Being a Response to ‘The H.D Book’ of Robert Duncan, Amongst Other Things
“Matter?? Where’s it coming from?”
-Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson
“La science, la nouvelle noblesse! Le progrès. Le monde marche! Pourquoi tournerait-il pas?
C’est la vision des nombres. Nous allons à l’Esprit. C’est très certain, c’est oracle, ce que je dis. Je comprends, et ne sachant m’expliquer sans paroles païennes, je voudrais me taire”.
– Une Saison en Enfer, Arthur Rimbaud 1873
This variation on a dream-vision of 1999 I had in Kenchomae, Kobe, Japan replaces the toads hatching from some heavily viscous shells underground… with what, at first, strikes me as giant scissors and their steel-on-steel scything being ground out (squealing?) through the audio-fabric of the dream. These giant pairs of scissors are somewhere between two and three feet in length.But why begin an essay with a totem from personal mythology? Well, to emphasize simply the latent power of personal, and therefore communal mythology. This is essentially dream-like and illusory, in either manifestation. Which is exactly what reality is.
The form of the essay is always curiously dependant on some form of group consensus… language, in its past interpretations, depends on the place this build up of words is leading you. Language as sending the reader/hearer towards something. But, to continue with that totem…
As it develops, and the visual blurring irons itself out, the scissor-points become the giant beaks of oversized gulls writhing in white birth-sacs of some kind. Gulls clapping their beaks together. Heavy bodies in waggling fluid, wrestling with their stubborn and impertinent births.
These are simply a collection of images buzzing around a central language-less atmosphere. And yet all of human life emanates from it. The control and ‘psychic travel’ of memory informs everything that we naturally derive as ‘experience’.
These gulls represent, for me, something of a space… meaning; they bring with them a space in which ‘origin’ is born. In this case, Blackpool promenade… the death of my grandfather and our subsequent drive, almost immediately, it seems, to the coast from the hospice. Our conditioned aversion to the process of death, the finality of it… let loose once more into the solace of the images of the world. In this case; gulls. Gulls produced by the human mind. The need for the procession of life and our being in the midst of it despite the gnosis of death. And then the converse notion that death, and the person dying, is so insignificant in the face of endless process. Mandalas being slowly built… and then whisked away with one breath. Seconds. Cities. Universes. The strange attraction, in us, toward fire; its latent fragility and law.
In the film Nostalgia Tarkovsky has his actor walk three times across a long dried-out bathing area carrying a candle and sheltering its flame from the wind. Each time he must walk back to re-light the candle after its flame has been blown out by the wind, a wind that we believe to be Godless and variable… a secular wind, from our late 20th century perspective. Yet, when it is over, and the actor has finally lit his candle at the end of the long walk we feel that somehow this was inevitable, and that the camera has unlocked something innately sacred about all acts within human experience.
2. Numerology, Meaning and Seeing
In language we say that good or bad things happen in threes. The philosopher and cultural commentator Terence McKenna would weave the importance of mathematics throughout most of his enigmatic and highly adept mental meanderings; the speeches he gave to small numbers of students. To be clear; it is the trinity of ‘3’, here, that plagues me.
C’est la vision des nombres. In Spanish, though, nombres means names, and not numbers (although the first 3 letters of that word, in the French, indicate “name” in that language!) Which leads me to César Vallejo’s Trilce, a collection obsessed with number and numerology… and the last line of poem II; the chanting of “nombre nombre nombre nombrE”
…and the fact that his translator, Clayton Eshleman, has it that when Vallejo writes make way for the new odd number his made-up collection title Trilce is implied, its first three letters implying the trinity in Greek.
(It’s perhaps important to note that when I picked up the book to look for where this sentence occurs in this collection my eyes found the line: Mas sufro. Allende sufro. Aquende sufro… from poem XX, “But I suffer. Hither I suffer. Thither I suffer”… and I found myself focussing on the name of the Chilean president Salvador Allende, killed in a coup in 1973 (supposedly performed by Pinochet but, more probably with the planning and backing of the CIA) and the death of Pablo Neruda shortly afterwards… the word Allende, translated as ‘Hither’, this word itself; one letter away from ‘Hitler’. The bibliomantic cause celebre seemingly stays with me).
