Son, never boast of the bird you have done. Masters of the art of crime seldom serve A scrap of time. They may shit on everyone They keep their noses clean. A fable says,
There was a crooked horse who kicked an ass For being an ass, and down the line
He got stitched up by his mule. Here’s the moral: Never disapprove, never harbour a scruple.
Cater to all tastes. One will help you rob
A bank-vault if you let him rape a little boy.
A ritual murder binds people together.
Where’s the chick as close as an accomplice?
Diﬀerentiate between being and appearance
And become as far as possible indistinguishable From your mark. Love is not a problem. Love Will ﬁnd a way to provide you with an unassailable
Alibi. Robin Hood had it all wrong.
(First published in The Spectator)
“The novelty meets with neglect; neglect provokes attack; and attack demands a theory.”
xxxxxxxT. S. Eliot, Reflections on Vers Libre – an article published in the New Statesman, 22 May 2013
You don’t have to like the person in these poems. The person in these poems is no champion of rights; animal, vegetable or mineral. Views that many espouse are not his views. Those chosen to bestow awards must take the readership of this “many” into account. A poem is valued primarily for its humanity. Ideally there should be a theme that threads a few poems together. Here a touch of novelty is called for. Most important of all, there needs to be a person in them who comes over as likeable, decent and liberal. Add pathos, and you’re in on the game. Pathos goes down very well indeed.
None of this is the case with the person you encounter when you start From Inside. This is because the person in these poems is a mask. Just as the ancients wore masks that expressed the spirits who spoke through them, spirits of those who might have murdered their children, slept with their mothers or flouted authority, these poems speak through their personae. It’s a strategy more often to be found in fiction, for it is fictive. It’s a way of writing pioneered by Browning – My Last Duchess provides the standard example, but that is just one poem among many that utilize a dramatic monologue.
So, underneath, I may happen to be likeable, liberal etc, of course I may; but in my poems I speak through masks, come from another location and stand in another’s place. Or so I would have you believe.
There isin set up in
Pound refined the technique; and now I try to take it further by reducing the distance between the voice of the spirit and my own. I am trying to resolve the enigma of how one may fetchingly express the unpleasant – make it readable, entertaining even – however, if the character bears little resemblance to my own experience, a distance weakens the impact. There is much to admire in the movies of Nicholas Roeg. In Bad Timing, a plausible young psychiatrist asserts the control over his girl that he has always hankered for by making love to her while she is in a coma – having adjusted the clock, to give himself time to rape her before he calls an ambulance. The action that enables him to seriously endanger her life is in itself an innocuous one, a movement of a finger on the minute hand. It seems a conceivable crime. I can imagine myself doing this. And that is what makes the film’s proposition so powerful.
In the same paragraph as contains the quotation above, Eliot goes on to suggest that “In a sluggish society, as actual societies are, tradition is ever lapsing into superstition, and the violent stimulus of novelty is required.” A violent stimulus is more than a touch, and I aspire to just such a jolt. I would revive satire, long out of fashion in poetry, but I can’t go along with Eliot when he asserts, in the same essay, that “we only need the coming of a Satirist – no man of genius is rarer – to prove that the heroic couplet has lost none of its edge since Dryden and Pope laid it down.” To my ear the couplet grows tedious, and seems nostalgically dated formally. Eliot was wrong about the sonnet too, which he thought long past its prime. In fact, the sonnet goes from strength to strength, but the Augustan couplet has lost its appeal.
Satire needs to discover a fresh and contemporary form.
The poems in this collection may feel uncomfortable. Often they may not possess a “point”. I hope however that they always find their presence in verse. For me, the harmonic presence of the poem itself must be equal to the presence of any meaning. As I attempt to resolve this inherent conflict between form and content, I find myself discovering the poem. Its presence, as that emerges, often overwhelms a neatly significant conclusion.
“All art constantly aspires to the condition of music.” Thus wrote Walter Pater when considering the paintings of Giorgione. Music does not concern itself with referential meaning. Here a further irony gets generated: the untoward, discomforting thoughts that may engage the person in these poems are offered to the reader as a music. Harmony is thus impressed into the service of the discordant.
Well, dear reader, as the Possum said, “neglect provokes attack; and attack demands a theory.”
To purchase a copy, here is a link to The High Window/From Inside
For a critique of “humane art” see Ortega y Gasset
Click for my essay on Immoralism.
Launch reading was 31 May at 19:00-21:00 at Housmans Radical Booksellers, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX