23 Jun 2021

Geraldine Monk: The Unquiets

Unquiet Stirrings

In a small Staffordshire village there is a pub with the disquieting name ‘The Quiet Woman’.  On the outer wall is a painting of a woman daintily carrying a tray of drinks and pub grub in a perfectly normal manner except for the disturbing fact that she is headless. Across this image  is emblazoned Proverb 15: ‘Soft Words Turneth Away Wrath’.  The whole effect is sinister and menacing especially on finding out it is based on an actual woman called ‘Chattering’ Charteris the lady of the inn who was decapitated by her landlord husband for talking too much. The landlord was apparently much applauded for his actions by the locals. It’s not clear exactly when this happened as the truth is hard to ascertain but it is a local legend too close to the bone of reality to hold much merriment.

The victim’s name ‘Chattering’ Charteris’ immediately evoked for me the matriarch Mother Chattox  last seen in my Interregnum and Pendle Witch Words as one of the Lancashire women hanged for witchcraft in 1612. The Quiet Woman pub is the catalyst that has thrown me back into my favourite territory of language, or to be more exact, the suppression of it. And I needn’t trawl the past for examples as it is still ongoing from the women of Afghanistan having their mics turned off when speaking in parliament before the easier solution of silencing professional women by simply shooting them dead in the street to the American politician Ben Carson. He requested the male co-presenter of the British journalist and news anchor Katty Kay to turn off her mic when Carson objected to her questions.

And so I now begin another journey into the realms of the silenced, disappeared and dispossessed dealing not just with historic cases but contemporary ones and the poem presented here is my first completed poem for this prospective collection. For the record an  ‘unquiet’ is a synonym for a ‘nag’ or a ‘scold’ so this is going to be a very unquiet volume indeed.

 

 

The Unquiets

 

Let fly the unquiet tongue

on the tip of their wagging

wisecracks champing at the

raw bit a metal fisted  in the mouth.

Between the teeth a harrying of the

buds over which words slew.

 

Slewed with lewd and metaphysical.

Startled points of view rarely reaching

beyond the reach of breath. Far too startled.

As if wonder is gendered. Or political. Just saying.

Just saying a weave of stem-sprouting visions are

visions to share. Break bread.  So why the brank?

 

Brank: the very sound hurts flesh.

Brank. Clamp. Cramp.  Crude

battered  iron pressing head so steep it

mashes mouth meat. Spikes the tongue.  Spiked.

The journalists curse. Impaled articles withering on

the branch. Your you obliterated. Read all about it.

 

About it: on my bottom lip a venous lake

has formed where words must swim or

drown. The just so bon mot as deep as

marrow purples on my bottom lip a venous lake

has formed in the after-dark of forethought a moat

in which to sigh and sink. Diving into silence.

 

 

Geraldine Monk’s poetry was first published in the 1970’s. Her major collections include Escafeld Hangings, West House Books 2005  and Interregnum, Creation Books 1995 with a rejigging of the monologues in Pendle Witch Words, K.F.S . 2012. Her Selected Poems was published by Salt Publishing, 2003 followed by The SaltCompanion to Geraldine Monk, edited by Scott Thurston, 2007. In 2012 she devised and edited Cusp: Recollections of Poetry in Transition, Shearman Books. Her latest book They Who Saw the Deep was published in 2016 in the United States by Parlor Press/Free Verse Editions. 

She lives in Sheffield and is a founding member of the Sheffield based antichoir Juxtavoices for which she has composed several pieces including Midsummer Mummeries, Up & Down at Bishop’s House (with Alan Halsey) and We Talk Through Walls

In 2014 she became an affiliated poet to The Centre for Poetry and Poetics, University of Sheffield.  

 

 

 

23 Jun 2021

Jean Portante, five poems from SHOOTING STARS / LIBRARY (Étoiles Filantes / Bibliothèque) translated by Zoë Skoulding

 

To read the texts click here: Jean Portante, five poems

 

Jean Portante, who lives in Paris, was born in Differdange, Luxembourg, in 1950, and is of Italian origin. He has written more than forty books, including novels, stories, plays, essays, translations and poetry, and has been widely translated. In 2003 his poetry collection L’Étrange langue was given the prestigious Mallarmé poetry award in France, and the same year he also received the French Grand Prix d’Automne de la Société des Gens de Lettres, for his entire body of work. Many other literary prizes have been awarded to him, including the Prix international de la francophonie Benjamin Fondane, the European Petrarca prize, the Rutebeuf prize, and the Alain Bosquet prize. In Luxembourg he has twice been given the Servais Award for the best book of the year for two of his novels, and in 2011 the National Literature Award for his life’s work. His books are published in French mainly by PHI (Luxembourg) and Castor Astral (France), as well as in translation in over twenty other countries. He has been working as a translator for more than thirty years, and has published some forty books in translation. He translates from Luxembourgish, German, English, Spanish and Italian into French. Since 2006, he is a member of the Académie Mallarmé, based in Paris, and member of the Institut Grand-Ducal in Luxembourg.

Zoë Skoulding is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Bangor University. Her collections of poetry (published by Seren Books) include The Mirror Trade (2004); Remains of a Future City (2008), shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year; The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (2013), shortlisted for Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry; and Footnotes to Water (2019), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and won the Wales Book of the Year Poetry Award 2020. In 2020 she also published The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher) and A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman). She received the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors in 2018 for her body of work in poetry. Her critical work includes two monographs, Contemporary Women’s Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities (2013), and Poetry & Listening: The Noise of Lyric (2020). Her current research project is Transatlantic Translation: Poetry in Circulation and Practice Across Languages (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, 2020-22), following the network Poetry in Expanded Translation 2017-2018. From 2009 to 2011 she was, in partnership with Literature Across Frontiers, director of Metropoetica, a collaborative project on translation, gender and city space. She is the translator of poetry from French and Spanish, including Jean Portante’s In Reality (Selected Poems).

 

 

 

 

 

23 Jun 2021

Gavin Selerie: Lines Through the Lens: The Poem-films of David Annwn and Howard Munson

Every art form has its own structural and expressive capacities, but there has long been a perceived link between film and poetry. Early filmmakers such as Vertov and Eisenstein thought of their work as in some sense parallel to the rhythms and image-leaps of verse. Germaine Dulac made a short film L’Invitation au Voyage (1927) inspired by Baudelaire’s poem, and in La Coquille et le clergyman (1928) used dissolving superimpositions to create a dream-state. Man Ray’s L’Etoile de Mer (1928) was loosely based on a poem by Robert Desnos and his Le Mystère du chateau des dés drew on motifs from Mallarmé’s ‘Un coup de dés’. Before that Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand had made Manhatta, a more literal fusion of text and image: shots of New York City were juxtaposed with lines or paraphrases from poems by Walt Whitman. Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un poète (1930) is an allegory of a poem’s origin, attempting the freedom—from literalness—of a cartoon. It includes a poetic voice-over narration. Cocteau’s Orphée (1950), less episodic, has a similarly poetic expression of sound and image, at one point featuring lines of poetry emitted from a car radio, words that prove crucial to the narrative. A more direct collaboration between poet and filmmaker is found in Harry Watt’s and Basil Wright’s Night Mail (1936), in which W.H. Auden voices his poem of that title over the last three minutes of footage. The text, heavily cut, imitates the rhythms of the train’s wheels. Very different in feel is Geography of the Body (1943), which uses dime-store magnifying lenses to examine the naked bodies of the director Willard Maas, his assistant Marie Mencken and George Barker, who supplied and read a surreal poem in a newsreel tone.

By the 1950s the film-poem was beginning to be recognized as a form and at a symposium in 1953 Dylan Thomas remarked: ‘As in a poem one image breeds another, I think, in a film, it’s really the visual image that breeds another—breeds and breathes it’ (Amos Vogel ed., ‘Poetry and the Film: a symposium’ in Film Culture37 summer 1965). Since the explosion of experimental work in the 1960s various writers and artists have pushed the medium to prominence. Text-sound-image has attracted a body of critical work and radical aspiration is reinforced by Orson Welles’s much-quoted remark: ‘[a] film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet’ (‘Ribbon of Dreams’ in International Film Annual 2 [1958]). A sign of broad interest in the relationship between poetry and film is the inclusion of many of the works listed above in the two DVD sets Avant-garde: Experimental Cinema (‘1920s and 30s’ and ‘1928-1954’) from Kino International.

Hans Richter has called all experimental films ‘film poetry’, that is in the sense of exploring a mood or lyrical sensation, as opposed to narrative or factual commentary. Citing his own Vormittagsspuk [Ghosts Before Breakfast] (1928), he says:

With this lyrical form goes a greater freedom in the use of the raw material, as there is not necessarily a story to tell. It establishes some happenings which are related to each other but do not have to follow the same psychological or dramatic order as the novel or the film drama. One could go one step further: the film lyric—or film poetry—has followed definite lines which coincide with the aesthetic problems and the movements of the past 40 years in modern art, poetry, and music. You find films which parallel and even fulfill these movements: Cubism, Dadaism, Expressionism, Futurism and especially Surrealism. . . . There is a kind of script, there is a general direction, there is an aim, a meaning, a mood in the process of production. But all that grows is not foreseen. It is the result of the creative process itself. It is not so much planning as it is feeling along the path which the theme takes. In other words, the material you accumulate during the shooting is more or less raw material; though it has been planned to contribute to a specific scene, plan or, aim, it might, in the end assume a different meaning altogether. This I would call ‘sensitive improvisation’. This listening to oneself as well as to the material which you accumulate, is essential to a film poem. (‘From Interviews [1957-58] with Hans Richter’, Film Culture 31 Winter 1963-64)

Richter’s Rhythmus 21 (1921) and Ghosts Before Breakfast are on the first of the Kino Experimental Cinema sets. Although these films don’t embrace poetry as such, they are in some ways more poetic than, say, D.W. Griffiths’s cinematic treatment of Kingsley and Tennyson poems in The Unchanging Sea (1910) and Enoch Arden(1911), which nevertheless are distinctive for crosscutting, ellipsis and juxtaposition.

The poetry-film or film-poem is a hybrid that can create effects and meaning beyond those in either form as a separate entity. Such a verbo-visual mesh will range from close kinship to distant relation, with the most interesting results likely to stem from resistance to imitation or direct commentary. British artist Alastair Cook has written: ‘for the filming of poetry to succeed, surely it cannot merely be a juxtaposing of the two but an organized symbiosis’ (http://filmpoem.com/about/). I would suggest that organization can, paradoxically, embrace chance and modes of disalignment. Rather than ‘the filming of poetry’ a truer objective would be the interplay of the two forces, with neither being subject or controller of the other. This is the case with the various collaborations between poet David Annwn and filmmaker Howard Munson.

As is evident both from his poetry and criticism, David Annwn has had a deep involvement with cinema over the years. Horror and Dada-surrealist film have been particular points of focus. As Annwn observes in Re-Envisaging the First Age of Cinematic Horror:

[T]echniques such as non-linear progression, filmic collages, and long tracking shots with minimal forward action . . . are intrinsic to the variegated and complex development of horror films. (p. 113)

He notes the way Haxan/Witchcraft through the Ages (1922) rings changes on the old lantern-lecture format, creating ambiguities and contradictions of perspective, and makes use of puppet animation alongside engravings and more naturalistic footage. The witch context, with inventive shifts of language, features in the title sequence of Annwn’s Bela Fawr’s Cabaret (2008), where theosophical magic mingles with shamanic voices:

 

Come Blá-vat-sky

Let’s ski, let’s ski away

cuckoocall . . .

pint Magic?

One spell and well that one . . .

Yr. scat of ciphers & cinquefoil

Those old witches/See them/Hop

Marie Laveau

Obeah, Xango

Balu Asong Gau

I am the chief source of all that rises

Now I am the tiger, who can stop the wind (p.30)

 

Haxan is specifically evoked in the poem ‘Haxan Dance’, which I shall discuss later.

Dada influences a great deal of the sound poetry in Bela Fawr’s Cabaret, and Annwn has long been preoccupied with raw sound, sonics and sense. ‘That Nature is Bela Fawr’s Cabaret’ (pp. 120-21) deals with Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbarn and Dada’s use of unconscious slips in language. The collaborative book Dadadollz(2011), with Christine Kennedy, celebrates women Dada artists of the Cabaret Voltaire at a crucial period for radical art during the First World War. Emmy Hennings, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hannah Hoch made and exhibited dolls for plays, revue catalogues, posters and photographs. Negotiating this legacy, Annwn and Kennedy explore different ways of seeing, partly in a performative context. The poem ‘RunDadanella’ in Disco Occident (2013), with insistent repetition of—and variation on—the phrase ‘she came down’, focuses on Taeuber-Arp’s whirling verve and her challenges to perceived gender-imposed limits. This freedom and bravery is contrasted with the stance of Rudolf Laban and Mary Wigman, whose pioneering dance practice was tainted by their complicity with the Third Reich. Annwn’s play on Dada/the Dardanelles straits/elle (= she/L) stems from one of Carl Orff’s pieces for children, ‘Rundadinella’ in Musica Poetica. Appropriately, this is a round, indicative of the poet’s looping and layering structures.

Annwn’s straighter poetic output also has links with cinema and film poems. Red Bank (2018) alludes to the Beatles’ Penny Lane video, in which the group, wearing red hunting jackets, ride horses down Angel Lane and through an arch on a country estate. This is juxtaposed with Charles I’s masques, propping up an autocratic state but also precursory of a modern sexual and transgender revolution. Again, the Beatles’ Savile Row rooftop concert in 1969, a sort of finale, is crosscut with Charles on the scaffold and the crowd laying wreaths for him. The band, with the possible exception of Harrison, had a fondness for extravagant display (witness their attachment to Victoriana) and this is placed in relation to the seventeenth century drama, with extravagance crushed for a dream of greater social equality. Within these instances of play and strife, with attendant power contradictions, the poet implants a ‘rehearsal’, interrogating the function of a juvenile detention facility in Merseyside where his father taught and which housed the notorious Mary Bell.

This then is the hinterland to Annwn’s collaboration with the American filmmaker.

3.

Howard Munson is a San Francisco book artist, impro activist, puppeteer, maker of maquettes and masks, fan of Butoh dance, film-maker, designer and avant-garde collaborator. Munson’s films are thoroughly steeped in Dada, Bauhaus, Surrealist, Constructivist, Futurist, versions of Cabaret and other experimentation in film, theatrical presentation, illustration and the use of puppetry. The poetry-film experiments and animation at Cinema 16, Maya Deren’s work, Kenneth Anger’s films,  Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s ‘Assassination Raga’ and performist poet Hedwig Gorski’s work on the Eyestruck series are also germane. Munson’s work is witty and playful, while dealing profoundly with core social and aesthetic issues. As his website suggests, this material ‘exudes a sense of peace’, albeit tempered by ‘a sense of struggle’ (http://www.vampandtramp.com/finepress/m/howard-munson.html).

Amongst his techniques are the use of stringed maquettes, hand puppets of various kinds, mirrors and kaleidoscopes, collages and montages, scrolling visual cylinders, dis-framing (demolishing and moving through frames), historic newsreel footage overlaid in different ways with photography, after-images, book illustrations, paintings and appearances of live actors and dancers. Munson is also interested in foregrounding drapery, decor and various veiling techniques (most often in seen his Butoh films).  Sometimes the effects sought are of a hand-made, jagged, miniature theatrical production and at others, the impact gained is high tech, full of floating montages, IT screen effects, dislocating vistas and rippling dissolves and fades.

Annwn and Munson decided early on that no one form should dominate these films and that music should sometimes be most audible, screen animation of different kinds should rise to the foreground, poetry could vary from loud lucidity to softness and indecipherable sound should emerge at times. The collective experience of viewing and hearing the film as performance is stressed. Annwn’s use of repetition and parallelism in some poems anticipate these effects. The poems other than ‘Dada Traum’ were written for cinematic drama performance in the films that ensued.

This collaborative process started with an impromptu reading in 2016 by Jack Hirschman and Annwn at Café Trieste, San Francisco, a favourite haunt of the Beats, in 2016. Annwn read a sound poem ’Dada Traum’ influenced by the famous photographs of Hugo Biallowons dancing in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s studio in 1915. He is shown dancing in the nude and posed in his soldier’s uniform and these images prompted Annwn to consider Dada artists’ war and pre-war experiences. A forest supervisor and regular model for the Expressionist painter, Biallowons was killed at Verdun in 1916. Not long afterwards Kirchner himself, beset by the ‘bloody carnival’ in which ‘everything [was] topsy-turvy’, suffered a nervous breakdown. I shall return to discuss Annwn’s poem in the context of the relevant film. Meanwhile, it should be registered that Munson filmed the 2016 performance, which has considerable verve. The spontaneous nature of the event is reinforced by the tinkling cocktail piano in the background, a sort of lounge atmosphere gone wild but part of the café’s normal business. See:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6iJDn-s808

Subsequently, Munson sent Annwn a film: ‘Filippo Marinetti Reads Zang Tumb Tumb, Partial Reading 1914’, which he dedicated to him:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6TsdHKi2P4&t=20s

This features Marinetti’s reading together with arresting use of hand-held puppets, revolving mirrors and day-glo colours, all in a setting that is like a miniature theatre teeming with conflicting presences.

Next Annwn wrote the poem ‘Jeu de Marseilles’, dedicated to Munson. The context for this is Marseilles in 1941 when surrealist artists, including Max Ernst, André Masson and Jacqueline Lamba, known by the Nazis as ‘undesirables’, were trapped in that city, waiting for a chance to leave for the U.S. as the Nazis drew nearer. Out of fear and expressive need, they created a new pack of cards, the celebrated Jeu de Marseilles. Aware that Marseilles had been one of the sources of the original Tarot, the artists reworked its structure, replacing the royal-courtly hierarchy with figures from their own pantheon of art, the occult and philosophy/psychology. King, Queen and Jack became Genius, Siren and Magus, assigned to such heroes as Baudelaire, Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Paracelsus. Instead of swords, cups, coins and batons, the suits became flames (red) for desire, locks (black) for knowledge, wheels (red) for revolution, and stars (black) for dreams. Annwn’s poem celebrates this transformation. Textured to embody its subversive possibility, the lines have force and resonance:

 

automatic scribble tint of mind’s sepals

cascading out . . .

face-scapes flicker rage to change

night’s anchored submarine furniture

. . .

escaping dangerous to usa

words migrate, warp and mutate:

‘tarot’ ‘torat’ ‘ratot’ ‘rotate’

shuffle livid . . .

The ending evokes Dorothea Tanning’s painting Ernst in a Blue Boat (1947), in which her suntanned husband floats across what may be the Arizona desert, with his bird alter-ego emerging from a sail and alchemical fire issuing from his hand. Threatening forces lurk behind but Annwn treats the image as an emblem of escape:

 

into this spread you’re headed out,

hand taking flame

in a blue boat

 

Ernst and Tanning did of course evade the Fascist menace, meeting after they’d arrived in America. Earlier in the text, the evocation of Victor Brauner’s design for the psychic Hélène Smith is particularly vivid: ‘her leopard flaming hair/combusting across your fingers’. Such wording is both exact as a descriptive record and ripe for visual re-translation.

In the film (link below)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Oj565sBH4&t=11s

Annwn reads his text quietly, placing the visceral sounds precisely, as the visual images and music turn. Only at one point is there literal accompaniment, behind the word ‘explodes’ (line 4). Munson presents occult emblems and relevant shapes, bright as stained glass. Their thin surfaces, sometimes stencilled, are a little reminiscent of Dom Sylvester Houédard’s translucent plastic sheets, although in this case without text. Coils, wheel-flowers, triangles, dotted cards and lattices revolve—merry-go-round-like—over newsreel images of combat, stark silhouettes in the background. These give way at the end to realistic footage of a ship rising and dipping in a turbulent sea. Munson’s visual pattern perfectly complements the gamesome mystery and menace of Annwn’s poem.

Munson’s selection and use of music is a key component here: the credits list ‘Light Years Away’, ‘Galactic Damages’ and ‘Etherial Choir Ascends’. The composers appear to be Doug Maxwell (1 and 3) and Jingle Punks (2). A choir provides spatial calm and a hint of calm migration for the last sequence. By contrast, the opening music, stentorian in tone, evokes the Nazi martial threat. If there is no aural cognate for the Surrealists’ card-play, the music does catch the intense and increasing desperation of the artists involved.

As a third part to this collaboration, Thomas Ingmire created a one-of-a-kind book which celebrates both the poem and the video interpretation:

http://www.thomasingmire.com/blog/jeu-de-marseilles-game-of-marseilles?view=full

As Ingmire explains,

The poem and paintings are created on a translucent Mylar. The show-thru of images and writing is an attempt to capture the movement, over-lapping, and layering created by Munson in his video.

Annwn has discussed the work at some length in ‘Solid Light: Ways Through Transparent Books’ (Junction Box13, [2020]). He notes the way in which images from Munson’s film—curlicue, flowerhead, shard, spiral, lattice and domino-like dot—are texturally adapted, in a play of depths and surfaces. At times the viewer’s gaze is drawn into a vortex or labyrinth, which creates a ‘toppling vertigo’ effect.

After the exercise in war and surrealism, Munson turned to Annwn’s poem ‘Haxan Dance’, which has a different feel. As the title implies, this text references Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (1922), a filmic hybrid of documentary and evocation of Medieval demonology and witchcraft. Annwn draws on key images, reinscribing the tableaux, naturalistic action scenes and intertitles as a voice-track. He references strange animal-headed monsters, little creatures summoned or consumed for potent effect, Apelone’s ascent to a dream castle (where wishes are fulfilled then removed) and figures dancing in a ring. Christensen’s structural virtuosity in the treatment of physical surface and spirit is well caught in the lines: ‘we keep on passing door through door/ tripping through shutters’. Indeed, scenes constantly open into others, often literally by an aperture, and reality is fluid. Shapes appear in ‘a swaying trance: reelers back-to-back in tall hats,/ peacocks in a stuck banquet/ of flesh and flagons’. The scientific and psychologically analytic elements of Häxan are here only by implication—except perhaps in the phrase ‘burgeoning projection’—but that is enough to suggest roots of fantasy and superstition. Annwn’s closing lines, ‘beating the bounds/and bounding the beat’, encapsulate the contradictions involved in making and assessing devilry. Again, ‘we must come back dancing/ to dream’ may relate both to the beckoning of diabolical forces and to their cinematic or poetic realization. This miniature take is a both a tribute to a complex masterpiece and, as a sound unit, a powerful self-sufficient text.

Howard’s film, viewable here,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwrF5O73sU0

retains and reconfigures the emphases of the poem, adding one of Christensen’s core motifs, the bonfire blaze. Various scenes feed into the mix but the old wise woman Apelone’s drunken dream of the fantasy castle comes to bear most insistently. Howard uses a variety of Bosch-esque pictures and bleached-out, over-exposed films of widdershins dancers to start his responses. Some of the striking detail in Bosch’s pictures is summoned in close-up and the overall melting and separation of images is reminiscent of the gelatine filters used by Germaine Dulac or Mark Boyle’s and Joan Hills’s liquid light shows in the 1960s. Throughout, red and orange flames flicker, laid against the silhouettes of what seem to be cloaked and hooded figures engaged in a rite, and often with a third lamina, the painted scenes of devilry and indulgence already mentioned. Evoking what Annwn terms a ‘circulating rite’ the forms float and press, wafting like sheets or smoke and then assuming more recognizably human shape. The film is thus both abstract and pictorial. Its soundtrack, a ‘pagan medieval music mix’ featuring Trobar de Morte, reinforces a dominant mood of mystery and danger. Annwn’s text, as treated by Munson, conveys the essence of Christensen’s dual perspective in Haxan: historical witchcraft and modern superstitions and neurosis.

The next collaboration involved Annwn’s poem ‘Microcosmos Stir’. The context here is Constructivist Ballet by Naum Gabo. While living as a refugee in war-time Cornwall, with no toys and games available for children, the sculptor created a ‘ballet’ to amuse his daughter. He used simple materials that were available in his studio. As the Tate St Ives site explains:

A plastic semi-spherical dome with some tiny off-cuts of coloured plastic underneath was transformed into [a] miniature theatre stage with ballet-dancers as soon as Gabo rubbed its surface with woollen cloth. The energy of static electricity would make the ‘dancers’, named after chess pieces, jump and move in circles as by magic. (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/naum-gabo-1137/naum-gabos-constructivist-ballet)

When polished, this small dome generated static electricity so that small fragments floated under its surface. These apparently random ‘fragments’ were, in fact, smaller versions of his sculptures and were given names for this aerial ballet.

Howard’s film, available here,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFldqZjyPew

uses small, suspended cut outs of objects in similar material to evoke child-like visions. These coloured geometric pieces bob and waggle, floating in air, superimposed on black skeleton-like forms in the background. The former shapes move in a playful mode, drifting apart then coming back to join each other. A soft bagpipe-like accompaniment provides further atmosphere. The film reflects the constructivist ethos while not being in any way slavish. Annwn’s poem is both descriptive and interpretive, noting the physical detail (‘Minnows, slivers/disjecta from the studio floor’, ‘zinc erratics’ and ‘burnished glass’) and its effect within local and broader cultural contexts. This is a good example of Annwn’s almost objectivist hold on objects, and also of his rich sound patterns: see for instance the assonance-alliterative texture of ‘shimmy the king in red/and blue, the reclining silver/ Queen, the figments shiver’.

Munson went on to make a film in response to Annwn’s poem ‘The Bridge’, which deals with the interaction between Edgard Varèse, Charlie Mingus and other musicians in Greenwich House, New York in 1957. Varese led a series of improvisation sessions. As Brigid Cohen notes, the surviving recordings

open novel perspectives on a liminal encounter between downtown concert vanguardists and jazz experimenters, testifying to a long and largely unspoken history of mutual fascination, crossed signals, and complicated negotiations of authority. (‘Enigmas of the Third Space: Mingus and Varèse at Greenwich House, 1957’ in Journal of the American Musicological Society 71: 1 [2018])

Drawing, rather speculatively, on Homi Bhabha’s term, Cohen says:

Third-space encounters play out within an uneven field of power, dramatizing and potentially destabilizing those imbalances. Third-space exceeds the mastery of its participants: in the transitional flux of translation, actors become caught in ambivalence and uncertainty, their intentions internally divided and disjunct from their contingent aftereffects. (ibid)

A note on one of the tape boxes, probably in Varèse’s hand, suggests that some of the jazz recordings may have been seen as sources for electronic composition. Clearly, Mingus was serious about the potential for discovery, and Cohen’s perception that there was a power imbalance here is surely unfair to the jazz musicians’ experience and readiness for experiment. However haltingly, the foundations of a bridge between musics and cultures were laid.

Cohen quotes Benjamin Steege on Varèse’s compositional practice, which depended on a discipline of ‘attentive listening’ that sought to ‘coax novelty from the banal, insignificant, and arcane’ in ‘the very monotony of sustaining, repeating, restriking and replaying’. Most of the jazz musicans had been involved in the Jazz Composers workshop, founded by Mingus and Teo Macero in late 1953 with the object of fostering exchanges between concert avant-gardes and post-bop jazz. Hence they were familiar with a larger ensemble context and had considerable experience of free and atonal improvisation. If the Varèse sessions were more open, this was still a recognizable zone.

Annwn investigates the crossover, making links with related jazz, visual art and poetic elements: Gertrude Stein’s vocables, Gertrude Abercrombie’s friendship and creative interaction with Parker and Gillespie, Dylan Thomas ‘rolling into town/ no prisoners taken’, and Duchamp’s circuits. These are set alongside Mingus’s ‘deep verberations/ all over 1957, the live coming alive of/ multiverses’. Next, in a single line of resonant names, Annwn lists members of the Jazz Composers’ Workshop who, besides the present interaction, worked at various times with Mingus: Teo Macero, Don Butterfield, Eddie Bert and Teddy Charles. These come across as ‘soundverses’, reflecting the poet’s excitement in the collaborative project. This is further displayed in the patterning of ‘MingussssVarèsesss’, just before the poem’s close. I almost hear Dylan Thomas voicing this from that distant period.

Munson’s film, viewable here,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjEvxvVfbsM

creates a visual parallel, embracing literal elements and taking the verbal texture to another level. Semi-abstract colour images of bridge girders and New York skyscrapers morph into black and white footage of jazz performance. Various combinations of personnel are superimposed or intercut, with an overall sense of freedom and energy. Dizzie Gillespie, who was not involved in the Greenwich House sessions but played occasionally with Mingus, for instance at the Massey Hall and Carnegie Hall concerts of 1953 and 1973, has quite a presence. There is no need for the players to be matched literally to the soundtrack, which is taken from the mps files posted on the web as ‘Edgar Varese and the Jazzmen’, and indeed no visual record survives. The mood conjured can suffice.

Next Howard did a creative take on Annwn’s ‘Dada Traum’ (see the start of section 4 above for remarks on this poem and one recorded performance). The film (link below)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Hl9oi8Ovhc

is suitably inventive, using constructivist and Dada images that retreat and advance, revolve sideways, flip over and again or float in space. Such movement reflects the poet’s shifts of enunciation, words and emblems passing before us like energy units. Particularly effective is a middle section where images flash explosively in accord with the phrases that emerge after the word ‘violence’:

 

Violence in in-v-l-lable-lable

Ur-most

Ra-carra-raca Carra-racca

Watch your brawl display

Labelle or label

 

Munson ends the film abruptly with an ‘Exit’ image, faithful to the Dada spirit and the finality of the text (‘AUS of Annwn’). The soundtrack is from Antheil’s score for the Dadaist film Ballet Mécanique, which has suitably staccato rhythms and a driving momentum.

Munson then turned his attention to Annwn’s poem ‘The Uncontainable Cockettes!’, producing this film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGd-G90E1Ks

The collaborative process started with Howard, who had witnessed a show by the Cockettes and was still excited by their achievement. In turn Annwn discovered that many of the artists he loved had been influenced by this San Francisco group of activists, actors, players, singers and trans-gender pioneers of the 1960s. Founded in 1969, the Cockettes staged anarchic musical productions, involving elaborate glittery costume, that parodied their source material and conveyed a sense of free expression. Influenced by surrealism and cubism, they crossed boundaries of identity, sexual, social and aesthetic. Annwn’s poem sweeps back from glam-heroes and heroines to this earlier stage of excess, mentioning on the way how Breton’s anti-Gayness was ‘filibustered, busted in communal roar’ by the activities of a freak theatrical troupe. Socio-psychological commentary (‘fantasies quarantined/ by normalcy’s consciousness’) is channelled by wordplay and other sound effects, so that the history described is embodied in the language chosen: exuberant and teasing.

Appropriately promiscuous, Munson’s film mixes footage of the Cockettes taken from the Weber-Weissman documentary (2010) with semi-abstract floating and whirling shapes. Again I am reminded of 1960s light shows as figures and forms dissolve into others. Bubbles or little balls are prominent, suggestive of glitter and also of planetary motion. Kaleidoscopic flower patterns lead into blossom-blobs, starbursts and shooting firework splinters, while ‘the State’s kill-machine’ materializes briefly in what may be Vietnam War footage—a juxtaposition of freedom and repression evoked near the end of the poem. The hedonistic gestural pulse of the troupe—dressed mainly in diaphanous, loose-flowing costumes—is absorbed within this imagery, whose lavish colour magic recalls some of Kenneth Anger’s work. Here brass showband music provides a backdrop to a powerful display of ‘the uncontainable’.

Dada in Motion, available here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_98plR6EON8

is Munson’s take on ‘Dada now’ answering ‘Dada then’. It starts with readings by Schwitters, Hausmann and Picabia and an explosion of complex, overlapping images: blue roses, clocks and eyes. These float and turn, conveying a sense of unstable existence with potential for liberation from habit and obedience. A cartoon element is combined with forms from classical art and anatomy. Then, about halfway through, Annwn begins reading ‘Dada Traum’, the text delivered with echoey sound; his words and phrases seem to revolve like the elements of the visual collage, though the linear progress of the poem is sustained. Film frames or stills now jostle with comic strip material and the occasional spiral design, suggestive of a labyrinth. The soundtrack, composed by the filmmaker, is a mix of ambient effects, with strongly insistent pinging and tinkling piano notes over synthesized organ eddies. The Satie reference point seems apt. Munson’s tribute to Dadaism seems to sum up many of the features present in his extended collaboration with Annwn, and indeed the performance of ‘Dada Traum’ is a repeat-with-variation—of sound and visual image.

The last film poem collaboration was Mavo Dada. This explores Tomoyoshi Murayama’s reconstruction plans for Tokyo, devastated by the 1923 earthquake. These included models with found objects, an anarchic attempt to reflect the entirety of life in art. Some were displayed in a travelling exhibition, along with signboards on buildings.  As a reporter noted, this was intended ‘to relieve the damaged spirit of the city through art,’ but there was also a fascination with ruin, challenging received ideas about form and materials. Murayama was the leader and codifier of the Mavo movement (conceived to be the Japanese form of Dada) after his time making contacts in the west. There he saw expressionist and constructivist stage designs and witnessed performances by dancers Mary Wigman and Niddy Impekoven, known for an intuitive, emotional response to music.

Annwn’s poem begins with a juxtaposition of ‘Niddy Impekoven’ and ‘Tomoyoshi Murayama’ with the connecting phrase ‘something stirred’. We then get a run of abstract nouns and personal names, along with more concrete language. Sound effects resonate in a text that might otherwise be explicatory or just an enthusiasm: ‘dancing over the graves of/ slaves to the latest/ intellect fashion’. The patterning of the long or open ‘a’ vowel along with a short ‘i’ is reminiscent of devices common in Welsh poetry, hardly surprising given Annwn’s heritage. As with some of the other collaborative work, gender fluidity forms part of a larger artistic schema, a shifting theatrical cityscape:

 

in women’s high heels

naked from waist

gender offensive

out-Duchamping Rrose Selavy

. . .

whirling

living sculpture

and moving mannikins

with black-dyed cheeks

turned and twisting up-ended

in Japan’s flickering 1920s

A construct of ‘oil cans, spinning wheel, logs’, fashioned to make a kind of music, leads into ‘graphics unleashed’—the ‘firecracker cacophony’ of a Mavo magazine cover.

Munson’s film (link below)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcDGM381NUI

has Art Deco style titling and dance-scenes superimposed with street views. Isadora Duncan and other dancers stand in for Niddy Impekoven, (film of the latter being rare). There are also images of Butoh dancer Imre Thomann, naked and painted white (Howard has a strong sense of links between Mavo and Butoh). The connexion here between East and West is not fanciful, if we remember Tristan Tzara’s description of Dada as a ‘return to a religion of quasi-Buddhistic indifference’ (Lecture on Dada, 1922), although it could be argued that the proximity of the Western artists to mass slaughter led to a greater feeling of angst, desperation and linguistic dissolution. Munson uses different dances to loop the action together, at one point using building block shapes to suggest the Mavo artists working on building templates to replace those structures lost in the earthquake. He also uses a trapeze artist to suggest the use of upper zones of space in Mavo exhibitions.

The film has a flickering nature, appropriate since this is a key-word in Annwn’s text, already quoted. The found film footage and stills move, for the most part, around and over the kind of typography and linear design that Mavo borrowed from the European avant-garde. At one point colour abstracts sweep in and dominate but otherwise the main texture is black and white, flowing in a way that seems both seamless and attentive to its separate contexts. One could see this as an artistic equivalent of molecular junction and dispersal, and also as a filmic equivalent of linguistic ambiguity. The festishistic treatment of the body is true to the spirit of Mavo. Annwn’s reading of the text is particularly animated, coming to a climax with the insistent beat of a Japanese Taiko drum, as titles revolve across a background of silhouetted figures and crowded shapes. These percussion-driven images of dancers are prolonged after the poem ends, providing a sort of echo closure.

5.

The Munson-Annwn filmpoems are, I think, unique, resulting from shared enthusiasms with due anticipation and response. The verbal is gauged so as to lend itself to pictorial transformation, and the visual is attentive to the nuances of language, drawing out possibilities. Literal contexts are sustained, while conjunctions, assimilations and inflections operate. Text which already has a tactile quality in its layout on the page develops a further material status in filmic expression. Visual collage, likewise, gathers a further dynamic from its engagement with verbal fabric. Although at various points one or other of the media may seem to dominate, there is no overall rivalry between forms. Rather, this tension allows a process of exchange that retains both integrity of purpose and fluidity of direction. As indicated, this is neither translation nor transposition but a dual occupation of space. When Annwn’s poems migrate to video, whose visual shapes and colours prompt other relations, their new figuration can reveal the unexpected, though Munson’s treatment ensures that this is always relevant.

With mixed media there is a danger that the essence of one art form can be diluted or drowned by another. Here, however, both writer and filmmaker have a working alchemical method, something akin to Eugène Jolas’s ‘paramyth’, where synthesis of genres or sources brings a mantic illumination. With insight into each other’s practice and long experience of collage, both men contribute features that achieve a fluidity of consciousness. There is elegance in the work, for instance in Mavo Dada, along with rougher shifts of tone, such as in The Bridge. I am struck by the variety of approach, but also by the consistency of realized vision. Robert Musil claimed that film language can bridge disparate planes of existence, placing the spectator in an ‘other condition’ beyond the limits of ordinary experience (‘Towards a New Aesthetic’). Although this was said in the context of silent film (more singly disposed as a medium), the point about transporting the viewer to another state could be applied to the present collaborative project, with impressions taken out of their typical frame of reference or specificity.

It is rare for contemporary British poetry to be treated on an equal footing with American cultural discourse, not from xenophobia but rather from dominant media control and relative attention space. Thus, David Annwn’s interaction with the Californian artist represents a significant balancing of priorities. This may be due to the open-mindedness of each artist, but also to their common inheritance of a European (in the sense of Continental) avant-garde and a perception of links with other cultures, such as the Japanese Mavo movement. That international reach is part of a mosaic in which distinctions that conventionally underscore forms are discarded, as the geometricality of language gets further visual shape. Short though they are, these cine-poems suggest a pattern of the continuous word; they are also, in a way, exercises in trans-sense, as the language already multi-layered goes through visual-musical shifts. The work is an inspired example of poiesis, that is, ‘active making’.

 

Gavin Selerie

 

 

Gavin Selerie was born in London, where he still lives. Books include Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Hariot Double (2016)—all long sequences with linked units. Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems 1972-2008 was published in 2009 and Collected Sonnets in 2019 (both from Shearsman). These texts often have a concrete aspect, as discussed in the essay ‘Ekphrasis and Beyond: Visual Art in Poetry’ (Junction Box 2).Selerie is known particularly for poems about landscape and romantic love, utilizing traditional and experimental form. He is currently at work on a pandemic sequence. A book length interview, Into the Labyrinth, is available online (Argotist Ebooks). Selerie’s memoir of the London poetry scene 1970-1989 appeared in Clasp, ed. Robert Hampson & Ken Edwards (2016). A long essay on the interaction of art forms, ‘Jumping the Limits’ was published in Junction Box 11.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 Jun 2021

Eléna Rivera: To Fix the Object

Click here to read: To Fix the Object

 

 

Eléna Rivera was born in Mexico City and was raised in Paris. Her most recent book is Epic Series from Shearsman Books. Her third full-length collection of poetry Scaffolding is available from Princeton University Press. Her translation of Bernard Noël’s The Rest of the Voyage (Graywolf Press) received the Robert Fagles Translation award. She also translated Noël’s The Ink’s Path (Cadastre8zéro). Her translation of  Isabelle Garron’s book-length poem Body Was is forthcoming from Litmus Press and Isabelle Baladine Howald’s Phantomb is forthcoming from Black Square Editions. 

23 Jun 2021

Anthony Mellors: Winter Journey – introduction and ten poems

Winter Journey

(Winterreise: Untriangulieren Leben)

Daniel zur Höhe

Translated by Anthony Mellors

 

‘Outside, one has a hundred eyes; at home, hardly one’

 

INTRODUCTION

 

I wer thinking how some fents poals and a gate make all the differents.

Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker

 

Like an iceberg, there is more of a trig point below the surface

than above it.

Daniel zur Höhe, Jedem das Sein: Conversations in the Beech Forest.

 

To say that Daniel zur Höhe’s version of the Winterreise plays fast and loose with Wilhelm Müller’s verse would be an understatement. More of an homage to Schubert’s re-ordered and partially rewritten settings of Müller’s twenty-four poems, at first glance it seems to offer little to the reader looking for a commentary on German Romantic lyric and the Lied tradition. Consequently, my English translation of zur Höhe is anything but a guide to the most beautiful and profound of all song cycles. I should like to think, however, that it does provide a twenty-first century ‘accompaniment’ to the Schubertian vision of wandering, introspection, exile, and political repression, just as zur Höhe’s strange poems extrapolate from the original a vision of paranoid, eroticized subjectivity, born in the ideological struggles and contradictions of the Cold War and maturing in the terminal crisis of late capitalism (terminal here meaning, pace Freud, also interminable). Moreover, the musical dimension of the project is problematic. Clearly, zur Höhe has attempted a kind of translation into his own tongue of the song cycle rather than the poems in isolation, yet he has neither followed the prosody of the lyrics nor tried to imitate their musical interpretation, and in any case a complex structure made up of words and music cannot be converted back into words alone. Instead, he has built into his poetic fantasia a pattern of musical analogues which, random and capricious as they seem, form an allusive network of verbal images, metonymies, and puns entertaining the conceit of writing as a form of ‘composition’.

