Search results for "poetry "


Author: joe

Thursday, 02 December, 2010 - 23:52

- on lines from Rilke

Gouge out my eyes:
I still see you.
Burst my eardrums:
I still hear your voice.
Hack off my hands:
I still feel you.
Pluck out my tongue:
It still probes your mouth.
Chop off my genitals:
I still have carnal knowledge of you.
Bleed me to death:
I am still hot for you.
Cut out my heart:
It still beats for you.
Dash out my brains:
You are in my bones.
Cremate me:
You are in my ashes.
Scatter them:
You are in every particle.
Variations On A Theme Of Rilke by Patrick O'Shaughnessy

Patrick O'Shaughnessy is my grandfather. This poem has always been one of my favourites. I was reminded of it last night, while watching Graham Harman's fantastic lecture on Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology at the "Hello Everything" conference. He uses an analogy about cotton and fire to illustrate the withdrawn dimensions of reality that can never be accessed by any kind of relation. Knowledge can never exhaust the objects it encounters: even fire does not exhaust the cotton it encounters.

I imagine a sudden spark catch hold of the cotton, triggering a whooomff of flames engulfing the soft cotton. The fibres glow and crackle, but quickly start to blacken into sooty embers, and disintegrate. As they sliver and spread, there are specks and motes of pitchy, carbonised cellulose dispersing in the air, jetting upwards on the crest of fiery waves or drifting sideways and earthward. Somewhere in that conflagration the cotton is destroyed - the object that was some cotton is now a crowd of particles dispersing in the air, a de-condensing collection of new, smaller objects. Exactly where it is, in the process of that disassembling, that the cotton's destruction occurs - at which point the cotton is translated into its disaggregate particulate components - is ambiguous: is it the instant the fire first catches the flammable edges of the white plant fluff, or when each last part of coherent fibre is finally desiccated and splintered? Is there a gradient of dispersal, or a quantum jump - is "being" on a spectrum or is it a lump?

Michael at Archive Fire uses the example of a horse eating an apple:

An apple is partially 'withdrawn' from a horse who holds it in its teeth because the teeth of the horse are only in contact with the skin of the apple, leaving the inner non-skin parts of the apple "hidden" and temporarily in excess of the horses bite. So the horse can be said to be in direct contact with the real apple, however not in its entirety. There are aspects of the apple that are partially withdrawn. But when the horse bites into the apple a 'deeper' kind of access is granted, the apple's individuality has been compromised, and when the horse subsequently begins to digest the apple the very distinction between the apple and the horse begins to break down. In this example the interaction between apple and horse goes from partial contact and withdrawnness to deeper disclosure and eventually to absorption in such a manner that completely obviates the need to posit any sort of unbridgeable 'gap' between either the two objects in themselves', or between the horse's encounter with the apple and its experience of it. In an intimately enmeshed and complicated cosmos these things often touch, mix and mingle in ways that are specific to what they in fact are.
The Depth of Things - Part 1: Conjuring the Gap by michael of Archive Fire

Here's what I feel, even if I don't really know it - my intuition: my identity is not hermetically sealed from the world - rather my consciousness is ecologically entwined with the environment in which it moves; my body is not a finitely bounded unity, but a breathing, drinking, leaking density plugged into the material world. Perhaps less intuitively - my mind is not an encapsulated mirage hovering around my brain, nor a mere emergent epiphenomenon which is the effect of a billion grey cells, but something more difficult to understand, such that it feels more like magic. In any case it's just as hard for me to think of my individuality as absolute, as it would be for a believer to let go of the essential existence of the soul. Merleau-Ponty says:

I discover within myself a kind of internal weakness, standing in the way of my being totally individualised: a weakness which exposes me to the gaze of others as a man among men, or at least a consciousness among consciousnesses . . .

My grandfather's poem pictures an indestructible essence, in the guise of the obsessive lover. The subject who loves can never be exterminated by any action of his object; but at the same time the loved one can never extract themselves from the grasp of the lover. I know you, even though you emasculate me. But the essence does in fact de-individualise, and the lover is no longer himself alone - his object is absorbed into his bones and his blood; into every particle. Each last speck still remains the "I" of the lover, and yet completely mingles with "you" of the loved. You and I, inextricably intermixed.

Categories: Patrick Shaughnessy, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Graham Harman, objects, withdrawal, love, poetry, essence, knowledge, relation,
Comments: 0

Widows and ghosts

Author: joe

Thursday, 11 November, 2010 - 22:28

- on the haunting of the dead.

In the grey tumult of these after years
Oft silence falls; the incessant wranglers part;
And less-than-echoes of remembered tears
Hush all the loud confusion of the heart;
And a shade, through the toss'd ranks of mirth and crying
Hungers, and pains, and each dull passionate mood, --
Quite lost, and all but all forgot, undying,
Comes back the ecstasy of your quietude.
So a poor ghost, beside his misty streams,
Is haunted by strange doubts, evasive dreams,
Hints of a pre-Lethean life, of men,
Stars, rocks, and flesh, things unintelligible,
And light on waving grass, he knows not when,
And feet that ran, but where, he cannot tell.
Hauntings by Rupert Brooke

It being armistice day I pulled Rubert Brooke off the shelf again. In previous years I've been drawn to his poetry; it is adolescent at times, pining, twee, yearning. But there's something else to it, beyond the famous stuff - The Soldier and The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. His poem, The Life Beyond reminds me of an embryonic John Donne writing The Apparition, while The Hill hinges precariously, half-loose, on a last line that jack-knifes the heady, laughing breathlessness of what went before. Some of the appeal has changed now - The Way That Lovers Use is a voice of solidarity for the lovelorn: I'm not the envious one any longer. But I still love his spontaneous rhythm and natural ease - "Hear the calling of the moon, / And the whispering scents that stray / About the idle warm lagoon. / Hasten, hand in human hand, / Down the dark, the flowered way, / Along the whiteness of the sand, / And in the water's soft caress, / Wash the mind of foolishness, / Mamua, until the day." - from Tiare Tahiti

Brooke's life, cut short as we know, also adds a pathos to the poems. The patriotism and apparent valour in the sonnets belie his doubts and fears; his commission to join the expeditionary force for the campaign at Gallipoli, which he never saw, dying from an infected mosquito bite on the way there. There seems something even crueller about a death in service but which doesn't grant the victim any claim to heroism. My own great-grandfather survived the Great War, but died on the return journey, disqualifying my great-grandmother Annie, his widow (who survived him without dreaming of remarrying for another 74 years), from receiving a war widow's pension.

In one of his surviving unfinished pieces, Fragment, he lingers on the deck of a ship, looking in the window at his friends, "heedless" of the battle that awaits them.

"fainter than the wave's faint light,
That broke to phosphorus out in the night,
Perishing things"

- He seems a ghost himself, dwelling on their imminent "pashing" and "scattering", torn between pity and pride. And there on the sea in 1914 where he wrote the lines from Hauntings, he conjures an image of the ghost's own ghosts - the spirit of the dead haunted by vanishing intimations of a long-gone life. I imagine Brooke himself, kneeling by the misty river separating the afterlife from this world, with evasive dreams of his loves, his heart-breaks and his confusions... his feet on the grass, a clock set forever at ten to three, images that seem familiar and yet are always receding into shadowy forgetting. I also think of William, my great-grandfather, waiting by that river for 74 years, not knowing why, not comprehending the time, not even recognising any memory of a left-behind wife, a tiny daughter, and a son he never met. I like to think that Annie finally joined him, full of unknown joy to find him still there. And I hope Rupert, too, found someone to dispel his ghosts.

Categories: poetry, armistice day, Rupert Brooke, William and Annie, poetry, ghosts, haunting, love, death, Lethe,
Comments: 0


Author: joe

Tuesday, 06 May, 2008 - 11:32

Today is my father's birthday. He would have been 57. I miss, amongst a myriad other things, his way of pricking overblown seriousness with scurrilous absurdities. And buried in his poems I find this moment of pathos, which made me chuckle in light of my recent grappling with philosophical horse-bollocks:

I found out!
For one moment I knew.
Then it passed from me
In a drunken stupor
In the Market Place Gents

Andrew Herbert Flintham (1951 - 2001)

Categories: dad, poetry, truth, booze,
Comments: 0

An American Neighbour

Author: joe

Saturday, 23 December, 2006 - 00:11

Windsor, 1999: an American neighbour was a lover for a while. She heard me through the walls, I bought her flowers because I scared her daughter by banging on the door, and she thought I was 'Etony' because I wore a waistcoat with my suit.

For some reason I forget, I told her I disliked Robert Burns. For christmas, she gave me a book, inscribed it beautfully; it was an Everyman, one of my favourite bindings; it was 'The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns'. Later, of course, we fell out permanently.

I don't even know whether she'd ever been to Scotland. I could have deceived myself and seen her earnest American evangelism as irony. Funny the things that you think of at christmas.

Categories: xmas, poetry, american, lover, books,
Comments: 0

"Razorback space 2.0 appears to be dead"

Author: joe

Saturday, 25 February, 2006 - 14:10

Razorback 2
We'll really miss you
Now the Swiss do
Unspeakable things
To your memory rings.


Categories: p2p, piracy, file-sharing, poetry,
Comments: 11

Poetry is justified

Author: joe

Thursday, 10 November, 2005 - 14:30

For Percy Bysshe Shelley poets were 'the unacknowledged legislators of the world'. Dylan Thomas said, as he sang, that -

Is a burning and crested act,
The fire of birds in
The world's turning wood,
For my sawn, splay sound'.

