Monday, July 31, 2017

BLOG OF THE WEEK - BRENDAN OF ORAN'S WELL

This week, my friends, we are visiting with Brendan, who writes at  Oran's Well . You will likely have come across him at our sister site, Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads, but he visits us from time to time as well. As soon as he showed up, I leaped at the opportunity to feature him. Let's dive in.







“So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with
rainwater beside the white chickens,” read the professor
of poetry. Then looked out on us, arching his eyebrows for effect.
“Isn’t that GREAT?!!” A few in the class nodded, still clueless
with the rest what the fuck he was getting at. Fall ‘74, my
first college class in poetry, and it felt nothing like arrival,
just another way for dumbass like me to feel worthless and nil
banging on the locked gates of treasure. The Bible had failed me
and Led Zeppelin’s “Since I Been Lovin’ You” couldn’t nail it either.
Between pouffy lyre and ES335 guitar I thought Poetry
might behoove Heaven, but so far I only scratched my head.
A red wheelbarrow? Really? And then, as if to refrain too-
obvious truths, he read “In a Station of the Metro” by Pound—
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on
a wet, black bough.” And stood there with those jumpy brows
and manic salesman’s half-smile, waiting for one of us to Get It,
just one. And I thought I actually wanted to be there, instead of
wherever freshmen cut loose flinging their Hell Yes at the sky.
I looked back out the rear window on the grey afternoon,
tall pines slowly weaving on a Pacific wind, all of them nodding
in wiseguy accord. Oh great, I thought. Now I’m truly screwed.
And have been that way since writing poems into shrines,
getting my ass kicked by that red wheelbarrow’s shine.

February 2016
  

Sherry: How I love the line “getting my ass kicked by that red wheelbarrow’s shine.” I can feel that moment of knowing you were in exactly the right place,  at the beginning of your love affair with poetry.

Brendan: Thanks. It was and remains a bumpy ride. And for me, the ship and those waves are the interesting part. We are soaked in memoir; but poetry is a vanishing art, like embroidery and Southern cooking: We won’t miss it until it’s gone. What is the function of the poet today? That’s what I’m getting at.



Poems we have plenty –
harmonies abound in
the white roar of this world
—so why Lord, do you
dare me plink another?
If this indeed You prompt.
Will the next poem unlock
the old chains I drag like debt
or just magnify the clang?
Is it mere compulsion, a
neurotic’s scratch of selves
on an overwritten wall?
Did poems ever put bread on
our table? Or send a single one afar?
Who benefits from the sound
of waves except my salt’s ennui
for seaside metronomes?
What is it to be accomplished
enough to avoid the known cliché
only to trip on every trope
of Art’s ersatz divine?
What have I stolen from
my love paying Petrarch
with arch-Pauline greed?
And who is it up in
the trees of the maple
outside the window on
this New Year’s Day
beating her enormous
wings, curved beak clacking
against cold rain in
a distaff ostinato
that sibyls I’m wrong
to burden heaven
with such questions
when there’s so much
work left to do, even if
it’s just monkey-see,
moonshine rue?

January 2014

Sherry: Oh, those are great closing lines! And we are happy you keep "plinking out another"!

Brendan: Thanks. And bless Microsoft Word for shouldering endless drafts.

Sherry: How did you choose the name you write by, Brendan?

Brendan: My screen name is a composite of Brendan the Navigator, whose sailings-about for me represents the soul’s desire to sail to the Islands of the Everliving; and MacOdrum of Uist, a descendent of the Odhrain of the St. Columba tale and also of the seal-tribe who walk on the Earth and swim in the deep.

The use of a screen name hearkens back to the mask, an old theatrical-religious device. Early Greek drama is believed to have evolved out of the rites of Dionysos. A mask hanging on a pole was believed to have represented the presence of the god, and when worn the eyes of the divine shown through the art of the mask. By using the mask of Brendan, history is mystery. 

Sherry:  I like the eyes of the divine showing through the mask. You seem to write a lot about water. Why does it appear so often in your work?


"Life is a voyage between eternities."

