Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Burning Bush 2

The Burning Bush 2, which is an online revival of a print journal I edited from 1999-2004 (with, for the first four of its eleven issues, Kevin Higgins), is now online. This new version is edited by Alan Jude Moore, a regular contributor to the old print edition, and it’s full of a lot of great poems, including some by former contributors and others by newer poets who weren’t around at the time but hopefully would have appeared in the old Burning Bush if they were.

The first of the new edition can be viewed online here and downloaded or simply read on-screen in magazine form via Issuu here. I was asked to write an essay for this project, and it can be viewed directly here. The new magazine, like the old, is based in Ireland but has a broad international vision, both in regard to geography and poetics. I think it holds a lot of promise, and if you are so inclined, please bookmark it, link it, etc., etc.

In addition, here is the text of my introductory essay:

“New Magazines for Old”: Some Brief Thoughts on the Aztecs, Poets in Protest, and The Burning Bush 2

James Liddy wrote, ‘I have always wanted to exchange new magazines for old, for I know that magazines can alter the shape of a literary landscape’ (qtd. in Tyler Farrell’s essay for Liddy’s Selected Poems).  The Burning Bush 2 is in a way not a new magazine, being partly an online revival of a print magazine that existed from 1999-2004.  But given the distance in time between the old print journal and this one, as well as the different context, it is indeed new.  Many of the aims of the old Burning Bush have now been achieved with the simple passage of the decade (it can’t really take credit).  There is room in Ireland now for poetic modes or practices (at least I think so) that were maybe previously thought to be squelched under the weight of entrenched interests.  But then there are always entrenched interests, whatever their character.  These must constantly be unseated, for every entrenched interest, however poetically or politically desirable it may initially be, will eventually become conservative.  We must demand a more or less ongoing revolution (even if it’s never fully realised).  By this I don’t necessarily mean simply the invention of new ‘styles’, but rather the revising of our aspirations and frames of mind.  Perhaps at some point, though, this very state of continual change will become institutionalised and people will then demand a new state of stability.  But then that too will sometime become the norm, calcified, and a new revolution will inevitably occur.

In thinking about revolutions poetic or otherwise, however, I would make a further observation.  In Aztec poetry there was in the period immediately preceding the colonial Spanish devastation a split between two different schools of thought.  One was the school of the war cult, which was the expression of the dominant ruling class, and the other was the Toltec school.  As Edward Kissam and Michael Schmidt note, ‘The Toltec culture was highly civilized and humane….  To the mind of Aztec and vassal princes who felt dissatisfied or disgusted with the war cult, Toltec tradition represented an alternative, a humane vision’ (Flower and Song: Aztec Poems).  We don’t know how these two opposed schools would have continued to develop in relation to each other and to Aztec society.  It’s possible that the era of widespread blood sacrifice practiced by the war cult would eventually have come to an end as Toltec poets rose to the fore.  But Aztec society ceased to be through brute colonial force.  It is also noteworthy that Neil Young’s song ‘Cortez the Killer’ was banned in Spain in 1975, a good 450 years after the conquest of Mexico (at least Young himself claims so).  The upshot is that, while some kind of change will happen anyway (it is the unavoidable state of existence), it is still desirable that the right side comes out on top.  What Cortez and Franco represent is not, to my mind, the ‘right’ side.

But Alan Jude Moore, the editor of The Burning Bush 2, is on the ‘right’ side (I put the word in inverted commas because I know that its precise meaning will always be up for debate).  He is the only writer to appear in every issue of the original TBB, aside from myself and perhaps Kevin Higgins (TBB’s co-founder, who continued to appear in the magazine even after splitting as editor).  So when Alan said he wanted to revive TBB, but to do something new with it, I said great idea, do it!  He and I have in common a vision of poetry which is liberatory, anti-dogmatic, and anti-hierarchical (and fun).  How that translates into politics, or how politics necessarily translates into poetics, is an essay unto itself, but we are now living in an age when armed police attack unarmed poets in the name of protecting their banker masters’ economic interests (as they recently did to Robert Haas at Berkeley).  I don’t know what exactly Alan has planned for The Burning Bush 2 in the future (possibly there is no concrete plan, which is probably a good thing), but at the very least, to paraphrase James Liddy, let this ‘new’ magazine alter the shape of the literary landscape(s) if it can.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

