The Poet As Minotaur In His Post-Catastrophic Citadel, The Non Herein- by Michael Mc Aloran. Published Lapwing Publications, Belfast, 2012.
Michael Mc Aloran’s (third) collection of poems , The Non Herein- is published by Lapwing Publications, Belfast. Lapwing Publications will be familiar to readers of contemporary Irish poets, Helen Soraghan-Dwyer, Desmond O Grady and Eamon Lynskey. Michael Mc Aloran’s work has appeared in The Recusant, The Medulla Review, Heavy Bear, Ygdrasil, Muse, A New Ulster, and other literary Journals. Mc Aloran owns the Bone Orchard Poetry blogzine which hosts an eclectic list of contemporary poets whose works of poetry and flash-fiction are rolled out on a regular basis.
The Non Herein- is a complete book of some fifty nine stand alone poems which exhibit an inter-relatedness in theme, a poetry of the body. More distinctly a poetry of the skeletal system, of the architecture that maintains the body.
There is a body hidden beneath and within The Non Herein- . It is, or more properly, was, a huge biological colossus or entity, and it has been left out to the elements. Or part of it has been left out, vultured. Its revealed head, teeth, death-grin and spinal column hint at what the poet guards in his broken citadel. The reader is simultaneously invited to ponder the catastrophic events that underpin the book and told ‘this far and no further’ by Mc Aloran.
I sensed a vastness of hidden architecture below Mc Aloran’s tenacious use of colour, and in his use of symbol in the poem/s. Colours are identifiable as amber, molasses, tumour smoke, and black. The mythos of the once-living entity pervades the atmosphere of The Non Herein-. The pervasive symbols in this book are of the skull (decapitated and separated from the hidden body), the teeth, the eye and the spinal-column,
Of The Traces Of - (10)
‘Ashes ashen traceless
Of the locked till wind
Trace of the without
Ever the traces of it ‘
Whilst Mc Aloran consistently attempts to reduce the size of the colossus hidden beneath and uniting the poems of The Non Herein- , he never quite succeeds in his venture. The reader gets to wonder at the catastrophe that has led the poet to the speaking of it,
Till Headless Asking - (18)
‘The Shadow of
Ice of a pyre’s silence
The meat of it ‘
What has been left out are parts of an organism that is bleaching in the sun, or had been stripped by hoar-frost. The stripped body left out is near the pyre. We are left in no doubt that the pyre isn’t sacred,
Doused - (15)
In a flame of naught
vacancy of none
Doused by final piss ‘
Mc Aloran’s vigil is maintained in order to decipher the language which the necropolis offers him. This is evident in his absolute control of symbol throughout the book, mentioned already in his use of colour, image, and even weather, where rain is monsoon /deluge and where the elements are merely functional symbols without physical heat.
Silently (All The…) - (22)
‘ The bone ash of
Listless as the sky unlimbered
Lingering dice of loss
Breaking upon the shore’s
Silently all the bloody while of it ‘
In The Non Herein- Mc Aloran’s vistas are stripped-down to bare elements. They are concomitantly built up from the selfsame elements to suggest a limbo or no-place. Humour maybe subdued, ebbing-away, or indeed humble but it is always there. Here is a victory-song for life pushing up through human-remains, detrius, stink and bone.
The Night’s Claim- (41)
‘Smooth yes the stone of it
Gathering no moss
As the night’s claim exhales
Rats in a barrel
Blood-shot silences ‘
The actual colossus appears in Circumference Of - (pp 54-55)
Carousel of shadow
Dead searching of the course
Night and limb
Gathered to the pulse
Echoing out of one dead hand unto a vacant sky
Absence of the one
Dreaming all the while
Yet never of the sleep of it ‘
The skull, bone, the eye-socket, the open hand, and the spinal column form this book’s overt symbolism. Mc Aloran’s landscapes are sometimes Dali-esque backdrops for the outplay of the drama of loss, upon which straggled flowers appear then disappear as quickly as a candle-flame caught in a breeze. The machine in which the poet is caught is huge, a huge animalesque architecture, a tracery of deadened nerve-endings and frozen capilliaries. But it once lived.
Mc Aloran narrates this once-living necropolis with a curious tenderness that sometimes emerges momentarily but is often quelled and left unexplored. Whilst Mc Aloran has mastered the symbols which he uses so effectively to both camofluage and decipher the unnamed catastrophe which he has survived, he has created a prison of infinite proportion which has reduced things to symbols of. Hence he becomes the guardian of the images that he allows himself to reveal to the reader who must discern the map that s/he is offered in this book.
The geography of The Non Herein- is phosphorescent, over-exposed, a lansdcape of shapes, tongues, lungs, bleached wood, stone, and the knives of the butcher. Flowers are momentary and related to organs, organs are momentary and not related to human-life, but to human-function. This is not however a utilitarianism in his vision, but a sheer mastery of image which has a vertiginous effect on the reader.
