Moseulpo dreams (7:38 p.m.)

Moseulpo dreams (7:38 p.m.)

…From the bus she sees farmers’ bonfires scratch
the imminent dark interior of the island

& the fat plumes cuffed by the sky | set in contrast
to the toxic halo of a town’s crooning neon.

The cemented path she walks runs off into dust |
the street lights colliding with coin tossed dark

NW near Moseulpo | to a guesthouse called Comfort Inn
in a cul-de-sac hugged by a horse-shoe of bamboo

—serves strong coffee | green tea | a full Korean breakfast
: multi-grain rice | dried-pollack soup | kimchi | fried gold bream | duck eggs

in soy sauce | bean sprouts & chamoe melon.
A simple room with no TV | a desk | blinds

—a clean airy space | a book on moving to Jeju | white
& lace with hand woven straw mats | no time

nor decoration | just space. “It’s a rip off— go to a hotel.”
A Garden of lavender | hydrangea | crepe myrtle like

19th C handkerchiefs | a small pond
with carp fat as labourers’ thighs.

Swallows hover in the eaves of her doorway.
The white day over | the cicada’s still drilling the air.

At the 7/11 | people swig cans of Cass beer
& pick at nuts like crows

—watching the sun curl into the sea like burning plastic.
The perpetual motion of tongues & gesture |

youngsters’ | college students with part time jobs &
a first taste of freedom | flirting

with dicks stiff as telegraph poles
& nervous girls in clothes that slogan

nonsense only the initiated understand.
How do swallows decide | what factors are agreed

to line the telegraph cables at this time?
Filling the air with the metronymic shuttling of their throats

to secure each other till everyone goes home
too drunk to endure the end of the world.

Should I decide like an animal | do I not already?
How easily orange flesh splits in her teeth |

impaled on canines ripping it open with a tug.
Turned-on when my skin “smells like Jeju clementine”

Failed to notice me when the brand was discontinued
“like a dog who can’t smell its owner for another dog.”

In the minimalist room | orange halogen | incense
burning | lunar calendar shaped like the moon |

a statue of the monk Wonhyo
carved from pine | trapped in the moment of

drinking stagnant water from the skull he found in a cave
at the foot of Soyosan | unable to make a choice

—unable to see past his future | in this wooden form
“we live life in fast forward but we

have to think about it backwards to understand it.”
Didn’t Kierkegaard say something like that?

Sometimes I think I’d like to be reincarnated as a block of wood
…A glass ceiling | a sun dial in the center

12-3-6 & 9 on the N-E-S & W walls.
To stand in time & let the hours light just my limbs

speaking “time & time again must we
go through this pointless rigmarole?”

I am turning into a turtle ship | the skin
of my back bursts open | my ribs extend & puncture outwards

& sharp bollard-sized arrow heads of enameled wood
grow like a time lapse of tendrils

splitting a dome of soil—Yi Sun-shin tries to warn her
of something | recites a script | protective words | a spell

she gathers from his expressive face— he gets more & more poetic
the more & more agitated he becomes

—now fully metamorphosed into the turtle ship |
her aquiline features a prow | a hull—a vessel of war

—she becomes banked in low tide as a fleet of ships appear
on the horizon speeding toward the coastline…

Sarah Law (Chapbook Confessions #2)

Another Chapbook Confession this week, this time by poet Sarah Law. Law writes on her collection Ink’s Wish, about a Medieval visionary called Margery Kempe. Her poems from the collection, are rich in details, zooming in on incidents from Kempe’s biography, a thorough character study of a woman, creating a connection between the contemporary conscience & the Medieval. Well worth a look-see.

I’d also like to remind you poets with collections & chapbooks etc, that we are always open for submissions in all our categories, but we’d especially like to read about your Confessions. I was hoping poets would be jumping at the opportunity to talk about their work, almost completely free of restraint, free to roam the experience & talk about everything or anything about it, as well as the chance to see some of the poems published. What you playing at! Get busy. Where else is this opportunity available? As far as I know, only at Underfoot. Get your arses in gear.


Underfoot Poetry

Chapbook Confessions is a series in which poets discuss, at length, the writing of their most recent collection of poems, in whatever way they desire. For more information on the series, go here.

Below, Sarah Law writes on her 2014 collection Ink’s Wish.

Sarah Law lives in London, UK, and is a tutor for the Open University and elsewhere. She has published five collections of poetry, the latest of which is Ink’s Wish. Recent and forthcoming work in Ink, Sweat & Tears; Ekphrastic Review; Eunoia Review; Amaryllis; The Windhover, Saint Katherine Review; Where is the River and elsewhere.

21566728These poems are from my collection Ink’s Wish which was originally published by Gatehouse Press and was shortlisted (one of four collections in the poetry category) in 2014 for the East Anglian Book Awards of that year. The small (100 only!) print run from Gatehouse soon sold out and I…

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Bone Antler Stone by Tim Miller, a review

I’m aware this “review” could potentially end up as flat out extolment for a poet who has become my friend and whose poems I was fortunate enough to have read in their early drafts. Am I biased? Probably. But I am going to make an effort to evidence what makes this a worthy read. There is plenty to evidence and I hope in tandem with my personal praise, this review will not be exposed as a sycophantic exposition.

Tim Miller’s Bone Antler Stone (The High Window Press) begins, ablaze, with the poem Fire Houses. What seems to have been an ancient procedure of renewal (Tim’s query in Fire Houses II later on: “Why would they do this to their houses/every generation of so…?” for me, supports this, in a whole poem dedicated to the question) seems to be Tim’s symbolic way of nudging us toward a spirit of renewed perception toward a remote past. His poems, allured by histories blank spots and maybe even blind corners, act as the “great liminal space” to gather renovated insight into the ancient cultures of Europe.
In the central verse of the poem, Tim mistakes “electric light sprawling from a TV…” for one of the fire houses, a poet after a vision that peers into the past; a poet we can trust to present for us the intensity of a time, at least to the average person, little reckoned with. The “Otherworld” remarked on, could be the subject itself, so distant, so bare of the essential ingredients abundant evidence gives us to dramatize history. Without this, does the subject become Otherworldly, a time difficult for us to form a relationship with, in which to see our likenesses? Tim’s poem bridge those difficulties. He brings that cradle of humanity closer.
These are not poems of blood and disaster; nor poems fueled with lusts and sabotage; but poems of small detail, beacons of light drawing us to the achievements of cultures without convenience, to marvel and respect the enduring legacy, hacked into artifice, extant in the material of bone, antler and stone.
Bone Antler Stone is dutifully constructed around the linear passage of time, 30 or more thousand years of it; covering the upper Paleolithic, through the stone age, bronze & into the early centuries of the 1st millennium. The book, separated into 4 sections: Landscape & Rituals; Burials; Artifacts and ending in a finale at Orkney. Each section moving from inception or remotest time, to a time closer (yet still remarkably remote). Or perhaps better thought of as, from less civilized to more civilized.
After the introductory Fire Houses we are transported to what preceded the civilized shelter of the home, caves— the caves of Chauvet, Lascaux & Altamira, 30,000 years ago. This series opens with one of my favourite lines:

“Now we come to paint with light and fire.”

A line dramatically dense, suggestive, alive.
The first poem utilizing an expansive line that reaches like the cave-dwellers fire to the ceiling of their cave, offering the inhabitants the means to decorate their stony, womb like domicile; their umbilical art fastening onto the mental duty of mankind to identify itself with their environment—a pattern thread through time. The remaining 6 poems shuttle and pounce, incisive like the actions and behavior of not only the artist’s hand, but the fluidity of the creatures they made likenesses of. Tim fills the poems with much of what these troglodytes identified with, what they held dear, the life bringing principles they were inextricably twined with, in addition, their fears: to be forgotten, a lonely but brief and easily forgotten spark in the depth of geological and cosmic time. Here in the poems, techniques they used:
“And to this light I mix my colors with cave water.”

Tim, makes spectators of us, we close our eyes for the mental image his words hack into us with the rib of an animal whose bones were picked clean by man and vulture.

