Grey Suit Editions: Books for Christmas 21

Announcing two new titles on Grey Suit Editions

Donald Gardner’s New and Selected Poems

Anthony Howell’s novel – The Distance Measured in Days

Available now!

And all our books (Grey Suit, Theatre of Mistakes, High Window, Odd Volumes etc) are available on ebay at tangoshiva. My own, older, Anvil Press Poetry titles are available here at Carcanet. Just add Anthony Howell when on the link.

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The Hump-Backed Bridge

THE HUMP-BACKED BRIDGE

I was just six years old. My mother dropped me off at school in Caversham, and then I found my own way home by boarding the bus near Saint Peter’s Hill that would take me to its terminus in Shinfield. The hump-backed bridge on Duke Street marked the half-way point of this journey. I always tried to sit at the front on the upper deck of the bus (as I still do). As we approached the bridge, I would begin having a thought – perhaps the first I thought of as a thought. I thought to myself, I’m thinking, therefore I am thinking about thinking, so now I am thinking about thinking about thinking.

This was my first experience of a regressive series – almost my first experience. I had also travelled in a lift with parallel sides covered with mirrors. Mirrors and regression are inextricably linked. In his pioneering work On Famous Women, Giovanni Boccaccio credits Marcia the daughter of Varro with having invented the self-portrait. A note below her entry in my Italica Press translation points out that this was actually Lala of Cyzicus, who lived in Rome at the time when Varro was a young man, around 74 B.C. Misreading Pliny’s account of this painter (Historia Naturalis xxxv.11.40), Boccaccio asserts that she was Varro’s daughter. On the cover of my edition, a medieval manuscript in the Bibliothéque National, dated 1402, shows us the lady peering into her hand-held mirror, as she puts the finishing touches to her lips in the portrait she is painting of herself – we see her face, her face in the mirror, and her face in the portrait.

Marcia, alias Lala, is surrounded by her paints, her brushes and her palette. She is working at a sturdy easel. The argument for the self portrait’s female origin seems convincing when one considers how many women have been depicted with mirrors in hand – usually to symbolise vanity – whereas with Marcia we sense industry and accuracy – and note the little dogs carved on her paw-footed chair, watching her paint the painting of herself! But then, we should not dismiss turning our thoughts to reflection as it was seen in classical mythology. At the least, we should recall the fate of Narcissus, and how Echo was more than willing to save him, but unfortunately she could only repeat his complaints about the reflection that he had fallen in love with – for an echo is no more than an audible reflection. Both can be seen in the pre-Raphaelite painting by John William Waterhouse.

The painter painting a picture of herself is clearly the start of a regressive series. And this can be localised – down to the hand drawing a picture of the hand as it draws the hand, as can be seen in the symmetrical work of M.C. Escher, who deals in graphic conundrums.

But the conundrum can also give rise to philosophical and to mathematical enquiry – as can be found in the work of J.W. Dunne. Writing in the 1920s and 30s, it is my belief that Dunne had a considerable influence on René Magritte, who would have been thirty when Faber & Faber brought out Dunne’s An Experiment with Time. Here is what he has to say about Generic Images:

‘When a number of partly similar impressions have been attended to at different times, there is observable, besides the several memory images pertaining to those several impressions, a vague, general image comprising nothing beyond the key elements which are common to all those separate images. For example, the images of the hundreds of tobacco pipes which Ihave seen, smoked, and handled, all contain a common element which is now apparent to me as an ill-defined image of ‘ pipe ’ in general. It presents all the essential characteristics which serve to distinguish a pipe from any other article such as, say, an umbrella. Such characteristics are: hollow bowl, tubular stem – in short, an appearance of utility for the purpose of smoking. But this indefinite image does not exhibit any indication of specific colour or precise dimensions. It seems, however, to be the nucleus of all the definite images of particular pipes to be found in my mental equipment; for, if attention be directed to it, there will quickly become observable the image of sometimes one and sometimes another of such particular pipes.

These vague, almost formless general images are called ‘Generic Images’, and they appear to be analogous to a central knot to which the specific, definite images are in the relation of radiating threads.’

An Experiment with Time, p.34

Magritte would have been thirty when this book appeared, and his biographers tell me that he was a visitor to the home of Edward James in London. Edward James was reputedly fathered by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). He was a patron of the  surrealists. Salvador Dali put James in touch with Magritte, and thus it was that James hosted Magritte for three weeks at his home on 35 Wimpole Street, in February and March 1927, the year in which An Experiment with Time came out from Faber. The book was popular, and Edward James would certainly have had a copy of it in his library. In certain versions of Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe by Magritte, the words are depicted as a label, as if to a painting – here painting and label amount to a picture within a picture. Magritte also signs this work, adding a further layer, a layer of self-consciousness. Well-known versions of this work, do not have a signature, and I might have my doubts as to the authenticity of this attribution, were it not for the fact that on the following page Dunne goes on – A definite image of a particular wooden pipe-bowl may pertain, on one side, to the generic image ‘pipe’, and, on another, to the generic image I call ‘grained wood’.

The main concern of An Experiment with Time is Dunne’s suspicion that we dream of the future as often as we dream of the past, and in the book he sets out to prove it. It is moot whether he succeeds or not, but his combination of up-to-date physics – including Einstein’s relativity and wave particle theory – with a mystic impulse towards a notion of time as an eternal continuum makes for irresistibly heady reading, as if he were the Alan Watts of his day (Watts would have been in his teens when An Experiment appeared).

There are three illustrations in Dunne’s second book, The Serial Universe, which are worthy of note in the context I am trying to map out for my reader. The book was first published, again by Faber, in 1934. Every simple series to infinity is the expression of some logical fact which is asserted in the second term but not in the first is a phrase which appears in italics on page 25, and the exploration of the regressive series and its implications is the concern of the chapters here, one of which is called simply ‘Now’. Here is his illustration of the ‘first term’.

And here is the second term:

And he illustrates regression as it gathers momentum in his third illustration:

For Dunne, time itself is a regressive series, since every ‘now’ was once a ‘will be’ and becomes a ‘then’. Every son has a father, and every father is the son of a father who is the son of a father. I take issue with the latter example as it seems to simplify this particular regression, as if it were a single flight of stairs leading us back through the generations.

I would say that, ‘Every son is the son of a mother and a father, and every mother and father is the son or daughter of a mother and a father,’ goes further towards indicating the proliferation of regressions that occurs at every stage. I had a history teacher who maintained that family trees were, misleadingly, presented as if in descent from some legendary ancestor, but actually – if you want to understand the complexity of the mix – it is better to start with yourself. You had a father and a mother, each of your parents had a father and a mother. It is clear that very rapidly you acquire a vast number of antecedents. And so it is highly likely that you are descended from William the Conqueror!

It is stated that Magritte’s painting, The Human Condition, was completed in 1933, but note that, if so, it predates the publication of The Serial Universe by just one year. I don’t buy that. My hunch is that Magritte tweaked the date, in order to lay claim to some originality of concept. But it should be noted that there is a fundamental difference between Dunne’s diagrams and the famous work by Magritte. In the Magritte, no artist is present.

The regression only goes as far as the second term. Ian Bourn suggested to me that the mystery is that we do not know for sure that it is an accurate picture, since the picture itself hides a certain amount of the view! So it’s not so much about infinite regression. Putting the canvas inside a house, where the view is seen through a window, also limits the progression and distances the work from Dunne’s diagrams. So here the path forks – one fork leads to ‘the painting of a painting – a time-honoured theme – while the other leads to ‘the artist painting a picture of the artist painting a picture – adding self-portraiture to the mix. Magritte finds some mediation of this divergence by having recourse to the surreal (after all there is nothing surreal about The Human Condition, it is simply a picture within a picture).

Not to Be Reproduced (La reproduction interdite, 1937) was commissioned by Edward James and is considered a portrait of James although James’s face is not shown. It purports to show a man looking into a mirror, but instead of his face the man sees the back of his own head, which is the view of him presented to any viewer of the picture.

This surreal ‘mirror’ rests on a mantlepiece-like ledge, and a book is shown lying face-up on this ledge. The book is the French edition of The Narrative  of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Alan Poe. Gordon Pym stows away aboard a whaling ship called the Grampus. Various upsets befall Pym, including shipwreck, mutiny, and cannibalism, before he is saved by the crew of another vessel. And now Pym and a sailor named Dirk Peters continue their adventures farther south and on land. They encounter hostile natives before escaping back to the ocean. The novel ends abruptly as Pym and Peters continue toward the South Pole.

While it influenced writers such as Melville and Verne, the book is essentially one long meander, without the doubling back, or the exploring of implications of earlier actions on outcomes, which distinguishes most tightly-plotted works. Life is not constructed as farce or a tragedy. Basically a book like this, it’s not even picaresque, it just describes one damn thing after another. So why is it there – in La reproduction interdite? What role has it to play in what might be called a tightly-plotted painting that emphatically refers back to itself? It’s my view that the book represents the painting’s antithesis, and by placing it in the painting, Magritte’s work achieves that marriage of thesis and antithesis which is considered synthesis.

When giving a lecture to the cast of J.B. Priestley’s play Time and the Conways, in 1937, J. W. Dunne used the analogy of a keyboard, and compared a simple progression of one moment after another, one event after another, to a finger moving up the piano from left to right, striking one note at a time in the order in which they are arranged, Dunne includes this lecture in his third book, The New Immortality (1938), and states that the result is that you experience merely a sequence of single events.

 ‘That life, certainly,’ he goes on, ‘Is not worth preserving. Lord Dundreary was perfectly right when he described it as just one thing happening after another.’ Dunne argues that what distinguishes consciousness is that we direct our attention to certain notes, events and moments, and that attention focuses our lives, rendering certain events significant  – for instance, think how we edit out our hand on the red plush of the balcony as we give our full attention to the stage. Thus consciousness edits space and time to concentrate on appropriate concerns.

Painters, from Sickert to Bratby, have exploited the restoration of these edited areas of the self by including the hand of the artist, or his knee. What interests me here, though, is the mention of Lord Dundreary’s remark.

Dundreary is a character whose buffoonery steals the limelight in Tom Taylor’s play, Our American Cousin. He is an upper-class nincompoop, sporting plaid trousers and “Piccadilly Weepers” – huge sideburns that dangle down well below his cravat. I’ve read the play, and cannot find the phrase mentioned by Dunne. But Lord Dundreary was immortalised by the comic actor E.A. Sothern – who ad libbed through many of the scenes (where it simply says, ‘business’) – and he also appeared in various vaudeville spin-offs of his famous role. Dunne bowdlerises the phrase, for what was popular was actually, One damn thing after another. But I’m pretty sure the phrase did indeed originate with Dundreary – and perhaps evolved over time. The words boil down to an acronym that was much in favour after the First World War – ODTAA.

John Masefield was fascinated by the notion of stories within stories, as well as pictures within stories. In the Box of Delights (first published in 1935) an old Punch-and-Judy man pursued by evil forces escapes into a picture hanging on the wall of a cosy study. He does so in front of the eyes of Kay, a small boy: his character cast here in the role of a spectator:

“Master Harker, what is the picture yonder?”

            “It is a drawing of a Swiss mountain,” Kay said.  “It was done by my grandfather.  It is called The Dents du Midi, from the North.”

            “And do I see a path on it?” the old man said.  “If you, with your young eyes, will look, perhaps you will kindly tell me if that is a path on it.”

There was indeed a path:

            “….Down the path… a string of mules was coming…The first mules turned off at a corner.  When it came to the turn of the white mule to turn, he baulked, tossed his head, swung out of the line, and trotted into the room, so that Kay had to move out of his way.  There the mule stood in the study, twitching his ears, tail and skin against the gadflies, and putting down his head so that he might scratch it with his hind foot.

            “Steady ther,” the old man whispered to him.  “And to you, Master Kay, I thank you.  I wish you a most happy Christmas.”

            At that, he swung himself onto the mule, picked up his theatre with one hand, gathered the reins with the other, said, “Come, Toby,” and at once rode off with Toby trotting under the mule, out of the room, up the mountain path, up, up, up, till the path was nothing more than a line in the faded painting, that was so dark upon the wall.  Kay watched him till he was gone, and almost sobbed, “O, I do hope you’ll escape the wolves.”

