Issue 38, A Portable Paradise
Poetry by Roger Robinson, Jack Gilbert and art by Tehching Hsieh
Hello old friends and new subscribers - welcome!
Have you ever been laid up in bed, recovering for nights on end? As a bit of a sickly kid, I remember many, many nights where I was awake, sitting up in the darkness while everyone else in the house was asleep. Those nights by myself in the darkness, with no stimulation, were spent only in the company of my imagination. Sometimes it scared me, sometimes it entertained me, but either way it kept me company. Even now, when I let myself rest (which isn’t often), to just listen and be, I suddenly find the creative muses arriving with ease.
Thanks for reading Found poems! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Today, I want to share not one but two poems with you that touch on this theme. First is a poem by Roger Robinson, a British-Trinidadian poet who won the prestigious T.S. Eliot poetry prize in 2020 for his collection ‘A Portable Paradise’. I remember listening to him perform the titular poem during the shortlist readings, and I’ve thought of this poem often since then. The second is a poem by Jack Gilbert (previously cited in Issue 15) that seems almost in conversation with the first one.
A Portable Paradise
by Roger Robinson
And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room — be it hotel,
hostel or hovel — find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
A Description of Happiness in Købehavn
by Jack Gilbert
All this windless day snow fell
into the King’s Garden
where I walked, perfecting and growing old,
abandoning one by one everybody:
randomly in love with the paradise
furnace of my mind. Now I sit in the dark,
dreaming of a marble sun
and its strictness. This
is to tell you I am not coming back.
To tell you instead of my private life
among people who must wrestle their hearts
in order to feel anything, as though it were
unnatural. What I master by day
still lapses in the night. But I go on
with the cargo cult, blindly feeling the snow
come down, learning to flower by tightening.
I’ve spent a large part of my last last few weeks painting, trusting my hands and my body to be the medium of my imagination, and my imagination to do the work of recovery. In a short span of a few weeks, what was unthinkable has now become a routine.
How often do we let the paradise furnace of our innate imagination & creativity slip away, get occupied with the humdrum of living? How many of us have the resolve to keep, remember, trace the edges of and shine the lamp light on our creativity? How many of us want to leave what we are doing, and open a cafe, a bookshop, go live in the forest, paint - do something truer to us, and then laugh it all off as an impossible pipe dream?
Caught my eye this week
I came across this article a couple days ago, and have been thinking about how much of what older generations view as privilege is actually a shift in what is considered meaningful. With the first big trial of the 4 day work week underway in UK this week - I am hopeful that this shift will afford more people the time to centre their creativity in a regular way.
I visited an ongoing exhibit documenting different artists and their studios at Whitechapel Gallery last week. I was struck by one particular performance piece titled ‘Doing Time’ by Tehching Hsieh, in which he documented himself punching in with a worker’s time clock on the hour, every hour, for a whole year – commenting on the systems of control and labour we are entwined with.
Using our bodies as a medium for art, as a medium for challenging a system that seeks to keep us under control and confined at all times, is a privilege I am no longer taking lightly.
If what you’re after is some more inspiration yourself, I recommend The Sample, a newsletter that curates a new type of newsletter to your inbox every time, or check out some books from my curated Bookshop.org list.