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The River in the Sky: A Poem: Clive James

“Few people read Poetry any more, but I still wish to write its seedlings down, if only for the lull of gathering: no less a harvest season for being the last time,” writes Clive James in his epic poem, The River in the Sky. What emerges from this lamentation is a soaring epic of exceptional depth and overwhelming feeling, all the more extraordinary given its appearance in an age when the heroic poem seems to have disappeared from contemporary literature.

Among James’s many talents is his uncanny ability to juxtapose references to early twentieth-century poets with “offbeat humor and flyaway cultural observations” (Dwight Garner, New York Times), or allusions to the adagio of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony contrasted with references to “YouTube’s vast cosmopolis.”

Whether recalling his Australian childhood or his father’s “clean white headstone” in a Hong Kong cemetery, James’s autobiographical epic ultimately helps us define the meaning of life.

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Clive James | The New Yorker | FROM “THE RIVER IN THE SKY”

FROM “THE RIVER IN THE SKY”
A new epic explores the reaches of a poet’s memory.
By Clive James   October 4, 2018

Editor’s Note: —Kevin Young

Egyptian gods and pharoahs, “YouTube’s vast cosmopolis,” Degas and Klimt, the War in which his father was captured, and freed, only to die on the way home, Australian sports, Monk (Thelonious, that is): these are among the many things of Clive James’s moving, magisterial “The River in the Sky,” whose excerpts form our second multimedia poetry feature. The selections found here chart a grand movement, leaping about as the larger book-length work does, but providing a sense of the flowing whole. James’s is a poem of memory, which is to say, of place and passion—one in which figures appear and reappear, ideas remain, and books form “walls of color / The sunlight will titrate from spring to autumn.”

The poem itself is autumnal, offered late in a life—James, who was born outside Sydney, in 1939, has for years been fighting, and outliving, a diagnosis of terminal cancer—and it is as colorful as that season, as vivid in its details. While at times elegiac, “stoked with countless deaths,” “The River in the Sky” also serves as a testimony to memory as a balm that “could fuel a nebula.” The “river” of the title is both the course of a life and what awaits; it is the noble Nile; the frozen lake in which his friend drowns while trying to save a daughter; and a larger ocean of thought that spans two millennia. The poem is also unafraid to admit the limitations of place and of human knowledge: “There was a lesson there / And I still don’t know what it is.” Ultimately, we are left with the lyric exploration suggested by Monk and his jazz, where lines are not blurred but played in recognition of everything that is “a blur already,” a song “carved out of fog.”

Kevin Young

Excerpts from Clive James’ reading of The River in the Sky”

In ancient days
Men in my job prepared for endless travel
Across the sea of stars, where Pharaoh sailed
To immortality, but now we know
This is no journey. A long, aching pause
Is all the voyage there will ever be.

                       …… Books are the anchors
Left by the ships that rot away. The mud
The anchors lie in is one’s recollection
Of what life was, and never, late or soon,
Will be again.

….
Plugged into YouTube’s vast cosmopolis,
We are in Sweden, and Bill Evans plays
“ ’Round Midnight,” Monk’s most elemental thing:
Most beautiful and most bewildering
Because it builds a framework out of freedom.
At the Cambridge Union once, I watched Monk play
That song in his sharp hat and limp goatee
As if the fact that he himself composed it
Back in the day
Merely insured he would forget it slowly,
Instead of straightaway, like where he was.
His eyeballs like hot coals, he jabbed and growled,
At one stage failing to locate the keyboard
Completely. But I walked to the Blue Boar
Beside Tom Weiskel to pay awestruck homage.
Monk thought we were the cops. He disappeared.
Only a few years later, Weiskel, too,
Went missing. Back in the States, majestic
In his tenure, he was skating with his daughter
On a frozen lake. She went through the thin ice
And he died diving for her. So now I
Am the only one of those three men alive.
….

