Of Rhyme & Reason: the coda (vino in veritas revised)— the end as the beginning as the end of the…
vino in veritas (revised)
i stopped tallying birthdays around the 17th Century
—if my mind serves me faithfully my well of ink ran dry
& only coin enough spare for my grape fused booze
my choice was simple: force of habit see. a fear of death.— i chose vino.
a lot of people think the longer you live the easier it must be to die
but there’s a tipping point once tipped beyond you can’t return
: eventually you’ve been alive so long you cannot comprehend not being alive
& so you slog through the centuries, in my case, inebriate & lonely
semi-divine if only because you chose to see out the universe
which even gods opt out of living through— i’ll tell you that for tuppence.
at first when the BBC approached me for a documentary series
i thought it best to maintain shtummness on the details of my autobiography
to save myself the hassle of people laughing at me at the bus stop
or snickering in the Off License where i buy my bread & fags.
but then i thought bollocks to it— what do i care if people take the piss.
i recall clearly how the events unfolded on that fateful day shy 2 & ½
thousand years ago— you don’t forget encounters with the son of Zeus in a hurry.
the men i’d been working with had been tipped off about a forest
with the moniker Cithaeron (we should a’friggin known) stuffed with oaks
which fetched a nifty price with aristocrats, who reckoned they had
more clout than the gods themselves— & cut out furniture from the holy wood.
the trees were ripe for picking as the village that had owned the coppice
was recently pillaged & everyone who wasn’t greeted by Thanatos fled.
i’d heard rumours from a village on the way that Zeus’s son had charged
the village with the cultivation of those trees— they were sacred
as mistletoe had been spotted growing in the branches only eyes can reach.
but superstition fell on deaf ears when my fellow lumber jacks: the foreman
being a devotee of Stoicism— he even did a job for Zeno back in Athens.
i tried to warn ‘em but they just gave me a load of crap for being a wuss.
Hollywood ain’t done too bad a job depicting the entrance of a god
: so much noise beyond the pitch that mortal ears can stand
light more luminous than hot sparks off magnesium welding, a light
that rakes out the back of your skull & rattles out your vision like coins from a purse.
my heart leapt out my throat. apoplexy grounded me. one man bold as brass
chest like the prow of a trireme charged mindlessly at the pre-pubescent god
roaring crudely somethink like i’ll roger his arse with me sledgehammer i will!
him— still as a button— raised a hand & sent vines barbed with thorns from his fingertips
& quick as an imperiled snake down a burrow, thread them down the lumber jack’s
throat ripping it open as it tunneled, eventually bursting out his chest, shattered
bone chunks of organ & blood hosed out with the same speed as the vine.
this was repeated in a domino effect to each man clenching a weapon.
leaving me. ephebe. shitting my pants. eyes clenched in anticipation
for death to be dished out as the trade-off for the trees we wrongly felled.
instead the god walked up to me & kissed me on the mouth & i
drank the wine off his lips, the stench, paunch out thick as mulch
— i instantly became intoxicated, more so than i ever was since
with a drunkenness that makes you see yourself remotely from the margin
of your skin. later one of his Bacchantes told me that he offers
sanctuary in his troupe for those of pure intention only. the train
of revelers, bells hung round their necks & waists tasseled, wine seeping
out their fingertips— fucking & fondling while they danced & marched
in synchronicity that needs its own adjective— movement uniquely its own
— through the protected copse, into its deep interior, melting in umbrage
& i too followed them giddy with gods & wine toeing erect in
articulated movements i didn’t even realize my body able for. done.
the eyes in the TV studio call bollocks on the whole unfettered yarn
—all i can say is i’m glad the god gave up alcohol many centuries ago.
it is clear from an initial glance at the poem that it is physically different. this revised, rather updated version, is written in sonnets, corpulent, stumpy sonnets. for me the sonnet form is, if multiplied, a brilliant form for narrative— my cue comes from Dylan Thomas’s Altarwise by Owl Light, a poem also designed on the canvas of 4 sonnets. Thomas’s poem is very odd, i don’t think anyone, including Thomas knows what it means, but it is full of dense imagery, such as
The atlas-eater with a jaw for news,
Bit out the mandrake with to-morrows scream.
which, i believe is afforded it by the bulk of the sonnet × 4— it also includes mythic allusion & a uniquely modern perspective. Ovid still hovers within this present version, perhaps the death scenes lend a hand from Virgil’s Aenid, as the descriptions of demise are ample in that ancient foundation myth.
