

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

might resonate
……………………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…’

8 thoughts on “I was Practising Flying

  1. If you are still able to fly at your age, my hat is off to you. For those of us who care deeply about you, this adds to a story full of humor and creativity. The differences of writing a haiku compared to a poem is one of those conversations that can stimulate creativity itself. I enjoyed the sketches and even though you don’t like this, I enjoyed the brilliance of the man who still takes flight. I must allow this glob to digest, since my mind was too distracted by my false imagination, imagining the fragility of taking flight. Sending a huge charge of electricity to your sore ribs. Love, my friend!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dear Colin,

    Delighted to learn that you are back home, now you must give yourself time to make a full recovery !
    How you were able to think about art and poetry at a time like this is amazing .

    Say no more at the time being, as, you will need rest.

    John Gonzalez

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I believe you said it, there was too much going on for the penning of a haiku, from that point, the rest becomes muddy. If I said you were inspired that doesn’t mean I know what that is, but we use words to get at things. I’ve always felt since way back when poetry became something I did that it was all some formula, some mathematical construct that begins with a buzz, but This is something too subjective to help with the question. As a teacher I would try and create an impression strong enough so that the class would become interested and then keep going until something new arrived. I’m not sure how or why any of that works but maybe there is some reciprocal energy that an area of the human organism leans toward, or is attracted to. One of my professors would say write a poem about winter and bring it in tomorrow. This caused intense anxiety at first and my immediate reaction was, this is a bunch of crap! The day would weary on but after much consternation, a line would appear. The idea here is the poem has already written itself and all a person has to do it become an architect, which is not easy, again this returns us to writing. If you want to write poems, you have to be nuts and to be nuts you have to know and even enjoy failure. But you’ve been writing poems for a very long time and its become a formula of infinite possibilities but a formula nonetheless, it’s the Blundell Method, which is inscrutable to others.

    Haiku remains in its own separate consciousness, it has a different buzz but a deceptively simple equation, one must be able to SEE like a mystic or some other magi, in order to penetrate nature’s secrets and nature doesn’t give up her secrets easily. Simple as in silence, silence as in Being, and Being is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent, Patrick! There is a personal formula or theorem that must come from within.

      What you say is the reason why I find all these ‘Creative Writing Teachers’ exceedingly suspect – it’s a money-making swindle. Growth Industry.

      A bit of a charlatan friend (nevertheless) of mine came on a summerday haiku/sumi-e thing I ran last year. Her comment at the end was something like she’d been teaching haiku for twenty years but never really understood what it was about till now! At least she was being honest.

      I bet Shakespeare never went on a Creative Writing Course.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Who’s Shakespeare? Even though I’m being glib I don’t think that question is too far fetched these days considering the state of things, all these e-gadgets and the kids don’t really read these days, but saying all that I am attracted to their dismissive attitude and their wonderful disregard for Capitalism, God bless em!

    We should’ve taught a class together, what a hoot that would’ve been, but we probably already did that in another lifetime. Best wishes and hopefully Janet is doing well with her nursing duties. A woman’s work is never done, Trina’s knee has taught me a lot about being a gruff old man, there’s always more to add to our repertoire of caring for others and my beautiful wife has been a superb teacher. Love, Patrick

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So sorry to learn of your fall and hospitalization, Colin. And yet, true to the profoundly creative person you are, you’ve managed to create art even from such a distressing series of events. You may never had needed to take one of those creative writing courses you think so poorly of, but you most certainly could teach a damned good one yourself! May you continue to heal, and of course may you continue to create.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Tom. Life goes on! I haven’t got time to be in a distressed state. At least I can now lay down at night on my right hand side so things are progressing a bit. Still practising flying though – life is creativity…

    Liked by 1 person

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