Philip Larkin: I Remember, I Remember

I Remember, I Remember

Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number-plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
‘Why, Coventry!’ I exclaimed. ‘I was born here.’

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been ‘mine’
So long, but found I wasn’t even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed

For all those family hols?… A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
‘Was that,’ my friend smiled, ‘where you ‘‘have your roots’’?’
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:

By now I’ve got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn’t spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family

I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
‘Really myself’. I’ll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,

Who didn’t call and tell my father
There Before us, had we the gift to see ahead –
‘You look as if you wished the place in Hell,’
My friend said, ‘judging from your face.’
‘Oh well, I suppose it’s not the place’s fault,’ I said.

‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’

- Philip Larkin  (1922 – 1985)

 

Thing I like about Philip Larkin in his poetry is his brutal honesty. He stayed honest with his brief and ironic self-deprecations and remembrances of life in England. In the poem above instead of nostalgia you get this sense we all have of an unspent life, of a life we never lived, one that for whatever reason was stripped from us early on. Plus, he tells little stories that allow him to comment on the meaningless of our modern lives shaped as they are by both economic and other forces that we have little control over but brutalize us everyday through their modification of our minds through vast Information and Communications’s Systems and architectures that have become so ubiquitous and invisible to be almost natural. That’s one of the think I hope to attain is to break free of these ubiquitous systems that enslave us through shocking people to become aware of how powerful they are and how they rob us of what little humanity that remains. With so much talk of posthuman and transhuman philosophies, technologies in private and governmental business and practice one wonders where its all leading us. Poetry like Larkin’s helps us remember the common heritage of our species, to remain in touch with our base line notions of who and what we are. With so much modern, postmodern, and speculative thought eliding the human from its discourse and practices and creating inhuman systems, discourses, moral and normative practices etc. one wonders why we want to become other than we are, why we want to become either enhanced biotech systems, or some kind of cyborgian or robotic uploaded memetech copy of our selves lost in the cosmos of machines. Larkin folds us back into that core humanity where we still have a chance to question all of this and remain true to our own species.

 

1. Larkin, Philip (2012-10-09). Collected Poems. Kindle Edition.

Last Cup of Cinnamon Tea

She cackles before dawn at the chickens
in her charge. I can hear her old bones
crackling; joints and sinew, her slow towing
gait as she uses that old knobby cane
I made her last Spring. Her eyes puff up,
get blurry now, her hands all red and splotchy;
her thin and scrawny body hardly casts a shadow
as she slurps that old sow in the slough
down by the paddock feeder;

her gray hair clasped back,
her blue sweater full of holes,
and yellow checkered dress

falling from her bodice; yet, she fights me
tooth and nail, tells me she’s able,
better than any grown boy from the city tell.

Stubborn and tenacious, proud
like the earth below her feet;
she lets the life of soil stir and whir
below the dank cold leaves,
where our roots dig deep down
in memories out of mind like seeds
she planted long ago surfacing only now.

We found her just after dawn
sitting in her favorite chair:

a smile upon her face that made me sad;
knowing she was sitting there
like she’d done every morning without fail
(all her born and married life and after),

waiting for her old lover, the sun,
to rise and gently greet her
one last time for a cup of tea and cinnamon.

 – Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Reckless Nights and Days

There always was something reckless in your mind,
a violence and a sounding out of time, not unlike
that poetry you emulate, the exiled scholar of dark woods

who brooded so upon the terrors of those ruinous wastes
from which your modern myth of streets takes shape;
it still kicks in like a Harley – clean and pure,

a road trip to the desert, a natural inferno
where the sun bakes bones down and down;
and you can be alone in its white light

like some mad prophet of black metal and chrome,
seeking not a god, but answer to crimes of love and war;
no sweet child of Jesus here, just a dark pretender

facing inward toward that darker sphere,
that place of no place, the pit
within your secret self, that lost cause

where you lost your innocence and childhood:
you stand there burning, burning like a tower -
awaiting the bladed day that cuts both ways in this ungodly land.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

His Familiar’s Back In Town

There’s a moment when the sinking feeling comes down close and quick,
when those little white lies we tell ourselves all come home to roost;
the withdrawn measure of the eye’s appraisal, an uncanny ruse -
the gnawing sensation that the earth has turned to stone in Autumn’s rust.

His unwanted guest is back in town, that unhappy clown,
the one we love to hate, his dark and moody – familiar;
he waltzes in like he owns the place, this melancholy prince of lies
who leaves us empty and depressed, lost in this unsavory weather.

You’ll sit there like a dullard, blank and unfeeling,
people yapping all around, laughing and reeling;
while you try to listen it all falls apart, the blaggard night,
and all you can do is absolutely nothing, but nothing.

I could feel him in the shadows, my familiar,
somewhere close by pervading everything,  a spoor;
that trollish piece of shite haunted me for years,
and no gray haired doctor’s ever rid me of this boor.

Sometimes I think I’m cursed, a modern Cain in disguise,
a roaming devil in the world, a zombie in a goblin’s mask;
they tell me it’s a rare disorder, a surreal task,
a defect in the brain’s dark chemistry misfiring – kerplunk, kerplunk.

I’m a guinea pig for punishment and all those blasted pills,
they’ve tried a hundred remedies like old wife’s tales;
one day I’m fine, jubilant and free, a man above the clouds,
the next I’m in the slime, a brother of grunge and cesspool pails.

At night I’ll sleep two hours or three, stare at the ceiling after
like a seaboy on a mission counting jaguars in his wakeful jungle;
most times the movement from my bed to the kitchen
is a walk through an Inferno haunted by my demented Virgil.

Like any episode it too will pass, just a soap opera sigh
for the neighbors and the bosses, a sad melodrama for my family;
no need for Inquisitors, the torture drones have found their target,
and, I, the desert solitaire am in the middle of its bullseye.

Should all else fail I have my trusty peace – a blue metaled 45.
sitting there like a clicking bomb from our nightly battles;
the roulette wheel is too easy though, and silver ore
keeps busting out of my brainpan like freedom’s awful roar.

So it goes on from day to day, this age old tale of woes:
my familiar and I just jousting in some festival of sewers;
like Batman and the Joker we wait here in the darkness,
knowing that at best there can be no truce only never-ending farce.

So the next time that familiar comes a visiting you,
tell him you’ve a message from the dead man on the loose:
“I’m coming to get him bye and bye, I’ve got a big old noose
for that lousy demon and his dark and wily guests.”

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: for anyone out there who has suffered through depression, or is suffering now, I know it can be like death itself warmed over. Been reading Jeffery Smith’s Where the Roots Reach for Water an exploration of his own desperate fight against depression and a natural history of that disease. I’ve had family that went through this process, so know from experience not as one who has suffered it himself, but as a helpmate to those that did. It’s truly one of those terrible disorders that hopefully someday as neurosciences improve will discover the actual mechanism and triggers that cause it, and thereby help find a cure of its dire affects and effects.

