Posts Tagged ‘Jan Zwicky’

Leon Retief. Twee Kanadese digters: Dave Margoshes & Jan Zwicky

Sunday, October 30th, 2016




Hendrik Botha se inskrywing oor dokter-digters en sy opmerkings oor mediese poësie in die besonder het my herinner aan die onderstaande gedig deur Dave Margoshes. Die intense situasies waarin dokters in sommige dissiplines hulself van tyd tot tyd bevind, sowel as die interaksies met pasiënte en hul families – soms amusant, soms gespanne, soms aangrypend – moet beslis ryk stof vir skrywers en digters bied. Margoshes laat die digkuns dalk makliker lyk as wat dit is – almal van ons, nie net dokters en digters nie, het ondervindings en gedagtes in ons koppe en harte wat kan oorsprong gee aan romans, gedigte of fabels maar om dit op papier neer te skryf is natuurlik iets anders.




What could be easier than learning to write?

Novels, poems, fables with and without morals,

they’re all within you, in the heart, the head,

the bowel, the tip of a pen a diviner’s rod.

Reach inside and there they are, the people

one knows, their scandalous comments,

the silly things they do, the unforgettable feeling

of a wet eyelash on your burning cheek.

This moment, that, an eruption of violence,

a glancing away, the grandest of entrances,

the telling gesture, the banal and the beautiful,

all conspire with feeling and passion to transport,

to deliver, to inspire. Story emerges

from this cocoon, a crystalline moment, epiphanies

flashing like lightbulbs above the heads

of cartoon characters. All this within you

where you least expect it, not so much in the head

as under the arms, glistening with sweat, stinking

with the knowledge of the body, the writer

neither practitioner nor artisan but miner, digging

within himself for riches unimagined, for salt.


(c) Dave Margoshes


Dit herinner my ook aan Octavio Paz: “The gush. A mouthful of health. A girl lying on her past. Wine, fire, the guitar, tablecloth. A red plush wall in a village square. Cheers, glittering cavalry that enter the city, the people in flight: hymns! Eruption of white, green, fiery. The easiest thing, that which writes itself: poetry!”

Jan Zwicky

Jan Zwicky

Jan Zwicky het die volgende geskryf: “the nature poet is not simply one whose subject matter lies out of doors. The nature poet is, first and foremost, someone who does not doubt that the world is real – or, more precisely, someone who would resist the suggestion that the world is a human construct, a thing that depends on humans speaking or knowing to exist.”




For performance with Bach’s E Minor Partita for Solo Violin, BWV 1006




There is, said Pythagoras, a sound

the planet makes, a kind of music

just outside our hearing, the proportion

and the resonance of things – not

the clang of theory or the wuthering

of human speech, not even

the bright song of sex or hunger, but

the unrung ringing that

supports them all.


The wife, no warning, dead

when you come home. Ducats

in the fishheads that you salvage

from the rubbish heap. Is the cosmos

laughing at us? No. It’s saying


improvise. Everywhere you look

there’s beauty, and it’s rimed

with death. If you find injustice

you’ll find humans, and this means

that if you listen, you’ll find love.

The substance of the world is light,

is water: here, clear

even when it’s dying; even when the dying

seems unbearable, it runs.




Why is Bach’s music more like speech than any other? Because of

its wisdom, I think. Which means its tempering of lyric passion by

domesticity, its grounding of the flash of lyric insight in domestic

earth, the turf of dailiness.


Let us think of music as a geometry of the emotions. Bach’s

practice, then, resembles that of the Egyptians: earth’s measure as a

way of charting the bottomlands of the Nile, the floodwaters of the

heart, as a way of charting life. Opera, Greek tragedy, Romantic poetry

tell us that sex and death are what we have to focus on if we want to

understand any of the rest. Bach’s music, by contrast, speaks directly

to, and of, life itself – the resonant ground of sex and death.


And it does this not without ornamentation, but without fuss:

the golden ratio in which the whelk shell lying on the beach, the leaf whorl

opening to sun, the presence of the divine in the chipped dish drying

in the rack, that miracle: good days, bad days, a sick kid, a shaft of

sunlight om the organ bench. Talk to me, I’m listening.




E major: June wind

in the buttercups, wild

and bright and tough.

Like luck – a truth

that’s on the surface of a thing,

not because it’s shallow, but because

it’s open: overtoned.

Because it rings.

