Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Ty Newydd 3
Pascale's morning. We look at poems on paintings by Moniza Alvi (Mermaid and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) and Sharon Olds (The Unswept Room) and discuss them in terms of their relationship to the paintings on which they are based. The Dorothea Tanning painting that is the point of reference for Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is or is not darker and more disturbing than the poem, which is or is not more a celebration of energies. We look at imagery that is adapted and that which is invented. Then we move on to shamanism, looking at a Russian shaman's costume.
We consider the list of categories under Mental Imagery from the Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics, consisting of: Visual; Auditory; Olfactory; Gustatory; Tactile; Organic; Kinesthetic and Synaesthesia. We are asked to consider how far we make use of these.
Finally we move to Joseph Beuys, his felt suit and his constant use of animal fat, which, Beuys maintained, related to his rescue by Tartars after the plane he was piloting in WW2 had crashed. The factual basis of the story has since been questioned. Some think that only makes the story better, a secret part of me thinks I prefer truth, thank you. But then I like the fantastical voyages of Purchas and Mandeville, so a tall tale - what Yeats had as stiltstalking, Yeats being keen on his lying warty boys - is not without attraction or power. And yet I like to know there is a distinction between subjectivity and the world, between fantasy and fact. I guard this prosaic part of me with a certain jealousness, considering it a valuable ballast to my irresponsible warty imagination.
We are to reconsider the various forms of Mental Imagery and are given a poem to write in which we can invent fantastical shamanistic clothes for someone we know, or indeed ourselves. We are encouraged to move between the senses listed under Mental Imagery, employing a variety of them, moving between them. Ways are suggested of organising such movement. We have some twenty minutes.
This is all exciting stuff, so I go off to my room and write a thirty-seven line poem in which a boy-man wakes to put on a human skin that is not his own. Furthermore, it has a dinner jacket sewn into it as well as patent leather feet. After donning the skin he puts on a second coat of fish-scales because, after all, 'One must glitter'. Half man-half fish, he picks up his instrument (a violin though it is not named) and prepares to practice with his mother listening through the door. The music materialises. He asks her opinion. She says it sounds 'like salt and damascene'. Her fancy talk, he thinks. He is not altogether comfortable in his clothes so puts the music on instead. Music is another form of skin. His skin is not his own. But 'Each living thing has its own element, he thinks / And even this old skin must belong to someone.' The End.
It's a pretty mad thing with some memories of my brother practising his violin (including his fish scales, of course) while my mother listened outside the room, but I like it. It's bursting with sensory overload but it is consistent and, in its way, disciplined. It needs some editing: it has tumbled out pretty fast, but then so did all the poems of The Burning of the Books, and, come to think of it, all my best work in the last ten years or so. I check to see that there is a ballast of actual fact in there though I am perfectly aware that my brother, who really did practice the violin and is in fact a violinist, is not half man-half fish.
And did I ever tell you that when our car crashed in 1956, in the heat of the revolution, I was nursed back to life by a wandering band of benevolent garden gnomes who wrapped me in old toffee wrappers and discarded fast-food containers? Honest. This will go down in the official biography.
I'll put the poem up after a few days if it still appeals. The splendid thing is that everyone wrote splendid things. Constraint plus fantasy is liberation from the less manageable obligations that society - even one's own solitary society - requires and imposes
Then lunch and the tutorials. Some very good work there. And Philip Gross has arrived to read tonight.