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BAREKNUCKLE POET ANNUAL ANTHOLOGY VOLUME 001 2015

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BKP ANNUAL 001 2015
Edited by Brentley Frazer & A. G. Pettet
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PUBLISHED: 03/10/2015
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The first annual Bareknuckle Poet print anthology. This issue contains a selection of writers published here at Bareknuckle Poet during the past twelve months. It is NOT a ‘best of’ . . . it is a selection, and it was tough making that selection. If we included every author that we publish in the online journal every year (as much as we would love to), the print anthology would weight about forty kilos. Included in this first issue is a section dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the first reading of Howl by Allen Ginsberg. A. G. Pettet & Bareknuckle Books have organised a global celebration (check the details here) and we are publishing a selection of the poets who are reading at this event, alongside the full text of HOWL (under license) and a poem given to us by Gary Snyder himself. For those unfamiliar with the history of Howl and the Six Gallery read

AUTHORS: L. Ward Abel, Robert Adamson, Venero Armanno, Melissa Ashley, Lisa Marie Basile, Mandy Beaumont, Sally Breen, MTC Cronin, B. R. Dionysius, Maria C. Dominguez, Martin Edmond, Michael Farrell, Toby Fitch, Brentley Frazer, Claire Gaskin, Allen Ginsberg, Matt Hetherington, Eleanore Jackson, Anthony Lawrence, Alexandra McCallum, Tim McGabhann, Laura Jean Mckay, Corey Mesler, Reg Mombassa, A. G. Pettet, Mark Pirie, Rufo Quintavalle, Kris Saknussemm, Gary Snyder, David Stavanger, Todd Swift, John Tranter, Joanna C. Valente, Samuel Wagan Watson, Fakie Wilde, Mark Young, Ali Znadi + More

 

Poetics Research Paper Scholarly

Reading Between the Lines: Liminal Spaces in the works of T.S. Eliot By Jonathon Dey

eliotPoetry captures something that other mediums struggle with. Novels, prose and films are all effective at capturing spaces, thoughts, and moments but poetry captures the flickering space between the static frames of the ostensibly moving film or the void between paragraphs; the nebulous space of feeling and transition between one thought and the next. This space might be loosely described as the ‘liminal’, the concept of individuals or entities which are “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions” (Turner 1967 p.25), encapsulating the disorientation and ambiguity that occurs at a threshold that has yet to be crossed. In literature and poetry, the spaces between are important because the boundaries surrounding them are a membrane, the crossing of which necessitates a kind of cost (Viljoen, H & Van Der Merwe 2007 p.11). Interacting with the liminal provides insight and meaning that would otherwise be lost to the filter and consequently by doing so, poetry is able to substantiate feelings and create emotional responses that defy concrete explication (Viljoen, H & Van Der Merwe 2007 p. 10). Exploring this idea, T.S Eliot’s The Hollow Men (1925) and Ash Wednesday (1930) illustrates how liminality creates meaning in the space between meanings, a literary ether in which cognition is ultimately both fluid and diffuse.

T.S. Eliot is a modernist poet, a movement characterised by the desire for something new, owing to the disillusionment with humanity arising from the first world war among other things (Walz 2013 p. 6) The first poem, The Hollow Men expresses this disillusionment directly with a distinct sense of nihilism and hopelessness (Urquhart 2001 p. 199-201). By comparison, Ash Wednesday tracks Eliot’s movement from hopelessness and agnosticism towards religious belief in the notion of a higher power and meaning (Kirk 2008 p. 111-120). In a way, they are themselves a picture of a man caught in a liminal space, ascending from one system of belief to another without truly belonging to either. More importantly however, is the fact that they both also engage with liminality on a textual, structural and philosophical level.

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On Writing Scholarly

Springsteen, Six Muses And Me: Music And The Writing Process by Zoe Fraser

springsteen-13Abstract

This article recounts the journey I took to explore how a prose writer draws inspiration from music and lyrics, as opposed to the traditional sources of written texts in books. Dancing in the Dark, my ‘prose album’ based on Bruce Springsteen’s record album Born to Run, appropriates and reworks Springsteen’s universal themes and female characters. It fleshes out untold stories suggested by Springsteen’s songs, amplifies the voice of a girl locked in the push-pull of staying safe in the house versus being free on the open road, and is juxtaposed to the traditional unquestioning masculine freedom quintessential in Springsteen’s lyrical terrain. Along the way in my writing process, I was accompanied by six Muses. Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Porter, Mary Fallon, Vicki Viidikas, Julia Kristeva and Marguerite Duras were my driving companions.