Migrations at the End of the Ice Age & New Families Arrive in Britain seem to remark on the current refugee crisis:

You would have watched them, weary at how they
all kept coming, and their courage to
give the tide their lot…(New Families Arrive in Britain)

This is similar in tone to correspondence, the reporter on the scene. I see paired to those ancient people landing in 5000BC, the hopeful refugees escaping the impact of wars, even the effects of glacially slow climate change, in our own time. These poems could be prescient of a future, in which large swathes of the globe are uninhabitable and similar migrations are repeated. Maybe, we’ll consider as Tim does in Migrations at the End of the Ice Age:

I like to think about it this way: that the
ice sheets of ancients Europe, rather than
melting and making a run to the north

simply because the weather got warmer,
instead retreated, were sought out and stalked,
harried and run down by animals, plants

and human tribes living off the new…

Such hopefulness may be welcomed after so much hardship.
The movement of large bodies of people, all their belongings, hope in the continuity of identity and identification which they (like us) we might suppose, longed to keep alive, becoming the common will of mankind. It isn’t new, yet it is always done in search of something new; there is familiarity in “the new”.
How have we changed? Have we, at least in many respects not remained akin to the peoples of history, if only because we share the fragilities that make us human and regardless all our conveniences, removed, they bring our similarities into focus: flesh, blood, bone, hunger, necessity of warmth, shelter and so, eager to mark materials in pigments and dyes, to sculpt a legacy out of material to scream “we were here”, bearing our teeth with ritual verve to the elements that drench us cold or bake us, but which, attuned to, provide for us, not just our sustenance but our principles of order, moral compass— gods.

The Village of Gönnersdorf provides us with a window into the habitual, annual, cyclical movements of peoples:

They returned every winter to find things
mostly as they had left them: the slate floors
needed cleaning so the animals engraved

there stood out again in the dust of their feet.

This life of domestic repetition, continual repair, continually keeping their heads above the waters of hardship, is never romanticized by Tim; never praised as a freer time, closer to nature— a mythologized, golden age of man. Nor does he stress the hardship; rather the poems act as documentation, they show and provide evidence.
Tim’s poems are for everyone, learned in their research; the only difficulties to surmount are names unfamiliar to us. You may not understand the meaningful weight of Dolní Věstonice, or Tim’s interesting choices for his Gods & Goddesses sub-section, where rather than Bacchus or Dionysus, we meet Sucellus. This is not done in boast, but as encouragement to investigate further. I myself didn’t know a great deal, but it wasn’t difficult to find out and the discovery has been beneficial.
The language Tim uses helps connect the reader, this is not over embellished poeticizing, but tight, practical language for presentation. Regardless, it is musical, it isn’t boring to read. I realized after reading Tim’s poems more and more that Tim is like a contemporary Wordsworth. When I expressed this realization to him, he was very pleased, as this was his intention. However, he doesn’t fall into the trap of treating ancient subjects with a pseudo-antique idiom; these are clearly contemporary poems, from a poet aware he is not trying to write from the perspective of the peoples who lived the time of his subject. The tone is not affected in the transportation of the researched subject matter, into verse, either. Miller’s research speaks volumes through the pointedness of his language. Tim, never speaks from the point of view of the civilization in any sort of poor re-enacting of their character, aside from the end where Pytheas appears, but even he is contemporized and the effect is charming. This could easily appear like those dreadful voice actors from the BBC, who in English read a translation of a Roman Emperor’s speech; ok we get the gist, we get the insight, but it feel affected, at least to me. Tim is rather a poet looking, trying to understand. It could easily all blow up in Tim’s face and our enjoyment would be lessened, as we’d be removed from our considering by the attempt at dramatization. This is a very clever evasion and I applaud Tim for it.

Returning to music in these poems, it is ubiquitous in my opinion. A fine example comes through in Ajvide Girl:

The hedgehog covered her:

its spiked skin capped her head,
and around her neck there hung

some fine clattering jaw…

The language tough as the leathery bog bodies. The velar stop of the ‘k’ making the image of the hedgehog sonically robust. The placement of the dactylic clattering satisfies visually and sonically, piquing our senses. It’s remarkably well crafted, carefully constructive poetry, yet there is buoyancy, which I feel comes with good training; it isn’t meticulous in a clinical way, it feels confidant, well honed. The sibilance and fricative consonants sweep the lines along, like a tool for shaving rock, or a broom for sweeping floors.
In the final Orkney section, Tim’s own character comes to the fore. We meet the poet, smelting into his themes as he visits the landmarks on Orkney. Here, the balance of history’s documentation is balanced with a personality and yet he seems no more or less real than the people of his histories.
Accompanying Tim is Pytheas, the Greek geographer. Tim becomes Pytheas via a text on Pytheas, which Tim has on him, in Orkney. They embody each other, both “in energetic middle age” maybe even “young enough to be stupid” and hopefully “seasoned enough to make it…” It is a lovely touch. You have two middle aged men, a long way from home, potentially looking for something similar: vestiges of the past, remote cultures, a meaning to life, lineage, history, process. Human connections that give life purpose. And that is what we find in Orkney.
The Orkney section is a condensed, aerial, intimate tour of the islands by Tim and his wife Jenny There is even a map, so as you can orient yourself as you move through the poem.
It is full of small details: buying cereal and milk for example; both objects associated with fertility; the contemporary pleached with the antique landscape and vice versa.
If like me, you’d never considered Orkney as a travel destination, that’ll certainly change after reading Bone Antler Stone. Coming from the UK but living in Korea, I now daydream when I can make what I now see as a pilgrimage, to those islands. Tim’s poems tucked into my bag, eager to visit the places Tim visited, except, opening up Bone Antler Stone to read aloud Tim’s poems on say The Ring of Brodgar or Skara Brae, or while walking round Magnus Cathedral and hearing them aloud, where they are most at home. Picturing the nervous Tim at the summit of Magnus Cathedral, encouraged by Jenny to make the summit even if the height makes him anxious, which I am glad he did, otherwise he may not have written