Brendan: It’s the ultimate baptism in the womb. Life is a voyage between eternities. Off the cost of Scotland up at the north end of the Island of Iona, there’s a hill called Dun Manannan which may have held a fort or temple during the Bronze Age. 




St. Oran's Well, Colonsay


Next to the hill there was an Oran’s Well, now lost (another can be found on the nearby island of Colonsay). To me that well seems a fitting access to the depths of the Oran myth, and as such it became the name of my blog. A psychologist treating me for childhood traumas once told me, “Every access is a re-frame,” meaning that our perception of history changes when we connect with its mythic sources. Oran’s Well is that vehicle for me—dowsing wand and coracle, oracle and jukebox at once.




e
Today’s arrival
at the next 
cold shore
finds low coals,
seal bones,
a silver brooch
half buried
in the sand.
And as always
the same scrawled
note found 
daggered to a tree.

Island to island
the search, each 
new launch
on darker swells,
unravelling
in Arctic gale.

Whenever I     
turn a page
I scan into 
those marges,
seeking out 
bruised regions
where belief
and desire
are bound,

compassed by
that crashing surf
which beckons
in each recede
a deep salt croon:

not here
not here
not here

(2007)

Note: Legend says St. Oran travelled three days and nights through Infrann, the icy Celtic underworld, searching for the exiled sea god Manannan. Yet on each island Oran found the same note: “Not Here.” 



Manannan sculpture by John Sutton


Sherry:  This is all fascinating, Brendan. One could listen to these tales by the hour. Can you say something about how you came to post poetry online?

Brendan: Back in the early 1990s I had aspirations to be a published poet, but there was something wrong to me about trying to connect with far-flung publishers and audiences I’d never have a chance to interact with. (Literature as was then being taught in the academy was fraught with philosophical divisions.) I went back under a rock (which many of us do) and wrote on my own for the next ten years, publishing only in some early blogs which never had an audience, either. I wrote a long verse autobiography, Breviary of Guitars and then a series of mythic explorations—Oran’s Well, Crannog, Shamanic Letters, Psaltery of Blue, Manannan’s Wheel, Ogham, Road of Dreams, Mysteries of Bliss

Sherry: You have produced a great body of work, Brendan.  I believe it is highly publishable.

Brendan: Thanks. Some of it has found an online audience, but brevity has never been my strong suit, and long poems are hard to read on the screen. As social engagement tools became possible, I began Oran’s Well, blogging into a poetry community—D’Verse Poets, Poets United and my home tribe, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads. Old and new poems flowed into there. I took a year off line to write Over Here, a series of long narrative poems about veterans of  Iraq and Afghanistan, whose re-acclimation has been so difficult due to an essential dementia in American life (which is terrified of death).

Using the Brendan mask, I’ve been able to treat the darkest parts of my history – alcohol addiction, sexual frenzy, hurts and wrongs and other personal disasters—from the proscenium of the sacred. Dionysos as Bromios the Render, the minotaur at the poisoned center of ego’s labyrinth, merges with Dionysos of the Grape and Dionysos of entranced nature. My latest series is Blue Pool: Coming of Age in Suburbia, set in 1972 in a small Florida town where white denial and black reality are baptized in a blue essence that is substantial but not transubstantial. What is it like to grow up under the aegis of a TV show’s interpretation of a myth?

Sherry: I grew up that way, too: Father Knows Best, Dick Van Dyke, Bewitched…like no families I knew. Smiles.  Let’s take a look!


