Saturday, October 28, 2006


Image courtesy of Wikipedia article on Anna Akhmatova.

Last week I gave a poetry reading at The Highlander bar in Paris. I got there a bit early and spent half-an-hour chatting with a French lady who had also arrived early. She was a student of one of the other poets reading, Amy Hallowell, who teaches Zen meditation.

I asked the lady if she thought poetry was 'Zen' and she said: "yes, Zen meditation and poetry are both acts of intense concentration".

This made me think of a television program I had seen a day or two before about the Cresta Run in which tobogganists slide downhill, headfirst, at up to 140 km/hour with their noses only six inches above the ice. This is perhaps the ultimate concentration sport - a minute or so of pure concentration and exhilaration.

One of the tobogganists said that he was only capable of doing the run one or two times a day, the mental effort was so draining. Even going through the manouevres in your mind while standing up straight and moving your body from side to side in simulated negociation of the turns was exhausting.

This is indeed somewhat akin to the act of concentration in poetry. The act of creating a poem is one which slows down time. In concentrating, the poet becomes unaware of the passage of actual time, and focusses instead on the time-space of the poem. Some writers have discussed the poem in terms of a dance which implies a rhythmic entrancement with form.

These ideas of the stasis created by writing a poem collided with another experience that I had last week which was to give a lecture about working as a geologist, my 'metier' to use the French word, or 'profession' in English.

I took along some 'props' to help me explain. As I pulled them out of my bag at the start of the talk, I felt something like a magician, getting his tricks out. One of the objects was the ferrous concretion made of Goethite that I wrote about here.

I explained to my small audience how a concretion forms, growing slowly beneath the ground. Also, I explained, that because of their weight, hardness and strength, a bed of concretions could sometimes becomes concentrated at an unconformity surface, that is to say, a surface between two sequences of rock which reflect a phase of prolonged non-deposition or hiatus.

My goethite concretion was found on an unconformity surface, that between the Aptian and Albian age deposits of the Lower Greensand.

After the talk, the person who had organised the occasion (called Larysa - a Russian name) wrote to me to say that my goethite concretion (named after the poet Goethe) had made her think of another poet: Anna Akhmatova.

Anna, she said, wrote a mere 20 poems in the ten years between 1925 and 1935; for her, who could write a hundred poems in just one year, these ten years were an "unconformity" and the 20 poems she wrote were "concretions".