Of course the notion of a familiar spirit is one long known in folklore motifs, and here I internalize it even I as I objectify it as the strangeness of the melancholic artist and individual. The sciences obviously give us all the data regarding it but have yet to really understand and be able to treat it. None of the pharmaceuticals have lasting effects from what you discover reading the literature. It’s always fun to read some of the old works like Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy which are more like encyclopedias of  books and echoes of books, in which he cites thousands of authors that have for the most part been lost in the annals of time and history.

The Sound of Self

What does the self sound like?
Is it like a dog’s sharp yelp and yap,
that yattering noise that keeps you up at night?
Or a lawn mower on a Sunday morn, whirring?

Maybe the self is like that bull-frog in the pond,
slurping and cro-ac-k, cro-ac-k, cro-ac-k’n;
a diphthong that slides and glides then slips
slow down against the mulch, a cud type cow song.

Maybe that fog horn in the bay, that long piercing wail
that trails off to a slinking pitch and thrall,
wave slaps pounding rocks in the night, a jetty
harbor crisscrossing junket and a oil tanker hum.

Or maybe it’s just the simple lisp you stutter
when you sing a song you like, the plumb and thrum
that sums up all those feelings into words -
the poetry of touch and light, the darkness bleeding out.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Mythologies of Light

She tells me I should be full of laughter, not tears;
more susceptible to the influxion of fey -
those spirit beings too much with us
now and long, still harbor ill-will toward us
for this dying earth, our dwelling and habitus.

I’m not much good at that, the light I mean.
I never seem to know its face, charm and grace.
The darkness suits me better, in its absence
I discover a light like no other:
a place and time outside
the common weal of things,
a momentary quietus where Silence speaks to me.

Maybe she’s right and I should listen more
to those shades among the deep green woods,
the one’s that softly sing and dance, elven kin
she calls them: part light, part air -
gossamer particles of something in excess of us.

I know the darkness well. It keeps me.
But those other tribes seem so full of emptiness;
like butterflies in the sun, they last a day,
then fly away never to be seen are heard from again.
Maybe we need the darkness to see the light?

Fire-spangled emerald wings glitter down…

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Over The Green Hedge

Rage, rage against the summer fires
that sunder heaven from the earth
where black clouds rise above the den,

when darkness not the light
gives way to darker thoughts

of her who leaps
beyond the smoke and haze,
where stars ignite a solitary flare
on that far horizon of this green earth.

Her deer strike eyes
frighten as the headlight’s flare;
stunned and weaving – stone hoofs
fall above the ruddy tundra,
collapsing 
around that curve
that brings us here:
three small
white wooden crosses
set against a treeless knoll.

Gone, gone the days
she framed that smile
against the blue,

brought sweet nothings
from the clueless wind and laughed;

now only the wind remains -
a howling down this canyon wall

that even I, the last remaining member
of that tribe cannot recall.

I stand here overlooking
this great emptiness
before I, too – if only
in my mind, leap beyond
the black eye’s piteous fire -
a salient darkness casting its cruel gaze
over the green hedge of our bleak world.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: do not take the persona here as mine, I’m objectifying from thousands of miles of traveling across these great United States the unknown tribes of dead whose only sign that they existed are small white crosses that exist on the side of roads in memory from one end to the other of our country. Reading obits and other things across the years one remembers so many stories of loss… obviously in this one I’m echoing that great poem by Dylan Thomas whose “Do not go gentle into that good night…” haunts its rhythms… so many of the dead wander in me I sometimes overhear things. I think behind most of my poetry is this secular vision of Dante, but instead of visiting hell I’ve learned to visit our strange histories like some dark progenitor of the madness we’ve become… for me even if transcendence is a illusion its one deep seated in our cultural inheritance and one that will not go away willingly even for such a secularist as I. When one writes poetry these ancient ghosts of time play havoc on our secular presumptions, and they will not lie still in that darkness like silent victims; no, they return on those unlucky days – what the Athenians used to celebrate as Apophrades, or the return of the dead; I take the word from the Athenian dismal or unlucky days upon which the dead returned to reinhabit the houses in which they had lived (Bloom).

Last Stop For A Traveling Salesman

Not looking so good, Joe.
A little weathered
around the edges,
and that collar wrinkled;
that hat’s a little big
now isn’t it, and those shoes
a size too small, and grimy – whew,
Joe, did you wash and shave;
and my-oh-my your eyes, Joe,
one’s larger than the other now,
what happened Joe, they put you
out to pasture; now, I know, Joe
we’ve been friends a long time,
and, yes, I owe you,
but Joe let me tell you
the economy
here in Podunk, USA
ain’t what it used
to be, no sir’ee, Joe; you know
Joe, let me buy you a cup of coffee,
maybe a donut for old time’s sake;
oh, you need to go,
oh, ok, I understand; now, Joe,
you don’t need to be like that, I mean
we’ve been friends so long
and all: what; buy nothing;
but Joe I tried to tell you
these things just happen,
no fault of yours or mine,
just this heat wave, the money;
now Joe no need to get all riled,
I’ll have to throw you out,
well in that case… oh Joe,
why’d you go and hit me?

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: I remember when traveling salesmen with their sample bags were a mainstay of small town American and the smaller mom and pop shops across the country. Of course in the late seventies that era closed down with all the larger convenience stores forcing the mom and pop stores out of business, and with them the need for these lonely road travelers and their wares… just another victim of our market economy and its relentless drive to oust the human from its own market. And of course what’s missing in the poem is Joe’s voice which being left out tells everything.

A Postcard From Nostagiaville

Home’s just a state of mind.
One needs no place at all.
Sometimes I look for it
around the bend, knowing well
it’s not there; never was
in the plot of things, just an artifact
hiding up in someone’s attic closet:
a shoddy canvas rotting in the corner,
or a fantasy postcard sent from paradise.

I’ve come home to her
more times than count,
but it’s always the same
a quick boot back out.
Like I give a dam – not,
it’s just a place to rest my leery ass.

Some say it’s a metaphysical
propositional blast of the past, a fake
destination no one ever did believe
existed, nor thought possible or reliable
for justificatory redress of such crimes
as kin will want to do upon each other.

Pines, magnolias, sweet berry pies -
the myth of home we all know so well;
a pipe dream for every sucker born,
a sort of dime novel for the poor
and rich alike, an old saw
we paste down on town signs to fool
the innocent of their bleeding hearts:

“Welcome to Nostalgiaville!”

