Posted by: John Looker | 24 July, 2017

The Makers of Language

The Wagon Magazine in India has published this poem of mine:

 

The Makers of Language

Under his hand the hieroglyphs emerge: 
     bird and serpent, eye. Into the stone 
         he chisels miniature pictures of his thoughts. 
     Another time, another place, and the pale scholar
         sits, in silks, his mind moving with the brush. 

Now today and here: Friday night in the city 
     and a crowded bar. In fact, it’s packed. 
         Open the door and push yourself into the crush. 
   From end to end they’re sitting, standing, squeezing. 
         Leaning closer. Lips working. 

Seeing your friends at the far side of the crowd 
     and seeing that they’ve seen you, it’s hi! how are you, it’s 
         I had trouble parking but now that I’m here what’s yours? 
     your hands and arms inscribing signs in the air, 
         pictograms, ideograms, flowing from mind to mind. 

 

© John Looker 2017

As you see, it’s a celebration of sign language. In November, Magma, the British poetry journal, will be publishing a related poem of mine.

For The Wagon Magazine see  http://thewagonmagazine.com

For Magma see  http://magmapoetry.com

 

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Responses

  1. This describes its subject brilliantly, John.
    Anytime anyone mentions a chisel in a poem, I think of Bunting and the first part of Briggflatts, but recently I’ve been reading one of his other poems, “Villon”, which compares the transience of human life with the relative permanence of the written word… not especially cheerful stuff.
    Perhaps poets think about transience and mortality too much. Your poem doesn’t seem to worry about all that, capturing instead the liveliness of “signs in the air.” And there’s an interesting link drawn between sign language and those more visually evocative scripts of Chinese and Egyptian…
    Anyway I enjoyed it. For a moment I didn’t understand “what’s yours?” Obviously it’s been too long since I’ve been in a pub!

    Like

    • Yes, clearly it’s time you had a pint in an English pub again, Andy. Next time you are back in England I’ll ‘get ’em in’ !
      I don’t know Bunting’s ‘Villon’ but I’m a great admirer of his Briggflatts. I go back to it every now and then.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That would be grand, John. I will look forward to it!
        Villon was rather obscure to me until recently when I bought the annotated Bunting, which only came out last year and illuminates some of Bunting’s more obscure phrases and references that would otherwise pass me by.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on having a poem included in “Magma’. I enjoyed this one -packed with imagery. The first stanza made me think of Kipling’s story ‘How the Alphabet Was Made”!

    Like

    • Many thanks Jane. I don’t remember that story – I must check it out!

      Like

  3. Excellent descriptions and imagery here, John. Up to your usual high standards.

    Like

    • Coming from you Tom, that compliment means a great deal to me. Thank you.

      Like

  4. You’ve captured the pub scene and friendships beautifully! Stanzas 2 and 3 are what were painted/chiselled/written in Stanza 1. Brilliant (I thought).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks Bruce. Looks like you’re up early – that’s makes me even more appreciative of your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ach John you love pushing the envelope of thought. The syntax of the bar scene involves us so we forget the difference between the ultimate subjects and the ethos of the two sign-makers. Beyond irony!

    Like

    • Hello Tom – and thank you. I’m always grateful to you for the way you read a poem, truly entering into the world that is offered and thinking about the form as much as the essence. As you do in your own writing of course.

      Like

  6. One of the many things that amaze me about your poetry, John, is how you can encompass the sweep of human history, from today into the ancient past, in just a few lines. The pub scene is certainly contemporary:

    Seeing your friends at the far side of the crowd
    and seeing that they’ve seen you, it’s hi! how are you, it’s
    I had trouble parking but now that I’m here what’s yours?

    But then again,

    Under his hand the hieroglyphs emerge:
    bird and serpent, eye. Into the stone
    he chisels miniature pictures of his thoughts.
    Another time, another place, and the pale scholar
    sits, in silks, his mind moving with the brush.

    we deal with cave art as communication and even the hint of the Confucian scholar recording thoughts.

    The idea that our gestures in a pub are of the same impulse as the hieroglyphs and the silk clad scholar illuminates the center pulse of language, the mundane desire to communicate across the distance of the pub room or across the ages with hieroglyphs painted/carved in stone.

    The entire poem reminds us why we write poetry and prose and talk and gesture. It is a sending of self and communication between selves, a mark, however long-lasting or brief, in the constant flash and grind of time.

    At the same time, of course, as the brilliant Tom D’Evelyn points out, there is an irony within this reminder. Our gestures appear and disappear, not marking the genius of who we are, but the hieroglyphs and even the brushed writing of the silk clad scholar have a greater permanence, a reminder of the human continuance even as that continuance flashes and disappears in its individuality over the sweep of time.

    This, as so much of your work, deserves publication.

    Like

    • Thank you Tom. As ever, you are a very thoughtful reader and a stimulating commentator. I should add: and generous too! It is interesting that you have picked up on the observations from Tom D’Evelyn and then, having thought about them, developed further observations of your own. Thank you for all this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom D’Evelyn is always, always worth listening to and then contemplating.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This brought a smile to my face… the parallel between ancient and modern, the enormous contrast between the solitary focus of the scholar and the crowded pub, yet they are all part of a continuum, the desire to communicate with others.

    Like

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed this one, Kalila – and thank you. Yes, so many contrasts, and yet something constant.

      Like

  8. I love this celebration of gesture and picture – and you’ve created such a vivid set of images with just words! It reminds me how important the gestures of writing are for creative and communicative expression – so much harder on a keyboard.

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  9. That’s an interesting observation – thank you. And thank you for your kind words too.

    Like

  10. Wonderful. Really enjoyed reading all these responses too. Shared on the BB FB page 🙂

    Like

    • Thank you so much Bennison Books. As always, you’re a very supportive publisher.

      Like

  11. Wonderful poetry!

    Liked by 1 person


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