ANTHONY MELLORS: even more bent out of shape

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bent out of shape (in The Lewknor Turn, Shearsman, 2013), with its lower case imperative so as to not make too big a deal out of being bent out of shape, already seems too programmatic as a title. Was the ‘author’ of these 24 24 line poems (+ 2 stragglers) all twisted up before writing them, while writing them, and / or after writing them? Well, he does get a bit crotchety now and then, and sometimes he’s not sure of his direction or his feelings and wants the act of writing to tell him something about them. Otherwise, he wants to bend and reshape the familiar cadences of English poetry. It’s for readers to say whether these throw some new shapes or are, sadly, out of shape. ‘You’re a big man; but you’re out of shape. With me, it’s a full-time job.’ Lines which sometimes read awkwardly on the page resolve, to my ear, on reading aloud. The tension between continuity and wrong-footing in the breaks is a matter of interpretation, ironed-out in reading yet not necessarily finessed that way. Then there’s the little matter of trajectory. As the prose passages indicate, the sequence begins on a journey from the exo-Mani to the farthest point of the Peloponnese, ‘gaunt, barren, and inhospitable, and, as is natural in more settled times when men can live more freely and safely in more prosperous areas, it is severely depopulated.’ (Peter Greenhalgh and Edward Eliopoulos, Deep Into Mani: Journey to the Southern Tip of Greece, Faber, 1985) One passage is lifted from Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s Mani, one drawn from experience of the same place and a similar quest to find the entrance to Hades at Taenaron. Had I read anything much more recent than Pausanias and Leigh-Fermor at the time, I might have saved myself the disappointment of the site itself, although in the second century Pausanias notes already that there is no passage leading down from the floor of the little cave near the ruined church of Asomati. ‘But there is no doubt that this was the famous cave’, write Greenhalgh and Eliopoulis, ‘and the traces of an extensive religious complex are still visible all round.’ The real beauty was in getting there, negotiating the radical difference between an imagined or projected landscape and its confusing actuality. We recreate landscape as a significant terrain; it poses its own resistances and difficulties, and only really becomes place when it is not, as Heidegger says, zuhanden (the easily-to-hand or ‘standing reserve’). As a path, meta hodos, it becomes an imaginative, critical site  -  at least to the point where hands, fattened by dehydration into clubs, tell you you can’t continue, at least not today. So, too, the poem starts out from the desire to shape experience, memory, identity under erasure; becomes misshapen, invaded by texts, good and bad objects; bends into new shapes not governed by plan or intention. How this sequence finds itself travelling to Newmarket, an asylum in Lincolnshire, the Italy of Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte, a coach stop between Oxford and London, and a loo at the University of Kent is anyone’s guess, and understood by me only after the fact.

 

Prose from bent out of shape + two poems surplus

He was afraid to stop his engine, declaring it was a devil to start again, but he would steer in circles until I got back. So I dived in and made for the cave which yawned like the lopsided upper jaw of a whale (the lower jaw being submerged, about thirty feet above the sea). As I swam inside a number of swallows flew out and I could see their little nests clinging to the cave walls and the flanks of stalactites. The cave grew much darker as it penetrated the mountain-side, and a couple of bats, which must have been hanging from the roof, wheeled squeaking towards the light. The roof sank lower, and, swimming along the clammy walls, I found a turning to the right and followed it a little way in; but it soon came to a stop. I tried all the way round and swam under water to see if there was a submerged entrance to another sea cave beyond. But there was nothing. The ceiling had closed in to about a foot and a half overhead, as I could now touch it with my hand. The air was dark but under the surface the water gleamed a magical luminous blue and it was possible to stir up shining beacons of phosphorescent bubbles with a single stroke or a kick. Strangely, it was not at all sinister, but, apart from the coldness of the water which the sun never reaches, silent and calm and beautiful. The submarine light from the distant cave-mouth makes an intruder seem, when he plunges phosphorous-plumed into the cold depths, to be swimming into the heart of a colossal sapphire.

  – Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (London: John Murray, 1958).