McKenna also emphasized, in his Time Wave Zero thesis, that civilization in general was about due for an modern update on “language” from the novel onward… he analyzes when he believes language to have occurred in human history, tracks civilization up to the recent past, and concludes that the new pictorial modes in which we have used to imply language; photography, the moving image, and now the internet… all these point us to a new language of symbols that he believes will make the statement ‘I see what you mean’ (hitherto a metaphorical assumption in our communications) a de facto literal reality. You could argue that social networking sites like facebook are actually the beginnings of this, as well as the abundance of sites whereby identity has been fragmented by the idea of a multitude of online identities.
Each time I begin to write this piece it is as if a digressionary instinct has taken over, and, again, the essay format frustrates me. All communication implies goals and not journey… a ‘point’ implies a build-up of sensory meaningful datum coalesced and collected in a psychological bucket marked meaning. If this is an essay I want it to be a geometrical digression on itself (perhaps the title should come at the end? Or at some in-betweened ‘centre’).
I think of Duncan’s continually returned-to expression ‘Back of…’ or ‘In back of…’ to mean beginning from, emphasizing a jumping off point rather than gathered-up goal-datum? When we say ‘behind’ we assert, in this, some concrete surface of appearance (let us be clear that this surface is not simply apprehended empirical world but is psychological and linguistic). In doing so we assert goal around which language dances. Duncan seems to shoot for something more integrated and original.
But to return to Blackpool…
In this case, however, the gulls of that particular visit do NOT bring much into focus… they seem to only be a playing field on which the destiny of number and association ferment.
I will not dig too hard here, except to say that the body means so very little that it is almost embarrassing to want to point out. It is imperative to understand that all life is manifestation of soul… the word ‘promenade’, here, seems, also, imperative. Play and shadow play. When we come to the subject of modern mind control we can see how imperative it is to get these images, and their associations, nailed down and sealed up from the off.
(There is a small outdoor theatre space in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano, Vancouver… last neighbourhood of poet Robin Blaser, where, with some friends a few years ago, I found myself. The stage was quiet and deserted and my friends encouraged me to ‘act’, as they performed ad-hoc routines to an imaginary audience… I had both something to say and nothing to say, there being only an imaginary audience in the mind, and no audience in the dark reality of those moments. I will return to this in a discussion of Duncan’s thesis of play/shadow-play).
The extreme lack of import of ‘a life’, combined with its totally serene substantiality, is inherant in the form and shape of the gulls on the promenade somewhere around the turn of the century in a northern coastal town. Which is not to be confused with the statement that this person, my grandfather, wasn’t ‘important’… his death immediately juxtaposed with the idea of the procession of life in continuum gives one a sense of release from these lives lived in a bodily, ‘formal’, fashion, just as the conversation turned to the subject of children immediately after his passing.
The toads of Kenchomae, dreamed perhaps a year or more before… begin to expand an imaginal narrative, becoming gulls… and then becoming something else? In the ayahuasca visions of the Amazonion shamans fluidity is a main operating modus. One image becomes another image. Duncan’s alternate and illuminating thesis on the central motivating and unconscious factors in imagism, as a movement, was this apprehension of a language formed in its absence: pictorial symbolism.
In life change manifests itself much more slowly, in our conception of time, and with a sharpness (I refute the word ‘clear’, for some reason) of delinearity. In life there is a sharpness, a ‘corner-liness’… edges manifest themselves… clarity is simply what we have agreed upon via language. As Nietzsche said: language hides as much as it reveals.
And, so far, language inherits the three dimensional and vaguely (or consensually?) convenient semblance of Locke’s forging of empiricism, Newton and Descarte’s weaving into that three dimensionality the tenets of modern rationalism, modern science.
