Monday, 28 February 2011
Medieval religious art – fired by superstition, fanaticism and the occult – engages my interest, as does Romanticism (for instance John Martin, Piranesi, Delacroix), Symbolism and the Surrealists.
Elegant design intrigues me, hence my liking for such widely placed examples as Minoan frescoes, Tiepolo and Art Nouveau.
Mysticism and mythology are, of course, relevant here and can be represented by Alchemy, which combines both these with visual art. Here I may refer to the writings of Jung, Robert Graves and Antonin Artaud, which have influenced my thoughts in this area.
Serious music is almost exclusively limited to Claude Debussy and Franz Liszt who I find to be the two most extraordinary and significant musicians: Debussy for his dreamlike fantasies and Liszt for his orgiastic virtuosity – the most eminent musician of our time is Duke Ellington.
The cinema is the art of today – Eisenstein, Bunuel, Lang, Fellini and Franju.
All this has obviously involved an interest in history which brings me back to people and books and what concerns me in general; all the threats to civilisation, as we understand it in the West, stem from ignorance – ignorance and illiteracy go hand in hand…
from an official document, 1969
Saturday, 26 February 2011
Published in Monomyth Supplement Issue 18, 2005
Illustration: Absolute Equinox, 2009
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Now in the elemental darkness alien storms shatter a mirror ball into a thousand winged fragments
Bright vision suddenly, in a trance, you can see across tracks of time – satin finish, clear droplets – alchemy of the mirage
Illustration: Trace Element, 2006
Notes For A Preface to Colour Of Dust
1. NOTES ON EARLY INFLUENCES 1966-1969
Where to begin...?
A starting point may be: Aestheticism...
Its intensity of experience, its ‘hard gem-like flame’...
Decadence and Style - the independence of the word (Havelock Ellis and Paul Bourget), ‘self-consciousness, a restless curiosity in research, an over-subtilizing refinement upon refinement...’ (Arthur Symons). The short lyric – ‘I hold that a long poem does not exist’ (Edgar Allan Poe, The Poetic Principle): Poe’s aestheticism as the origin of minimalism in poetry.
Nature – ‘To say to a painter that Nature may be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano.’ (Whistler’s Ten O’clock).
Ideas of the fin-de-siecle – modernity, transience, impressionism, The Tragic Generation:
Davidson, Johnson, Dowson, Beardsley, Enoch Somas, Oscar Wilde, Ronald Firbank…
The Occult – W. B. Yeats & The Golden Dawn...The Master Therion...
Precursors – Blake, Coleridge, De Quincey, Swinburne... Japonisme... France... ‘If I spend my future life reading Baudelaire in a cafe I shall be leading a more natural life than if take to hedger’s work or plant cacao in the mud swamps’ (Oscar Wilde, 1897).
...from Symbolism to Surrealism...
The Hermetic sonnets of Gerard de Nerval (‘El Desdichado’) and the fusion of dream and waking (Aurelia).
The great innovators: Baudelaire and Mallarme....
Baudelairian themes: correspondences (occultism), le neant vaste, the voracious irony, the city, l’ennui, the whip of pleasure, The Heroism of Modern Life, the Cytherean gibbet, dandyism, cosmic aestheticism, the obscure and the uncertain... ‘I am enthroned in the azure like a sphinx beyond all understanding...’ ('La Beaute'). Baudelaire’s visionary landscapes prefigure Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy... Baudelaire and ‘absolute incompatibility’ (Charles du Bos).
Poetry without God... ‘after I found nothingness I found beauty...’ (Mallarme). The hermetic mysteries of Herodiade, Igitur, 'Prose Pour Des Esseintes' and The Sonnet on X. 'Un Coup de Des' and the radical displacement of The Word. The demon of analogy.
J-K Huysmans – Naturalism – Decadence – Occultism – Catholicism... a fate worse than death.
Rimbaud and Lautreamont – the poetry of revolt and dissociation, the Alchemy of the Word.
Laforgue and Jarry – towards the Absurd (Pataphysics), Dada and Pop.
Surrealist ideas: the poetic image, l’amour fou, intuition as gnosis, objective chance, automatism, the occult under the poetic angle, urban psycho-geography (Aragon), Psychoanalysis, black humour, picto-poetry, inspiration to order (collage, frottage), convulsive beauty, convulsive identity (Ernst), the crisis of the object, Open Realism, the mythology of the modern. But can there still be art after Duchamp’s Fountain?
1966: Still at School
We were ‘into’ all of this around 1966, and I was still at CTHS (Chelmsford Technical High School). So was this the Sixties...? Well, sort of... I remember the big Beardsley exhibition at the V&A (May l966), the death of Andre Breton... seeing Der Golem at the NFT’s Romantic Agony season… visiting The Hellfire Caves, The Indica Gallery, Better Books basement, and reading impenetrable articles on AutoDestructivism in Art and Artists or Studio International. After school we sat in Snow’s Coffee Bar opposite the library or the Wimpy Bar near the station… we listened to The Doors and The Beach Boys... we liked Osiris Visions Posters, silver fashion (the Rabanne metal dress), Op Art carpets, Biba retro style, Allen Jones fetish furniture, Bridget Riley’s monochromes… we thought The Beatles were rubbish (I still do)... one of my mates was into John Mayall. In 1967 I read Frank Harris’ Oscar Wilde on a family holiday to Grange-Over-Sands, Cumbria. In October 1968 there was another big exhibition at the V&A, The Mackintosh Centenary Exhibition. Then there was Les Salons de la Rose-Croix at the Piccadilly Gallery. I saw the Six Days War on TV.
I was doing lots of drawings and paintings but not much writing. By 1969 I was doing collages because we were all Surrealists – despite the fact that Jean Schuster had just officially disbanded the movement on February 8th of that year (we didn’t know that).
Then I was gobsmacked by Nova Express – do you have to be American to write like this?
1970: First Writings
In 1970, I was given my first typewriter, an Olivetti Olympia Portable from Low’s Business Machines... and that was it! My first writings were moody, decadent, gothic prose poems. Poe-esque short stories and semi-surreal autobiography, inspired in part by Boris Vian. I got bogged down in a sprawling horror novel called Debris – not all these early texts have survived and most are unprintable. What was I reading? Thomas Pynchon, Angela Carter, J. G. Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, Jean Genet and Cohn Wilson’s The Outsider. Apart from Boroughs and the Beats (we all read Ginsberg’s 'Howl') the other big influence was Artaud. Through Artaud I discovered the poetry of pain and abandoned ‘literature’ for what I called ‘the sub-textual’ – the border-world between writing and graphic sigils: hieroglyphs, ideograms, calligraphic automata, nonsense poetry (via Carroll, Dada and Kurt Schwitters), glossolalia, fictional languages... the deconstruction of discourse, the open fields of strophic fragmentation, nameless things and thingless names.
As I remember, those first ‘pure’ poetic texts (grouped here under the title Marginalia) were noted down on a train one evening as I was commuting from Brentford, where I worked, to Witham where I still lived. Undoubtedly ‘Refracted’ and ‘Express Train Interior’ were ‘surrealizations’ of immediate experience – I still think of that girl with the photocopy face. I liked these pieces because, somehow, they seemed transparent. They were, to my mind, ‘un-literary’. What they were not was more important than what they were... I wanted to avoid emotional profundities – they weren’t realistic hut they weren’t abstract either. I wanted something stripped bare, stripped down; words on a page like slivers of glass...
There had been, I think, I minor breakthrough. The catalyst had been translation.
For some reason I had started translating a few poems by Max Ernst taken from his 1970 collection Ecritures. Sept Microbes (1953), Cinq Poemes (1958) and Cap Capricorne (1965). Ernst was a painter-poet like Blake and Hans Arp. His poetry was a continuum with his paintings and graphics. Titles of paintings became titles of poems and vice-versa. There was a Carrollian fantasy, a sense of the absurd and a feeling of vast spaces in his short, enigmatic, texts. At the same time I also translated the lyrics of Messiaen’s song-cycle Harawi (1945) which were similarly erotic, hieratic, mythic, cosmic and full of strange, alien wordforms: Kahipapas, mahipapas/pia pia pia doundou tchil. I immersed myself in the similarities I detected between, for example, the invented language Artaud used in his later texts, and the quasi-Quechua onomatopoeic sound-poetry of Harawi; or, between the visual and aural correspondences in Messiaen’s music and Ernst’s imagery (birds, crystalline textures, monumental ‘blocks’ of sound-colour)… I found analogies between the decalcomania paintings of Leonor Fini, the encrustations of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and the Turangalila-Symphonie.
I typed up all these poems and translations on the Olympia Portable, holed-up in my bedroom away from the summer sun, eyes itching with hay-fever, the downstairs filled with the heavy scent of bearded irises. My father, a keen gardener, loved these irises and grew them in large numbers. I developed a fascination for their ornate, fleshy forms and ‘pubic’ beards. ‘Silence: a cascade of irises/ an obdurate totem.’ (‘Silence’, 1975).
2. LOOKING AT COLOUR OF DUST
Glancing through Colour of Dust I can see various contrasts or tensions. At the level of theme
and content a tension between fantasy and realism, or the fantastic and the naturalistic. On the plane of language (poetic diction) there is a complementary tension between the hieratic and the vernacular. On the level of strophic form there is a contrast between open-field ‘scatter’ and dense compacted stanzas.
The fantastic mode includes: (1) visionary-apocalyptic pieces (‘A Demon Speaks’, ‘Life of Glass’, ‘Phobos’, ‘The Shadow Guide’, ‘The Borderlands of the World’, ‘The Crystal Snake Book’); (2) cosmological visions (The Xantras, ‘Black Hole Binary’, ‘Nil Revolution’, ‘Nebula’, ‘Externity’, ‘AL the Core of the Sun’); (3) genre pieces like the Horror Poems of The Black Mask, ‘Vampfires’ ahd ‘Cyclonic Patterns’ or Science Fiction Poems (‘Crashdive’, ‘Metacropolis’, ‘Freezing Fog’); (4) occult poems which appropriate esoteric ideas and symbols: ‘Void Mysterium’ (mystery religions), ‘Candlemas’ and ‘Gargoyle Emanations’ (ritual magic), ‘Dawn Chorus’ and ‘Black Moon Gateway’ (alchemy); ‘Chronique Scandaleuse’ and ‘Virgin Pages’ (re-incarnation/transmigration); (5) others, like manna, ‘Urspasm’, ‘Beyond the White Wall’ and ‘The Vision of Morgan Le Pay’ seek inspiration from ancient myths, legends and The Books of the Dead.
In sharp contrast to these visions and fantasies there is a large group of ‘realist’ poems -essays in urban naturalism and subjective impressionism, sometimes incorporating fragments of overheard conversations (‘They found something wrong with my brain patterns, Jack” – ‘Cascade VI’), often using a style of slangy, vernacular, street jargon: ‘No Drama’, ‘Human Wallpaper’, ‘Some Charisma’, ‘Hovering Stress’, Neon Aeon, ‘Stranger Here Myself’ and ‘Stunning Sunbirds’ – dead broken fool stroll on (‘Dodgy Electrics’). Some realist poems adopt a more clinical Camera Eye, documentary approach, for instance: ‘Time Slips’, ‘Somewhere in England’, ‘Edge City’, ‘Could be Anywhere’, ‘Vignette’, ‘Denim Yoof Type’ and ‘Artschool Blonde Type’. ‘Viewed Through Crystal’ refers to the multifaceted insect eye denoting a dispassionate interest in fleeting grotesque moments: scruffy youth pukes up a cod burger (‘Viewed Through Crystal II’).
Other modes of content: there are a few inter-media pieces, poems which relate directly to collages and drawings. This group would include ‘The Anti-Virgin’, ‘Silence’, ‘Black Light’ and ‘Dawn Chorus’.
There are some poems dedicated to poetic and artistic heroes such as Mallarme (‘Onyx Master’), Artaud (‘Cosmetic Surgery’), William Burroughs (‘The Man You’ve Been Waiting For’), Max Ernst (‘Enchanter’) Leonor Fini (‘Crystal Express’) and Andre Breton (‘Eyes’). Finally, there is a large group of personal-introspective-existential poems devoted to a corrosive nihilism: ‘What Sort of Game’, ‘Edited Skylights’, ‘Dirt Aria’, ‘No Date’, ‘The White Earth’, ‘Let There be Night’, ‘Melt’, ‘Effluent Landscape’, ‘More and More’, ‘There Was No Horizon’, ‘Thinking Of, ‘Concrete Cancer’, ‘Walking Wounded’...as Baudelaire said, ‘this life is a hospital...’. Let’s drown it in acid.
NOTES ON FORM
A multi-dimensional metamorphosis – like the anomalous formations extruded from the surface of Solaris. Basic oscillations between solidity (the prose-poems) and insubstantiality (condensed ‘minimalist’ strophes); between The Open and The Closed, between structure and de-construction, between the linear and the non-linear, between predetermination and chance.
The density of the prose-poems (The Xantras, Neon Aeon, ‘Stranger Here Myself, ‘Then Nowhere’, ‘The Vision of Morgan Le Fay’) edges towards conventional narrative. But non-linear techniques cut across narrative: collage, montage, cut-up. De-stabilize the expected, derail convention, open-up the supernatural, many-faceted, plurality of the convulsive self. Identity will be convulsive (Max Ernst). All anachronisms welcome.