The housing development in Florida we moved to
in 1972 had been carved out of an orange grove.
Our split style ranch had six trees and a pool
for 42 grand. When we moved in construction
was still going on, acres of orange trees collapsing
behind our back fence with streets and new houses
slowly filling in the gouges: Noise by day, seeping
groans in the darkness at night. Cracker wilderness
balding to suburb, briars and snakes under concrete.
I was 13 so my memories of the two years we lived
there are heavy with puberty’s brilliant tang.
There was sexual ardor and mystery just in the way
I squeezed quarts of juice from the oranges I picked.
The pulpy mouthpubis of quenching, the sudden flow
of cold sweetness thrilling down through the groin.
Everything back then was either getting or taking,
picking this girl or another and trying to get as close
to her nakedness as daring and resistance allowed.
Having was something else and too difficult, a residence
no one in that suburb understood how to occupy.
All these years later I remember the thrill of the quench:
Tall glass after squeezing oranges, diving into the pool,
lifting a girl’s blouse up to reach for brassiered fruit.
There was always that moment inches from satiety’s depth
that I seemed to float on the wet breath of eternity.
But always I was sorry or angry that the humdrum
awaited—homework to do, a fight with a sibling
over which TV show to watch, my mother
upstairs in her sick room with the door tightly shut.
Whatever arrival I rode was ever hooked by the real.
Suburbia back then meant the ache and scowl of the parch.
Nothing else mattered—blame it on puberty if you like
but those asphalt paths to infinite scarred me for life.
Desire and permission were the fruit of those houses
raped from an orange grove and buried under dead scrub.
A hundred roofs bearing dreams of more from the night,
wet with dew and still famished in the raw wash of first light.
And all of us too thirsty and drowning to see it as rite.
May 2017

Sherry: “Suburbia back then meant the ache and the scowl of the patch.” What a great capture! You describe coming of age as painfully as it is to live through.

Brendan: Coming of age used to be much more grueling for us boys—ripped from the circle of mothers, taken out into the woods by the men and ritually wounded to mark the separation from child and adult. (I have no idea how teenagers can grow up these days. ) And as shamans, primitive poets (male and female) often didn't survive their initiation ordeal.

But the Well isn’t an Iron Maiden, there’s all sorts of wonders down there, too—islands to discover and water-worlds, the realm of the dead and the divines of love. It is armchair exploration, with the mask also serving as aqualung and fin.

Ours is a hard world ever becoming more complicated. America is a failed state which doesn’t know itself and has way too many guns. We are witness to a massive species extinction due to climate change, and millions are in wilderness with no home to return to or be welcomed into.  Technology is effecting change so fast we are like trees that don’t know they’ve already been felled, and the human tribe is losing the ability to community as it stares enthralled at its screens. This is all quite tragic, and I would be playing its worst agent if I only wrote about the petty agonies of the lyric self. That is suburban poetry to me—the white bread of nothing.

Sherry: I resonate with us being like trees that don’t know yet they have been felled. That is exactly right. We are the frog in the heating up pot, lulled senseless by the warmth.

Brendan: When I cease writing, the mask will float downstream for someone else to wear. That’s how it works. It may have left me long ago, leaving me with a ghostly appurtenance that sounds good but means nothing. You never know if what you write is any good.

Sherry: Rest assured, you do good work that is highly relatable. You move your readers, Brendan. Especially with your poems about recovery. For me, poems like the one we'll close with makes all the rest possible.

woman was talking in AA yesterday about the simple gifts
of sobriety
—serene days, love, the gifts of giving back. Then
she paused, teared up, and told a sponsee who had died of
her own will  that morning. Three years sober, the woman
had married a good woman, worked the Steps and attended
meetings regularly: Everything she said to her sponsor
was looking up or mostly, not a cloud on the horizon except
for that bad back & pills for pain & anxiety & depression &
who knows fucking what else, all the stuff you somehow
never tell your sponsor or wife or kids and leave to them
to figure out when suicide pours its cold rain in a blur.
I remembered my friend Andy who committed suicide
a few weeks ago, just a good guy whose terrors were legion
once he applied lips to whisky bottle— he shot himself in his car
at the end of a final night out there alone. And then
I thought about my brother who died nine years ago
that coming night, a heart attack killing him at age 46.
And how it went in the wounded time that followed,
holding my old mother the next morning as she cried
inconsolably with yellow blossoms falling from trees outside,
flying out to Portland, watching a wide continent empty
of him. But the moment I
’m here at the well for today
was of going into his apartment the next morning, spring rain
falling steadily outside on the tulips he had planted, glistening
on his car sitting more still than a living brother can imagine:
Inside was a dead person’s apartment in naked view,
living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, all still
and full of my brother except my brother was gone:
self-help books and Bibles and classics on shelves,
boxes of slides and his camera gear in a backpack,
his guitar in its case leaning against a wall, any wall,
stacks of CDs he
’d burnt with road mixes and New Age
compilation next to an old stereo with big beat up speakers,
a coffee table with candle and a photography manual
and guitar picks, Bolivian tapestries on the wall, his
flip-flops next to the couch near the door where
the EMTs had carried him out two nights before:
I could go on, but these items are only symbolic iota
which everyone who goes into such rooms too fucking late
assembles in equations which never add up enough
in the days and months and years that will follow
though most of it was worked out just before
we walked through that rain and opened those doors.
It
’s the part that counts anyway when remembering
those who die too young & for reasons we never
really understand in the bittersweet tides of a life.
Someone has to go into those places to towel up
the blood & empty the rooms of raggedy ass stuff
& turn bone to ash to scatter on sea or mountain