            A very, very faint little voice floated down to him from the mountain tops.  “You’ll see me again”; then the mule-hoofs seemed to pass onto grass.  They could be heard no more…

            (The Box of Delights, pages 59-61)

So here we have a picture within a story, and a creature from the picture enters the story, enabling the character in the story to get on its back and be taken into the picture. Something similar happens in the movie, Sherlock Jr. (1924), in which Buster Keaton plays a neighborhood projectionist whose dream is to be a detective.

‘As he falls asleep in the projection booth, his dream-double fantasizes the characters of the film he is projecting—“Hearts and Pearls”—into his real-life girlfriend and playboy enemy. Imagining the heroine’s honour threatened, the somnambulant Buster rushes down the aisle, scrambles over the orchestra pit and, after several failed attempts, manages to penetrate the screen world, where he is transformed into the redoubtable son of Sherlock Holmes. Although framed as a comedy, Sherlock Jr. constitutes a profound meditation on the film/dream analogy.’(Robert Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature – from Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard, 1992, p 37)

So Masefield was intrigued by this notion of one subject framed within another, and when you have a subject framed within itself, we experience the uncanny – which sets J. W. Dunne off into his exploration of the regressive series. This is seen as “reflexivity” in film theory, so Robert Stam cites instances of where the medium of film refers back to itself. But what is intriguing is that in 1926 Masefield also wrote a book called ODTAA – one damn thing after another – presumably inspired by Lord Dundreary’s phrase – his catchphrase perhaps.

No reflexivity here. The book is a rambling yarn – similar to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. A young man arrives in South America, falls in love with a girl who is betrothed to a revolutionary leader. The girl is imprisoned by the authorities, and the protagonist sets out to rescue her by seeking the help of her revolutionary who lives out in the wild. But his journey encounters delays and misadventures, he never reaches the man he felt destined to encounter and the girl is executed in jail. It can’t be said to have a plot, this book. It is just ‘one damned thing after another.’

Writers and artists concerned with reflexivity, with repetition, mirrors and the notion of the regressive series in all its myriad varieties, seem equally intrigued by what is clearly the opposite of this impulse, as is shown by Magritte’s inclusion of a rambling book on the ledge of the forbidden image with its precise but contradictory structure. A sense of things simply drifting apart is wonderfully expressed in the one novel Jane Bowles wrote – Two Serious Ladies. Repetition yearns for inconsistency and vice versa, as is so brilliantly explored by Deleuze in Difference and Repetition.

The significance of form that we witness in paintings of regressions and reflections seems to prompt antithetical impulses: stories which would rid themselves of any plot or structure, recording insignificant events – as if significance itself should be dismissed as something concocted by the clichés of tradition, fuelled by propaganda – and that it would be worth trying to write or paint as if you had no idea of what you were doing or where you were going.

But structure has a way of asserting itself, and significance may be bestowed without intention. Abraham Lincoln was watching Our American Cousin at Laura Keene’s Theatre in New York, in 1858. A note suggests that the shot occurred in Act III, halfway through Scene 2, when Dundreary is offstage. In the biopic inspired by Gore Vidal’s novel about Lincoln, the shot happens as Asa the American cousin twirls his stick in irritation and begins:

Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal— you sockdologizing old man-trap. Wal, now, when I think what I’ve thrown away in hard cash to-day I’m apt to call myself some awful hard names, 400,000 dollars is a big pile for a man to light his cigar with. If that gal had only given me herself in exchange, it wouldn’t have been a bad bargain. But I dare no more ask that gal to be my wife, than I dare ask Queen Victoria to dance a Cape Cod reel.

No gunshot occurs in that scene.

But, as my memory served it, badly, having drowsed through it a month ago (it is very long), in Vidal’s version, the assassin shoots just as a colt is spun or aimed at the audience by an actor – thus confusing the actual bullet with some business onstage, enabling the assassin’s initial chance at escape. Another scene in the film seems to bear out J.W. Dunne’s earliest theories, since it shows the president waking from a nightmare – in which, of course, he is being assassinated. You might say he was dreaming of his future. But perhaps all US presidents dream of that.

Anthony Howell, November, 2021.

See also The Picture within the Picture

See also ART AND SELF – A New Show at the Room in Tottenham: Ian Bourn and Anthony Howell

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Robert Janz

Robert Janz is dead. He was my friend, my mentor and one of the most original artists I have met. He understood the immortality of the ephemeral. 

