I meet Louise, and I’ve got the Platform Sutra
of the Sixth Patriarch in the bag the Taoist nun at Xining told me
would always feed me luck, the one with the yellow-green bird
streaming from mere being.
On the lefthand side of Hui Neng’s book, old characters like the lost forest
north of Chang’an, people moving in it, soft-mouthed older people,
catching birds with long poles and string.
We go to see The Apostle
, Robert Duvall.
In the film, Duvall has Motion balled in his hand: he looks at it then
us, quickly, back and forth through the film.
Duvall’s on a roll; what he’s doing is rhythmic and ugly; he’s
always musical, bucking, but you can’t be sure what you see
inside. Sometimes a room that someone’s just left,
sometimes a garden of machines.
I want to write about human brightness coming into the world, out of
the water in the ground and into the world.
Hiddenness appears in everything.
It lifts out of the chest of everything toward you, elm
shade, wheat, a river, late grass.
Come in, it says. Where have you been?
You could say that when Louise and I sit
there watching the film we are being
thought by the dark.
It says what it needs to say.
The tongue casts its shadow but the mouth is bright. A Word about the Poem by Tim Lilburn
In “Shouting,” I go to a film with the poet Louise Halfe. It’s The Apostle
, where Robert Duvall plays a fundamentalist preacher of uncontrolled conviction and barely controlled violence. Louise comes out of residential school; I am an ex-Jesuit; it seems to me that Duvall had some fierce religion in his past. None of this information appears in the poem, but it adds pressure. As we, two friends, watch the spectacle — Duvall shouting — the night moves around us: some large thinking is breaking up like ice sheets on the river.
How the Poem Works by A. J. Levin
Tim Lilburn is often compared to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Both were Jesuits, and both favour taut lines in which no word is extraneous. Less obviously, “Shouting” may be read as a Shakespearean sonnet. It may not have the traditional rhythms or rhyming patterns, but it contains strong similarities to Shakespeare’s idea of the role of a sonnet.
The first part of the poem sets up two apparently contrary groupings. Louise, antiquity, Taoism, grace, books, femininity, and the East are opposed to the poet, modernity, Southern Baptism, ugliness, film, masculinity, and the West. Yet this part of the poem, with its extraordinarily long lines, replicates the effect of a sacred text from either tradition, of Chinese monks meditating aloud or of Duvall’s preacher spinning his spiel. This anticipates the poem’s conclusion, which, like a Shakespearean sonnet, contains the reconciliation of opposites. This reconciliation, again, as in Shakespeare, comes about through the friendship of two dissimilar yet alike minds.
The poem’s crucial line, “Hiddenness appears in everything,” bridges the apposed groupings, and philosophy (even Nietzsche’s atheism) and faith. The line recalls Deuteronomy 29:29, reminding that God is unseen yet everywhere, an embodiment of the balancing concepts of yin and yang fundamental to Taoism. This idea is reinforced by the beautiful last line, in which the mouth and tongue — female and male analogues — adopt each other’s characteristics.
A. J. Levin’s book, Monks’ Fruit
, was nominated for the 2005 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.
Excerpted from Kill-site by Tim Lilburn. Copyright © 2003 by Tim Lilburn. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.