Monday, December 26, 2011

Canto II: through the willows

Alice was gone into distance—another sky—a landscape-colour only vectors of automobiles could find
With their ingenious capacity to devour impregnable topography: vanishing points, roads, webbed lanes
Drivers bent like enamel: bolted bedevilled—chromium, glass and cross-ply—rolling abyss beyond sight
‘ . . . there was two lights—two lights—shining on behind, the blue light was my Blues, and the red light was my mind.’
The black and white keys were all that remained of the madcap melodies we made to rival Ravel’s Bolero
Yes—my parents’ parlour piano was there—but rampant luxury of lessons were never deemed feasible.
So I tinkled—far as childhood fingers spread—observing pirouetting patterns in the unsegregated array.
Some sort of configuration was there—but, for mere mind-moments—joy gone into confusion the next
The piano was sold—my father opined—no one played it: old—unnecessary—took up too much room.

But Blues blazed forth—one Summer day—perched as I was—in yellow lattice-branches of gnarled willow,
Grown in the grass bramble wilderness of a narrow track running the back of the odd-numbered houses.
Mr Love sat in his unruly garden. I roosted—shaded—where tremulous foliage met disorderly gentility.
Music played his gramophone—slow-aching, Delta acid-syrup slide—Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy.
“What is that music, if you please?” “Blues” he beamed as if from dark alluvial mud – slow in its swirling.
“From America – you maysn’t have heard it before.” I descended from the willow. He motioned me to sit.
Ragged orange blue and striped deckchairs—sun faded—delicate woodworm tracery in early 1900s frames.
Crackling 78s: Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Big Mamma Thornton – ice chinkling homemade gingerbeer
Sipped in long shadows of late afternoons—rolling and tumbling in naïve ambition—hidden from time.

I’d never heard such names or accents. “I want to sing like that!” I proclaimed in bright juvenile delight.
Hard times—love and friendship / crossed and lost—sung in grins; or scowls so deep they’d peel paint.
Blues falling down, Blues falling down like hail—and the day keeps on reminding me—there’s a hellhound on my trail.
Mr Love told me ’bout this genii—Papa Legba—who’d come to a particular crossroads and meet you –
Then you’d play the best guitar anywhere—willows shivered—He said it was a myth—but I knew better.
Had to be a deserted crossroads—in the country somewhere—and you had to go at midnight, all alone.
Robert Johnson went to the crossroads—somewhere Mississippi—and old Papa Legba tuned his guitar.
Then he played better than anyone alive – took that bottle neck soaring beyond the 12th and 14th frets.
That’s how it’d be. I’d sit—I’d wait—and then, that wild, weird, wayward banshee would do his thing.

But me I expected it to happen - I knew he’d lost control, when he built a fire on Main Street - and shot it full of holes.
No—he didn’t—but, 5 Woodsfield Lane was empty—for sale—and nobody was about to tell me anything.
“Where has Mr Love gone?” My father—stern. “It’s none of our concern.” But I persisted nonetheless,
“Has Mr Love died?” My father barking “That is not for you to know.” I asked my mother “Has he died?”
He’d gone where they’d care for him—there’d be no willow, only weeping—he could no longer live alone.
“Does he have his records where he’s gone – can he listen?” In that stiff silence, my mother couldn’t say.
Oh death: Early—one morning¬—he come a creeping in the room – and I know—Lordy, I know—my time ain’t long.
Adult life was furtive – an environment where embarrassment failed to explain any salient feature of life.
Mr Love—interred institutionalised incommunicado—lost in trackless wastes: dim disinfected corridors.

I’d never hear Blues again—far as I knew—so I sang whatever feisty fractured figments I could recall.
Fragments I’d not forget: diminished 7ths, blue notes, accidental minors in the major pentatonic scale.
Then—one monochromatic February—against radio gabble—my father’s words: “Mr Love is dead.”
Funeral already a week old and I hadn’t been there at the last: how bitter to know that at the age of 8.
He’d been so kind – and I wasn’t there for him at the end. Sad beyond endurance – I burst into tears.
I ran to the lane and remained there—skeletal—bereft of: willow leaves—crackling 78s—slow tidal Delta.
Months later we knew he died intestate—no letter ever arrived—no sound or sign of Legba’s celluloid.
“Who’d want a pile of old 78s?” I went to bed—stared at darkness, until—by default—I merged into it.
Death ain’t got no mercy on no one, by the time this song is sung—another friend has gone—death ain’t got no mercy on no one.



