“The poet is a monarch of the clouds…” (Robert Hass)
Clouds rule at high altitudes, seducing us with their dew points and their outpourings. (Like poets.) They glow, grow noses, morph into steeds, give good sky, move a mile or so to the East, give it again. They’ve been a major poetic accessory since way B.C.—if you consider Genesis and, certainly, Virgil. They’re omnipresent, enigmatic, drop-dead gorgeous, and they seem to charm the metaphors right out of us.
“A cloud made of dust and memos and skin muscled across Manhattan.” (Bob Hicok, “Full Flight”)
“Clouds file through the dark like prisoners through an endless yard.”(Susan Stewart, from “Four Questions Regarding the Dreams of Animals”)
Poets love clouds, yes they do. And readers love those cloud-loving poets. (See Wordsworth, who wandered lonely as one in 1804, with over 3,450,000 Google hits.) You might say clouds belong to poets. And vice versa. Orbed clouds, eddying clouds, dusky clouds, uptossed clouds, dark clouds, black clouds, white clouds, pink clouds, gray clouds, creeping clouds, rainless clouds, disagreeable clouds, mythological clouds, monumental clouds, anatomical clouds, creature–filled clouds, and that old puff-ball “puzzle of fish-rib clouds…” (Albert Goldbarth, from “Stonehenge”)
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper…
-Thich Nhat Hanh
That’s the famous epigraph from Sandra Cisneros’ famous poem, “Cloud,” and this is its first stanza:
Before you became a cloud, you were an ocean, roiled and
murmuring like a mouth. You were the shadows of a cloud cross-
ing over a field of tulips. You were the tears of a man who cried
into a plaid handkerchief. You were the sky without a hat. Your
heart puffed and flowered like sheets drying on a line.
(Sandra Cisneros, from Loose Woman, Vintage, 1995)
Thousands of poets over thousands of years have insistently inserted a cloud, nube, 云, nuage, nuvem, nuvola, into the titles of their collections and poems.
Others have chosen to sneak a lone cloud into a situation full of images.
sonnenizio on a line from Jean Cassou
If I drink at your sky it is because
I fold into a paper doll. Thirst is second
nature to me. Items, like xeroxed copies
of Apollinaire’s secret poems and an eyeliner
I’ve fished from the lake, replace
the ivory keys missing on the piano.
Grass in my hair identifies with the cat pawing
its face before the moon. I cut out
irises from your clouds and pin them
to sleep beside the ibis tablecloth.
A contrail’s itinerary lances my mouth like licorice.
I skin the elms, a drought of sorts, to read
the ice crystals on your stars. Wind, strumming
the clothesline, lifts the hem of my idle skirt.
Appeared originally in Juked #6 and Leafscape (http://www.leafscape.org/aang/). Used with permission of the author.
…Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. (from Peace Is Every Step, Bantam, 1991)
Thich Nhat Hanh made this lovely claim for interconnectedness in the early 1990s. I got my first computer around the same time. Now it’s 2012. Many poets are still peaceniks. And some of them have been using screens instead of trees since they were 4 years old. “Paper?” You can hear my computer laughing as it purrs in my lap. “What’s that, darling, what’s paper?”
Furthermore,” my computer may someday query, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not, “what’s cumulonimbus?”
I asked a bevy of poets recently how they make use of “cloud computing,” that brilliant store-your-big-data idea some of us have embraced and some are trying to ignore, along with polar ice, hormonal shifts, and December 21. “If you’ve ever used a cloud or if you’ve got an opinion on clouds,” I asked them, “would you mind passing it along to me?” Here’s what they said, which, as you can see, was swiftly turned into a cloud:
In reality, most of the poets I queried joyfully sidestepped or embraced the cloud issue, giving it their own poetic spin. Two told of losing entire pieces of their lives to the cursed cloud (funnel?). One already has a whopping case of “nephotechnophobia” (fear of cloud technology). And one adapted a chunk of information on privacy (piracy?) from Wikipedia.
companies hosting the cloud services control communication and data stored between the secret NSA with AT&T and Verizon 10 million phone calls between American citizens powers to telecommunication complicate privacy of data customer or tenant data may not remain on the same system legal concerns over jurisdiction provide such as Amazon deploying local infrastructure and allowing customers to select “availability zones” [the service provider at any point in time may access accidentally or deliberately alter or even delete some the service provider at any point in time may access accidentally or deliberately alter or even delete
Here’s my favorite scene with a cautionary line from “How It All Works,” which was the cutest and shortest instructive video I could find for poets and others who are not and never plan to be big businesses:
There are plenty of reasons to be scared of the cloud too, but for now you decide to trust the cloud as backup… (2009)
I can hear something laughing. My computer again? That cumulonimbus floating by my window in the shape of a clown nose and glasses?
“I would dive from it—a horse at the fair, the pool below looming larger with every passing second.” (Holly Iglesias)
“…a cloud, full of poems, that is mine all mine.” (cin salach)
“The poem I used to write, mean to write, simply have to back up, surely need to back off, the poem I woke up on the laptop but needs to get dressed on my desktop…the words like a kite, the string in my clattering keyboard hands.” (Alice George)
Poets are natural skeptics, it’s true, but also, often, so preternaturally absorbed in the elegances and peculiarities of life—the sundry and minutiae—we might miss the immense storage facilities popping up like the crops that used to grow around the globe. As our wise spokespoet, Mia Leonin, has stated: “I was introduced to the cloud as an expansive zone that can ‘hold all of my stuff.’ I was immediately enchanted and suspicious.”
I’d have to be really quick
to describe clouds—
a split second’s enough
for them to start being something else.
they don’t repeat a single
shape, shade, pose, arrangement.
Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.
What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.
Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.
Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.
Let people exist if they want,
and then die, one after another:
clouds simply don’t care
what they’re up to
And so their haughty fleet
cruises smoothly over your whole life
and mine, still incomplete.
They aren’t obliged to vanish when we’re gone.
They don’t have to be seen while sailing on.
WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA (1923-2012)
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.)
Thanks to my cloud associates in this Glit Lit piece: Samuel Ace, Neil de la Flor, Alice George, Holly Iglesias, Mia Leonin, cin salach, & Terese Svoboda. Thanks also to my original cloud collaborators, Suzanne Cohan-Lange and Niki Nolin, without whom I’d still have my head in one. (And bless the poets who had little or no idea what I was talking about.)
“Why I Don’t Trust the Cloud,” By Kenneth Goldsmith
“Weird Cloud Fell from the Sky:” 3:57 mins.
“OMG!” A face appears in the clouds (if you’re patient): 2:50 mins.
“Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell live, 1970: 3:38 mins.
–Maureen Seaton, May 29, 2012