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: this one is a sort of projection of episodes not in my own life but of an amalgam of people I know so well it could have been my life. I always remember Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again … one of those great, but neglected novels of the Depression era…

The Tick-Tock Man

That old clump of wood used to chant.
People round about for miles would come
hear that old preacher’s son sing like an angel;
we all used to sit outdoors in spring,
gather our children and pluck them chords
till the early evening hours closed in;
that tower above would ring and ring -
I can almost hear it even now – ding, ding, ding.
They must have taken it with them. He died
you know. Some say he’s still there. Still preaching.
I don’t know much about such things.
Ghosts? They seem to float from our dreams don’t they?
I just drink this whiskey and they don’t bother me none.
Once before I retired I drove Comax down these woods,
where he stayed a night possum hunting out there -
that boy came hightailing it up to me next day
white like those blisters you get on your feet:
his eyes were strange, had little sparks in them -
said he’d seen a monster out of hell, some black thing
crawling from that old church, a veritable procession.
I told him to lay off that bootlegged shine.
Funny thing: that tick in his bad eye. Still there:
tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Like a bad dream.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Arnold Hauser: On the Baroque

 Caravaggio – Supper Party

“The striving after the ‘painterly’—that is to say, the dissolution of firm, plastic and linear form into something moving, hovering and incapable of being grasped; the obliteration of frontiers and contours, to arouse the impression of the unlimited, the immeasurable and the infinite; the transformation of static, rigid, objective being into a becoming, a function, an interdependence between the subject and the object… The artistic outlook of the baroque is, in a word, cinematic; the incidents represented seem to have been overheard and spied out; every indication that might betray consideration for the beholder is blotted out, everything is presented in apparent accordance with pure chance. The comparative lack of clarity in the presentation is also related to this quality of improvisation. The frequent and often violent overlappings, the excessive differences in the size of objects seen in perspective, the neglect of the directional lines given by the frame of the picture, the incompleteness of the material and the unequal treatment of the motifs are all used intentionally to make it difficult to see the picture as a lucid whole. The normal progress of historical evolution itself plays a certain part in the growing distaste for the all too clear and the all too obvious, in the process which moves within a particular, continuously developing culture from the simple to the involved, from the plain to the less plain, from the obvious to the hidden and the veiled. The more cultured, fastidious and intelligently interested in art a public is, the more it demands this intensification of artistic stimuli. But apart from the attraction of the new, the difficult and the complicated, this is once again an attempt to arouse in the beholder the feeling of the inexhaustibility, incomprehensibility and infinity of the representation—a tendency which dominates the whole of baroque art.”

- Arnold Hauser,
The Social History of Art:
Volume 2 – Renaissance, Mannersim, Baroque

 

The Watchers Are With You

One would hope for weeping. But this?
This silence surrounded by strange clouds;
doubts and forebodings, black muslin -

an unknowing darker than you’d imagined
even for this gray zone of purgatory. Or,
have they come to judge you, hiding
as they do in sackcloth and ashes?
They know or do not know your past sins,
and even you have become forgetful
of that burden that shadows your shade:
a bird of night – a grey owl swoops
ready to pluck and devour, snatch
that silly grin right off your dullard lips.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Table Rumors

It sat there like a bullfrog waiting; watching.
All week those porcupine quills jutted out -
spiked soldiers of some fruited war.
A leafy top-hat turning yellow in the sun
broke through the crown – a chieftain’s plumage.
One day mama sliced it clean down,
and sunshine fell around us like little clowns.
You tasted it and spit it out
as if it were some strange rock
your brother’d teased you into sampling.
Next day you came home to this:
an upside-down cake filled with golden circlets,
and a cherry picking line scrawled across it;
candles lit, people smiling: a birthday for your turning!

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Fatal Strategies

Do you think you could have saved her?
The martyrdom of leaves betrays you;
the livid cast of sky above reminds
you of all the lies that broke this plastic life.

There will be no place you can hide,
no haven for your pride and sly
deft hubris of the bone and nerve:
the troubling motion of your sleep seeps in.

Her bright blue eyes, truant as the skies
still see that shade of grey, grey twilight above the river;
the soft repellent odor of the infested swamp resides
in your mind like some forgotten thought of yesterday.

You sit there calmly in your cell tonight
as if the ache of it will walk away one day,
as if you could just change your mind
rise up turn round again toward her and say:

“It was all just a big mistake. I’m sorry!”

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Bird of Death Dreams

She came home alone. Emptiness.
She listened for him in the garden.
He’d often walk along the river’s edge.
Even the elms are shaded today she thought.

Her daughter called. Cried. No need to come.
Her and death were old friends now. Talk.
She saw them around the edge of the field.
Wings like black silk; glistening and blue.

Smell of bacon and eggs. Her son’s eyes.
She tugged his sleeve like she used too.
His beard like a crow’s nest bristled.
She heard the axe swing out back all day.

By the fire the moon would trick her.
In the shadows she’d see them waltzing.
Her hands squeezing his in her good dream.
Feathers grazed her cheeks in the moon’s shadow.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Night of Knives

Maybe more than anything it was the gin
she loved, that way of forgetting things,
a short oblivion, a dance against
the “night of knives” she’d say;
as if those memories
would rock-a-bye on bye forever.

Sitting there in the airport he listened,
knew it would never end, her pain;
winter mist and fuel brought it all home,
trying to reconcile this stale episode
with the person he’d known so long ago.

One day she never came home. A phone call.
A note under the door. “I love you.” it said.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Lute Player (Caravaggio)

One wonders if those soft
dreamy eyes could murder?
Would he have already seen
Ranuccio Tomassoni bleeding
on the streets? As he sat there blankly
watching on while his master
delicately plied his brush,
what tune beyond the Florentine’s
sole text by Petrarch’s “Laisse le voile
would he have played; his white neck
exposed, that chest so wide, those fingers
so deftly placed and moving; each element
of the scene an almost perfect motion
of light to sound as if that reflection
in the vase – measured by some scientist -
maybe Giovanni Battista della Porta
whose De Refractione Optices would speak
of glass spheres and light as if it were some living thing
that changes as it moves
upon the emptiness of things? One sees
the sunwise marigold, the cornflower eye
in yellow dress, an eyebright for tears
to clear, the rainbow hues that blend
in prismatic light after Porta’s ‘De Iride et colore’;
iris seedpods, wrinkled florets: each a simple ingredient
of that Paracelsian art of his patron, Cardinal Francesco Del Monte,
in whose alchemical Casino this would reside
surrounded by Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto
with that god of light beyond and facing, Apollo,
ever-young as this young treasure playing
his various songs in delight of him. The balance
of sky and earth travel from the curved sphere
to ceiling and back, a white rose and jasmine,
a small daisy dipping down toward
that darkness that obscures all below us even now.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: the painting by Caravaggio has a unique history in that it was copied three times by him over time, with the final version satisfying the patron where it was placed in an alchemical laboratory or basilica. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lute_Player_(Caravaggio))

 

A Night’s Grotesquerie

 

Dressed all in white, a black rose
about her neck – a ship, cruising
the south seas of her mind.
The one who used to visit her
when bubbles brimmed and eddied
round this old white tub -
lost these many years
among the grit and soot. 

