Monday, January 09, 2006

Preface To Poetry

Walter de la Mare is the finest example we have in poetry of the subconscious uses to which a poet can put his conscious sexual repressions. As the biography by Theresa Whistler makes clear, the ghosts and visitations from the spirit world which inform his best and most mysterious poems, result from his unresolved sexual frisson and begin in his work only after he meets Naomi Royde-Smith, with whom he refuses to consummate an affair of the heart, choosing to remain sexually faithful to his wife.

The Listeners, examining the veil between this world and a possible next, leaves us yearning for what we know cannot be: the consummation on the urn. Keats informs English poetry even to this day. Second in pantheon only to Shakespeare, his Letters the Sonnets, the Odes the Tragedies. His passion denied him in Hampstead, and, at the end: "The thought of leaving Miss Brawne is beyond everything horrible - the sense of darkness coming over me - I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing." (Letter, 1820)

Keats was the opposite of the old man of suburban Twickenham, the poet whose friendship Pound so craved, the poet endowed as Legatee by Rupert Brooke (along with Abercrombie and Gibson), De la Mare remains in a state of denial in order to carry on through it all. Keats goes further, but is repressed by codes, conventions; yet fully using both conscious and subconscious in his poetry.

Perhaps Burns went further still. He melds the political with a poetic power which finds its strength in love's fulfillment. How else the boldness and authenticity of revolutionary passion of "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled". His work is the polar opposite of Emily Dickinson's. "A love so big it scares her, rushing around her small heart" she writes as Daisy to the man addressed as her "Master".

"Master" she writes in one of three extant Letters: "If you saw a bullet hit a bird - and he told you he wasn't shot - you might weep at his courtesy, but you would certainly doubt his word. One more drop from the gash that stains your Daisy's bosom - then would you believe?"

(Initially published by Kim Taplin in a booklet to celebrate Jeremy Hilton's 60th birthday.)

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Love of Scarlet Phantoms

(for Cathy Porter)

In dream & awakening alone
No solitudinal silence
Tinnitus bi-laterally
Whispering in the worst ear
To leave to leave
Hostility from
My own body
Marine ball, Jane,
Blond & muscular in high heels
We're on board.

& after March 1918?
after the 7th Congress -
or was it before that
it began to fall apart, her
"Doing God's business with the Monks"
or even Lenin's desire for the Absolute
manifested in dictatorship despite
"The cheka's horrors are in their degree"

To hell with Lenin, then, Hugh.
What did he bring but Stalin in his wake.
Yet, to use this against you
As Seamus Heaney (calling you "messer")
And Martin Amis do
Is what the right-wing in literature
As well as McCarthyites woo.

"At heart she was an anarchist, hating war,
but breaking with the duplicitous Lenin
as much for love of Dybenko as ideology"

O to hold you in my arms again
Before the endless night

That old poem lost
It was all midnight, nightingales, larks

He stumbles to the sea
I remember writing
& of the gulls, calling
Or seeming to call

I do not wish to ply you
With a lifetime's mistakes
Something like that

"To be a friend means to find the language of the heart....No
Suffering can equal that of seeing one's comrades turn their
backs and speak ill of one's efforts."

Club underground
Dance the evil! Dance
the evil! All around us the beautiful youth
of the world - it is theirs
& we old ones go
when the show is over
& the squeeze box player
cries his slow & mournful blues
ah you! you
who see me as I was
& the young men stand in a circle
bullish their testosterone
& dance the evil! dance the evil!
show's done / shadow



"Kabochaya oppositia"
not the NEP inverted pyramid -
a "deviation"
now we tap your phone, man
& we're closer down the road to Stalin

IWW refuses to buy the Party line in U.S., 1921.

& Lenin, saying reification necessary
Did he refuse to consummate
With Inessa Armand as Freud refused
With Lou-Andreas
The discipline of repression returns in the Purges
After her death, nothing revolutionary
Only the guys with short haircuts and suits in the 1960's
Not caring whose heads get busted in Buffalo, and Chicago.

Margaret Ann Morton
passing out Chavez leaflets
in San Francisco, 1974

The postmistress in Sleights (Yorkshire)
Or on Ala Moana Blvd. (Honolulu)
Here and now vision of lost love...

The fog of desire rolls in
Obfuscating all
With meaning

Or illusion

"As for promiscuity, she said it could offer little more to women
than the same old endless search, only intensely more painful,
for the ideal partner - a search from which she had managed to
free herself in the past years only by living alone."

