language

How the Earth Sees Us

How the Earth Sees Us

How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth? Where the infinite stillness of the earth meets the passion of the human eye, invisible depths strain towards the mirror of the name.

In the word, the earth breaks silence. It has waited a long time for the word. Concealed beneath familiarity and silence, the earth holds back and it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. Is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there?

~ John O'Donohue

The Residue of Fear

The Residue of Fear

"I spent so much of my life telling people the things they wanted to hear instead of the things they needed to, told myself I wasn't meant to be anyone's conscience because I still had to figure out being my own, so sometimes I just wouldn't say anything, appeasing ignorance with my silence." ~ Clint Smith

The Spaces between Words

Migratory Words by Su Blackwell

"This is the art and alchemy of poetry: through the spaces between the words, borne along on a wave of rhythm and sound, the life breath of the reader joins that of the poet. In this union of forces, an awakening can happen that is not only new from reader to reader, but in a great poem, from reading to reading."

~ Roger Housden, from Ten Poems to Open Your Heart

Painting Mental Images with Words

Imaginary Paintings
by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together 

1. How I would Paint the Future

A strip of horizon and a figure,
seen from the back, forever approaching.

2. How I would Paint Happiness

Something sudden, a windfall,
a meteor shower. No
a flowering tree releasing
all its blossoms at once,
and the one standing beneath it
unexpectedly robed in bloom,
transformed into a stranger
to beautiful to touch.

3. How I would Paint Death

White on white or black on black.
No ground, no figure. An immense canvas,
which I will never finish.

4. How I would Paint Love

I would not paint love.

5. How I would Paint the Leap of Faith

A black cat jumping up three feet
to reach a three-inch shelf.

6. How I would Paint the Big Lie

Smooth, and deceptively small
so that it can be swallowed
like something we take for a cold.
An elongated capsule,
an elegant cylinder,
sweet and glossy,
that pleases the tongue
and goes down easy,
never mind
the poison inside.

7.  How I would Paint Nostalgia

An old-fashioned painting, a genre piece.
People in bright and dark clothing.
A radiant bride in white
standing above a waterfall,
watching the water rush
away, away, away.

Poetry Can Help Us Live with Death

"Poetry does seem to be especially good at certain things. For example, we are all going to die. Poetry can help us live with that. Poems are made of words, nothing but words. The particulars in poems are like the particularities, the personalities, that distinguish people from one another. Poems are easy to share, easy to pass on, and when you read a poem, you can imagine someone's speaking to you or for you, maybe even someone far away or someone made up or someone deceased. That's why we can go to poems when we want to remember something or someone, to celebrate or to look beyond death or to say goodbye, and that's one reason poems can seem important, even to people who aren't me, who don't so much live in a world of words."

~ Stephen Burt, from "Why People Need Poetry," TED Talk, June 2013 

See also:

Welded Together So Tightly in Your Mind

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis speaking with Anne Strainchamps about "Music and Memory," from To the Best of Our Knowledge, March 30, 2014:

"Music is not really like a language. It's one of those metaphors that's really out there.

As I was growing up, I went to Interloken Arts Camp. Over the big stage there, they have it emblazoned in large letters: MUSIC IS THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE!

But maybe there are some things going on in music that aren't really the same as what's going on in language. 

I'll give you some examples. 

When we think back to what happened in a story somebody told us, we tend to remember the gist of what happened not the specific words they used to tell the story to us. But if we try to remember back to a song we listened to or a piece we really enjoyed, there's something about the actual, specific, sequence of notes that is still very present and verbatim in our memory. And in fact, really gripping.

There's a great example that Mark DeBellis uses in a book he wrote, where he asks—If you think about The Star Spangled Banner, and you think about the word Oh and the word you. Where those sung on the same pitch?

To answer that question, what you have to do is go back in and sing through the tune. You can't just duck in and get one little snippet. They're all welded together so tightly in your mind that one note seems to kind of inevitably spill out of the preceding one. 

That tight connection from note to note is really an effect that is created through repitition." 

~ Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, from "Music and Memory," To the Best of Our Knowledge, March 30, 2014. 


