Volume 68, Issue 1
[What is an english now]1
[One day a man called while I was out/And left this message: “You got the whole thing wrong/From start to finish. Luckily, there’s still time/To correct the situation, but you must act fast...Much besides your life depends on it.”]2 [A dream of eggplant or zucchini may produce fresh desires./Some fruits are vegetables. The way we bruise and wilt, all perishable.]3 [I wish I could tenderly lift from the dark side of history, voices. that are anonymous, slighted—inarticulate.]4
[The dismantling of education—along with the other depredations underway under the aegis of austerity—is not figurative; it is all too literal.]5 [too much description, too RU-MAN-TICK]6 [This is my historical consciousness. I have no choice in it.]7
[The custard is setting; meanwhile/I not only have my own history to worry about/But am forced to fret over insufficient details related to large/Unfinished concepts that can never bring themselves to the point/Of being, with or without my help, if any were forthcoming.]8
[I don’t care/Where the legs of the legs of the furniture are walking to]9 [It’s very difficult to avoid, the student being lost in the beginning and the school set up to emphasize short-term performance]10
[(I keep thinking that, finally, poetry is a branch of manners)]11 [the state of perplexity which initiates so many allegories]12 [Of the opening spaces]13 [The future, invited, comes back to rethink the situation]14 [The idea is to carry out a series of short-term “resource emancipations”]15
[Being in the past—is jealousy on my part—in general]16 [that the word endows material substance, by setting the thing/named apart from all else.]17 [an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man’s creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories. Such poetry is exploratory.]18 [NOT objects, merely materials...here, is what poem there is]19
[These were meant to be read as any/Salutation before getting down to business,]20
[1.] Myung Mi Kim, Commons 110 [2.] John Ashberry, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 3 [3.] Harryette Mullen, Recyclopedia 84 [4.] Susan Howe, The Quarry 181 [5.] Lyn Hejinian, “Wild Captioning” [6.] Charles Olson on the young poet Jonathan Williams, The Magpie’s Bagpipe 8 [7.] SH 180 [8.] JA 16 [9.] Mina Loy, “Songs to Joannes” [10.] Robert Irwin, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees 125 [11.] Jonathan Williams, The Magpie’s Bagpipe 12 [12.] Craig Owen, “The Allegorical Impulse” [13.] MMK, Dura 8 [14.] LH [15.] LH [16.] Leslie Scalapino “Aeleotropic Series” [17.] C. D. Wright, “In a Word, a World” [18.] Denise Levertov, “Some Notes on Organic Form” [19.] CO on JW 8 [20.] JA 9
: Sophie Fitzpatrick & Sean Pierson
forty-seven pages & cover
CONTENTS CONTENTS CONTENTS CON-
TENTS CONTENTS CONTENTS CONTENTS
CONTENTS CONTENTS CONTENTS CON-
i reach across your body for my phone in the dark which is strange
by PHELIM Ó LAOGHAIRE
by RÓISÍN RYAN 33
by DÓNAL WALSH
[To be titled at a later date]
by MAYA BUSHELL
by FLORENCE HEAP
one day i’ll fuck a sharpshooter like annie oakley and it’ll be hot and it’ll be easy and it’ll be timeless
by CHARLOTTE FOREMAN
on manufacturing memory in an eternally modern present
by CHARLOTTE FOREMAN
by AUGUSTUS YOUNG 43
Cover: THE MASSAGE
by DAVID BOYD
the couch came with the house
by MAEVE O’ROURKE
an alternate (kinder) letter to you
by MAEVE O’ROURKE
aid to Samael
by GABE DOYLE
by UMANG KALRA
don’t throw me away, throw me the way to the light.
by IMAAN BARI
by AISLINN SHANAHAN-DALY
Going Beyond the Words
FEATURED: AUGUSTUS YOUNG
by BENJAMIN KEATINGE 28
An Historical Fragment
by JAY MULHALL
wrong turn 04:57
by PHELIM Ó LAOGHAIRE 30
by MAEVE O’ROURKE
the word lesbian is scary and i get mean when i’m in pain and being around my
mother has the same effect on me that snorting a gallon of salt water would.