In our modern mindset we find it almost impossible to understand that rationalism, and it’s naive opposite: madness (whatever this might mean?) are simply ideas cleaved into the historical narrative rather than the prisonous horizons of all that we deem this socially constructed world consists of. Every thought represents a degree by which the furtherance of our imprisonment completes itself, or a step on the road to further imaginings… the difference between two prepositional emphases: “from” or “to”, with the mechanism of thought implying too much “to” (or “toward”) and not enough “from” (or “back of”)…
Let us simply begin with the form then, the gulls…
They are Beings.
Beings… busy being born. Births? Deaths? Convergences. The Female Oracle of a Rimbaud, or of Eleusinian ceremony (for many, the temporal crux for the birth of all our human secret societies) brought together with The Beast of a terminally pathological western civilization. The Goddess and Big Brother. Nous allons à l’Esprit. C’est très certain. Rimbaud at his most prophetic. A convergence of forces implied over a century before the most obvious forms if their happening in our manifestly dreamed, but real, world; the world we dream into being, at every turn.
137 years after Rimbaud’s ecstatic pronouncements against the modern God of science, and the appraisal of the living traditions of paganism (a hangover from Romanticism?) we look back on the fantasy of poetic innovation in the twentieth century… fantasy; not because of the lack of human endeavour of some sort and/or achievement in poetry… but the almost outright success modern behavioural conditioning toward mediocrity and short term nonsense in education has extinguished the poetic spirit in modern man, and policed and censored (self-censored?) any movement of worthy potential in this field. (It does not seem to be by chance that both Robert Duncan and P.B Shelley had to, in differing degrees, carve out a Poetics before firing up their separate, and unique, voices; the dead man needs/needed a slap around the face in order to be at all conscious of the presence of the muse.)
6. The Lockdown
Over half a century after Rimbaud, Henry Miller wryly observes:
We enter a new climate, not a better one necessarily, but one in which the artist becomes more callous, more indifferent. Whoever now experiences anything approaching that sort of agony, and registers it, is branded as “an incurable romantic.” One is not expected to feel that way any longer […] the poets of today are withdrawing, embalming themselves in a cryptic language which grows ever more and more unintelligible. And as they black out one by one, the countries which gave them birth plunge resolutely toward their doom
—The Time of the Assassins, Henry Miller
Auden’s vision of the poet as ‘upholding’ languages (surely a throwback to Shelley?) looks, within establishment verse, ever more facile and irresolute, in its time (given that Pound’s Cantos and its historicity had made language so much more slippery and 21st Century, perhaps unbeknownst to the author of them) as we observe the current political aspects of our societal climate and the history of manufactured economic meltdowns and the correlating world conflicts that were created by them. All of these can be seen through the lense of poetry and poetry criticism, and the lineage of its inspirations and methodologies up to the present.
As Duncan confirms, in The H.D Book:
This is an age of criticism, so the critics tell us. An age that has sought to denature and exhaust its time of crisis in bringing philosophy, the arts, human psyche, historical spirit, and the inspiration of the divine world into the terms acceptable to academic aspirations. To undertake this study I must go against the grain of values and rationalities established in my lifetime by a new official literary world. Finding their livelihood in American universities, a new class of schoolteachers has arisen, setting up critical standards and grading responses to fit the anxieties and self-satisfactions of their professional roles and writing verses to exemplify these ideals. In Hound and Horn they begin to appear. In the Southern Review, Partisan Review, and Kenyon Review they take over. An age of criticism does not mean Pound’s Cavalcanti essay, Cocteau’s “Call to Order,” Dame Edith Sitwell’s notebooks or H.D’s “The Guest,” Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse,” or Louis Zukofsky’s “Bottom: On Shakespeare”, for these are concerned with the inner nature and process of poetry itself […] What they seek is not the course of some passionate intuition that men have called inspiration or divine fire or the inner melody of things; these very words are signals for critical contempt. We may recognize or feel what men call the divine fire but we cannot grade or weigh it. We cannot make it count or assign it its place in literary affairs.
Again, that imprisoning assumption of ‘goal’ with its cantankorous siblings; grading, formulating. Ask a singer why he sings and he will tell you that this is what he/she likes to do. Why Blake thought morality so stifling. Man is bent on his own spiritual advancement, throughout infinite lifetimes. This cannot be stifled. It is the nature of human consciousness. Morality is the attempt to knock back that enlightenment by asserting this-world temporality and judgement.