Yet, within this post-apocalyptic Dreamtime there is a super-structure, a very definite exso-skeleton of mute and disbelieving support. The poems do not hang straggled and bone-whitened like rags in the bleaching sun. Mc Aloran’s use of words to define and subsequently defy the bleakness of his vision are assured, neat and despite possibly his best intention warming, warm.
Here may be unnameable catastrophes just happened, survived, but the poet will sift through it all and have his triumph. His engagement is with a burned and ruined corpse left out to dry and fossilize with its rag-remnant of torn flesh and chilled bone, an empty jaw-bone, a leaving from a physical life.
This is a brief note about the And Other Poems blog which is owned and written by Josephine Corcoran. What a breath of fresh air the blog is, judging by contemporary availability of good poetry (and critique). To say that poetry is sorely neglected in the face of market-forces is a wild understatement, but more polemic anon.
“And Other Poems is simply a quiet, uncluttered place to read poems by different writers posted by Josephine Corcoran. The blog’s aim is to give readership to poems which would not otherwise be available, for instance poems no longer elsewhere online, out of print poems, poems published in print but not online, and new, unpublished poems by established writers. Poets have given permission for their work to be featured and copyrights remain with the poets.”
I had been seeing some of Josephine’s link on Twitter for a period of time, and as always was gladdened to see the advent of blogs and websites dedicated to the reader of poetry. Quite a few blogs and websites deal in modern and contemporary poetry in all its wonderful variety. Whilst some people may look on this avant-gardeism as a niche-activity, it is important that the poetry-reader can access all types of poetic-writing. It has been a while since I looked at how poets use online tools to disseminate literature but I see a radical improvement and diversification in the area. Josephine knows her poetry which is excellent for her readers. I recommend a perusal of her blog and of her list of poets which is wonderfully diverse. I am adding here the And Other Poems index , and of course a link to my poem i and the village (after Marc Chagall) which she kindly published on 11/09/2012.
I have never presumed that poetics are a niche-activity , but that a wholly conservative approach to critique combined with a mechanistic desire to advance contemporary fiction book-sales dominate newspaper editorials/reviews, at least in Ireland. The fact that many readers seek poetics through varieties of means, combined with news that 30,000 people signed up to PENN State’s Modern and Contemporary Poetry Course in 2012 would suggest that market-forces are just wrong. Or actually repellent ! Editors would rather clever women review silly books, than look at poetry or actual literature. If poetry readers seek adequate reviews of women authors and their books they must look elsewhere than the media, hence the blogs, the small presses, the literary journals and forums dedicated to poetry.
There is a list of blogs and websites dedicated to poetry on the right sidebar of this site. Links to And Other Poems are embedded in this post and given below :
- And Other Poems
- List of Poets and Poems from And Other Poems
- Joesphine Corcoran
- Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Pennsylvania University
- Online Poetry
Irish Poetry Imprints (Online and Print)
- Cló Iar-Chonnachta
- Crannóg Literary magazine
- Dedalus Press
- Gallery Press
- Irish Pages
- Michael J Maguire
- Partial Shade
- Poetry Ireland Review Newsletter
- Revival Literary Journal
- Salmon Press
- The Burning Bush Revival Meeting
- The Columba Press
- The Dolmen Press
- The Gallery Press
- The Penny Dreadful
- The SHOp , Poetry Magazine
- The Stinging Fly
- Wurm in Apfel
It seems that muses , those poetic women who influence writers, are limited under current editorial and employment injunctions to give inspiration alone to great male poets. Or so Simon Gough would have us believe.
Muses apparently perform some type of quasi-sexual inspirational function and it doesn’t matter if they are girls or boys, once the poet is a dude and his inspiration is carried through the ages to the makers of poetry. I wonder (aloud) if the linked article had been written by a female poet, a woman writer – would the muse issue be a bit more interesting , or complex ?
Simon Gough :“There’s no reason on earth why a muse should have to be female. Whatever the truth of the matter (and uncertainty still rages in the higher corridors of intellectual power), the identity of “the fair youth”, to whom Shakespeare dedicated so many of his sonnets is almost immaterial. The one certainty is that he had a muse, who provoked
‘But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death drag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.’
Here is Simon’s top nine list of great poets and their muses :
- Catullus – Lesbia
- John Keats -Fanny Brawne
- Thomas Hardy – Emma Gifford/Florence Dugdale
- W.B Yeats – Maud Gonne
- F. Scott Fitzgerald -Zelda Fitzgerald
- Bob Dylan – Sarah Lowndes
- Neal Cassady -Jack Kerouac
- Robert Graves – Margot Callas
The woman muse (or sometimes the young boy muse) provides the meat and torture of poetic inspiration to a succession of male writers in Gough’s imagination. He makes no mention of the muses of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, of Adrienne Cecile Rich, of Sylvia Plath. The entire list of writers produced by Gough includes not a single woman poet !