See also:

Atomic Components of Narrative Elements

Attentional Fitness Strategies for Hearing Out

Margulis, E. H. (2014). On repeat: How music plays the mind. New York: Oxford University Press. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/851068495 

Over and Over to Myself

The Long Hand Wishes It Was Used
by Jackie Clark, from The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day

Sometimes I wish I didn't think in words
and that instead for each thought I thought I drew upon an image,
and that I was able to organize each image in a linear way that would be like sort of like reading
and that instead of trying to describe the edges around something
I could just think the color around the edges of the image to be darker,
that the detail on the image could become more or less detailed depending
on how much clarity I believe I needed to disclose at the time
For instance, instead of saying love, I could just think watermelon
I could just think of a watermelon cut in half, laying open on a picnic table
The inside would be just as moist as it was pink
I could picture cutting up pieces and giving them out to my friends.
It wouldn't have to be sunny
It wouldn't have to be anything else then just that
It would really simplify my walk home at night,
where every thought I think is some contrived line I repeat over and over to myself
Words are always just replaced with new ones
The pictures would never need to know otherwise


Jackie Clark: "I often make quiet, patient wishes. Wishes for more realized and open love, wishes for more direction, wishes for less. Wishes and intentions to arm myself against despair. I mostly wish to be able to see the world differently because I think that would rectify some of its difficulty for me. This poem is an attempt to do just that, if only briefly."

@nohelpforthat

It's Not Language that Governs the Connection Between People

Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim in The Past (Photo by Carole Bethuel, Sony Pictures Classics)

Excerpts from "Oscar-Winning Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi on Making Movies in Iran," KCRW's The Business, Dec. 23, 2013:

Kim Masters: The film is almost entirely in French. How did you manage that [since you don't speak French]?  

Asghar Farhadi: I moved with my family and we lived in France for two years. I set aside a great deal of time to become acquainted with the melodies of the French language. I tried to become familiar with the daily details of life there, with the way people behave. I had numerous French friends and they were invaluable. But what helped me the most was the fact that the story I had was one that was structured on the basis of the similarities of our cultures, not the differences...

I had several people who acted as my voice. There was one of them who accompanied me constantly, who not only interpreted the words I spoke, but who shadowed me in gesture. When I would move my hands, he would also do the same thing. When I raised my voice, he too would raise his voice. Gradually I began to feel that he was my voice. He was closer to who I was. I remember the day when I said something and then I walked over to the table to pick up a cigarette, and he started interpreting and walked over to the table and picked up a cigarette...

But after a while, I discovered that it's not language that governs the connection between people to the extent that we imagine it does. When people grow close to each otherthrough their eyes, through a kind of an exchange of energythey can grasp a great deal about each other.

With Bérénice, with those children, I discussed matters of great delicacy and intricacy that even in Persian would be difficult to convey.   

Disorder

Dilapidated Old Barn by Michael Bilodeau

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use
by Ada Limón, from American Life in Poetry: Column 445

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Excerpt from "The Joy of Math: Keith Devlin on Learning and What It Means To Be Human," On Being, September 19, 2013:

People get turned off mathematics in various ways. If you teach it as sort of just stuff you need to know to balance your checkbook — which is nonsense because none of us balance our checkbooks; computers do that for us. On the other hand, because language is so important to us as living creatures, everyone is interested in language one way or another, be we language mavens or just interested in listening to the radio or reading or novels. You know, language is a fundamental part of what we ask.

In fact, in a book I wrote in 2000, called The Math Gene, I actually made a case based on sort of rational reconstruction of human evolutionary development, that mathematics and language are actually two sides of the same coin in terms of evolutionary development. Human beings, when we developed the capacity for language — and nobody knows when that was; it might be as recent as 50,000 years ago — but when our ancestors developed language capacity, at that moment they developed the capacity for mathematics. It's the same capacity. It just plays out in different ways.

...

A lot of the problem in mathematics is that an awful lot of what goes on in the school system is basically trying to train the mind to do what a $10 calculator can do: follow rules and algorithms and procedures. And one thing that we do know is, that the human brain does not find that natural. The human brain is analogical, not logical. And so, when we try to force it to be procedural and exact, the brain simply doesn't like it.

It was important for many thousands of years to be able to do computation and calculation because that was the basis of commerce and trade and buying and selling. And you had to do it in your head or with an abacus board or something. So for hundreds of years, it was actually important to train the mind to follow rules to do computations and get the right answer. Well, now we've automated that. And we carry around devices in our pockets that can do that. Which means that we can spend more time letting the brain do things that the brain is really well suited for that computers can't do very well: making value judgments, making analogical leaps.