She used to live here
eclectically in a junk-bin,
a menagerie where her lost
orchids: red and black
exploded in light – pieces
of their magic
falling
round these tides and tatters.
A man dressed all in black
stands somewhere
behind her
in the shadows, feint and slim,

ghosting her as she picks
past scraps and heaps
(so many ashes, even the brass
flower cage that held a Myna bird
keeps repeating a phrase, repeating itself,
a phrase like a thought
repeating it’s movements: like a gold
coin tossed in a fountain, a good luck charm
against that which follows her)
- a haunted thing, a whisper and a riddle
that no longer makes much sense:
fractured and frozen, a tale of waves,
of sunken lives and
troubled thoughts
of children
dead and buried; while
she waits in the dark
for a lover
that never is
on the spiral stairs above her mind

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: these pictures are from Clarence John Laughlin – Many historians credit Laughlin as being the first true surrealist photographer in the United States. His images are often nostalgic, reflecting the influence of Eugène Atget and other photographers who tried to capture vanishing urban landscapes. Laughlin’s best-known book, Ghosts Along the Mississippi, was first published in 1948.

 

 

 

Something Young And Beautiful

She notices something young and beautiful
out there beyond the cobwebs -

a white stallion roams the knolls just there
where the horizon meets the sun -

he’s neighing like some fiery dragon
down the years to her -

and for one moment a stirring
trembles in her mind

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: these pictures are from Clarence John Laughlin – Many historians credit Laughlin as being the first true surrealist photographer in the United States. His images are often nostalgic, reflecting the influence of Eugène Atget and other photographers who tried to capture vanishing urban landscapes. Laughlin’s best-known book, Ghosts Along the Mississippi, was first published in 1948.

Framing The Emptiness of Light

Sun flakes can’t save it:
timbered up
and closed in
upon itself like death;
pages from a torn life,
driftwood hangings -
her shade
below an open roof

silent and alone, framed
as an empty
remembrance of flight and light.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: these pictures are from Clarence John Laughlin – Many historians credit Laughlin as being the first true surrealist photographer in the United States. His images are often nostalgic, reflecting the influence of Eugène Atget and other photographers who tried to capture vanishing urban landscapes. Laughlin’s best-known book, Ghosts Along the Mississippi, was first published in 1948.

Fall and Fade: A Tale of Roses

Moments like this vanish, fading
like those stone roses on the mantle,
where your mama used to light candles
just after twilight, in the grey time between,
so that your daddy might come home to her
full of smiles and those little white lies
he charmed her with so elegantly.
She’d forget the bad times, the marks
he’d write upon her cheeks, the red iconic
finger-paint that reminds you of these fading roses,
these petrified monstrosities of time’s sweet lie -
a bitter knowledge, absolving crimes -
beatings and unyielding tears.
Yet, you know it still lies there
like an old shoe, a slipper
found in an old closet
where she kept so many things: mementoes,
pictures, fragments of love, scattered remnants
of her happiness like so many roses,
so many tears across the lintel of years.
But you know what they want, these roses -
a silent prayer, a voiceless incision
to cut those dark and lonely days from time -

but they never could; and as you take up
this hammer, and one by one
smash these roses like a bad memory,
you count the lies he’d spoken -
 letting each of these ruinous roses fall and fade

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: these pictures are from Clarence John Laughlin – Many historians credit Laughlin as being the first true surrealist photographer in the United States. His images are often nostalgic, reflecting the influence of Eugène Atget and other photographers who tried to capture vanishing urban landscapes. Laughlin’s best-known book, Ghosts Along the Mississippi, was first published in 1948.

James Sallis: Lew Griffith and the Blues

Reading a James Sallis crime novel is like a slow burn with someone for whom one has great respect, but have never quite been able to hit it off; yet, one keeps coming back, tempting fate or whatever other strange gods inhabit the wastelands of our modernity, realizing that this is a love affair of the mind not of the heart, one that is difficult to measure much less to analyze, and is part and partial of the darker traces that inhabit both time and memory, fantasy and dream. One realizes after reading such works that one’s own identity is built out of dark and imponderable traces, shifting realities, fragments, and the detritus of other people’s lives; that the illusion of selfhood and subjectivity is just that: an illusion; that hidden behind the folds of flesh and blood, under the physical semblance of lived life is the haunting absence of something else, something indefinable, something strange and away that has for all too long been hurting, hurting like some broken thing in the night.

In his series about an African American Detective, Lew Griffith, Sallis stated – as if almost surprised at himself: “I didn’t elect to write a novel from an African-American’s viewpoint. I began writing, as I always do, from a single image, a sense of a character, trying to draw this shadowy person out. I was many pages into  The Long-Legged Fly … before I realized that Lew was African-American. So I went back and started over” (Garth Cartwright).

Lew Griffith – the unlikely hero of this dark tale, and the main character in Sallis’s earmark noir about the menacing streets of New Orleans is a tough yet sympathetic character, a man who carries the scars of other peoples troubles like a soul-eater whose job is never done, who is as lost as the victims he seeks to defend or meet out justice for. A street philosopher of the first order Lew understands that a human being is more than just the hard cold facts of ones daily trek through existence. Underneath the veneer we all inhabit a darkness of solitude and despair from which each of us must in our own private struggles seek either solace or reprieve:

“It’s strange how little is left of our lives once they’re rendered down, once they’ve started becoming history. A handful of facts, movements, conflicts; that’s all the observer sees. An uninhabited shell.”

The Long-Legged Fly is a novel of lost souls, troubled identities, of identities pared down to the bone. It’s a secret history of American Identity caught in the web of an era when identity was shifting, scrambled, and ill-defined, almost paranoiac; a time when civil-rights turmoil was surfacing below the threshold of social and political worlds. Lew Griffin in not so much interested in the larger picture, of conveying an understanding of the greater canvas of our American Atrocity as he is of its effects on the particular, the singular inhabitants of one of its key cities, New Orleans.

In the opening sequence a year has passed since the fatal shooting of John F. Kennedy, when the Civil Rights Act had barely been signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. The beginning of the supposed Great Society when social reform and racial injustice was going to be eliminated from the face of the earth. A promising era that brought us the War on Poverty. Into this strange world comes Lew Griffin, a sort of latter day knight of the African Americans, a man with his own problems and failings, but also a man who – even if lost among the semblances, seemed to keep heading in the right direction, trying over and over to right the wrongs and injustices around him.

