Selected Artworks of Martin Cibik

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Atelier
(mixed media)

 

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Ganesh (painting)

 

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Koala (drawing)

 

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Square in the Field (photograph)

 

 

Martin Cibik was born on the 12th March 1980 in Slovakia. He writes; “I finished my secondary school where I studied Textile Design (Trencin, Slovakia) achieving a General Certificate of Education as Fashion Designer. After a short time I decided to change my career and pursue different kind of jobs. I have achieved success in a number of art competitions and won some prizes with my photography and drawings too. In 2006 I spent six months on the Greek islands, which was a great inspiration for me. In 2008 my steps were directed toward the UK. After studying two levels of English Language at City College I finished with a Certificate at Cambridge University. Since then I have settled down a little bit and have finally had some more time for my art. In 2013 I joined PAOS and held my first exhibition in the UK. My this year exhibition will be at the Art in the Heart gallery in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, UK. My life is connected with creating since I remember. My art is based on the experience, emotions, energies and whole range of consciousness-states such as waking, dreaming, transcendentalism and world of illusions. I am interested in Shamanism, Meditation, Lucid dreaming, OOBE and development of consciousness. I am trying to show with my art something which is paradoxically without a physical form. (Even though I am using some kinds of form such as animals etc.) You don’t need to understand it with your everyday mind, but when the piece is good it will fit into your subconscious part like a key. For example: if I can connect myself to the healing energy, I open up and let the energy flow to the paper or canvas. The energy, with my little help and guidance, will create some physical pattern of itself. So open your minds and let the experience begin.”

He has a website and can be contacted at: cibo@hotmail.co.uk

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from Body Electric – Robin McLachlen

a pdf excerpt from a section of McLachlen’s long poem; Body Electric, entitled Manipur, can be downloaded here:

Manipur – Robin McLachlen

Robin McLachlen is the author of Turn (lulu.com 2009). He rarely updates his blog.

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Poems and Drafts – W. B Yeats

Love and Death

Behold the flashing waters,
A cloven, dancing jet,
That from the milk-white marble
For ever foam and fret;
Far off in drowsy valleys
Where the meadow-saffrons blow,
The feet of summer dabble
In their coiling calm and slow.
The banks are worn for ever
By a people sadly gay:
A Titan, with loud laughter,
Made them of fire and clay.
Go ask the springing flowers,
And the flowing air above,
What are the twin-born waters,
And they’ll answer Death and Love.

With wreaths of withered flowers
Two lonely spirits wait,
With wreaths of withered flowers,
‘Fore paradise’s gate.
They may not pass the portal,
Poor earth-enkindled pair,
Though sad is many a spirit
To pass and leave them there
Still staring at their flowers,
That dull and faded are.
If one should rise beside thee,
The other is not far.
Go ask the youngest angel,
She will say with bated breath,
By the door of Mary’s garden
Are the spirits Love and Death.

 

Love Song
(From the Gaelic)

My love, we will go, we will go, I and you,
And away in the woods we will scatter the dew;
And the salmon behold, and the ousel too,
My love, we will hear, I and you, we will hear,
The calling afar of the doe and the deer.
And the bird in the branches will cry for us clear,
And the cuckoo unseen in his festival mood;
And death, oh my fair one, will never come near
In the bosom afar of the fragrant wood.

 

The Danaan Quicken Tree

It is said that an enchanted tree grew once on the little lake-island of Innisfree, and that its berries were, according to one legend, poisonous to mortals, and according to another, able to endow them with more than mortal powers. Both legends say that the berries were the food of the ‘Tuatha de Danaan’, or faeries. Quicken is the old Irish name for the mountain ash. The Dark Joan mentioned in the last verse is a famous faery who often goes about the roads disguised as a clutch of chickens. Niam is the famous and beautiful faery who carried Oisin into Faeryland. ‘Aslauga Shee’ means faery host.

Beloved, hear my bitter tale! —
Now making busy with the oar,
Now flinging loose the slanting sail,
I hurried from the woody shore,
And plucked small fruits on Innisfree.
(Ah, mournful Danaan quicken tree!)

A murmuring faery multitude,
When flying to the heart of light
From playing hurley in the wood
With creatures of our heavy night,
A berry threw for me—or thee.
(Ah, mournful Danaan quicken tree!)

And thereon grew a tender root,
And thereon grew a tender stem,
And thereon grew the ruddy fruit
That are a poison to all men
And meat to the Aslauga Shee.
(Ah, mournful Danaan quicken tree!)

If when the battle is half won,
I fling away my sword, blood dim,
Or leave some service all undone,
Beloved, blame the Danaan whim,
And blame the snare they set for me.
(Ah, mournful Danaan quicken tree!)

Cast out all hope, cast out all fear,
And taste with me the faeries’ meat,
For while I blamed them I could hear
Dark Joan call the berries sweet,
Where Niam heads the revelry.
(Ah, mournful Danaan quicken tree!)

 

Against Witchcraft

May this fire have driven out
The Shape-Changers that can put
Ruin on a great king’s house
Until all be ruinous.
Names whereby a man has known
The threshold and the hearthstone,
Gather on the wind and drive
The women none can kiss and thrive,
For they are but a whirling wind,
Out of a memory and mind.
They would make a prince decay
With light images of clay
Planted in the running wave;
Or, for many shapes they have,
They would change them into hounds
Until he had died of his wounds,
Though the change were but a whim;
Or they’d hurl a spell at him,
That he follow with desire
Bodies that can never tire
Or grow kind, for they anoint
All their bodies, joint by joint,
With a miracle-working juice
That is made of out of the grease
Of the ungoverned unicorn.
But the man is thrice forlorn,
Emptied, ruined, wracked, and lost,
That they follow, for at most
They will give him kiss for kiss
While they murmur, ‘After this
Hatred may be sweet to the taste.’
Those wild hands that have embraced
All his body can but shove
At the burning wheel of love
Till the side of hate comes up.
Therefore in this ancient cup
May the sword-blades drink their fill
Of the home-brew there, until
They will have for masters none
But the threshold and hearthstone.

 

Reprisals

Some nineteen German planes, they say,
You had brought down before you died.
We called it a good death. Today
Can ghost or man be satisfied?
Although your last exciting year
Outweighed all other years, you said,
Though battle joy may be so dear
A memory, even to the dead,
It chases other thought away,
Yet rise from your Italian tomb,
Flit to Kiltartan cross and stay
Till certain second thoughts have come
Upon the cause you served that we
Imagined such a fine affair:
Half-drunk or whole-mad soldiery
Are murdering your tenants there.
Men that revere your father yet
Are shot at on the open plain.
Where may new-married women sit
And suckle children now? Armed men
May murder them in passing by
Nor law nor parliament take heed.
Then close your ears with dust and lie
Among the other cheated dead.

 

 

Yeats Variorum EditionThis selection comes from ‘The Variorum of W.B Yeats’ (1940, the latest reprint in 1977) with all these versions being uncollected at Yeats’s death, and (to this editor’s knowledge) uncollected in all newer editions of his poems. ‘Love and Death’ was printed in ‘The Dublin University Review’, May 1885. ‘Love Song’ is one variant from ‘The Irish Fireside’, September 1887. ‘The Danaan Quicken Tree’ was printed in ‘The Bookman’, May 1893. The note, after the title, is Yeats’s own. Readers of Yeats’s plays may recognize the next piece; which was originally published under this title; ‘Against Witchcraft’, in ‘The Shanachie’ in Spring 1906, but is more well known as a slightly emended section from the play ‘On Baille’s Strand’ (text printed, London 1907). ‘Reprisals’ is perhaps the most obviously recognisable to modern readers, being a draft of the poem  ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’, and printed in ‘Rann / An Ulster Quarterly of Poetry’, in Autumn, 1948, and again in ‘Icarus’ (Trinity College Dublin), May 1956.

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Two More Prose Pieces – George Barker

Poem in an Orange Wig

Schoenberg-Arnold-10[1936]‘Personally I feel as though I was drowning in a sea of boiling water.’ This is the sentence uttered by Schoenberg when he was invited to describe his life as a composer. He went on: ‘One is swimming, one is struggling toward something, but one does not know what. One is tired, and wants to stop. But how can you stop in the middle of a sea?’ Schoenberg, now, has reached his destination: he is dead. But he was wrong. That superb rhetoric, ‘How can you stop in the middle of a sea?’ is a question that several contemporary poets could answer without hesitation. I know one who has stopped off at a charming Victorian residence in the north of England and another who dragged himself out onto the clashing rocks of the British Council.

My point is this: It is not such men who are to blame. They would indeed be deficient in the elementary impulse of self-preservation if they had not accepted the salvation offered to them by Providence. No, it is destiny who elects those she intends to favour with her sanctuaries or her boiling seas. I do not for one moment believe that if Schoenberg had come upon a straw in his boiling  sea he would have deliberately declined to grasp it. For, if he had been capable of refusing any such assistance or amelioration, then demonstrably his boiling sea was not very hot water. The truth is that destiny, and by that I mean the character of the man, comes up and presents to the individual the things he wants in the disguise of the things he deserves. It is the psychosomatics of biography. If Schoenberg had really wanted a luxury liner to appear on the horizon of his spiritual loneliness, it would have done so. It did, in fact, when he was invited to write the musical score for a film called The Good Earth. But, of course, he did not believe in the liner; he thought that it must be a mirage. He asked for an enormous sum of money, such as only a luxury liner could afford to pay. ‘If I’m going to commit suicide,’ he said, ‘I might as well live in luxury afterwards.’ The liner disappeared. For this particular man it was an hallucination.

The subject I essay to discuss is a matter of some importance to the poet in our present society. It is not a question of the honesty of the artist, or the integrity of the artist, or the dedication of the artist. All these follow upon the initiatory mystery. This is the character being made by the man into an instrument that attracts to itself only those things that, in spite of all the laws of self-destruction, ultimately must preserve it. I should not call this integrity, because it is in no sense moral. I would call it Providential, because it takes its origin outside the man himself. This is why we say that poets are born and not made.

poem in an orange wigThe reason the poet has become the enemy of society (seen in terms of the over-all scheme of things) is because only the enemy within the gates can report anything like the truth. It is to his advantage to do so, or he will very soon become converted to his own misrepresentations; and this is a definition of society. For the poet, society is an institution dedicated to the pursuit of its own lies. It is the moral duty of the poet to speak about these lies; it is what makes him a poet, and it is also what makes him an enemy of society. And by the lies of society I do not mean such expediential variations on the truth as the figures of casualties in the Battle of Britain or who first really discovered America. I mean the lies that society promulgates about its own motives and intentions, its real as distinct from its apparent purposes, its elevation of hypocrisy into a heretical religion of classical cynicism. In a society such as ours is now, only the police and the politician can find a congenial place—the police because they do not have to justify themselves at all, the politician because it is universally assumed that he lies. In this paradoxical sense only the policemen and the politician are honest. Everyone else subscribes to the preservation of an order in which he is desperately uncomfortable and necessarily dishonest. And I am not speaking ideologically or politically; I am speaking in terms of human dignity. Against the underground and concealed, as well as the open and demonstrable, dissimulations of such a society only the poet can really speak without reservations. Because he has at least become an almost total outcast from these institutions. The truth of this remark was not conclusively attested by an article I came across some time ago entitled ‘Are Poets Necessary?’ But this article was an indication. By a society in such a state of demoralized confusion the poet must be rendered unnecessary because he might otherwise prove to be fatal.

Atom Bomb ImageThe fact that all this might seem to be exaggerated poppycock could give us an idea of how our postulates may already have been undermined and vitiated. For all I seek to assert is the spiritual irresponsibility of a world that pays millions of dollars for a bomb and forty shillings for a poem. Nor is this assertion as fatuous or as naïve as it sounds, for we have become quite inured to the disparity between the price of bombs and the price of everything else. So inured, indeed, that it is salutary that we should remind ourselves, every now and then, that this is by no means a natural state of affairs, ordained by the heavenly engines. It is not. There is, in fact, only one thing in common between poems and atomic bombs: this is the law of unpredictability.

