Sunday, June 28, 2020
“My name is Nobody!”
So, Odysseus replied to the giant Polyphemus,
While fleeing from the cave.
The apocalyptic cave.
The subterranean cave.
The cave where the wines of Maron intoxicated the Cyclops.
Blind Drunk! – such is the expression.
It contains the archaeological trace in the conveyance,
This fragment from out of the discourse of the ancients.
Once it is voiced it is as sure
As the stone- work of those plinths,
Or any other motif from classical architecture.
Such is the parallel of contemporary architexture.
Don’t speak to me about your accursed notions of time.
We are all at once ancient and modern.
The olive stake still smoulders in the mind,
And wine still helps us to escape the things which oppress us.
We are either nobodies, or tyrannical giants.
Friday, June 26, 2020
Register as Ontology
Have you ever wondered why you will very rarely see, if ever, epic poetry being published or even read these days, despite the fact that epic works, such as Homer’s Iliad and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, have proven to be extremely popular with cinema going audiences in recent times? Why is this? Why are our poets apparently abandoning the epic poem as a fitting form when we are living through times which demand the use of such a register?
As a poet, this is a question that I have been engaged with for the last number of years. It all started some years ago when I was doing a masters in comparative literature, and I chose to write my thesis on Samuel Beckett’s final attempt on the novel Comment C’est How It Is. I decided to focus on the invocation which appears in the opening two paragraphs of the book. Despite having read the novel many years previous, before conducting my research, it wasn’t really until I had decided to focus on researching for my thesis that I was struck so immediately by this classical feature. What was Beckett, a so- called modernist, doing harping back to classical forms?
Of course, the answer was obvious. He was inspired by James Joyce! Even so late in his writing career, he was still, apparently, looking to the Master for ideas and inspiration. These ideas, I must admit, didn’t go down very well when I started presenting them at Beckett symposiums. While giving my first, upon completing my thesis in 2013, I remember a pretty well- known American professor scoffing at the idea that Beckett’s final novel was his take on the epic, and when, undeterred, I continued to pursue my enquiries in this direction, this time roping in the assistance of Giambattista Vico and Finnegans Wake, I was looked at as a kind of a curiosity by fellow academics. I say fellow but then that is not so true, as I am more of a practitioner, being a published poet and translator, rather than an academic. So, my whole impetus, or motive, into pursuing such an idea, the epic, is perhaps more central to what I am about.
What does this mean? As a practising poet I have for many years now been exploring with all kinds of poetic forms. The sonnet is one of my preferred forms or literary genres. I love its plasticity. Let me qualify this last statement, rather than adhering to Petrarchan or Shakespearean notions of what a sonnet is, I have a much more relaxed approach to meter and rhyme. Basically, I disdain rhyming couplets in English, in general, preferring to use run on lines, or enjambment, alliteration and prosody with the odd alternating rhyme, as I believe it is more in keeping with today. In other words, I feel that a Shakespearean rhyming system, for example, or indeed Petrarchan, would be out of joint with the times. But why? I hear you say. Are not the sonnets of William Shakespeare among the greatest literary creations in the English language, and as such should we not attempt to reproduce them, or works of a similar nature, today?
This is where I must now resort to introducing the central idea of this article now, as I believe that register, be it formal or informal, is ontological. Now, a word about this word. Having studied continental philosophy for a number of years, it has become almost second nature for me. But most people wouldn’t be able to tell you what ontology was if you were to pay them. So, in a nutshell, ontology is anything which is related to Being. Martin Heidegger is, without a doubt, the philosopher who made the most of this idea, famously believing that contemporary philosophy had reached a crisis, as it had been more concerned with epistemology, or the theories into knowledge, rather than knowledge as a means in itself. Namely to help people living – which he believed was what philosophy had originally been about, before Plato and the academy came along. Nietzsche being a famous example of ‘Life’ philosophy, and so a very good example of ontological musing. Philosophy so for the purpose of living!
Now, let us return to register as ontology. My point, or the point that I am trying to put out here, is that poetry is missing, it would seem to me, a register in order to present the epic nature or scale of the issues which we face as a race – namely: catastrophic climate change, global pandemic, and the rise of authoritarian political regimes in the form of populism. These being the most pressing three, in any case.
If you look around you, the most popular form of poetry today, among the masses at least, is the phenomenon of what is called ‘Spoken Word’. The chief attribute of this genre of poetry is the capacity of the poet to use mnemonics in order to be able to remember often very long and complex texts, and which are generally in free verse, or very much plodding with rhyme. One of the two, at least such has been my experience.
To be honest, I am not a fan, I must admit. Having attended many public readings in order to read my own work, generally for the purposes of disseminating it, I have had to endure countless performances given by so called ‘poets’, either ploddingly rapping out their latest epic in rhyming couplets, or, and to be honest I don’t know which is more toe-curlingly horrific, purging some confessional, usually of a sexual nature which is really none of my business, and I usually just want to run a mile from the room.
Iambic pentameter is there to enter into as an ontological device, I would postulate, as it gives a coherent structure using a very simple and unassuming five beat rhythm pumping through each line, and which has often been compared to the very natural rhythms of the human heart or even breathing. This structural device, of syllable counting per line, is extremely useful to measure the line, and to also consider prosody as a basic poetic structure from the very word go.
William Burroughs famously said that a lot of modern poetry was just ‘lazy prose’, and this is what he was referring to, the rather prosaic nature of an awful lot of so called poetry, or at least what passes for poetry these days. So, I put it to you, what of the Epic poem as an ontological device suitable for our times?