The spectrum of the Open-Closed. At one pole open-field, alloeostrophic, scatter poems annexing negative space (‘Only Kiss’, ‘Still Far Figure’, ‘Transit and Culmination’, ‘Scatter Zone’, ‘The Face of Fear’, ‘Splintered Avatar’ and others). At the antithetical pole, condensed, minimalist quantum poems like ‘Imagine’, ‘Askance’, ‘Shade’, ‘Perhaps Ravens’, ‘Withdraw Into Silence’ and ‘Impossible Games’.
So far The Xanths is a one-off, a conceptualist conundrum – it has to do with the magic number seven.
The ‘time’ poems are Cut-Ups, using found phrases and the now traditional techniques of
‘inspiration to order’: ‘The Entranceway of Unrecognised Time’, ‘The Sickness of Time’, ‘Filigree Paintings Explode’, ‘The System’. All linked to the picto-poem ‘Contact Zero’ (see The Serendipity Caper). Enter The Colourless Peruvian Bishop and The Flesh Eating Beasts. Some poems are like old photographs: pristine monochrome images of childhood memories cut-up and folded-in - strange origami shapes of Juliet Greco in The Elusive Rose Rouge (‘Subtitled for the Incredulous’), distant sound of Doris Day singing ‘Move Over Darling’, catatonic couples slow-dancing to ‘Strangers in the Night’… Other Cut-Ups include ‘Issue 63’, ‘Chapter 6 (Autobiography)’ and (of course) ‘The Man (You’ve Been Waiting For)’. ‘Chapter 6’ might be autobiographical, then again it might not –eventually ‘inspiration to order’ becomes internalized – psycho-collage, psycho-frottage, psycho-cut-up...t hose ‘caffeine-driven psycho-montages’ (‘Now You See It Now You Don’t).
The poem ‘Desecration’ is a judicious warning -just because a text includes personal pronouns does not mean that it is autobiographical. There are overt autobiographical elements in Colour of Dust (‘The Talisman’, ‘The Bloody Image’, for example). But these rare instances and (for the most part clearly signaled). Some poems read rather like self-portraits, for instance, ‘Nil Revolution’, ‘The Invariant Speed of Light’, ‘Fearful Other’, ‘Mirror Picture’ (a photograph of ‘me’ taking a photo of ‘you’, or is it ‘me’?), ‘Moi’, ‘Like the Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Ashen Light’ and others. Am I The Gryllus’? Am I The Most Beautiful Monster? At this point, poetry, with a cruel spotlight, heightens the problem of identity. Personas: Self images not images of The Self. I is ‘another’ declared Rimbaud. Perhaps because poetry is alchemy, an art of transmutation, the ‘I’ evolves continually - here today, gone tomorrow, now you see it, now you don’t. In a draft epilogue Baudelaire wrote ‘From all things I have extracted the quintessence. The filth you gave me I have turned to gold.’ Poetry changes the ‘base’ material, the prima materia of The Art. And the base matter is the poet him-her-self (or selves).
Writing about Max Ernst’s concept of Convulsive Identity, Pere Gimferrer said ‘like external reality, we ourselves are dissociated and disintegrated: we are the space at an intersection, a confrontation.’ This is the space of Convulsive Identity. But perhaps this is the ‘space’ of the mutating self, the diverse, multifaceted intersections of the secret, evolving, ‘me and/or you,’ present at every simultaneous here-and/or-now of the immediate, infinite, multiverse of the conscious-unconscious, indeterminate subject-object.
So the author of Colour of Dust is/was/will be Inanna, Morgana, Old Scarfe, Anthea
Heartnul, Nykticorax the Demiurge, The Contortionist, Saint Anthony, Veronica Lurk, The
Scolopendra, Xezbeth, Astrid Hainault The Pet City Squeegee Menace, the ghost of Gerard de
Nerval, The Raven, The Bride, The Hanged Man, and the numerous quasi-autonomous ‘I’ figures and
sub-personalities scattered throughout these pages, slipping through negative space – but, then again –perhaps he-she-it is just The Camera Eye, observing, with cold, inhuman, insect, detachment, a kaleidoscopic spectacle of transient, diverting phenomena – images, feelings, moods, ideas –
trajectories of transformation, phantoms dissolving in time.
Illustration: The Mutant Spectre, 2001