There is a secret history of the south yet to be written that will connect us to those dark and terrible violences that have over the course of American History come to haunt us all. I speak of racism and its effects and affects on the American psyche – or, should we rather say, identity? Since the idea of some great collective soul or psyche seems both superficial and having no bearing on the troubling aspects of this history. Lew discovers the impenetrableness of this dark relation in his relationship with a young white woman, Vicky, a nurse whose uniform attends this strange truth:

“There’s something about all that white, the way it barely contains a woman, its message of fetching innocence and concealment, that reminds us how much we remain impenetrable mysteries to one another. We circle one another, from time to time drawing closer, more often moving apart, just as we circle our own confused, conflicting feelings” (140).

Lew rides this a little further relating a small history of the Blues he’s watching on a documentary series on TV. The Blues he tells us encapsulates this hurt, the dark secret that we still are all in denial of, and that Blues music, guitar, and the likes of Charley Patton, Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, Bukka White, Son House, Robert Johnson, and so many other great African American singers brought to light in their songs and tempos. As one of the singers relates in an interview: “Because the slave could not say what he meant … he said something else. Soon he was saying all sorts of things he didn’t mean. We’d call it dissembling. But what he did mean, that was the blues” (141). In one of the segments of the documentary a commentator relates what “Big Joe Williams” had to say:

…all these young guys have it wrong. They were trying to get inside the blues, he said, when what the blues was, was a way of letting you get outside – outside the sixteen or eighteen hours you had to work every day, outside where you lived and what you and your children hat to look forward to, outside the way you just plain hurt all the time (141).

It was this hurt that follows Lew around moment by moment like an old dog that want die but just keeps on moaning its mournful song. Yet, it is this mournful hurt that drives Lew, that spurs him own to right all the injustices within his purview even if it means a turn toward the vigilante side of justice as portrayed in the opening sequence of the novel itself.

After the opening sequence we find Lew puzzling over the schizophrenic breakdown of a young woman Corine Davis, an activist who suddenly disappeared one day, and as suddenly reappeared in a local asylum outside New Orleans, Lew ponders just what it is that makes up the life of such a being:

…I guess it wasn’t that much different from the way we all make up our lives by bits and pieces, a piece of a book here, a song title or lyric there, scraps of people we’ve known, clips from movies, imagining ourselves and living into that image, then going on to another and yet another, improvising our way from day to day through the years we call a life (49).

Just like a scrapbook found on a garbage heap at the county dump we discover our own lives to have been nothing more than the flotsam and jetsam of a fractured world set to the tempo of some old sad and lonely song sung by the likes of  Tom Russell and Tom Waits, or Emmylou Harris and Gretchen Peters. It’s the hidden life of the American working class in these tales and songs that means something, something beyond the failure, loss, and brokenness of the depleted images and novelistic effects. It’s what helps us survive, get on with our lives, get up in the morning and reach for another first chance at hope, even if we know hope is hard to come by or doesn’t even exist in our day to day vocabulary. It’s this fatal optimism, the optimism of a screwball clown or loser that follows a path with heart that ultimately leads down that dark alley where despair is the only guest that touches noir in its extremities.

Sallis himself never intended this first book to be followed up by five more sequels. In fact even this first novel was intended as a short story that just got away from him.2 Drifting among the detritus of differing time periods the protagonist Lew Griffin sifts time and memory for the fragments of a life gone sour: his own. But not much will help him in that accord, life’s been tough on this old PI; or, maybe we should say that not life, but death had wandered through his life too many times and left a bad taste in his mouth. Once in a while he’ll come on a place of memory, a place where happy times formerly resided like snapshots from some alien history; and, like marriage it brought fond memories to Lew of “chicken sandwiches and extra chips”, a nice afternoon in the sun, soft kisses and a honeymoon.  Yet, even this, like most honeymoons would not last, and was only the beginning of a slow and steady decline. Craig McDonald remarks: “…in all of Sallis’ works, there is the sad recognition that too often we recognize our moments of happiness only in retrospect— moved to do so by present circumstances we similarly don’t yet recognize as comfortable, and won’t, until they, too, have slipped into the past” (247).

As Lew relates it toward the end: “It’s never ideas, but the simple things, that break our hearts: a falling leaf that plunges us into our own irredeemable past, the memory of a young woman’s ankle, a single smile among unknown faces, a madeleine, a piece of toast” (190). In the last sequence of this novel Lew is tasked with finding his own son, David Griffith, who has vanished off the radar between France and New York. At the end of a long trail Lew realizes he’ll never discover the truth about his son’s disappearance, and that like one of the characters in his own novel (Lew having become a popular novelist of crime novels), he remarks:

The news my Cajun had brought the old man in the bar was that his son was dead, needlessly stupidly dead, and I knew that more than ever before I was writing close to my life, that the old man’s bottle and mute acceptance were my own, that I would not see David again. I am not a man much given to the mystic or ineffable, but sitting there that night in the darkness like a cat, with the fruity smells of gin and a murmur of wind from outside, I knew. And I have been right. (196-197)

We’ve all known that strangeness, that something in excess, intangible that touches us from the realm of the Real, that haunts us and follows us down the lonely nights of our lives like a difficult passage from some dark poem that keeps biting at our minds, that keeps tugging at our heart like something we’ve all forgotten or misplaced, some impossible object that keeps coming back day after day troubling us with its incessant thoughts offering us not so much solace as the broken promise of our own unfulfilled lives. Despair comes in many guises. Life, too.

1. James Sallis. The Long-Legged Fly. (Carroll and Graf, 1992)

2. McDonald, Craig (2011-07-29). Rogue Males.

Old Men Sing The Delta Blues: Two Songs

“Blues is not a dream. Blues is truth.”

—BROWNIE MCGHEE

Soul Down and Mashed

My daddy used
to do it,
my uncle too.
Sing the blues
in that way:
slow beat to throat
moving like a ghost,
a woman riding night,
a man right beside;
soul down and mashed,
muddy waters
touching more than
is a face to tell. A light
touch sparks that
metal chord,
an ear awakens, hears -
a jackdaw’s screech,
clear and crisp: stops
and listens to this old
man on the bayou
sing and play the delta blues.

Knowing and Doing

We lived down
the bayou
back in the big green,
where there ain’t
nothing good
but a few ole coons,
a hound
or two; but let
me tell you, there’s something
in there
like no other place:
a people
with a certain
raging -
a desperation,
a dark
and heavy, a living
that comes
from knowing and doing,
saying and believing
something people shouldn’t -
a sense of something old and cold and true
that comes through them bone fingers in the blues.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Pretty Hat Seller, Old

hat_lady

“He showed me nothing but contempt
and took me for all he could get.”