Fate, too

Is character. But it’s

the shape – the cadence

and the counterpoint. Luck

lives in the moment, and it

looks at you: the clear eye,

gold, when being sings.


Menuet I & II


There’s nothing special in it. All you have to do

is hit the right key at the right time. Time:

that stream in which we do and do not,

live, just practice diligently, it will all go well. You have

five fingers on each hand, just as healthy as my own.

Unison, the octave; the fifth, the fourth, the third.

Of the strings? The viola, if I have a choice.

At the keyboard, don’t forget to use your thumb.

God’s glory and the recreation of the mind.

What I really need to know:

Does the organ have good lungs?

The partita of the world, the dance of being: everything

has to be possible.




Partita, partie – a whole of many parts. Pythagoras, who is said to have studied with the Egyptians, is also said to have taught that enlightenment meant solving the problem of the One and the Many, of coming to grasp the divine unity of the world through its bits and pieces, as these come to us in language.

This may also be thought of as the problem of metaphor: that metaphor’s truth, its charge of meaning, depends on assertion of identity and difference, on erotic coherence and referential strife, on meaning as resonance and meaning revealed through analysis.

Lyric poets are always trying to approach the issue by forcing speech to aspire to the condition of music. Bach comes at it from the other end: he infuses music with a sense of the terrible concreteness, the particularity, of the world. And enlightenment? – Acceptance of, delight in, the mystery of incarnation.




There is a sound

that is a whole of many parts,

a sorrowless transparency, like luck,

that opens in the centre of a thing.

An eye, a river, fishheads, death,

gold in your pocket, and a half-wit

son: the substance of the world

is light and blindness and the measure

of our wisdom is our love.

Our diligence: ten fingers and

a healthy set of lungs. Practice

ceaselessly: there is

one art: wind

in the open spaces

grieving, laughing

with us, saying



(c) Jan Zwicky



Leon Retief.Minder bekende digters van Canuckistan, deel 1

Monday, October 5th, 2015

zwicky-jan (1)Jan Zwicky


Met “minder bekend” bedoel ek digters wat na my mening (vir wat dit werd is) nie so internasionaal gereken word as wat die geval behoort te wees nie, alhoewel hulle wel hier te lande hoog aangeslaan word. Dieselfde is ook (weereens, vir wat my mening werd is) die geval met sommige Afrikaanse digters maar dit nou daar gelaat. Jan Zwicky is inderdaad baie goed bekend in Kanada maar na die beste van my wete geniet sy nie juis internasionale erkenning nie. Sy is professor emerita in Filosofie (ek sal dit nie teen haar hou nie J) en skynbaar ‘n bedrewe violis. Ek het haar sonder sukses probeer kontak, dit kom my voor asof sy ‘n baie privaat persoon is.


Die “boom under the river ice” waarvan sy in Recovery skryf is die knars- en knalgeluide wat mens in die lente hoor wanneer die ys in die groot riviere begin smelt en reuse plate en brokke ys teen mekaar bots, opbreek en in die snel vloeiende water verder dryf. Die video (net ter inligting vir die wat nog nie so iets gesien het nie) gee ongelukkig nie die klank baie goed weer nie maar ek dink dit wys darem so min of meer hoe dit lyk:



And when at last grief has dried you out, nearly

weightless, like a little bone, one day,

no reason in particular, the world decides to tug:

twinge under the breastbone, the sudden thought

you might stand up, walk to the door and

keep on going… And in the seconds following,

like the silence following the boom under the river ice, it all

seems possible, the egg-smooth clarity of the new-awakened,

rising, to stand, and walk… But already

at the edges of the crack, sorrow

starts to ooze, the brown stain spreading

and you think: there is no end to it.


But in the breaking, something else is given – not

that glittering jumble, shrieking and churning in the blind

centre of the afternoon,


but something else – a scent,

like a door flung open, a sudden downpour

through which you can still see the sun, derelict

in the neighbour’s field, the wren’s bright eye in the thicket.

As though on that day in August, or even July,

when you were first thinking of autumn, you remembered also

the last day of spring, which had passed

without your noticing. Something that easy, let go

without a thought, untroubled by oblivion,

a bird, a smile.




The rock weeps into its own whiteness

Sunny meadow slopes, the gentians,

far above,

the sun, too, tumbles down. A symphony

of spruce boughs sinks into the fiery moss.


Jewel-music, the amber roar of the falls.

No one thinks of home.

Waiting in the cool shadows,

we are dappled with hope.




Remember how the track swung out

around the cutbank in the full light of the moon?