…and a hundred
feet above the churchyard grass, a bright dead light—
and the light of one afraid of heights, beaming
at such a height in the air, to be there with you.

That human connection between two people a microcosm of the connection between culture and history, people and identity, people and people who make history— identity triumphs in the face of overwhelming odds.

The end of Bone Antler Stone brings all your humanity home to you, in a profound passage that is just astonishing. Tim talks with Pytheas aboard the plane as they jet home. Pytheas’ final reply

assuring me that for us, and for ours,
there was only the odd look, the old look, the awed look,
but rarely the real look of revelation,
or the consolation of having communicated.
And so the motive was to make meaning and memory
a kind of barrow burial in bloom
a garlanded grave undergroun
forged with turf and stone and fire and then forgotten,
until a propitious step or a sudden storm
blows open this book’s binding
and lays each line out in the light again,
shells of syllables dotting the sand.
To be summoned by someone is always a surprise, he said,
and someday I would feel a spade on my skull
someday I would stand up and start singing,
but until then I should love the loneliness and its lessons,
and he bade me to build it well, to bury it well, and wait. (The Wanderer II—Flight from Orkney)

History, might well be a motif of coincidences, it might follow a regulated trajectory based on the deliberation of previous actions and roles. But something I took from Bone Antler Stone, is that whether the evidence of human behavior is there and no matter how it got there, it is really up to us to uncover the voice of that generation again and even if we get that voice wrong, we’ll never know anyway and it offers up a better hope of some form of immortality to think that a distant culture, may endeavor to think about us, to offer its time to us as we offer time to the generations we rediscover through literature and art. To consider how we lived, thought, behaved and struggled to forge identities out of the happenstance environment shifting not just geologically but culturally after any series of events, over extended time. I’d rather think of the spade or pick striking my skull and human hands, lifting it into sunlight after a millennia, to interrogate the code held in it and determine something human about me, than to end up in some paradise with a despotic God demanding genuflection. We all inevitably depart, are forgotten. But there’s always a chance in the peculiar, fluke of life and snafu of death that so long as a relic from our having existed, survives to hint at the culture we belonged to, so as conjecture can be made as to our identity, it is possible that we can be gone a long time, but also, rediscovery hovers above us in the form of a curious metal detector.
That’s history I suppose. You never know what will be found and that which is found is only rediscovered, it has had its time and in its rediscovery it becomes an object of adoration again, a reminder.
I hope Tim’s book of poems is not forgotten in a hurry. If that should be its fate, I hope someone rediscovers it again, receiving as much enjoyment as I did.

You can buy a copy of Bone Antler Stone, signed by Tim, as well as download readings, or read an essay about the book by following this link.

bone antler stone

This is my first review of a poetry book and I’d like to do more, so if you like what you read and would like me to review your chapbook and post that review on my blog, contact me at


The end in sight…

Last night, i went with a friend to the beach.
The few squid boats that sailed out were returning early, around 8ish.
We’d found a low bench outside the perimeters of society’s light & with a bottle of soju, a box of kimchi & veggie pancake, talked our tired into something productive & admired the uncommon sight of a few printed constellations.