Baudelaire claimed the poet's mother would cry to God, 'Why not have given me a brood of snakes rather than make me rear this laughing stock?' - but the poet's perfect diadem is 'made of nothing but pure light... of which our mortal eyes, for all their might, are only a mournful mirror, a darkened glass'.

I say this by way of justification - it seems necessary always to justify poetry. P.P. O'Shaughnessy wrote a poem called 'Justification':

In the face of suffering,
Is silent,
Or lacking grace.

In the face of poetry,
May sometimes
Take second place.

At the very least this modest appraisal tells us something about the complicated relationship we have with the expression of human thought in forms which forge from words aesthetic beauty and clarity, and which, from time to time, play their reader as the spirit of the world plays Coleridge's Aeolian Pipe.

This is not to mention the fact that poetry is certainly one of the oldest forms of artistic communication which humanity in its every generational incarnation turns to for comfort and for proclamation. Poetry requires us, whether we read it or write it, to become Protean, to swap our identities for those of others, and to reflect on the abyss which separates each individual from another. It requires us, in a way that the visual simply does not, to 'be someone else'.

It is therefore a good thing that children are encouraged to write poetry, and for that poetry to be published and shared and returned to other children. To allow the creative act to be practiced, rather than merely 'told'.

So when a 14-yr-old boy writes a poem which tries to assume the voice of Adolf Hitler and express that human's viewpoint and his attitude to the Jews, should we be appalled? The Liverpool Riverside MP, Louise Ellman clearly is, despite the fact that she clearly hadn't read the full poem before making her opinions known. Or like a number of bloggers (most of whom have obviously not read the full text either), including one who claimed that this is an example of the UK sinking into its own excrement. I wonder if the recent bill outlawing 'glorification of terror' is an example of that excrement? And perhaps we should also ban Paradise Lost on the grounds that the poet has clearly tried to empathise with Satan, and in doing so has glorified the ultimate act of terror by trying to overthrow God and His Kingdom of Heaven, and incited hatred against the entire human race?

I would argue that Gideon Taylor, the boy in question, has a better grasp of what a poem is than carpet-bagging MPs and the blogger clones endlessly repeating each other's entries.

And by the way, it the least relevant facet of this case that the boy's poetry was the kind of doggerel you expect to find in juvenilia.

I hope Baudelaire is correct that 'the oblivious Poet lifts his pious arms, and blinding flashes of his intellect keep him from noticing the angry mob'.

Categories: poetry, censorship,
Comments: 0

Free and not so free

Author: joe

Sunday, 09 October, 2005 - 14:32

This morning I was deeply excited by a couple of news items I read from Slashdot and Boing Boing, only to run into a mixed experience of glee and disappointment.

Slashdot reported that the British Library has made available one of Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks on their website, alongside 13 others works from Jane Austin, Lewis Carroll and the Lindisfarne Gospels. This is exactly what libraries should be doing with the Internet...

However, when Boing Boing reported that some of Dylan Thomas's poetry was avilable online, namely a reading of "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and the entire collection of the Caedmon recordings as free mp3 downloads, I ran into huge disappointment.

The first link is a page which, to be fair, does allow you hear Thomas reading his most famous poem, though only in a swf file which you therefore can't download and listen to on whatever music player you choose, and therefore it's only available for as long as choose to maintain the page.

The second link to the Caedmon collection is at, which means that the mp3 downloads are free only insomuch as you're prepared to be a premium subscriber to Salon. This twists the definition of free to a new level.

Thomas died in 1953, so while all of his texts are therefore out of copyright, other media forms such as recordings can still be controlled by copyright owners. Thomas' reading of his own poetry is one of the greatest experiences lovers of poetry and language can enjoy. So the $6 it costs to join salon for a month is almost certainly worth paying for the collection, if not for salon's other content ;)

Categories: poetry, dylan thomas, literature, recording, free,
Comments: 0

Beat Poetry

Author: joe

Wednesday, 13 July, 2005 - 15:09

William Gibson recently wrote for Wired about the mash-up and cut-up techniques becoming so prominent in digital cultures, and the cut-and-paste ease of creating new work.

Gibson mentions the cut-up technique used by Williams Burroughs, and that he appropriated clips from American science fiction. Burroughs also, however, used the cut-up technique on his own pages of writing: he would write his work on sheets of paper which he would cut into pieces and then re-assemble. Apparently he even used to allow sheets to fall out while his work was in progress, and place them back randomly and leave them where they sat for publication. Burroughs demonstrated the technique in his essay on the subject.

This reminded me of a script I wrote a few years ago which will do the cut-up technique to any text you put into it - just to emphasise the fact that cut-and-paste production is getting ever easier... So I've put it together here: Beat Poetry Creator.

For more textual cut-up fun, try out the great The Cut-up Page, and there's loads more stuff at Wikipedia

Categories: beat poetry, cut-up technique, mash-up,
Comments: 3