Keywords: music, writing, driving

Introduction

Music can be a channel for grace, words can be arranged to form poetry,
love can exist and have a meaning. Things can be salvaged, the past
can be made to yield up something that is pure. ~ Helen Garner

I have always listened to music, listened intently, from the perspective of a writer, to the lyrics being sung, extracting the story being relayed, piecing together the narrative. I have early memories of listening to the records of folk musicians, kneeling in front of speakers, in a little posture of devotion, in my own melodic world. I was travelling, transported through song, feeling the rhythm, the beat through my body, and bringing to life the story in the theatre of my mind.

When I learnt to drive, this act of worship intensified, as it seemed to me that the act of driving, cocooned in my two-door red car with the music right up, was the most conducive environment to taking in a song. My body seated, yet moving forward, conscious of the road and the scenery flying past, awash in the pulsating pace of a driving beat, an unfurling lyrical narrative. Flying solo, these journeys felt like a different kind of travel to me. I would regret arriving at my destination. Like reading, I felt, for a time, tangled up in another world. I did not know who I would be when I got to the other end; the music still on my skin, the poetic words a serenade from the speakers, coursing through my mind, a haunting presence all day.

I would take the long way home, the window down, the volume up, the night unfolding just for me; street and traffic lights glowing off the side of my car, their streaking neon pleased me when I glanced in my side mirror, the wind in my hair. The soundtrack to my life the music I played in the car, against the backdrop of the night, somehow heightened my awareness of the narrative unfolding in the songs, looping around, never ending. Through this process, like reading, like writing, I was shifted; I would come home transformed. My driving became an important part of my methodology, in my ‘inspiration car’; like a musician might work out chords I would work out the stories in my head, they would percolate with my lunar auto roaming.

Haunted by Springsteen

I have known Bruce Springsteen for a long time. I learnt his music, his songs posed as stories, over the years through the radio. I had always been particularly fascinated by the story in ‘Dancing in the Dark’, by this man, wanting to shake off his body heavy with frustration like a threadbare overcoat, ‘sitting ‘round here trying to write this book’. A creature of the night, starved of passion, yet desperate to stay hungry for it. Radio on, bored, manic; he is offering himself, regardless of whether there is a ‘spark’, whether a fire is ignited by the interaction. His call is a warm shot in the dark, an attempt, even if no light is shed.

There will be dancing. Things will move.

I came upon a Born to Run special release box-set in a second-hand store in early 2011. I picked it up almost unconsciously. If I had thought deeply about the purchase, it would have seemed I was setting out on a path, driving down a road and I was not quite at the wheel. This purchase set in motion an organic process, fateful convergences and uncanny offerings, books, music, films all propelling me towards this writing. Soon he was all I listened to. I never tired of him. Bruce Springsteen became a constant male companion to this young solitary female trying to figure out what she wanted in life and in love and in stories. A presence I felt I had conjured somehow.

He began to haunt me.

I would hear his songs in the supermarket; I would discover an old much-loved song was actually a Springsteen cover. He appeared as the voice of reason to John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, a more comedic version of how I perceived him. Reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, Prozac Nation, there he was again; Wurtzel turned to him for solace during her long teenage years, lying in her bed, listening to him through her headphones. A kindred spirit:

Sometimes I lie in my … bed and listen to music for hours. Always Bruce Springsteen… I identify with him so completely that I start to wish I could be a boy in New Jersey… All that was left for me to do was shut down and enter the world of Bruce Springsteen, of music about people from where else, for people doing something else, that would just have to do, because for the moment, for me, there was nothing else. (Wurtzel 1994: 50-51)

When I watched the Born to Run documentary included in the box-set I was introduced to Springsteen at my exact age, talking about how, as a young artist, you have something huge inside you, yet you are unsure how to bring it out. Coupled with the songs of the album, a cast of characters emerged tantalised by ideas of escape and freedom, of cars and ‘suicide machines’, the possibility of love, spanning through the course of one fateful night:

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Scholarly

Beautiful Terror: The Great War Poets by Brentley Frazer

warpoetsAn examination of the emotional, intellectual, moral, ideological and aesthetic responses to the Great War in the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg.

As the first global conflict, the Great War provoked intense and disparate responses from many artists, novelists and poets. This paper considers the work of Isaac Rosenberg, whose lower social standing hampered his poetic career and saw him enlist for financial reasons; Siegfried Sassoon, whose privileged lifestyle of cricket and poetry moved him to enlist as a proud patriot; and Wilfred Owen, who was living comfortably abroad, working as a tutor and pursuing his literary interests, before being moved to enlist by propaganda and feelings of personal guilt. To effectively compare and contrast three poems from each poet, this essay treats each text chronologically. A brief introduction to each poet provides context, looking at how their personal lives were interrupted by news of the outbreak of hostilities, followed by an analysis of a poem written in response to this news. Next, an analysis of a poem composed during training, before battle has been experienced and finally, a poem written in the thick of war. Comparing, through their poetry, their initial responses from individual perspectives, their personal expectations and their ultimate experience of the Great War, it can be seen that they all achieved the same realisation, that everything had changed, for everyone, forever.

Isaac Rosenberg, (b. Bristol 1880), was in Africa when the news of war reached him. Considering himself a serious poet, (several poems had attracted some attention from Ezra Pound ), he responded with the poem On Receiving News of the War (1914). Using a vivid image of the sudden indifferent descent of a harsh winter as a metaphor for the cruel violence that he (very presciently) foresaw gripping the world, he mused that perhaps War is an ancient spirit that resides in the hearts of humanity, beyond comprehension, waiting, like winter, to subdue the spirit:

Snow is a strange white word.
No ice or frost
Has asked of bud or bird
For Winter’s cost.
Yet ice and frost and snow
From earth to sky
This Summer land doth know.
No man knows why.
In all men’s hearts it is.
Some spirit old
Hath turned with malign kiss
Our lives to mould.

This first poem betrays the authors inner turmoil at the news of the war, while revealing Rosenberg as an emotionally distant yet mystical man, perhaps at heart a fatalist. Rosenberg may have believed that the war was like a duty of nature, an ancient part of life. He saw war as being inevitable, like the seasons. The below concluding stanzas of the poem seem to give praise to this force, it is greater than man, inevitable like rust or fire. The poet felt the tremors of some far off explosion, with the shockwaves he registered the scent of danger:

Red fangs have torn His face.
God’s blood is shed.
He mourns from His lone place
His children dead.
O! ancient crimson curse!
Corrode, consume.
Give back this universe
Its pristine bloom.

Despite the palpable sense of horror in this poem, it was Rosenberg’s inherent sense of duty and the cultural pressure to serve the greater good that saw him return to England and ultimately enlist as a soldier. This poem shows much of the modernist promise that Pound no doubt had noticed in his pre-war collection. In the later Trench Poems the voice of a “modern poet is clearly heard…” (Rusche, Harry 1)

The poem ‘Soldier: Twentieth Century’, written after Rosenberg had enlisted and was undergoing training, examined “the drive for recruitment and the pressures placed on ordinary men to enlist” (Walter XXXVIII). In the first stanza it appears the poet was swept up in the prevailing pro-war sentiment. But he protests, he is smart, he knows how it works. Men like him are the army; this “new Titan” that has arisen inspires his mythic imagination, throwing him back to the times of great emperors with fantastic armies:

I love you, great new Titan!
Am I not you?
Napoleon and Caesar
Out of you grew.

Rosenberg hadn’t seen battle yet, although he must have heard stories, and the poets mind grappled with the imagined but unknown “Out of unthinkable torture/Eyes kissed by death”. He, however, could not let himself be afraid, needing battle to make his heart hard, “Cruel men are made immortal,/Out of your pain born”. To survive, he was willing to become cruel like those emperors who “have stolen the suns power”, standing on their soldiers shoulders.

After seeing battle Rosenberg produces this, in a poem titled ‘God’:

In his malodorous brain what slugs and mire
Lanthorned in his oblique eyes, guttering burned!
His body lodged a rat where men nursed souls.

The image of a rat squirming about in the rotting brains of a smashed open head is a stark contrast to both the sarcastic optimism of ‘Soldier: Twentieth Century’ and the vast winter landscape in ‘On Receiving News of the War’. Due to his physical isolation in Africa he had only registered rumbles in the distance, his first personal experience of war produced much more savage imagery:

On fragments of an old shrunk power,
On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry,
He lay, a bullying hulk, to crush them more.