We somehow got onto conspiracy theories & my friend, not knowing much about them, asked “why do they believe in such things.” Being Korean she’s had little exposure to what is, to my mind, a very Western phenomenon.

i outlined (roughly) Foucault’s power-knowledge: holding & creating the codes & keys to knowledge; there is no power without knowledge.
But, what is the control conspiracy theorists have? It is that they know something important, have tirelessly awakened to something we don’t understand, or more accurately can’t see as it is “hidden in plain sight”. They do what they do for our benefit, turning them into a conduit of truth— they’re on a moral track; fulfilling a duty to the survival of open, free society.

Going off the subject it dawned on me how erroneous we are to assume problems, with such wide reaching, immense scales can have any end in sight.

Let’s say for instance that every system of governance, politics, philosophy, religion,ideology is in itself a timeline, plotted, deterministically, in progress, towards a fateful moment in the lives of the collective that follow it & by extension (through survival of the fittest) compelling everyone else to fall in line to this track, seeing the benefit (as the adherent or faithful would see it).

Isn’t this ridiculous? It brings into sharp focus all our reasons behind why we cherish ideas, why they become personal, character shaping.
i’d say a good many people believe that what is an all encompassing process for them, seeing as, in reality, it exits in tandem with other processes, means it is unlikely there is a singular destiny. Numerous processes, always in motion together, has been the vital matter of man. Ideologies conflict with ideologies.

Our history, our ideas, are not necessarily a process of trial & error to eventually discover suitable methods for going forward to some fateful day when everything is corrected to a set of tracked demarcations. We have no destiny.
Things happened, but not for a reason.

Even peace is an ideology. There will never be peace. Never. Nor will there be a day where evil triumphs & nothing but war fills the world.
The liberal, the conservative, republican or democratic agenda will never win over an entire population. The likes of dystopian fiction will never be realized in their total form.
i’ll go ahead & wager the same for ecological issues, the world won’t end with a bang or whimper, it’ll hobble on, inconceivable moments of change may occur, but what ever volume of human content stubbornly rises against the back hand of its own stupidity, will adapt & humankind will plod on, forgetting, then becoming the mythopoeic madmen we all are, at heart & do best with our easy hearsay.

What does it mean to realize this?
For me, this is not about persuading anyone. This will not enlighten you.
i once believed, years ago, that the logical end (all evil would need to play out for this to happen) of humanity’s crises, was to just end up fully, organically understanding good; this was the only method of living that made sense. There is no waste in good, except the loss of bad.
Evil, corruption, always sacrifice something, create hardships & pain, which is wasted energy.
If there is peace & prosperity, would we really be more human by denying our coarser, more violent natures? i don’t know if this is cogent or an easy thing for good people to accept, i doubt it.
i know for me, this realization of no end in sight, emancipates me from the track of that end.
i can, with George Saunders, be free to just like everything; or not so much like, as accept it being outside my influence yet remaining within my control; if only the control is an alteration of the context of my capacity to influence. This comes frightfully close to sounding like ignorance of the difference between right & wrong, but in reality is it is a realization of limits.

Would i end world hunger, the deaths of children, the slavery of teenage girls if it meant i had to kill a single man, even a room full of evil men with the click of a lever? Sure. Sorry fellas, you’re for the chop.
However, that is a foolish thought experiment & life just isn’t that simple. The exception to the rule seldom becomes the rule.

Why this public act initiates me into some personal collusion with myself, i don’t know, it feels necessary somehow; sort of like the symbolic act of cutting the Gordian knot.
i think Wallace Stevens’ final line from his poem Parochial Theme “Piece the world together, boys, but not with your hands.” sums up what i am trying to say here. To build something with your hands means an end in sight, the mental world is always going to get revised & emotions are not built with your hands.
Oddly, i’ve never been happier with chaos. The next step is deciding what that means— i suspect, it doesn’t mean anything other than i am finally human.


(Remember, what follows is opinion, as always in these essays, it is not an incontestable truth.)


The following passage is from Robert Browning’s Red Cotton Night Cap Country or Turf & Towers:

Have you, the travelled lady, found yourself
Inside a ruin, fane or bath or cirque,
Renowned in story, dear through youthful dream?
If not,—imagination serves as well.
Try fancy-land, go back a thousand years,
Or forward, half the number, and confront
Some work of art gnawn hollow by Time’s tooth,
Hellenic temple, Roman theatre,
Gothic cathedral, Gallic Tuilleries,
But ruined, one and whichsoe’er you like.
Obstructions choke what still remains intact,
Yet proffer change that’s picturesque in them;
Since little life begins where great life ends,
And vegetation soon amalgamates,
Smooths novel shape from out the shapeless old,
Till broken column, battered cornice block
The centre with a bulk half weeds and flowers,
Half relics you devoutly recognize.
Devoutly recognizing,—hark, a voice
Not to be disregarded! “Man worked here
Once on a time; here needs again to work;
Ruins obstruct, which man must remedy.”
Would you demur “let time fulfil his task,
And, till the scythe-sweep find no obstacle
Let man be patient?”

