Sunday, April 24, 2011


Marchands du Temple; Cleansing the Temple. Passover coincides with Easter. Blake: "As Unity is the cloke of folly so Goodness is the cloke of Knavery Those who will have Unity exclusively in Homer come out with a Moral like a sting in the tail" ("On Homers Poetry"). When Mel Gibson invited my wife, Libya ...

[An ebay auction titled "TYRE SHEKEL 30 PIECES of SILVER Judas Christ Greek Coin" describes a Tyrian coin struck 90-89 BC: "Tyrian shekels (Tyrian tetradrachmas) were coins of Tyre, which in the Roman Empire took on an unusual role as the medium of payment for the Temple tax in Jerusalem, and subsequently gained notoriety as a likely mode of payment for Judas Iscariot. The coins bore the likeness of the Phoenician god Melqart or Baal, accepted as the Olympian Herakles by the Greeks and derided as Beelzebub by Jews in the time of the Seleucids, wearing the laurel reflecting his role in the Tyrian games and the Ancient Olympics. These coins, the size of a modern Israeli half-shekel, were minted in Israel, but were required to bear this image by the Romans to avoid accusations that the Jews were given autonomy."]

When Mel Gibson invited my wife, Rancière: "The equality of the written word is not the same thing as the equality of exchange. The democracy of the written word does not come down to the arbitrary nature of signs. When Plato criticizes the availability of the written word, he calls into question a form of unsupervised appropriation of language that leads to the corruption of legitimacy. The circulation of the written word destroys the principle of legitimacy that would have the circulation of language be such that it leaves the proper transmitter and goes to the proper receiver by the proper channel. 'Proper' language is guaranteed by a 'proper' distribution of bodies. The written word opens up a space of random appropriation, establishes a principle of untamed difference that is altogether unlike the universal exchangeability of commodities. To put it very crudely, you cannot lay your hands on capital like you can lay your hands on the written word" (The Politics of Aesthetics).

When Mel Gibson invited my wife, Blake: "Twas dark deceit to Earn my bread | Twas Covet or twas Custom or | Some trifle not worth caring for | That they may call a shame & Sin | Loves Temple that God dwelleth in | And hide in secret Shrine | The Naked Human form divine | And render that a Lawless thing | On which the Soul Expands its wing | But this O Lord this was my Sin | When first I let these Devils in" (The Everlasting Gospel).

Friday, April 22, 2011


Andrew Duncan's painstakingly edited run of Joseph Gordon Macleod poems, Cyclic Serial Zeniths from the Flux (Waterloo Press 2009) appears to have been as quickly forgotten as Macleod's work was the first time around. Aside from brief mention in the TLS or the books blog at The Guardian, the selection has fallen quietly away — I mean, I don't get the sense anyone's actively reading Macleod, though of course there may be a substantial readership out there somewhere.

Macleod's Ecliptic, out of print since its publication through Faber in 1930, is an utterly singular poem, or a poem of singular force, one of the few that manages to sustain an intense and electric charge across the whole of its sixty-some-odd pages. The poem is architecturally underpinned by the diurnal confabulations of the Zodiac, each of the twelve signs signaling a transient stage in a "single" consciousness. Duncan selects three of the twelve sections: Taurus, Cancer, Leo. Although "Cancer" has continued to circulate with a surprising measure of consistency since The Ecliptic first appeared in 1930 (cf. Rexroth's New British Poets; Keith Tuma's Oxford anth of 20th-c British and Irish po), "Taurus" and "Leo" appear here in print for the first time in eighty years. A stretch from "Leo":

Wherefore he turns, oblivious of the yells
Desiderative employers and pert damosels
(With similar intents) direct at him —
If he is Lion, he has Lion's whim —
Yet not forgetting manners due to friends
Nor due success honorarium
He bows the compass of the auditorium,
And walks away. And so the contest ends.

Macleod's approach to diction is wholly his own. Syntactic formations are largely normative, prosody and meter are, with some exceptions, remarkably conventional in the early poems. But his diction radically defamiliarizes the work, particularly The Ecliptic and his second long poem (unpublished during his life) Foray of Centaurs. Bunting — with Pound one of Macleod's earliest supporters — had little use for Foray, regarded the poem as an exhausting failure. But Bunting's dismissal of the poem is a little baffling and no doubt partially misinformed, or at the very least hasty. This from "The World Bursts Like a Pod" (1936 version of Foray):

Deliberately broken cycloid, bitten pediment,
correctly ovolated entablature
and hexastyle unpinned by utile dummy or urn:
the lawn's compaction and the tailored topiary,
salvias uniform in column of platoons,
the muted parterre quasi-semi-italianate:
these masses gather, these lines join
where apsed marquee lies anchored
within the balustrade,
and the wedding breakfast is spread, and metal peacocks
share mulberries with enamelled chinese pheasants.