  – Fracois Villon

I was sitting there as usual
just bidding my time, when
the old hat seller Marge came
in plopped down, took off
her filthy jerkin – her toothless
grimed hubby ragged her. She
didn’t have many teeth
either, just that buck
tooth, white and ugly, snagged
against her torn lip and middling
dimple; she’d smile like that
old boxer I used to have, as
if she’d bite my nose off as if
he hadn’t already. She was
always a little tipsy even
before a drink, but now it
was some whimper from
the street wars that kept
her sniffling on, hard against
the day. A death we both agreed
to share if only for a drink o’ whiskey and a dare.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Dark Earth: Poetry of Dean J. Baker

Image of Dean J. Baker“I keep walking, making calls which few recognize, eventually sure that one day when I have passed that way, suddenly a porch light will shine in the evening and another timelessness reign.”

– Dark Earth, Dean Baker

Been reading Dean Baker’s latest offering of poems of late, Dark Earth. Of course Dean is an author, composer, and performer who was born in Toronto, Canada, to a Ukrainian/Polish father and an Irish/Scottish mother. Attended the University of Guelph, and later won book awards from them, along with several unsolicited Ontario Arts Council awards, best poems published in a year in literary journals, and The T.S. Eliot Society of Miami’s Calendar Poet award. He has several other works out: Bad Boys, Silence Louder Than A Train, The Mythologies Of Love, and The Lost Neighborhood each of which can also be found on his amazon.com page.

What struck me intensely about Dean’s poetry is this sense of earthiness and despair tinged with a dark humor that I so love. An ongoing walk through these dark times is an underlying expectation, an almost uncanny movement toward hope; yet, not hope itself, rather it’s a sort of orientation to the future or forward looking gaze that can almost see between barbed wired clouds on the darkest horizon something strange almost shining through only to be sealed off immediately by the Reality Police who trap us in this bleak corner of the universe. Now by this I don’t mean that Dean is some kind of blipping optimist, no he’s a pessimist or realist like most of us. No that would make things a little to easy and rosy, and Dean is more of a bleak and transgressive churning below the muddy waters. He lives down where the alligators and moccasins move in those black ponds, waiting, harboring nothing but deadly thoughts. Dean’s world is to poetry what David Goodis in Street of No Return is to noir. In that bleak book the main character loses the girl, kills the villain, returns to skid row with a bottle under his arm for the boys in the cold wet sunless streets, where life is nothing but this hollow gesture, a desperateness toward the last dark weave of things: where losers sit in some dark alley passing the bottle around, and nothing could touch them nothing at all.

But then again what does touch us is Dean’s poetry, and it touches us hard and quick like some dark message out of hell; but this is no metaphysical charade – it is our hell, our lives in this god forsaken universe where the thought of salvation isn’t some dream of transcendence, but is rather a movement toward another order of indifference, another and hopeful purgatory across some bleak landscape beyond the lies and deceit of this one.

Do you not see how
they drive:
to meet the grinning, opened mouth.

In Dean’s Widows he challenges our sense of propriety, brings us two death’s: the death of child, and the death of something else. Even the use of the plural – Widows, as if one may suspect some murderous collusion amongst “black widows”; or, rather the natural order of some dip into Shakespeare’s widowed “witches” from Macbeth; or, more likely just three old mean women out of some southern gothic world who, as the interlocutor tells us – as if it were some dark and sinister story, to be hushed up in polite society – a memory of another child: “the unlovely child you always knew too much about”. And, the interlocutor continues with a double refrain, one that tells us these dark widows are “carrying themselves” and “carrying themselves / with taunts of Spring”. The interlocutor will not say what cannot be said, what it is that these widows have done, or what secrets they hold to their black hearts. But he knows, and for him there is a bittersweet revenge in knowing that what they are moving toward as “they drive” is a meeting with that “grinning, opened mouth” – a death at once comical and grotesque that will undo these murderous widows and their secrets in ways beyond telling.

This is the key to Dean’s art, the subtle narration of certain moments that are never revealed in the full natural disclosure of facts, but are rather revealed more subtly in the voicing of certain affective relations between memory and mind in this ongoing inquisition with the sordidness of our unlived lives. It’s as if in each poem we are seeing slices of a pain, a snapshot of horrors, a visitation of certain indelible blood-lettings that continue to keep the wound of life open to the world. For isn’t that truly all that remains? How many of your memories are of joy? Oh I don’t mean the picture memories you can snap out, I mean the affective memories that stick in the crawl of your thick mind like a bad taste in the mouth. How many?

Dean is a true comic poet as well, full of those sly interventions and evasions, slights of self, incriminations and elisions: “It is you, who have ruined / your life, / with the comparisons … elegies outworn: / embarrassing”. And, even the muse is a fickle mistress a tormentor “the muse still torments me every now and then”, and yet she’s a comical waif as well:

She thinks a psychiatrist / may do the trick: forgetting / she had a hand in the mess.

What I admire is Dean’s pulling out all the stops, no sublime romanticist here; no, instead he’s taken notes from the underbelly of those masters of the macabre and grotesque. All those little oddball peculiarities of the absurd, bizarre, macabre, depraved, degenerate, perverse that are the hallmark of the best of that dark haunting literature, both humorous and earthy, grotesque – can be found here. As Philip Thomson tells us of the grotesque in literature and visual culture: he calls it ‘the unresolved clash of incompatibles in work and response’ and, he continues, ‘it is significant that this clash is paralleled by the ambivalent nature of the abnormal as present in the grotesque’.1 I like to go back to Baudelaire who perfected this mode after his careful perusal and translations of that master, Edgar Allen Poe. For Baudelaire it was to know that one was dammed in this life from the beginning; but it wasn’t a religious knowledge, no it was a secular knowing that this world, not some future abode of despair already harbored enough hate and crime to fill ten thousands hells. Maybe this is why even Sartre would seek in Baudelaire a brother of that darker existential pain that is existence with others, and go on to see “hell is other people”.

One of my favorites of this mode from Dean’s work, and the last one I’ll quote (I want you to cherish a first reading of the rest for yourself) is “Queen St. East””

The jaw slacks, with the weight
of the body’s loss,
to an inexorable acknowledgement

The brain is unfettered
in its jug; spilling over
with the nostalgia of alcohol

Flat on their backs, near Moss
Park, curled fetus-like, the
inhabitants whirl in a static frenzy of

Enfeeblement, any amusement here
sublingual: the posthumous twitching
of cynics en masse

That, my friends, in one succinct movement is the Grotesque Sublime: “the posthumous twitching / of cynics en masse”. It is also the dark knowing of a grotesque humor named “Dean Baker”. Rabelais and Hieronymus Bosch look out of dark chinks in these poems… instead of Emerson’s “Whim” above Dean’s lintel we might assume “Melancholy” resides here… that dark brooding that laughs below, and rises through the bones to jerk you awake from your too lazy sleep of existence.

Please visit Dean Baker’s wordpress.com site: http://deanjbaker.wordpress.com/
and his poetry can be found: amazon.com page.