In short Browning is saying, the ruin obstructs the progress of time, & in consequence, life; the work of man— the shell-of-what-was worked for prior generations & it is in its nature to continue to be of use. In its disused state, “picturesque” yes, but as he says “little life begins where great life ends.”
Browning’s protagonist Monsieur Leonce Miranda, renovates an old priory inherited from his father, called Clairvaux. Rather than live in a comfortable Paris apartment on the Place Vendome, Monsieur Miranda opts to renovate the ruin & house his love Clara de Millefleur there.
There are scenes in which Monsieur Miranda ascends the tower & surveys the land; the tower at Clairvaux becomes a metaphor of self-mastery, of working on oneself, of noting the inner mechanics of self, as if the labour expended on the task compensated for the stain of sin.
The tribulations of Monsieur Miranda make the renovation of a priory ironic; what was Browning saying about religion, owing that Monsieur Miranda’s efforts fail? Browning has some interesting speculations in religious matters, which i may go into in another post.
(Aside: Though the poem is by no means one of Browning’s most popular & can prove a difficult read, it is worth the effort for his diverse, unexpected speculations & the strength & ease of his line. Moreover it is an interesting approach to a long poem, being a conversation between Browning & his friend Anne Thackeray. The critic C.H.Herford called the style of the poem “special versified correspondence”. Browning borrows some of the journalist’s methods in the telling of this story. Browning is an overlooked Victorian in my opinion, worthy of more devotion, with a much more interesting vocabulary than say, Tennyson, who is a lesser poet.)

Why leave a ruin to the ravages of time? i can only speak for England (but i’d hazard to say the same concerns most cultures): we do it because we suppose in the ruin is relic & relic is a matter of identity, it connects us with an authenticity, a chapter of our history that we take pride in, that we amalgamate together to compose our cultural identity. Why we venerate periods of time few really understand, & even with such scant understanding, find indomitable commonality, becomes stranger to me as i get older— nationalism is built on such monuments. Why we have made family fun out of dungeons is very peculiar. It discombobulates to think the largest exodus from a war torn nation, since WWII is taking place across the continent of Europe, & idle landmarks are preserved for passive Sunday outings & the country is deemed full.
England is full of ruins. i remember some outrage about Tesco (a supermarket chain) renovating an old church & people were saying how disrespectful it was, yet they don’t care when the chain-pub Wetherspoon’s turns a stone masons or cinema, or any other 2nd grade listed building, into a pub. The church was idle, a business moved in, employed people, provided a service to a local community, made a use out of it: “vegetation soon amalgamates.”

