Posts Tagged ‘Donald Hall’

Gisela Ullyatt. ‘Let evening come’: ’n Huldeblyk aan Jane Kenyon (1947-1995).

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Die Amerikaanse digter, Jane Kenyon, is nie alombekend aan poësielesers in Suid-Afrika nie. Met reeds die eerste lees aan haar oeuvre, het haar gedigte se direktheid my onmiddellik opgeval:  persoonlike pyn wat nooit in selfbejammering of ’n narcistiese geween ontaard nie. Haar gebruik van die objective correlative is opmerklik en word nie net met volgehoue poëtiese dissipline aangewend nie; dit laat die leser ook op verrassende maniere na die wêreld kyk. The boat of quiet hours (1986), Let Evening Come (1990) en die postume bundel, Otherwise (1996) is van haar beste digbundels. Constance (1993) karteer hoofsaaklik die ervaring van ander se siekte asook haar eie depressie. Verder was sy ’n gerekende vertaler van die Russiese digter, Anna Akhmatova. Kenyon se oeuvre word egter kortgeknip deur haar voortydige dood.  

Jane Kenyon word gebore op 23 Mei 1947 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, waar sy haar grootwordjare deurbring. Vanweë haar ouma se allesoorheersende hellfire-and-brimstone geloof, neem sy van jongs-af die besluit om nie in tradisionele geloof verstrik te raak nie. Haar ouma het dikwels die jong Jane banggepraat met terme soos ‘The Holy Ghost’ en het haar gedreig met die ewige vagevuur; sy het ’n satan agter elke bos uitgeskop. Dit het moontlik ’n groot rol gespeel in Jane se teruggetrokkenheid. Jare later skryf Kenyon in “Staying at Grandma’s” (2005:175) só oor haar ouma:

“You know,” she’d say, turning

her straight and handsome back to me,

“that the body is the temple

of the Holy Ghost.”

 

The Holy Ghost, the oh, oh … the uh

oh, I thought, studying the toe of my new shoe,

and glad she wasn’t looking at me.

 

Soon I’d be back in school. No more mornings

at Grandma’s side while she swept the walk

or shook the dust mop by the neck.

 

If she loved me why did she say that

two women would be grinding at the mill,

that God would come out of the clouds

when they were at least expecting him,

choose one to be with him in heaven

and leave the other one alone?

Terselfdertyd ontdek die jeugdige Jane ’n dik streep rebellie teen die skoolsisteem en kerk wat sy in ’n essay genaamd “A Gardener of the True Vine” (Timmerman:9) beskryf. Vir die res van haar lewe bly sy ’n rebel en ’n “questioner of things”:

I had put my gold and blue Methodist Youth Fellowship PIN in the bottom of my jewelry box, where I would never see it. Nature and beauty would be my god, and I would be a good person without benefit of the sacraments, just by trying.

Ten spyte hiervan begin sy haar universiteitsloopbaan by die Universiteit van Michigan in 1965 met lae selfwaarde en angstigheid wat bydra dat sy na haar eerste jaar haar studie staak en by ’n geskenkwinkel begin werk. Gedurende hierdie tyd ontdek sy haar sangtalent en toer ’n jaar later, wanneer sy weer by dieselfde universiteit inskryf, na Europa saam met die Michigan Chorale. In 1969 besluit sy om in te skryf vir die digter Donald Hall se gewilde kursus, “Introduction to Poetry for Non-English Majors” (sy neem Frans as hoofvak). Wat as ’n vriendskap tussen haar en Hall ontstaan, ontwikkel drie jaar later tot ’n romanse wat uiteindelik tot ’n huwelik in 1972 lei.

Dit was egter problematies vir Kenyon aan die begin van hulle huwelik, nie omdat daar disharmonie tussen hulle was nie, maar eerder ’n gevoel van verwarring van identiteit: Hall was byna twintig jaar ouer as Jane en ’n reeds gevestigde en gevierde digter asook die professor wat haar gedigte krities bestudeer en help vorm het. Eers nadat hulle na New Hampshire trek om op Hall se familieplaas, Eagle Pond Farm (dit was reeds vir die geslagte in die familie), te woon in 1975, verander hierdie tentatiewe verhouding in terme van skryf tot ’n volwaardige verhouding tussen digters van dieselfde status. Dit is hier waar sy haar persoonlike geloof in God herontdek en talle gedigte, soos die roerende, “Woman, why are you weeping?” skryf.