In my dream.


I took off my rings then, my bracelets,

the gold locket

to stand bare-headed among the pines!




The fascination of water

is the laughter of geometry.

Wind plunges down the hillside:

a longing to embrace.


The mountain drifts in twilight.

When we draw the blinds at dusk

is the moment we most want to open

them again.




Delicacy of mule deer, the sharp

dry scent of spruce –

we have been grateful for the smallest kindnesses:

a shelf that holds up books, dry socks.


Rain streaks the windows of the cabin.

Of course, the earth once moved

on fragile stilts like theirs,

thought rolls down a crack, is lost.


A sky with holes, a desert

in the Amazon,

you, black stump, rigid in slash: –

mist writhes from the surface of the lake.


We are tired.

The wooden bowl is empty.

All night, arguments with strangers, dim

corridors, panic.




It is spring, the gullies are dry.

One makes camp in a rocky meadow

under a plain of stars.


The hands hold themselves in sleep then:

and the ears, the eyes, the tongue

in its dark cavern.


The mind walks alone to the horizon.


When it returns, its face will be white,

the compass will be broken

in its broken hand.


And when the tent flap flutters

in the windy dawn, where the heart lay

will be nothing.




There had been flooding all that summer, I recall

acres of grey-brown footage from the Midwest –

but with reports confined to property, and human interest,

the reasons for the land’s incontinence suppressed, those images

had skimmed past, seeming, as usual, not quite real.

The day had been hot, clear,

we’d eaten supper on the porch, and

later, quite late, had turned the radio on upstairs –

some thought of midnight news, perhaps –

I don’t remember now.

The signal we pulled in – strongly,

because we weren’t far from the border then –

was the last half-hour of a Brewers-Red Sox game.

It was coming from Milwaukee,

top of the ninth two out, the Brewers leading,

and we hadn’t been listening long when the announcer,

between a line out and hatcher’s

coming to the plate, commented on the weather:

there’d been a rain delay, it had been raining heavily before,

but now it was easing up, just a light shower falling,

though a lot of lightning was still visible to the east and south.

Raised on the prairies, I

could see it clearly, suddenly

could see the whole scene clearly:

the crowd dwindling, several

umbrellas, the glittering aluminum of vacated seats,

the misted loaf of arc-lit night, the night,

deeper by contrast, thick and wet and brown

around it, flickering.


And at the same time I was struck, too – like

looking out across a huge relief map – by the hundreds of miles

between our bedroom and Milwaukee, by that continental

distance, and was overtaken inexplicably

by sorrow.

It was as though

in that moment of deep focus

I had tasted the idea of America.

As though it really might have had

something to do with baseball and radios and the beauty

of the storms that can form in the vast light above the plains – or,

no, extremity of some kind – clarity, or tenderness –

as though, that close to the end, levels

already rising on the leveed banks again,

the mistakes made might have been human:

not justifiable, but as though

some sort of story might be told, simply,

from defeat, without apology, the way you might describe

the fatal accident – not to make sense of it,

but just to say,

something had happened:

there was blood, blood everywhere, we hadn’t realised,

by the time we noticed, rivers of it,

nothing could be done.





Leon Retief. Anton Bruckner en Immanuel Kant

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Dit klink na ‘n vreeslike geleerde betoog hierdie, maar is darem nie. Ek het nog altyd van Anton Bruckner se simfonieë gehou, al het Brahms hulle bestempel as simfoniese boa konstriktors en al het Eduard Hanslick hom telkens in vlamme afgeskiet. Kant? Jawellnofine, ek is meer as so effens skepties oor die dinge wat filosowe soms kwytraak, maar gelukkig was Kant darem nie ‘n postmodernis nie – iets wat beslis in sy guns tel. (koes… )

Jan Zwicky

Jan Zwicky

Hoe dit ook al sy, ek het onlangs ‘n digbundel deur Jan Zwicky gekoop. Zwicky (ongelukkig kon ek haar nie kontak nie, sy skyn ‘n baie private persoon te wees) lyk na ‘n baie interessante persoon – filosoof, digter en violis. Die betrokke bundel, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, is aanvanklik deur Zwicky self uitgegee, elke kopie met die hand gebind en op aanvraag aan lesers gepos. In haar “Note on the Text” skryf sy die volgende: “Part of (my wish) for having the author be the maker and distributor of the book was a desire to connect the acts of publication and publicity with the initial act of composition, to have a book whose public gestures were in keeping with the intimacy of the art”

Hieronder dan haar gedigte oor Bruckner en Kant, sowel as haar gedagtes wat dit voorafgaan. Of haar mening dat die ooreenstemmings tussen Kant en Bruckner meer as toeval is – nou ja, dis miskien nie ter sake nie, (persoonlik verskil ek van haar mening) maar dit is nogtans interessant.