I feel, more and more, that I really know nothing about society except that I don’t like it, and nothing much about poetry except that I do like it. And the affection I have for the art of poetry seems to increase in proportion to my disaffection from society. This is, of course, a simple admission of escapism. But I suggest that it is human and natural and even sensible to try to escape from a condition one finds unpleasant and unprofitable. Only the British War Office would blame a man who wanted to escape from the presence of TNT. It is a perfectly natural impulse. And only those people who are thoroughly and painfully caught up in it really experience a desire to escape from the vicious treadmill of contemporary society. I do not believe that the highest function of the poet is to perform a sort of social service for the soul. The action and influence of poetry upon the spirit of a nation—if poetry has any influence upon this spirit at all—is infinitely less direct. The Muse, like all clever women, works her will upon things in a much more roundabout way.

This issue, the social responsibility of poetry, is one with which poets have always been very puzzled and concerned. And they have never been more concerned about it than during the last twenty years. It is less so at the immediate present. In the Thirties a handful of serious poets did their best to persuade society not to commit suicide. But now the poets have nothing much to do except to preside at the funeral ceremonies, to drink, to remember, to honour, to elegize. This is not an unprecedented state of affairs. Other poets in other places have been called upon by history to compose the obituaries of a civilization.

Ezra-Pound-006It is never very necessary to tell contemporary society what, if anything, is good and right about it, for the reason that its highest value for us is the simple fact that it is contemporary. As regards any other merits it might have, these things are subject to distortion in the eye of the observer. I believe that Ezra Pound is the best poet alive, but this is a conviction I could not really defend, in spite of the assistance offered by Mr. Peter Russell. I see Pound’s poetry through pink spectacles. But whether the spectacles are on my nose or the nose of the poems I do not know. What I know about his poems is that they are alive and kicking and compete with a cinema and psycho-analysis and love affairs and all the paraphernalia of twentieth century life. But this can be said about the poems of all serious modern poets.

To me the most remarkable thing about contemporary poetry is that it is not in fact very remarkable. I mean simply that in the colourful strutting of the various arts and sciences up and down the avenue, it is, nowadays, much easier to remark other arts, or any one of several sensationalistic sciences. The wallflower is the poetry. She, however, is really, all the better for looking less like a streetwalker than, say, contemporary painting. The reason is that poetry, when a trifle too much attention is paid to her, tends to exaggerate her inborn flirtatiousness. She becomes a bitch. Bitches are females who indulge in their femininity with a too melodramatic self-congratulation. They are women or poems who neither desire nor are desired as much as it seems. I think it fortunate that the art of poetry is not, at this particular time, particularly fashionable. It is in less danger now than it was ten years ago of walking around wearing a ridiculous hat just because it knows that people are looking at it. There was that time when the Muse found it expedient to disguise herself as a workman, a proletarian boy, a psychoanalyst, and a Hyde Park anarchist, all within the space of a year. This versatility—the poem as soap-box, the poem as axe-grinder, the poem as confessional, etc., —although all this is in the long run salutary for the constitution of the art because it makes for a toughening up of the thing, has, at the same time, one immensely dangerous consequence. It persuades the poet that his poems might reasonably do all sorts of things that poems constitutionally cannot do. I do not believe that poems can by a direct operation discourage the immoralist or improve the growth of barley or cure the stammer. At best they can speak the truth as they see it about men and events. But from this operation all kinds of mysterious consequences follow.

I have spent a lot of time looking for an image that might convey to others what I saw, rightly or wrongly, the poetry of things to be in its nature. I was very young when I saw the oyster  as the symbol of the poet, covering his personal and impersonal sensibilities and wounds with the nacreous excreta of the poems. This was a modest and—within limits—a fairly felicitous image. (I have since discovered that this symbol like so many of the most dramatic symbols in latter-day literary criticism, is the original property of Robert Graves). But it happened to leave out much more than it accounted for. We all know the consolations that the writer finds in his doodling and the drunk in being sick. Then, later, committed to the conviction that you cannot find an equation for poetry other than the various individual poems that go to make up all poetry, I saw the symbol of poetry as the recurrent seven of mathematics. It was a sort of formalized aperture in the human intellect through which reality entered or escaped. And through this aperture the vision of the poet gazed down from the altitude of the imagination. It gazed down and made comments. The comments are the poetry. I can illustrate, perhaps a little obscurely, what I mean if I put a line of Dante’s against a remark of Voltaire’s. Doctor Pangloss knew that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Dante said:

In his will is our Peace

The difference is simple. Voltaire is angry and resentful at the disgusting conditions of human existence. He has got some reality stuck in his gullet. Dante is contemplating human existence from a rarer atmosphere—he has digested reality and observed with an act of imaginative vision. When Blake wrote:

If the Sun and Moon should doubt
They’d immediately go out

it was an imaginative affirmation which Voltaire, that professional question mark, would, I suppose, have found mere gibberish.

I want to revert for a moment to a former subject of these remarks: the likelihood that poets are about to be starved out of existence. This eventuality may appear, to a nation in the throes of impending bankruptcy, as an inconvenience of very minor proportions. In a world where everything else is expendable, why on earth not poets? But this is not an exact statement of the facts. The truth is that a new conception of the expandable has arisen in our society. We know only too well that the  necessities of life are not what they once were; but certain things are still necessary, if only a dotted line and some characters to inscribe upon it. But the exact interpretation as to what the necessities of life in truth may be, this is the first social responsibility of the poet. Those ideals from which we draw our notion of what is and what is not necessary to our existence are ideals interpreted to us not by politicians or policemen but by poets. They are established by saints and interpreted by poets. These ideals can never be very clearly discerned by the world at large, because it is going about its more immediate business all the while. This is why the world at large finds it hard to believe either in the existence of such ideals in the first place, or that such ideals have anything to do with writing poems. That there is a relationship of blood between the death of Captain Scott and the heroic ideal of John Milton is not so far-fetched a speculation as all that. Our conceptions of moral grandeur are not derived from an accidental picking and choosing among precedents; they are put upon us by the electors of moral categories, and these are poets. The saint is inceptor.

The English heroic ideal got itself perfectly enunciated in Paradise Lost. It is an ideal of Justice. The hero is a man prepared to take the consequences. This ideal is no less perfectly dramatized in the death of Captain Scott. I am not saying that Scott died because Milton wrote an epic. I am saying that Scott died a death  for whose moral grandeur Milton could be held in part responsible. The spiritual indigence of the world as it is now cannot entirely be divorced from the frivolity of those poets of the First World War who gave us harrowing snapshots of trench warfare instead of a new conception of moral grandeur. We inherited from the Georgian poets a handful of dirt containing a single primrose and the badge of the Artists’ Rifles. Only one of them dared to speak about war without hysteria and with an impersonal pity, and his work alone survives. It is Wilfred Owen, and to him alone, that the young poet of our time can turn in the expectation of finding affinities. The only sentence that has come down to us from these remote and clay-footed oracles is the sentence: ‘The poetry is in the Pity,’ This pronouncement constitutes the sum total of their serious speculation on the nature of poetry. Apart from this statement of Owen’s we have nothing much except the haberdasher whimsy of Housman’s disclosure that poetry is what makes the beard bristle. From the death of Tennyson to the publication of ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’ is the era of the vegetable allotment; and in consequence we have inherited the ethical conceptions of under-gardeners and floriculturists.

SaturdayRev-1960oct22I conclude with a fable about a poem in an orange wig. This poem, with its wig slightly askew, was strolling up and  down Piccadilly, but obviously not for good. A gentleman with a notebook approached the poem and said in a cold voice: ‘It is time all good poems were home in bed.’ But the poem took no notice. It strolled on humming and winking and making a spectacle of itself. At this the gentleman with the notebook shouted out loudly after it: ‘You must be a very bad poem because you are not at all like my wife.’ Still the poem in the notebook, who was an American critic, called out, ‘All poems in orange wigs are immoral.’ At this the poem halted and turned around. ‘Dear Doctor,’ she said, ‘I must tell you one thing. You know I’m dumb. But, fortunately, I am also deaf.’ And went on down the street, but not for good.

1955

[Subsequently published in Saturday Review, October 1960]


Poet as Pariah

There is a perfectly serious prospect of a decline in the experimental writing of young poets for the simple reason that they can no longer write as they wish to write and eat at the same time. Nor is this because of any fault of manual dexterity on their part. It is already impossible for them to drink and write as they wish: the beer is no longer singing beer. Now this brings about a state of affairs in which the classical tenets of English poetry are threatened. The poet needs three things in order to go on being a poet: Milton described these as simplicity, sensuousness and passion. I put it as a dictionary, alcohol and love. It is still possible to buy a tolerable dictionary for a few shillings; and, once you have bought it, you are hardly tempted to pawn it. But the price of alcohol and love, in a world full of Americans and hate, has risen in precise proportion with the cost of living. And the cost of living is no longer reducible to a matter of what I will term, for the sake of the phrase, mere economics. The expense of spirit in a waste of shame has also to be calculated. Not all poets are Robert Graves, who can write a profitable novel with one hand and an exquisite lyric with the other.

I have heard that some poets now get jobs, on the British Council, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the British Railways. But I cannot forget the way in which Rainer Maria Rilke felt about this matter; he said that for him a job was like death without the dignity of death. Nor has enough been made of the simple argument that writing serious English poetry is a full-time occupation. A certain amount of reading has to be done, a certain amount of writing has to be done, a certain amount of living has to be done. Even a certain amount of loving has to be done, if you can come upon anything worth it. Being a poet is about as full time a job as being a Virgin with a Lamp. The poet will no more be forgiven if he is found, when the angel calls, collating material for $_35the British Council instead of cultivating his hysteria and his garden, than any other purveyor of an empty lamp. This is not to say, categorically, that a man cannot write poetry and hold a job at the same time: for this enviable ambidexterity has in fact been performed by one or two poets. I believe that Mr. T.S Eliot once worked in a bank, and Gerard Manley Hopkins for the Society of Jesus. But between these two men and their everyday work a curious affinity must have existed. The proprieties of Eliot’s critical writings: apparently well behaved and respectable, each conceals a ruthlessness and a hardheadedness that I cannot think the author of ‘After Strange Gods’ would have found uncongenial. I write as a Roman Catholic when I say that, for me, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry and ideology owe as much to the Church as they do to the Muse. So that I cannot believe he was much more miscast in the Society of Jesus than a man with toothache is in a dentist’s chair.

And so it is that some poets come to find a category in the system of society where they need feel little dissatisfaction. For, in spite of everything adduced to disprove it, poets are also human beings. I believe it would have been perfectly possible to take Baudelaire’s pulse; but it would be much more hazardous to think of a job in which he could have been moderately contented. I can see him as a spiritual spiv, a sort of Raffles of Heaven, but never as an executive of a French Council or a secretary to an institute for contemporary art. For the prototypical poet is probably a spy and his name Christopher Marlowe. But the difference between the poet as professional spy and anyone else as a professional spy is simply this: Marlowe, like a good poet, spied for  both sides. The life, ignominy, and death of Francis Thompson; the life, ignominy, and death of Christopher Smart; the life, ignominy and death of Edgar Allan Poe—and of so many others—come much nearer to the common destiny of the poet than the elevation of Tennyson to the peerage or the promotion of X, Y, or Z to the Poetry Panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain.

This is not a matter, though, for the law of averages of the arithmetic of the insurance broker: it is a question of the relationship between the poet and society. I believe this is a state of irreconcilable enmity. And in this irreconcilable enmity the poet has more often been worsted, to all appearances, than society has been. The poet is an enemy of society: I take this to be axiomatic. Why, therefore, should the poet expect anything from society but discouragement? It is the old Platonic chestnut, and the answer to it is infinitely simpler than the apparent paradox implies. Just as society encourages the scientist to set about the business of destroying everything, in the disguise of intellectual curiosity, so society should, properly speaking, be prepared to encourage the poet in his business of showing society why it is not fit to survive, or alternatively, why it is. But society does not really want to hear the truth about itself; and demonstrably prefers the flattery of the film director to the few home truths of the poet. It is absolutely hopeless to talk about whether poetry is wanted by society. Poetry is one of a number of things that happen to people whether they like it or not: it resembles boils in adolescence or flirtation between the sexes. It is here, like the far side of the moon, to stay, even though, in disappointment and indignation, it has turned its face away.

