Why poetry, still?

My letter response a while back, where a dear friend asked me why poetry sounds deeply saddening to him. This was my theory (although I have more theories now, I still stick to this one most times):

 


Since the elder days of lyrical production, poetry has taken shape of shoulders carrying the shadows of human declaration.

From a singular first word of verse to the last sound of its adored stanza, it has been used to spawn nights of joyous dreams, dawns of draping silks, and as a hand moves to slide away those curtains woven of melody: a window, leading to giant sights of exposition, hills of galloping horses hauling our pains, our wounds, whatever we deem worthy to exist in that composition, because it too shall stand to compose us.

That is the level of communication all artistic movements tend to bleed out, those small shreds of emotion that plea for capture, and beg ever-so softly to be replicated, to be laid upon those hills of erosion so they too can taste the winds and streams carving away figures of reality. So they too can dock at those immense seas of versed salt, so they too can be cast upon the shame of their fault. Sharing all our moralities and sorrow, fears and loves, they are the Gods our minds are able to create, our fronts illuminated midst the foggy lighthouses of our fate.

Poetry is sound requesting to be heard, all the while praying that it shall never be truly felt. It holds no message but the one it cannot convey, inhales only the air it cannot attain, and rises ethereal, dodging a volley of arrows aimed at the core it humbly attempts to translate.

And I, narrating the strolls of flowers and their petal waltzes, am reduced to a lonesome grain, carried away, endlessly carried away, each verse another wind-strike, meters and meters of paths along a starless sky, from eons where the sun is blindingly beautiful in its rise, to minutes where it’s just an icy sphere casting upon me the lores of demise. Taken away by blowing agonies, abducted in the desperate glistening of their tears.

What was before an effigy of nature’s claims, is now a valse of linen strings placidly caressing my skin, takes form beneath my ground of insecurity, holds my callous hands, kisses my cracked lips, and signals towards horizons of truth in doubtless figure, wrapping around these hands, and soon dissipates.

Versing is of utmost cruelty, its envy at the rawest state;
Envy of those blooming lotus flowerbeds, breaking the hearts of any deemed beautiful before their reveal. Envy for the melodious birds whose lyrics none can encapsulate. Envy for a world presented to us in all its higher forms, and along those horizons of elevation and the figures representing such painstaking fortune, we do not see ourselves, only, at the rarest of times, glimpses of our verses and melodies along with paintings of our pains. Versing sets boulders ablaze and hauls them at the endless scenario, salvaging anything beautiful enough to stand out from the remains, leaving a wake of all we abandoned at the flanks of those once-sylvan lanes.

It hurts… every time. Doing so in any tangible way…
But what would poetry be if it could not destroy the landscapes it attempts to create…


I’m sorry about the overuse of gerund, it has come to my attention recently that I do use it a bit too much. You can blame Portuguese for that odd habit. 

This is generally the style of my regular prose, even in simple informal communication (such as a letter). I’m not too confident in these, but tell me what you think, I have tons more.


JOHNNY

Vanity by Florbela Espanca

Recently, I came across the endlessly talented Tadzio and his blog of English translations of Italian poems. A little apprehensive at first, I decided to give a shot of my own at translating some of my most adored portuguese compositions.

Florbela is the poet I credit with my interest in composing, so it would be fair to say that any verse of mine you might have liked, is due to her incredible humility and fine-crafted lyricism. Very devalued in life, she now stands as the most important female poet of the portuguese poetic pantheon, one whose influence reaches far and wide within our culture.

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And its portuguese, original version:

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Disclaimer: I’m not a professional or academic of this subject, this translation is merely an attempt at a very arduous and respected Art, that of translating poetry, and I have no intentions of devaluing it with my impish attempts.

Second Disclaimer: I did severely alter the verse that mentions “saudade”. There is a common myth that saudade is an exclusive word of Portuguese, and there is another common myth debunking the former, stating that “longing” and “missing” are direct translations. Neither are correct, there are translations of saudade, and also imports, as Catalan shares the same word (thus making it not exclusive), and other languages have direct translations. English is not one of them. Missing or longing do not mean saudade.

I could not recommend more that you visit The Container and be delighted with Tad’s brilliant translations.


JOHNNY

CHUVA QUENTE (poesia portuguesa)

Entre os átomos dos livros, a poeira dos dias, a fome de versar tão intensamente que as lágrimas me invadem os olhos, existe um sentimento cuja história da Arte Humana tende em replicar sempre com a mesma tristeza, com o mesmo olhar magoado: o abandono.

