Reading: Outbound by Greg Williamson

Greg Williamson (b. 1964) is known for his ‘double exposure’, a technique where poems can be read in multiple ways. I approach his verse without any theoretical pre-study though, the same way I would approach life. The following poem is beautifully crafted, it holds the lyricism of yore in a floating frame of free existentialist verse:

We live life forwards and think about it backwards – Howard Nemerov
We passengers ride backward on the train
And train our eyes on what has passed us by.
__________A cobalt blur composes
___Into a woman picking roses,
Who is already fading in the pane
As in the failing hindsight of the eye.

A line of oaks comes into focus, fades,
Supplanted by the double-dagger poles
________Of power companies,
Footnotes that redefine the trees.
An asterisk in glass, then window shades,
Graffiti, billboards, tattered banderoles

Of southbound birds. . . . Whatever comes to view
Corrects the view, but never will explain
________The random next event
___Or anything but where we went
Where long ago a woman wearing blue
Began forgetting someone on a train.

A mundane observation very quickly becomes wonderfully poetic. The first stanza offers a complete rhyme, Victorian lyricism, and desires to be part of a sonnet (except for the extra white spaces).

So, a woman in cobalt blue ‘forgot someone on a train’, her lover? I assume she was on the platform picking up the roses she had dropped during the emotional goodbye. The train passes through a landscape, read the landscape, correct it, add an asterisk* here and there. From the oaks, via the poles and the window shades to graffiti, billboards and banderoles the landscape becomes more and more literally text. The view is corrections upon corrections, interpretations of interpretations, the structuralist (de Saussure) idea.

The future remains undetermined, open. The closure of this verse puzzles me a little. Can all the views and interpretations explain ‘where we went’, is that an exception to the rule, perhaps because we are traveling backwards and have now arrived at the cause of the woman forgetting? Did we perhaps even know the woman in blue?

Reading: Outbound by Greg Williamson was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Vacation by William Stafford

William Stafford (1914-1993) was a very prolific American writer who was born in Kansas and died in Oregon. From his many works I selected, with the help of Szeslaw Milosz, a short observation about traveling:

One scene as I bow to pour her coffee:–

____Three Indians in the scouring drouth
____huddle at the grave scooped in the gravel,
____lean to the wind as our train goes by.
____Someone is gone.
____There is dust on everything in Nevada.

I pour the cream.

This was how it feels to travel on the Western frontier, I imagine. Your fiancée sitting opposite to you, hot coffee provided by rail catering (that was incomparably better in those days than it is currently), and gazing from the window at the barbarians, or at ‘the others’ to use that fancy word.

The others are native Americans, who Stafford in his day could call Indians without being put on trial by social justice warriors, and they were burying someone in the droug(h)t. With a few words, he paints the scene and notes that there is ‘dust on everything’, or, everything is already buried, dead or not. The landscape of Nevada is one big fallen tombstone, covered with dust and illegible.

While he was watching the funeral, he must have poured her the coffee, because when he looks inside again he is ready to pour the cream. Pouring hot coffee requires some coordination; doing it while looking at a distant native funeral (what an expression) must require a special ability.

Reading this, I think of the expeditions of Lewis and Clark (an interesting coincidence is that William Stafford taught at Lewis and Clark college).

Reading: Vacation by William Stafford was originally published on Meandering home

Kiev to Lviv

After visiting the beautiful Crimea, I took the night train back to Kiev, where I spent a few more days writing and hanging out with very kind Ukraineans. My plan was to go hitchhiking to the Netherlands to celebrate Christmas with my family. Since I had good experiences fetching a ride up north, I thought it would be easy to get back west. But it was cold and rainy, and Bratislava, Vienna, and the other potential cities on my way wouldn’t be so attractive this time of the year, and neither would the Carpatian and Tatra mountains. So I checked the internet and found a cheap flight from Katowice to Eindhoven (40 km from my family), with Wizz air, Hungary’s cheap airline, and decided to go.

I had to take an overnight train to Lviv first, which left at 23:58 and arrived there at 10:30 in the morning. It cost me about 8 €. That night was the first time that I met no other people on the train, and just took the provided linen out of the plastic and laid my head down on the upper bunk bed, as always. Couldn’t sleep though, and was quite tired when I arrived in Lviv.

Lviv (Lvov in Russian) is an interesting city. It used to be Polish, but

I walked around; the center was near the classicist train station, and I had the impression that a Russian town was blended with and a Polish settlement. Some houses reminded me of Krakow and Gdansk, the parks and boulevards (the main Prospekt) were just like their counterparts in Russia’s metropoles. I didn’t have much time though, to explore this interesting city, because I had to take the Mashrutka to the avtoboksal (autobus station). Fellow travelers: it takes about 40 minutes and you might have to wait for a less crowded bus, so take your time. The bus to Katowice was late, and I had a conversation about the family of an older Ukrainean couple, that could have been taken right from my Russian coursebook. They went to visit their daughter who was a medic in Edinburgh. Yes we share the same world.