A 2nd batch from Busan, focusing mainly on the dense old fish market, Jagalchi. So much fish & so many bizarre creatures i never saw before.
i was treated to a short respite from work with a trip to Korea’s 2nd largest city, Busan (부산).
Busan was spared the artillery impact of the Korean war & contains historical areas that Korea on the whole, doesn’t have. There is a balance between the hyper-new, chic, beach side with glass skyscrapers scratching cloud; old fish markets with leathery faces haggling & hodge podge, pastel villages where artists make their beds & face off against the rich by scrabbling the hills.
My wife wanted to shop (which is an new ring of hell for me) so i took the opportunity to walk around a maze-like department store with a camera, with some interesting results.
i’ll try to make this weekend all about photographs if i can edit them in time.
For anyone new, here is a link that transparently explains the genesis of these poems.
Absurd Taxinomia— People (cont…)
The woman, child, man,
on the other end,
who know nothing
& knowing nothing
can know everything
— beginnings are empty.
Believes in genius, that the actual genii
will always be found,
it matters little if they hide
above or below the shadows of the world,
in a council flat or war
—it is a stiff scent in the wind
the world rises to meet
& hand-holds into the light of day.
A gamble with benign gestures
ending in decapitation
& a long sorrow
high as a window.
always in fancy dress,
for a pageant,
nobody heard about
in a place
nobody thinks about
for a cause
nobody cares about.
With expensive pencils
& hollow bodies,
write lists of things
they want & never stop
writing those lists
& never stop
Waiting, like sunlight,
in the orchards of their chests.
Goes away. Returns. Away.
Returns…Yet never moves
from the spot nor pinches
the up // down
of a hop-scotch.
Will Self on his intention for writing his book Shark said he wanted to write Jaws without the Shark, which i took to mean using descriptive, prose to skirt around an object or situation in mind, somewhat like a riddle. If you coupled this with a bit of Phenomenology, Existentialism & the Preface to Foucault’s The Origin of Things, where he explains that the inception for the writing of
This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought— our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography— breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camel hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.’ In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that. (Foucault, The Origin of Things)
Foucault then spends the entirety of the book tracing the history (in fastidious detail, painstaking, like making a ship in an aspirin bottle), since the 16th Century, to how Economics, Biology & Linguistics came out of the Classical period’s use of representation as a mode for classification, which it is not my purpose to go into here. But what a Preface. To say, essentially, that in the fabrication, in the attempt to understand, to get closer to truth, we neglect something, which becomes a limit of our own imaginative & creative faculties, whilst pressing to get at the right answer.
i wasn’t immediately drawn to all these considerations in one foul swoop, but over a period of time, which began with my being intrigued by Marie Marshall’s poems, which attempt to enlist the reader into working out interpretation from their own subjective position so that for each reader the poem has a different meaning(s). i wanted to do something similar, but couldn’t find my angle; i envied her freedom. Linking the riddle like quality of Self’s intention, my reading of Husserl, Camus & Foucault & Marie, i think i’ve found my angle— to write my own amplituhedronic taxinomia, which if you are positioned just right seems to constitute our reality both actual & imagined. Welcome.
Absurd Taxinomia— People
Those that gather toast crumbs
into small piles
that make scatter graphs.
Tuts when he drops his keys
which is a tut at improbability.
After so much time
the company of beasts.
Tallies the days
of endless experience,
alphabetized like genera.
The delirious surgeons of events,
getting to the heart of a matter.
The famished discounters,
ribs on parade,
gaunt as a pickle
skin like moth wings.
The Absurd Man,
doing something ordinary,
out of context,
intentionally & very well,
so well, nobody notices
— what could be more absurd?
Written during my recent crossing to Seoul, of which the previous poems Ikea & Sewol Tragedy are linked.
Ferry Terminal Soliloquy
The scent of ginseng candy wafts
from old ladies’ mouths, rattles their false
teeth, lubricates dry tongues & throats with spice.
People pointedly serious about schedules & tickets
their handshakes warm enough to incubate
cups of sweet coffee— the pamphlets
telling the other side of things; a pharmacist, in case
—light pours from high windows, stamps lattice
on the tiles— at least there’s promise of air.
i shudder at the sight, of grown men
in full tracksuits, curdling like acrid milk in foyers.
A coach waits for us. Ship horns blare
like dung chen, signaling that soon we will begin
to cross the sea & should know what that means.
i made a trip to the mainland by ferry the other day to make an Ikea run for our new pension. Though being inside Ikea literally makes me feel like i’m being crucified while a crow pecks at my viscera, i at least had an opportunity to take some photos of the ferry & Seoul— gotta make the best of a skull numbingly dull situation such as any situation involving Ikea.
The ferry gave me ample chance to use the windows for reflection-shots & people were pretty off guard. In Seoul i was only interested in the buildings, as they provoke so varied a response in me & in people generally, but i was so busy in Seoul i didn’t have much of a chance to take as many photos as i’d have liked.