John Goodby, Illennium

John Goodby’s Illennium (Shearsman Books, 2010) utilizes the cut-up as its primary poetic device, reconfiguring original (and some borrowed) lines throughout the course of this 84-page collection. Its secondary poetic device is the sonnet form; although Goodby eschews rhyme, metre, and the “turn,” each of these Roman-numerated sections consist of fourteen lines. Its primary theme is shame, more often than not sexual (e.g. “dork inability”). Its setting is Wales, often more particularly a pub (the “No Sign Bar”). Various personages, the speaker included, move in and out of the poems, reconstituting themselves in continually changing contexts. The speaker seems to be a poetic persona of Goodby himself, a version, as references to some of his earlier books appear, including his landmark study of Irish poetry, Irish Poetry Since 1950: from stillness into history (2000), which was one of the first critical volumes to treat seriously previously marginal or “experimental” Irish poets. This interest in radical poetics is reflected here in the cut-up form, which recalls not only Tristan Tzara, Brion Gysin, and William Burroughs, but perhaps also the contemporary Irish poet Trevor Joyce. It’s always been (for me) an arresting technique, and Goodby deploys it to great effect.

So, beyond the exploration of the theme, and the nods and references to certain great poets (Jules Laforgue, Arthur Rimbaud, Thomas MacGreevy, Eugene Watters [Eoghan Ó Tuairisc], John Weiners, and others), what I especially like about this collection is, as may be obvious from the foregoing, the language that proceeds out of Goodby’s cut-up process, the lines that unfold over the course of the book. It seems unlikely, however, that Goodby’s process is completely random. There is not so much a disruption in syntax as there is more usually an unexpected object, or subject-verbs that normally don’t combine. Occasionally, the effect recalls the sound of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Often, jargon phrases combine with dream-sense to create poetry maybe not unlike the manner in which “a carp accomplishes the size of its pool” (the latter being one of the phrases recurring throughout the sequence). The primary material is limited, like the size of the tub containing the poor Xmas carp. Yet, despite these limitations and the seeming obscurity of much of the results, units of meaning accrue, as in this example:

Raising Spring from Winter Polly tereus the maypole
-dusted tors                   The Westbourne
Concealed in rotten smoaks                               certain
what being a sham meant
that is so anguish there as to brush that hair
In Frenzy                 The ka of a black Panther
opens wide                         a urinal gargles
& Oystermouth’s glittery necklace of bay, & furbelow
transgressive-yet-dependent. He loved you
that’s less soft, but one apiece (4)
simonised by tears             foreskins and mad Beryls
bodily fluids under bridges. My dream: a revolver
to shoot the nightmare
Call it aimance                     & she steps inside.
I can’t say I “get” all of this, but a number of motifs emerge, primarily sexual. We have spring reemerging from winter, with the maypoles on tors (hills) likely serving as phallic symbols. Contrasting with this life-giving spring energy, there is the Westbourne (a hotel, a pub?) concealed in “rotten” smoke, wherein (?) is someone, a man, who knows what it means to be “a sham” (possibly due to the aforementioned “dork inability”?), which results in anguish and frenzy. Disturbing visions ensue — “The ka of a black Panther/ opens wide,” “a urinal gargles” — and further sexual images torment — some quick research reveals that Oystermouth in south Wales is situated nearby a pair of breast-shaped hills that define the local shore-scape (thus the light glinting off the bay is like a “glittery necklace” near a woman’s breasts), while “furbelow” just might allude to pubic hair. The protagonist is reduced to masturbation under bridges, wishing for death to end “the nightmare.” The final line renders the piece more ambiguous than ever, though. “Aimance” must be a reference to Derrida’s concept of the relationality implicit in a friendship, and then suddenly “she steps inside.” Does this “she” suggest some kind of salvation, or merely further torture?

I accept the fact that we can’t really know — perhaps both, is the answer. As Burroughs wrote, “Cut the word lines and you will hear their voices. Cut ups often come through as code messages with special meaning for the cutter.... Cutting and rearranging a page of written words introduces a new dimension into writing enabling the writer to turn images in cinematic variation. Images shift sense under the scissors smell images to sound sight to sound sound to kinesthetic.” Similarly, Goodby’s Illennium allows for, indeed embraces, differing interpretations. There is much, much more one could go into here, both in terms of theme and technique. But what I really want to say is that I think these poems are surprising and revealing, crazy and captivating, all of which is what good poetry should be, no?