Since completing Winter Journey in 2014, the author has disappeared from view, leaving behind a handful of literary works, a scant official paper trail, and a couple of abandoned social media sites. His Leipzig home looks occupied, yet he has not been seen in public for years, and the love of his life, Johanna Stenson, denies any contact with the poet following her sudden departure from the city in autumn 2015. As far as we know, zur Höhe has barely moved outside a small but important ring of German cities including Berlin, Weimar, Leipzig, and Dresden, none of them very far from his birthplace of Dessau. As a student in Berlin, he lived in the working class district of Pankow, so all his residences are situated in what used to be the DDR. He spent many years living in semi-rural isolation in an ancient house in Schraplau (at the time of writing up for sale, including the two pedal organs owned by the poet and presumably kept there by the present owner) with its metre-thick walls and yellow tile stoves, before relocating 80 km away to a modest apartment in Leipzig. The speed of change in these former communist cities has been extraordinary, and while zur Höhe has welcomed the demise of the corrupt East German bureaucracy with its fatally flawed economic model (restrictive and monetizing in uneasy measure), he is highly critical of its replacement by a ‘free market’ managed by a globalizing bureaucratic power, its repression subsisting in its mantra of delivering commerce at all costs, and its chief virtue being that it is not as corrupt as many other economies – such as the UK. Berlin has clung to its decadent, techno-obsessed counter-culture for a very long time after re-unification, and its outsider-chic status has lingered even with the return to capital status. Property prices and rent are well below that of the bürgerlich outpost of Munich, which somehow also manages to feel more Hitler-tainted than Berlin: gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten. Rentiers and foreign investors have been relatively slow to see the potential for gentrification in Berlin, yet they are always quick to recognize the crucial difference between the white-faced minstrelsy of hipsters and the unreconstructed ‘prolets’, and inevitably the capital’s low rents are yielding to the forces of social cleansing. Sensing this hollowing-out of cultural value, zur Höhe escaped into the countryside before re-entering the lion’s den at one remove by moving to Leipzig. An important factor in the poet’s lack of wanderlust is his conviction that nowhere else in the world do you find the uncanny conditions in play in the former East Germany, the centre of a central European country that is arguably the capital of Europe and also the most marginal and out of phase place in Europe. It’s as if everyone has forgotten that Leipzig, Jena, Dessau, and – especially – Weimar were at the heart of the Romantic culture we still inhabit, filtered through modernism and the postmodern yet still vitally of that self-divided subjectivity and its communities. Biedermeier, revolutionary, possessive, neurotic, conservative, libertarian, projective, the post-Enlightenment sensibility has now become so ‘post’ it is threatened at the start of the twenty-first century by its own nightmares: the figure of the sociopath as a model for the successful individual, all too capable of separating fantasy from ‘the real world’, yet determined at all costs to realize its fantasies; the return to a Hobbesian view of human nature, displacing Rousseau; and a new form of rentier entrepreneurship, which exploits the human capital of its workers, blurring the line between ‘engineering’ as technology and social manipulation. zur Höhe’s obsession with the urtexts of the manic, melancholic modern citizen –  the subject constituted by capital yet outlawed by it  –  can be said to be motivated entirely by his exile, his experience of disunity at the heart of reunification. In Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden, like nowhere else in the ‘west’, one sees history enacted, and the poet cannot resist dissecting the process of his cultural Spaltung.Dessau is now firmly on the map as the location of the Bauhaus, and it was in a small house on the suburban Törten Estate designed by Walter Gropius that zur Höhe was born in 1960. His parents were typical working class residents of the estate, less than impressed by the austere design and keen to upgrade the basic facilities. Their son and his younger sister Monika (who became a fashion designer) were evidently in love with the Bauhaus aesthetic from an early age, and by the time the DDR authorities ‘rediscovered‘ Bauhaus Dessau in the mid-70s, the adolescent zur Höhes were already nostalgic for the steel doors and windows and the earth closet of their birthplace (which had already gone by 1960). Central Dessau was pretty much wiped out by Allied bombing in 1945, after which it became one of the major industrial centres of the DDR, crammed with Plattenbau (concrete slab) architecture. Yet its flat countryside is full of woodland and parks, including the Wörlitzer Gartenreich, a vast landscaped area developed in the late eighteenth century in the English style. This classical fantasia is conflated in zur Höhe’s mind with the domestic and civic monuments of early modernism, and it is significant that Wilhelm Müller, poet of Die Schöne Mullerin and Die Winterreise, was born in Dessau – and in 1794, about the same time as the Garden Realm came into being. For zur Höhe, Schubert’s settings of Müller’s poems in Winterreise (1827) are the fundamental expression of the displaced, melancholic, phallic subjectivity he sees at the heart of modern Europe; the song cycle is the defining moment of the Romantic sensibility and avant-garde enough to prefigure many of the aesthetic gestures of modernism and its popular declensions. Like Dessau itself, it forms a strange fusion of the classical and modern.

Winterreise is an obsessional work that treats romantic love as a symptom of existential crisis rather than as an end in itself. Throughout the cycle, we cannot tell whether the wanderer has been jilted by the bourgeois object of his affections or has in essence rejected himself. In spite of his ritualistic observances of erotic despair, he seems motivated by the apprehension of a more primordial lack in being, intimated by the rustling linden tree and then manifested in various self-immolating reflections as the death drive. These histrionics are a familiar feature of the Romantic descent into decadence as mapped by Mario Praz (when not articulating the differences between aristocratic and Biedermeier conceptions of interior decoration), and were Winterreise merely an early account of such paroxysms, it might have remained maudlin and generic. Yet its uncanny underdetermination claims a manic ‘Romantic’ sensibility while chipping away at its identity, displacing affects even as it indulges them. And if its faux-völkisch lyrics seem typical of sentimental Hausmusik, the cycle is far removed musically from the domestic and commercial banality of both the contemporary salon and modern Schlager. From the stark, estranged opening of ‘Gute Nacht’ through the chromatic ironies of ‘Der Lindenbaum’ to the gaunt minimalism of ‘Der Leiermann’, the compositions anticipate fractured, introspective rock ballads and the pared-down, repetitive structures of post-serialism. Even the form is ambiguous: unlike Schumann’s Liederkreis, op. 39, which is structured by mood and symbol rather than narrative order, Schubert’s monodrama is both genuinely cyclical (in that it returns to where it begins) and uncannily open-ended (in that it remains inconclusive).

Various translation issues abound. The most obvious one is primarily graphic in nature: the crossword puzzle standing in for ‘Im Dorfe’, here called ‘Global Village’. I’ve had to compose a completely new, parallel puzzle to complement the original. In theory, the spirit of the thing is retained even though the layout and letter has had to change. But thank heavens zur Höhe didn’t compose a cryptic puzzle, in which case anything resembling a translation would have had to be abandoned. German is full of idiomatic turns of phrase which don’t translate easily. This will hardly come as a surprise. Therefore I’ve tried to find English substitutions that make some kind of sense in terms of the overall ‘logic’ of a poem and its place in the sequence. The first lines of ‘Süße Traüme’ present a good example here, in which the fox and the hare say goodnight to one another. While the phrase allows zur Höhe to allude to the original title of the first song in the cycle, ‘Gute Nacht’, it means that the stranger or wanderer is lost ‘in the middle of nowhere’.  I should have liked to keep the figurative colour of the original, but for the sake of sense in English prefer ‘the back of beyond’, effectively blurring the distinction between space and time, which is one of the procedures of zur Höhe’s cycle. The poem’s title could have easily been rendered as ‘Sweet Dreams’, so here is an example of an expression that stays the same across German and English; perhaps perversely, however, I have chosen the title ‘Night Night’ in order to keep the poem’s allusion to Müller’s original as well as zur Höhe’s cod-sentimental rewrite. Throughout, I have been troubled by the problem that any translation risks making the original language disappear; it is always an appropriation and should not therefore be misrecognized as a medium that attempts anything more than carrying over the original into another, different yet related, form. No matter how much it ends up departing from the original it should not play fast and loose with the text, but be as faithful to the original in spirit as it can be. As we shall observe in the case of the musical score, ‘interpretation’ is inevitable, and translations / interpretations are necessarily multiple, especially over time; but this does not mean that they should neglect the need to disclose the truth of the text, no matter how fugitive and fleeting that disclosure may turn out in the end.

Elsewhere, English is already in place, and even a cursory reading of the sequence reveals zur Höhe in dialogue with poets as diverse as Coleridge, Frost, Stevens, Geoffrey Hill, and John Cooper Clarke, as well as songwriters such as Bob Dylan and David Bowie. Gene MacLellan’s ‘Snowbird’ morphs into the LaFlammes’ ‘White Bird’ (both from 1969), ‘Ring of Fire’ looks back to ‘Der Sandmann’, Arthur Lee rubs shoulders with John Martyn, RZA with Art & Language, and throughout there are capricious English / English and English / German correlations. To get the sense of variation, I have tried to ring some of these changes myself: if ‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’ inevitably remains the same title in the original and in my ‘translation’, ‘Incomer’ (a term used in both German and English) turns into the East Anglian vernacular ‘Blow-in’.

Other titles have different dynamics. The ‘excess pleasure’ of ‘Überschüssiger Genuss’, for instance, has been imbued with a more forthright Lacanian sense (‘Surplus Jouissance’) to emphasize the psychoanalytic bent of the sequence, which is evinced in a number of allusions to the Dream of the Burning Child in Freud’s Traumdeutung and Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts, and suggested obliquely in the oneiric knocking that occurs in ‘Allegorie des Winters’. zur Höhe is not a surrealist – in fact he has argued that the history of surrealist poetry has been hamstrung by its disinclination to stomach figurative dérèglement, and nowhere more so than in English writing – yet there is a powerful strain of surreal association at work in his work, a delirium of correlatives acting as a kind of straying guide or Irrlicht. He sees the Winterreise as a toy box containing what Walter Benjamin calls ‘the debris of a former world’, and as a flea market full of part-objects to be recommissioned or recombined, much as Lacan found in Parisian brocantes the origin of Lautréamont’s festering amalgamations. The Romantic missed encounter, which we still call today a ‘relationship’, becomes in Winter Journey something like the description of the ‘sex drive’ in Seminar XI, where Lacan presents an image of the drives as a montage, a machine with ‘a dynamo connected up to a gas tap’, from which ‘a peacock’s feather emerges, and tickles the belly of a pretty woman, who is just lying there looking beautiful’.1 (At the same time, zur Höhe is rarely quite as imagistically random as the surrealists. He is perhaps too Teutonically sociological in his approach to poetic pathology, realizing that the ‘pretty woman’ in this fantasy is, like the ‘Stiff Kitten’ and the ‘Junge Mädchen mit ein Electra-Komplex’ in ‘Nachrüsten’, a dubious male projection of femininity. Therefore, surrealist brio must be tempered with Western Marxist dialectic and the kitsch surreality of the German lifeworld, with its fragments of vestimentary space and ‘pharaonic heaps of mining slag and battered schnapps factories’.2  Eldritch tropes of derealization are everywhere related to the history of lyric as song, reminding us that, as Daniel Tiffany argues,

Romanticism in both its German and British formations helped to elaborate, to be sure, the archetype of poetic kitsch, yet the histories of antiquarianism and imposture really began with the ballad revival in Britain during the first two decades of the eighteenth century

and ‘the “distressed genre” of the counterfeit folk-poem made available a new palette of eccentric and even spurious poetic diction.’3 Theodor Adorno insists that the poet Eichendorff (1788-1857)

achieves the most extraordinary effects with a stock of images that must have been threadbare even in his day. The castle that forms the object of Eichendorff’s longing is spoken of only as the castle; the obligatory stock of moonlight, hunting horns, nightingales, and mandolins is provided, but without doing much harm to Eichendorff’s poetry. The fact that Eichendorff was probably the first to discover the expressive power in fragments of the lingua mortua contributes to this.4

These ‘effects’ barely translate into another language, and they are perhaps the reason why Eichendorff and German Romantic poets such as Mörike, Rückert, and Müller, all adored by composers of Lied, have never been much appreciated as poets by foreign readers: their stock of faux folk images are simply too German to signify beyond the orbit of their own richly steeped iconography. Outside Germanic culture, the nostalgic parade of castles, maidens, post-horns, forests, and lost gods seems less the maguffin for a proto-modernist exploration of the rustle of language, as Adorno contends, than a kitsch paean to tradition, strangely disturbed yet reified by an archly self-immolating subject. Adorno is determined to rescue Eichendorff from a reductive melancholia, finding instead a generous suspension of the ego, which has no interest in self-preservation. Yet he has to admit that the sentiments in Eichendorff’s poems, as in Die schöne Müllerin, are only accessible to those who have internalized their popular settings and glee club renditions, so that many of the lines ‘sound like quotations, quotations learned by heart from God’s primer.’5 The kitsch element in Volkslieder, then, derives from miniaturized versions of an already simulated idiom, which enters ‘tradition’ by virtue of its translation into forms less self-conscious than the original. Clement Greenberg’s description of kitsch artefacts as simulations of genuine culture is not only inverted – ‘fake lyrics sometimes shape and even transform canonical poetry’6  – but complicated by being simulations of simulated culture, with the imprimatur of God as the kitsch icing on the top. Adorno’s rereading of Eichendorff as an allegorist of dead forms is intended to rescue the poetry from its ‘prettified’ reputation; yet the dialectics of kitsch anticipate that rereading while suspending Adorno’s insistence on the poetry as ‘transcendent’.