Os espaços, as pessoas, os animais, os sonhos e romances, todos ganham a fronte inversa aquando abandonados, não há onda maior de sofrimento, não há perda maior para o imponente Tempo, que a de se ser desertado.

É disso que nasce esta humilde composição, não tenho outro adjectivo para lhe entregar.

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Custa um pouco publicar este poema, cuidem bem dele.


João Maria.

Portugal: hills of sun-painted sadness.

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Where I usually write, in front of an elder brazilian peppertree.

Not everyone has the honour of living in an award-winning country, or better yet, not everyone considers that an honour. I was born in a small parish with 110 inhabitants just outside Lisbon, and my youth was paved with finding small water streams among fabled stretching woodlands, watching my grandfather plant potatoes all the while leaning on our dogs and watching the verdant sunset sink. I look back fondly at those memories, and my circle of social life was restricted by those hundred familiar faces all into my teenage mists.

When I was a docile and sensitive boy, one thing was generally known, we were an enclave of the modern world, a tender collapse between edging western development and a deep connection to land, humility, poverty, and pain. In the yet-to-explore sacred and scarlet hills of Portugal, we roamed the sun-lands searching for an oasis that spawned the entire rectangle garden planted sea-side. We quested for a beauty that was already there, and after centuries of isolation and regret, we found a rooted longing for days that never came, for an evasive beauty that time did not look kindly upon.

Those were the days of yore, nowadays, the scopes have shifted. Portugal, now a growing and bursting experience of culture and history, the brand new Jurassic Park without deadly dinosaurs, conveniently docked at Europe’s lonely and serene edge, offers a way to mitigate the pains of modern existence at a manageable driving distance. As we now live among kind visitors and explorers, we listen to those praises of beauty. How sunny are our lands, how old our cities, how beautiful our forests and endless our beaches, and above all else, how deep is our sadness.

As I write this humble prose, I can listen to goldcrests chirping atop that peppertree, and at 20:00 there is still clarity outside, the sun still faintly shines, as it tends to. Faint yet enchanting gypsy music booms at the distance, I can still pick apart the variations of the low-voiced man who is singing to the rhythm. I remember being young, the sun shone its golden-hue with all the same brightness, the buildings and asphalt roads vibrated to the heat, the summer cicadas already knew the ancient lyricists before any of us did, and at the sidewalks of this beautiful block of candour we’ve inhabited, I was already sad, already longing. We all were, and we still are.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why we exist this way, but I’ve convinced myself that it’s only a natural consequence of this paradise we’ve created. In these hills where marine order takes form of beautiful composure, what other sadness could we compare it to than our own inner demons.

And that matching pendulum of innate sadness strikes harder every time, painting Portugal more beautiful and we, sadder, abandoned at a seaside beauty created to evaporate.

And Lisbon, my current home, the city-port of poetry and fado, only seems to reflect that ever-so-strongly, as it tries to grip it’s fainting identity while this bombardment of globalised exposition occurs, which it has always done. The only city where walls still cry, those colourful walls that close upon our dreams and limit our solitaire nightmares.


JOHNNY

ou

João Maria.

 

 

etchings of youth.

A crucible of sincerity, vulnerability and late hours can create some of the most painful compositions.

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JOHNNY

Poetry Lab #1

 


Movement in Animation
Three-layer animated composite

FIRST, A QUEST.

The image above, if carefully examined, displays three differently animated levels distinguishable by their relation to velocity and, by consequence, Time. This animation device has been used to display certain feelings in a much clearer way: her face is animated carefully and slowly, every frame is fluid, to inspire serenity and placidness. Her hair is animated frantically, with frames leaping between animation with little fluidity, alluding to a chaotic exterior and high intensity movement. The background, although blurred, also happens at a time different from the other two layers, presenting a both static and simultaneously – moving – backdrop. This allows for a certain displacement through the fluidity of our space, allowing Art to perforate the emotional human sensors without replicating at all what those sensors are used to, by thematic association. Our world feels much like that of the animation, it constantly moves, yet we cannot fully absorb all it’s evolutions and changes, in turn, accounting for a hollow movement that we can only relay through “mental bookmarks”, like special occurrences, producing a more stop-still version of reality (similar to the one animated above), instead of flowing realistic approach to time.

In fact, Art has a plethora of examples using different composite time frames to convey a sense of “overlook” or “outlander” sentiment among its viewers, mainly present in sensorial arts like music or painting.

To literature – an Art intimately connected with the frugality of time and how it can be controlled within its frames – this device most likely has been used, but never deeply explored. In this first edition of poetry lab, I will attempt to harness my marginal composing experience to translate those planes of time dissonance into the realm of poetry. As I’ve done a good amount of experimental poems in my short time here, I’ve never taken the time to explain the processes or missions behind those experiments, and now I’m headstrong on taking you on my composing journey:


SECOND, A THOUGHT.