He created kinetic sculpture by simply moving the units around – sticks, rugs – things just arranged and rearranged. He was his aesthetic. He taught at Hornsey College of Art, in the 70s, and got me in to introduce performance art to the students. He drew the life of flowers, erasing the day before and replacing it with today. He returned to America, and for years he created art in the streets of New York – collaging old posters, contributing his deft touch to fleeting graffiti. There is work to be seen at Janzwork

See also Post no Bills/Poems

And a commemorative article now in The Voice

Another in the Tribeca Citizen  

Ultimately poetic are his wonderful paintings on rock.

All time exists all the time. Robert Janz was, is and will be always alive.

Water Dancer

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ART AND SELF – A New Show at the Room in Tottenham: Ian Bourn and Anthony Howell

Grimoire – Ian Bourn
Sketching – Anthony Howell

ART AND SELF

An exchange – Ian Bourn and Anthony Howell

The Double-Mirrored Self and Self-Included Watercolours

WEEKENDS THROUGH NOVEMBER FROM 10 AM – 8 PM

Saturday 27 November – 4 pm – the artists are both also writers and will each do a reading. All welcome.

Full details:https://the-room.org.uk/exhibitions-2/

Ian Bourn: “In 2-Mirror Self-Portrait, Version 5 ‘Grimoire’ (2016), I became preoccupied with the ‘hand trying to paint the hand painting itself’.  Its ‘book of spells’ title comes from the growing awareness of my ritualized actions, and refers to an older meaning of ‘art’ in which magic is performed with wand/pencil/brush.  The ‘artist’ both paints himself into the picture and paints himself out.  The end result is a black canvas, whose visual history lies buried under the layers of over-painting.

This exhibition, originally planned for two years ago, was suggested by Anthony Howell after he saw my nominated presentation at the Juda Foundation Award in 2019. This led to many an interesting conversation between us regarding reflexivity in art.” IAN BOURN – further images here: Bourn works ROOM’21opt

Anthony Howell: “In the early years of this century I went on several trips to lands where more sun was to be found than in the British Isles, including the Costa Verde and Fuerteventura in the Canaries. I became interested in contrasting the vertical pole of the parasol with the curve of the beach and the curves of the body, and this led me to see that my pencil was another vertical which might be used. This in turn prompted me into including my own hand, my own knees etc in the drawing as I sketched. As I did this, I was reminded of the paintings of John Bratby – of the artist painting a picture – which included the hands of the painter.” ANTHONY HOWELL – further images here: https://the-room.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/sketching-and-walking-away-reduced.pdf

The exhibition will include a display of the books, including those of J.W. Dunne – who wrote The Serial Universe – as well as Reflexivity in Art and Literature – from Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard – by Robert Stam. On another tack, describing the sense Bonnard’s presence in several of his paintings as a fugitive self, Tim Hyman sent me this essay a propos our show.

Timothy Hyman lecture on Bonnard

My lecture on pictures within pictures and infinite regression in art.

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Torpedo Fair – an eclogue

Howell torpedo at the Naval War College Museum in Newport, Rhode Island

An eclogue is a poem written as a dialogue between two voices. Torpedo Fair is a poem of this kind which is now published here in The Fortnightly Review.

The first voice is the voice of the battlefield. The second is that of the court.

Certain images in the poem are derived from The Life of Edward, First Lord Herbert of Cherbury – written around 1643.

The title is a quotation from a love poem written in that era, but I can’t remember who wrote it – Herbert of Cherbury, Drummond of Hawthornden, or possibly Fulke Greville. I would be grateful if any reader who manages to find the phrase would add the reference to it in a comment below!

The Howell Automobile Torpedo was the first self-propelled torpedo produced in quantity by the United States Navy, which referred to it as the Howell Mark I torpedo. It was conceived by Lieutenant Commander John A. Howell, United States Navy, in 1870, using a 60 kg (130 lb) flywheel spun at a very high speed (10000 to 12000 rpm) to store energy and drive propellers.

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Herelessness

‘I’m not here! I’m not here!

Only the sky is here,

In three blends of herelessness

Next to the M1:

Blue, grey and in-between.

x

There is no me,’ says Amazon

As the lanes go roaring on.

‘Rivalling the sky now,

More publicity is poor publicity.