This putrid claustrophobia reveals a stifling landscape where “… in the morning some pale wonder ceases./Things are not strange and strange things are forgetful.”(God, Rosenberg)

Siegfried Sassoon (b. Kent 1886) was a privileged member of the upper class. His early dilettantish self-published collections of poems showed little promise and attained no critical acclaim. Receiving a stipend from the family estate, he dropped out of university and spent several years playing cricket. A patriotic man, he enlisted in the army after hearing rumors of war, and during training he remained positive and cheerful. A poem written in this period ‘The Kiss’ sings praises to his weaponry, like a knight, he trusts only his sword:

To these I turn, in these I trust;
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal;
I guard her beauty clean from rust.

In the second stanza the poet imagines battle, “He spins and burns and loves the air/And splits a skull to win my praise.” The image of the skull splitting is an apt metaphor for the discord that was to come, yet at this point he was still jovial, proud, :”But up the nobly marching days…” (The Kiss, Sassoon).

Contrast this with Rosenberg’s poem ‘Soldier 20th Century’, also written during the period of training. Rosenberg’s thinking was political, sarcastic, “I love you, great new Titan!” (Soldier: Twentieth Century, Rosenberg). Rosenberg’s musings on actual battle were full of dread, “Out of unthinkable torture/Eyes kissed by death” (Soldier: Twentieth Century, Rosenberg), whereas Sassoon praised his weapons, he thought of Sister Steel as beautiful and he tended to her: “Sister Steel…/I guard her beauty clean from rust.” (The Kiss, Sassoon)

Combat was delayed for Sassoon as he badly broke his arm in a riding accident. After convalescing, he was sent to battle where the absolute horror he witnessed changed him and his writing irrevocably. While serving in the 1st Battalion in France he met and became close friends with Robert Graves, whose theories of ‘gritty realism’ profoundly influenced Sassoon’s aesthetic. A poem from this period ‘The Redeemer’ indicated a dramatic shift from the heroic to the horrified, glorious praises to weaponry gave way to black ditches, driving rain, screaming bullets and exploding shells:

Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;
It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep;
There, with much work to do before the light,
We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we might
Along the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,
And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;
We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one;
Darkness; the distant wink of a huge gun.

While there was still a hint of the heroic in his words, the second stanza showed a sense of hopelessness creeping in, “No thorny crown, only a woollen cap/He wore—an English soldier, white and strong…” (The Redeemer, Sassoon) His longing for home is evident, and although he still believed the war to be a good Christian cause:

Now he has learned that nights are very long,
And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.
But to the end, unjudging, he’ll endure
Horror and pain, not uncontent to die
That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.

Sassoon fought heroically and was awarded a Military Cross for bravery, yet despite his Christian idealism his initial patriotic fervor dimmed fast, doused with pain and blood. The gritty, realist portrayals of his experiences evident in the poem above, gave way to a no-punches-pulled style which read like a report. Consider the opening lines of ‘Counter Attack’:

We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.

Sassoon then turned his gaze from the haggard faces of his comrades and surveyed the landscape:

The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and groveled along the saps;
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.

Wilfred Owen (b. Shropshire 1893) was an intellectual of modest means who had embarked on a career as a poet at a young age. His early poetry was heavily influenced by the romantic poets Keats and Shelly. Working as a tutor in France when war broke out, he soon returned to England after feeling stirred by propaganda in the news. After enlisting, he was proud to be a soldier, as the poem ‘Arms and the Boy’ shows:

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

The imagery is familiar, “Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade”; the turn of phrase is not dissimilar to Sassoon’s “To these I turn, in these I trust;/Brother Lead and Sister Steel.” (The Kiss, Sassoon) Both of these poems were written before Sassoon and Owen knew each other, however this camaraderie of spirit became even more evident in each other’s work after they eventually met during the course of the war. The influence of Sassoon’s ‘gritty realism’, in turn, affected the work of Owen quite profoundly.

How different was Rosenberg’s response, “In all men’s hearts it is./Some spirit old/Hath turned with malign kiss/Our lives to mould.” (On Receiving News of the War, Rosenberg). Rosenberg signed up because he needed money, yet he foresaw that his fate was to be altered, his life molded anew. During training he anticipated great epic battles but also “… unthinkable torture / Eyes kissed by death” (Soldier: Twentieth Century, Rosenberg), whereas Owen and Sassoon had joined for patriotic reasons and were both keen for battle. However, Owen had seen first hand injured soldiers in an infirmary before he went into battle. After this experience he composed ‘The Send Off’ which, in contrast to the earlier “cold steel hungry for blood” reveals a somewhat ominous image, initial smiles turning to a grimace:

Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.