This is the second canto of what may eventually be a 67 canto series. It is based on my book ‘an odd boy’ which is a memoir of the Arts during the 1960s and early 1970s. It begins in 1957 and ends in 1975. I cannot say what possessed me to begin such a project – but it started taking shape almost before I was aware of what was happening. The form I use is one I have developed for narrative poetry: five 9-ling stanzas. This form enables me to portray a ‘scene’ or ‘sequence of brief scenes’ as if from a movie. The long line I use is typical of ‘Critical Mass Poetics’. I tend to use a line of roughly 15 words – and the lines are described as ‘cantering lines’. They have a rolling rhythm—which is not fixed and does not accord with strict meter—is written in such a way as to facilitate reading aloud with ease.

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About Doc Togden (Ngakpa Chögyam)

As the caption on the author-designed cover of Doc Togden's (Ngakpa Chögyam) upcoming collection of poetry ravings of a mild mannered maniac reads:

Tantra is Art - and a tantrika explores the sense-fields through the Arts. This work paints with the cadences of language - because the poet is both a painter and musician. He marvels at existence whilst lampooning the prevalent sociopathy of spirituality. As semantic Jazz - linguistic density jives with space, taking readers into realms where linear logic is only one possible vector amongst many. Comedy and tragedy dance, provoking a cascade of surreal impressions that change with each reading. Rock & Roll lyrics sung by dakinis erupt in counterpoint to the paradoxical hymns of a 'vicar or vajrayana' - a trans-Atlantic Englishman who raves, tongue-in-cheek, on the nature of reality. This is the first volume to be published in the contemporary genre of 'Critical Mass Poetics' as defined by the author and his students.

On the phenomenon of having two names, he writes:

"I appeared on FaceBook as Doc Togden because I wanted a fresh start in terms of the Arts. I have often found a dual prejudice to exist. If one presents as a musician / artist one is not taken seriously by Buddhists. If one presents as a Buddhist one is not taken seriously by musicians / artists. This is obviously a generalisation – and as such, probably meaningless for anyone apart from myself. It is true however, that Captain Beefheart had to give up his Rock musician persona to be taken seriously as a painter. A few Tibetan Lamas—such a Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche—have managed to evade the censorious radar of common opinion – but the same largesse of view would not seem available to the inconsequential eccentric yogi and yogini. Doc Togden is as much my name as Ngakpa Chögyam because the name on my passport—and other legal documents—is Dr Chögyam Togden. The Tibetan designation ‘ngakpa’ is hard to pronounce for most people and so, as I have a doctorate in Vajrayana Psychology I use that in everyday association outside my rôle as Lama. The title doctor releases me from having to designate myself by gender and appeals to my sense of humour vis-à-vis my fondness for Doc Holliday and a variety of musicians who have ‘Doc’ as their first name. I have five FaceBook friends called Doc and they are all musicians.

The time has now arrived to merge Doc Togden and Ngakpa Chögyam – and to allow them to be as they have always been. Hopefully those who may have looked askance at either will feel reconciled to the fact that they can talk with me as an artist and Buddhist teacher without feeling wary on the one hand or fearful of potential religious polemic on the other. I have no desire to convert anyone to Buddhism – but I do have a desire to offer aspects of Buddhism to the world of Art and Art to those who practise Buddhism. I believe there to be a common language – an essential language that speaks of the timeless efflorescence of the elements. The Arts arise from vision—from the empty space of primal creativity—and that space is the space everyone can access. Buddhists say that everyone is essentially a Buddha. I take from that that everyone is essentially an Artist. Now . . . did Ngakpa Chögyam say that, or did Doc Togden say that? Who ever said it, he’d also like to say that there is essentially no difference."

On Facebook, Doc Togden (Ngakpa Chögyam) describes himself as a "Teacher / Artist: painter; poet; author; life-style choreographer, and musician (vocalist, harp, rhythm bass, and 12 string / resophonic guitars)."

In reference to the roles of "Teacher" and "life-style choreographer", the informed reader will notice the uncanny resemblance of Doc Togden (Ngakpa Chögyam) to Ngak'chang Rinpoche, whom together with Khandro Déchen are the lineage holders of the Aro gTér. The Aro gTér is a stream of Vajrayana Buddhism in which ordination is congruous with romance, marriage, and family life that focuses on the teaching and practice of the Inner Tantras from the point of view of Dzogchen, an essential non-dual teaching.

As a writer, Doc Togden's (Ngakpa Chögyam) most recent books include an odd boy and wisdom eccentrics.