A Sacred Cow in the Orchard

How ambitious should a poet be? I think I would be very concerned if the corporate ladder were crammed with poets, other than the versifiers and prose monsters of the marketing maelstrom. And yet ambition is the true focus of the poet. Why speak of a rose if you do not long in some way to stick it, thorns and all, under a nose?.

A couple of days ago I fell upon a poem by an American writer – Jo VonBargen, the scope of which had me taking a deep breath. Quite simply it is a look at human history with a view to providing the opportunity to those ahead of us in time, to do better. We start in the mud of non individualised atoms and molecules of  pre-consciousness (My phrase) and follow through to the conscious manipulation of atoms in the mud of money and politics. It would have been very easy to get this wrong and as I read the foreword I was nervous. I would have taken one look at the tightrope and gone to the bar for a long think, followed by another drink. Then I would have called a cab and gone home.(Actually poets can’t afford cabs but sometimes drive them).

Words are dangerous to art. They are the succubus, the half eaten tray of chocolate. A few more could not hurt could they? Jo VonBargen, I just know by guessing, has been through that cloying land. This poem is not written, it is speared and pruned.Where you could throw more words, she has spiked the one she wanted from the tempting glittering shoal of extra adjectives. It is light and lean, a thin blade, a jab. In a sense it is an old fashioned epic poem but without any grandiosity. The selection of history is from the catalogues of genocide, division and greed. Happily the lusts and delicious passions receive, I suspect, the compassion of the humanist and  largely escape the the list.

A poem is for the reading. Poetry read aloud cannot just be folded back into the book (or switched off on the e reader). For a poem to live on beyond its return to silence it has to stick in the mind and this for me is where this work is very special. Short phrases expressing wisdom jostle with sudden sparks of imagery. There are too many to quote but here are a few. “A glissando of slow subterraneans” – as life evolves,(I could hear Wagnerian trombones). “Do you not see separate gardens?” as property and tribe divide us. “Plowmule of the dragging days” takes us to apartheid, racism and slavery in an inspired brilliance of insight.  When the poet looks rather sadly at the Rule of Law, she gives us a left hook of wisdom “No law can transform what the soul hasn’t learned.” These are just a sample. You could not read this poem without taking away a phrase or two or without pausing to reflect. Luckily as a European, atheist, Buddhist, lighter of cathedral candles, mumbling coin thrower at wishing well grottos and crosser of fingers, I have no sacred cows except for wanting quite often to kiss them for their gentleness and weep for their innocence.

Bref: “From This Far Land” is the  mature work of a deeply intelligent mind. It is wonderful to know that there are folk out there who actually think. It is always tempting to wave the flag and shout the slogan. Once upon a time, the world of published poetry was controlled by just a few editors. Most poets seemed to me to be professors of poetry. Now the savages storm the orchard and all may gorge. A new nobility will arise. Jo VonBargen wields a sword.


4 thoughts on “A Sacred Cow in the Orchard

  1. Oh god. If only I can stop weeping for one second to respond. Every sense in my body is totally gobsmacked by this priceless review of my book! Oscar, your beautiful words here could have only come from the mind of an exceptionally loving, sentient being who not only took the time to read and reread and truly “get it”, but also went to an enormous effort to convey his discovery to the world. There are no words that could begin to convey my deepest gratitude to you for this.

    I wrote “From This Far Time” many years ago and it languished in a drawer for all that time until I decided to put it up on Amazon a few months ago. The number of people who have actually read it can be counted on one hand, as far as I know. This work represents probably the most intense time and effort that I have ever put into a piece and I fretted for years that no one would understand it. In my mind, your gorgeous, brilliant essay here is complete and utter validation. For that, you have my undying thanks.

    All the best to you and yours always…Jo

  2. Jo, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to read Oscar’s comments. Your work deserves such praise and especially when it rises to a similar level of consummate expression. That is my understanding of an honorable deed. To know there is another out there who is thinking wide and and high is deeply satisfying. All my life I have sought out those with whom I could have The Conversation. By that I meant, after years of sorting it our for myself and putting words to it, the exchange of substantive ideas, curiosities, and a higher order of understanding. Bert is one of those. You are. And now there is Oscar. Aren’t we all fortunate. And for you to gather such ideas in so beautiful a context as “From This Far Time,” I get goose bumps, every time I read it!

  3. Christina, this is so lovely of you! Still floating mid-air at Oscar’s comments here, you have now guaranteed I won’t touch down anytime soon! Also, I spent the night with Oscar, his book and accompanying mp3 so am still giddily orgasmic. The daunting task of writing a review that could possibly do justice to him will have to wait til I’m sane again.

    So isolated out here in the boondocks for these many years, it’s not been often I’ve encountered the wonderful likes of you, Bert and Oscar, so I hope my excessive gushing will be tolerated kindly. I have a spouse who has never read as much as one word of my writing and who continues to behave badly every time I touch the keyboard, so I guess I’ve become so enured to it that all this glorious positive recognition is like sweet honey from heaven flowing over me head to toe. Now the serious task of ego-checking must begin in earnest.

    I get such a kick out of your own blogs, and recognized that spark of highest intellect in you right from the start. And yet, even as gifted as you are, I’ve watched you and Bert spend most of your time nurturing the writing careers of all the rest of us, and indeed we are legion. And now, there is Oscar. Aye, says me, like the Musketeers three! I know an emissary from the Universe when I meet one.

    Sincerest thanks for this, Christina. My life is all the richer and more meaningful for having you in it.

    xx Jo

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