Words, also, are not the issue here… it is the assumptions that collect around them. In all my miscommunications with people in Korea, not the language… but the assumptions and expectations that brought that language into being.
As he reached an awkward maturity, it was Italian poet Pier Paolo Pasolini who, with a certain amount of resignation, self-challenge or self-strategy, made the statement that there were really no poets after Rimbaud. (What is this notion we keep, about seeing poets, in history, as ‘beginnings’ or ‘endings’?
…and even before Pasolini, I see the ravaged, isolated figure of Antonin Artaud shocked into mechanical numbness at the hospital at Rodez, or tramping Mexico or Ireland in search of the dismembered Goddess or Muse, the projection of Nietzsche’s madman figure; embodiment of the most visceral form of the immediacy of that muse. I wonder what would have happened had Pasolini truly absorbed Artaud, or understood the ramifications of Crane’s symbolic Atlantis or Pound’s economics. Ah, poets! Like all men and women. Universally awesome yet separated by reasonable exhaustions, poverty and different languages…)
But, yes, Rimbaud’s apprehensions really cannot be gotten over easily. These same apprehensions killed Dylan Thomas who, unlike Rimbaud, did not quit poetry. But, still, in this way, the office of poet in the twentieth century was, as ever, unique to his/her time… and, in the main the popular mode was either to make the prospective poet entirely unaware of the challenge of conquering The Beast of industrialization and man, as seen through the mass, by making a world, or to function within a consistent pretence of Rimbaud’s challenge as not existing.
The question of how to proceed beyond Rimbaud’s newest energetic importation (without wanting to accede very much to the linearity of illusory calendar time) is paramount here, and in relation to Pound also…
I have been in many shapes,
Before I attained a congenial form.
I have been a narrow blade of a sword.
(I will believe it when it appears.)
I have been a drop in the air.
I have been a shining star.
I have been a word in a book
I have been a book originally.
Câd Goddeu, via The White Goddess, Robert Graves
Fast forward to the present (before or beyond the transfiguring alchemy of the ancient ‘Battle of the Trees’) and we find ourselves watching something die, seeing an entire school of poetry and it’s corresponding critical imperatives fall.
Where Rimbaud’s ‘I is other’ apprehends the conflict, the voice of the Câd Goddeu has rejoined the godhead, leading us to believe that an interim of fragmentation is necessary (Poundian fragmentation?)
Where much of Rimbaud’s work somehow exemplifies the struggle of the 20th century to re-attain its connection with earth, the voice of the Câd Goddeu is proof that there is a smooth transformation applicable to the poetics of voice across the ancient and modern worlds, whereby the poet must join/re-join appearance as it is apprehended, meaning; the marriage of self and world.
8. Enjoinment / Rejoinment
We are returning to a time of divinely/cosmically inspired access to the true godhead of human spiritual evolution; infinite consciousness, a time of, what Julian Jayne’s called ‘the Bicameral Mind’. And, in this, we can take part in this suicide with a heavy dose of laughter and compassion, while the egos and paycheques that this system supported flap uselessly in greed’s wind. In order to be responsible for ourselves it is imperative that we begin to realise the illusory separation between self and other, self and world, and self and universe/multiverse etc.
So this is cultural ‘Death by universal love and divine fire’, so to speak… while at the same time we ruefully observe that, as far as the century that brought us modernism goes, we are searching amongst the rubble as would-be-poets and would-be readers of poetry… looking for the shadowy spat-upon figures that even vaguely have a sense of where and who they are, or were… just as we are consistently less sure and more sure of who we are, or were.
9. Pound, ‘The Ego Abroad’, and Pound’s Ego
In this way I see Ezra Pound’s Cantos standing wearily at mid-twentieth-century; some vague talisman of reclamation, a feisty attempt at re-constituting the years of the spirit stolen from humanity with the onset of industrialisation, the post-Whitman American desert. A desert because humanity has been struggling against this progression towards oneness, and the historical revisionism in Pound’s Cantos is an effort to retrieve that past in order to propel man forward spiritually… but that this, however, was a deeply unconscious act, given his own sympathy for politics and rhetoric. Again, like Rimbaud, he somehow exemplifies the struggle; the wrestling with the modern angel.