 

1. Edwards, Justin; Graulund, Rune (2013-05-29). Grotesque (The New Critical Idiom) (p. 3). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

P.S. – I plan on doing a lot of reviews over the next few months on others I’ve met here on wordpress.com as well as poets that have influenced my own life and outlook… so stay tuned!

The Journey

Close your eyes
set sail upon her flesh-home

ride the currents
of this ocean breeze

up and down the waves
where secret isles jut up

surprised by little bumps and mounds
beauty’s dimples

now follow down the spine
where clefts and ridges

like hump back whales
surfacing

from declivities go unrecognized
as laughter sounds upon the heights

and you hear siren songs from afar
the lover’s moaning of an ancient sea-farer

move on by and into the jungle valley
deep within this hidden world

there is a paradise below this green canopy
that no one yet has conquered

and as it’s gate closes on your eager fingers
you realize you’ve been abandoned

on the threshold
like some half-mad sailor

wandering the earth
stopping at the open tavern door -

you’d tell your tale if only
the orphan at the threshold bid you warm welcome

unlock the door let you step inside
to honor love’s long journey and redress

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

21st Century Baroque Poetry: Excess, Invention, and Ornament

Stephen Burt in an article Nearly Baroque in the Boston Review tells us that 21st Century poets “of the nearly Baroque want art that puts excess, invention, and ornament first. It is art that cannot be reduced to its own explanation, that shows off its material textures, its artificiality, its descent from prior art, its location in history. These poets want an art that can always give, or could always show, more”. He lists several poets that are within this tradition of excess: Angie Estes, Robyn Schiff, Hailey Leithauser, Marsha Pomerantz, Nada Gordon, Lucie Brock-Broido, Ange Mlinko, Kiki Petrosino, and Geoffrey Nutter.

As Burt describes it this type of poetic or aesthetic “exhibit elaborate syntax and sonic patterning, without adopting pre-modernist forms (they never look or sound like Richard Wilbur). If they derive technique from a modernist poet, it is always Marianne Moore. The poems have subjects—things and characters in a preexisting, historical world—and often include proper nouns. But they rarely focus on one subject; instead, they weave together several topics or scenes in sinuously complicated, multiply subordinated sentences. They may compare their own intricacies to other intricately made things: textiles, jewelry, household machines, braids, spiral staircases, DNA.”

There is also a Southern Gothic neo-Baroque that Burt alludes to in the work of Jane Springer, Atsuro Riley,  and Anna Journey which for me will be of interest if your a Southerner of the USA as I am. The influence of O’Conner, Faulkner, Welty, McCullers and others is still strong in me. So many of the southern poets influence aspects of my own ongoing projects.

I’ve always been fascinated with the magic realists of South America and their growth out of the baroque of Spain, but to see this resurgence in other forms is exciting and worth investigating. I’ve added bio’s and links to a few works and poets. Enjoy the ride!

Angie Estes is the author of five books, most recently Enchantée, and Tryst was selected as one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

Robyn Schiff was born in New Jersey. She earned an MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MA at the University of Bristol. She is the author of the poetry collections Revolver (2008), a finalist for the PEN Award, and Worth (2002). Her work has been featured in several anthologies, including Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (2007) and Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (2006).

Hailey Leithauser was born in Baltimore and raised in Maryland and Central Florida.  Over the years Leithauser has worked as a salad chef, real estate office manager, gourmet food salesperson, freelance copy editor, phone surveyor, bookstore clerk, fact checker, and, most recently, senior reference librarian at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. Swoop: Poems

Marsha Pomerantz grew up in New York, lived in Israel for twenty years, and now lives in Boston. Her poems and prose have been published in journals in the US, UK, and Israel, and she has translated poetry, short fiction, and a novel from the Hebrew. Her writing has been supported by two residencies at the MacDowell Colony and by a Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist grant, and she has twice been a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Award. She is managing editor at the Harvard Art Museums. The Illustrated Edge

Nada Gordon can be found on her blog ~~ululations~~   Latest books: Vile Lilt, Folly, and Swoon

Lucie Brock-Broido was born in Pittsburgh, was educated at Johns Hopkins and Columbia University, and has taught at Bennington, Princeton, Harvard (where she was a Briggs-Copeland poet), and Columbia. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as awards from the American Poetry Review and the Academy of American Arts and Letters. Stay, Illusion: Poems, The Master Letters, A Hunger, and Trouble in Mind: Poems

Ange Mlinko is the author of three books, Shoulder Season (Coffee House Press, 2010), Starred Wire (Coffee House Press, 2005), which was a National Poetry Series winner in 2004 and a finalist for the James Laughlin Award, and Matinees (Zoland Books, 1999). In 2009, she won the Randall Jarrell Award in Criticism. Mlinko was born in Philadelphia, and has worked in Brooklyn, Providence, Boston, and Morocco. She has taught poetry at Brown, the Naropa University Summer Writing Program, and Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Her poems are about urban life, about language and its failings, about the things we see and do not see. She is often compared to Frank O’Hara. The New Yorker praised her “unique sense of humor and mystery.” Her Latest: Marvelous Things Overheard: Poems

Poet Kiki Petrosino was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of an African American mother and an Italian American father. She earned a BA from the University of Virginia, an MA in humanities from the University of Chicago, and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of Fort Red Border (2009) and Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013).

Geoffrey Nutter is originally from California but has lived in New York for many years. He has published four books: A Summer Evening (winner of the Colorado Prize, 2001); Water’s Leaves & Other Poems (winner of the Verse Prize, 2005); Christopher Sunset (winner of the 2011 Sheila Motton Book Award), and The Rose of January (Wave Books, 2013), and his work has also appeared in many journals and anthologies. One can discover more on his blog: http://www.geoffreynutter.net/

 

Southern Baroque

Jane Springer. Born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and raised in several small towns across the South, poet Jane Springer earned a PhD at Florida State University. Her debut poetry collection, Dear Blackbird (2007), won the Agha Shahid Ali Prize from the University of Utah Press. Her second collection, Murder Ballad (2012), received the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. Influenced by Flannery O’Connor and Larry Levis, Springer writes narrative, often long-form poems that portray rural Southern life as at once mythic and passionate. Poet Lynnell Edwards, reviewing Murder Ballad, noted, “Springer’s long line is fearless in its music, indulging luscious sounds and pounding measures. Traversing the despair of the rural south, [she] exploits the urgency and dread of every keening murder ballad, showing how that cleaving is both our undoing and our salvation.” Interview with Jane Springer.

Atsuro Riley grew up in South Carolina and lives in California. His heavily stressed, percussive, consonant-rich, free-verse poems conjure up the elemental images of the lives of people inhabiting a specific, acutely portrayed landscape. His poems are dense with impressions, voices, and glimpses of people who have experienced the Vietnam War, rural life, and the South. His first book, Romey’s Order (2010), received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, The Believer Poetry Award, and a Witter Bynner Award from the Library of Congress.