First, we need to figure out how to distend time properly within a written line of text. Poetry, by its very sonorific nature, makes this superficially easy by use of verse length and syllabic control:

I dreamt of latent love, yet within, darkness still reigns unkind, (11 words, 15 syllables)

Air to flame, implored by sinuous shadows, (7 words, 11 syllables)

Extinguish their fear to die. (5 words, 7 syllables)

Following an ordered decrescent sound, each verse has the same amount of syllables as the words of the verse that precedes them (11, 15), (7, 11), (5, 7). This, however, inspires a singular timeline instead of multiples ones, giving a sense that time is accelerating and thus, “running out”. But why not the contrary? Why does it not recall time just slowing down? This is annulled by the temporal references in all verses, displayed in a gradient from past (dreamt, implored), to present (extinguish, to die).

Like mentioned above, this does not relay multiple times but instead, just one flowing in-unit but changing exponentially. We can, however, salvage this later when we compose full stanzas by separating their descriptive nature through the usage of this method. So, instead of separating verses according to time, we will separate stanzas according to what line they represent by giving them symbols:

Stanza 1 – first tempo (11, 15) (plane of interior occurrence, introspection, visual devices must appear here)

Stanza 2 – second tempo (7, 11) (plane of exterior sensorial captures, noise, static, distortion and interruption, sound devices must appear here)

Stanza 3 – third tempo (5, 7) (plane of universal awareness, no sensorial, visual or sound devices can appear here, detached information must not contain emotional draws)

This is merely scratching the surface of what this method can produce, as a shift in the structure mid-composition can relay powerful messages of emotional re-focus, or give a sense of expanding/shortening of knowledge at any given point. The main objective here, however, is that the poem is able to speak to itself and the conversation won’t sound too unphased, so we will stick to the good ol’ repetition, by creating one more set of stanzas with same structure, but different in essence.

As the composition is mainly experimental, I will utilise common meanings I’m familiar with for the sake of my mental sanity (and short amount of time per day I have to compose), those of love and solitude in a frugal world where such things are generally devalued:


THIRD, A COMPOSITION.

 

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As demonstrated above, I initially compose the first part of the composition within a relatively ordered and rhymed structure, using the lines written above as a visual guide to building the remaining verses. Although this version partially gets the job done, it’s still rather obscure that frames shift between stanzas, and I attempt a more lax yet word-based second part in an attempt to compensate the rigid/restrictive shape of the first version:

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I’ve since let a day pass before writing that second part, as to refresh my information absorption and be less likely influenced by the same recurrent pieces of reception still being digested within (a great advice I’ve accidentally left out of my poetic tips). This second version, although not apparently very different from the first in terms of how it was constructed, manages to convey both the message, the subject and the quest of time much better than the previous, not by means of its structure, but by how words are ordered coupled with how they intertwine, generating a sense of shift from when they fuse and when they don’t (thus, sound shifts).


I must now refine and finish the composition on my own, and publish it similarly to all other poems on the website, but that boring part I intend on doing by myself.

I’m not a professional or academic in this subject, therefore, all conclusions are from my viewpoint and might conflict with certain academic standings out there (although from my research, I’ve found none), but none of this is fact or close to it, I’m just trying to have some fun with words and I hope you’re entertained as well!

PS: Tell me what you think of posts similar to these, I’m planning a bunch more since I have about 20 pages of notes about different composing methods I would like to attempt!

JOHNNY

Tenho para mim. (poesia portuguesa)

Estou feliz de-novo, como tal, a minha poesia está a recuperar. Peço desculpa pela supressão de conectores, estou a tentar usar sonoridades mais brasileiras, sendo que são também mais compactas. Como gosto tanto das duas variantes de Português, pensei, porque escrever só numa?

(Cá em Portugal, chamamos Alfaiates ao que no Brasil se dizem aranhas d’água, pequenos insectos que deslizam sobre águas paradas)

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JOHNNY

POETICS TIPS III – CONSTITUENT

An important factor with the generation of a specific poetic style is the constituent factors present externally and internally – in you, and your composition.
My fanned influences spawn a great deal of authorships and literary movements, with special weight on Neorealism and Romanticism, but also Idealistic Philosophy and a bit of elder Argumentative Philosophy. To understand the branches that these influences establish on yourself is to understand the nature of your creative output, as we are not only heavily influenced by these injections, but they also constitute somatic markers independent from our sensibilities, in turn forming an artistic ethical compass that we often neglect to unravel. In the face of these elations, and attempting to create a general awareness of my major influences, I’ve analysed extensively what constitutes the major spine of my poetic compositions and divided it into three diverse channelling pillars:

METHODOLOGICAL NATURALISM

I’ve always been greatly infused by Nature to write a multitude of enchanting imagetics. The belief that Nature governs the world, it’s laws, creating in turn an understandable and structured reality that allows contemplation without the interference of the Absolute. This volatile and permuting beauty creates infinite fodder for Art, it does so by being constantly beautiful with inconstant forms. Nature is perhaps the most globally beautiful display among individuals, as one may not agree with the beauty of deep blue eyes, but hardly will one disagree with the beauty of sightless verdant hills or the violently placid nature of an ocean. Life and all it’s ever-changing forms, emotions and the way they weave themselves into the natural landscapes – those concepts are fruit trees endlessly shedding lyricisms. (examples: Yangtze, Painting, When Takashi Kissed Messiaen)

MONADISM

A sense of sensibility emanating from a singular unity of all things, represented by uniform and indestructible forces tethering everything very subtly. The Monad was initially theorised by Pythagoras and then salvaged by Leibniz as an ideological perspective worth expanding. To allow this inner communion to take place is in itself a poetic combustion. It is, however, no more than a candid belief, not a material reality, like methodological naturism. My page about the Monad Series offers a better explanation about it’s intricacies.

CLASSICISM

The importation of concepts from Classical Antiquity as poetic subjects. Heroes, chaos, order, the general idiosyncrasies of human perception and emotion presented in a very primal manner. Classical Antiquity was more material in it’s artistic developments, almost more realistic, in an unashamed way. Feeling, of whatever nature, was seen generally as a grander display of elemental inadequacy. Authors of Epics and the grand Alexandria’s archived melic poets (ex. Anacreon, Sappho) were faithful only to their human natures and falsities, outcasting any sense of grandeur emanating from artistic pretentiousness.
That grounding import allows for more honest and sincere artistic spines.

USE AND NOTION THEREOF

Again, why is any of this important? Well, they are vehicles. You want to transmit a message, you analyse which medium is best and then you learn the ways of such medium. For me, it is important to be aware of which elements constitute my poetry, because I must understand it fully before anyone else can. Because if the Art of my poetry evades me, I won’t be able to convey it fully – or even partially – to any reader that offers their time to read my work. Like a garden of roses, it is necessary that we understand the process of how they grow, how they prosper, how they bloom, in order to stimulate their natural beauty and adorn our beautiful pathways, so that they (much like poems), can also inspire a yearning wanderer.
Hence why I believe it’s a very valuable tip to explore these concepts, to create a levelled relationship with your work, and perhaps who knows, learn something about yourself in the way?


JOHNNY

3 – WRITING AISTHESIS

Whenever I begin writing poetry, I have a custom of imagining being humbly kissed by diamond creatures of unknown nature, it creates a muscle tension in my torso that allows me to distend Time a bit, and contract words as if they were movements. With prose, I tend to imagine a shadowy figure looking downwards into a calm ocean, above the water, but somehow drowning just with the sight.
Writing is an interesting variable to me, and perhaps the most interesting string of that variable is the relationship author-piece. As I call it: aisthesis – note, I use aisthesis instead of perception because this Greek word is often associated with unity, or commonly, synaesthesia. Is it astute to assume an authors subject of work is inherently important to them? Of course, writing takes energy, it siphons any disperse fragments of beauty you can encapsulate in a lifetime, it allows them to be dissected and then transferred into a piece bound to that beauty. I hold my poems and proses to low esteem, but they are deeply important to me, even when they’re just collapsed realities I insist on capturing.
To an author, a piece is a common extension of their being, a phantom arm trying to reach heights it can’t keep. Simultaneously by means of perception, it’s also the coldest face of our fragile beings, one we often conceal, one we are often ashamed of.
To me, it has always been presumptuous fear. My compositions are very much mine, and similarly to watching a son go to college, when I publish them, they are no longer mine. I’ve lost them, they are yours now, they can be bent and shaped freely, interpreted any way possible. They will be loved, hated, they might hurt someone or bring them solace, they can be held morally hostage or create ripples inside ones mechanical philosophy. In essence, they are living, breathing appendages of our humanity (like any piece of Art), and they can affect almost as much as we can, but they completely evade our control once they leave.
The sentiment is one of general abandonment. Have I abandoned my work, or has it abandoned me? I’ve often struggled with deep hatred towards compositions I’ve published, before and even immediately after I did it. In fact, I believe that if I didn’t hate most of my work, I wouldn’t be able to publish it. My poems that I do feel something for, I often say, are mine until my death. Even further, it’s also a sentiment of baleful induction – what previously was elevated within me, has now been tossed to the furnace like metal and scrap – and that inner incineration of my creations is nothing short of moral atoning towards something quite mundane: being a sensitive being.
To me, the aisthesis of my work is simple, they are feelings taken to a tangible, palpable form, and they are as volatile and bright-eyed as I am. They are everything I am, they are me, that’s why exposing them is (in turn) an action of self-exposition.