Having come to this conclusion, I should like to agree with Adorno that a kind of transformation takes place in the realm of the song cycle, which ‘avoids the danger inherent in all song, that of prettifying the music by putting it into small genre-like formats, through a process of construction: the whole emerges from the complex of miniature-like elements.’7 Schumann’s cycle of Eichendorff poems achieves this ‘whole’, paradoxically, by eschewing the cyclical closure of the traditional song cycle (effectively placing it under erasure in the title Liederkreis) and bringing out the potential of the lyric toward abstraction, dissonance, and non-identity, music exceeding the poetic image and realizing its Mallarmesque ‘rustling’. At least, that is how Adorno’s commentators tend to summarize his account, and certainly Adorno leans toward characterizing Schumann as an early member of the Second Viennese School. Yet the language he uses in the Coda to the Eichendorff essay is somewhat less edgily modernist. Key terms are ‘expression’, ‘balance’, ‘delicacy’, ‘feeling’, ‘symmetry’, and – to take one example – the exquisite ‘Mondnacht’ ‘approaches the structure of the medieval lyric and Meistergesang; like an Abgesang, the last stanza reproduces the poem’s expansive gesture, while the last two lines recapitulate the beginning and close off the transcendent structure.’8 Here, Schumann doesn’t so much as deconstruct Eichendorff’s lyrics as amplify them and extend them tonally into infinity, an appraisal that does little to support more recent musicological claims for the improvisatory nature of Schumann’s ‘fragment clusters’.

While such claims are not made for the earlier, more mimetic ‘rustlings’ of Schubert’s settings of Müller,  Winterreise is singular in the intensity of its lyrical, fractured, völkisch yet intellectual, manic, and minimalist transformation of its poetic material. Ian Bostridge notes of ‘Der Lindenbaum’ that

[t]hat gentle rustling – of the leaves of last summer rather than the winter branches of the present, specified later in the poem – is then itself gently interrupted by horn calls, the Romantic sound par excellence, the call of the past, of memory, sensuality at a distance, “distance, absence, and regret,” as Charles Rosen puts it in his book The Romantic Generation.9

If this seems a more orthodox approach than Adorno’s, it is not without its own allegorical and political dimensions. The linden tree, Bostridge suggests, is a symbol of Gemeinschaft, representing precisely the kind of conservative nationalist sentiments we might expect from such a nostalgic lyric. But within the context of the cycle as a whole, with its oblique references to the repressive Metternich regime (see my notes to ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’), the song takes on a refusenik note:

In the political wintertime of the 1820s, the dreams the dreamer dreams in this song might well be of an idealised past in which Germans of all sorts governed themselves under the linden tree, free from foreign interference or bureaucratic pressure alike.10

As with Eichendorff’s ‘heartfelt’ poems, however, the wistful, folkloric bent of the song helped to make it popular outside the salon and concert hall, reduced to a strophic pattern by Friedrich Silcher in order to simplify further the folk song simplicity of its main tune:

The fabulous rustling in the piano had to go; the melodic line was altered in the direction of greater psychological uplift. You can hear the great Lieder, Mozart, and operetta tenor Richard Tauber sing Silcher’s version, liederhosen and all, in a 1930s movie, Das lockende Ziel…’11

Suddenly we’re back in the kitsch realm of the school choir, the glee club, campfire singing, slap-dancing cameraderie, yodelling ‘in der Fremde’, and Nana Mouskouri. Before yielding to this division between noble and debased versions of ‘Der Lindenbaum’, however, we should remember that Schubert’s original version lent itself to a ‘higher’ form of kitsch as a death-wish lullaby, which, ‘sprung from the profoundest and holiest depths of racial feeling’, lures Hans Castorp into battle at the close of The Magic Mountain.12 The earlier ‘Snow’ chapter in that novel, with its ambivalent exploration of loss and its fetishization, reads for Bostridge as ‘a good imaginative and mental workout for singing, or experiencing, Winterreise.’13 zur Höhe’s preferred ‘workout’, though, is Mann’s later novel Doktor Faustus (1947), especially the parts dealing with the Kridwiß circle of apocalyptic poets, functioning, as Kirsten J. Grimstad describes it,

as an intermediary channel from the socially detached artist’s utopia of form that is not of this world to an aestheticized worldly political utopia in which emotionally charged effects – monumental architecture, swelling music, rousing nationalist festivals, banners, flags, mythic symbols – combined to form a seductive veil hiding the ugly reality of the Nazi state.’14

While a critique of fascist aesthetics informs Winter Journey, there are few overt references within the text to Nazism (a notable exception being ‘Nachträglichkeit’), the poet concluding that to poetize such atrocities after Celan would be capricious and risks its own kitschification. In any case, zur Höhe is interested in Nazi kitsch primarily in terms of the way it affects what we might call Stasi kitsch, which in turn interests him less as a joke at the expense of the former DDR than as a point which connects the repressive regime of his childhood to surveillance culture in the West today. The Hermetic element in the sequence is a combination of metaphors of secrecy, paranoia, narcissism, and the effects of gentrification, all significant elements composing twenty-first century subjectivity.15 If kitsch plays a part in this, it is because, as the postmodern mode par excellence, it troubles both classical and modernist facture and inhabits the lifeworld to such an ‘aestheticized’ extent that people find it hard to distinguish between genuine and fake emotions. Translated into modern youth culture, for example, the Romantic dream of death generates miniaturized epiphanies of self-harming, which paradoxically may not be about death at all but self-preservation (like ‘Der Lindenbaum’ itself, in the final analysis). The composers of the song ‘Let It Go’, from Disney’s Frozen (2012), claim to have been ‘thinking in an emo kind of way’ when turning a narrative of self-disgust and exile into a power ballad. The song’s helium ascent from minor to major mode represents Elsa’s pyrrhic victoriousness as she refashions herself into an ice queen, yet the irony is (apparently) lost on the multitude of teens who experience the song as a sugar rush of empowerment. Turning loss into gain is of course a way of coping with feelings of shyness and rejection in a society that values only self-confidence, conventional beauty, and conformity (compare Mann’s emo novella Tonio Kröger (1903) ), yet Elsa rejects the ‘perfect girl’ image only to make herself over into an even more perfect vision of mainstream glamour – there are no goth combat boots and assassin hoodies here. Even though Frozen courageously rejects standard romantic fantasies in favour of sisterhood and friendship, it appeals to the same appearance of conformity it criticizes, recognizing that narcissistic defense-mechanisms can be as deceptive as they are empowering. The major mode might be euphoric, but this should not overcome the sense that the bravado of Elsa’s final cry ‘the cold never bothered me anyway’ is, like her claim ‘you’ll never see me cry’, a confession of vulnerability in invulnerability. Similarly, the wanderer in Schubert’s ‘Irrlicht’ asserts that finding his way out of the abyss into which the will o’ the wisp has lured him ‘liegt nicht schwer mir in dem Sinn’. He’s not bothered, yet we know this can’t be the case. This song, however, deploys a B-minor tonality, and here’s the thing: the meaning of major and minor modes in song is influenced by context, and lyrics sometimes work against the emotive grain of the key.16 One of Schubert’s innovations was to create an ironic dialogue between the lyric and its accompaniment, and although in Winterreise the piano does more than merely ‘accompany’ the voice of the wanderer, dogging his footsteps and taunting him with the rustle of external nature, it never emerges as a figure separate from his unstable subjective world. Except, perhaps, as Bostridge suggests, in the last song ‘Der Leiermann’ – once again in B-minor – where the piano imitates the droning repetition of the hurdy-gurdy and projects its player’s bare life as the new horizon of the Wanderer’s existence.

zur Höhe has been anxious not to crowd his reading of ‘Der Leiermann’, knowing that almost any supplement to the original destroys the space necessary for its minimal, (in)conclusive lyricism. This must seem rich coming from a poet who has to all intents and purposes trampled over Müller’s faithful homage to the Wunderhorn tradition and extended the Winterreise remit out of all proportion to its folk simplicity. Nevertheless, by the end of the cycle, zur Höhe manages to return to something like a folk idiom with ‘Der “Leier” Mann’, although, as the title indicates, this is in a characteristically bracketed way. ‘Papa’s bag was full of shit / and we still ain’t hip to it’ runs a fugitive plaint from the early years of hip-hop, and the modern poet strives to register the history of popular lyric as a form of détournement or culture jamming. But it’s also a desire to be faithful to what Bostridge calls the ‘anti-music’ of this piece, which has inspired recently a non-classical tradition of cover versions in addition to unorthodox performances that reach back to its conceptual origins. Even here, though, innovation is too often too additive, from the inevitable overkill of Covenant’s techno anthem to the carefully wrought paroxysms of ‘Improvisation – Schubert Transgression’ by Laurence Malherbe, Laurent David, and the Kadenza Quartet. Thrilling those these are, they are too busy, somehow too ‘musical’, and one is left yearning for the uncanny iciness of the original piano version. Schubert composed for the fortepiano, and performances on contemporary instruments reveal the droning, clanking repetition of the original accompaniment, bringing the whole piece back in tune / out of tune with the hurdy-gurdy. Strangely, a real hurdy-gurdy sounds more lyrical than the fortepiano, as can be heard in the fine recording by Mirkovic De-Ro and Loibner. In criticizing wild interpretations of the song, I do not mean to reject modern interpretations in favour of mistakenly objective notions of the authentic. As Adorno argues in ‘Bach Defended Against His Devotees’, interpretation is not a supplement to the ‘original’ work but the condition of its temporal development: ‘[t]he musical score is never identical with the work; devotion to the text means the constant effort to grasp that which it hides.’17 Bach’s compositions are not pickled artifacts – they anticipate their realization by new performances and new technologies. And while Bach’s preference for the pliability of the tonally poor clavichord over the harpsichord and early piano provides an insight into his conception of The Well-tempered Keyboard, this hardly restricts the work’s disclosure to performances on an instrument that now signifies (as a ‘period’ instrument) in a dynamically different way from its use in the eighteenth century. Similarly, a performance of Winterreise on archaic instruments looks two ways; if the creaking fortepiano revives the work’s folkish resonances, its ‘authenticity’ is really a novelty experienced only because we are used to the greater range of feeling allowed by the pianoforte, which now seems to have been invented in order to realize the dynamics of Schubert’s compositions.

So when we find the lyrics of popular songs flickering like will o’ the wisps in and out of zur Höhe’s ‘Leiermann’, the intention is I feel not so much born of a desire to appear ‘postmodern’ as to register both with and against the grain of the Schubertian legacy, a need to acknowledge its powerful influence on non-traditional folk idioms (e.g., ‘there’s a shadow running through my days / like a beggar going from door to door’) and to counter the vapid appraisal of Schubert as the inventor of the pop ballad, which emerges as a desperate attempt by conservative members of the classical music community to make dark, complex songs accessible to an easy listening audience. Just as Bach’s inventive keyboard music instantly dispels the image of a composer of fusty church music, Schubert’s tonal world, transfigured by chromaticism, intervallic cells, and dissonance, is neither Biedermeier nor populist but the beginning of a new tradition in which the art song erases the distinction between popular and classical forms. This is perhaps why zur Höhe, while satirizing Schlager, respects Nico and Jackie-O Motherfucker as much as Hugo Wolf and John Cage. There are various ‘classical’ works informing Winter Journey, such as Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, Schumann’s second Liederkreis, Schoenberg’s Erwartung, and Birtwistle’s opera Punch and Judy, yet only lyrics which touch upon Schubert’s icy thematic are directly quoted or alluded to in the text, their evocation of winter connecting one way or another with the ‘romance’ of the Cold War and its legacy, given a political edge that zur Höhe identifies with Schubert’s facture.

This existential politics helps to explain why zur Höhe – at least for the time being –  has gone into hiding. The Winter Journey poems, with their obsessional implication of domestic surveillance in all aspects of social and intimate life, suggest that the poet has gone off-grid as a way of resisting the new global order of subjection. He becomes the Wanderer: de-phallic, dispossessed, and risking social death in order to overcome alienation in a way he cannot yet articulate. Moreover, zur Höhe is a highly educated man, urbane, immaculately dressed, possessed of an elegant if slightly autistic mien and a precisely articulate if slightly affected speaking voice; yet he calls himself a member of the Lumpenproletariat, that class Bakunin described as being ‘almost unpolluted by bourgeois civilization’ and Marx, less approvingly, identified with ‘ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie’ as well as decayed roués,

vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars—in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la boheme.18

It’s perhaps no coincidence that the ‘literati’ find themselves next to ‘organ grinders’, a term often conflated with ‘hurdy-gurdy players’. No coincidence, either, that in Martin McDonagh’s extraordinary film In Bruges(2008), the ‘hitman’, kitsch representative of the outsider in Hollywood mythology, turns out  to be haunted by ‘Der Leiermann’. zur Höhe, then, not only rewrites the outsider poetic, he lives it, exploiting his paranoia and negating it in the hope of transporting his readers to a place beyond the pure misrecognition of the lonesome subject. If Winter Journey doesn’t quite achieve its aufhebung, which is dialectically impossible anyway, it nevertheless avoids the pathos into which so-called literary works have descended, fetishizing  and maintaining the subject of loss in political apathy. It would be simplistic to say that ‘serious’ art resists the euphoric trick of turning minor into major modes. To be sure, what we call the literary novel (as opposed to genre fiction) usually goes in the opposite direction, to the point of inane self-parody, and there’s a particular ‘voice’ that goes with conservative anecdotal poetry, which affects a dying fall as the poem’s culmination, as if the natural state of art were regretful, elegiac, descending down to darkness on extended wings. Winterreisealmost qualifies as an example of this tendency, being ‘a work devoid of any happiness or even tranquility’ though not without its strivings and revelations, its glimmers of hope, no matter how illusory they turn out to be.19 And yet, and yet…the difference between these ‘dying fall’ works and critical negativity is not always easy to define, but I would say it has something to do with a resistance to the constituted real on the part of an engaged work. The literary novel and the anecdotal poem treat reality as a natural fact, which the form of the work represents without irony or ambiguity, and the reader is invited to empathize with this fact, to accept its pathos as the heart of existence. The work disavows its own artifice, it wants not to be a work of art but a window onto reality ‘itself’. Truly negating works, however, retain the joy of artifice. No matter how miserable their subject matter, they treat the real as mythical, contingent, ideological, something that cries out for intervention and transformation at the level of imagination and praxis. Poetry says ‘fuck you’ to Julian Barnes and the literary novel, just as it sticks its fingers up the noses of the new puritanical avant-garde, the academics, the subjectivists, the anecdotalists, and the instagram ego-massagers. Its mode of critique is the suspension of sense, its lack of ‘expression’; it does not compute, it does not therapeut. Its emotions are possible worlds, not an indulgence in content platitudes and formal stock-responses. The art of the outsider, therefore, can never be allied with tribal affiliations, no matter how radical and ‘innovative’ these claim to be. The moment innovation becomes a shibboleth, it begins to take on the characteristics of an orthodoxy it disavows; before long, the clerical exponents of the avant-garde will fail to be able to read any text that diverges from a set of easily assimilable formal traits. To some extent, innovative literature merely inverts the order of the mainstream, naturalizing tendency in art: where the latter sees only expressive content, poured into utilitarian form, the former seeks expression through form alone, while policing content for signs of the expressive conservatism it rejects. If the horizon of the mainstream is resignation to the powers that be, that of the avant-garde is helpless anger. This anger – as a rejection of the status quo – is all too often circumscribed, splenetic,  and repressive. Torn between a belief in libertarianism and a liberal desire for social justice, it condemns any form of self-expression not conforming to the righteous anger it theorizes. Rimbaud, Artaud, Cendrars, Lautréamont – these are all cherished figures of the wildly, subversively innovative. Yet their impulses are useful to the current post-neo-avant-garde only to the extent that they can be codified and scrubbed ideologically clean for the purposes of peer review in today’s creative industries.