—& so too my revised Vino in Veritas is crammed with imagery, enough to choke a snake. but the notches on the sonnet’s belt encourages more than density, it reflects so much of what the original form did in more subtle ways (if only because the hexameter is much poorer in girth than here) : it reflects the weight of the man’s years, his experience, the size of the men who are killed (their ego), the purity of the god, the over brimming jug of wine, the fat trunk of the oak, the size of his audience & perhaps some that escape me but you may sift out with your eyes keen as web cams.
the meter remains largely risen, full of yeast, iambic mottled with anapest, though the notches on the foot expand to the heptameter & beyond; anything too far beyond heptameter & you have prose, pretty much; so you will find some hypercatalectic iambic heptameter (you couldn’t say that with a mouthful of pork pie) which hummed goes da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da (what the thunder said) or DUM
— : if MY / mind SERVE / me FAITH / FULLy / my WELL of INK ran DRY is one such heptameter minus any hypercatalectic, a very traditional line, only one word, central to the line, which is disyllabic; the rest monosyllables with the disyllabic word falling into a trochee as the well empties of ink. a line which fulfills the promise of both form & function, the stew dished out in equal measure to the hungry line. on the other hand
: LIGHT more / LUM-i-nous / than HOT / SPARKS OFF / magNES / Ium / WELDing, / a LIGHT is a traditionalist’s nightmare: octameter for starts— one lonely iamb tacked on the end, majority trochee, a spondee in there & even a dactyl (which falls into the ranks of a mythological poem adeptly). the problem with such a line is that determining its exact prosody is different depending on someone else’s intonation— it is structureless, the line is only tied together, tonally, with the repeated use of l, m & w. but just as whistling or even belching abides by the laws of music, so a line abides, albeit loosely, to prosody— if you’re so inclined.
so we still have breeze blocks of tradition used for the infrastructure of the poem. i’m am sure many of you know that the iamb is the predominant metrical foot of Western poetry, especially English, because it suits the natural inflexions of English speech patterns— i therefore chose to have the poem entirely spoken by our unnamed ancient lumber jack alcoholic immortal, as our apt iamb allows.
much of this poem was written relatively fast, for my standards at least— since starting this series of essays i have had the germination of these ideas aching for the light; i kept them hungry for becoming like a pack of nymphomaniac Maenads going cold turkey— so the actual writing was automatic, a frenzy of activity in a short space of time, like the rending of Orpheus’s flesh from bone & bone from joint, by the Bacchantes. in addition, the prosody has that speech like quality fixed to it rather than the diminishing sense that it has been wrestled into shape.
punctuation too is reassessed— i reserve commas for caesura within a line only, there are none at the end of a line, the end of the line is a time for pause, as i will it. i no longer use semi-colons, they seem too unsure about themselves, a sort of pause-stumble, i want either the organic pause of emptiness, or the Freudian-slip-of-the-tongue-dash— if i want you to stop i’ll. . — you catch my drift.
in the original, punctuation was traditionally implemented, the labored caesura regulating the reader’s breath into reciting it in the protagonist’s faux aristocratic elocution— like a child having their hand held only to realize they are 28 & still doing it, with their mother smiling up at them.
you’ll find no established system of rhyme. i did away with it. but i am sure if you read cautiously, attentively, you’ll discover plenty of melody, which will perhaps, if it is there, illustrate my original points in the first essay about how learning the traditional methods infiltrate your process against your conscious inclinations. keep your eyes & ears peeled. any rhyme is purely “accidental”— the traditionalist judders at the thought.
i had an overhaul of the language too. i think sometime around the time i wrote the original i had read Robert Browning’s Hohensteil Schwangau: The Saviour of Society one of Browning’s dramatic monologues, which has Schwangau sat in a comfortable chair, probably before a raging fireplace sipping a cognac anecdotalizing in his slippers, or some such stereotyped 19th century literary scenario. i wanted a character in a similar domicile, with similar comfort— my man to be the archetypal anachronism, as i thought (still do) old stuff was cool & he was to be cool old stuff in modern times. the language ultimately mirrored a lavish, affected manner of speech. but now i feel it silly & Romantic— i’d rather rude speech, it has more poetry about it. moreover, the bloke is a lumber jack, a tradesman— the way i thought before was that with time he became refined, however, i like it more that he hasn’t changed, or rather that he has gone full circle, perhaps numerous times: a cycle of high mannered / crude / …
there is something so interesting about the ingenuity of crude speech, like when the first of the lumber jacks to attack the pre-pubescent god says
i’ll roger his arse with me sledgehammer i will!
it’s a terrible image, a hyperbole, a sledgehammer is never going to actually fit there, utterly ridiculous. i think due to my Englishness i see the stupidity & thus the adroitness. i am concerned the uninitiated in the nuance of British comedy will find it grotesque, but the point is not to think it literal but rather allow the hyperbole to work for the comic effect.