Roger Scruton made a documentary some years ago called Why Beauty Matters, for the BBC. His concern, that “we are losing beauty, and there is a danger that with it, we will lose the meaning of life.” because, he continues, “[beauty] is not just a subjective thing, but a universal need of human beings.”
i don’t entirely agree with Scruton. He relies heavily on a spiritual dimension that establishes the talent & vision in the artist, suggesting that in tandem with talent, there is an element beyond the will of the artist.
He oscillates between examples of modern ugliness, starting with Duchamp’s urinal, & what tend to be irrefutable examples of high art, often Renaissance works that people don’t usual have a leg to stand on when criticizing, part-of-the-canon art; such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, which, if i am honest, i think a horrible painting. When he says things like true art (& beauty) “show the real in the light of the ideal” he just shoots himself in the foot. i don’t see how this isn’t subjective, which he says true art isn’t, it is revelation & realization of a universal, irrefragable truth expressed through the aesthetic.
What is the outcome of such a upholding? Does art not fail to change in response to the ideas that we fall prey to?
In his hometown of Reading, Scruton tours abandoned offices & a bus station built in the 60s, on the premise of Louis Sullivan’s edict “form follows function”. The buildings are plastered in graffiti, a wrecked eye sore. “No one wants to be in them” he explains; they are ugly. However, he takes us to a relic of the past, an old forge turned café, lovingly restored, full of people. You get the picture.
i see much the same in Jeju where i live. The old native houses sell without struggle & people, though they take a great deal of hard work to restore, put the effort & capital into the endeavor. However, we might contest, that our beauty is informed by what we are told is beautiful & that demolished, disused buildings, whatever their history, don’t have to remain so, if we only alter our perception of what is generally regarded as beautiful. Is a structure aesthetically valuable because of its history & decoration, or can the use it is put to, the cause it works for, not be the object of its beauty? Surely a worthy endeavor with enough effort can elbow an aesthetic leaning into the renovation? If a ruin can be renovated then surely an ugly factory built under Sullivan’s tutelage can be beautiful in its usefulness?
The historical landmarks Browning asks his friend Anne to picture, are not languishing unwonted due to ugliness, they need only reformatting for a new purpose, they need less attention & could have maximum effect. Imagine Buckingham Palace, rather than packed with paying selfie obsessed tourists, full of refugee families. Instead of Saint Paul’s Cathedral serving up the diatribe of Christianity, imagine if it housed the homeless on London’s streets; same goes for the numerous cathedrals across the whole of Europe. Idealism, yes; but this is what Scruton thinks high art does to us.
Do we really have the space available in this overpopulated world, to be as finicky as Scruton is saying our sense of the aesthetic is? i am not challenging beauty’s importance, but that it isn’t a matter of what Scruton determines is important based on art that is canonized as high art by an elite. i don’t particularly wish to defend Duchamp or Damien Hirst, why do i need to— i certainly don’t think Scruton sees the whole picture though.

Interestingly, a short sub chapter of George Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty is titled The Influence of the Passion of Love. In this chapter Santayana expresses something deeply profound that “If any one were desirous to produce a being with a great susceptibility to beauty, he could not invent an instrument better designed for that object than sex.”
But sex is not constricted to the act of copulation, the effect of our desire for it is the same effect that instigates our sense of beauty for things or devotions, it becomes a blanket term: “If the stimulus does not appear as a definite image [a lover], the values evoked are dispersed over the world, and we are said to have become lovers of nature, and to have discovered the beauty and meaning of things.” Including art.
Returning to Scruton’s question of why beauty matters? We have an answer. Beauty endows things with a sort of “sexual passion” (as Santayana puts it) thus we are attracted to them & give them value. This is probably just Plato’s Eros termed differently; i think Santayana goes into more depth though.
It may be a monstrous thing to say & i may risk making myself very unpopular, but beautiful people, models or actors & the like have an advantage over others when they walk into a room, they are responded to with our gaze, a mark of value that jumps ahead of any knowledge of who the person is— don’t judge a book by its cover we say. We don’t aim to but sometimes we slip up with the parapraxes of our attentions.
I have always thought it a genius move on nature’s part to make the infants of any species, cute. What is cuteness if not a sort of evolutionary reaction to the possibility of neglect or loss, designed to elicit the cooperation of the environment; to get people to care for you, educate, feed etc? How many times do we see in a film, someone who hates kids take the kid under their guardianship?

i always like to get something about how the poet fits into this & we do of course. We poets & writer-types are all mining each other in some way. i acquiesce to the charge, it is probably called learning.
i’ll read a poem, it jolts something in me enough to want to make use of it; there is a theme or subject the poet raises & i think to myself “i like that, it’d fit snugly in something i’ve been working on, but i could make it more in my aesthetic register.” The thing extracted feels so connected with something we would say but never got around to thinking yet, it feels natural to borrow it for our own circumstance. No compunction necessary.
What would be the opposite of this? A sort of inverted aesthetic, where the poem is so terrible we ache to set the balance straight. Would this reaction still begin from an aesthetic point? Does the bad aesthetic of a crap poem teach us how not to write a poem & in the negative influence retain some aesthetic if only indirectly?
Eliot as we know was a great borrower, the greatest i’d say. His borrowing was a sort of renovation of the towers of the past, giving them a lick of paint & some new curtains.
i don’t think it necessary to borrow from that towering past, i’ll take what i can learn from it, then alter that new information. This is more interesting & cogent, not spraying graffiti over it, more noting it & writing what it left in the gaps, which is pretty much everything it isn’t & could never be; in that way it doesn’t only get re-contextualized it gets a new format too, enough so it wouldn’t recognize itself. My sense of its beauty is in the “sexual passion” for it, masked as my attention, my respect to still let it take me under its wing, even if the influence ends in challenge. It is partly our challenge of the past that enables us to keep our feet firmly in the happenings of the present.