The striking distance is reduced considerably in such passages; we encounter the brute force of an unfamiliar object. The objects closest to us are utterly alien. And this radical unfamiliarity is delivered through wholly conventional means: viz. largely Anglophone words arranged in completely conventional linguistic formations. The poem offers the promise of meaning, but this meaning is persistently deferred. And what we have is not indeterminacy or the free and unanchored play of language but philological saturation and overdetermination (a crucial distinction that needs further consideration).

Duncan's Macleod edition excludes three-quarters of The Ecliptic, but it offers the entirety of Foray and a rich selection of Drinan poems (by the late thirties Macleod begins publishing poetry under the name "Adam Drinan"; Duncan notes in his smartly titled introduction "The Gaelic-Soviet-Greek Triangle": "The books Macleod published as 'Adam Drinan' are Socialist-documentary works, usually set in the Hebrides, which are seen as a region ruined by Capitalism." The opacity that characterizes the earlier poems, "modernist" in orientation, is exchanged for a faux accessibility, but the facility with language Macleod demonstrates in his earlier poems resonates through the Drinan poems, most of them, like The Ecliptic and Foray, book-length works, work given often to the figure of the book and the possibilities available in the flexible arc of ballad-like narrative structures. The Cove (1940). Men of the Rocks (1942). Women of the Happy Island (1944). Others.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


ANTERIOR ADDENDUM: Prefacing statements below with a stretch from Ryan Dobran's open-circuit comment on Pattison's fables included in the pamphlet published in conjunction with her February 18 reading at Cambridge: "The movement from without and then further through and back within translation is the discovery of amplified historicity, of vectors both deeply intimate and ejected; by routing the potential overlaps, mismatches, frictive displacements, and subtle solutions, the acoustics of belief dissipate by heady imposition."


Loathe to comment for fear of diminishing the splendor of their force, but here a couple of Reitha Pattison's extraordinary fables (Some Fables, Grasp Press, 2011):


Mistaken for fame, notoriety clings
tourniqueted in the height of guise.
This tumble in armour from the talons
of greed or want is highly instructive.
Some caress away the indelible mark
written broadside on the itching pelt.
In alien furs words reveal the pitcher
empty. Deceit in a dust bath there
on the lane often floors the moralist,
tricks the carrion's rapt onlooker.

[I see now in the Cambridge pamphlet that Pattison read from John Ogilby's 1651 Fables, paraphrasal politicization of Aesop's. Ogilby on Aesop: "On his plain Song I Descanted, on his short and pithy Sayings, Paraphras'd, raising my voice to such a height, I took my degree amongst the minor Poets."]


The cock missed the asterism of the gem.
Not eating wisdom or starlight his red eyes
focus only on corn which at least sticks
to the ribs. Grounded meal is a celestial
mirror; axis mundi lies in a yard tended
by an unregenerate astrolabe, the other
element braced in a dun husk. Farmers
and vipers are plangent for their venom,
jewel-like nearer veracity than being
left in snow, which makes a frail
parable, more reptilian comitas in scales.

In all twenty fables split down the middle, separated into two books; a diadic construction that supplements poems targeting the self-congratulatory constructedness of the imagined distance rescuing human civilization from a pure animality; targeting, too, the reduction of animals, their wholesale ghettoization, by way of a reason that assuages the irreconcilable uncertainties of a far more savage, fundamentally economic beast.


No deluge: now the dove's mouth
carries grass. The undersong of
the "economic cosmos" is heard in
the meadow where the herbicides
work swift harm for a margin like
inharmonic blue prairie fires. In
this one, sous get stone again, miser
bereft, the pain is phantasmal or
in the pocket, coffered in the grove
in locked land of external goodness
for: "who dothe enuy at the treasury?"

Pattison's fables offer an opportunity to refuse the allure of shiny stones — of aggressive writing strategies and grandiose forms of poetic production — and take up the poem as the pathological or pathetic lyric space of an active and internally explosive thinking. The pathetic is puny, small in its way. There is a recognition, or more a valorization, in these poems of smallness, the character of one's scale among others. Naming the undersong, registering its destructive force, seems essential; or "Excessive conceit of hides: whichever beast | ventriloquises its instinct for the fabulist | through the sockets of quarry can't prop | up the dictum."