I wonder often if this is the general feeling of aspiring writers, or if anyone can see the absolute in this reflection.


Johnny

Poetic Tips II (I suppose slightly harder)

Poetry – like all artistic displays – has a myriad of rules as well as their designations when those rules are not followed, essentially: structural and counter-structural, fluid and stagnant, chaotic and orderly. It is necessary for me to stress that no form of composing elevates over another, and none yields better results among the general readers. The most important element of any form of art, for me, is it’s understandability, how accessible it attempts to be. Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto placed it best in an interview, I will attempt to translate as best I can:

“Eu acredito muito na escrita como alguma coisa que se dirige às pessoas, que não exclui ninguém e que procura, justamente, comunicar com todos, por isso, em relação aos seus veículos não coloco limites.”

I strongly believe in writing as something directed at people, it does not exclude anyone and seeks, precisely, the communication with all, therefor, I place no boundaries to it’s vehicles. 

Related to his writing being displayed on building walls of Lisbon, in an interview with Caras in 21 of March of 2011

Some years ago, I was confronted with the reality that my Portuguese poetry wasn’t always understandable (an example would be TEMPO, the only clear example of that published on this website), and it alienated a plethora of possibilities by being excessively confusing – not because of any attempt at brilliance, but because of obvious mental laziness at conveying my own creations clearly. I would just cast it off with any vocabulary I could muster, with any structure I could be bothered to envision.

Under beyond-the-grave mentorship of many authors, I was taught the importance of structure and how it deeply affects the reader, and how the common myth of overly-complex pieces being superior is just a trap aspiring authors tend to fall face-first into. There is nothing wrong about the humility of being understandable by all, as much as there is no class or poignancy in being understood by none.

SYLLABLES, SOUND, VISUAL ORDER

Metric lines in poetry have been used for centuries, but many people question: to what purpose? From iambic pentameters, latin hexameters, endecasillabo, an vast array of metrics were created with different purposes, but the one subjacent to most of them is the sonority of the composition. Many times, poetry wasn’t just a readers delight, it was also meant as a listeners glory. These poems could be considered similar to current songs, as they flew off the mouth straight to the chest, and they were meant as exhibitions of romantic beauty or full theatrical compositions.

Today, the device of counting syllables has fallen to disuse, and is often disregarded all together, but to anyone interested in the sonority or aloud readability of compositions, with or without rhymes, you should be wary of the syllables used while you compose. Not only do they fuel great sounds, but they also control tightly the visual order of your poem. For example, visual disconnects are not common, but they are odd constructions that should often be avoided, for the sake of the readability of a line:

(disregarding syllabic order) 

I could sense my mind flickering akin to the pinnacle of a candle’s flame,

The waver… a burning tempest of emotional apathy.

(regarding syllabic order) 

My mind flickers akin to a candle’s flame,

Wavering… whirling fires of inner apathy. 

(these lines are demonstrations and not part of any actual composition) 

The second version is a common use of the alexandrine meter, following twelve syllables in each line, one of my most common uses of a meter. Often, the syllables align the lines, but it’s not always the case (hence why my compositions often look so “orderly” in the length of each verse, it happens naturally most times).

Is it important, at all? I would not know. It is important to me, it allows me to express the feelings exposed in an understandable, appealing way, instead of the word mesh I used to create. It helped me greatly to worry about these things, and now, composing to me really feels like composing, I look at all these elements, I organise them, and a poem is born almost naturally, because as the paper suffers this structure, so do my thoughts and writing.

In a lighter tone, my Mother used to say that a messy room is representative of a messy life. I’ve always believe that this applied to many of common things, like poetry! This outer order I create allows my mind to clear further, like organising a desk.

Of course, if your jam is poetry that comes straight from the mind to the paper, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either. This is mostly directed at people who hold much to be expressed and cannot do it when they attempt to write poetry.

I hope I helped someone, in any way, that would make me the happiest.

Santos is almost here, I’m a big celebrator of Portuguese folk parties, so poetry will be scarce. Let’s enjoy the first step into Summer with poetic incantations!


Johnny.