The enmity between the poet and society will never subside, in spite of some poets being conciliated or converted by gifts such as title, appointments, rich wives, popularity, or medals from the King. It will never subside, because the day that the poet capitulates to society he ceases to be a poet. This fact Plato knew perfectly well, and so did Arthur Rimbaud, and so did William Wordsworth. But no matter how desperate the effort made by any single poet to conform, he will remain, in so far as he remains a poet, remain a pariah, a scapegoat, an unacknowledged criminal at large. It is not an accident that so many poets have come to violent or horrifying ends: the reason is that, overcome, perhaps unconsciously, by their sense of guilt at being the opponents of the established order, such poets resort to all kinds of narcotics, whether liquor, sex, drugs, or anything else, eventually destroy the poet because he wants them to. I believe that Ezra Pound is the greatest poet alive now, and where is he? He is locked up in a lunatic asylum for having held much the same kind of political convictions as a thousand other Americans. And he was not locked up for being a great and famous poet who had gone wrong—he may be a great poet but I very much doubt if one American in a hundred has ever heard of him—he was locked up for being a poet who said what he thought. If the entire German nation can be subjected to a process called denazification, I can see no reason why Ezra Pound should not be given a warm bath, deprived of his green and black shirts, and liberated. He is not treated in this fashion, because he is a poet. America could do no more bring herself to release Pound from his asylum than a queen bee allows the drone that had fertilized her to survive.*

Ezra_Pound_1945_May_26_mug_shot-208x300Society ascribes heavy responsibilities to its poets—that is what Shelley was referring to in the bit about the ‘unacknowledged legislators of mankind’ —and for this reason fears them. They may, at any moment, spill the gaff. So society can deal with them in only two ways. They can be bribed, or they can be nobbled. Wordsworth was bribed, Pound has been nobbled. Yeats could no more have been either bribed or nobbled than the big stone of Blarney Castle. The only gift he had was the gift of the gab. No, someone should inform established society that it can impose no punishment upon its poets more thorough and more condign than to leave them to the anguish of being themselves. For where the human being stews in his own juice the poet boils in his own poison.

1948.

*Pound’s later release from St Elizabeth Hospital does not, I think, confute these speculations. I suggest that he was released in the end because he was believed to have been rendered harmless.

george barker essaysGeorge Barker (26 February 1913 – 27 October 1991) was an English poet and author, born in Loughton, near Epping Forest in Essex, England, and a contemporary of the poets Dylan Thomas, W.S Graham and David Gascoyne. Go to the full author bio at The Fiend’s ‘Two Prose Pieces’ for more information.

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These High Contingencies – Mark Wilson’s ‘Passio’ and ‘The Angel of History’

Mark Wilson has been very busy.

In the same number of years three collections of poetry have appeared (details of which can be found below this review) the most recent two; Passio and The Angel of History are the subject of the present essay. But, before looking at these two works individually, I want to offer some general questions and comments, as introduction.

First of all, the basic rub. What is it that Wilson is doing?? Where is his head at?? As with the work of Paul Stubbs (whose work is also reviewed at The Fiend) the poetry is so multi-registered that it is difficult to detach general from specific. What could be said is that this crop of poets have rejected much in order to uncover the instrument of their own materials… and Wilson is, without doubt, the most scriptural, the most liturgical of all the poets so far reviewed at The Fiend. It would also be worth saying that these are only entry points; what he does with notions of the sacred, and of liturgy, are very much his own. But this requires further interpretive meanderings.

Quartet for the End of  TimeBefore delving into what differs between these two books let’s assert, for good or ill, who Wilson’s literary companions might be… if only to amend our views regarding these writers works in relation to what will be quoted here, as we close in on particular poems (meaning; that when a poet is illuminated by a peer, OR a poet long gone, he is also illuminating that which he is illuminated by). It might also be worth mentioning, at this point, how Stubbs, reviewing Wilson’s first book; Quartet for the End of Time, attempts to place Wilson’s influences. Speaking of his relation to Pound he writes;

When the latter bemoaned the arrogant and self-serving obtuseness of English poetry he brought forth in spirit what the critic G.S Fraser depicted as the “British Poundians” — a somewhat ineffable group of poets who comprehended and felt most the great technical innovations Pound invented, his highly serious principles of the forms of the imagination, which has allowed a poet like Wilson to in-tear the membrane of his own poetics

…this seems well put, and workable. Indeed, it is what Wilson has done with Pound’s techniques, most particularly, that separates him from the pervading tenor of much contemporary British poetry (if they have responded to Pound at all). Wilson’s clarity retains grammar and syntax, while doing bold and interesting melopoeic things with the line, itself.

Also, the striking, and reforming? social voice of some of Pound’s earlier poetry has been given a gloss of the divine, shall we say. The background features are all Gospel of St. John and Book of Revelation, and seem to have been put to work on a kind of pre-fall (and, most importantly, pre-religion?) language ritual. This is also to say that Wilson’s work is far from simply a voice of ‘conscience’ in the conventional sense, or political protest (although it is highly moral in perhaps the non-dualist hue of that meaning). Yes, there is something deeper and more apocalyptic going on, and if there is rage here, it is an angelic rage, a rage of the spirit, and of spirits. And, as each book has been put out, it seems that other companions become clearer; more distinct, or rounded, in the passions of Wilson’s pen;

Geoffrey Hill’s work (the later the better? at least formally) would not be amiss in this personal canon, neither would certain poems by the later Yeats, along with older echoes of Alighieri, Milton, and St. John of the Cross (see the poem Vacillation, from Passio, which could also be read as a scriptural gloss on Keats’s negative capability?) and St. John’s prose, particularly… although here you feel that while St. John provides impetus and joy, in that he simplifies and extolls, Wilson is poet, and provides musical alternatives; he disturbs and ‘makes slant’, in a dance with that same aura of the divine.

hillIn fact, through the latter author there is a sense in which the reader might imagine that Wilson, in the most complementary manner, is without modernity, or at least without modernity, as with Hill… in that there is a feeling while reading the poems, that the essential impulse, or shallow crux, of the modern world has been caught out, and rejected, in loud-but-subtle effusions of poetic utterance; a renaissance-like shrug that emulates both joy, and a kind of singing archness. These are not avoidance tactics however, they are a systematic critique of a culture gone round the bend. In the same way, could the curious reader posit the question “Is it evil, then, that the language keens-to, inspects, reveals, re-reveals… in different degrees?” Yeats, celebrating Balzac, has this to say on such things.

When we compare any modern writer, except Balzac, with the writers of an older world, with, let us say, Dante, Villon, Shakespeare, Cervantes, we are in the presence of something slight and shadowy. It is natural for a man who believes that man finds happiness here on earth, or not at all, to make light of all obstacles to that happiness and to deny altogether the insuperable obstacles seen by religious philosophy. The strength and weight of Shakespeare, of Villon, of Dante, even of Cervantes, come from their preoccupation with evil. In Shelley, in Ruskin, in Wordsworth, who for all his formal belief was, as Blake saw, a descendant of Rousseau, there is a constant resolution to dwell upon good only; and from this comes their lack of the sense of character, which is defined always by its defects or its incapacity, and their lack of dramatic sense; for them human nature has lost its antagonist.

Thus, if this dwelling on evil, or misdeed, is modern in Wilson’s work… then it is not modern in the sense that Baudelaire is the so-called ‘first modern.’ (in only the sense of an archness, sarcasm, or blackness that allowed Breton, in the same vein, to compile a book of black humour the following century). Wilson presents us with an otherworldly evangelistic voice that harks further back; is it perhaps the voice of Baudelaire in communion with a Winstanley, or a Milton? What it reveals is the divine via the shock of the satanic which, as with Blake, can be understood as an energy within the divine tremendum of the cosmos, bound through its own pathological service-to-self to be crushed by the inevitable momentum of its own anti-logos; the eschaton… just as the mainstream narratives finally falter to a ludicrous standstill.

eric-gill-LC140411_0066_1Wilson’s work, then… his voice, is witness, but worked through biblical and eschatological concerns. As with Joyce, Barker, Thomas et al, the poetry is involved in a perpetual state of dissolution of its own a-historical structures. The thing constantly ‘caught out’ in the poems is linear time’s chronic sequestration and annihilation of the larger truth of the heart, as a mode of historical patterning. Like Pound, the poetics takes Blake’s statement; “eternity is  in love with the productions of time,” seriously (and, as with Blake, Crane, Thomas and others, its useful to be on the look-out for two forms of time; “time” the linear movement, and “Time,” the multiversal and galactic reality, the Time that one of Wilson’s great instigators; Tarkovsky, ‘sculpts’ with: mythic Time of the film, made manifest via confrontations with the soul).
All these matters are what make for The Contingencies I’ve intended for this review’s title. It is “war” in Robert Duncan’s sense then, not the war of tribal battles, or even of primeval gnosis, or of dissent before monarchy, government or oligarchy (although, rightly, it can involve these)… but these are simply the historical pets of the larger sequestrations of the fundamental permission mankind has fallen to, the soul’s refusal, via matter, to not recognize itself, to distort itself… so that Kaedmon is also a two-way mirror, the god-man and the first bearer of evil (study trans-literations of the Chinese character for evil if you distrust such statements).

adam kadmonThe cosmic sense, then, is how the problem of evil is contended with in both these books. Wilson refuses to defer to wholly metaphysical solutions, favouring language, logos and music as primary tools. And, although the martyr-feature of The Marvellous inherent in much surrealism doesn’t explicitly function in this poetics, the anger of that initial pre-fallen violation does live in the poems, to very specific, and differing, degrees. These factors, of course, are worth further thought, both in this context, and in the context of contemporary poetry more widely. I encourage the reader to look into the work here reviewed and see where these issues take them. (I’ll attempt to speak, now, of the books themselves).

The collection Passio finds Wilson very much launching the matter of poetic sequences on the subject of artists of particular fascination to him. These will re-occur in the following book, and, at least formally, are what make these two books distinct from his first. (A matter of ambition, methinks). But what immediately intrigues in Passio, on a first reading at least, are its manifesto-like short poems, of which Incubator Song is particularly striking;

Inhaling through a contraption
that resembles the Ark-of-the-
Covenant: your ecclesiastical

life-support-machine which
incubates your mewling-puking

                      faith

…a poem that pulls no punches. And it very much establishes the quality of consiousness at work in the first book. I like how it is almost an anti-form, the refusal of rhyme, the uber-clipped bluntness of it, the Old Testament harem scarem quality. A poem that Hugh Selwyn Mauberley definitely haunts, no doubt. And yet! Read it again, there is nothing of Greece in this… no Parthenon from which to fie upon the lunacy of Europe, or Britain. We’ll have to wait for this.

Still, an awareness of the calamity of the infantilized playground of modern western culture, of all the televisions being turned off in disgust… combined with an awareness of the spiritual (or galactic) spheres in which this inferno of dead-end narratives refuses to partake. As Sun Ra so succinctly writes:

…feel the thrill
Of the living image  of you…
The you, you never allowed to become a reality.
Behold! The living image of you.
The living self eternal…
The you, you seek to deny……

We see a kind of cataclysm of meaningless cultural faiths, refusing their cosmic aspect, suggested in Sun Ra, and wholly contingent in Wilson. But… what grabs me about these short poems in particular? Why do I imagine them as more than just cynical vignettes? Something that catches the reader as being the product  of hard study, of a certain stringency of linguistic reach, the striving for what is most essential about man at this juncture in his development; the kind of thing a less bold mind would eschew as being too much without-world (avoidance! avoidance! avoidance! sings the contemporary hymn sheet). These are questions of evil. Of conscience. They strike deep. And Wilson knows this. In fact, in my own poetics, I seem more and more convinced that, once the instrument of tekne is mastered (and this is really only a decade, or two?) and one’s materials are found and manoeuvred through the final, and toughest ingredient, at least the toughest in its naked contingency – the extending of the sayable – is this matter of guts and boldness; of self/soul revelation… and why I imagine the ghost of James Joyce still haunts Europe so as to see if Finnegan was really, in extremis, the right move to make at that specific moment in the world-soul’s spiritual furtherment?!

Again, matters of abject contingency!

A second short quatrain, Credo for the Millenium further drives this striving-for-urgent-boldness on; and is also… a kind of anti-music?