The truth, for Owen, was sinking in, “…secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went. / They were not ours / We never heard to which front these were sent.” (The Send Off, Owen) Clearly any feelings of chivalry were dying like the flowers handed to the soldiers as they marched off to conflict:

Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.

And then, after meeting Sassoon while they were both recovering from shell shock and then heading back into battle, he produced what was one of the most popular poems of World War 1, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. Owen was now pulling no punches:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

From this point on, perspective altered by atrocities previously unimagined, he knew the truth, that soldiers were just cattle. There wass none of the previously imagined chivalry, nor ceremony, just “shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; / And bugles calling for them from sad shires.” Compare this with Rosenberg and his “…malodorous brain what slugs and mire… / On fragments of an old shrunk power, / On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry” (God, Rosenberg) and Sassoon’s “The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs… / … trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud, / Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;” (Counter Attack, Sassoon).

Here the contrast between these great poets and their responses to the war, despite differing social, financial and ideological outlooks, differed little. The Great War changed all three fundamentally, bringing their intellectual and aesthetic approaches into a cacophonous cry of despair; in unison these poets echoed the great disturbance in the hearts and minds of humanity, as a whole.


© Brentley Frazer

 

Works Cited

Poetry (Appendix A)
All poetry sourced from  The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. London: Penguin Books 2004.Walter, George. Ed.
Isaac Rosenberg
On Receiving News of the War
Soldier: Twentieth Century
God
Siegfried Sassoon
The Kiss
The Redeemer
Counter- attack

Wilfred Owen
Arms and the Boy
The Send Off
Anthem for Doomed Youth
Criticism
Walter, George. Ed. The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. London: Penguin Books 2004 ‘Introduction’ Page xxxviii
Rusche, Harry.Ed. Lost Poets of the Great War. English Department, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

—————————
Works Consulted

Rusche, Harry. Lost Poets of the Great War. English Department, Emory University, Atlanta, GA [Date unknown]
Parsons, Ian, Ed.. The Collected Works of Isaac Rosenberg. London: Chatto and Windus, 1979
Cohen, Joseph. Journey to the Trenches: The Life of Isaac Rosenberg, 1890-1918. New York: Basic Books, 1975
Moorcroft Wilson, Jean. Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet (1998) Routledge; 1 edition (2005)
Radner, Hilary. Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey From The Trenches, A Biography (1918-1967) Routledge; 1 edition (2004)
Stallworthy, Jon. Wilfred Owen: A Biography Oxford University Press (1995)
McPhail, Helen. WILFRED OWEN: On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War (Battleground Europe. on the Trail of the Poets of the Great War) Pen and Sword (1999)
Roberts, David. Ed. Out in the Dark ‘Poetry of the First World War’ Saxon Books (1995)
The War Poetry Archive – www.warpoetry.co.uk

APPENDIX A (Source Poems)

Isaac Rosenberg
On Receiving News of the War
Snow is a strange white word.
No ice or frost
Has asked of bud or bird
For Winter’s cost.
Yet ice and frost and snow
From earth to sky
This Summer land doth know.
No man knows why.
In all men’s hearts it is.
Some spirit old
Hath turned with malign kiss
Our lives to mould.
Red fangs have torn His face.
God’s blood is shed.
He mourns from His lone place
His children dead.
O! ancient crimson curse!
Corrode, consume.
Give back this universe
Its pristine bloom.
—–
Isaac Rosenberg
Soldier: Twentieth Century
I love you, great new Titan!
Am I not you?
Napoleon and Caesar
Out of you grew.
Out of unthinkable torture,
Eyes kissed by death,
Won back to the world again,
Lost and one in a breath,
Cruel men are made immortal,
out of your pain born.

——-
Isaac Rosenberg
God
In his malodorous brain what slugs and mire,
Lanthorned in his oblique eyes, guttering burned!
His body lodged a rat where men nursed souls.
The world flashed grape-green eyes of a foiled cat
To him. On fragments of an old shrunk power,
On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry,
He lay, a bullying hulk, to crush them more.
But when one, fearless, turned and clawed like bronze,
Cringing was easy to blunt these stern paws,
And he would weigh the heavier on those after.
Who rests in God’s mean flattery now? Your wealth
Is but his cunning to make death more hard.
Your iron sinews take more pain in breaking.
And he has made the market for your beauty
Too poor to buy, although you die to sell.
Only that he has never heard of sleep;
And when the cats come out the rats are sly.
Here we are safe till he slinks in at dawn.
But he has gnawed a fibre from strange roots,
And in the morning some pale wonder ceases.
Things are not strange and strange things are forgetful.
Ah! if the day were arid, somehow lost
Out of us, but it is as hair of us,
And only in the hush no wind stirs it.
And in the light vague trouble lifts and breathes,
And restlessness still shadows the lost ways.
The fingers shut on voices that pass through,
Where blind farewells are taken easily . . .
Ah! this miasma of a rotting God!
Siegfried Sassoon
The Kiss
To these I turn, in these I tust;
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal;
I guard her beauty clean from rust.

