[blank renku] paddle in water

paddle in water
powered from core rotation
elbow high and straight

As crosswind swells and bow waves alter course,
the compensating pilot points his bow.

high and bright the sun
water churning bottom sands
depths become opaque

Despite the waves he plies a true-ish course,
the faceless wind today is not too cruel.

copyright 2019 Paul Guernsey

blank renku – a form of linked verse, written by one or multiple authors in alternating collaboration. Blank renku differs from renku in that stanzas alternate between haiku form, and blank verse. The shortest blank verse stanza would be a couplet. The longest would fill a Post It note, the original (fictional) medium of blank renku, as invented for The Blank Verse Mystery. Variations are expected.
Blank renku can be played as a game, in the original spirit of renku. It merges poetry from East and West. Writers can choose to write in their stronger form or in their weaker one, and in this way it is similar to Terry Pratchett’s game of THUD.

Beowulf in this week’s news

“But maybe this time. Maybe this was the One where all would decide that they wanted impeachment, that the president’s behavior was so outrageous that they couldn’t imagine this sleazy business guy sitting in the Oval Office playing a tinpot dictator in a tinfoil hat for another second.

“Maybe this was the One that would finally move Republicans to turn on the Grendel who is terrorizing the village and gulping down their party.”

Maureen Dowd, Posted on 09/21/2019, New York Times, Trump Walks a Crooked Mile, Has he finally gone too far?

I seriously doubt Trump’s Republican base will be swayed that this is “The One Scandal to rule them all, and in the darkness Bind Them.” We still have serious doubts about Equal Justice Under the Intelligence Deep State, Grendel’s mother. Until we see people held accountable for FISA abuse and FBI exoneration, we vote NO CONFIDENCE in one-way investigations. We are with Wiglaf on this one, at least until “we have first slain the foe,” the two headed dragon of Democrat Socialists and Fake News.

Should he alone be left exposed
to fall in battle? We must bond together,
shield and helmet, mail shirt and sword.

Beowulf, 2658-60, translated by Seamus Heaney

Beowulf: listening for alliterative verse

I have made another embarrassing discovery. Beowulf is a poem, not just a story. I knew it was a poem because others had described it as one, but until now, I had  missed hearing its song. That part of Seamus Heaney’s translation I only vaguely sensed. Time to shake out the cobwebs and listen.

Anglo-Saxon      alliterative verse
Confounded by ignorance I flounder
against the shoals antagonizing others.
When considered I myself a conqueror of verse?
Who thought I that I was?
From naked verse never its full beauty
to me was understood until revealed by others.

I have more than once listened to Heaney read his own translation of Beowulf in his own Irish brogue, and yet I missed the poetry. The verse to me went missing. So, who am I to call myself a writer who has yet to learn to read?

The good news is that the poetry appeared as soon as I could name and understand the type of verse. Like listening to music, it helps to know what is coming. It helps to be aware of the constructs of the art form. Writing a few sonnets will increase one’s appreciation of a Shakespeare play. You can still enjoy Romeo and Juliet without an understanding of blank verse. You can easily get lost in the drama and the fight scenes, but it is fun to listen every now and then to the beat, to hear the underlying layers of complexity, the verse that frames the meaning.

Poetry is like music in this regard: the words and their collective meaning are carried and held together by verse, just as a melody is constructed on top of a progression of chords, rhythms, and layers of voices. A musician would not begin to play without establishing in what key. One would be keenly aware of the time signature and tempo. One would keep the beat. Yes, there is improvisation, thank God, but too large a departure from the expected breaks company with the audience and ceases to be music. Free jazz with no discernible melody, lacking even a beat is not a thriving form. The solo improvisation that goes too far afield ceases to communicate. The audience will not return after the intermission, if it is polite enough to stay seated even that long.

The audience has been trained to listen for certain forms. We grew up hearing them and know what is coming, to some degree. I have read and listened to hours and hours of plays and poetry by Shakespeare and Milton. I know blank verse when I hear it, but that was not always true. It helped to learn a little bit of the underlying poetic theory to gain an appreciation of that type of verse. But there can be new forms, or old forgotten ones, as in Beowulf. These require a certain amount of Training and Education, including an ability to name the form and the elements present in it [1], and including a whole lot of listening with that newly found understanding in play.