Whatever zur Höhe’s work achieves, if anything, it is surely dedicated to the overthrow of writing as ‘industry’. Not a rejection of the commercial so much as a deep distrust of the tendency towards homogenization and the instrumental-professional. Poetry today takes place within tribal communities where expectations of form and expression divide taste, criticism, and politics to the extent that the work of a poet valued by more than one ‘tribe’ will generate quite different interpretative contexts.  At a certain level, there is no getting away from these affiliations and structures, their qualities and their limitations, and I should be dishonest if I said I was indifferent as to whether zur Höhe’s poems and my versions of them are seen as conservative or innovative. If poetry is to achieve anything genuinely new, it should prove equally distasteful to both mainstream conservatives and those who fetishize innovation at the expense of having something to say. Therefore, if it is to resist orthodoxy, it must risk being hard to assimilate to the values of the tribe. Poetry does not purify the dialect of the tribe but messes with tribal idioms and the belief that those values are in way pure. If its horizon is then the creation of a new tribe, so be it, just as long as it manages to resist the cant of creativity for a few fleeting moments.

 

 

Anthony Mellors, Norfolk / Cambridge / Berlin, 2017/18

 

Notes

 

1. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. (Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1981), 169.

2. Simon Winder, GermaniaA Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern (London: Picador, 2010), 32.

3. Daniel Tiffany, My Silver PlanetA Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 9.

4. Theodor W. Adorno, ‘In Memory of Eichendorff’, in Notes to Literature I, 66

5. Adorno, ‘In Memory’, 57. Eichendorff features prominently in the Hermann Broch’s 1950 lecture ‘Notes on the Problem of Kitsch’, where ‘Abenlandschaft’ is described as lurching from ‘the most beautiful German lyric poetry ever written’ to ‘the most insipid and sentimental imitation of popular poetry’. (in Gillo Dorfles, ed., Kitsch: An Anthology of Bad Taste (London: Studio Vista, 1969), 53-3.

6. Tiffany, My Silver Planet, 9.

7. Adorno, ‘In Memory’, 73.

8. Adorno, ‘In Memory’, 77.

9. Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, 115.

10. Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey, 120.

11. Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey, 122.

12. Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, quoted in Susan Youens, Retracing A Winter’s Journey: Schubert’s Winterreise (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 168.

13. Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey, 135.

14. Kirsten J. Grimstad, The Modern Revival of Gnosticism and Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus (New York: Camden House, 2002), 217. See also Chapter 5 of Raymond Furness’s Zarathustra’s Children: A Study of a Lost Generation of German Writers (New York: Camden House, 2000).

15. The inquisitive reader will find it hard to dispense with Libbrecht and Quackelbeen on traumatic hysteria, the findings of Dwork and Wobber on cryptology, and Burgers and Musterd on gentrification (see Bibliography).

16. Bostridge’s reading of ‘Irrlicht’ is less gloomy than that of Youens. Nevertheless, both commentators share a sense of ambivalence in the song, of saying otherwise: ‘The wanderer’s attitude throughout the cycle so far has been one which seesaws between the expression of true emotion, and a sort of ironic distancing from it, even an embarrassment at it.’ (Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey, 204)

17. Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Bach Defended against His Devotees’, in Prisms, 144.

18. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, in Surveys from ExilePolitical Writings, Vol. 2. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), 197.

19. Youens, Retracing A Winter’s Journey, 75.

 

Click here to read: Ten Poems from Winter Journey

 

 

 

 

Anthony Mellors. Recent work includes’Modernism After Modernism’ in Alex Davis and Lee Jenkins, eds, A History of Modernist Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 2015), ‘Eurydike’ in Snow 7 (Spring 2019), and Steven Hitchins’s Canalchemy Microanthology (2019).  ‘ “Williams Mix”: Collage and Synthesis’ appeared in Junction Box 11. Latest project is Red Cills Three: Poems of the 2010s.

 

 

23 Jun 2021

Nell Osborne: Five Poems

god tier

I am a monster in the mouth in the head in the pockets

I am a minnow in the head in the mouth and in the pockets

Your feedback is greatly appreciated at this point when I am greatly disorientated by urban life’s teachings

I want to be more dynamic more efficient I am right now goosing for the water pageant but I refuse to accept that I am still redeemable at the fair

I am no longer a customer of yours not since you treated me so badly I left your company I moved out of your storage factory unit that prohibits perishable items

I want to love everyone and maybe I could too after I finish the hardest puzzle in the world the one that is technically impossible

I am schlepping about our father’s body see like a carafe of red wine I am invisible save for at the Laser Quasar

Love me like a flower touch me like a flower I silent scream like a flower worship me as each flower deserves himself to be cut and paraded

Let me become the remarkable shrub that I was destined to become in the vegetable patch of this endless fallow year

Like any bone carcass stretched in skin I look best in soft light and undressing

 

 

Chef’s kiss

Train conductor thinking on limply pulsing scalloped edges

For the rest of the day, ticket fines slide. The bevel on him

Big, beautiful hands filled to the brim with gemütlich plasma

There are things to love about anybody

moving at 200 mph that is

Greener the trees balk at joggers’ ankles bonely flashing blue

The bug’s-eye view. The roiling nation state of red clay soil

I married a worm under duress

underground, blindfolded, smiling

like a dumb gherkin bride lmao

Sometimes to catch myself, breathing etc.

What to do with all that humidity

How to package the blood

Train conductor adjusts his face and it’s new

Witness to the luminosity ‘pon the halcyon

whatever

I giggle and giggle and giggle and giggle, until I hear the birds start up

And the day’s flat grey face is damp against the glass /

My email inbox is filled with so many

possible suitors who know my full name

 

 

Enough, glamour

I am writing to ask that you kindly desist

your violent tenure as the ocean of my mind

it being much worse here than

imagined historical loving

I wrote a book since we never, starlight, met

400-thread counts ago: overthinking every phallic

objet d’art, with you

in the basement be

men just like you

Have a soft one, a cold one

on me, my dear sirs

merely corpsing along towards

the curled forefinger of mauve light

pressed flat into navy for a spinal

lifetime of palms down in the spreadsheets

Most beloved when you’re enduring

wreathed in luminous neon Viking dry lunge

red petal-breath, blue petal-breath, red petal-breath

freshly belimbed ow ow

starchily overbody-ing the carpets

Kind regards, now

turn off the lamp when you leave

the metaphorical room

managerially, gentleman

 

 

I inspected every asshole 

I inspected every asshole on earth

no small feat → no big surprises either

I made some invaluable

professional contacts

my Red Riding Snood

gelatine bitches assemble → bend over → let’s

get this paperwork done & then

relax → un-trousered, out-of-office

Not much going on for me, spiritually, right now

Still → slips from & sits atop lips

cheekbones → untreated quantum desire

is a tick box disease → [cartoon voice]:

you’ll need to fly to America for that

(if you can find the coins in time)

I, like many women of my ilk,

highly enervated, mute, garrulous, dehydrated

dream of nothing more complicated than:

find the extra-terrestrial & get paid for it.

 

 

A la Carte

I

didn’t

order

this

OK

yes

I

suppose

I

will

“eat”

it

(I’ll

“eat”

almost

anything)

Oh

yeah

I

know

I’m

literally

“eating”

“it”

 

Nell Osbourne says:

I was reading Bernadette Mayer’s Ethics of Sleep: a poetic investigation that attempts to map out the entangled relations between ideas of sleep, dream and production. I admire how brazenly unsystematic it is — of course, needs to be. ‘The dream does do / things like the poem,’ writes Mayer. Things. I am always getting butchered in my dreams. I have a therapist who tells me there is no morality in the dreamscape. Once you understand that, you can go back armed: become the most sadistic butcher there is (in your own dreams). I’m not sure if the same logic holds for the poem, but I imagine it could.

In an interview at the end of Mayer’s book, Dave Brinks suggests that her poems are written against the idea of progression and Mayer replies, ‘I like to go backwards’. Me, I was writing these abstruse little poems, simply trying to have a “good time”. ‘To be small and to stay small’ — the motto of Robert Walser’s schoolboy hero in his 1909 novel, Jakob von Gunten. The poem can trace out things, through a series of entirely unrelated propositions, without coming to any conclusion, or having a sense of having spoken, or having been awake at the time.

Not being a person much in control of my “brain”, I spend the whole time asking: Please sir, which year is it? I like imagining desire at its least legible, least articulate. Hostile inscrutability is my favourite refusalist power move. We have these alien longings. By which I mean, the desire to be found, seen, chosen, taken away. To have one’s damaged attachment to the world — one’s palimpsest sense of self-worth, one’s patently untenable feelings of superiority — redeemed by extra-terrestrial peoples. For some of the people I went to school with, alien longing is now intimately woven with an antivax gut-health-core ressentiment, projected onto the advent of a purified, paedophile-ring-FREE Boho Chic utopia. But alienality is equally a feature of poetic method — one that I, too, feel closely aligned with. Jack Spicer believed that his poems were alien transmissions, he their attentive receptacle. He writes, ‘For example / the poem does not know / Who you refers to’. I like the strange re-calibration demanded by that capitalised ‘W’. We who are so used to capitalising our names. When I was younger, I believed my first name was spelled: N-A-M-E. I was getting scolded by teachers for being difficult. Afterwards, I would try to print it more clearly, more emphatically, upon the dotted line of my worksheet: N-A-M-E. Again, punishment. Spicer writes: ‘Sheer hell / Is where your apartness is your apartness’. For him, poems echo back and forth with one another in some kind of Outer-space, gaining resonance, albeit still carrying a trace of the poet — the particular topography of their accreted scar tissue. Writing a poem is a dance with a Martian (cry emoji). Not many things make me feel sentimental, but that does. My coming useful irrelevance. Plus, we miss dancing so fucking much.

 

Nell Osborne’s recent work has appeared in places such as Manchester Review of Books and Bath Magg. Nell co-runs No Matter, an experimental reading and commission series, based in Manchester. She co-edits the zine series Academics Against Networking. Her first pamphlet, The Canine Redeemer has Entered the Bungalow, is forthcoming with Just Not

 

23 Jun 2021

Steven Hitchins: A conduit or line of pipes


A sign just up off the path: Danger Quarry Keep Out. A little further on a trail cuts off the main path and takes me up the hillside through the trees. I try to work out where I am, orienting myself according to the streets below. Everything looks the same under this rusty carpet of beech and oak leaves.

I notice places where the hill has been chiselled into, hollowed out. Little nooks, enclaves dug out of the slope. The area around the Danger sign is overgrown with ferns and brambles. The soil around this area is very dark, flecked with iridescent black specks. I stoop to pick out a chunk of black rock from the roots of a tree leaning out of the slope.

This part of Pontypridd where I live is called Graigwen (Welsh for ‘white rock’), but this whole area, backing onto the hillsides of Cefn Gwyngul and Craig-yr-Hesg, was apparently once known as Gellifynaches. ‘Gelli’ is a mutation of the Welsh ‘celli’ meaning ‘grove’ and ‘fynaches’ is a mutation of ‘mynaches’ meaning ‘nun’ or ‘recluse’.

Researching Gellifynaches, I come across a newspaper advert from The Cardiff Times (November 13 1863) announcing an application for the incorporation of the Pontypridd Water Works Company. The notice lists the various conduits, pipes and reservoirs that the company was responsible for.

Gellifynaches is mentioned a few times in the advertisement. It refers to a conduit or line of pipes commencing near ‘the mouth of an ancient coal level’ 200 yards north of ‘a farmhouse known as Gellifynaches’, and later mentions diverting ‘the waters of the Gellifynaches Brook’ into the said conduits.

Mist bathes distant hills. Steam twirls up off veranda. In the east Eglwysilan sugared in snow. Its cap of ferns the burnt browns of dried blood. To the southwest mists drift up off Gelliwion’s pines. Climbing coils of coniferous breath.