Gedurende hierdie jare word Kenyon formeel met depressie gediagnoseer, op die relatief laat ouderdom van 38. ’n Diagnose van Bipolêr 2 word gemaak, wat beteken dat sy nie aan die meer ernstige Bipolêr 1 ly nie. Kenyon ervaar egter meestal depressiewe episodes (unipolêr) en kan meeste van haar hipomaniese episodes nie onthou nie. Ten spyte van haar depressiewe episodes, bly Kenyon uiters produktief en werk elke dag vir ure aaneen aan haar gedigte waaraan sy intensief skaaf: veral ten opsigte van beeld en vorm.

Constance (1993) is ’n bundel wat die tema van siekte en gemoedsversteuring deurgaans eksploreer, veral ten opsigte van geliefdes wat Jane in die voorafgaande tydperk aan die dood afgestaan het (sy was haar vader se primêre versorger voor dié aan kanker oorlede is). Ook skryf sy oor Donald se stryd met kanker; ’n deel van sy lewer moes verwyder word. Hy oorleef egter en word vier vanjaar sy 87ste verjaardag. ’n Uitmuntende reeks gedigte oor Kenyon se stryd teen depressie is “Having it out with melancholy” waarvan die motto uit Tsjechof se Kersieboord geleen is: “If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure”. Deel 2, 3 en 9 is veral roerend en beskryf die siekte op ’n treffende wyse (2005: 232, 235):

2 Bottles

 

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,

Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,

Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.

The coated ones smell sweet or have

no smell; the powdery ones smell

like the chemistry lab. At school

that made me hold my breath.

 

3 Suggestion from a Friend


You wouldn’t be so depressed

if you really believed in God.

 

 

9 Wood Thrush

 

High on Nardil and June light

I wake at four,

waiting greedily for the first

notes of the wood thrush. Easeful air

presses through the screen

with the wild, complex song

of the bird, and I am overcome

 

by ordinary contentment.

What hurt me so terribly

all my life until this moment?

How I love the small, swiftly

beating heart of the bird

singing in the great maples;

its bright, unequivocal eye.

 

Hierdie “bright, unequivocal eye” vind sy veral in die poësie van John Keats en Anna Akhmatova: portrette van hierdie twee digters hang in haar studeerkamer in Eagle Pond Farm. Haar liefde vir Akhmatova se gedigte spruit uit haar intense identifikasie met hierdie digter (wie ’n tydgenoot van Osip Mandelstam was) se lewe: alhoewel albei se lewensverhale baie van mekaar verskil, vind Kenyon die volgende raakpunte: “At a crucial stage in Kenyon’s maturation as a poet, one observes these pertinent relationships with Akhmatova: an allied sense of poetic principles, a kinship of personality, and a shared spiritual faith” (Timmerman 2002:107).

Die volgende strofe dien as voorbeeld van Kenyon se intensiewe en passievolle arbeid aan Akhmatova se gedigte en hoe uitstekend dit teen ander digters se vertalings gevaar het: Die eerste voorbeeld is Kenyon s’n, die tweede dié van Stanley Kunitz en die derde, Richard McKane se weergawe (“The memory of Sun, Evening, 1912):

The memory of sun weakens in my heart,

grass turns yellow,

wind blows the early flakes of snow

lightly, lightly.

*

Heart’s memory of sun grows fainter,

sallow is the grass;

a few flakes toss in the wind

scarcely, scarcely.

*

The memory of sun weakens in the heart,

the grass is more yellow,

the wind flutters the early snow-flakes

gently, gently.

 

Veral opmerklik hier is dat Kenyon ’n poëtiese ‘ek’ in die gedig gebruik, in teenstelling met die meer onpersoonlike, afstandelike vertalings.  Die vyf jaar wat Kenyon afstaan aan die vertaling van Akhmatova se gedigte verdiep ook die skryfproses van haar eie digkuns geweldig baie.

Kenyon se reis in 1992 na Indië verander haar uitkyk oor die lewe op ’n dramatiese wyse en  begin sy weereens twyfel oor haar Christelike geloof: sy kon nie vrede maak met die ontsettende lyding wat op dié sub-kontinent plaasvind nie. Daar was veral ’n gebeurtenis waaroor sy nooit afsluiting kon vind nie en waaroor sy dikwels geskryf het in briewe aan vriende: Terwyl sy en haar Indiese gids, Rajiv, op die Ganges vaar, merk sy ’n dooie baba op (Timmerman 2002:45):

Among the sticks and junk I saw the body of a newborn, lapping against the shore. I. Looked away. That is a chicken, not a baby, I said to myself. Looked again. Baby, legs still not uncurled from the womb […]

Só skryf sy uiteindelik poëties oor hierdie ervaring in “Woman, why are you weeping?” (2005:295-296):

 

[…]

 

Rajiv did not weep. He did not cover

his face with his hands when we rowed past.

the dead body of a newborn nudging the grassy

banks at Benares – close by a snake

rearing up, and a cast-off garland of flowers.

 

He explained. When a family are too poor

to cremate their dead, they bring the body

here, and slip it into the waters of the Ganges

and Yamuna rivers.

 

 

Perhaps the child was dead

at birth; perhaps it had the misfortune

to be born a girl. The mother may have walked

two days with her baby’s body to this place

where Ghandi’s ashes once struck the waves

with a sound like gravel being scuffed

over the edge of a bridge.

 

“What shall we do about this?” I asked

my God, WHO even then was leaving me. The reply

was scorching wind, lapping of water. Pull

of the black oarsmen on the oars …

 

Op 31 Januarie 1993 ontvang Kenyon die nuus van persoonlike tragedie: sy word met leukemie gediagnoseer. Vir vyftien maande trotseer sy verskeie uitmergelende mediese behandelings wat Hall, haar man, in ’n 1995-essay beskryf (Timmerman 2002:226):

 For more than a year, she endured spasms of chemotherapy, a pneumonia that leukemics get, shingles, delirium, loss of remission and its brief restoration, total body irradiation, a bone-marrow transplant, and ‘graft versus host’ disease of the stomach. Side effects included neuropathies in hands and feet, mouth agony from the radiation, loss of mentation, a brief psychotic episode, loss of control in her fingers, fatigue, bone pain and constant nausea.

            During all this time I remained at her side, and most days I worked on poems.

Ten spyte van Kenyon se intense lyding, werk sy en Hall byna koorsagtig aan haar laaste gedigte, wat later postuum gepubliseer word as Otherwise (1996). Sy sterf op 22 April 1995.

“Let Evening Come” (1990) is ’n gedig wat onder andere  Kenyon se lewe op die familieplaas en haar intense liefde vir die natuur opsom asook haar opmerksaamheid teenoor haar omgewing. Vir Kenyon, “poetry matters” en het sy getrou gebly aan haar roeping as digter en intense liefhebber van poësie. Ten spyte van die donker periodes in haar lewe, was poësie altyd haar reddingsboei, haar raison d’être.

 

Let Evening Come

 

Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving

up the bales as the sun moves down.

 

Let the cricket take up chafing

as a woman takes up her needles

and her yarn. Let evening come.

 

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.

 

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

 

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung

let evening come.

 

Let it come, as it will, and don’t

be afraid. God does not leave us

comfortless, so let evening come.

’n Uitstekende dokumentêr oor Jane Kenyon en Donald Hall word in 1993 gemaak waarin die bekende Bill Moyers ’n onderhoud met hulle voer. Ook is daar uittreksels waar Kenyon en Hall uit hulle gedigte by Eagle Pond Farm en aan gehore voorlees. Die skakel is  vimeo.com/33656887. (Die titel is ’n “A Bill Moyers Journal: A life together”)

Bibliografie

Kenyon, J. 2005. Jane Kenyon. Collected Poems. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press

Timmerman, J.H. 2002. Jane Kenyon. A Literary Life. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Louis Esterhuizen. Donald Hall oor die akklamasie van poësievoorlesings

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

 

Nou kyk, een van die snaakste stukke die afgelope klompie maande is beslis Donald Hall se artikel in The New Yorker oor poësievoorlesings en die adorasies wat so dikwels daarmee verband hou. Reeds met die inleidingsparagraaf weet jy: hier kom ‘n aweregse kyk soos min: “April is Poetry Month, the Academy of American Poets tells us. In 2012, there were seven thousand four hundred and twenty-seven poetry readings in April, many on a Thursday. For anyone born in 1928 who pays attention to poetry, the numerousness is astonishing; in April of 1948, there were fifteen readings in the United States, twelve by Robert Frost. So I claim. The figures are imaginary but you get the point.”