Next time you’re out at an art gallery or buying pottery in an antiques shop, reading a poem or even about to eat a cream cake, i hope your hounded by the feeling of a “sexual passion” for the object; however, remember it may not be an idea, but mechanism— the trigger of beauty.

A funeral rite was once an art…

This is not a Christmas poem (i’ll pretend that isn’t happening), neither is it exclusively about Shelley, despite the Louis Edouard Fournier painting suggesting otherwise. i suppose, if the man being cremated is a poet, then the funeral rite, through contagious magic, becomes a work of art.

A funeral rite was once an art
but now | is nothing more (“or less”)
than | a service industry— a putting out of sight |
slinging the arrow of time | aflame
toward | at least | a metonymic pyre
—“to metaphor the dead is to keep
them dead | but metonym replaces with a life”
Why would you say such silliness?
: “the lobed hermaphrodite hunkered
in the snitching dynamo of our cortex |
acute enough to bathe us in dimethyltryptamine.
That’s what you said once over drinks.”
& yet | they swiped a digit round
the beveled edges of their Smartphone.
She shuts the device between her legs |
to trim & foul the agon of history
but | the mythos & logos tap
into her like a gavel rasping code.
“The beaches of man | now made with
the granulated pulp of their literature.
We pick through the silt rubble for more
coagulate bits intact | in search of …|…
in hope of | lost forbidden words | to hear
aloud | with our tremulous voice
for the first time in millennia
while 99% just sun bathe Self.”

Thinking out loud the creature’s destructive capacities in decorative maps

On that 16th C. Map of the World back home, hanging decoratively on the wall, i can’t shake the presence of the creature, moving like a pulse rate, monitored on life support machinery, snaking through dark acrylic waters, a cautious galleon nearby, sailors praying for shrouding mist, superstitious mist, drunk on scurvy & weak rum, the sea making them drunkest— this is before Jim Cook discovered fresh fruits cure scurvy. Just once, the creature needs to dive & rudder up through the hull, the mizzen mast crashing into the central mast, the lookout plunging into that gaping butcher’s-drawer-mouth full of tools for gnashing flesh apart. The galleon lost, the crew, meat. i don’t eat meat like that creature, so it goes that i am better than a creature. We are all a sinking ship.

Sewol Tragedy Soliloquy

Sewol Tragedy Soliloquy

Bamboo has the elegance of Chinese symbols,
tells of winters, keeping your chin up when
cold delves in bone. The 3 year anniversary of the Sewol
tragedy is in a few days— try telling those parents
to keep their chins up; they’d pull the plug on the ocean,
cause mass extinction to marine life, just to cradle
the wet-through corpse of their child, apple
of their eye, turned coral, caked in the dank
viscera of sea & memory. It’s all over the news
: men are working night & day to raise
the ferry, 3 years late— looks like the sea’s being
dredged through a colander— we’ll say,
when the yellow water’s run off, a memory
the ocean’s had time to rub salt in, haunts us.

(Image by Argus Paul, a pal of mine, you can see his series on here.)

From unreleased footage of a BBC documentary on Wallace Stevens

Continue reading “From unreleased footage of a BBC documentary on Wallace Stevens”

Comfort Girl Soliloquy

Sometime ago, not long after we opened the guesthouse a Korean American fella & two women he was working with visited me. They were working on an art project to raise awareness & address the horror experienced by comfort women during the Japanese occupation of Korea. They told me a little about what they went through.
Our cleaner always says Jeju women depress him because they never smile, i always have to explain that it is possibly due to having endured some atrocious episode in their young lives, which they have been unable to shake.
i don’t think i can write such horror, but recently this poem appeared. One of those poems that just happens.


Comfort Girl Soliloquy

Reflected in the pools of your eyes, smoke
billowing out the window of your burning home.
Your mother pleading with them to take me instead,
but they like unripe teens with soft, lissome hands.

Your struggling is useless against arms sent to war,
arms flexible & sinewy as bamboo roots.

In a tiny cell, one filthy mattress, you wait… & then
a boy strolls in, drops his trousers— you’ve never seen
one before; he jams it in, hard & dry, as if using a jail
key to start the engine of a truck. It hurts. You don’t even snivel.

He snorts, eyes roll round his head, it stops;
leaves his seed to coalesce with hymen blood.

The next one comes, another after him, another,

The lines on your old face tell each minute of grief.