In this, I see the corpse of the Goddess sleeping, drugged, under Britain, or, as may have appeared to Pound from the vantage point of Paris and Rapallo. I consider Pound’s child-ish adoption of fascism as folksy alternative to The Beast of ultimate western materialism, and male egoistic attempt to ingratiate oneself with the locals and/or establish, to self, the other country as better country… a struggle many expats are somewhat needlessly prone to. To explain the problem here’s something called:
The Ego Abroad
…it has now fled and must justify it’s fleeing.
Why? Well because it believes itself to have a home,
that is the name of a place
and not the whole of the earth, and then some
of the universe too.
It also demands that this home
has some form of piercing locational reality, of
physical momentum private to its being;
so it mocks its (illusory) home
in order to justify its fleeing (also inherantly illusory).
It is its own emotional cartographer…
location is an outcome
of the struggle between these poles.
Next, ideology arrives… waving its wand,
raving! The ego can sup at ideology,
& it will help it justify
its fleeing… its separation from mother
or Mother Country. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel…
but so is ideology in the form of adopted groupism
(more virulent?) in that fled-to place. For the westerner;
even greater problems because
The West really is The Playground for these
control mechanisms (birthplace
of the modern bank?)
Patriotism; most often much greater
in those of the minority, numbers
also similar for those willing to die
defending their ideology
from other ideologies, not their own (I talked to those
teenagers living in the mountains of Nepal…
who dreamed of being ghurkas and killing for
the British Army (lucrative pay
involved in someone else’s battle, they:
symptom of western
cause). To defend ‘something’… of which no one’s
Because of the weakness of conditioned man
we must withstand all forms of boring accusations
about racism and prejudice
just because people of majority or minority are too blinkered
and refuse to look at themselves
in the mirror/ refuse to suss what it is…
that thay’re actually joining
(that it be not a matter of Joining or Not Joining, even hmm?
I watch it here, I watch it there…
of every stripe, creed, colour…white, black?…
no… of every stripe, creed, colour)
So Pound’s partially justified
in slagging the banks but, as shaman’s apprentice,
in the field of ideological alternatives
the problem is the inherant up-take of the form
of the ideology one flees from/adopts, and not the content
(the real self-harm inherent in ingratiation?)
Content is obvious. And similar. Democracy (majority psychosis, & no empowered individual). Communism (let’s all be the same, under whatever lunatic the manipulated mind can muster). Fascism (the right of might, if weakness is perceived to exist).
Each one; made to look exotic given the right
location & mediac spotlight.
The wrong question:
NOT what you pick but why you need… because
The Other (who is you, by the way) is
judged as lacking (yes, that
quiet lack siphoned into reality; the trough for it all;
cyclic perceptual turbulance)
So this, also, is the lonely modus
of many a western exile (and
ultimate self-imposed, negative mind control).
Wherever I go, I’m always there. Belief-hungry,
that some form of ideology must be furthered!
Conditioned man, in all of his insecurities,
must have position in society. He must be on the scene.
Must be seen. He must be (which, for him, is
being seen to be).
The majority, in any country, peddles
its usual pseudo-liberal,
and will always fold into its being
a generous wad from those outside its majority tribe,
(is there actually some statistical certainty
for this? Or can humans actually lead themselves
Because the minority, generally speaking,
is more keen to fit in,
to be seen… (they justify this
by saying to themselves
that one should do these things simply to survive,
or to do good, to bring riches back to one’s minority tribe etc…
trickle-down; top to bottom,
and, thus, I write my poem, I write my poem).
And so, in The West, majority fear begets
minority Superfear (and all kind of stupidities
performed in order to feel like we ‘fit in’)
and in The East; exactly the same.
North? South? East? West?
Illusory compass born in separations, born
into the world by the mind, in its inability to control itself… exteriorizing, visioning off government
to do the job for it (then we complain about taxes).