You’ve had your one-
minute Holocaust silence.
Now it’s time to eat,
drink and be merry.

There’s both sarcasm and irony here. As if another secret announcement washes over the barely gleaned cross-cultural tannoy…. menu? occult schedule? Perhaps this is also highly prescient, politically, for me… as someone coming of age in the mid-nineties (a vaguely islanded half-decade before the lunacies of fabian New Labour London-Brussels rule moved the whole circus backward a half-century or so).

This short piece reminds me of a similar tension in a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva; If the soul was born with pinions:

I have two enemies in all the world,
Two twins, inseparably fused:
The hunger of the hungry and the fullness of the full

I see Wilson erring toward a warning regarding the latter: the fullness of the full. And, after 9/11, after the state terrorism of London 2005, after the latest Blair/Cameron in this ragtag bunch of corporate thieves, who could blame him? (Print more currency, print less currency… it is still that currency, and can equal “democracy and the individual, socialism and the group, intensities thereof etc… and lo! yer 20th century).

But there’s perhaps also a more sustained reflective sincerity of resonant depth here, aged by the follies and affairs of history, particularly the post-”cold war” European problem of socialism dressed up as market capitalist ‘democracy’, which is what I’ve come to call ‘the mediac’… and we’ll need to look up the words “oklos” (όχλος) and “demos” (δμος) in their ancient Greek derivations to understand how our dreams have been compromised for at least the last seventy or eighty years. It starts with the notion of a vaguely satisfied ‘majority’ and ends with only the appearance of a vaguely satisfied ‘majority’. Oklos reconfigured, and peddled as demos. Mirror for the mental slave. The thing is; not to re-direct one controlling ideal… you can do the same with communism, socialism etc but to continually introduce new ones, as you would idiomatic verbs into a dying language (to re-interpret Pound via his own terminology; is ideology, in a brute quotidian political sense, and on the page at least, simply logopoeia for the masses?)… and,  if you can program a population into thinking anything other than Demos is fascism; well, then, you really have them! Destruction of language. Brute reductions of vocabulary. Or as Bob Dylan once said:  Democracy don’t rule the world. / You’d better get that in your head. / This world is ruled by violence. / But I guess that’s better left unsaid… no, Bob, it’s better said! And the same goes for communism (Tsvetaeva, again)…

Even if we concede that communism, as an attempt at the best organisation of earthly life, is a good – is it alone in being a good, is it alone all goods, does it include in itself, define through itself, all other goods and powers: of art, science, religion, thought? [...] the science of communal life is no more all-important than a feat of solitude – so even communism, organiser of earthly life, is no more all-important than all the movers of the spiritual life, which is neither a superstructure nor an annexe. The earth is not everything, and even if it were everything, this organising of communal living is not the whole earth. The earth is worth more and deserves more.

Ideology is language tamed to mind, rather than language attuned to consciousness; the omniversal generator. As far as politics goes, these short pieces exemplify the un-ravelling of psychic knots I’m getting at here. They are the curt explications of a problem, political or otherwise, that illuminate… within that; the spiritual task! of expanding consciousness so as to accede the boundaries of guilt and sin, to bring into consciousness undisturbed joy and acceptance; an unhindered-and-attendant awareness, without taking one’s eye off the ball (but how can you?… this is being alive, after all… karma takes care of the rest).

Wilson nails it via the political, but the same utterance could just as easily travel vertically into the spheres of the spirit. Meaning; the resonance of it creates the plane of political through the spirit’s eternality, and isn’t cornered or limited by those planes.

And there are altogether more differently-hued spiritual attitudes on show here… readers expecting only blunt politicizing as “Style”, or “Programme”, would be mistaken. For instance, Christmas Eve Antiphon, shifts moods dramatically:

You are an icon of
distilled light; your
refracted imagism
a parable of hope?

Eternal being of love,
transcendant mouthpiece;
diminuendo only inscribes
your divine absence?

For negative theology
presupposes a nimbus
always of “presence”, in
this oxymoronic season.

…these are chiselled, direct, resourceful, and forceful lines, and the poem, in its entirety, is worth the price of entrance on its own. Again, what impresses is how simply and clearly Wilson juggles social and divine contingencies, while having, musically, each line surprise the reader. The line is dizzying (or dizzies itself?) and tends to impose parabolic structures that cut across each other; a kind of inner argument that is felicitous in its exclamation but, simultaneously, linguistically reflective. He is also no stranger to setting in play a dance of oppositions and corollaries, here the demands of physiology and the demands of spirit are set in vital interplay. In a similar vein, we get these lines (from Life Plan for a Parnassian).

Live, O live for a truncated
season on the narrow edge of
        your poetic nerve.

A jokey but romantic ode to daring and splendour amongst the quotidian and the political, there is much fun and seriousness in this poem, and it advances a warmth that the poems more prone to judgement belie (and yet no poem lives alone…?)

Perhaps my mention of Tsvetaeva, earlier, is pertinent in the context of Passio, since Wilson’s brand of subverted religious orthodoxy is strongly reminiscent of the Russian poets. Perhaps the greatest of her poet-filmmakers; Andrei Tarkovsky, an artist who is an abiding obsession of Wilson’s, features in both Passio and his The Angel of History, where he devotes sequences related to, or titled with, Tarkovsky’s work. The first of these; The Andrei Passion, begins:

In Brueghel’s snow-deep
       kingdom the tableau
naturally presents itself -
               tempera on celluloid.

Gowned characters of
        this type-scene so
familiar we deduce the shock
        of the contemporary like
the Word that
                splits rocks.

coral castle 2The image is such a luscious and pristine update, or gloss, on the famous apocryphal snippet of Charles Olson To build out of sound the walls of the city / And display in one flower the wunderworld so that / By such means the unique stand forth… a very inviting movement from filmic ekphrase to linguistic revery. “Sound of words is resonance, and frequency begat physica,” etc.

The shock / of the contemporary… amongst the things of the past (the medieval Russia of Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev?) echoes Pound’s notion of simultaneity; all ages happening at the same time (is this why the narrative fragments from the longer Bob Dylan epics attract me so much? The magnetic pull of all-eras-occurring-right-now?) The whole sequence opens out, meanders… and will return, under a different guise, in the next book? (more on this later).

Note, also, that lovely hyphenated type-scene linking the “eye of the typewriter” with the eye of the painter or filmmaker, another marker of how Wilson takes the biblical logos seriously as something combining something both linguisto-aural and visually transcendent.

The Andrei Passion, however, is not the only piece prone to ekphrasis (is Wilson the most visual-leaning of the newer poets? It is possible… his treatment of the moving image is both modern and Renaissance at the same time… he makes you wonder what Michelangelo would’ve done with a Super 8 anyhow) since the same book also sports a piece on Paradjanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates.

Armenian lutes hang stark
       on a stone wall;
Oriental tapestries are richly
       carpeting the ground.

Ripe grain pours through
        cupped hands.

What the heraldic statement of Incubator Song does for exo-politics, so these images yield to pure atmosphere, conjuring Armenia through the visual image, into poetry. Fruit as living Mythos; anagogical force of plain human interaction? As in Mandelshtam’s Journey to Armenia, perhaps:

Three apples fell from heaven: the first for the one who told the tale, the second for the one who listened, and the third for the one who understood. That is the way most Armenian fairy tales end.

Or:

Finally, the Poet applies ink
        to parchment in alert,
conscious hieroglyphs.

He creates his masterpiece
         using the colouration

of pomegranates: the
        
          pigment of pain.

paradjanov? there is an argument between symbol and image here somewhere, with image descending from the Greco-Latin, and symbol being its father-process; an invention of early Egyptian civilization. My bets are on symbol (although do I have to decide??) which might be as old as Paradjanov’s Armenia? The oldest and deepest symbols reverberate out from those first shots of the film, and run through the lines of the poem.

What is established, as material, in Passio, is embedded with a different amped-up confidence in The Angel of History. If Passio has a sometimes unintentionally oblique poetics of reference (and does Wilson attempt to pre-empt this with extended notes in both books? It perhaps seems a little too much for this reader. If they have flogged Hill over these problems already methinks only the future, and future-time’s absolutions, will solve them)… then the following book legitimizes many of the experiments of the former. With the collagist techniques spiralling ever upward:

God’s fools
         the dogged gait of
bedraggled versifiers

         welcome to no inner
sanctum; and yet
        cosmic communicants
                            everywhere.

And that Paul’s epistles
        lacked a coherent
cosmology always a
                    juncture to
                                     differ

Instead, my soul
         too much kindled by

the logos of the
         Koine Johannine.

Dredged up throughout
         infanthood never to
                                     desert

like a purgatorial fire
         sent with an express
purpose and exemplifying
                            radiance.
My upper body is in
         paradise; my lower body

resides in the
                     scurrilous

                                       quotidian.

the angel of historyThis, from In Principio  (after Arvo Pärt)… much humour and felicity, here. I also choose this one, in particular, as a specimen of what the most recent book is doing formally… more variation of pressure on the line, more white space, less clustering, scattiness of indents etc. (Joyce has definitely entered the world of the book’s language, but modified, through hyphens and strange consonantal juxtapositions).

He tends to keep the line short and clipped in the first book but, formally, there’s more going on in the new one. The inclusion of Pärt as a kind of book-ending presence (literally and metaphorically) also allows us to make connections between the visual and the aural that we may have missed in the earlier book, where he had only a walk-on role.

Notice, also the chakric, or kabbalah-like, references to lower and upper body… is this also specific to Christian science? Renaissance occultism? Regardless, it is an important correction to Lawrence’s lower-self thesis, in Fantasia of the Unconscious (followed up by countless post-war writers. Necessary! yet overplayed. We can forgive Lawrence only in the sense of its being a particularly epochal attempt at adjustment in the terram corpus of that time).

On a different note, I’d also cite the beginning of the poem Cry Dada as signalling a new-found confidence:

Cry Dada. Burn on the acute
          cylinders of the vortex.

…infectiousness of proclamation! at least, in virtue of this mode, it seems like a kind of holy doubt… enveloping The Mythos of its form (and Dada’s power was its ‘great doubt’ surely? Its social constructivist-manifestoes were very dodgy, to say the least). But, the poem, half-didactically, leaps spritely forward…

You are not a cypher. Neither are
        you a primed pawn edging
out of this beleaguered kingdom.

Into the terrain of ‘l’aventurra’
         have you come
.

Cry Dada; the renewed glossolalia
         on your barbed tongue.

…or (from The Library Hovers Above Solaris) how about:

Let be          let be          let be
Levitate regardless
         with (or without)

                candelabra
                         and Tolstoy.

Did you expect ‘Tolstoy’ to enter here? I certainly didn’t! But it works… with all those t-sounds, and seems to rumour a movement that ebbs more upon “a sonic god” (?) rather than the analysands of more serious, earlier Wilson poems.

See, also, how he is treating Tarkovsky in the later book. Both in that last quoted poem, and in The Zone (the book’s other Tarkovsky piece, based on Stalker) the filmmaker has wings slightly more zany than in The Andrei Passion:

redemptrix regis
returns to the
Room la Zona
as if to her
private enceiled
        boudoir

a meteor?
a kingdom
coming?

slithers of
encrypted glass

in the dust…

As in painting, somehow, a catharsis is achieved; between stillness and movement (which, on a tangent, makes me think of Van Gogh’s The Sower for no particular reason). Here, Wilson has brought the, for-the-most-part, Quietude of Tarkovsky’s celluloid “Zone” into an unexpected brand of heraldic fugue.

And, speaking more generally; at this point in the book, you notice that the goalposts have shifted somewhat; regarding what Wilson is attempting… the poems are trying for animate forms of sustained pitch, of spiritual power, that were absent previously. Gone are the pithy short political satires of the first book. In a 97 page book we have six long poems, all exemplifying, or oscillating between, themes of sight and sound. Re-reading them it seems a little futile to quote extensively, as they very much ought to be judged as entire entities.

It is enough to mention, however, that there are poems after Picasso, Keith Jarrett, Arvo Pärt and Anish Kapoor. They represent, I think, a glut of unique pedestals that Wilson hasn’t topped, at least in his published output so far (and would a reading of Pound’s Antheil be of use in the context of Wilson’s musical devotions? Absolutely).