i often get the urge to run fast in the cold at night but i don’t usually. i do
boiling water onto my forearm sometimes though.
the shar pei snores are loud and i can’t hear the tv and i am a cold person because
nobody and nothing matters to me.
although i have three years now prided myself on being selfish, it isn’t a choice i
make anymore so much as all i know
an alternate (kinder) letter to you
by MAEVE O’ROURKE
maybe depravity will force humanity out of us like alcohol-induced vomit,
maybe i’ll feel something for the first time in three months and maybe you’ll stop
shoving ‘i love you’s out like sand through your teeth.
when we met your eyes were glazed over with unfallen tears raised like fists,
and they still are except now mine are too-
the four of them a sleazy arm of black and blue demanding a justice
we thank a god we condemn will never be served.
you hurt me permanently because you could and because it was fun
but i hurt you strategically to knock the wind out of you.
we sleep in the same bed sometimes still
because for two masochists, we’ve comically low pain tolerances.
i wonder whose is higher
aid to Samael
by GABE DOYLE
I heard of you then saw
your visage craned for heaven,
a neck exposed.
Bless your body young.
Now the day of our lord
past the turning point, our local guards arrive,
angels driven appear,
like saving grace.
For our boy
in need of aid
without will or sense
through the body
or the mind.
Still, you are, unknown, to me.
I hope and love for you;
unto you I dream of bliss
in the body fully felt
in the body full and felt.
The dawn will come
and you will rise
and maybe smile
at a night gone by
like boys pulled from lakes
voracious of air
you are blessed
you are forgiven
by UMANG KALRA
desolation the word curved
on my tongue in the shape of
empty cities stones crumbling
walls peeling into paint and dust
that sits on finger tips like
abandoned memories strewn into
dusty corners homes that do not
dress up decorate deck the halls
every Christmas summer winter
spring every holiday does not
taste like forgetting does not take
the shape of shoes that have been
left unworn unwanted by feet that
stomped the ground so hard that
all of the memories woke up and
don’t throw me away, throw me the way
to the light
by IMAAN BARI
in my dream the cat left kisses on my nose
how much do you love your mom
can i get this packed up to go
i only have time for you
listen to your sad songs
self torture builds character
emotional hardship in my mom’s car
you need to help me
i didn’t know i wanted that but you did
when you saw me and i didn’t see you
i hate lonely tasks
hey i love you okay
are you okay
yes why would you say that
i’m so enamoured by these faces
i give you my energy you give me your soul
there’s no arrogance in any of our friends
i have this soft spot for the socially sensitive
i want to learn and love
but like pure learning
the purest form
only youth oozing out of those cheeks
you can come play with us
i’m sorry i said so many things and didn’t give time to your things
i am sorry but i just cannot provide this for you
why do they want to call me madam
good sore young men
express until your heart is content
i can be lonely with you
when you left i started to cry
we can’t call it hysteria because it’s not the 19th century anymore
the term can be adjusted but the symptoms remain
it’s all phallic and it means we can’t get involved
is it weird how sexual everything is
i have to grow up
if i seem childish no one will listen to me
it feels as though my heart will break and expand all at once
i have so much love so much
can i explain my insecurities to you
maybe it will help me understand them
i want to show off for everyone around me but only if they will love it
if they don’t then i think it will break me
i am so sensitive
you have heard this before
look at me now
i’m only smarter and better
if i don’t keep running i think everything could collapse
so i just take short breaths and go go go
it keeps buzzing in my head all the time
the bee station in my mind
i remember the steps and benches
it gives me pangs
i miss the incline of my voice as i would say your name too
i miss it
i miss you
i miss everything
i miss all of my life
everyday i miss my past
if i don’t figure out how to stop
one day it will knock me out
one left punch right for my soul
letters are the physical symbol of that damn distance
i hate conceptual distance too
i wish i could keep everything in a tight ring around my little finger
i think these pains will make me a deep soulful girl
a deep soulful girl whose love knows no bounds
that’s my dreamy side
love to love you
i think it could destroy me
easy infatuation can do that
it rips up your stomach lining
i’m stubborn and decisive
i will get my way at all costs
if i don’t i’ll just change my way
that way no one sees the defeat
it’s how we cope
i think my sister hates that about me
by AISLINN SHANAHAN-DALY
Going Beyond the Words
Why (and How) I’m Writing
Things that Happen while Reading Rilke
by AUGUSTUS YOUNG
I was settling down to read La blonde dans l’auto avec des lunettes noir et un fusil,
a thriller, when I heard on radio that a man had been shot dead down the road at the Spanish border, and a blond woman had been arrested (no doubt wearing dark glasses. It was high noon on a sunny day). Fiction imitating reality is a respectable art form, but reality imitating the title of a best-seller gives it a bad name.