He spins and burns and loves the air,
And splits a skull to win my praise;
But up the nobly marching days
She glitters naked, cold and fair.

Sweet Sister, grant your soldier this;
That in good fury he may feel
The body where he sets his heel
Quail from your downward darting kiss

———-

Siegfried Sassoon
The Redeemer
Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;
It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep;
There, with much work to do before the light,
We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we might
Along the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,
And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;
We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one;
Darkness; the distant wink of a huge gun.

I turned in the black ditch, loathing the storm;
A rocket fizzed and burned with blanching flare,
And lit the face of what had been a form
Floundering in mirk. He stood before me there;
I say that He was Christ; stiff in the glare,
And leaning forward from His burdening task,
Both arms supporting it; His eyes on mine
Stared from the woeful head that seemed a mask
Of mortal pain in Hell’s unholy shine.

No thorny crown, only a woollen cap
He wore—an English soldier, white and strong,
Who loved his time like any simple chap,
Good days of work and sport and homely song;
Now he has learned that nights are very long,
And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.
But to the end, unjudging, he’ll endure
Horror and pain, not uncontent to die
That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.

He faced me, reeling in his weariness,
Shouldering his load of planks, so hard to bear.
I say that He was Christ, who wrought to bless
All groping things with freedom bright as air,
And with His mercy washed and made them fair.
Then the flame sank, and all grew black as pitch,
While we began to struggle along the ditch;
And someone flung his burden in the muck,
Mumbling: ‘O Christ Almighty, now I’m stuck!’

————————

Siegfried Sassoon
Counter-Attack
We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps;
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began,–the jolly old rain!
A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape,–loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.
An officer came blundering down the trench:
“Stand-to and man the fire-step!” On he went …
Gasping and bawling, “Fire-step … counter-attack!”
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
“O Christ, they’re coming at us!” Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle … rapid fire …
And started blazing wildly … then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans …
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.
——-
Wilfred Owen
Arms and the Boy
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.
Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads,
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.
For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.
———
Wilfred Owen
The Send-Off
Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.
So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.
Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.
———-
Wilfred Owen

Anthem For Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds

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Scholarly

The Corpse In The Garden: TS Eliot, Iconoclast by Brentley Frazer

eliot“Modernist art is perhaps the first consciously to absorb the principle for which Marshall McLuhan found words a generation later, that ‘the medium is the message.’ Modernist artists – in the novel, poetry, the drama, music, the dance, architecture and elsewhere – understand that, to articulate their sense of the differentness of modern experience and of being in the modern world, they must change their medium, as well as, and as much as – if not more than – what the medium ‘says’.”

In light of this remark I discuss The Waste Land and several other poems by Eliot.

On publication of his first poem T.S Eliot was regarded as ‘a disruptive progressive iconoclast’ (Jones 9). In 1915, at the insistence of Ezra Pound, Poetry Magazine published ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’; what had been evident to Mr. Pound was now evident to all who had more than a passing interest in poetry in the English language, something new had arrived, Modern Poetry had a voice. The now immortal image from ‘Prufrock’ of the “patient etherized upon a table” ironically revived the intellectual climate of contemporary poetry and heralded the arrival of a new perspective, the urban landscape, the poetry of the city. This is precisely what Eliot had intended. He regarded himself an active revolutionary, a rebel, and his purpose “was to direct attention towards the particular sources of poetic power whose neglect had led, he felt, to a progressive devitalization of poetic art”. (Drew 36) Drawing from all literature that preceded his place in history Eliot consciously devoted himself, both philosophically and creatively, to the development of a new poetic voice. His aim was to modernize himself and his chosen medium, poetry. With ‘The Wasteland’ (1922) he succeeded, giving the reader not only descriptions that were startlingly new, “That corpse you planted last year in your garden, / ‘Has it begun to sprout?’” (Eliot 53. 71-72) but also metaphors and allusions which are as multi-layered as they are striking. He also offers new interpretations of the mythic man as opposed to the real man, struggling for identity, meaning and purpose in the post war, modern, industrialized world:

He, the young man, carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford Millionaire. (60. 231-234)

Eliot gave us a rich, chaotic tapestry of verse that “…juxtaposes the remote and the familiar, the traditional and the contemporary”.(Headings 17) By combining his intense, studied interest in the medium of poetry with his natural talent for the musicality of languages, T.S. Eliot produced some of the greatest poems ever written in English and in the process, permanently changed the medium of poetry itself.