The set of variations that follows grows out of a long-standing conviction that the number and sort (haar kursief) of echoes in the lives of Immanuel Kant and Anton Bruckner have to be more than coincidental. Not least striking among the correspondences is the fact that there are few biographies of either, those that exist are slim, aand many open with apologies for the ‘boring’ character of their subjects’ lives. – Yet the lives were extraordinary. Neither man produced much of anything until middle or late-middle age, and then what each produced was massive, dense, huge, and astonishingly intricate. Both were, by contrast with their work, naifs: devoutly religious, devoted to their mothers, anxious not to offend. Both were virgins, although apparently heterosexual and eccentric – Bruckner liked to go around looking at people’s corpses, and to collect as many certificates of competence as he could get people to examine for him. Kant ate one meal a day, at one o’clock, which was always attended by guests he had his manservant invite that morning; he was renowned as a conversationalist, possibly in part because he believed one had a moral duty to tell genuinely funny after-dinner jokes, laughter being an aid to digestion. The housewives of Konigsberg set their clocks by his daily walk – a solitary walk, as Kant had some unusual notions about the transmission of germs.

Kant didn’t like music, except for brass bands – the basis of Bruckner’s orchestral palette. Both were early risers (Bruckner wrote a fugue every morning before breakfast) and extremely popular as teachers. Both were obsessive revisers. Although the documentation is not very explicit, it appears that Bruckner had a nervous breakdown during which his numeromanic tendencies became very pronounced. His own instruments were the country fiddle, and the organ. On the latter, he was one of the century’s great virtuosi, though he wrote little music for it, preferring to improvise in concert. His favourite musical interval, the key to the architectonic of his symphonies and masses, is the semi-tone. Despite its chromaticism, however, his music remains profoundly diatonic in organization and inspiration.

At the centre of Kant’s thought is his debate with Hume, whose sceptical arguments concerning the nature of our apprehension of causal relations, Kant tells us, first interrupted his ‘dogmatic slumber’. By the time he was fully awake, Kant had extended the scope of the discussion to embrace much of the history of modern western European philosophy. Kant’s Transcendental Deduction aims, among other things, to hook the solipsistic interior that idealism gives us back up to the real world. If it fails, then the skeptics are right: we can’t get from ‘in here’ to ‘out there’ (or to there even being an ‘out there’) by rational reflection alone. And this, of course, would make for some serious problems in a discipline defined by the thought that ‘to know’ means to know rationality.

Bruckner had career troubles of his own. His work was frequently the object of savage attacks by the powerful Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick. In the hopes of reconciling Hanslick to Bruckner, Bruckner’s friends arranged a meeting – but Bruckner was so nervous, he was unable to enter the building where Hanslick was waiting for him. Even after many years in Vienna, his manners retained an old-fashioned and provincial cast, and to the end of his life, he was regarded by Viennese society as something of a country bumpkin. He was, in addition, absent-minded, and is reported on at least one crucial occasion to have worn mismatched socks.

Material in italics in Variation 7 is taken from Norman Kemp Smith’s translation of the first Critique. The quotation in Variation 5 is from Scruton’s biographical sketch at the beginning of his book, Kant. The Latin in Variation 2 is a tag from Virgil, Kant’s favourite poet: They keep out of the hives the drones, an indolent bunch (Geotgics IV, 168). Kant quotes it at the conclusion of the Preface to the Prolegomena, using it to commend ‘sound critical principles.’ His view is that difficult and obscure though the Critique may seem in places, the project of modern metaphysics stands or falls with the comprehension of its arguments. This is not, in my view, an exaggerated assessment.

The voice, to use a highfalutin term, is polyphonic – it moves around a lot. Sometimes it is Kant’s sometimes Bruckner’s sometimes that of both, sometimes that of an observer. Among the observer-voices there is one that deserves special mention in connection with the conventions governing the composition of sets of classical variations. Not infrequently, especially in the works of Haydn and Beethoven, the sublime and the ridiculous are deliberately juxtaposed – the meditative tension is relieved by a scherzo.  This goofing-off usually occurs about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through. It appears here in Variation 8.