Only the final poem does not entirely catch fire with me (or at least hasn’t yet). The proposition of the poem; to conflate Arvo Pärt’s response to Kapoor’s Marsyas into poetry, via a meditation on the music itself? A total embuement of music into the poetic line, or a conflagration of the two? Or, better; as Wilson relates in his notes;

With its great size, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture shatters not only concepts of space, but also – in my view – concepts of time. The boundary between time and timelessness no longer seems so evident. This is the subject matter underlying my composition ‘Lamentate’. Accordingly I have written a lamento – not for the dead, but for the living, who have to deal with these issues for themselves.

Kapoor's MarsyasMy reading of Lamentate, despite incredibly intriguing metaphysical intrusions like: Through the twelve zones of / our distinct sensibility / have we come… (I feel something similar intuited by myself when reading something like H.D’s Notes on Vision) is slightly hindered by my profound indifference to the work of Anish Kapoor, and I can only politely add that the composer’s ecstatic response to the exhibit that Wilson relays in the notes (which I also saw close-up a few years later) in no way resembles my own!

Does this marr the poem? Yes and no. The reader can’t quite extricate themselves from the quality of a poet’s chosen guides… thus, the double pressure of the linguistic exactitude of le mot juste, as well as bringing to bear, upon the page, the correct influences, meaning; the poem = the poet = the poet’s usages, his most immediate navigation is to bring in the right people. This is not only an aesthetic but a spiritual problem that I’ve no doubt a poet of Wilson’s calibre is mightily aware of. How far can one be vigilant? I don’t profess to know… we might entertain the idea that “my hero’s heroes are not mine” but this is probably too quantitative to be of any use in making any regular observations on poetics (and is it even a question of a temporal choosing of Influence… well, there is an inevitability in this, to be sure). I simply leave it here as an open conundrum of aesthetic process, with the proviso that the whole problem feels religious; guilt or empowerment by association, rather than spiritual… which is ultimate empowerment, all creation, only impeded, pantheistically, by time?

It may be that there is more of the composer than the artist here, when all’s said and done. Or compare, for instance, my more theological meanderings here with what Wilson, liminally, qualitatively, does, or can do, with Pärt and Kapoor… from the final section of the poem; Fragile e concilante:

What is left to us?

Incandescent nymphs have
          retired to their
                     hermetic groves;

          are hushed for a while.

Whilst we are re-animated
                  with Contemplatio.

Exactly; this universe is
alive with an intelligence
          which is often
                            beyond us.

Our faculties’ indigence,
          the nous’ impassivity

pervades our radiant cosmos
          with its innately
                            divine fire.

Suffering is holiness.

That much is certain.

Laments are cast for our
          ultimate felicity;

          we who live, that is

Could these high reed-notes not be a Christopher Marlowe, or a George Herbert? They seem, at least as coda, to be the excitements and agitations of the book as a whole slowed down to a concrete and conversational solemnity.

So, in this, and in the other long poems mentioned, it still seems very obvious to me that The Angel of History reaches peaks of discursive and syntactical ambition that the casual reader of Wilson’s first book; Quartet for the End of Time, could probably not imagine easily.

I think, also, that these books mark a new kind of redemptive excitation not seen in British poetry for a long time, and can only wonder if the frenetic pace of the almost-two collections that led up to this liebestod-like crescendo can be sustained any longer, into another book? without a dramatic shift in tempo and/or seismic re-routing of thematic concerns? Time will prove the wiser. As of now, perhaps it’s simply enough to encourage any curious reader of this essay to “look into the work… per-use, and en-joy.”

Andrew O’Donnell, February ’14

Mark Wilson is based in Peterborough, England and is a regular contributor to ‘The Fiend’. ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ and ‘Passio’ are both currently available through lulu.com. ‘The Angel of History’ is published by Leaky Boot Press and can be ordered through online bookstores, or at http://leakyboot.com

For reference/bibliography:

Ezra Pound’s Three Kinds of Poetry and Ekphrasis (wikipedia)
Ezra Pound – Antheil
Geoffrey Hill – Broken Hierarchies
W.B Yeats – Collected Works Vol. 5, Later Essays
The Gospel of St. John
Sun Ra – The Immeasurable Equation: The Collected Poetry and Prose
Marina Tsvetaeva – Art in the Light of Conscience
Osip Mandelshtam – Journey to Armenia

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Two Poems – Arseniy Tarkovsky

Life, Life 

I don’t believe forebodings, nor do omens
Frighten me. I do not run from slander
Nor from poison. On earth there is no death.
All are immortal. All is immortal. No need
To be afraid of death at seventeen
Nor yet at seventy. Reality and light
Exist, but neither death nor darkness.
All of us are on the sea-shore now,
And I am one of those who haul the nets
When a shoal of immortality comes in.

Live in the house — and the house will stand.
I will call up any century,
Go into it and build myself a house.
That is why your children are beside me
And your wives, all seated at one table,
One table for great-grandfather and grandson.
The future is accomplished here and now,
And if I slightly raise my hand before you
You will be left with all five beams of light.
With shoulder blades like timber props
I held up every day that made the past,
With a surveyor’s chain I measured time
And travelled through as if across the Urals.
I picked an age whose stature measured mine.
We headed south, made dust swirl on the steppe.
Tall weeds were rank; a grasshopper was playing,
Brushed horseshoes with his whiskers, prophesied
And told me like a monk that I would perish.
I took my fate and strapped it to my saddle;
And now I’ve reached the future I still stand
Upright in my stirrups like a boy.
I only need my immortality
For my blood to go on flowing from age to age.
I would readily pay with my life
For a safe place with constant warmth
Were it not that life’s flying needle
Leads me on through the world like a thread.


Ignatievo Forest

Embers of last leaves, a dense self-immolation,
Ascend into the sky, and in your path
The entire forest lives in just such irritation
As you and I have lived for this year past.

The road is mirrored in your tearful eyes
Like bushes in a flooded field at dusk,
You mustn’t fuss and threaten, leave it be,
Don’t jar the stillness of the Volga woodland.

You can hear the sound of old life breathing:
Slime covered mushrooms grow in the wet grass,
Slugs have bored through into the very core,
And a gnawing dampness niggles at the skin.

All of our past is like a kind of threat:
‘Look out, I’m coming back, see if I don’t kill you!’
The sky huddles up, holds a maple, like a rose —
Let it glow still hotter! — raised almost to the eyes.

 

 

446px-Арсений_ТарковскийArseniy Alexandrovich Tarkovsky (Elizabetgrad 1909 – Moscow 1989) was a major Russian poet. He  was also a translator of many poets, such as  Abu’l-Ala-Ma’arri, Nizami, Magtymguly, Kemine, Savat-Nova, Vazha-Pshavela, Adam Mickiewicz, Mollanepes, Grigol Orbeliani. He was the father of the well-known Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and many of his poems were used in his son’s films. A new edition of a selection of translations of his poems by Virginia Rounding was released last year (Crescent Moon Publishing) but much of his work still remains unavailable in English.

The translations shown above were first done by Kitty Hunter-Blair in 1986, and are from the book ‘Sculpting in Time’ by Andrei Tarkovsky (Thirteenth University of Texas Press printing, 2012. This translation originally published in slightly different form in Great Britain by Bodley Head Ltd., London).

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Poems and Prose – Lenore Kandel

God/Love Poem

there are no ways of love but/beautiful/
       I love you all of them

I love you / your cock in my hand
       stirs like a bird
in my fingers
as you swell and grow hard in my hand
forcing my fingers open
with your rigid strength
you are beautiful / you are beautiful
you are a hundred times beautiful
I stroke you with my loving hands
        pink-nailed long fingers
I caress you
I adore you
my finger-tips… my palms…
your cock rises and throbs in my hands
a revelation / as Aphrodite knew it

       there was a time when gods were purer
       /I can recall nights among the honeysuckle
       our juices sweeter than honey
       / we were the temple and the god entire/

I am naked against you
and I put my mouth on you    slowly
I have longing to kiss you
and my tongue makes worship on you
you are beautiful

your body moves to me
flesh to flesh
skin sliding over golden skin
as mine to yours
     my mouth    my tongue    my hands
my belly and my legs
against your mouth    your love
sliding… sliding…
our bodies  move and join
unbearably

your face above me
     is the face of all the gods
         and beautiful demons
your eyes…

         love touches love
         the temple and the god
         are one

 

Age of Consent

I cannot be satisfied until I speak with angels
I require to behold the eye of god
to cast my own being into the cosmos as bait for miracles
to breath air and spew visions
to unlock that door which stands already open and enter into the presence
of that which I cannot imagine

I require answers for which I have not yet learned the questions

I demand the access of enlightenment, the permutation into the miraculous
the presence of the unendurable light

perhaps in the same way that caterpillars demand their lepidoptera wings
or tadpoles demand their froghood
or the child of man demands his exit
from the safe warm womb

 

First They Slaughtered the Angels

I

First they slaughtered the angels
tying their thin white legs with wire cords
and
opening their silk throats with icy knives
They died fluttering their wings like chickens
and their immortal blood wet the burning earth

we watched from underground
from the gravestones, the crypts
chewing our bony fingers
and
shivering in our piss-stained winding sheets
The seraphs and the cherubim are gone
they have eaten them and cracked their bones for marrow
they have wiped their asses on angel feathers
and now they walk the rubbled streets with
eyes like fire pits

 

II

who finked on the angels?
who stole the holy grail and hocked it for a jug of wine?
who fucked up Gabriel’s golden horn?
                was it an inside job?

who barbecued the lamb of god?
who flushed St. Peter’s keys down the mouth of a
North Beach toilet?

who raped St. Mary with a plastic dildo stamped with the
Good Housekeeping seal of approval?
                was it an outside job?

where are our weapons?
where are our bludgeons, our flame throwers, our poison
gas, our hand grenades?
we fumble for our guns and our knees sprout credit cards,
we vomit cancelled checks
standing spreadlegged with open sphincters weeping soap suds
from our radioactive eyes
and screaming
for the ultimate rifle
the messianic cannon
the paschal bomb

the bellies of women split open and children rip their
way out with bayonets
spitting blood in the eyes of blind midwives
before impaling themselves on their own swords

the penises of men are become blue steel machine guns,
they ejaculate bullets, they spread death as an orgasm

lovers roll in the bushes tearing at each other’s genitals
with iron fingernails

fresh blood is served at health food bars germ free
paper cups
gulped down by syphilitic club women
in papier-mâché masks
each one the same hand-painted face of Hamlet’s mother
at the age of ten

we watch from underground
our eyes like periscopes
flinging our fingers to the dogs for candy bars
in an effort to still their barking
in an effort to keep the peace
in an effort to make friends and influence people

 

III

we have collapsed our collapsible bomb shelters
we have folded our folding life rafts
and at the count of twelve
they have disintegrated into piles of rat shit
nourishing the growth of poison flowers
and venus pitcher plants

we huddle underground
hugging our porous chests with mildewed arms
listening to the slow blood drip from our severed veins
lifting the tops of our zippered skulls
to ventilate our brains
                  they have murdered our angels

we have sold our bodies and our hours to the curious
we have paid off our childhood in dishwashers and miltown
and rubbed salt upon our bleeding nerves
in the course of searching
                   and they have shit upon the open mouth of god
they have hung the saints in straightjackets and they have
tranquilized the prophets
they have denied both christ and cock
and diagnosed buddha as catatonic
they have emasculated the priests and the holy men and
censored even the words of love
         Lobotomy for every man!
and they have nominated a eunuch for a president
         Lobotomy for every housewife!
         Lobotomy for the business man!
         Lobotomy for the nursery schools!
and they have murdered the angels

 

IV

now in the alleyways the androgynes gather swinging their
lepers’ bells like censers as they prepare the ritual
rape of god
          the grease that shines their lips is the fat of angels
          the blood that cakes their claws is the blood of angels

they are gathering in the streets and playing dice with
angel eyes
they are casting the last lots of armageddon

 

V

now in the aftermath of morning
we are rolling away the stones from underground, from the caves
we have widened our peyote-visioned eyes
and rinsed our mouths with last night’s wine
we have caulked the holes in our arms with dust and flung
libations at each other’s feet

and we shall enter into the streets and walk among them and do battle
holding our lean and empty hands upraised
we shall pass among the strangers of the world like a
bitter wind

and our blood will melt iron
and our breath will melt steel
we shall stare face to face with naked eyes
and our tears will make earthquakes
and our wailing will cause mountains to rise and the sun to halt

THEY SHALL MURDER NO MORE ANGELS!
                not even us

 

Bio, and Sections from Kandel’s Introduction to Word Alchemy, 1967

Lenore-KandelLenore Kandel (1932 – 2009) was originally from New York, and moved to San Francisco in 1960. She printed many poetry pamphlets in her early years, one of which; The Love Book was confiscated from bookstores in San Francisco by police in 1966, on charges of obscenity. Kandel defended the poems as “holy erotica” and, for a short time, gained a certain amount of celebrity. Only one full book of her poetry was printed during her lifetime; Word Alchemy (1967). In 1970 Kandel was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, causing spinal injuries, and severe pain for the rest of her life. She died of complications from lung cancer in 2009.