Anna Journey  is the author of the poetry collections Vulgar Remedies (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) and If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), which was selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series.

Charles Baudelaire: Lilith – The Damned

In glistening shot-silk she seems to wind
Sidelong across the floor as in a dance,
As when a gypsy waves the mystic wand
That puts his writhing viper in a trance.

To the barren dune and desert sky
Humanity is an irrelevance;
In coiling and uncoiling like the sea;
She manifests the same indifference.

Her petrifying eyes burn bright and cold,
As alien as if an angel were
United with a sphinx on some dead star

Where life is crystal-carbon, steel and gold
That radiates through all of human time
The empty womb’s majestic paradigm.

- Charles Baudelaire, from Complete Poems translated by Walter Martin

 


 

This poem by Baudelaire brings his mythos of Lilith (Serpent), Gorgon (Medusa), and Vampire (Alien Angel) together. As his biographer F. W. J. Hemmings says:

“But Baudelaire was not a nineteenth-century liberal; indeed, to many of his contemporaries, including one suspects Flaubert, he appeared as something of a throwback: regressive in his moral outlook, however modern he may have been in other respects – in his aesthetic insights, for instance. It is impossible not to be struck, as one reads him, by the frequency of his use of the word damnation and its cognates; the sentence we have picked as epigraph is simply the most memorable instance that can be found in his writings: ‘In short, I believe that my life has been damned from the beginning, and that it is damned forever.’

We notice that Baudelaire does not call himself damned, but only his life; his biographer has to explain how this life came to be damned, but need not take into account the possibility that he who lived that life was and is now among the company of the damned. There is little evidence that Baudelaire seriously visualized the afterlife in conventional terms of heaven and hell, and even if he did, it is most unlikely that he would have imagined hell quite as Dante imagined it … or Wyndham Lewis. As to the kind of existence reserved for humanity beyond the grave, he kept an open mind ; he was curious about it, and curiously hopeful; had it been otherwise, had he seriously entertained the notion of a Catholic God sitting in judgement on the souls of the departed, no doubt he would have embraced again, before his death, the faith that he lost in his late teens. But he did believe very firmly that certain lives are damned on this earth and that his was one of these.”1

1. Hemmings, F. W. J. (2011-09-28). Baudelaire the Damned: A Biography (Bloomsbury Reader) (Kindle Locations 34-39). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Masque of Misrule

 

“You are a cruel mistress of misrule,
a leech, a blind machine, a useful tool.”
– Charles Baudelaire

Saurian eyes look out of the green lime hedge
Beyond the portico, her stone intelligence
Misprisions me within this opium maze:

Swift laughter’s heart betrays its skill,
As shadows prey and whispered feline wiles
Quicken an eagle’s pyre on a black sun’s dial, 

While an owl’s new moon slow musings slay the night in twain;
An entangling web, her dark embrace, white teeth -
Her clasping claws – a metronome, time’s silver prophecy;

Her jeweled basilisk eyes, marking each beat that lasts -
The masquerade, the dancers in the bronzed cage:
And, I, her cloven lover succor her within this singular hell -

A beast depraved by her magic touch, dammed by
Her kisses, the metal pigments jutting out – black remembrances
Shading us from the bright life outside this red circle;

A darkening confederacy of love wreaks havoc
On the eclipsed stars, while we fall gracefully

Among these scarlet sheets so smooth and silky;

The embroidered ecstasy that is her fatal bite
Pricks the tempered steel that is my mind;
And, I, like an entombed archaeologist of corruption

Wander the mausoleum ruins of her ivory flesh
Like some vast and empty temple of lost time,
And in its frozen precincts I discover a blue stone afire:

It is her volcanic core – the extended screech across the void -
A fetid imbroglio hangs between us, and a delicate cord of ebony
That binds us thickly concludes this fatal tryst in a darker circle of love:

Connoisseur of forbidden pleasures I sculpt her life beyond this fabricated semblance:
                                                         A golden mask of joyous pain to the Lord of Misrule.

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

*Note: this is more of a study in decadence, using the elements from Gautier, Baudelaire, the de Goncourt brothers and other infamous denizens of the Opium tribes who experimented with the lurid dreams of the great Parisian opium dens and forms of decadent closure manifested in the flaneur, Poe, the vampire legends, etc. I’ve often toyed with the notion of writing a decadent mystery novel with Baudelaire and Gautier as the Holmes and Watson of the era… of course Baudelaire as dandy and flaneur was perfect as a observer but in actual life was so hooked and depleted by Opium that it like Thomas De Quincey’s The Confessions of an Opium Eater and the many and various biographies from Gautier’s onward.

The Black Prince (Satire)

It’s true I complain too much and loudly,
but even Emily Post had an unkind word or two;
while you… you say nada, nada, nada -
as if nothingness was a word for love.

Maybe I’m wrong for hounding you, dog of my bone:
you prance around, pout and pounce;
yes, yes,
I know the truth, I’m an overbearing louse:

a slovenly god of trucks and motor oil,
a grim knight of beer and whiskey: of late, your spouse!

But what would you have me be?
Oh, forget it,
I know already:
you’d have me dressed in white,
a shiny knight with the midas touch,

a singing jester, or Fred Astaire -
dancing till Midnight;

you’d have me bare and prim,
mated to leather chains by Armani.

Well you can have your Prince Charming fetish leathers now,
I’m through with this saturated minstrelsy of slights;
I’ll be the Black Prince of Shadows:
plunderer of far kingdoms, despair’s dark brother,
till you relent this silly Game of Tease -
kiss me quickly fool, before I fall down and beg you too!

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Leavetaking

What is loss but a leavetaking:
a slow sailing across white seas,

a severing that will never bid goodbye;
even those leaves that fall, attach themselves

to other leaves, windblown gatherings:
motions on the dark horizon, floating, challenging:

a smile more frightening than life itself;
and, we, the breathing go on down this lonely road,

our lives like winter foals upon an open field;
snow laden and innocent, unshorn by thoughts

that cleave us to this burden, this daily tribulation:
that sparks us to action till we grow young in her arms again

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

 

Mandolin Lady

She’s a country girl
no doubt can sway you:

her smile, sweet freckles,
the grace that has no need to tell;

she’ll call you where you stand
and break you of that wildness;

and in that moment she picks the mandolin
a spell commences, another world arises
:

a fire out some old Irish by and by,
her fingers dancing on taut wires:

melodies of enchantment or doom,
blazings lighting a fierce day -

of lovers and warriors,
moon reed twining’s:

once we were stones crossing just there -
weavings inextricably meshed in this green destiny

- Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.