I place my gathered rusty objects in a tub and cover them with a solution of one-part vinegar to two-parts water with a pinch of salt. Acid and salt open the metal, electrochemical reactions accelerated by electrolytes preparing it for marriage to the plant world, intermediary to the animal world. As electrons pass from the iron to the oxygen in the water, the mineral eats its way into the vegetable realm. I splash an ochre wash of this iron water across a sheet of paper.

Ferns red against white birch trunks. Craig-yr-Hesg crags in the drizzly mist. Where the vegetation has died back I notice a newly denuded pathway cutting off in a different direction to where I usually go. I follow it down. Through the trees is a wooden frame fence forming a small square. I tramp across to it and see that inside is a tangle of wire, toppled posts and brambles. Around the other side of the fence is a sign: The Coal Authority – Keeping the Public Safe. And next to it another sign: Danger Unstable Ground / No Entry / No Smoking. Through the mesh of wire and brambles I can see a square hole in the ground. It goes down a distance then seems to be filled in.

Conduits Nos. 1-5 and No. 15 all stem from wells or springs in Lan Wood, the woodland surrounding Graigwen, with many of them commencing in the region of the Darren Ddu Coal Level where Lan Wood meets the side of Craig-yr-Hesg. The Darren Ddu Fault runs west of the Clydach, crosses the Taff at Trallwng and continues past the edge of the Common (near the Rocking Stone) and on to Gyntaff and Upper Boat. Small coal-levels had evidently been tunnelling the vein throughout Lan Wood for many years, with an ‘ancient level’ behind Gellifynaches mentioned in the advertisement.

I follow a stream down to a path and then clamber up, snapping through branches, onto the spoil tips. Landscape of black hills dotted with pale blonde grasses and clumps of heather. White birch spearing through shale-grey dunes. My boots munch across the carbon gravel. Slag path laked in puddles. A tunnel of twigs jewelled in chainmail of raindrops.

The Darren Ddu Level in Lan Wood was opened in 1842 by Morgan Thomas and his sons. Shortly afterwards, they opened another entrance on the other side of Graigwen, in an area between the Pwllhywel, Bryngoleu and Blaenhenwysg farms which consequently became known as Cwm Sg?t. Later another entrance was opened near New Road on the Ynysybwl side of the mountain, so that the level eventually became linked up in a network of burrows through the hillside. But subterranean water was always a problem at Darren Ddu with numerous attempts at damming the underground streams and accidents involving flooding occurring in 1861, 1897 and 1911.

Further along, in one of the channels dug into the hillside is a drystone wall. Above is a path I’ve never noticed before. I follow it up the hillside, neat sandstone slabs forming staircase. I emerge up behind Lan Farm. On the cragtops I sit on a fallen trunk overlooking town. Swoosh of roads in the distance, engine drone smeared in a hoarse hum, swelling to a grumble then dying back to the everpresent air-rumble.

Conduit No. 6 stretches from the Lan Wood reservoir right the way across the town of Pontypridd up as far as the location of the Rose and Crown pub on the Graig hillside on the southern side of the valley. Conduits Nos. 7-14 all then branch out of this main trunk of No. 6, sprouting off into the different streets of Pontypridd town. Mapping the conduits outlined in the advertisement, it is clear how the nineteenth-century waterworks tapped into the springs of Lan Wood to funnel water into the expanding industrial town.

I machine-stitch the route of the conduits onto the iron-stained paper, and then hand-stitch map-elements such as old field boundaries and rivers. The threads focus my attention on materiality and texture, the tactile physicality of stitching onto and into the page. The pop as needle pierces paper, the scrape as thread drags through, knotting, tugging taut, weaving a shape, winding a route across the page. The rapid judder of the sewing-machine as it chews off across the page.

On the 1841 Tithe Map, two farms dominate the hillside that is now known as Graigwen: the lower one, around the Tyfica area, is marked Gellifynaches Isha (Lower Gellifynaches) and the upper one, around the Whiterock area, Gellifynaches Uchaf (Upper Gellifynaches). A memory lingers on the map today in the name of Nun’s Crescent, a street built in the mid-1960s on the location of the old Gellifynaches Uchaf homestead.

The name Kelli’r Vanaches first appears in a 17th century rent role of the Meisgyn commote (R.J. Thomas, ‘Astudiaeth o Enwau Lleoedd Cwmwd Meisgyn’, Unpublished M.A. thesis University of Wales, Cardiff, 1933). The name may have become associated with this part of Pontypridd during the period of the Cistercian monasteries between the 12th and 16th centuries. In his book, In The Footsteps of Glanffrwd, D.J. Rees comments that Gellifynaches and Lan (the farm above it) were once nunneries or overnight refuges for nuns on pilgrimage to the shrine at Penrhys (up in the northwest between the two Rhondda valleys).

Winds rumple against the mic, blowing a distorted screech over the recording. Cold in my ears. Stream trickles down hillside, cuts through rocks, gurgles over stones. Backwards ripple of rewinding bubbling plaps and purr-ticker. Ferns fringe murky puddles. Cloud reflections. The ground gets rockier, water flowing along path now. I kick chunks of rock as I walk. Wind tearing now, loud rips cutting through the recording. A dirty crackle, blistering grunt, sub murmurs rippling to erupt. I trudge across spongey moss.

The road over Graigwen and across the ridge of Cefn Gwyngul leads to Llanwonno (or Llanwynno), where a church was reputedly established in the 6th century by St Gwynno, a disciple of Illtyd. It may have been built on an even earlier site of veneration, as Rees comments that ‘prehistorical deviation ley lines … link the churches at Llantrisant, Eglwysilan, Llanfabon, Llanwynno and – inexplicably – the site of The Tonypandy Inn’ (about 2 miles down the Rhondda Fawr Valley from Penrhys). Rees goes on to add that St Gwynno’s Church ‘is built at a pre-historic Ley’s Lines deviation, where its position to the sun follows patterns of still earlier Welsh churches’. If lines are traced between Llantrisant, Eglwysilan, Llanfabon, Llanwonno and Tonypandy/Penrhys on a map, Llanwonno forms the peak of the pentangle.

I trek down a fern-trail into the old Darren quarry. Sheer copper cuboids whitewashed with lichen. An oak twists its frayed tendons out of the sandstone face. Plap of drippers falling onto bed of leaves. Ferns tuft up behind boulders.

A chain of cairns and mounds delineates the trail along the Eglwysilan ridgeway and across Cefn Gwyngul to Llanwonno, crossing the Taff in the Berw area of Pontypridd below Craig-yr-Hesg hillside, where John Leland recorded a wooden bridge called ‘Pont Rhehesk’ (Pont yr Hesg), also referred to as ‘Pont Erliesk, a great bridg of tymbre’ (Lucy Toulmin Smith, The Itinerary in Wales of John Leland in or about the years 1536-1539).

Another Danger Quarry sign further along before the crossroads leading down to the Lanwood playpark. Rain on slide in empty park. Jackdaw squawks. I squelch along the path up above the back of Lanwood Road. Glow of conservatory, kitchen of stainless steel taps, wood-effect cupboard, glimpse of bedroom.

Stirring the cauldron of mulled pulp (mainly recycled drafts of these notes, along with bits of newspaper, cardboard packaging, junk mail, envelopes), I stew and sift this mulched broth of pulverised fibrous sinews, the page in larval form. Deckled into sodden stacks they dry to crispy shards. I paste cut-up fragments of my notes onto them and string them into a palm-leaf book-fold, a line of nettle thread running between the pages, loosely holding the panels together like dangling planks on a rope bridge.

I emerge onto Lanwood Road, wellies slapping tarmac pavement. Drizzle crackles on my hood. Reddish frizz of birchtwig hills looms above the bungalows. Lan Farm peeping over treeline. Drain torrent underground. Sky puddle down centre of road. Murky luminescence triangled by telegraph cables. At the end of the street the silhouette treeline of hills across the valley: Penycoedcae and the Graig. On the hilltop a single light flickers through trees in the mist.

Gwyngul: literally, ‘narrow’ (gul, soft mutation from ‘cul’) and ‘white’ (gwyn – though ‘gwyn’ also carries connotations of ‘holy’). So Cefn Gwyngul is the narrow white ridge, the narrow road to the interior. In his History of Pontypridd, Morien suggested that ‘Cefn Gwyngul translated into, “The ridge of the Holy Retreat”; Llan-wen was its original name, meaning, “High Place of worship” which was a mound around which the Nave was erected and contained the large number of human remains that he himself witnessed being re-interred.’

The next day a fine drizzle evaporates the woods. Grey mist veined with white trunks of birch. A lichen-gnarled knuckle of oak claws through. Everything looks different. I try to find the place. Yards ahead the path blends into an opaque wall of grey. I plunge up the slippery slope, skipping around splodgy mud, my boots sliding and sinking. Confetti of beech and oak litter thick and sodden.

May all present and future know that I, Caradoc Uerbeis, have given to God and St Mary and the Cistercian Order and to Brother Meilyr and the brothers of Pendar all my land which lies between three rivers, that is, the Frutsanant [Ffrwd] and the Cleudac [Clydach] and the Nantclokenig [Cynin/Llysnant], in wood and plain, which wood is called Hlowenroperdeit [Llwynperdid].

I spot the yellow-blue Danger Quarry sign through the mist and climb until I’m positioned above it. I look down and see the tree from yesterday. I edge down the slope and see the jetblack nuggets iridescent around the roots. I place my chunk of coal back where I found it.

 

NOTE: The book work ‘a conduit or line of pipes’ was produced for the ‘Without Borders’ project curated by Elysium Gallery and 1SSUE magazine.

 

 

Steven Hitchins edits The Literary Pocket Book press, producing miniature origami-style pamphlets of contemporary experimental poetry. Recent publications include Black Fens Viral by Frances Presley and NONglyns by Rhys Trimble and Harry Gilonis. In 2017-18 he ran Canalchemy, a series of walking-poetry events along the route of the now erased Glamorganshire canal from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff Bay, which fed into his most recent poetry collection, The Lager Kilns, available from Aquifer Books. His other books include Ilan (2018), The White City (2015) and Bitch Dust (2012), as well as the collaborative books Brynfab Collider (2019) and Yth (2015) both with Rhys Trimble, Winter Texts with John Maher (2016), and Translating the Coal Forests with Camilla Nelson (2015). His poetry has also featured in the anthologies The Edge of Necessary and Imagined Invited, as well as the recent Welsh innovative poetry edition of Blackbox Manifold (Issue 25). His book-work ‘a conduit or line of pipes’ will be exhibited as part of ‘Without Borders’ curated by Elysium Gallery and 1SSUE magazine. https://literarypocketblog.wordpress.com

23 Jun 2021

Tim Allen: Two New Phobias

Tim Allen says:
The beginning of the first lockdown coincided with my looking for a new project to hook me in. The most common emotion around at the time was fear and at some previous point I had had the idea of a series using arbitrary phobias as titles even if the poems did not necessarily reflect the phobia. So I began but in the process of writing discovered that it was actually engaging with the titles, sometimes through oblique autobiography, as in Catagelophobia, and sometimes through subconscious invention, as in Catoptophobia. With this project I also wanted, for a change, to avoid any formal stricture or limit, so free prose became the dominant method. A number of pieces from the sequence, for which I am still waiting for a title that rings true, have already appeared in Blackbox Manifold, Molly Bloom and Intercapillary Space.

 

 

Catagelophobia – fear of ridicule

Caught again touching a glandular envelope loaned on painful hernia or borrowed indolent arse.

If the ego is not hermetically sealed is gets contaminated by gossip and curses with a short memory after all

if all a page of literature can elicit is a mild chuckle then isn’t that enough for anyone it’s certainly enough for me after all

actual jazz is pretty unique but rarely pretty as on the rare occasions when pretty applies you have to partake in a sequence of exchanged tittle-tattle arranging itself on the oral retina after all

it’s not a question of should jazz be funny but is it because by embodying jazz in the island of whoever makes it it turns said islands into beermats which in turn (in turn) or when they’re flipped contain elements of a sentimentality strong enough to overcome any criticism. That’s powerful stuff after all

that’s pretty powerful stuff however you put it after all

curses have a short memory remember (see above) yet this may not be the blessing it first appears to be after all

the mistakenly slightly jazzy but evidently not jazz sound of sawing coming from next door’s garden no hold on it’s my garden could be interpreted as mocking the lame after all

what is my wife up to now what tree is she dismantling to put back together later after all

it’s her garden or our garden if you want to be legal about it after all

is said and done whatever comes after the neutralisation of luck makes the naturalisation of gardening at a distance impersonate the transmogrification of rudimentary impulse into any music as we recognise as such after all

what if music is just a form of jazz (not the other way around) because if it is then any descriptive term converts far too easily into a template after all

you can walk further with this plate for some sloppy seconds if you wish but at some point you will turn back after all

and head for the opposite horizon carrying a heavy sack of euphemisms while fluffy stuff grows herbs in the cramped corner of your pocket and the last of the sun slips down your lap after all

if you are convinced the garden birds are talking about but not to you or to your complex after all

then doubt is a euphemism for hindsight and hindsight is never too late after all

I’d drunk too much whisky so went on slamming too long on an overdose of confidence and by the way I was putting stuff into the car boot anyone but especially the school cleaner could tell I was having a breakdown after all

I thought our dancing at the hotel disco in Xian had been pretty nifty but the rest of the tour party obviously thought otherwise etc.

 

 

Catoptophobia – fear of mirrors

Could a totally obnoxious person take on postmodern hourglass obstetrics by inhaling aid?

Barium meal halo. Retractable fumes. Hey presto.

Sheathed zig-zags. Fluorescent grotto. Said with gusto.

Back garden torch discovers mountain climbers in the cherry tree.