I’d like to see a woman poet’s perspective on the muse. Maybe that will happen in a century or so when the literary establishment comes round to the idea that women write rather excellent poetry.
I have to say I rather prefer the idea of the Duende anyway. Writers interested in the idea of the muse and of the Duende should look up Federico Garcia Lorca.
The muse who features on Poethead is called Euterpe.
Info on Euterpe can be gotten from , http://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/MousaEuterpe.html
‘Sestina’ by Elizabeth Bishop
” September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house. “
Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop
‘Sestina’ by Dante Alighieri
“I have come, alas, to the great circle of shadow,
to the short day and to the whitening hills,
when the colour is all lost from the grass,
though my desire will not lose its green,
so rooted is it in this hardest stone,
that speaks and feels as though it were a woman.
And likewise this heaven-born woman
stays frozen, like the snow in shadow,
and is unmoved, or moved like a stone,
by the sweet season that warms all the hills,
and makes them alter from pure white to green,
so as to clothe them with the flowers and grass.
When her head wears a crown of grass
she draws the mind from any other woman,
because she blends her gold hair with the green
so well that Amor lingers in their shadow,
he who fastens me in these low hills,
more certainly than lime fastens stone.
Her beauty has more virtue than rare stone.
The wound she gives cannot be healed with grass,
since I have travelled, through the plains and hills,
to find my release from such a woman,
yet from her light had never a shadow
thrown on me, by hill, wall, or leaves’ green.
I have seen her walk all dressed in green,
so formed she would have sparked love in a stone,
that love I bear for her very shadow,
so that I wished her, in those fields of grass,
as much in love as ever yet was woman,
closed around by all the highest hills.
The rivers will flow upwards to the hills
before this wood, that is so soft and green,
takes fire, as might ever lovely woman,
for me, who would choose to sleep on stone,
all my life, and go eating grass,
only to gaze at where her clothes cast shadow.
Whenever the hills cast blackest shadow,
with her sweet green, the lovely woman
hides it, as a man hides stone in grass.”
Sestina by Dante Alighieri
The image at the base of this post is from the Wikipedia Site discussion on the Sestina form . I am adding here a Poets.org discussion on the form used by both poets in the above post . I wanted to focus on content , which is after all what poetry is about (that and adaption/metamorphosis/shape-shifting and code !).
The following tables are from Poets.org and Wikipedia showing the Sestina form in its essence,
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE
Readers of the poethead blog will note that I dedicate Saturday mornings to the work of women writers, editors and translators. The translation of The Divine Comedy undertaken by Dorothy L. Sayers was completed in part by Barbara Reynolds.
Dorothy L. Sayers considered her translation of The Commedia to be her most important work, and yet only one copy of the book was available through the Dublin Library Service last week. The Guardian Newspaper devoted just a single line to the fact that this work of translation was undertaken by Sayers. In the same instance both The Guardian and the Dublin library service suffer a surfeit of Sayers’ genre or detective stories.
The Divine Comedy translated by Dorothy L. Sayers ( some useful links)
- The published works of Dorothy L. Sayers
- Biography of Dorothy L. Sayers
- Wikipedia Bibliography of the works of Dorothy L. Sayers
- Guardian biography page , gives one line to Sayers‘ translation of The Divine Comedy, www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jun/11/dorothylsayers
- The Divine Comedy, Part I, Hell (Penguin Classics)
- The Divine Comedy, Part II, Purgatory (Penguin Classics)
- The Divine Comedy, Part III, Paradise (Penguin Classics) Sayers and Reynolds (Introduction)
Bibliography for Barbara Reynolds (Wikipedia)
- Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man. London: I.B. Tauris. 2006. ISBN 978-1845111618.
- Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 2002 . ISBN 0-340-72845-0.
- Radice, William; Reynolds, Barbara, eds. (1987). The Translator’s Art: Essays in Honour of Betty Radice. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140092269.
- The Passionate Intellect, Dorothy L. Sayers’s Encounter with Dante. Kent, Ohio:. 1989. ISBN 0873383737.
Allegorical portrait of Dante, Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1530 The book he holds is a copy of the Divine Comedy, open to Canto XXV of the Paradiso.
Dorothy L. Sayers produced a classic translation of Dante’s Hell and Purgatorio which is still read. The problem with media and literary journals not citing Sayers or Glasscoe, appears to be based in an institutionalised sexism which is a contributory factor in the invisibility of women editors. Evidently, The Guardian Newspaper and the Dublin library service give more attention to Sayers’ genre works than they do to her translation and other works.
It does not seem to pose great difficulty for male editors and writers to consistently cite what they feel are the definitive texts when the writer happens to be a dude. I believe that women editors and writers must begin to cite the works of women when quoting classical works of literature. If nothing else it may help those women journalists who seem incapable of taking women’s literature seriously.
Note : Recent attacks on Dante’s Commedia delineated in this article show a lack of critical discernment and appreciation by those who would chose what anyone may read.