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Thursday 7 June 2012

Above the Terraces

File:Terrace field yunnan china denoised.jpg

Terraced rice fields, Yunnan Province, China: photo by Jialiang Gao, 2003

From the flat overhead view the pieces
finally begin to fit together in a way
that makes sense, the way what you knew
and what you know, just before the end,
fold into one another, as it all falls apart, 
the compartments flooded, so that
the one terraced rice field may, in the flow
dynamic, counterbalance the course

of another. So geometrically
perfect yet so gentle the process really

and for that matter so old, the banked rows slanting
and tilting along the hillsides in lovely
sinuous patterns, with ponds between,
just as one imagines it was long ago.

File:Jokulsarlon lake, Iceland.jpg

Jökulsárlón, glacial lake in Iceland, situated at the south end of the glacier Vatnajökull between Skaftafell National Park and Höfn. Appearing first only in 1934-1935, the lake grew from 7.9 km² in 1975 to over 18 km² due to heavy melting of the Icelandic glaciers. Jökulsárlón is now the second deepest lake in Iceland with nearly 200 m in depth. To the right, the mouth of the glacier Vatnajökull can also be seen: photo by Kenny Muir, 2006


Chris said...

Stained glass!

Hazen said...

Might these beautiful images show two aspects of the same problem? One ancient and planned, ingenious, that uses logic to answer need (food); the other more recent, whose causes are multivalent and indirect but still part of the continuum, of the impulse to ‘civilize’ the living shit out of everything? Emerson put it more delicately: ‘We’re civilizing ourselves to death.’ The pieces do indeed finally fit together; make sense (for some), as it all falls apart. Cold comfort.

Nin Andrews said...

Yes, two beautiful images -- and if you didn't know better, you would think just that. I always have the feeling it was better back then, as the poem suggests so beautifully. Jim tells me we have always been ripping nature apart. Alas. Always going for a more energy dense product--from wood to coal to oil. Nuclear -- if there were nuclear fusion (not fission)--would be next. I find it slightly odd and humorous that we keep talking about carbon sequestration, first because we can't do it, and second, because any place you would sequester will be fracked soon . . .

TC said...

This poem has been drawn from the recent slim volume, Distance (BlazeVOX, 2012).

In reviewing the book on his blog Immanent Occasions, Donald Wellman writes:


The recognition of temporality as recursive form is mimed, like a ribbon turning on itself at the point where the lines wrap through enjambment. Ideas generated from a contemplation of “time” are central to the narrative of Distance and much of Clark’s work. His lines fall over landscapes with a mapmaker’s precision:

From the flat overhead view the pieces
finally begin to fit together in a way
that makes sense, the way what you knew
and what you know, just before the end,
fold into one another as it all falls apart,
the compartments flooded, so that
the one terraced rice field may, in the flow
dynamic, counterbalance the course
of another.

-- from “Above the Terraces” (Distance 68)

The folds that the mind must trace... are similar, present and past convoluted but separable vectors or segments of a curve. The resolution into terraced rice fields is spectacular, especially for one who has been to Vietnam or Bali. Distance presents a sustained and articulate discourse on the relation of the human individual to the construction of time.


"What you think a poem means is not necessarily what someone else, reading it, will think it means. It's open to as many interpretations as there are readers," says a kindly observer here.

That seems fair enough.

Those flooded compartments... I suppose I thought of them as being cerebral.

TC said...

As I've just said, the more readings and views the merrier, so it's a pleasure to discover Nin's comment just now over in the holding tank.

The somewhat emotional embrace of the terraced rice field flow dynamics of long ago is perhaps to be blamed on the poetry. Still it was always good to think that things (or one) might stay fluid. The reduction of the Icelandic glaciers into floating compartments, like bits of loose synapse, floating about in the wrong waters, the waters which were once so much colder -- another historical flow issue.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

The photos—especially the first—and the poem (albeit familiar from Distance threw me for a loop—might your cerebral flooded compartments be responsible?

Hazen said...

Tom, Your poem tucked in between photos offers exponentially more, at least for this reader, than words alone. I long ago ceased to view agriculture as benign. I hope this sheds light on what I saw, quite literally, in your fine post today.

This is from Richard Manning’s, The Oil We Eat: ‘Corn, rice, and wheat are especially adapted to catastrophe. It is their niche. In the natural scheme of things, a catastrophe would create a blank slate, bare soil that was good for them. Then, under normal circumstances, succession would quickly close that niche. The annuals would colonize. Their roots would stabilize the soil, accumulate organic matter, provide cover. Eventually the catastrophic niche would close. Farming is the process of ripping that niche open again and again. It is an annual artificial catastrophe, and it requires the equivalent of three or four tons of TNT per acre for a modern American farm. Iowa’s fields require the energy of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs every year.’