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics summarizes T.S Eliot’s position on poetry with this brief, humorous passage: A poet’s task during creation is to give expression to some extremely complex state of mind that has been forming itself unconsciously out of his stored experiences and is now beginning to agitate him obscurely (Preminger 515). When first embarking upon a study of ‘The Wasteland’ (1922), this may seem an apt conclusion. The reader is confronted with a strange metaphysical landscape that although steeped in obscurity somehow seems familiar, the remnants of both objects and ideas, memories and desires, characters from the past and imagined in the future hover on the peripheries, where “…you cannot say or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images…”. Eliot literally evokes a wasteland, haunted by the ghost(s) of what once was, the reader left reeling about the wreckage unable to find shelter, death looming in the shadows. Sometimes the reader is given a glance of something recognizable but then it slips away, like someone flashing around a torch in a cave. This jigsaw, shattered mirror technique, coupled with dark fragmented reflections and glimpses of what are perhaps the poets own private rituals, builds an almost unnerving image in the mind of the reader. However, and despite this trepidation, further analysis of the text shows Preminger’s summary should not be considered the final prognosis of ‘The Wasteland’. Once you tune in to the poem, when you discover all the secret rhymes, “…the sound of horns and motors, which shall bring/Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring” you learn to observe without judgment and to appreciate the text despite personal preconceptions of what a poem should ‘be’ or ‘do’.

Another innovative technique of Eliot’s, evident early in his career with ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915) is the weariness apparent in the tone of the narrators voice, a blasé, world-weary guide through the density and the vastness of the allusions in the text. In ‘The Wasteland’ (1922) this technique lulls the reader into a semi-detached, almost hypnotic state, allowing Eliot to present shocking imagery while suppressing his audience’s expected inclination to moral outrage. This dead-pan innovation also serves to hold the explosion, to understate the immensity of what you are reading, you find yourself standing there, without drama, numb among the junk. This weariness is also combined with an ingenious use of the inherent musicality of the English language, vowels and consonants resounding off one another with an almost preternatural clarity. Repeat out loud this quotation as an example:

The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;
Departed, have left no addresses. (Eliot 58)

The music of Eliot’s language was, to early 20th century ears, a new music – disjointed, like the first uncertain notes of a broken opera, struggling to comprehend an atrocity. At once hopeful and fearful of the future, it beat a new drum and heralded the arrival of the new modern self-conscious human, one who did not merely discard and disregard the past but one who had arrived in ‘the now’ dragging behind them all that they had learned, all that was useful, to forge a new future from the bricks and dust of the old empires.

In ‘The Wasteland’ Eliot also employs an innovative use of parataxis (the placing together of sentences, clauses, or phrases without a conjunctive word or words) as demonstrated by the line “O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter / And on her daughter / They wash their feet in soda water…” Ezra Pound, the editor of the original manuscript of ‘The Wasteland’, himself renowned internationally for his innovations in poetry, was so impressed he remarked “About enough, Eliot’s poem, to make the rest of us shut up shop…” (Eliot, Valerie xxii)

Pound, in turn, has left his mark on ‘The Wasteland’, being largely responsible for the format of the poem as we know it today. In fact the fragmentary, ‘blown apart’ presentation of the poem is a result of the redactions of Pound, and Eliot (ever the innovator) choosing to leave blank spaces where the edits occurred, rather than reformatting the poem’s structure. An example can be seen where, in the unedited manuscript, the lines appeared as:

Unreal City, I have seen and see
Under the brown fog of your winter noon…
(Eliot,V 43. Lines 93-94)

In the published version, after Pound’s edit, Eliot chose not to reduce the poem:

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon…
(Eliot, T.S 59. Lines 207-208)

Another, more obvious, example can be seen where the original manuscript read:

At the violet hour, the hour when eyes and back and hand
Turn upward from the desk, the human engine waits—
Like a taxi throbbing waiting at a stand—
(Eliot, V 43. Lines 121-123)

While the published version, after Pound’s editorial interjections, read:

At the violet hour, the hour when eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
(Eliot, T.S. 59. Lines 207-208)

This results in the ‘cut short rhyme’ effect and also the fragmentary presentation, both very effective in portraying the ‘wasteland’ Eliot intended.

