Thursday, 19 July 2012

B.T. Joy


we have believed too long 
creation is handed down 
from above 
something chipped away
and smoothed; or moulded, 
and then set by fire

creation is a dance 
the crystal sculpture of the river 
responding to the poetry of rain 

the copious monotone  
prose of winter, broken here and there 
by a blur of birds on the weather fronts  

the poplar reaches for the sky 
and the banyan tree 
spreads out for moisture 

the sky accepts the poplar 
and moisture gathers; shuddering 
like constellations on the banyan leaves  

shade exists while woodlands grow; 
the woodland hyacinth only 
because of shade

and you too have made this world 
the way it is, and the way it is not,
and that art goes on, cyclical as seasons,  

you, yourself, are an architect
tempering the fluid earth with every breath 
you take, or do not take   


This time, instead of the usual TSTmpj three question interview, I felt it may interest readers to read the exchange of e-mail correspondence between B.T. Joy and I about his poem.  I believe it gives an insight both into the deeply thoughtful nature of the poet, and the way I as the editor endeavour to run the journal.

Dear B.T.,

Thanks for submitting again, it's good to hear again from you.  I like this one a lot, but, I must be honest -- there is no point as I see it being anything other than that, even if I run the risk of offending you (and I know that what I'm about to say would offend some poets who have prickly natures) -- there is one image that troubles me.

That is, what is contained in the following two lines:

the crystal sculpture of the river 
responding to the poetry of rain

specifically the "crystal sculpture".  Crystal is a solid substance, it does not move, at least as it is perceived by the human eye.  While I accept that at the quantum physics, mystical level, reality always moves and dances, any image must work on all levels for me to be completely happy with it, and for me, this isn't working on the surface level.

Now, if you're not mortally offended that I've crassly missed the point of your lines, I invite you, if you wish, to respond to my concern.  I'm open -- I'd be happy -- to be persuaded of your intent.  If you are a poet who has the "my poem is what it is" approach, and doesn't wish to explicate further, then I must decline the poem.

Please do consider responding to my concern.  Thanks.




Dear Michael, 

Thank you very much for your thoughtful feedback on my poem "Creation" and, please, don't worry about offence. I am totally open to constructive feedback; especially in the measured way you have delivered it and I know from experience how helpful such input can be. For instance, I learned to write haiku by being told, by several dedicated editors, in no uncertain terms, that I could not yet write haiku. 

In response to your criticism what is interesting is that you happen to have pinpointed the exact image that acted as the genesis of the poem itself: the crystal sculpture of the river/ responding to the poetry of rain. Fundamentally I was considering the process of art as it corresponds to the concept of creation. My own view of both is that, as you can tell, of a collaborative process between all factors and not the bounded idea of something created by an individual and deliberate consciousness in isolation. The term which I was mulling over in my mind as I formulated the particular image you have taken issue with was the Greek term ekphrasis which, in art, is the response of written or oral art forms to tangible art forms such as sculpture; and in modern times the interdependent creation of say poetry and sculpture at the same time. This idea holds, for me, extraordinary beauty and I can't help but notice that a similar interdependent interplay exists between river and rain, woodland (as in the hyacinth) and shade, and so on. 

It was this similarity between ekphrasis in art and the natural interplay in creation that I wished to instil in the lines: the crystal sculpture of the river/ responding to the poetry of rain. Furthermore it is perhaps unfortunate, for this poem at least, that the word 'crystal' operates with a double meaning. You have, understandably, assumed (from context) that I intended to refer to the mineral 'crystal', whereas I, in fact, intended 'crystal' to mean 'in a state of transparency.' However, I assume that even with this definition taken on board you may still be uncomfortable with a river being referred to as sculpture. I tend to think that, despite its (apparently) more animate nature a river, with all its clear twists and turns, over-lappings and under-lappings, is the perfect natural example of sculptural excellence. 

I say apparent with regards to the river's animate nature for the same reasons you yourself outlined. That is to say even stone in animate and even flowing water is still to a certain physical perspective. I once expressed this in a short three line poem I wrote for the river Kelvin near my home in Glasgow: water racing passed/ the underside of the bridge/ relatively still. 

In all of this I suppose I could only ask that you consider the alternative meaning I have posed for 'crystal' and see if this changes your mind about the character of the image itself. 

I hope I didn't give you too much to read here, Michael, put if I write a post-it note it's invariably 500 words long. Please get back to me if you see fit. 

All my very best wishes, 

B.T. Joy


Hi B.T.,

First, a sincere apology for "dropping out of our correspondence in mid-air" so to speak.  I am not in the most robust of health -- I have a chronic health problem that hinders my capability to do what I'd like to, more often than I'd like.

That said, to pick up the threads of where we were up to, thanks very much for your good humoured and considered response to the concern I raised about your poem.

I have given the matter a deal of thought, and while I still have an oh, so slight reservation about one of the meanings of the word "crystal" being the mineral -- for me, this is the first meaning I think of, but it may not be for others, and in any case, I feel that other than this tiny point, your poem is such a fine one that I would be doing my readers a disservice if I didn't accept it, so I am.

Bio Note

B.T. Joy is a Scottish poet with a passion for Chinese Tang dynasty, Japanese Edo period and Sufi mystical poetry.

1 comment:

  1. I find this to be a terrific poem, the denotation and connotation of "crystal" notwithstanding. I am simply happy to hear the music in a world that has so little of it on this level.

    I hope you are feeling better, Michael.

    Take care.