Not wishing to pre-empt the headlines in tomorrow’s paper, l browsed in the Belle Époque junk shop for a book to read at breakfast, and came across Rainer Maria Rilke’s only novel Die aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (1910). It was a gift from World War Two: the name and date on the fly leaf was Max von Ebrennac, 8th July 1943 (a year later the parting Germans blew up Port-Vendres).
I first read The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge in 1970 when I was twenty-seven, the same age as Malte, a Danish exile in Paris, and Rilke when he moved there in the early 1890s. As an Irish poet in London who wrote under an assumed name almost as unlikely as Malte Laurids Brigge, I devoured it as though reading about the twin brother I never had. Indeed, the title of the translation I had found in Camden Mar-ket was The Journal of My Other Self (1930).
I couldn’t say what the book was ‘about’, and that put it in the advanced guard of the avant-garde. Although presented as a novel, it is a ragbag of
everything fiction isn’t supposed to do. It starts as the diary of Malte and, by way of flashbacks to his childhood, diversifies into surreal stories on historical subjects. Then it tapers off with a homily on the state of the protagonist’s soul. And yet it holds together by an existential thread. Malte is ‘living an idea’ in the Kierkegaardian sense: ‘Although the world is like a global hospital where people come to die, I hope to discharge myself by becoming a poet, and thus live forever’.
My flatmate Joab Comfort gave The Notebooks his critical nod. ‘It’s an auto-fiction. Rilke’s self-portrait, more faithful to the atmosphere of the truth than the letter. The neo-Romantic Symbolist poet has grown up.’ In our hand-printed Museletter we had previously dismissed Rilke for his ‘marmoreal Duino Elegies with its Order of the Angels and figurative abstractions’. Rilke’s vogue was at a height with the ‘Twenty Cambridge Poets’ (TCP) that met at Anthony Rudolf ’s apartment in Primrose Hill. And so, going on to praise Rilke’s ‘Existential novel as superseding the anachronistic verse’ was dangerous. But that’s how we literary youths liked to live.
The English translation seemed strangely foreign. I had chosen Technical German as my language option in Pre-Med, and used it over the years to translate Brecht’s sonnets. I was therefore able to check the English against the original in the Goethe Institute library. I soon realised the translation was piously literal, as though Rilke’s idiom was sacred. The effect was as faintly comical as Mel Brook’s ‘Springtime for Hitler’ (‘hallo’ pronounced ‘hEllo’, a goosestep in the vowel). Before I had time to complete the parallel reading, Joab borrowed my copy for a girlfriend and, when they broke up, I hadn’t the heart to ask for it back. Anyway, I had moved on to Kierkeg-aard, and was already chronicling my own Journal of My Other Self, entitled ‘Who is Talking in my Head’.