My Americans in Cambridge
Had names from comic books—
Star Lawrence, Mike Smith, Pete Mazan,
Steve Greenblatt, and Tom Weiskel

The skis were long in those days
And Mike Smith’s, made of steel,
Would clatter on the moguls
Of Zurs am Alberg

As he straight-lined a whole hill.
None of them liked the war
But you couldn’t see them losing

Back teaching in the States,
Weiskel, to save his daughter,
Didn’t stop to take his skates off
Before he went in to find her
And they both died in the cold

He’d understand, if ever I should see him
In the halls of Dis,
I just about put up with the idea
Of his death, but not hers.
But he won’t need telling that,
Today, in this long winter

Read more of the poem »

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51qQSPjJ7FL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
“Few people read Poetry any more, but I still wish to write its seedlings down, if only for the lull of gathering: no less a harvest season for being the last time,” writes Clive James in his epic poem, The River in the Sky. What emerges from this lamentation is a soaring epic of exceptional depth and overwhelming feeling, all the more extraordinary given its appearance in an age when the heroic poem seems to have disappeared from contemporary literature.

Among James’s many talents is his uncanny ability to juxtapose references to early twentieth-century poets with “offbeat humor and flyaway cultural observations” (Dwight Garner, New York Times), or allusions to the adagio of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony contrasted with references to “YouTube’s vast cosmopolis.” Whether recalling his Australian childhood or his father’s “clean white headstone” in a Hong Kong cemetery, James’s autobiographical epic ultimately helps us define the meaning of life.

About the Author

Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food: Timothy A. Wise

A major new book that shows the world already has the tools to feed itself, without expanding industrial agriculture or adopting genetically modified seeds, from the Small Planet Institute expert

Few challenges are more daunting than feeding a global population projected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050—at a time when climate change is making it increasingly difficult to successfully grow crops. In response, corporate and philanthropic leaders have called for major investments in industrial agriculture, including genetically modified seed technologies. Reporting from Africa, Mexico, India, and the United States, Timothy A. Wise’s Eating Tomorrow discovers how in country after country agribusiness and its well-heeled philanthropic promoters have hijacked food policies to feed corporate interests.

Most of the world, Wise reveals, is fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, people with few resources and simple tools but a keen understanding of what and how to grow food. These same farmers—who already grow more than 70 percent of the food eaten in developing countries—can show the way forward as the world warms and population increases. Wise takes readers to remote villages to see how farmers are rebuilding soils with ecologically sound practices and nourishing a diversity of native crops without chemicals or imported seeds. They are growing more and healthier food; in the process, they are not just victims in the climate drama but protagonists who have much to teach us all.

Timothy A. Wise is a senior researcher at the Small Planet Institute, where he directs the Land and Food Rights Program. He is also a senior research fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute, where he founded and directed its Globalization and Sustainable Development Program. He previously served as executive director of the U.S.-based aid agency Grassroots International. He is the author of Confronting Globalization: Economic Integration and Popular Resistance in Mexico. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Food-matters

Native American Communities Bear Brunt of Shutdown with Medicine Shortages & Suspended Food Programs


Democracy Now!

Published on Jan 17, 2019

https://democracynow.org – We look at the widespread impact of the government shutdown on Native American communities, as the Indian Health Service goes understaffed and a federally funded food delivery program to Indian reservations has halted. Democratic members of Congress held a hearing Tuesday on the effects of the shutdown on health, education and employment in Native communities. We speak with Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today and member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Australia swelters through record-breaking heatwave – BBC News

Australia has just sweltered through at least five of its 10 warmest days on record, authorities estimate.

An extreme heatwave has afflicted the nation since Saturday, causing wildlife deaths, bushfires and an increase in hospital admissions.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said preliminary readings showed daily national temperature highs of 40C.

The town of Noona in New South Wales meanwhile recorded a night-time temperature of 35.9C.

….(Read more).

Climate Change & Our Health with DR KRISTIE EBI

The Fox in Charge of the Henhouse: Activists Decry Trump’s EPA Pick, Coal Lobbyist Andrew Wheeler


Democracy Now!
Published on Jan 17, 2019

https://democracynow.org – Senate confirmation hearings began Wednesday for former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, whom President Trump has nominated to become administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler has been the acting head of the EPA since Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid an onslaught of financial and ethics scandals. We speak with Heather McTeer Toney, national field director for Moms Clean Air Force and former Southeast regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration. We also speak with Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

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