You move me to tears
when you write
"their skulls smashed by rifle butts
Rosa dragged half-dead out of a police car"
& thrown in the canal

..."the desire to be understood...down to the secret recesses of one's soul, to be recognized as a striving human being..........And so it was that Alexandra's progressive and pioneering ideas on people's infinite capacity for love began gradually to be regarded as guilty by association with all her connected aspirations for a society in which the working class, not the Party and its organizations, would decide how best and most efficiently they could work..........Love was so complex, so far removed from its original impulses - the biological instinct of reproduction...that it was perhaps better to ask ourselves what we are, rather than what love is."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Although I have leafed through it, I have yet to read and contemplate the new biography by Claire Harman, so I cannot say if Andrew O' Hagen's so-called review of her book had anything to do with anything other than his venting his bile upon Stevenson himself. O'Hagen insults RLS, and insults all indigenous people still struggling today when he says that Stevenson was "living somewhere in a state of perpetual childhood" referring to his final five years, living in Samoa.

Stevenson was a great friend to the Samoan people, and actively participated in revolutionary activity and tribal and electoral politics designed to break the European Imperialist grip on those islands. The Samoan people didn't "nickname" him Tusitala, or Teller of Tales, they bestowed that Samoan name on him with honor and pride.

O'Hagen goes on to make snide comments about RLS's heterosexuality, criticizing his style and his taste in clothes and his manner. O'Hagen pushes the homosexualist view of JEKYLL & HYDE, that it was a story of an underlying gay nature. His prose then takes on an hysterical clone of Kenneth Williams style at his most outrageous which then becomes a ranting diatribe filled with hatred directed against Stevenson's American wife, Fanny Osbourne, who gave up a California marriage to be with him in Samoa, and was with him for most all of his writing life. His final book, THE WEIR OF HERMISTON, which M.R. Ridley, back in 1936, said was the greatest of all of his works because he had returned in his imagination to Scotland "and now he came back to it with assured delight" is dazzling, but the "resonance and impact soon to be familiar to readers of Conrad" (Lisa St. Aubin de Teran) is dismissed out-of-hand by O'Hagen in his LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS "review" of almost a year ago now. (He takes the same negative party line the Brits. take on Rupert Brooke, and on most all south seas writing; that Brooke's south seas poems, for example, are not part of the canon. Of course those are the poems which are his best, in my opinion, and which by themselves alone establish Rupert Brooke's greatness . The party line thus on RLS being that his writings from the Pacific are those after his power lessened and waned. It is not really true. His powers clearly matured and deepened.) It is as if the reviewer had never read anything from the final years of RLS's life: THE BEACH AT FALESA, in particular, the greatest story ever written of south seas life (Dylan Thomas wrote a screenplay, but it was never filmed); or THE BOTTLE IMP, maybe even better, (if it is possible for a short story to be better than THE BEACH AT FALESA), and set in Hawaii. THE WEIR, truly an unfinished masterpiece if ever there was one, comes to its end with "there arose from before him the curtain of boyhood, and he saw for the first time the ambiguous face of woman as she is. In vain he looked back over the interview; he saw not where he had offended. It seemed unprovoked, a wilful convolution of brute nature" and 100 pages in, he went down to the kitchen to prepare a salad while Fanny was cooking, and he suffered a stroke, age 44, and died shortly thereafter. On his grave at Vailima, near Apia, in what is now Independent Western Samoa, the inscription he had prepared, begins: "Here lies he where he longed to be / Home is the sailor / Home from the sea....."

The London Review Of Books, of course, was not interested in using anything I had to say re: Mr. O'Hagen (their Contributing Editor) and his abominably stupid "review" of Ms. Harman's biography.

And it was not only tales and novels and sketches of Polynesian life Tusitala was writing; his essay flaying the Rev. Dr. Hyde of Honolulu (certainly the strangest co-incidence in all of literary history) because of Hyde's horrible negative opinions concerning Father Damien of Molokai, is simply a masterpiece (there is no other word I can think of which discloses its greatness of polemic).

Stevenson was also the greatest writer of poetry for children, in English, or, I would venture to say, in any language, and his words are beacons, lighthouses, for us all.