Read on, Professor Heaney. I will do my best to keep up.

Paul Guernsey

[1] See pages xxviii- xxx of Heaney’s Introduction to BEOWULF A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition.

Following up…

The difference between listening before my awareness of Beowulf’s Alliterative Verse, and the listening after is as night and day. As the mind splits its duties between the story and listening for the alliterated sounds, the writer’s and translator’s work is made more plain. from the Ancient Norse, to the Anglo-Saxon, and Old English to 20th Century English, the Emotion shines through. The emphasis of words within the verses realign more accurately, perhaps closer to where it had originally been placed. Here there be the monster Grendel, true, but here be there Goosebumps, too.

[See also Poetry Lives in the Land of Verse ]

The Tomten and the Cat

“Ha-ha-ha! Can’t reach me. I’m a bumble-bee!”

That was all she heard, buzzling through her head, as her four white paws touched silently, and all at the same time, back down in the dry black dirt. Four tiny puffs of dust rose in the air where she had landed, but just the puffs remained to be seen. She was instantly gone from that spot, camouflaged in shaddows cast by the brightness of the day. That buzzing voice was all she ever heard, no matter how many times she tried to snag one of those pesky bepples[1] that came by so many times, every single day to rob her lovely clover flowers of their nectar. She did not need, nor want, nor have any use for the nectar at all, but the thought of someone else having it bothered her all the way up to the white tips of her pointy ears. All flowers were Her flowers, Hers Alone.

Every other bit of her fur was black, as shiny as the surface of the pond on a calm, cold, moonlit night, but her paws and the tips of her ears where white, along with the right side of her cold, wet nose. These things made her stark, and striking, and beautiful, as anyone could see. She could think of no other way to describe herself. “Striking, most of all.” she often said to herself.

She crouched, invisible in the tall grass just beyond the fence. The whole clover field stretched out before her eyes. She smelled the growing things, the dirt and her favorite fragrance of all, the sweetness of the nectar, pooling in the clover flowers’ slender purple tubes. “Lovely, lovely, lovelierrrrrr.” The words she hummed fadded into a satisfying purr.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz-zzzzzz. The bepples bounced around the field creating their own kind of humming. Their collective song registered just below the sighing breath of wind in the trees edging the field. It filled the Cat’s ears. Her mind dimmed all else entering from her sense of sound. There was the overall droning tone of all their numbered wings, and closer in, the rise and fall of individuals as they rambled on from flower to flower and plant to plant. Soon, one would wander close enough for her next pounce.

“Soon… Soon… Soon…”

If she could have looked back at herself, she would have seen her eye slits narrow as the Cat sharpened its sense of distance.[2]

She was barely aware of her body tensing, a spring compressing before its sudden Cat-apulting release. A big slow bepple had come straight toward her out of the depths of clover. There had been no thought before the leap, no decision or calculation was made to pounce. It was if the Cat’s muscles themselves had acted of their own will to survive, independent of her eyes, ears, or mind. The spring compressed, and in nearly the same moment, it released. Six pounds, six ounces of stunning silken blackness streaking skyward, on a perfect collision course with the big, slow, and presumably dumb bepple. The outcome was not in doubt. Not this time.

It is well known that Cats can land softly and silently from considerable heights. It is less well known, that they can do so while holding prey between their paws, and without harming the prey. A Cat can do this if it wants to, if it has a strong desire Not to kill, as this Cat had. Killing was all too easy, once the Catch was made. But for some Cats, the Catch is only half the fun. She knew how to slice it with her claws to keep it alive and writhing but unable to escape, just as her mother had so deliciously taught her brother and her with the Orioles that used to live around the house. “Where did they go?” she wondered. “So much fun. Shame they stopped coming around. Nothing but bepples, these days, and this one will have to do.” The claws that had so secured and gently protected the bepple began sinking ever so deliCately into the its black and yellow fur covered casing.

Is that a thing you really want to do?” whispered a voice inside her head.