(Nota: in Zwicky se boek verskyn elke Variasie op ‘n aparte bladsy en word hulle nie genommer nie. Om die lees en identifikasie te vergemaklik het ek aan elkeen ‘n nommer gegee.)




What did they want of me?

What’s worth saying?


A terrible thing, always losing your socks.

God is everywhere, everywhere.


This is the shortest path

there is only one. Listen.


Clouds above the western mountains:

A good laugh.


Close your eyes. Not what you knew then.

Not even what you know now.




If reason cannot do it, what then?

Don’t care for music, never have.


How is pure math possible? Turn inward: you will

see the left hand’s glove can never fit the right.


Love your mother. Love the moral law,

the path up and the path down. Lieber Gott,


we cannot touch a hair

without affecting all the rest.


Bees of the invisible. Ignavum

faces pecus a praesepibus arcent.





Gesture unhurried.

The shoe that’s on the right foot


will not fit the left.

The way is clear.


Organ lofts: in Linz, Kremsmünster, Steyr.

If the practice is coherent, we are free.


Improvise? St. Epvre, the Crystal Palace, Notre Dame: there’s


For those who need to see it written down.


Step by step, semitone by semitone.

The bishop, listening, too moved to pray.





Schonberg will be wrong. Yes, even now

It’s everywhere and every second


thundering, erupting home. Hume saw.

Without synthetic a priori


we are lost. The size of it!

You think the Dutch might understand?


A rainbow arched across the canyon. Bridge

of stone. No wonder you are blind.


Something brushes past your head.

God’s claw.





A terrible thing, always losing your socks.

Scratches on the handles of the bureau drawer.


Mass in D Minor. 40 years old. Critique

of Pure Reason: 57. Lively lecture styles.


You can determine everything. Or nothing.

What’s to tell? “His blameless life….”


The path has no algebra. Its geometry

is perfect.


Walk alone. Breathe through your nose.

Converse with no one out of doors.





One meal a day at, exactly one. Death’s face

is numberless and duty means a good joke.


Static, they say, and repetitious, set

your clock: but look, they haven’t seen what I have:


it’s the size of Texas! Listen:

safety lies in numbers. Sicherheit


and certainty. Oh father, count them! – stars, leaves, pearls, the Danube


swelling, flashing, thundering and plunging,

glittering , it swallows us.





A good laugh aids digestion. Add

the practical necessity of freedom


and you get a knock-down argument

for telling after-dinner jokes. Yet


the soul, like noumena,

unknowable –


out past the last outpost of reason.

We yet comprehend it is


Incomprehensible. Open the door.

Sunlight and singing. All that we may ask.





“Forms of nutrition”, “categories

of the understanding” – nah,


forget the prose: the argument’s

built like a Rolls. That Hume, see,


he weren’t taken with the view, so

when the rad blew,


quit. Thing was, he saw you just can’t get

from here to there by car.


(Walked out with his pool cue, so they say.

Don’t meet a mind like his just every day.)





The pale brown of the lilac hedge grows paler.

Tinier and tinier, the stitches in the quilt.


Finches, too, a singular array

on the pocked February snow. It’s all


you see, or nothing.

Hume, that acute man.


A fugue a day keeps god’s

claws at bay. Routine


can render one invisible. It’s true.

There’s no place safe.





We have searched, sir. No sign

of early talent, never could conduct. His first


Beethoven concert failed to stand him

on his ear. (In Linz, sir: No. 4; apparently


a fine performance.) couldn’t sight-read. Desperate

for approval (quite pathetic, really, sir) but


never thought to mend his overcoat. Wore baggy pants,

liked sauerkraut. Numeromaniac. A virgin.


Nothing else, sir. We’re afraid

that’s it.





What did they want of me?

Terror, beauty; heaven, and the moral


law,; the angels’ hot chromatic breath

Or symphonies, critique unfurling


like an amaryllis on its leafless stalk.

I’ve seen Beethoven’s corpse, believe me


genius will not save you. Schonberg

will be wrong. But Hume?


God’s hand in the bureau drawer:

One sock, two sock, red sock, blue sock.





Rainbow arch of stone across the canyon.

Sun cascading through the pass.


Water, light: that’s the shape of it:



Love the countryside. Your mother.

Brass bands. Exactitude.


It’s not about music or ideas.

E both knew you couldn’t be too careful.


Close your eyes.

The bridge is exactly as wide as your foot.