(The question then becomes why did O'Hagen even bother to write of RLS, whom he so clearly dislikes. In a different context, it is a question raised by Ralph Maud, of the Tom Clark biography of Charles Olson, for example. RalphMaud rightly says (see his Looking For Oneself, Charles Olson webpages) that for some unknown to him reason Clark was trying to make Olson look pathetic. It is clearly a linear biography, the weakest piece of sustained writing Tom Clark, a very good writer and poet, has ever done, and it was first analyzed for its non-dimensionality, its lack of texture, its disrespect for its subject, by the late Jack Clarke (initially a Blake scholar and assistant professor at Buffalo when he met Olson; subsequently he helped to found THE CURRICULUM OF THE SOUL enterprise in the 1960's, and authored FROM FEATHERS TO IRON) in INTENT. - Letter of Talk, Thinking, & Document).

(Finally, even a decent enough on-line poetry journal, JACKET, published a piece in one of its early (and best forgotten) issues saying that Mark Twain, Jack London, and RLS were simply colonialist settlers in the Pacific; so I suppose it is endemic (and has even become fashionable now) for critics to try to reduce the ideas and accomplishments and work and life of writers, especially those who are not themselves writing critical theory, rather than to illuminate, and to enter into "an active engagment with what the work proposes." Perhaps it was always that way. However, there are many exceptions: Keats's Letter on "negative capability" taking prominence, as does Lawrence's STUDIES IN CLASSIC AMERICAN LITERATURE, for example, or William Carlos Williams' IN THE AMERICAN GRAIN, and Olson's CALL ME ISHMAEL, which got into print on Pound's recommendation - so that he himself wouldn't have to read Melville! As Robert Creeley had said: for over a dozen years the foremost literary salon in America was held in a madhouse.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

London, December 16

Everything is broken
The unforseen consequences of adultery
Unhappy love, Romance gone wrong
Hope despoiled
Suicidal thoughts
Giving all of yourself, unrequited
Vain attempts to recapture past Innocences
Everything broken
Unforseen consequences
Alienation, foreign places,

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rapa Nui : Excerpts from 2 Letters

7 January, 2005

Dear Professor Diamond,

...I must say that I think you and others who persist in the notion that Rongorongo was not a wholly indigenous achievment (based solely on the speculation that the European (Spanish) script was the trigger) are incorrect. By the time the Spanish arrived, the island was, as you must know, in such a state of disarrray, with the Moai toppled and the "civil wars"on and people hiding in caves, it would have been impossible that Rongorongo script and schools teaching it would develop then....Georgia Lee, founder of RAPA NUI JOURNAL, said she does agree with me as to the dating of the Rongorongo as much earlier than that....See also my debunking of Professor S.R. Fischer's decipherment claim, which was published as a Guest Editorial in Len Fulton's SMALL PRESS REVIEW, July-August, 2002 (volume 34, 7/8).

N.B. This second letter was sent to the Editors of the N.Y. Review of Books, but it was never published. I would like to make it clear that Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE (and his previous book) is a considerable achievment. He's just dead wrong about some of what he says of Rapa Nui in his own texts, and also in reviewing a colleague's book on the subject, and his insulting denigration of Thor Heyerdahl's work is not worthy of him.

Further, I must say that it would have been nice if Dr. Diamond had acknowledged, in his Pulitzer Prize book, GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL, my research concerning the smallpox which decimated the Mandan Indians in 1837 (p. 212 & p. 374 in the 2005 edition of his book), which results had been published on five separate occasions since 1980: in an essay in ANGLO-WELSH REVIEW (1981) titled "1837: The Mandan Indians" which was republished in PAPER AIR (Philadelphia, 1989), and as poetry sequences in FOOL'S HOUSE, an anthology edited by Allen Fisher, (London 1980), and in SPANISH SONGS IN MANDAINE LAND (Dream Tree Press, California 1981), and in CODA TO SPANISH SONGS IN MANDAINE LAND (Branch Redd, New Jersey, 1984). If Prof. Diamond reached his conclusions independently of my work, he is free to correct me. -----(This paragraph added to the Rapa Nui blog on May 5, 2006.)-----

My formerly unpublished letter follows, with paragraphs four and five combined into one.