On returning i haven’t been all that well, the schedule was a bugger, having to sleep in a public room over night, next to snoring ajeossi & then having to cook breakfast for a full house as soon as i got back; plus, Seoul’s overbearing noise & pollution always does a number on me— i don’t know how human beings have come to develop a tolerance for thriving in cities, they are vile places. i am on the mend now after walking down by the sea & drinking in some sea air. Enjoy the fruits of my 2 day trip.
people who have been following this blog for a while & who i talk with on a regular basis will know a little about 대사님 already; you will know about my helping him build houses & rip rap paths in his mountain home & sitting sipping expensive teas he is gifted by old students.
well he is visiting my guesthouse. for the first time i have met him somewhere other than his mountain community. it is fascinating to watch him in the world.
대사 is a title, which illustrates a distinction, in this man’s case, it is that he became enlightened some 40 odd years ago (he’s 75 & still works like an ox) & retired to the mountains to build a community where he could teach & offer land for those who wish to develop themselves with him. though he has studied with monks, he is not a monk, he has no dogma, he doesn’t believe in anything that isn’t tangible, even if that tangibility is not accessible to us but is to him.
i don’t know how i feel about his abilities, which include a sort of direct perception of history, the footsteps of ancestors across continents in 4-D, as he says; & furthermore, being able to converse with the universe & objects in nature. i could tell you some very interesting stories here & now, but i am not going to, as i am in the process of poetifying these anecdotes that i have heard from him, so you will just have to be patient. i will however annex a poem i wrote while visiting him last year & also a few snaps from today of the man in full swing.
lectures on seeing
Dae Sa nim took me on a tour of his new meditation path
with the pride of a child who learned to tie their shoe.
alone through all the days of march he worked
the soil soft as fontanelle, incised the slope to form a trail,
packed the earth like bean paste in a pot, stacked felled trees.
now he admires the pine that slouches underneath the tea house
& the one erect as a totem pole from alternate angles.
he lectured me on dramas that he sees in natural things,
equivocating a point when he points at two silver birch
that grew around each other like an old manuscript curling on itself,
the pine with arms as multiple as a compassionate god;
all lectures in the way that natural things can show us how…
he often pressed his hand like a stethoscope to a tree’s chest,
arranged a fallen branch or needles in a tidy pile.
he flattered natural things with compliments about their handsome shapes,
& they responded in a kind i could not comprehend – he did.
at the apex of our stroll, a platform you can peer
down into the valley from, Deokyu mountain set on the sky’s easel
& where Dae Sa nim often goes to dance alone in a crown of pine,
he had us lie down & enjoy the lazy clouds.
i listened to him glug that air, as if it were a tonic.
i am still reeling in my tongue from the surprise reception i received after Tim Miller published me on wordandsilence. i have never had that much focus before & it felt good.
i am following it up with a poem Tim helped me edit, an apt follow up then.
Cities terrify me & here is what seeps from me after a visit to one of them. (none of my own photography in this post.)
begin in Seoul
하나 : Seoul’s nervous system
the subway trains i think of as electrical impulses bolting
through tunnels fixed with myelin wires synchronous
with axon tracks that hurtle & swerve toward dendrite terminals
at which passengers, each an extension to a diallelus, get off
& knot each, in itself, coagulate system, a complex entirety;
all of which keeps the nucleus of the Seoul’s organism
palpitating & suspended like a heart on the cusp…
29 bridges leap back & forth, south to north over the wide hips of the Han
from Gangnam to Jongno-gu, linking fleets of metal phoenixes
which transport Seoul’s population to endless options of luxury.
Bukhan Mt leers down on all of us in impartial judgment
& filters lungfuls of our smog each minute- who has
known the inflexible torments of history’s pitfalls;
mislaid entire idioms in the sharp angles of her mind
& witnessed lost alphabets, philologists recovered for their king,
liberate the illiterate poor & stoke the pipe fume of the bitter aristocracy.
watched infectious paranoia consume monarchs with madness,
the last tigers that haunted her forests hunted down for sport,
& heroes rise out of the Imjin war & in ’68 erected in stone
at Gwanghwamun, as a reminder of the indomitable spirit of Korea.
seen calendars switched as the opulent stars seeped into traffic
& span with a celerity beyond the dawn’s circuitous grief.
it will protect her Seoul, even from the consumption of its self.
as the turbid river- where the constellations once knelt & drank
& the people flocked its banks, washed, communed, fished,
as it escorted Bukhan’s mineral volumes, rich oath of rock,
to the rapid verbosity of the undine’s alluvion
-is mopped up by the sea like gravy from a sailor’s dish.
everything seems caught in quotation marks here.
idling people dozing or waiting to receive updates,
to see if so & so got something better than they got;
prodding rapidly their screens to collect worthless points
in cartooinsh games so garish & quick they foment epileptic starts.
there could be drastic consequences if that young chap doesn’t
turn that tinny, synthetic K-pop, like nails rattled in a can, off, soon!