—maybe it will be you next time, either side of that door.
I’ve carried my brother’s death these years
and I’m still bringing him home—too late
and fitfully, and insufficient as such amends go.
But what else can I do? There were his rooms
filled with everything he would never return to,
his winter coats, his plates and spoons, his
bottles of Ritalin in too many places, all that
detritus of persistence in a cheap apartment
a brother struggled so to stay current in.
His fight now over, all that stuff could recede
to oblivion with him: But there
’s a point to
such rooms, in AA meetings and in poems.
A meaning to cold rain falling in distant towns.
Nothing is wasted the heart
’s economy, not even
bad history and wandering and dying too alone.
Such deaths we remember and shoulder with care,
sharing burdens which were too great to bear
—too late, always, to count the last drying tear.
I remember that room
’s stillness in the silence here.
April 2017

Sherry: Brendan, this is my favourite of the poems you have shared today – so personal, so full of the richness of the joy and pain it means to be a human with an open heart in this world. It is very moving that you are still bringing your brother home. We do carry our losses forever after. 

Thank you for sharing your work and yourself with us today. It is good to get to know you better and we are happy you found your way to Poets United. And thank you for sharing your photo with us!!!




Brendan: Thanks, Sherry, I so appreciate the forum, the poets here and the shared love of poetry. Bon voyage!

Wasn't this interesting, kids? From mythic tales through suburban childhood, recovery and beyond, it is the stuff of life, deeply and personally shared. Thank you, Brendan. 

Do come back, my friends, and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


29 comments:

  1. Another fascinating interview, Sherry. Brendan's work is brilliant. 'Salem Rain Falling' is so impactful, I felt my teeth clenching as I read ... and then unclenching with a sigh of resignation when I came to that final closing line. Incredible poetry. Thanks for this!

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  2. You are most welcome, kiddo. I do love doing these features. Each poet is so unique and interesting. Makes my job a joy!

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  3. My goodness this interview took me to such depths with the poems and conversation....you are an absolutely brilliant poet Brendan. Thanks Sherry for another enjoyable post.

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  4. Excellent interview, Sherry and Brendan. Enjoyed the openness, honesty, and the wonderful poetry!

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  5. OMG he shows his face! And it looks exactly the kind of face – and expression – I would have imagined. (Humorous mouth, wise eyes, resolute jaw....)

    Brendan, your poems always engage me so fully that I don't care how long they are. When I read responses to prompts, I often save yours till last, like leaving the favourite food on the plate for the final mouthful. I know your work will always be a treat to savour! I had seen a couple of these before, which didn't spoil the pleasure of (re-)reading. I greatly enjoyed seeing all of them, and reading the interview.

    Many thanks to you both.

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  6. Awesome interview Sherry! I so enjoy how you bring the personal out of poets. I love Brendan's work. After reading it it makes me want to dig a little deeper into why and how I write. Thanks Brendan for sharing with us your journey thus far and your brilliant poetry.

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  7. What a treat it is to meet Brendan and wallow in his beautiful poetry so full of emotion and brilliant descriptive lines. I can't pick out a favorite but I will probably print the article and read and reread the words a hundred times. Thank you so much Sherry for the interview and Brendan may I say I am gobsmacked with admiration.

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  8. "we are like trees that don’t know they’ve already been felled" A great description ans so true. What an amazing poetry and the last one is heart wrenching about the loss of his brother. Great interview

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  9. I love the honesty of your work Brendan - great to get to know you a little more.. thanks to both for a great feature

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  10. Brendan writes poems carved from his own bones and has the depth and breadth of vocabulary to do it all justice and some. I feel his poems deeply and I appreciate his integrity in this interview.I'm with Rosemary on the photo. Just as I'd imagined him. A real inspiration and also extremely encouraging to those of us searching for our own poetic soul. Thank you Brendan and Sherry. Great job both.

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    1. Am happy you enjoyed it, Paul. Thanks for reading.

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  11. Oh, Brenden! My partner died when we were 46--massive heart attack taking his massive heart--so "Salem Rain Falling" speaks to/for me in more ways than one--as poet, as survivor. I'm 66 now, and still sit in that empty room--and also in the full one. And, I tinkle the keys assuming God is in my hands in God, so "Don’t Ask Me, I’m Just the Piano" truly resonates. Sometimes reading a poem of yours is all I can read for a day, each contains so much. And sometimes I have to look up the allusions and learn. But today, I linger because I get it, and am pleased to meet you in this first interview I am seeing of you. Bless you, keep writing. Thank you for the feature, Sherry!

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    1. Such a sad, earth-shaking loss, Susan. I like what you say about the empty - and the full - room............I know exactly what you mean. Brendan's work is so full and deep and offers us so much. It is an amazing gift to be able to go that deep.

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    2. Thanks so much, Susan. - I've known you were a kindred soul without ever needing to say so, but I'll do so hear and thank you for bringing your own special heart and words to the well.

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  12. I can relate to the poetry professor experience down to the choice of poems. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity over several years to read Brendan's work. Definitely an important voice of our times who reminds the reader that answers to the present condition lie in myth and history.

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  13. Dear Sherry and Brenden, what a wonderful post. Yes, I was deeply touched by the pain and longing in the last poem. It made me wonder about so many things? And of course it made me think of my own Son's death....and his apartment, that he would not return to. I feel a hollow shell and will need time to recover....just to be quiet, and breathe.

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    1. I can well understand how that poem, especially, seeped into your heart, my friend. Yes, you may need to sit in your courtyard and breathe in the desert air, gaze upon Taos Mountain and reclaim some footing. Sigh.

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    2. Thanks Annell, pain shared is also shouldered by others. We can carry that brokenness forward. Singing.

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  14. My friends, thank you so very much for reading and leaving such heartfelt comments. We appreciate you so much. I love this Monday feature, as it gives us the opportunity to know the poet as well as his poetry, the person behind the pen (or the screen).........in a way we cannot know from the poems alone. Yay, and thank you for stopping by.

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  15. A little late to the interview, but such a pleasure to see Sherry's light hand once again open the doors of a poet's magic cabinet and let his words fly. No one writes of loss, damnation and redemption (of a sort--but is there any other kind) better than Brendan.

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  16. Thank you both for today. The poem "Salem Rain Falling" touched my heartstrings as well. I sometimes think of my children sorting through my mementos and treasures ... the detritus of my life. Good to get to know you, Brendan, and thanks to Sherry for bringing you to us.

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  17. Thank you Sherry and Brendan for this wonderful interview.

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  19. Brendan.. always enjoy your work..the incredible myths, the depths to which you are able to explore your life and emotions and the sheer craft and language. Thanks so much Sherry for this interview.

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  20. Thanks everyone, so much -- this is lonely business as you all know, we write under our own personal rocks, congress and support from other poets is both strange and wonderful. So much of my work has beginnings in the fine prompts at forums like this, in joining the chorus of voices singing their own take on the same song. And thanks again to Sherry for working so generously with me.

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  21. Awesome blog, i always enjoy & read the post you are sharing!
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