Hmmm… what evil
the mind can conjure. Occurring! Physiquement!
giving birth to itself
with every psycho-physiological notion;
White, black, brown, pink, yellow, blue…
of no consequence.
Inauthentic man is desperate to fit in. The majority culture
prefers you to behave and speak like they do,
so the censor, and the self-censor, is born…
unexpressed, fending off, and feeding off, pseudo-junk
DNA. La-dat-dah. La-dat-dah. (Depends
on the individual; or whatever things
do/don’t like talking about in that specific place).
From inside the liberalism/conservatism
of a majority new ideas are expressed
(that 9/11 was a hoax, that
the London bombings were an inside job etc)
generally speaking, the minority member
of that group rarely finds these ideas…
or wants to find these ideas
as they are still getting to grips with,
and pandering to,
the officially sanctioned. Thus;
And how to recognize this sanctioned man
at the moment he resolutely ‘opts in…’ by accepting
the specific terms of a debate, the specific needs
of his perceived majority?
Opting out, opting
in. The Blakean corollaries, let loose on surface consciousness,
tunnel into the unconscious…
achieving modus. Oppositions, lusted after;
lethargic manufactured objects
born of chakric disturbance. Energy-less…
What exactly you learn from exile, after years of meditation on it. Regarding Pound… unfortunately even geniuses fall foul of ego, and ‘oneness’ or ‘totality’ can be steered into difficult waters (the essay ‘The Recovery of the Public World’ by Robin Blaser assists here, and will be picked up later on) I see Pound’s confused but genuine apprehension of the European banking monsters (oh-so-excised, blanketed over or generalised upon by Pound scholarship). I mull over the imagined awkward silences and ill-fitting questions between visiting poets at St. Elizabeths where he was imprisoned for daring to confront these same international bankers under the cover of ideological treason (often in his own confused, immature, blanket term manner. The man or woman struggling with The New brings his/her own prejudices, modus of all, with him/her, and yet: to exist in that zone of sincere discovery is the duty of the artist, of the Vision apprehended)…
I conjure up in my mind the misunderstandings, the confused kindnesses rendered by his visitors, most of whom were probably unaware, in their time, of the level of spin and propoganda their minds were daily subject to. I consider the fifties as the arch decade for the beginning of mind control experiments in the U.S and elsewhere in the west, its influence on literature not even vaguely touched upon as of yet.
I verify nothing about both Allen Ginsberg and Robert Duncan volunteering for experiments in LSD as fifties turn to sixties… but AM intrigued by what interactions there have been between poets and government in the sixties, the decade when William Blake arrived in overdrive, ploughing his way into the public mind just as the intelligence service structure of the west went from playgroup to fortress, hemorrhaging assassins and patsies.
10. Inauthentic Man at Mid-Century
But, on global finance, my motto of advice for nearly every analyst of late Pound, and Pound on economics, be: “You cannot arrive at where you are too culturally conditioned to not want to go” echoing, and finding similarities in, both Wilhelm Reich describing character armour and Churchill describing, in a veiled manner, the then-hidden banking aristocracy:
In the beginning, the patient senses the analyst’s attack on the character armor as a threat to the self […] Intellectually and, insofar as the patient consciously desires to establish orgastic potency the patient wants the imminent attack to succeed, […] He urgently desires, then, something which, at the same time, he is mortally afraid of.
Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
What Reich’s patient is ‘mortally afraid of’, I’d venture, is the judgement of others, particularly when all are subject to sophisticated social engineering… in the same instant, also, this same patient, here; the emblem of the civilized western individual, intuitively apprehends, what he unconsciously recognises as his own freedom.
With the veil of the accusation of anti-semitism thrown over the would-be investigator of the Federal Reserve the problem lies dormant, apart from a handful of brave writers, for over a half century.