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Comfort, slow moving H2O, view the same but not the same but folding and the folding is familiar. Quenching.

ACravan said...

This is lovely as a poem (illustrated with appropriately "wow" images). It also pleases that it reminds me of one of my favorite chapters in Sri Owen's "The Rice Book," which is called, naturally enough, "The Flooded Field." If you're not familiar with Ms. Owen's work, she is an Indonesian cookery writer and teacher long resident in the UK. She's published a lot of terrific books. Curtis

TC said...

"...slow moving and folding..." ( -- Susan)

From here it has always seemed the first fact about poetry is the fact it is writ in lines. Thus, to think of lines as frames seems only normal and natural. One imagines a poem moving vertically down a page as an arrangement of stacked frames. But the lines, "slow moving and folding" as they are, have a way of wanting to flow over and into one another. And what does this do? That question could be the question one would wish to ask of many a poem. Over and over, from line to line. That sort of silent questioning makes for slow reading of course. But the slow part comes with the kit, one fears. Once it had been recognized and accepted that the average blogger pageview lasts 0-to-5 seconds, it became plain that the desultory, recursive, meandering course of attention wandering down a slope terraced with flow channels that tend to coagulate, flood over, and so on, and therefore must be restrained and controlled in some fashion, might not be exactly the suitable mode for the contemporary text-and-t(w)itter-trained reader. Still by then it was too late to learn the thing all over again. Moreover, the leaky cerebral plumbing, of which (as the penetrant eye of Vassilis has detected) the top image might be thought to be an oblique representation, is just the sort of problem which makes new tricks difficult for old dogs.

Mose23 said...

TC, do you think that making sense is always at the tipping point, "just before the end"?

This is a very beautiful thing; touched with that elegant frailty proper to any living work of understanding.

Thank you

ACravan said...

Regarding your response to Susan's comment, the slow part, of course, does come with the kit. There isn't any way I can think of to reconcile with the Twitter world or point of view. When friends of mine who make a marketing living explaining Twitter mechanics and encouraging its use speak to me about it, I try to remain polite and look interested, but my mind heads back to places on the map like BTP. It's good to try to imagine and possibly devise new tricks sometimes, but not always. When I see in my 14-year old evidence of short electronics-conditioned attention span, I worry, but then stop because I see her in rapt concentration on the things that really attract her. Curtis

TC said...


Many thanks!

Yes, absolutely there comes a point at which the department of hydraulic management throws up its hands and lets the gentle erosion give way to the complete collapse of the slope, and at this point, indeed the tipping point, whatever it was that the whole thing meant, and had been unsuccessfully concealing, leaks out, and there comes the necessary and inevitable concession to making sense.

Hopefully... To someone. Somewhere.


"...evidence of short electronics-conditioned attention span, I worry..."

Well, it is, or ought to be, a worry, especially for the future of the species.

You are fortunate that Jane is quick and sharp enough to be able to select from the plethora of micro-bits of imformato-phantasmagoria, as they flow past, the ones upon which she wishes to concentrate.

Would there were more Janes out there. Well, of course there probably are. And certainly once were. The hillside rice field arrangement was obviously not built in a day.

Possibly there are the rational faculties of the forebears to be considered, in Wuhan, or another province (of the past)?

TC said...

And for another form of agricultural/cultural arrangement...

ACravan said...

Possibly. Actually, adopted or not, I choose to think she gets it all from me. However, since it is her current desire to build from scratch a beautifully designed, exceptionally engineered, high-powered sports car of the future, perhaps not. My mechanical drawing skills are on a par with my non-mechanical drawing skills. Curtis

tpw said...

Dear T: Just got Distance the other day and loved it. So many wonderful poems---"Notes Played on a Grand Piano," "Visit at Dawn," "Junked," "Distance," etc. etc. Congratulations on it. Another great Tom Clark book.

TC said...


Many thanks. You have joined an elite handful. Emphasis on the elite. Greatly cheering as your judgment is highly respected. Also as it's otherwise been a less than easy day. (The two steps forward three steps back phase of the alleged recovery proving daunting...)

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Water is a solvent
sometimes too fast
especially now
even the bones
stacked up at Bodie
scratching my eyelid
flying away from Stevens' paragraphs
to rest on the rim, the edge
watching Tom Clark heal.