Even after his death, academicians are quick to stomp on Thor Heyerdahl. So many people in the anthropological/archaeological Establishment need, out of fear and insecurity, to reify their speculations as to the "whence" of the Polynesian people, and Heyerdahl, disdained for over fifty years of his life put forward evidence in exploration after exploration, excavation after excavation, and book after book (AKU AKU, AMERICAN INDIANS IN THE PACIFIC, EARLY MAN AND THE OCEAN) antithetical to majority opinion that all Polynesian migration was from West to East. He knew that some of the migration came from pre-Inca settlements in South America; nevertheless, Jared Diamond ("Twilight at Easter" NYR, 25 March) chooses to link him with nutters like von Daniken, who condescend to the Polynesian people and dismiss their achievments.

Alfried Metraux, (EASTER ISLAND, OUP, 1957) who is acknowledged by all as Professor Diamond would doubtless agree as still one of the foremost if not THE foremost expert on Rapa Nui from the anti-Heyerdahlian perspective, challenges Heyerdahl's theories (pp. 220-230), but with great respect and utmost seriousness noting Heyerdahl's "vast erudition" and noting that it is "hardly fair to disassociate Heyerdahl's ideas on Easter Island from the sum total of his work and conclusions."

Rapa Nui is of course the Polynesian name of the island. There is an older name: Te Pito
O Te Henua - "the navel of the world." Not that the people of the island seem to mind ALL that much being alluded to in "the name that stuck" as Diamond calls it. But some would question his assumption that rats were stowaways on the Big Canoes on their long voyages. More likely they came from European ships.

Further, the red volcanic rock is neither the statues' "crown" nor a "hat"for the Moai, but a representation of the HAIR of the ancestors, worn in what can still be seen today on many Polynesian islands: a Topknot, or hair braided in a sort-of Rasta fashion. ..... The "mana"or Spiritual Power of the Moai derive from their eyes, all of which were destroyed in the wars; however, there is one original coral eye extant, and that powerful and compelling circle of coral in the little local museum on the island, was the only intact eye ever to be excavated. And whose team performed the excavation? Thor Heyerdahl's of course.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


In any collection of the great literary essays in any language, James Norman Hall's piece on his friend, Robert Dean Frisbie (1896-1948), should be included (along with, for example, a Mailer and a Baldwin and William Hazlitt's THE FIGHT).

Hall's essay "Frisbie of Danger Island" in THE FORGOTTEN ONE, the last of Hall's books, subtitled "and other true tales of the South Seas", now republished by Mutual of Hawaii in paperback, includes letters from Frisbie, author of THE BOOK OF PUKA PUKA, in addition to novels including the Mr. Moonlight Trilogy and voluminous short tales and sketches. Ropati, as he is still called in the south seas today, was equally as authentic an American writer as Louis Becke (the Melville of Australia, Becke is sometimes called) was an Australian one. That is, they lived the life and wrote without sham. Becke's wonderful biography of Bully Hayes is exemplary. Since Frisbie's death, only the very early short stories of Michener (who was, not encouraged, but told, to be a writer of fiction, by Frisbie, when their paths crossed in the Pacific at the close of World War II) and perhaps the privately published vignettes of Tahitian life by Paco Taylor, so well disclose in English, the vivid fragrances of Polynesia, still.

One of Ropati's daughters, Johnny Frisbie, became a writer herself: THE FRISBIES OF THE SOUTH SEAS, and MISS ULYSEES OF PUKA PUKA are her two books to date that I know of.

James Norman Hall's writing partnership with Charles Nordhoff was the most successful both from a standpoint of the quality of the work, and also commercial success, of any literary partnership in history. They co-authored a dozen books, the most famous of which are the three which comprise The Bounty Trilogy. As a passing note here, I must say that the best non-fiction account of the mutiny is still Bengt Danielsson's WHAT HAPPENED ON THE BOUNTY, and not the quite recent and highly praised book by Caroline Alexander, THE BOUNTY.

Hall himself was, they say, the most respected and loved American to have made his home in Tahiti, and his house and its grounds, near Arue, a suburb of Papeete, are now open to the public.

Prose Interlude.......

I was sitting having a smoke with William The Gardener and mentioned the shark I had seen coming back from the picnic on the motu. Tati was driving the motorized outrigger and had seen it as he had before in the lagoon near the old club Med - farther from the pass by the Moorea Beachcomber than is normal for a shark to venture - and this one, a dark shadow barely a few feet down, seemed different from the blackfin-tipped reef sharks, much bigger, heavier around the shoulders and neck. William confirmed that this was a new shark to these lagoon waters, a big one. Very frightening to think of that ombre. William said he had first seen it from his fishing boat, and he had decided it was time to cease fishing in the lagoon. Let us hope there will be no more to this story of the gliding dark shade from othersville.