I’d rather be the sky instead.’

x

‘Where am I?’

Wonders the sky.

‘I seem to have been eaten

By a shed.’

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The blog of Grey Suit Editions UK

Enjoy the blog of Grey Suit Editions UK

New reviews of several of our publications, descriptions of our books, extracts and more.

Grey Suit Editions began as a video magazine in the 1990s. This featured avant-garde performance art, poetry and experimental film and music. Today we host an archive of the video footage as well as publishing innovative books of literary interest and poetry chap-books.

And here is the website of our Canadian series editor Kerry Lee Powell.

Kerry Lee Powell

Please note that all sales for Grey Suit Editions are now through the link at the top of this post (Grey Suit Editions UK) or through our distributor:

Phoenix Publishing (https://firingthemind.com/)

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Governance and Polemic

William Burroughs

William Burroughs once described himself as an antenna. The writing was conducted to the page by some apparatus that picked up what the air-waves carried his way. I find this notion relevant to my own practice. When I try to direct the flow, it is likely to fail. I can have preoccupations, concepts that intrigue me, even messages I long to get across. But in the end I must trust in the apparatus I have set up for myself. That apparatus is put together out of a technique. For Burroughs, this was the cut-up – collage – a phrase from one source grafted onto one from another source. 

And this is surely what technique is about: constructing an antenna for oneself. For Walter Sickert, it was painterly skill, the absolute control of his medium which, in a sense would dictate what subject matter might be appropriate, causing him to “letch” after a painting he envisaged as the servant of this skill, that then needed to find its “eye-catch” for the viewer to be held. This eye-catch is what Roland Barthes defines as the “punctum” in his book Camera Lucida. Sickert’s robust notion of letching after an image might also be analogous to Barthes’ “studium” – the element which creates interest in the image (which for Sickert is that which interests him directly – indeed lecherously).

Walter Sickert – Camden Town Nude

I may letch after a message I wish to “get across”, or after a concept I have for a poem, but in the end I have to put my trust in my technique, in that antenna I have developed that picks up what is in the air, senses a possibility and to a considerable degree dictates the poem to me. It may seem instinctual, but it is actually the result of the acquired practice becoming so deeply embedded in me that what flows out onto the page seems to be happening unconsciously.

The same can be said for jazz improvisation or for dancing or for great acting or gymnastics. What begins by being learnt “consciously” becomes innately there for the practitioner – and only after the technique, the role, the back double-pike becomes innate, only after that can the flow be discovered that makes the sequence, or the drama or the poem work.

I sense that this idea is out of fashion, that for today’s trends, the studium is the message. The artist must be in control of what is chosen as the material, technique has been downgraded and what the practitioner represents and what the practitioner wishes to communicate is far more important than what any antenna may pick up. The artist is now in charge, whereas, for me, with my old fashioned notions, the art is in charge – or no one. 

These thoughts have come to be articulated here in response to my own quandary as to how I came to write my two most recent poems. One called Polemic and the next called Governance. They seemed so utterly different, the one from the other. And yet they were written within a day of each other. I had been stuck for a while, wanting something from a poem – letching perhaps too much – struck by the utter emptiness of certain works by Algernon Newton – known as the “Canaletto of the canals” – for his paintings of buildings reflected in the still waters of London’s canals. Some of his landscapes are even more still than these waters.

A Gleam of Sunlight – Algernon Newton – Tate Gallery

But I could not see how to “get” that emptiness in words. Then I went an hour earlier than expected to Alan Brownjohn’s ninetieth birthday party at the Refreshment House in Golder’s Hill Park, in order to walk up to the pergola there, which I had never visited, and a poem came into being for me:

POLEMIC

 

How do I write a poem as empty as an Algernon Newton,

Making irreducible the union of appear and disappear?

It would require a calming of space in time or at least

A narrative of stasis – but then, who is in charge

x

When one is no more than an antenna? The lightning conductor

Can only conduct what strikes it to the ground, albeit

In a civilized manner. But what is the apparatus that

Can register inertia in some uplifting or even ecstatic way

x

Now, now when everything is so questionable that

The fact that it is questionable also falls prey to doubt?