They grow-up so fast and so devoid of the hypothetical. Behind closed doors blind Girl Guides dance in Glastonbury mud while in the great outdoors beyond the perimeter fence Boy Scouts with perfection in their sights dance naked in front of car bumpers. The car bumpers are watching themselves in the slow-witted reflections of dead computer screens.

Animated indefinitely. Never too late to say hello.

Stomach thunder echoes in its own illuminated by lightening channels.

Anaesthetic dreams. Sustainable sensation. Just so sorties to the bathroom.

It’s the same as when you hear the whispered howl of the indictment known as it is what it is as if the same superposition on the alternative flight though the divergences were subtle enough to skip the eternal inversion of copyright and end initialled in photographic stillness on one of two entwined hearts carved into the trunk. Beetle dung in the amber beside you.

Drinking blood drinking urine drinking dirty moon water drinking everything in.

When Man Who Walks is asked where he’s going he says he is walking to the moon.

He stops to feel thirsty. Goes again to feel clean. Night monitor flow.

I am no royalist so bear with me. The village square is empty at noon. The shadows bend their knees to search the road. All the old men have abandoned their games of chess for the promise of the vampire’s kiss. They return at midnight to finish their games and civilly debate whose turn it is to move. Fate is always the result of the Queen’s compromise.

Remember how his other half compared Chinese proverbs with Tibetan puzzles.

She understood relativity better than he did the Sheela-Na-Gig economy.

Gift shop detective counts the hours. Ships left on the shelf. Cloaked meridians.

Now look longer than you care to at the words jammed in the threshold. Shut for too long shop oblivious to postal serendipity for it is this invisible force that concocts visual poetry. Those who read it have milky eyes to ensure the words unhook and float to the surface. She who you love is the only door into and out of the house. Don’t ever look as if you care.
Eye of the storm espresso. City built with the dust of the missed.

Clay fog. Frozen deity below full moon intravenously drinks its own rain.

Anonymous graves. Speed-reading in Shangri-La. Axolotl says Hey presto.

What is hazy in memory is what we do habitually in fact that’s fuzzy to the point of a receding perspective crux swollen every-which-way like a rubber glove with a hand of water or a giant god’s immense yet empty soul hovering between a light speed reply and a cloud of birds a metre away from your face but that is only what it is like not what it really is.

Frontiers sink through panoramic lenses. Overflowing deserts of distraction.

Random religions don’t just erupt anywhere. Neil Armstrong’s cruel nostrils.

Jacques Lacan and Eve in a city of fractal canals. Hegel not Hegel for beginners

but narcissism is always for beginners in flip book moonwalking locked down by likenesses in caves cut off from light leaving no option but to avoid harp music whose sharpness cuts you to the quick changes arising from imperfect repetition too small and smudgy to register as without a host they virally die leaving what lately has become original experience as

the public definitions of a secret life. Or the secret definitions of a public life.

Or public experience as the original life. Or life as the public secret of definitions.

Or public definition as the life of a secret. Or secret experience as the life of definition.

 

 

Tim Allen lives in Lancashire and helps run the Peter Barlow’s Cigarette reading series in Manchester (hoping to reopen when conditions allow). Used to live in Plymouth where he edited Terrible Work and ran the Language Club. His most recent books are Under A Cliff Like (if p then q 2017) and Portland: a Triptych, with Norman Jope and Mark Goodwin (KFS 2019). He also has forthcoming books from Disengagement Press and Shearsman.

© Tim Allen 2021

23 Jun 2021

Iris Colomb: “I know you’re there even when I can’t see you.”

Performing for a virtual audience.

 

Since the first UK lockdown, I have had more conversations than I can count with friends and collaborators about liveness, how it functions, what it does, what exactly we missed. Several of these discussions included Camilla Nelson, Xavier Velastin, Serena Braida, Luna Montenegro, and Adrian Fisher with whom I curated SLANT’s four online events; Writing Bodies, Forms In Flux, Voiceworks, and Spontaneous Combustion. The pandemic context has led us to consider notions of performativity through a new lens, beyond contexts of shared time and space. SLANT, a platform initially devised to explore poetic liveness, became a digital space for poets and performers to experiment with the constraints and possibilities of online performance. Delivering this program has allowed me to witness the development of a diverse range of exciting approaches. Beyond experimenting with new formal possibilities, playing with simultaneity and experimenting with framing and editing, some of SLANT’s contributors have explored ways of directly engaging with their virtual audience. They have done so in adapting pieces devised before the pandemic as well as creating entirely new material rooted in its online context.

 

Click here to read the full text: I know you’re there, even when I can’t see you

 
 
 

Iris Colomb is a poet, artist, curator and translator based in London. She has given individual, collaborative, interactive and durational performances online as well as in the UK, Germany, Austria, Romania and France. She is the author of three pamphlets: ‘I’m Shocked’ (Bad Betty Press, 2018), ‘just promise you won’t write’ (Gang Press, 2019), and ‘Flakes of Fickle Quicklime’ (Earthbound Press, 2020). Her poems have been published in magazines including SALADE, PN Review, Tentacular, Poetry Wales, Para•text and Datableed, as well as in a number of UK anthologies. Iris is the founder of the investigative poetry and performance platform SLANT, Co-Editor of HVTN Press, and a member of the interdisciplinary collective ‘No Such Thing’.  

17 Jun 2021

David Greenslade: A Wall of Paper in Romania

Just as south Wales has several current, vibrant worksheds of poetic activity – Hafan Books (Swansea); Canalchemy (Pontypridd); Glasfryn Project (Llangattock) and Red Poets (Merthyr Tydfil) so too does northern Romania.

Florin Dan Prodan, based in Suceava, forty kilometres from the border of Romania with Ukraine, organises readings and workshops wherever he goes.  He’s read and invited others to join him at the Poetry Café in London; Red Hook Art Space, New York; and for two years in a row he led the Romanian writers and Artists International Residency at a yurt village in Kyrgyzstan.  Having arranged things when we met in Romania, I joined Florin soon afterwards for a reading at Caucasus House, Tbilisi, Georgia.

The Caucasus House event was typical of the way he does things.  Hello, who’s around, who’s got transport, who’s nearby, how much are flights?  Who runs the venue?

Radu Andriescu (poet, Romania) and Laura Arena (performance artist, New York) were also in Tbilisi and since they were on Florin’s extensive list of writer-artist contacts, they joined us.  Florin Dan Prodan is notable not only for his ability to curate arts festivals seemingly at the drop of a hat – whether in an abandoned Carpathian ghost spa or at a working Astronomical Observatory – but also for championing the work of his Romanian contemporaries and getting them into translation.  For twelve years he ran ‘Inside Zone’ an artists and writers residency dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky, one of the longest running programmes of its type, with well over 100 participants from thirty seven countries.  A typical long distance project of his, between Romania and Korea would be the Six Portraits and a Pullover,  installation and performance, March-April, Korea Foundation Cultural Center, Seoul, South Korea, 2015.

The Pullover in question comes from one of Florin Dan’s poems.

 

The Pullover

Nobody remembers who owned the pullover

Who brought it to the Tirgu Ocna prison

If it was knitted by an old woman from the Carpathian Mountains

for her husband or son.

The owner probably died and someone else took it

On a cold winter night and confessed to the other

Tuberculosis sufferers that it cured him

And gave it to another sick prisoner.

 

Maxim wore it until December

And on Christmas it was warming the lungs

of old General Comarnu.

 

Professor Ilias kept it until summer when

Confidently, he passed it to

Pastor Wurmbrant, brought alive, only just,

From the hole of Jilava prison.

They struggled to dress him

His broken ribs were healing for the fourth time.

The pullover covered him like a shroud.

After the miracle, when they sent him to B?r?gan,

He bestowed it to a skinny student who was released wearing it

on August the 1st, 1964.

 

This is what sets Prodan’s poetry and their presentation well apart from his contemporaries.   As in his collection Poeme si Note Informative Despre Eroi si Morminte  (trans:  Poems and Informative Notes about Heroes and their Tombs) he returns to the experiences of those who suffered under Communist oppression before Ceausescu came to power as well as later during the Ceausescu period.

The events his poems primarily invoke are those of the so-called Romanian Gulag era, between 1945 and 1964.  These were the decades when Romania was ruled, more or less, by so-called Soviet Counsellors, principally KGB officers with almost complete control over politics and the economy.  Then quite abruptly, without warning, on the 1st of August 1964 the concentration and labour camps as well as political prisons were closed and survivors freed.

Florin tells me that the best place to get some idea of the horrors of the Romanian Gulag is the Sighet Memorial Museum established by husband and wife poet/writers Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan.  The museum is housed in a former political prison near the border with Ukraine.  “Be prepared to be shocked,” he says, “in fact be prepared to be traumatized, it is not an easy experience, going there. The museum records KGB style executions – one bullet in the head, one for each person, nighttime, remote forests, mostly between 1944 and 1958.”

Nicolae Ceausescu when he came to power in 1965, continued the persecutions through his Securitate, albeit at an individual level and on a smaller scale. While punishments such as losing your job, house or liberty continued, because Charles de Gaulle and Nixon, during their visits, specifically asked him to stop them, political kidnapping and executions were less frequent than under the KGB.

The Ceausescus, she along with him, were feared for the arbitrary terror of their whimsical decisions – arrest of architects, tearing down historic buildings, the sacking of librarians, tv announcers, ordering female folk musicians to cut their hair, as well as the routine arrest of poets and artists.  The grim irony is that many of these unsung heroes have no tombs.  Here is another poem from the same collection.

 

The Robot

I am the robot nicknamed Tanu

my name was Alexandru Popa before.

I wrote poems

and I wanted to be a solicitor.

 

They hammered me to death

And turned my brain inside out.

I confessed everything and even more

All the thoughts I ever had

All the dreams I always dreamt.

I am a New Man now,

The one successfully retrained

In the Pitesti prison.

I re-educated all the inmates

in Gherla prison chamber 99.

I am a robot

of superior quality.

They are going to ask me

to retrain the whole nation.

 

As an organizer Florin clearly takes great delight in bringing groups together and allowing collaborations to unfold with minimum interference.  It’s an approach that works. Writers from all across Romania and from further afield respond when messages go out that a field expedition is underway.   As founder of the vibrant collective, Zidul de Hartie (lit. Wall of Paper) he has persuaded comrades to climb seriously challenging mountain peaks, rediscover communist-era sculpture parks and wander through the labyrinths of abandoned hotels.  Zidul de Hartie is a ‘wall of paper’ in the manner of a tough origami fortress, changing shape and adaptable but with the quiet strength to make a literary structure work. As well as happenings, Zidul de Hartie also publishes the work of other writers.

Florin Dan Prodan, as well as receiving arts funding from distant places (Peru, Switzerland, Demark,) has won some of the most prestigious prizes in Romanian Literature, most notably the Lucian Blaga Prize.  Blaga, considered one of the greatest Romanian poets ever, appears on the 200 lei banknote along with his short poem “Self Portrait”.  This poem is the only example of a legible and complete poetic text appearing on currency.  It is not lost on Florin Dan that Blaga was fired from his university post and that the Communist authorities saw to it that Blaga was not nominated for the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature.  The authorities even sending a delegation of official diplomatic thugs to Norway to make sure the nomination was stopped in its tracks.

 

The Writer

I am free again and back home

in my new motherland

The Socialist Republic of Romania.

I forgot the torture

the long years spent in prison.

I forgave one and all.

Now I have paper, a table

and a wood-burning stove.

But every time I sit down to write,

a terrible shadow looms above me

as if someone is leaning

over my shoulder.

 

Florin lives in Suceava contributing to that vibrant city’s sense of cultural modernity.  Already well-known as a province where Byzantine Christianity is preserved and as a region that goes literally beserk during winter shamanic festivals, thanks to Zidul de Hartie, Suceava (city and province) is now also known for poetic experimentation and publications – a change of image that many people welcome.   One event that I attended, well out in the countryside, south of nearby Iasi, attracted participants from as far away as the capital Bucharest. Highlights were broadcast on national radio.

Sometimes it takes a certain individual to persuade others that they can collaborate, they can co-translate and co-create.  Florin Dan is one of these.  He is not alone.  Suceava city, as plain and as modest as it is, is home to other arts collectives.  Suceava poet (and dentist) Doru Matei Mateiciuc has a poem in Imagined Invited, published in Wales, as does Luminita Amarie, sharing her time between London and Suceava. Both are very generous, accomplished writers having a positive influence on their contemporaries. George Cirstian is also a poetry organizer in Suceava with his collective Casa de Poezie, Light of Ink.  Between them all there is no predicting when an individual or group reading might suddenly be announced on social media.

There is only one major factor that comes between Florin and his self-imposed, writing-curating obligations.  Farming.  He lives in the countryside and many times over the years he’s told me that he cannot meet, travel or contribute just at the moment because he has to pull potatoes, pick plums, pick grapes or walnuts or take sheep to market.  Otherwise he is his own free agent, ready at a moment’s notice to organize a poetry festival at an eccentric venue located near you.

 

 

https://www.memorialsighet.ro/decretul-de-gratiere-nr-3101964/

 

http://www.napocanews.ro/2018/01/august-1964-ultimul-lot-ultima-zi-la-aiud-neinfrantii.html

florin

pullover exhibition

florin standing

David Greenslade writes in Welsh and English and shares his time between Wales and Romania. Delayed by Covid he now has several books appearing close together:- Ubquitext (Steven the Great University Editions, Romania 2021); City of Opal Altars (Mu?atini Press, Romania, 2021) and Full Pareidolia (CONTRABAND, 2021). He will have sponge-work in the next edition of Peculiar Mormyrid and can be seen reading maths poems at https://www2.math.uconn.edu/~glaz/Mathematical_Poetry_at_Bridges/Bridges_2021/The-program-and-the-poets-2021.html

Current Projects

Glasfryn Project

GLASFRYN, LLANGATTOCK, POWYS NP8 1PH
+44(0)1873 810456 | LYN@GLASFRYNPROJECT.ORG.UK