Monday, December 05, 2005


These days when even quiet walks in the English countryside can be destroyed by mobs of wealthy yobs, often racist, and whose politics are usually to the right of Cheney, dressed to kill, and riding horses across fields, participating in one of the cruellest blood sports imaginable - (flaunting the new law recently passed banning such activities) "Riding To Hounds" or "The Hunt" - wherein a fox is torn to shreds by a pack of bloodhounds, it is high time to call attention to a peaceful little book titled THE ENGLISH PATH by Kim Taplin, a poet who has lived many years in rural Oxfordshire.

In her book she discusses the public rights of way through forests, moors, mountainsides, and fields, the hill-and-dale and stiles of the imagination, and across streams and rivers, which so many poets and prose writers have made good use of in so many works, and so many painters have immortalized: Millais, Constable, and even Beatrix Potter, are reproduced in black-and-white in this exceptionally well-produced small press publication from Perry Green Press (Suffolk, UK, 2000). In fact this is the second (expanded) edition of the book initially published in 1979 by The Boydell Press.

Taplin quotes fully and carefully, extracts from so many poems, from John Clare to William Barnes to Robert Graves and De La Mare to contemporary poets Thomas A. Clark, Chris Torrance, and Barry MacSweeney, most notably his "Pearl" poems, that I think some enterprising publisher would ask for an anthology.

Barry MacSweeney particularly must be mentioned as a man who only yesterday was with us. I remember his dramatic and impassioned reading in London, at the Subvoicive series, of what we didn't know would be his last book, THE BOOK OF DEMONS, containing the Pearl sequence, his greatest achievment, and a lasting one, published by Bloodaxe (UK).

Kim Taplin knows that from Hardy (whom I believe the English, almost, it seems, in-unison, over-rate as a poet) to Jeremy Hooker (much under-rated) it is difficult to overestimate the sweep and influence of this specific kind of nature poetry. Edward Thomas's work looms large, and rightfully so, and Taplin quotes from LOB:

"Nobody can't stop 'ee. It's
a footpath, right enough."

Or, as MacSweeney writes:

"The upstream heather says more than I do whispering
Its purple blues."

Of course, it's not all wildflowers and Eden. There were dastardly deeds committed: John Clare wrote:

"Where stepping stones stride o'er the brook
The rosy maid I overtook."

Taplin does bemoan the lack of women walkers, for this reason specifically, in deserted lanes in the country.

In the U.S., it took fortitude, determination, and unity of purpose to stop the greed of developers and speculators , as Lorine Niedecker documented in her fine long poem, WINTERGREEN RIDGE: "Women/of good wild stock/stood stolid/before machines/They stopped bulldozers/cold..."

At any rate, the eco-warriors who will strive to stop any encroachment upon the ancient rights of way will find plenty of ammunition in this book.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hoa Hakananai'a

Hoa Hakananai'a

Standing there

Without eyes

Someplace alien

Brief Take

Brief Take On Some Difficulties
Of A Biographical Approach To Literary Criticism

(with thanks to Paige Mitchell, who suggested I write to Mrs. Eliot and who encouraged me to approach Bunting)

In Earl's Court, London, Basil Bunting confided to me that Pound's insistence that the "hyacinth girl" in The Waste Land was not Marianne Moore (1) was perhaps because by the time he was pressed upon the point by Valerie Eliot (2) Pound's memories of those years were somewhat "clouded" (3).

(1) He, Bunting, had always thought of Marianne as the hyacinth girl, he said.

(2) She pressed Pound on this point, she wrote in a letter to me, because she too had come to believe Marianne was the hyacinth girl. See her edition of The Waste Land and her note on this point.

(3) Bunting may have said "cloudy"

Republished from Branch Redd 6 (2002).

Of course, those who have read Carole Seymour-Jones's excellent biography of TSE's first wife, Vivienne, (PAINTED SHADOW (Anchor Books, 2003), could just as easily speculate that the hyacinth girl was a projection of Eliot himself and/or Jean Verdenal, the young medical officer who died at Gallipoli in 1915 and with whom Eliot was in love. (see chapter 13, "The Waste Land" pp. 290 - 315.)