Repetition may agree to go hand in glove with surprise,

But where does this leave stillness? Here in this upper-class park

x

You might observe it in that shallow rectangular stretch

Of water graced with reeds which idles below a pergola.

Not in the pergola itself, which is taken up with a fashion shoot,

But between the columns of its arcade Algernon Newton-type

x

Clouds barely move along to the next interval. Like Morandi,

One might fill a poem with empty things. Things like boxes or

Vases, only useful on account of the emptiness they contain.

But then there are those sponsored benches, set in the nooks

x

Between shrubs, perfect for first-date flirtations, trees of all shapes

And sizes, leaves of every colour, sweeping here and weeping there,

And the poem fills with detail – why? Because there is nobody

In charge. I don’t want to walk on the lawn, says the sane rich

x

Asian. Just trying to be kind to nature. Who could resist

Recording it? Morandi? Algernon Newton? White and flimsy,

Water-lily blooms pay homage to the cotton smock

That matches them as an Indian lady kneels behind the reeds.

x

xxx

The next night, I watched Al Jazeera News appalled at events taking place at Kabul airport, and then I watched a movie called The Twelfth Man – in which Nazis searching for a Norwegian saboteur tear sofas apart in front of terrified women as they rifle their homes for clues as to the fugitive’s whereabouts. Around five a.m., I woke up and began to write: 

 

GOVERNANCE

x

We have taken up our knives to disembowel your upholstery,

Sure you are carrying secrets, in your vagina most probably.

Therefore we demand that you strip now, in front of us.

Today we will sink you into a scalding tank. Tomorrow, when

We make you take your dip, ice will have formed on the surface.

As you freeze, be certain, we will be rooting out your children.

Nipples such as yours constitute a crime against humanity.

What you call your mind is actually a cancerous deformity.

Apologise at once. Accept that you were wrong and that you are,

Built the way you appear, being both too fat and too thin,

As if reflected in a hall of mirrors: hideous, distorted and typical

Of one with such a skin. Guilt is inscribed on every inch of you,

Blemishing your nakedness, like some unfortunate tattoo.

Taking the cat o’ nine tails to your back, penitent in the chapel,

Will not help you expiate the crime of being the crime itself.

Weak, you are, vulnerable and inferior. You mean nothing to us

Since you are no more than an interior, or what one calls a maw.

Your choices are ill-chosen. Whatever your desires may be,

They set the wrong example – renounce them and denounce yourself.

For you are sin’s original, the Babylonian uber-whore.

Your third eye must be excised along with your clitoris, for

You have no right to challenge us, and very well you know it.

Therefore your sex will be obliterated. Once we master auto-breeding

You will be flung forth onto the heap, another redundant item.

Men, and only men may roar. Only men may patronise the stadium.

xxxx

As I say, no one is in charge.

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LOUSY LION

Had I been born in Germany in 1945,

Had my mum been Marie-Antoinette,

Had I been trapped, champing at the bit,

Pulling Pharaoh’s chariot further into the flood.

Had I been a Neanderthal or a dinosaur,

I might have experienced before

This burning in the ears, lowering of demeanour,

Well and truly caught with trousers down.

x

I must admit the knickers are the mistress’s

As I now seek my face in vain;

Not so much robbed of esteem

As made aware that it has been confiscated

Along with my dignity, my influence, my station.

The ancestors are ashamed of me,

And what am I to stand on? Not a leg,

And not a shred of anything resembling mitigation.

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South Dakota

Bikes asnort in Sturgis for these riders of the purple sage.

Bikes like praying mantises. Vintage Harley Davidsons

Cruising here through Rapid City, down from Portland, Maine,

x

To line-up tight on Main Street. Folks admire the horse-power

Rearing each machine, forked weaponry foot-plate,

Legendary name – Goldwing, Brough Superior –

x

Parked where once stood mustangs resting hooves,

Palominos hitched to rails idly whisking tails,

And bow-legged hands in chaps swinging through

x

The lattice doors to check their holsters at the bar.

Sure the saloon’s still here, but now it’s biker leather.

Helmets for the Black Hills’ wide-brimmed hats,

x

While buxom girls in bikinis share the honours

For devotion to a proper shine, grooming up a lather,

Keen to hose the sleek beast down, applying Amsoil to your nuts.

x x x

Sturgis Bike Rally 2021

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