i came to this conclusion about vulgar language in poetry after many years of thinking about Berryman’s Dream Songs & what could be achieved with a British version, a language saturated in beautiful slang & vulgarity— my upbringing, the locale in which i grew up, provided me with ample vulgarity for such a feat— all in good time though. lucky me for that to come.
the content is similar in outline: he still recounts his initial meeting with the god, the men still transgress & those transgressions are punished severely & the protagonist still tells his anecdote from the present day pissed as a fart, as my ol’ pa would say— i even thought to put slurring in the poem, perhaps an eructation or two, but it didn’t work sonically.
there are some subtle nuances, which gives the reader a glimpse at the fate of the god, if you read close enough. that subtlety wasn’t present in the previous poem.
in Contemporizing the poem, i have made the protagonist the focus of a documentary series, which it is implied will cover his memories, his direct experience of the history of the world. this leaves the poem open for expansion into a series of poems (don’t get your hopes up, it isn’t likely i’ll bother)— or for the reader to expand the series for themselves by imaging or forming community discussion groups that meet weekly to eat spiced cakes & drink Ethiopian coffee or Assam tea with milk, while conferring on
what a man who has lived for nearly two & a half thousand years just might have to say on the news of days like the death of Christ, the rise of Islam, the Fall of Rome etc.
i’d probably end up disappointing people, make him unconcerned with any of that history stuff & rather have him perambulate (awful) on a tour of French vineyards, or make his study of alchemy be how fortified wine got invented. daft/dull crap like that. he’d probably turn out to be the inventor of port or something along those lines.
owing to expanded form, as mentioned, i was able to make the imagery denser. density of image, of description, feels uniquely Modern to me— Modernist & of course owing to Post Modern & Contemporary schools of poetry, which really starting going to town on incidentals: poetry became unfettered when the subjects acceptable for poetry became more varied, evolved— once the poet’s task was not merely to prettify what is already beautiful, once poets could express the world in all its flux, ugliness, oddity & mundanity in tandem with its unity & beatitude, there was inevitably ample room prepared for expression to flourish, for the maturity of sensation
— the development of the visual & the sonic truly became.
few poets, before Modernism, other than Browning, were really packing their poems with incidental detail, because unlike Browning, they were restricting themselves to end stopped lines— Tennyson famously turned his nose up at Browning’s blatant use of enjambment, & called Sordello (the first Modern poem in my opinion) a load of crap (not in so many words) & furthermore [that] There were only two lines in it that I understood, and they were both lies; they were the opening and closing lines. it would be erroneous to say the better poet has stood the test of time, the lesser poet won history & the adoration of academics — i don’t think Browning gets onto university reading lists, he’s too difficult. pah! i’d take Browning over the man with the bad hygiene any semester of the year.
i hope i’ve at least outlined my point, i hope that you can feel the difference between a poem written traditionally & a poem unfettered, free to wend its way. i hope that i have hinted powerfully enough that this freedom has to be earned, you have to put the hours in, & with those hours spent retting traditional poems & mimicking them, you can through force of habit, with the unconscious ever present in the act of composition, create a more fulfilled poem, be a more complete poet. i am not complete (far from it)— no poet is complete, the Rimbaud’s though they excelled at poetry still had much to learn, their aplomb was youthful ego, perhaps writer’s block, but they sure weren’t done, how could they in a world ever changing.
poetry must be ongoing, a poem is never complete, it is only abandoned said Paul Valery— quite right, but if you don’t abandon it to its fate, then you can’t progress, it is the essential trade off for development. say adieu to your poems once you start being fickle, then whisper in their ears this is just how it is love.
afterword as to when the end as beginning as end as…
i want this essay to serve… as a document, to inspire Roethkean hard work in the writing of a poem— to inspire people to strongly misprision their own poetic endeavours, to labour under the search light of tradition, & in that search light be making mistake after mistake correction after correction— there is a standard of beauty there, perhaps already written about, perhaps to come.
—i took a slightly peculiar approach to the composition of this essay, it feels much other than the previous ii, it is the beginning of something for me, a sort of gonzo post-prog lit crit, not sort of gonzo post-prog lit crit, but actual gonzo post-prog lit crit
— i have had a vision, a dystopian full of pitch & obsidian— a future where the reading lists of literature students are packed with such, well-meaning but ultimately [e]scatological essays. the traditional form gone underground, its mitigated, pursed lips fell into disuse with the anterior world of wild states— but it will revenge, resurface in a knuckle biting renaissance, promising steadiness-as-alternative to the mantra of self-inflicted mania that will be the grip of gonzo post-prog lit crit— & my one man movement will burn on the pyre of history & i’ll be proud of myself for all my terrible endeavours, which i will have committed into commentary. fingers crossed for the futurity of academia. in the meantime lets do our best to blow our own socks off.