The balance and rhythmic flow, the measured inflections and modulation of the vowels and consonants, and the measured beat of the voice in Eliot’s verse was self consciously revolutionary. In a lecture that Eliot gave in 1950 he spoke directly of two of his major poetic influences, Jules Laforgue and Charles Baudelaire. From Laforgue, “[Eliot] learned that his own speech idioms had poetic possibilities, and from Baudelaire, that his urban experience could be material for poetry…[and that] juxtaposing the realistic and the fantastic could produce striking effects”. (Headings 20) ‘Prufrock’ (1915) – written when Eliot was only twenty three – presents us with a line that critic Piers Gray called “an astonishing achievement’s astonishing achievement” (Gray 83), he gives us a glimpse of his gifts of cadence and the influence of Baudelaire with abrupt binary contrasts:

There will be time, there will be time
to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate.
(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, 1915)

These techniques were refined and his gifts developed when seven years later he penned these lines in “The Wasteland”; hidden in the pleasant rhythm and disguised with every day sounding words is what appears to be a scene depicting a sexual assault, or at the very least a sterile indifferent copulation:

The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence. (235-240)

All of these important innovations in Eliot’s poetry are as consciously realized as the seemingly loose but highly designed tapestry of literary and philosophical allusions and references he invents or modifies. Eliot himself said that “the great poet is the man who ‘out of intense and personal experience is able to express a general truth : retaining all the particularity of his experience to make it a general symbol’” (Drew 91). Eliot’s intention was to portray his time, a world in literal and spiritual ruin, to cultivate his innate skills of observation and abilities with language to metaphorically shake the reader awake. To effectively enunciate this time and place he effectively “trained himself and modernized himself, on his own!” (Stock 166) as Ezra Pound commented after their first meeting. Through the medium of poetry Eliot built a new temple in a moral Sahara, in this ‘wasteland’ of compromised ethics and spiritual barrenness he succeeded in growing an intellectual flower. Eliot knew what he wanted to say and he conceived a very effective way to say it, his aim “to achieve comprehensiveness through allusion, meaning through dislocation” (Gray 225) and his conscious effort to get “as much as possible of the whole weight of the history of the language behind his words” (225) was, as history has demonstrated, a very successful aim indeed. Eliot took the average man from his time, placed them among the ruins, gently awoke them from their collective fugue, all the while reminding them that what they had lived through was epic, worthy of myth. His equally epic poem, ‘The Wasteland’ portrays his vision of the modern man, getting up from the catastrophe, dusting off his coat, taking account of what he has learned, what he has inherited, and continuing on, as the poem concludes, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins…”


© Brentley Frazer

Works Cited

Drew, Elizabeth. T.S. Eliot, The Design of his Poetry. Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1950
Eliot, T.S The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1917. Selected Poems. Faber and Faber 1961
Eliot, T.S The Wasteland 1922. Selected Poems. Faber and Faber 1961
Eliot, Valerie, Editor. T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland: A facsimile and transcript of the original draft including the annotations of Ezra Pound. Faber and Faber. London 1971.
Gray, Piers. T.S Eliot’s Intellectual and Poetic development 1909-1922. The Harvester Press, Sussex, 1982.
Headings, Philip. R. Bowman, Sylvia E. Editor. T.S Eliot. Twayne Publishers/University of Illinois, 1964.
Jones, Genesius. Approach to the Purpose; A Study of the Poetry of T.S Eliot. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1964.
Preminger, Alex. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1974.
Stock, Noel. The Life of Ezra Pound. Pantheon Books/Random House, New York 1970

Works Consulted

Ackroyd, Peter. T.S. Eliot. Hamish Hamilton, London 1984.
Eliot, T.S. Ezra Pound: His Metric And Poetry. Kessinger Publishing, USA 2004.
Gordon, Lyndall T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life. W. W. Norton & Company 1999.
Menand, Louis. Discovering Modernism: T. S. Eliot and His Context. Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition 2007.
Stone Dale, Alzina. T.S. Eliot: The Philosopher Poet. Backinprint.com 2004.
Vocal recording of T.S. Eliot reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1917 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhiCMAG658M
Vocal recording of T.S. Eliot reading The Wasteland 1922 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tqK5zQlCDQ&feature=related

 

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