i hear old men fart on their seats to keep them warm & ward
off potential seat usurpers; 3 codgers stare, size me up,
regardless of my having no intention to take their designated seat.
children too, stare, ruffling their eye brows like muslin curtains
to say why does that face have a beard & why’s it here?
desperate sales men & women staccato quick step
along every carriage . stop . to spin their well-rehearsed spiel
to flog their picnic mats, gloves, pocket radios, rain macs
– practical items people don’t realise they need until they do.
it would be easier if i could envision Seoul as how things are;
but an errant synapse in me will not permit complicity.
between this many vapid, pale faces, there must be,
there has to be according to the law of averages, just one
capable of muddling the whole grimy lot of it together
into an adequate transliteration of the death trope, for us to quote.
둘 : subway soliloquy
i cotton on to the mannerisms of others, i know
them better than they know themselves & yet
i haven’t a clue as to who i am, what i am doing here;
am i on a tour of their sin, to share their gluttony for haste
& the morning after imprecations in favour of slothfulness?
in this place i have more opinions about than i ever
had regarding myself. i’ve always been deliberately evasive
with traffic lights. i’ll begin being all over again in a year or so;
i’ll take myself some place else i can never understand.
& still, though i have some vague hope, no one will
come to me with arms full of themselves revealed
& explain to me how best to mimic them without
missing a step or having to make a second attempt
: that would make all the difference to me- until then…
셋 : a short nocturne
no doubt it’s just the solemn collapse
of the nocturne over the slab of city
that swings a lonely girl
like the hidden stars into an object of pity
whilst ambulances stencil hazards out incomplete dark.
넷 : the one who sees gods
a young lad drank too much & made himself a shambles
: grass stains on his left shoulder & right knee,
he’d been hauling the world here & there methinks,
garbles the mouthwash of his woman troubles to me
in a language only the inebriate understand so well;
fails to stand still as the plinth i wish him to mount,
zig zags in an irregular helix shuffle narrowly missing curb-traffic.
every Seoul he meets he flatters with the title
god of my generation; he’s correct every time
: in this neon, the right application of moisturizer, toner, foundation,
oils, mascara, gloss, everyone glistens with alchemical scintillae,
the shadow cast from suspended footsteps follow under street lamps,
their unguents repel the sewage & cheap fried food
– these synthetic god types are the prototype of what
so many here pine for once their bank accounts flower.
all there is here is looking good, it is simple : keepmouthshut,
head in airplane mode, regulate breath & pray the surgeons
will look kindly on us all from their Gangnam offices
this summer & have a 50% sale on chin chiseling & eye widening
before the sea change of age decimates a chance of romance.
meanwhile, the fashion industry indiscreetly favours us,
the death of the old season takes care of our beatitude
& don’t forget booze, which is always a helping hand
: it, without altercation, fixes the ugly & shy into objects of adoration.
다섯 : bird in a bee hive
i feel at odds with this wide expanse
that claims so much of us, to be much of us,
its didactic, tarmacked arteries, telling us where to go,
promising us the will to choose rather than follow
the foul mouthed halitosis of its slogans pasted on billboards
telling us what to buy, suggesting insurance to coddle us
& loan interests’ %, to help give us more of…
taxi drivers’, gave me indigestion, more so even than
the piss-flat lager, the poxy ingredients for the pseudo curry
& greasy Chinese food ladies with fur clutch purses,
leopard print shirts, plastic stilettos & panda kohl ladle,
cloying to their trachea while they chat schools & cash.
the stench of faecal waste could ossify the clouds
& melt the glass façade of Yeouido, crisp its river park
: it’s no surprise i should feel claustrophobic then
: it is a tight space in me for it- we are not infinite
& neither is it infinite: it wouldn’t take much to level the Seoul.
a mosquito suffocating in urinals, squeezed
into dwarfish bathrooms in slim corridors of afterthought.
people narrowed into the Thermopylae of their screens
where they defend nothing but their single plate,
bowl or glass; occupation, job, routine, hobby, style, ideology.
i am grateful that birds with nooses round their throats
cannot from the avenues of birch & blossom nor
from gallows humour, be kicked to an untimely end.
what i have attempted to do in these photographs is embolden the aesthetic of the quotidian, to give it focus. those places, people & objects that are a portion of the environment that we inhabit every day without giving any mind to, that we take for granted. John Dewey said that The local is the only universal, upon that all art builds. it was perhaps with this in mind that William Carlos Williams wrote about Patterson so much; poets, writers & artists have found their environments to be a cornucopia of inspiration & quite rightly. as the self portrait is an ever present subject so too are our environments, wherever or whatever they may be.
the lens of the camera, the moment that the world comes into focus, that is the moment when the mundane is given value: by the eyes noticing of patterns & arrangements that pop out of the mundane, a scene becomes mundane no longer but an object which we can admire as any beautiful object that we might hold in our hand, a means of entering into another place, culture, routine or livelihood.