Lost and Found
Now forty years on, Die aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge once again fell on thorns. I found that learning French in my sixties was at the expense of my German. I wore out a Francais-Allemand dictionnaire to decipher Malte’s opening entry in his diary (September 11, the only dated one):
The young poet, rather than suffer insomnia in silence, opens the
window and listens to the night-life in the street – rattling trams,
lovers’ quarrels, glass being broken – until at dawn he hears a dog
bark and falls asleep.
I threw the dictionary away and read on as though in someone else’s dream. But the soul-searching ending woke me at dawn. It didn’t seem to follow from what came before. Could I be reading another book? Something by Delmore Schwartz came to mind. Not his ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’, but a poem with the immortal line, ‘I am the octopus in love with God’. Only it was the other way around with Malte. He is the odd fish who asks if God loves him. Rilke’s answer is inconclusive.
I didn’t give Rilke another thought, until the following year the town hall had a one-man show of his Letters to a Young Poet. It was attended by seven people and a dog. The audience, stunned by what seemed like high-minded twaddle, didn’t realise the performance had ended until the dog barked. The dog revitalised my interest in Rilke. He had picked up the scent.
Since The Journal of My Other Self there have been several English translations. The most recent, Michael Hulse’s for Penguin Classics (2008), is light and reader-friendly, and contains notes that elucidate Rilke’s elliptical references to historical events and figures. Hulse deftly leapfrogs over the prickly hedgehog prose and makes it seem easy. But Rilke’s style is deliberately spiked with quirks and qualifications to avoid being read as simplistic. Smoothing it out does just that. And so, I felt that reaching an understanding with The Notebooks would best be negotiated through Der Schwer (‘The Difficult’). Rilke made a cult of it, coating his style with metonymy, synecdo-che, oxymoron and mixed metaphors, until you learn to accept approximate mean-ings as part of his mystique.
I made my mind up to choose as my preferred text Maurice Betz’s enduring French translation, Les Cahiers de Malte Laurids Brigge (1929). The Betz translation had the approval of Rilke, whose second language was French (as it’s mine for reading). This was likely to be as close as I could get to his complicated German (the diametrical opposite to Brecht’s plain-speak). I would, of course, check phrases that appeared odd against the original.
If this seems like studying Marx in Russian rather than German, so be it, I told my-self. All readers have their limits, and I know mine. Even the most assiduous scholar of Rilke has Der Schwer to deal with. But ‘The Difficult’ isn’t a matter of language for Rilke: ‘Happy are those who know that behind every language there stands that which is beyond words’. Language was only a front for ‘spiritual presences’ that in-habited him and prompted felt thoughts (ideas that sound right, and so their meaning can be presumed rather than spelt out).
But conscious that I was in danger of taking Rilke too much on trust, I resolved to submerge myself in his writings from the time he started The Notebooks (circa 1902). By living with his work, I could hope to get better acquainted with the ‘spiritual presences’, and make more sense of what Robert Graves called Rilke’s ‘supra-logical thought processes’. After all, unconditional surrender to the words is the best policy for poetry with a latent meaning, and mystics like John of the Cross.
In preparing to write The Notebooks, Rilke studied Flaubert’s L’Education Sentimentale, a novel that, notoriously loses well-disposed readers. Although Rilke was hoping that his book would make money so he could avoid having a job, that did not stop him from making it less likely by imitating Flaubert’s musical chairs of time-shifts, and devilish detail, or attempting to emulate the master’s reason for writing it, ‘To create a moral history of men of my generation or, more precisely, a history of their feelings’.
The narrative is not dissimilar, a young man making his way in Paris. But, whereas Flaubert’s Moreau is ‘adrift a boat eternally tossed by his own illusions’, Malte is a lost soul who goes with the flow, untroubled by the distinction between illusion and reality. The influence, however, didn’t go as far as prose so scrupulously cunning that Flaubert with a single word in the opening sentence gives away the plot. The name of the river-station where Moreau, embarks in Paris, La Ville-de-Montereau, contains an anagram: ‘La vie lente de Moreau’, Moreau’s meandering life. Rilke is less playful with his plot, keeping it to himself, and Malte’s life is as flotsam, swept along by the rapids.