2012 saw the release of Collected Poems of Lenore Kandel (North Atlantic Books) from which all the work at this page was taken. Below are some selected quotations from her Introduction to Word Alchemy, written in San Francisco 1967.

“Poetry is never compromise. It is the manifestation/translation of a vision, an illumination, an experience. If you compromise your vision you become a blind prophet.
           There is no point today in that poetry which exists mainly as an exercise in dexterity. Craft is valuable insofar as it serves as a brilliant midwife for clarity, beauty, vision; when it becomes enamored of itself it produces word masturbation.
           The poems I write are concerned with all aspects of the creature and of that total universe through which he moves. The aim is toward the increase of awareness. It may be awareness of the way a bird shatters the sky with his flight or awareness of the difficulty and necessity of trust or awareness of the desire for awareness and also the fear of awareness. This may work through beauty or shock or laughter but the direction is always toward clear sight, both interior and exterior.

[…]

Two poems of mine, published as a small book, deal with physical love and the invocation, recognition, and acceptance of the divinity in man through the medium of physical love. In other words, it feels good. It feels so good that you can step outside your private ego and share the grace of the universe. This simple and rather self-evident statement, enlarged and exampled poetically, raised a furor difficult to believe. A large part of the furor was caused by the poetic usage of certain four-letter words of Anglo-Saxon origin instead of the substitution of gentle euphemisms.
           This brings up the question of poetic language. Whatever is language is poetic language and if the word required by the poet does not exist in his known language then it is up to him to discover it. The only proviso can be that the word be the correct word as demanded by the poem and only the poet can be the ultimate judge of that.
           Euphemisms chosen by fear are a covenant with hypocrisy and will immediately destroy the poem and eventually destroy the poet. Any form of censorship, whether mental, moral, emotional, or physical, whether from the inside out or the outside in, is a barrier against self-awareness.

[…]

lenoreandbillysmallWhen a poet through fearful expediency uses language other than that which is perfect to the poem he becomes a person of fearful expediency.
           When an outside agency takes it upon itself to attempt the censorship of poetry it is censoring the acceptance of truth and the leap toward revelation.
           When a society becomes afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell. A poem that is written and published becomes available to those who choose to read it. This seems to me to imply one primary responsibility on the part of the poet—that he tell the truth as he sees it. That he tell it as beautifully, as amazingly, as he can; that he ignite his own sense of wonder; that he work alchemy within the language—these are the form and existence of poetry itself.”

From ‘Collected Poems of Lenore Kandel’, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2012 by the Estate of Lenore Kandel. Reprinted by permission of publisher. Further posting or reprinting forbidden except by express permission of publisher.

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Visionary Passion; Notes on Andrei Tarkovsky and Geoff Dyer — Mark Wilson

Zona — Geoff Dyer (2012)
Sculpting in Time — Andrei Tarkovsky (1986)

As we approach the middle of the second decade of this millenium(and the second century in the history of film) it is abundantly clear to this writer that cinema has not witnessed an artist of the equivalent calibre to the maker of Andrei Rublev and Stalker. Andrei Tarkovsky, who died of lung cancer in 1986, opened vast swathes of celluloid terrain, and inaugurated stupendous cinematic possibilities within his small corpus of seven films which, up to 2013, have still not been sufficiently built upon by the directors that have come in his wake. Sure; Tarkovsky has his imitators. One could proffer the names of auteurs such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Aleksandr Sokurov, Andrey Zvyagintsev and even Lars von Trier, who has Tarkovskyan visual motifs in his films Antichrist and Melancholia; but, to this viewer, these four directors are not really major players on an even playing-field with the master-creator of Mirror.

So what marks Tarkovsky out? Like the protagonist of his sixth film Nostalghia, this director was literally touched with a distinguishing seraphic-white mark which allowed him to achieve visionary feats of absolution unseen in the cinema, before or since. Two books; a recent one by Geoff Dyer, and the other written by Tarkovsky himself, may well prove useful in elucidating this mystery.

stalker_alone1Geoff Dyer’s latest book Zona is an attempt at a postmodernist tour-de-force analysing Tarkovsky’s fifth film Stalker. One has to admire the courage of this writer’s convictions. Tarkovsky’s masterpiece has clearly left an indelible mark on this man and his recent book approaches a spiritual autobiography or a life-impacted confessional (or both!) To meditate upon one of Tarkovsky’s films and to describe it frame-by-frame is a novelty in film criticism and Dyer displays here an almost monkish devotion as well as a novelist’s verve with language here. Yet, this is where admiration starts to overstay her welcome.

Zona has been reviewed a countless number of times in the past year and a half and, most of the time, hyperbolic superlatives have granted it a “masterpiece” status. For the first fifty pages the unassuming reader could be forgiven for heartily agreeing to all of these accolades. Nevertheless, Dyer’s self-referential digressions and egotistical footnotes border absurdly on the narcissistic and, increasingly, start to grate about a third of the way through. Is this a book about Tarkovsky’s Stalker or a book about the author and his obsessions? Is it really that important, in the grand scheme of things, that the Hari character  in the Soderbergh remake of Solaris reminds Dyer so much of his wife? Clearly he is never less than entertaining with his crackling wit and his acerbic turn-of-phrase, but should art be mere entertainment anyway?

In Tarkovsky’s definition (in Sculpting in Time) art is a spiritual “search for the ideal”. And this is what ultimately divides Dyer and Tarkovsky, both as men and artists. The former is clearly a superb semantic technician, with a penchant for subjective reveries; whereas the latter is an unparalleled artist and visionary who was able to sublimate his subjective visions into objective cinematic art. There is, of course, a huge gulf between the two. One could perhaps forgive Dyer his autobiographical indulgences as Tarkovsky himself, in Sculpting in Time, definitely permitted artists the liberty to make art out of their own histories. Tarkovsky’s Mirror, being the case in point here; but Dyer’s liberties swiftly become licenses which certainly undermine the original “spiritual” intent of his book. By the end, Zona descends into nothing more than a postmodernist game which is as vacuous and superficial as a structuralist decoding, or as self-defeating as a Paul Muldoon poem. For with Dyer we are left, at the climax of Zona (and at the very threshold of The Room), fantasizing only about three-way sex, rather than contemplating:

“…the meaning of all human activity (lying) in the artistic consciousness, in the pointless and selfless creative act? Perhaps our capacity to create is evidence that we ourselves were created in the image and likeness of God?” – Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time (p.241)

Ultimately, Dyer’s spiritual and artistic “journey” within Zona proves to be somewhat bogus and, surely, nothing more than a pataphysical cul de sac; whereas Tarkovsky’s visionary and aesthetic impulses are undoubtedly a genuine spiritual entity. Anyone reading Sculpting in Time, and comparing it to Zona, should be able to discern this.

For Tarkovsky’s book is a compendium of spiritual and artistic wisdom you rarely find in literary works written after Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky; or, at any rate, the great era of the literary Modernists, Yeats and Pound. One could quite contentedly create a collage of quotations from Sculpting in Time and dispense with argument. For instance, the astute insight displayed in:

“Modern mass culture, aimed at  the ‘consumer’, the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people’s souls, setting up barriers between man the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being.” (p. 42)

Or when Tarkovsky challenges Hollywood’s contriving and controlling delineation of genre as its means of manufacturing a celluloid commodity for “modern mass culture” to consume:

“What is Bresson’s genre? He doesn’t have one. Bresson is Bresson. He is a genre in himself. Antonioni, Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Dovzhenko, Vigo, Mizoguchi, Bunuel – each is identified with himself. The very concept of genre is as cold as the tomb. And is Chaplin – comedy? No: he is Chaplin, pure and simple; a unique phenomenon, never to be repeated.” (p.150)

Or later, Tarkovsky writing in lyrical vein, but still with profound insight and sensitivity:

“Above all, I feel that the sounds of this world are so beautiful in themselves that if only we could listen to them properly, cinema would have no need for music at all.” (p. 162)

Stalker EndingOr when Tarkovsky, alluding to Dostoyevsky, warns about the Grand Inquisitors that rule in, and over, the world today. Clearly, the Russian film-maker speaks a lot of pregnant sense and one starts to see how much nonsense is actually taught in secondary schools and various institutions of Higher Education after reading just a chapter or two of Sculpting in Time. Tarkovsky is a truly autochthonous artist who really knows what he is verbalising about in terms of aesthetics and auxiliary ethics. In comparison, one comes away from Dyer’s work unsatisfied in terms of artistic and spiritual sustenance. In fact, books like Zona seem rather to have a denigrating effect on the perception and reception of art per se. For Zona is a book which seems to have been contaminated by the “Creative Writing Workshop” mentality which, like a terminal tumour, is currently paralysing the British and North American literary milieus. Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time does not taste of such a disappointment. The answer to why his films continue to have such a visionary impact, even after many viewings, is possible because they have adhered to the “ideals” contained within his own apopthegm:

“…art must carry man’s craving for the ideal, must be an expression of his reaching out towards it; that art must give man hope and faith. And the more hopeless the world in the artist’s version, the more clearly perhaps must we see the ideal that stands in opposition  – otherwise life becomes impossible! Art symbolises the meaning of our existence.” (p. 192)

Tarkovsky truly saw, and created conditions for, the “poetic” possibilities of cinema because, essentially, he was able to recognise the very poetry of life itself. This speaks of ethics and  lifestyle as much as anything else; or, at the very least, the ability to be truly human accompanied with the artistic sensibility that goes with it. Not that Tarkovsky envisioned a “literature” of film, of course, as he clearly saw the vast differences between the two mediums. Cinema has an enviable immediacy and resistance to cerebral deconstruction that marks it out as an antithetical art to poetry, plays or fiction. What stands out though, page after page in Sculpting in Time, is a visionary impulse and Tarkovsky’s uncanny ability, as an artist, to agree with Paul Klee’s dictum: “Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible”.

No doubt, Tarkovsky’s idea of art as “sacrifice” and “artistic responsibility” will be harrowing to some aspiring to be artists in an indulgent era. Yet that will have to remain their problem, as they “fake it new” within a stagnant, postmodernist landscape. Ultimately, the wheat will be separated from the chaff and, undoubtedly, Tarkovsky’s films, and ideas on art, will continue to flourish, prophetically gathering more meaning and resonance with time because they have, indeed, redeemed time.

–Mark Wilson, November 2013.

Mark Wilson has previously published three poetry collections: ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ (Editions du Zaporogue, 2011), ‘Passio’ (Editions du Zaporogue, 2013) and ‘The Angel of History’ (Leaky Boot Press, 2013). His poems and articles have appeared in ‘The Black Herald’, ‘The Shop’, ’3:AM Magazine’, ‘The Fiend’ and Le Zaporogue.

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Two Prose Pieces – George Barker

[from a file named 'works deserving redistribution']

Letter to a Deaf Poet

No, it is not that I think you so unfortunate in that affliction. (There was once an old woman, who, when she found that she could hear, wished she was deaf again because people said such banal things to one another.) Nor of course do I think you fortunate. It must be bad enough to hear, as the veritable poet does, those hyenas of self-destruction, accusation and insanity howling on all sides and at too many times: but even from such unnatural molestations you are not protected. Far from it: in the silence of the ear, you (I have witnessed this in your face and read it in your verses) apprehend all the more clearly those extra-terrestrial diatonics that transcend the senses and shatter not only glasses but lives also. What are they? It is not the silence of those uninterrupted spaces that frightens me, it is the voices that, like fire-balls, sweep out of them into our perceptions. I am speaking, you will see, of the subject of poetic inspiration. What purpose can it serve us to deny or disavow the incomprehensibility of the machinery from which a god descends every time we do anything of which we are incapable? (Like loving one another.) Because you are a poet you will accord to all such Eleusinian Mysteries the honours that properly belong to them. You will not seek to discredit the sufferings of the unicorn simply by breaking off his horn, or of the angels by pointing out that anyhow they have no hearts: for you are continually surrounded by the mystery of all mysteries, the silence that is so much harder to understand than any of the utterances or communications that may momentarily illuminate it. For the poet is a man who performs upon silence—the silence that preceded and will succeed all existence—exactly the same operation as the painter performs upon darkness or the architect upon space. He colonizes it.

barker-by-geoff-stevensWhat more condign image is there than the shell in which we hear the ululations of the sea? When, in truth, what we are really hearing is the silence echoing in a stone. And why the sea? Is it because, when we hear the silence, we hear the silence of the Tuscaroran Deep from which, one disastrous morning, a protoplasm with intentions arose? Such speculations are not more ridiculous than, at this late hour, any and all speculations upon our own  nature can most properly be. For it is clear that somehow someone has gone very wrong. At a certain point, heaven knows when, a man somewhere acceded in the notion of probability. He saw that certain things happened more often than other things, that certain events occurred with greater regularity than other events; and therefore were more likely to go on occurring. But the point, my friend, is this: he merely envisaged the repetition of  these probabilities. I want to assert the rights and the responsibilities of all those events and occurrences he did not envisage at that baleful moment when human affairs surrendered to the law of averages. Outside the reasonable jurisdiction of the intelligence extends the vast territory of what we cannot know. For, if you start measuring the circumference of an optical illusion or a sin or a vision, with a footrule, you are not going to get the right answer. One is, after all, a conditioned observer.  The important thing is to find out exactly what conditions govern us when we try to ascertain the nature of our conditions. And the answer seems to be that we are governed by the condition of a reasonable creature. Therefore all those extraordinary transcendentalities that elude the mechanics of reason because they are, in themselves, absolutely not reasonable, these mysteries will always evade our analysis, but will always, nevertheless, exercise their operations of influence upon us, like the unborn. I give you a little fable. There was a man, a very reasonable man, who lived by a river. This river, one winter, rose and flooded his house. It did all sorts of things it should not have done. It was a criminal river, and, finally, when it drowned the man’s wife, a homicidal river. However, this man, who knew how to treat mad dogs, motor-cars, escaped murderers and all things that move suddenly and dangerously, very reasonably took up his gun and went out and shot the river.

My point is this: we think that the river is dead, because, of course, sooner or later, it subsides. And an elementary acquaintance with the laws of cause and effect shows us that it subsides because it was shot. I am saying, I hope simply, something like this: that when Robespierre formally executed God, so that even now we can look up, if we feel inclined, and see that idea lying dead across the human intellect, it is still possible that we are victims of a confusion of categories. (I do not introduce the unreasonable contingency of resurrections.) And, what is more, we can never know whether or not this is so: we can never know whether we are the victims of a confusion of categories because we are not permitted by our conditioned nature to enter and inhabit all those categories, but only some. The trouble, the real trouble, is that, from the altitude of all those categories of intellectual and spiritual interpretation which we in fact inhabit, we can perceive, even  though remotely and obscurely, the illusion and mirage of superior categories—illusion and mirage because we can never inhabit them. But from such uncolonizable regions as those visionary removes—and this is where I began—cloud of unknowingundecipherable communications and etymologies may sometimes reach us. The void gibbers. What ensues, for us, takes on the appearance of a revelation or an inspiration. The voice of the unknowable has spoken out of a cloud of unknowing. ‘This unknowing that knows nothing is so potent in its might that the prudent in their reasoning can never defeat it; for their wisdom never reaches to the understanding that understands nothing, all science transcending.’ That is St. John of the Cross. I believe, for instance, that the sculptor who cut the Cerne Giant in that Dorset Hill had himself heard the first words of God to humanity: ‘Go forth and multiply.’ And what had hitherto been an obscure, passionate and terrifying obligation of animal physiology became from that moment onward a ritual and liturgy of praising the human body. That huge figure with the gentle head and a torso transfixed with an iron erection, the enormous club also elevated, commemorates that moment before which sexual love had been a reflex action like sneezing and after which it became a responsible action like killing. ‘We become,’ said Matthew Arnold as he turned into salt, ‘what we sing.’ And we sing what the powers of the air dictate to us. But:

Did she put on his knowledge with his power?

We do not know—among so many other matters—what destiny these powers keep in reserve for us, what accumulations of apocalypse and revelation and innovation they will load upon our heads until we become, like the Atridae, walking examples of the horror and tragedy of the Elect. All that we know is that we must become this, or nothing. For it seems likely that the fate of the creature will be  to perish from knowing not too much, but too little. And the piece of information it will not accept—the knowledge that it will never acknowledge is this: that what cannot be known and arrogated to us may nevertheless exist and operate; may, even, determine what we are and what we will become.

And before this tremendous paradox the poet, only after the prophets and the saints, has from the beginning gone down on his knees and venerated. This is why, when Socrates asked the poets whence they got their marvellous affirmations, they replied that they did not know. The spirit has its reasons, of which the heart does not know. But there is no democracy within the individual, only a fiscal tyranny of the intellect, with irregular insurrections of the hand or the heart or the sympathetic nervous system. This is why so many great poems make so little sense.

If the Sun and Moon should doubt
They’d immediately go out

—this is an assertion the factual veracity of which we can never corroborate. It happens, whether we like it or not, to be out of the sphere of our pragmatism. It is a perceived axiom, not a proven axiom.

Thus I have always found the finest act of intellectual humility to be that dedication by the Greeks of an altar to the Unknown God. I think that few examples exist of a greater spiritual arrogance (this god cannot make himself known to us, but we can make ourselves known to him) and at the same time of so deliberate an  intellectual humility.

And this is the paradox of the poem. For the poem affirms spiritually what it cannot possibly declare intellectually. Every poem is thus a making known of ourselves to the Unknown God, and a dedication of its altar to him. If the poem could declare in so many words all those things that it affirms in between the words and the lines, then it would not be a poem, it would be theology. I remind you that the oldest of all poems, the great Rig-veda, signifies by its title Poem of Praise. For we praise before we theologize, just as we believe before (but not necessarily until) we know.

So that your silent existence seems to me really a kind of local unknowing, which operates, as I believe, in your spiritual favour. It surrounds you with a world of which part must always remain accepted without question by you. And to what creatures are the rest of us, the ‘hearing ones’, in the same position as you are to us? For this silence of yours is not silence: it is simply a degree of intimacy into which only those words of greater weight can enter. You hear love and pride and hate and pity in your silence: you do not hear the quarrel of the sparrows. We hear the quarrel of the sparrows, but do we hear the love and the pride and the hate?

Few things seem so clear to me, now, as the constant and imperative duty of the poet to disregard the frivolities and delights in which for so long the poem has hidden its head and its responsibilities. It is no longer good enough to provide cosmetics for all the daughters of music; this served well enough in those remote days when Housman would decorate a finicky nihilism with a verb at the beginning of almost every line. For if in truth a glass of beer is better than Paradise Lost at explaining God’s ways to us, why on earth didn’t Housman drink a lot more and write even less? Because, of course, the remark is a half-truth; a mild and bitter half-truth, a specious and melancholy variant upon in vino veritas—but not a serious assertion. He wrote poems in a world where half-truths could claim to possess at least a little dignity. In that era of red-eyed imperialism and decayed altars, of pseudo-emperors, crypto-gods and ludicrous dynasties, at such a time the half-truth carried half a cross. On a dying star the one-eyed maxim is king. But such excuses do not operate in the world we now so precariously inhabit. For we have been led by such half-truths into a wilderness full of hallucinations and seemingly squared circles: now only the figure with its eyes bound knows what to do. In this desert made up of grains of information the deaf can best hear the logomachy of the heart, the dumb utter the most lucid judgements, and the wild ass best find its way.

For, finally, it is not the pathos of our essential incommunicability, the silent loneliness of every individual, that seems so total; but our conviction that this isolation of every creature is really only relative. For, sometimes, we feel, if only briefly, that we can speak to each other: this is the pathos. And when George Berkeley proved the totality of this delusion, when he showed each of us that no one existed, he demonstrated at the same time the suicide of his own proposition. For, although he has persuaded us of the intellectual immaculacy of his own conception, he has not brought it home to the common heart. And why? Because the common heart of every single creature (a term I make deliberately paradoxical) is absolutely incommunicable in its loneliness. (I think that I speak, but whom do I speak to?) The heart of every man is in Coventry and can be reached by one operation and one only, and this is the working of love. I am so convinced of this truth that I would define love simply as the equation, the only equation, which proves that there are other people in the world besides oneself. It was a noble head that defined religion as ‘what we do with our solitariness.’

And in the universal incommunicability of kind, this state of Lucretian isolation in which all men freely exercise their ostracism, in this silence we all share, my friend, with you, what communications reach us? Not these we most want to hear, the ejaculations of personal love, the confidences that endow us with the illusion of momentary power, the assurance of mutual purposes—we do not hear these and suchlike things. We hear only the vast suspirations of a power continually dying and continually reborn in the interstellar spaces, the demiurge who, if not itself destroyed, will destroy us with a petulant snapping of galaxials. Against this monster of darkness who is the evil in our own nature, it is the destiny of the poem to contend. The darkness that prevailed before the annunciation of the Logos is again illuminated each time a poem is written:

I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to Men.

But it is not that the poem offers an improvement upon the ways of God in contending with this power of darkness; no such absurd and egregious notion moves the poet to speak. It is that the poem echoes and repeats in an infinitesimally smaller but still lucid voice, the Vox Creator, the original imperative: Let this be. Towards this imperative conception of the poem that generative word gives that body without which the conception itself is formless and not to be. Just as we do not know what succubi emerge from the deeper regions at those invocations so frivolously uttered in drawing rooms by theosophists.

I will call devils from the vasty deep
But will they come when I do call for them?

The privilege and price of your deafness is that you do not have to press your ear to the grave (as we do) in order to eavesdrop upon those demoniac personifications: this is so terrible a privilege and so onerous a price that no one would blame you for not listening anyhow. But the anguish of the poet and the deaf have this in common: they cannot help but hear the appalling uproar of the silence that surrounds all we do not know, the silence in which exist and evolve all those enigmas never to be elucidated, perhaps never to be perceived, and, but for such men as you, a deaf poet, never to be heard, and never, ever, to be placated.

1950


On the Death of Dylan Thomas

It was on the worst day of this or any other month of the year that he died, and no one knows why. I find it very hard to write about his death, perhaps because, for the time being, the language is at a loss, as well as we. In time to come, if there is any worthwhile time to come, much will be said about him that we do not know how to say now, not only because he was a very great poet , but because he was also a very great person. But, writing this as I do so soon after his death, I have to think about him in a way which those who will write of him later may not do: I mean as a living man whom one cannot believe to be dead, because he had no right to die at this time. Why has he died?

He has died not because there was no more life left in him, but because the world as it is has become an intolerable place for such a man, and insupportable to such a spirit. And yet I do not think that he would ever have acknowledged this intolerableness of the world in so many words, for, as I saw him, he loved everything as much as anybody ever could. But I think he did so in spite of what everything was, as well as because of what it was. And this antimony is a killer.

The pathologist’s opinion that he died ‘of a brain ailment of unknown origin’ simply illustrates the undisguised intervention of the powers of darkness in our affairs: for this is one of their greatest as it is their latest triumph. With this sleight-of-hand assassination such powers now openly operate among us.