So how could man (or the poets of Duncan’s time?) truly inherit an Ezra Pound, a H.D, or a Hart Crane if they refused to perceive the twin-death-palls of 1694 (the creation of the Bank of England, historical lock on the reformation) and 1913 (the creation of the Federal Reserve)? Duncan writes:
the means and ends of the war become the ultimate reality […] (as in the interim between wars, which we call “Peace,” to face reality means to accept and work with the terms of the dominant mercantile capitalistic and usurious system)
…when we are expecting, and ultimately finding reasons for war (or being fed them) then we are doomed to spiritual stasis. War being our own terrible group mental projection. By the time we get to ‘reasons’ the psychological mind-fight is already over.
And so in how many classrooms, across the media clamour of the post-war years, up to the present, have we heard the booming voice of Pound, reciting his Usura canto? And could Miller’s ‘toward their doom’ actually be reconfigured as ‘toward their renaissance’? Could it be a doom that has the seed of eternity writhing in its belly?
So to thine Everpresence, beyond time.
Like spears ensanguined of one tolling star
That bleeds infinity – the orphic strings,
Sidereal phalanxes, leap and converge […]
—The Bridge [Atlantis Section], Hart Crane
Then ‘He’ is range. And from this household ours
Heaven is range. In the grand Assemblage of Lives,
The Great Assembly-House,
this Identity, this Ever-Presence, arranged
rank for rank, person for person, each from its own
sent out from what we were to another place
now in the constant exchange
—Circulations of the Song, Robert Duncan
11. The Everpresence, Eternal Realities & the Death of Time
The ‘Everpresence’ in Crane’s Atlantis is the this-dimension psychic re-assertion of the Goddess of Taliesin, and the oracle and l’Esprit of Une Saison en Enfer returning… as it will return in H.D’s Helen via Duncan’s book. When Rimbaud states, in the opening of that same book:
Un soir, j’ai assis la Beauté sur mes genoux. – Et je l’ai trouvée amère. – Et je l’ai injuriée.
(One evening I seated Beauty on my knees. – And I found her bitter. – And I cursed her, trans: Varese)
…we might well ask, is that voice subject-to or projecting-out its own horrific conclusion? Or simply creating, in some form of alchemical code, a signification for the new ideological playground of the 20th century. Is this abandonment of Beauty simply an escalation into a Beauty beyond the confines of what can be communicated within the boundaries of language as it was conceived in Rimbaud’s time. In short; an end, or a beginning? Again, that insufferable bind. I’d tenuously offer that this is an indication of total shamanic ideological battle. At his most exploratory the shaman is also open to the most malevolent spirits, and so, within the medium of poetry, we can see this same struggle play itself out.
As the seer travels into the domain of revelation he is also constantly under attack by souls bent on his psychic destruction. This is why Une Saison en Enfer is such a contradictory and difficult book. How far do we trust Rimbaud’s I here? (Albeit the I that speaks through the pen?) The price of revelation is the possibility of expressing something that will cancel that spiritual revelation out… the assertion of a state of affairs that, psychologically speaking, can go ‘viral’. It is worth thinking on Duncan’s idea of fictive certainties here. The poet-seer brings certain realities into fruition (at it’s height this kind of fruition is not simply linguistic, it is magical… which I will get to later). These realities then, like the shaman, have the possibility of damaging or healing the tribe, depending on his own self-control, and his own psychic sense of direction. Duncan asserts that all psychological conjurements (anything brought into a realm of being, language-wise or otherwise) have both a reality which can be accessed, but a reality, after Karl Popper, that can be refuted. I’d add to this that the methodology of the seer is also the magickal methodology behind science as it has been through the ages (and not the fake science that has replaced it in recent centuries).
12. Spheres of Oppositions, Poetry and Image, Crane’s Everpresence
It is no mistake that both Blake and Nietzsche, over the century previous, both, in diverging ways, had sought to undermine the standard rational morality of the civilizational beast. One need only look over titles like The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Beyond Good and Evil to come across these assertions of a higher dimensionality, mouthpieced into this dimension; a forceful dissension regarding the corollary realms of opposites (good and evil) hacked into the public mind by Hollywood, in place of the higher mythic signifiers that correspond with higher spiritual dimensions (proton-electron, male-female).
Into this heady brew we must re-imagine Crane’s Atlantis not only as re-configuration of Rimbaud’s l’Esprit (and oracle) but the undermining of the temporal signifiers that apply to this dimension, meaning the ending of a time matrix that corresponds to a this-world experience. The shamanic godhead, in this, works in tandem with the already in place psychological hearth of deja vu, intuition, imagination/telepathy and shamanic practices partially beaten into submission by western materialism and the secular faith of rationalism.
(Under this conception might we also complete the fulfillment of Crane’s lingistic wildness in the form of the Atlantis sequence by envisioning The Bridge as, not only a physical place rooted in a political landscape, but a symbol of the fluidity of a cross-dimensional visionary practice, a bridge to surrounding dimensions of reality?)
It is like a dream but not a dream, this going out into the world of the poem, inspired by the directions of an other self. It has a kinship too with the séance of the shaman, and in this light we recognize the country of the poem as being like the shaman’s land of the dead or the theosophical medium’s astral plane. In the story of Orpheus there is a hint of how close the shaman and the poet may be, the singer and the seer.
The shaman accesses the ‘Everpresence’ exactly as Rimbaud and Blake delineate. Can we also begin to imagine that, in this context, and along with Tarkovsky, there really is no such thing as death… at most; only the sound of spokes clacking against infinite wheels/cycles, the land of the dead as bardo, or celtic cauldron where the Goddess lives?
Firstly I was formed in the shape of a handsome man,
in the hall of Ceridwen in order to be refined.
Although small and modest in my behaviour,
I was great in her lofty sanctuary.
While I was held prisoner, sweet inspiration educated me
and laws were imparted me in a speech which had no words;
but I had to flee from the angry, terrible hag
whose outcry was terrifying.
Since then I have fled in the shape of a crow,
since then I have fled as a speedy frog,
since then I have fled with rage in my chains,
a roe-buck in a dense thicket
—Taliesin’s Song of his Origins (trans. John Matthews)
Through the 6th century ‘last bard’ of the assassinated druidic world we come across the spirit of the bardic schools singing through a possibly-infinite series of reincarnated cycles; a concept that echoes through both ancient Indian vedic traditions and the more recent schools of Mahayana Buddhism. Irish mysticism alone is stuffed full of this mythology and symbolism.
Through Taliesin, Shelley, Blake, Whitman, Rimbaud, Pound and Dylan Thomas the rage and the pride of that spirit is nameless but abundant… can we picture the function of a shamanic poetry as a deathless art that functions under circumstances of reincarnation and fierce intuitive passion? And how to reconcile 1/the beleaguered medium of the proto-shamanic western poet of modern times in constant struggle with materialist civilization (I’m thinking, here, of the Yeats of A Vision or “The Martians” of Jack Spicer’s Vancouver Lectures, and of the ravaged figure of Artaud persecuted by Rodez doctors), 2/modes of the eternal feminine and the active and historical suppression of the female voice in literature, 3/certain practices of tribal healers and shaman throughout the world 4/vastly revisionist notions of a philosophy of time that contravenes Aristotle and asserts an eternal present, in constant motion/flux (Scotus Erigena through the metaphysics of Bishop Berkeley, then on to Bergson and Gertrude Stein’s concept of a rolling infinite present throwing off its expectations in the form of ‘the future’ and its ‘the past’ in the form of history, which is not to say these are not vital to that present, just as it is vital that a car stay on the road).
Andrew O’Donnell, May edit 2011.
Robert Duncan was an American poet, and the leading figure in the poetry of the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s. His major mature books of poetry are: The Opening of the Field (1960), Roots and Branches (1964), Bending the Bow (1968), Ground Work: Before the War (1984) and Ground Work II: In the Dark (1987). The H.D Book, Duncan’s major statement on poetics, was released this year on University of California Press.
Andrew O’Donnell is a poet, painter, translator and publisher based in Korea. His MMV (2008) was published by Open Season Press. Parts of his more recent To Insanity poem sequence (2009) were published in The Black Herald (Paris) this year. This essay is part of an ongoing sequence taken from a book on 21st Century poetics.