Die 84-jarige Hall se relaas is netjies uiteengesit in 27 leesgrepe; elkeen met ‘n spesifieke tema en aanslag voor oë. Kostelik. Hier is wat hy te vertelle het van die onafwendbare vraetyd na ‘n bepaalde voorlesing: “For better or worse, poetry is my life. After a reading, I enjoy the question period. On a tour in Nebraska I read poems to high-school kids, a big auditorium. When I finished, someone wanted to know how I got started. I said that at twelve I loved horror movies, then read Edgar Allan Poe, then… A young man up front waved his hand. I paused in my story. He asked, ‘Didn’t you do it to pick up chicks?’ I remembered cheerleaders at Hamden High School. ‘It works better,’ I told him, ‘when you get older’.”

Donald Hall

Oor ander digters en hul voorlesings het hy die volgende te vertelle: “It used to be that one poet in each generation performed poems in public. In the twenties, it was Vachel Lindsay, who sometimes dropped to his knees in the middle of a poem. Then Robert Frost took over, and made his living largely on the road. He spoke well, his metre accommodating his natural sentences, and in between poems he made people laugh. At times, he played the chicken farmer, cute and countrified, eliciting coos of delight from an adoring audience. Once I heard him do this routine, then attended the post-reading cocktail party where he ate deviled eggs, sipped martinis, and slaughtered the reputations of Eliot, Williams, Stevens, Moore […] By chance, I had been an undergraduate at the one college in America with an endowed meagre series of poetry readings. Eliot was good, but most performances were insufferable—superb poems spoken as if they were lines from the telephone book. William Carlos Williams read too quickly in a high-pitched voice, but seemed to enjoy himself. Wallace Stevens appeared to loathe his beautiful work, making it flat and half-audible. (Maybe he thought of how the boys in the office would tease him.) Marianne Moore’s tuneless drone was as eccentric as her inimitable art. When she spoke between poems, she mumbled in the identical monotone. Since she frequently revised or cut her things, a listener had to concentrate, to distinguish poems from talk. After twenty minutes, she looked distressed, and said, ‘Thank you’.”

So is dié uitgebreide stuk tot die prop toe vol amusante staaljies. Gaan lees gerus.

Maar, ten slotte, twee leesgrepe met ‘n ernstiger ondertoon, en die gebruiklike gedig deur Donall Hall.

It’s O.K. to be pleased when an audience loves you, or treat you as deathless, but you must not believe them. If a poet is any good, how would the listeners know? Poets have no notion of their own durability or distinction. When poets announce that their poems are immortal, they are depressed or lying or psychotic. Interviewing T. S. Eliot, I saved my cheekiest question for last. “Do you know if you’re any good?” His revised and printed response was formal, but in person he was abrupt: “Heavens no! Do you? Nobody intelligent knows if he’s any good.”

*

As I limped into my eighties, my readings altered, as everything did. Performance held up, but not body; I had to read sitting down. When an introduction slogged to its end, I lurched from backstage, hobbled, and carefully aimed my ass into a chair. For a while, I began each reading with a short poem I was trying out, which spoke of being twelve and watching my grandfather milk his Holsteins. In the poem I asked, in effect, how my grandfather would respond if he saw me now. When I finished saying the poem, there was always a grave pause, long enough to drive a hayrack through, followed by a standing ovation. I had never received a standing O after a first poem; now it happened again and again, from Pennsylvania to Minnesota to California, and I thought I had written an uncannily moving poem. When I mailed copies to friends for praise, they politely expressed their dismay. I was puzzled and distressed until I finally figured it out. The audience had just seen me stagger, wavering with a cane, and labor to sit down, wheezing. They imagined my grandfather horrified, seeing a cadaver gifted with speech. They stood and applauded because they knew they would never see me again.

***

An old life

Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish
mounded softness where
the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made,
I broomed snow off the car
and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart
before Amy opened
to yank my Globe out of the bundle.
Back, I set my cup of coffee
beside Jane, still half-asleep,
murmuring stuporous
thanks in the aquamarine morning.
Then I sat in my blue chair
with blueberry bagels and strong
black coffee reading news,
the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet,
I sat myself at the desk
for this day’s lifelong
engagement with the one task and desire.

 

(c) Donald Hall

 

 

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