 

Reaching Psamathus, where the quails are so thick in the air it is said you cannot separate the earth from the stars for them, I could see a black cavemouth across the bay from a wonky skeleton beacon, its lower jaw submerged and appearing to suck in vast quantities of the grey, choppy water as if it were dedicated to creating a restless microclimate within the turquoise calm of the peninsular. The sky was cloudless, the air dustily hot, yet the sea here looked more Atlantic than Aegean as it hustled the yachts moored in front of a glum row of battened tavernas and the mini-market. I scampered up to the promontory to get a better look at the cave, past the newly whitewashed church of Agios Nikolaos, behind which lay piles of discarded picture frames and bleached and paint-spattered prints of icons, and hopped my way along the finger of dazzling white rocks until I reached the iron skeleton. Convinced that I was looking across to the Entrance to Hades, I plotted how I could get closer without drowning in the turbulent water or falling from the vertical face above the cave. But a moment’s reappraisal of the maps and books made me realize I was looking at everything the wrong way round and that the actual, modest and de-mythologized entrance lay where I had already been,  at the mouth of one of the little inlets below the ancient spolia known as the Temple of Poseidon.  The real cave could be seen only by swimming between moored caiques into a tiny cove where the sea was transparent, calm, and unhurried; it was roofless, well above the waterline, with no trace of a tunnel leading into the underworld (as Pausanias found), and guarded by nothing more menacing than a shrub that looked like hemp and an odalisque on a brightly-coloured beach towel. This was it, this wasn’t it. I was entranced.

~

These notches are sometimes called the crack
an opening in the field though that field may be high
above fresh cut grass and creosote bubbling in the fence
and hollow roads muffled by trees. Tonight
stalked out of the green house door in East
West Street dusk stumbling following a different
good sense of the common or garden
kind posing questions at the level of instinct
because I do not know what to do
as far as the object is concerned
but never far from a warm boiler house when it rains
remain in touch with an inner idiot, terrible
puppet of dreams protected in winter
by bands of thick felt from people
who think rustic means kitchens
fettered ghosts placed by the glacial action
we see repeated in dim ecstasy and solemn language
with courteous punctilio but are not welcome there
all arranged with the obsessional order
armies inflict upon both men and nature
contained within the camp enclosure
who have their food and a bed
gold crowns of hair untouched by sorrow
lips pale and bloodless.

~

To disguise wisdom so that it no longer distinguishes
between spasmodic movements in an everyday sense
and the walking dead of Weston-super-Mare
conjuring figures limned by Titian
turned away from georgic scenes and the chance
to escape from the madhouse of deceit and suffering
when little pegs won’t go into little holes
though faculties never cease to toy with the idea
in a way that is worthy of the muses
those whose defences are fallen nearly to zero
disarmed and ill-equipped facing a series of hurdles
against visions of the future arrayed as silent waste
but dotted with lost and groaning customers
plastic thongs stuck up their cracks
like cheesewire shaping a contained whole
in what is more or less an attempt at symbolic repair
to put up with knowledge strained to half-expression
kept safe from the rest of the world and its obsequies
cryptic word-things from which the sun has drained every shadow
an effect that adds to the charm of the picture
the hall ceiling frescoed with centaurs
rubbed with poppy or linseed oil to suggest immediacy
as if the play of curves is so strong
relief gets absorbed into the organism.

 

 

ANTHONY MELLORS’s poetry has appeared in various anthologies, fugitive chapbooks, and journals such as Grille, Exact Change Yearbook, Great Works, Angel Exhaust, Angelaki, and Poetry Wales. Recent poems and sequences are included in The Lewknor Turn, published in September 2013 by Shearsman. With Andrew Lawson, he edited fragmente: a magazine of contemporary poetics. Critical work includes Late Modernist Poetics from Pound to Prynne (Manchester University Press, 2005), ‘Autopsia: Olson, Themis, Pausanias’ (Modernism / Modernity, 2012), ‘Aesthetic Economy and Given Time’ (SubStance, 2013), and ‘Disabled Poetry’, forthcoming in Textual Practice.

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