Rilke’s structure for The Notebooks could be drawn from Schopenhauer’s metaphor for life: an embroidery in which the first half is the upside that presents the design, and the second half is the underside that shows how the threads have been worked together. The first part of the book is woven from day-to-day diaries, and coloured by childhood memories. The second part turns this rather conventional pattern upside down and inside out: Malte remembers a long-lost nursery book of potted history given to him by his grandmother, and reconstructs stories from it. They are mainly bloody: the sordid fate of Gricha, the False Tsar of Russia, Charles the Bold’s dis-embodied hands and other surreal horrors. At first, I assumed this sleight of literary needlecraft is meant to patch together the precarious state of Malte’s soul. But, on reflection, the ingenuity with which they are unravelled - Rilke at his generous best - suggests he is stitching up the idea that Malte is living: the lost soul finds himself as a poet through fictive winks at history.
But, no. In the last few pages Rilke abruptly changes track. Malte becomes a third person. The authorial voice takes over, and the narrative wanders off to re-interpret the Prodigal Son as ‘the man who doesn’t want to be loved’. Then in the last para-graph a Supreme-Being makes a late entry as the only one who could possibly love Malte but alas is hesitating. The book ends with that.
Joab Comfort opines that Rilke was fishing for a big idea, but it didn’t bite, and so he settles for God and a catchy throwaway line. I’m not so sure on checking the original. God is never named, and hitherto in The Notebooks He was either an exclamation or a historical reference point. The final sentences are constructed with High Ger-man nuances that challenge translation. For instance, Hulse renders the hesitation as ‘He is not willing’. Betz’s French goes for a more promising ‘not yet’ (ne voulait pas encore). Rilke capitalises the supreme-being only once, and that is at the beginning of a sentence. This suggests that the hesitating ‘he’ could be the all-seeing Rilke (in literary terms God and the author are one and the same). My tentative deconstruc-tion is that the ending is about self-love: Malte and Rilke come together in the Prodigal Son who doesn’t want to be loved, not even by himself.
But Betz’s ‘not yet’, unlike Hulse’s ‘not willing’, allows for a future change of heart. Standing back from the path of virtue, and indeed vice, was something RiIke ap-pears to have practised in his personal life. It surely was a factor when a few years later he started translating St Augustine’s Confessions. Although the Prodigal Son, and his debaucheries, precedes the final paragraph of The Notebooks, I think the context is salvation through love, rather than chastity (Rilke’s preferred state as he found the alternative ‘undignified’, according to Richard Demel). However, in the absence of a declaration from a ‘spiritual presence’, Rilke simply didn’t know if he loved himself, let alone if the higher power loved him. And he was content to leave it at that.
‘Salvation through ignorance’ rang a Kierkegaardian bell. And I learned from Rilke’s letters that he had been studying the Danish philosopher in the early 1900s. On further investigation, I discovered that, sure enough, he had picked out a passage that accords with my hunch in a letter to Clara, his unfortunate fiancé, ‘It is the duty of the thinking man to understand that there are things which cannot be understood. In the consciousness of his ignorance is his salvation’. His uncertainty about loving himself, or being loved by a supreme being had been borrowed from Kierkegaard (who got it from Socrates).
That is what Rilke was thinking, but how he was feeling was something else. The only real religion in Rilke’s life was his ‘spiritual presences’, with whom he was in communion with for his poetry. Is he concluding that the idea Malte was living had not been realised, but who knows what the future holds? His surreal stories are on the brink of being prose poems. Given that the reason for writing The Notebooks in the first place was to buy time and money to concentrate exclusively on writing poems, was Rilke, through Malte, giving his own poetry a future? Like Proust with Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator, not Marcel, is the protagonist. Rilke may romance the facts of his own experience as a child and a young man in Paris, but there is little doubt he is writing about himself. But, unlike Proust with Marcel, and indeed Flaubert with Moreau, Rilke was of an age with Malte, give or take a few years. And so, The Notebooks are in the existential present rather than the recollected past of the L’Education Sentimentale, and A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.