Nobody, bepple, Cat, or otherwise, had ever spoken to her in Tomten language[3] before, and she was put slightly off her game. “But yes, I Do!” she replied in the language she had not known she could speak. This was also just a bit alarming, and her talons retracted. The movement was imperceptible, except to the bumble-bee, but the tearing claws had halted. “I really, really Doooo.” she repeated, this time in an almost pleading tone.

She carefully kept her captured friend entrapped by sharpened claws while quickly glancing round about to see who put those thoughts inside her head. She looked but could not find the voice for it was not impelled through air where she might quickly hear from where it came, not even as it spoke again:

My dear, sweet cat with boots and ears of white,
Why do you feel so sad that you may harm
the bumble-bee pretending you are glad?

The cat grew hot and spoke again in Tomten:

I am not sad, my friend, and who are you
to question what I want to do to mete
out justice to the little thieves who steal
my nectar, MINE, as if it were their own?
I do not know this “Rumpled-Bee” of yours,
but these are only bepples, flying stones
as stupid as the dull and dusty rocks
beneath your feet. There is no written law
protecting them or any other thing
from this, the striking Cat’s superior PAW!

As she spoke this final word, she raised and jabbed the empty air with her right front paw, a threat for all to see from wherever they might be watching. The bumble-bee did not hesitate to sting[4] the left front paw, as soon as its body was not being held by quite so many claws at once. This produced the desired effect, full stinging freedom, which the bumble-bee chose to exercise in the direction of that white spot in the middle of its former captor’s face.

“Rrrooooooowwww!” The Cat’s response to this most wreched, undiserved assult was heard by every living thing with ears within the neighborhood, inside walls and out.

Bumble-bee and Cat flew rapidly, this time in opposite directions. The Tomten leaned upon his staff and slowly shook his head, a faint smile peeking through his bearded face.

I am the Tompte, that is who I am.
I speak to you in Tomten language.
A simple language cats can understand.

A silent chuckle. as a noticible increase in the volume of buzzing rippled through the clover, and he was gone, unseen again, for no one ever sees the Tomten.

copyright 2019, Paul Lance Guernsey

[1] bepple – made-up spelling of pebble, the word used by Cats to describe bumble-bees and other smallish things that fly; Cats also confuse “bepple” with “people”, a word used for most living things below the grade of Cat.

[2] Why Cats Have Vertical Pupils “Ambush predators, like many cats and snakes, were most likely to sport vertical-slit pupils, particularly when those animals were active at night. The reason for this correlation most likely has to do with the mechanics of the eye, Banks told Live Science. Ambush hunters need to be very good at gauging depth so they can effectively leap out at their prey.”

[3] The Tomten [plural Tomterna] is a beloved and friendly class of Swedish House Elf, though some research suggests it relates more closely to the Gnome or Troll. A Tomten watches and protects animals on a farm or other homestead, and speaks to them in Tomten language, “a silent little language an [animal] can understand.” Tomten language becomes Blank Verse when translated into English. Other authors have attempted to translate Tomten language first into Swedish, but more recent achronological finds and linguistic research have uncovered this more natural translation into English Blank Verse, directly from the Tomten.
Seamus Heaney may argue that the Aliterative Verse of Beowulf should be the proper cadence for an English translation of the Tompten Language. Both original begin as oral tradition in Old or Ancient Swedish. Both originate as narative poems. But Heaney might agree that the Tompten’s voice desirves a less formal, perhaps even lyrical quality. He is, after all, a gentle soul, a caregiver, and not a warrior. He is ancient, and desirves a slightly more formal cadence than mere prose. The freedom of Blank Verse provides this. I could be completely wrong about Heaney. I would love to hear his thoughts on the Tomten Language. He would probably learn Old Swedish and read the original by Viktor Rydberg. Perhaps I may get to that project myself.
See also, “The Tomten” [https://www.astridlindgren.com/en/book/astrid-lindgren4], adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrataed by Harald Wiberg, and “The Tomten and the Fox” [https://www.astridlindgren.com/en/book/the-tomten-and-the-fox].

[4] Do bumble bees sting?
“Bumble bees are usually peaceful but will attack if provoked.
“[The] Honey bee stings only once, but [the] bumble bee stings several times.
“Research has been done regarding the painfulness of a bumble bee sting and it has been ranked as less painful than a honey bee sting.”