They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.
All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.
The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of
- " Whales Weep Not ! " by D.H. Lawrence
I imagine that D.H. Lawrence mulled quite a bit over the sounds made by what he considered reflective and amorous mammals, the "inward roaring of the inner red ocean," the "dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of the beginning and the end." There is also some sexy aquatic discourse about the "long tip," "the soft and wild clutch," and the "strong phallus," but, hey, it wouldn't be Lawrence if the pleasures of the flesh were not addressed.
However, it's phonic delights that I'm interested in, at this moment at least, particularly in the ones created by Nic Sebastian, whose own whale sounds are not the clicking, churring or warbling made by our cetacean brothers of the blue deep. Ms. Sebastian's songs, rather, are recorded and then published on her website Whale Sound, a collaboration between her pellucid voice and writers who submit poems that are accessible online, such as this one (click here for audio), by Oliver de la Paz:
The moon dangles from its severe, black cord
and packets of dew thicken the grass tips.
Everything is blue--the meadow ripe with leaves
blown from the periphery. Instinct
threads the skin of the boy as he strips, the tufts of fur
splintering through his cotton T-shirt and the deer
are startled into their sinewy gait. Hollow sounds.
A cry from the chest where the hunger lives.
The boy will enter the new world through his eye
tonight, afraid of his flushed skin. The blood
rising like the cherry-red tip of a cigarette
pulled towards the mouth with each deep breath.
But he is even more afraid of the dark space of memory--
a flash of speed, wind on his face from some dream,
and the cooled, coppery taste pressed against
his tongue and the roof of his mouth.
The wild is fierce with memory. And his ears
tilt to the soft pad of his paws against the village cobbles
and the darkened cottages whose roofs blossom
with potential accident. To be one with accident
as to be one with god. To be god is to love
the sudden solitude of night
when the sleeves of the once-body yields
to the muzzle's soft kiss and the wet nap of a licked
burr, nestled into a muddy coat. Oh, meadow, meadow.
How the moon's beautiful swell nails everything into place:
the tooth's glory plunged deep into the evening's bruise.
The throat, heavy with a hound's velvet "no."
I read this poem to myself before listening to the track. It was last October, and I was watching the light burn to gold and a horrorthon of movies, reading Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and pretty much welcoming all that is imagined to dwell in the shadowlands. God I love autumn.
Of course, what really drew me into this poem was de la Paz's nouns and verbs, how some are monosyllabic and stranded together in staccato chords, and these produce the gait of a creature coming into his unstoppable fate and the inseparable couplets of beautiful and terrible. I could picture this boy and his stealth along the stony paths of a mountain hamlet, and I kept thinking of View of Toledo, a painting by El Greco that I might (or might not) have seen in person when I visited the Spanish city many years ago. Such an old place, filled with darkness even in daylight, which is much like El Greco's gothic landscape, and not unlike the boy's own grapple between his fear and his new found ardor for meadow, moon, and blood.
So. I thought I knew what I needed to know about this poem. But then I heard Ms. Sebastian's reading, which upon first listen transformed the poem from an autobiography in the third person, as I had initially thought of it, to a folkloric reportage, witnessed and annotated, her inflections more controlled than the ones I heard in my own head, in that strange voice that is not a voice which appears when we read in silence.
Her interpretation of "Oh meadow, meadow" was especially different from my own. I had read it as a worshipful proclamation, a lusting of sorts, as if Wolf Boy was desperate to cross the open fields in his animal form, "to be one with god." Yet Nic read it in a tone of resignation: there was nothing left for the boy, or for any of us, to do but submit. Even the final "no" had a weariness about it, a failing resistence that I had not sensed. Was her rendering more aligned with the author's original intent than my own? Was her take fatalism or wisdom? What matters more, to me, is seeing how a poem can be amplified, lyrically and authentically, by a voice that did not write it.
"Reading out loud and engaging in other people's poems is a way to enter them," Nic told me when we spoke by phone. "It's a completely different and deeper relationship; there's always a sense that the poem is being recreated in some way. I just felt that as a reader of poetry, I had neglected sound. But Whale Sound is a way of remedying that. It's part of wanting to expand my own experience of poetry."
Visit Whale Sound and its index of recorded poems, audio chapbooks, and poet interviews here.
For further parsing of sonics and verse, read Nic Sebastian's blog, Very Like A Whale.
And here she is reading one of her own poems, "Live Oak - quercus virginiana," as it appeared in the November 2010 of MiPOesias Magazine.