Encouraged by the Kierkegaard find, I started doing some embroidery of my own, hoping to knit together the loose threads of the childhood histories so the ‘leap of faith’ from Malte’s diary to the Prodigal Son and the godly ending could be bridged. Alas my attempts proved disheartening. The only conjunctions between the main narrative and what followed was editorial. In Betz the gaps were merely indicated by spacing, and in Hulse by numbered sections. This was not Rilke’s doing. He wrote the text as a continuum. He did preface the stories as memories of the potted children’s history. This lead me to his letters, but I couldn’t find a mention of the Little Green Book, or any comments on the structure of The Notebooks. I was un-rolling a ball of string. The connection between the stories and ‘the man who didn’t want to be loved’ and the godly ending was Malte, but their significance was only known to Rilke, his alter ego, and he took it to the grave.
I returned to the idea of ignorance as a salvation. As with Kierkegaard, it prob-ably had more to do with Rilke’s life than the writing. For instance, ignorance of how others feel could act as a moral sedative for doing what you want. Unkind, but Rilke was famously subjective to himself and objective to others, reversing the Kierkegaardian ideal for a good man. But this judgement was based on the legend and biographical snippets I had picked over the years. Maybe Rilke needed to be saved from my ignorance. In order to be just, I would have to delve deeper into his personal life. The task was daunting. Mountains of memoirs, correspondences and photographs beckoned. Still if I limited them, like the writings, to the first decade of the 20th century, the period he was working on The Notebooks, it could be faced.
For light relief, I reread Delmore Schwartz’s poem about the octopus in love with God, and I got more than I bargained for:
‘I am the octopus in love with God
For thus in my desire inconclusible (sic)
Until my mind deranged in swimming tubes
Issues its own darkness, clutching seas
- O God of my perfect ignorance’
Could Schwartz, who flatly rejected European ‘either/or’ for American ‘know-how’, have been reconciled to Socrates by reading Rilke (or Kierkegaard)? I looked up Berryman’s memories of his late friend, and only found one reference to Rilke:
‘Rilke is a jerk’.
If Rilke was the man who didn’t want to be loved (it brought responsibilities that interfered with his poetry), he would not have been displeased.
My constant companion is the talking in my head. It began when I was a boy. I was rehearsing what I should say to others. As what I said was not always received as intended, I started writing down what the talking suggested, tailoring it to how I thought others saw me. And when I quoted myself, I was taken at their face value, for better or worse. The dialogue between my head and the page deepened into chronicling what I should say to myself. Thus, my serious writing began in solip-sism. But, when people heard me talking to myself, they wanted to know what I was saying. So, I began to pass morsels of my chronicles around. Some of them got published.
When I embarked on Rilke the talking expressed a certain impatience. Why are you bothering about a poet you never liked? I argued back that I hoped to find out if it was a prejudice or not, before it was too late. Once I was absorbed into Malte’s world, he became a living presence who brokered for me an uneasy complicity with his creator. I increasingly responded to him on Malte’s behalf as though it was my own. During the three years that I co-habited with Rilke’s life and works, he became the talking in my head.
But a strange thing was happening. While my life interacted with Malte’s fictive one, his interacted with mine. This transference crept up on me. Events happened to me on the street that seemed more like him than me. I chronicled them in parallel with my reading. One night I experienced an episode of sleepwalking, and next day discovered that I had transcribed a passage from The Book of Job in my Chronicle (‘Those younger than me hold me in derision, whose fathers I would have set my dogs’). This echoed Malte’s daydream of a writerly apocalypse when ‘glorious words’ appear on the page that were not his. Why The Book of Job? Malte, like Rilke, was from a prosperous family that had come down in the world, and Joab Comfort burdened me with a copy when I started on the Rilke trail, saying, ‘You’re going to suffer but, like Job, it will all come out alright in the end’.
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