Why should I try to disguise the pessimism with which his death affects me, personally? For many years, since we were both young, our names have, intermittently, been put together, his, as it should have been, foremost, for he goes before me in poems as he does in dying. We managed once to take each other’s overcoats as we left a drinking party—and I knew whose coat I had got from the dog-eared Penguin I found in the pocket with a line of unmistakable poetry written on the back:

The lovers scorched to ashes on the green park grass.

dylan-thomas-grave_01_446As I see his death it would be a dishonouring of him if I were to try and write this note about him as though it would be quickly disremembered. For, although I am at a loss what to say, the poets of this time will feel at a greater loss how to be. He showed how to walk along the street with a poem as though it were a wife and not a whore for the night or a kept-man’s angel. He had married the art of poetry not in a registry office or a library or a lecture room, but in church. Heaven only knows what in the end they will say he died of—but one of the causes may have been the knowledge that he had done some of the things he set out to do. The poems as they are make up a complete and working body, a natural organism, a shape and pattern fulfilled and functioning, like a fly’s eye or a stellar system, so that, retrospectively, one could believe that he had not died too soon. But we are not left with fragments of tremendous mementoes, like the poems of Keats—the truth is that, just as this fable evolved in front of our eyes the wings and fire that proved a whole new dragon of poetry had been born—just as soon as he had done this, he died.

But does one fly straight to the insurance office when one hears of such a death? I do  not know why this particular death is, for me, more than the eclipse of a single life—perhaps because every poet is more people than he seems to be—but I do not think that he himself would have claimed an over intelligible familiarity with it—but this principle has to do with the conservation of the spiritual privileges of all those things we do not know, and can never know.

He speaks of this most nearly in the little note prefixed to the Collected Poems. ‘Man was born to serve, reverence and praise God,’ —this is the first sentence of the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. ‘I write for the love of man and to praise God’ —this one of the last sentences of Dylan Thomas’s. And perhaps what I mean when I say that his death has darkened a great principle is that, from now on, the praise will be a lot thinner without that voice which has, at last, welshed on us.

[undated: presumably sometime soon after Thomas's death in 1953]

*

George BarkerGeorge Barker (26 February 1913 – 27 October 1991) was an English poet and author, born in Loughton, near Epping Forest in Essex. His poetry was published by Faber and Faber during the editorship of T.S Eliot through the 30s, whose assistance helped him secure a position as professor of English Literature at the Imperial Tohoku University, Japan, in 1939. (Eliot described Barker as a genius, and W. B Yeats also praised his early work, comparing it to Hopkins).

In 1940 he went to the United States, met the poet Elizabeth Smart (by whom he had four of his fifteen children), and subsequently returned to England in 1943. A fictionalized account of his time with Smart, ‘The Dead Seagull’ (corollary to her own well known book-length account; ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’) was published in 1950.

From the late 60s through to his death in 1991 he lived with his wife Elspeth Barker, the novelist, in Itteringham, Norfolk. His ‘Collected Poems’ were edited by Robert Fraser, and published by Faber in 1987, and a biography; ‘The Chameleon Poet; A Life  of George Barker’, by Fraser, was published in 2002.

These essays, in book form, were published in 1970, the jacket from which reads: “George Barker is a major writer whose reputation is greater in America. That he has never been fashionable is a tribute to his poetic integrity.”

[Author drawing by Geoff Stevens].

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before The Inside: Michael Lee Rattigan’s ‘Liminal’

Michael Lee Rattigan is a poet of a clarity spent in the relative formedness of the mind-body’s attentions. The intense world of feeling he evokes in the poems of ‘Liminal’ feels, to me, like something of a refreshing change in English language poetry. Is this because he is obviously schooled in work from other languages? Spanish and Portuguese particularly. Perhaps the question needs no answer. The word ‘Liminal’, in starting to read, throws off some interesting parallels where a critique of the book might be explicated. I re-read the poem ‘To Write’:

Life in words beyond
                      “…l’habitat de la solitude”,
desired            with fingertips
from nowhere, anywhere, everywhere:
“dragnet fishermen gone mad”
imagination, stalked and fled
an ever open valve
marginal things              wanting to live.

Emblematic, in some ways, of a number of probings contained in the book. Here, a kind of alchemic chemistry, the poetry as process-reflection. The theme of the motions of the mind also set up. And we see a kind of macrocosm folded back on itself in the ending. There’s a clearness here, both in expression and in the moment of being-expressed, a theme that’s also vital to this writer; motion, in relation to new conceptions of the temporal. Indeed, we see this in a poem of that name, ‘Temporal’:

Not divided
by static points
that never come
into being,

…an argument, or thesis, slowly unlodges itself from the book of the world through this book of poetry. Here, Rattigan concerned with notions of appearance and recognition, as in those thoughts on writing itself. A tension with the whole problem of dualistic modalities embedded precariously in the mind,

[...] a gulf
separating two worlds

An ambivalence of voice, between these two poems, that creates an interesting dissonance on re-reading. In both the abstract and the concrete he takes the overheard as well as the given (assumed?) voice of the poet as BOTH forming the voice of the poem, which, in turn, ushers in a great variety of narrative choices. Attitudes of dualisms played off against each other for creative purpose. Languages, too, are bound up in this unique freedom. And a music created there… a particular brand of complexity Rattigan seems expert at, words, in novelty, as toys, breaking over the reader in simplicity of statement (perhaps the word simplesse, from the French, is implicated here? The delicate balance between complexity and simplicity of utterance). The poems do not suffer meaning over music nor music over meaning, which is to say he worlds his objects as though they were phonemically and physiologically part of him (and they are part of him, if we wanted to stray into metaphysics).

There is a serenity, and a unity, in the way he moves from the general to the specific and back again… does this summon a project of disturbance underneath the lyric repose? A fabulous convergence of sight and sound provides pleasant dissonances. He is conducting away from Joyce’s drunkenness, the central concrete fact of imaginative leaps, in tune with the phonetic value of thoughts in motion, turning more toward the imagistic sobriety of an Octavio Paz or a George Oppen. In ‘Window Sketch’, where one expects to hear ‘Still motion / tanged with salt’ one actually gets the wonderful:

Still motion
tangled with salt

so that the movement of attention becomes a physical character in the fixed drama of adjectives.  And, amiably reduced to the vital disturbances of this lyrical mode, the didactic voice stands both before, and inside, things seen, as in ‘Incognito Fragments’

Annihilation’s limit

A match unstruck
in deep time
beyond heat and pulse
and all thought
benevolent or otherwise

…perhaps there is a debate of emphases here? Which reminds me of ‘The Good’ of Plotinus, or Eriugena’s ‘Nothingness’ (both notions perhaps unknowingly re-born, in different ways, into the 20th Century through the philosophies of Whitehead, Heidegger and Sartre). The great speech of ‘the match’ moving in reduction (and the attendant association, meaning-wise, of the word ‘match’; what Stevens called ‘the danger of metaphor’).

This magnetic rumour I find, more and more, in my reading of a great problem inherent in notions of measure, continued here:

Yet no “final result” either,
as terms belong to dark vocabulary
time’s inevitable arrow -
furious measurability…

The poem finds Rattigan at his most abstract-instructive-best. ‘Thanatos’ unfortunately, finds me moved, more negatively, away from the assertion: ‘One day earth won’t be. / Water will have its way / and air will breathe through bones.’ What travel appears here? An overdose of entropic prophecy, on first reading, at least for this reader. But this is perhaps missing the point… the final two lines seeking a performance of the poem’s title, suggesting the poem as dramatic character in the drama of book and world.  It also sends me to Valéry’s Eupalinos, which, in similarly dramatic mode, employs the voice of Socrates:

Here I am, says the Constructor, I am the act. You are the matter, you are the force, you are the desire, but you are separate. An unknown industry has isolated and prepared you according to its means. The Demiurge was pursuing his own designs, which do not concern his creatures. The converse of this must come to pass.

liminalI relate The Demiurge, in Valéry (and a key feature in certain gnostic writings) to the Entropy implied in Thanatos (it then morphs into Satan through Christian symbology and is left in its most modern formulation in Milton, with the most recent usages being simply intellectualized manipulates, broken up by cold corporations, as moral excuses for endless war in a kind of skewed post-modern Cabalese)… yet there is no total conclusion, in the poem (which, ironically, sets up part of its theme, the poem as endlessly re-defined character, or beginning) and I’m happy to defer to Valéry’s Socrates on the topic of the physics of entropic forces (which, in the ideal human realm, and in the absence of The Demiurge, seek balance over preference?)

One can always look upon a work that has failed as a step which brings us nearer to the most beautiful. Which, I’m sure Rattigan would approve of. Regardless, I often wonder if the most horrific thing, for men, is the notion that the world will not ever end, so desperate he sometimes seems to encircle character with absolutisms in an effort to afford despair’s surfeit of want. The notion of the ultimate, somehow, not where the field of focus should lie? Having said all this, these tensions are rewarded in the mirror of each poem’s constellations, the balance and poise of them… as we find, later, in Rattigan pre-empting these apocalyptic tensions through the precision of this line from ‘Autre’:

If only
you could pin it
down, as definite
as the face still there,
turned away

…the face still there, / turned away; re-painting the famous closing of Rilke’s eighth elegy from Duino?

Wie er auf dem letzten Hugel, der ihm ganz sein Tal
noch einmal zeigt, sich wendet, anhalt, weilt—,
so leben wir und nehmen immer Abschied.

(Just as upon / the farthest hill, which shows him his whole valley / one last time, he turns, stops, lingers—, / so we live here, forever taking leave —trans. Mitchell). A kind of pinion seems implied here, where even dualism and non-dualism co-exist; a co-terminal janus-face of both inertia and movement.

Still, before the energetic assertions of both ‘Thanatos’ and ‘Autre’ I discover the ancient totem of the pomegranate through these lithe lines:

seeping
from tart pith
that severs
in clotted fullness
to offer the blood’s
cascading
bread
.

Not often does a poet dare to celebrate the blood, so tainted by the associations of war and torture, as we have found via the word, re-convened and cornered by violence, in the 20th Century. The blood, for me, is not a bodily offering. It is the soul’s infused being manifest in the corporeal world so as to give symbolic and energetic weight to God, the object, and projection, of its passion… the blood echoed in the formation of matter, particularly fire and air, as any good student of Pythagoras and the pre-Socratics might imagine. The poem, while not lost to these auto-didacticks, seems simply to intend a re-introduction to the poetic discourse of this sacred image and, as ever, succeeds in finding it amongst the pleasing flux of these lines.

I also notice, too, the almost total absence of an ‘I’ in the book… another example of the ‘Liminal’, in different hues, throwing off the image of bridge… rather than societal station. In this, Rattigan is more photographer than narrator (a fore-knowledge of the reader as ultimate narrator in a larger sphere of textual spheres?) with the ‘Liminal’ also being the communality implied in the bridge… as in a beautiful poem, written for the poet Paul Stubbs, ‘Hubble,’

10,000 galaxies bloom
to our unseeing sight
and all our knowledge a step
further into wonder

The  poet’s strengths eminently made visible here.

One of the greatnesses of Rattigan’s poetry is the immense respect he engenders in setting himself before the objectia of the world and, again, what gives him, often, the soul of the photographer, particularly in accessing the neo-Platonic awareness of Being, as opposed to the measured (though necessary) successes and failures of knowledge, existing as process.

And perhaps this is where I discover my final ‘Liminal’… between those two fields, as exemplified in the Heraclitean poem ‘Flow’:

All colours
inundate
unparched day,
open windows and doors
on dappled spaces

maybe this is the most keenly explicated presentation of a working philosophy for this poet; the eminence of flux:

All vision
undeceives awareness
by what separates
‘it’                from the world
[…]

dispersed
“en formas, colores, vibraciones”,
as rhythm-loving
rhyming action

Is there a final triplicate there? Or perhaps the bird has flown into an entirely Other arena? An offering to the poetry-book god at the end of the rainbow, a more-than-full verbal explosion?! The poem feels like an ambassador for the book as a whole; a kind of treasury, or bestiary, animal-like, dressed in its own lingual clothing… moving toward the between of its title.

–Andrew O’Donnell, October 2012

Michael_Rattigan

Michael Lee Rattigan is a poet and translator, and regular contributor to The Fiend. His most recent work can be found in ‘The Black Herald 3′. ‘Liminal’ can be ordered here: http://www.rufusbookspublishing.ca/ http://www.rufusbookspublishing.ca/authors/rattigan_michael_lee/index.html

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