Explode on Impact
Listen in: to this story of flagellated atoms, of micronauts composing the architecture of a cow’s nightmare, swimming in a tureen of mucus on a hellbent planet above the sewer. This story of your automobile dreaming of the day it birthed you & you hid your iron umbilical in the lake, of the last light, that switched itself off and the envelope of all things.
Deep Sea Life
390 million years ago: before the virus of memory begins. Bubbles of stony contentment. Whip pan back & forth from surface to depths and each space is new again. Time does not exist. You would live here, not knowing the joke of your own loop.
Life Emerges from the Sea
Hard decisions forced through veins & pulleys, chug of need, sated at landfall. Water running off, seepage revealing gravity, what will be a ribcage, pancaked. This flattened airlessness: assumed position of fealty, cathedrals ballooning up into place.
Frozen Eye of a Crocodile
Cargo of anger arrested at border. Orphan of Nile effluence – compacted, bolted-in stasis, snout leering; a long stare across prehistory, holding the dream of revolution in its jaws. Pebble-backed, panting through ice.
Safety is a mirage: ask this cloud. Stuck pea in a whistle. It’s not what you know should your body disassemble at the base of the cliff; it’s the cresting trough of blankness you will meet as you hoist yourself to the summit.
I think when I was first drawn to poetry, I thought of it in mystical terms, as some form of religious insight to be captured by a process of channeling. I thought of poetry as an elemental visitor, hosted by the poet-shamen, who in turn became the conductor of its inner lightning. In there somewhere was also the notion of poetic genius inherited from my A level study of the Romantic poets, particularly John Keats, from whom I acquired my fixation with the musicality of movement; and at the same time some half-digested idea that poetry must present ‘ideas’ in the form of epithets accumulating into the legislations, as inferred by Shelley. My early reading of Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and others opened up relations between violence & nature – harnessed by poetry and given voice, in a process of what Hughes describes somewhere as tapping into the ‘elemental power-circuit of the universe’.
Infused with these notions of creativity, I first tried to write poetry as if on spiritual manoeuvres, trying to capture phrases from half sleep. [Below is a poem-diagram to illustrate my early self in motion, entitled Catching Poetry in the Night.]
There’s nothing especially wrong with the impulse towards capture – although if the underlying assumptions are ‘already half cock-eyed’, riddled with delusions of grandeur, caught up in ‘the future state value stream’, then the poems thus captured are likely to feel quickly like ‘taking a new product to market’. After some early glimmers of what I imagined as success, I gave up poetry for decades, convinced that it was really always going to be somewhere above me, in the impossible ether.
It was only when I began to teach Cinema & Surrealism that I found the error of my half formulated and unchallenged assumptions had created this blockage in creativity. Perhaps on first glance, the works of Surrealism seemed to represent quite an extreme result of precisely the sort of assumptions that my attempts to capture poetry in the night had led to: perfect fragments, against the flow of the conscious universe. Yet on closer inspection – in fact when immersed in these surrealist methods as I began to write a surrealist film-novel, The Cinema Beneath the Lake & fully engaged with Surrealism’s philosophy, arguments and range of techniques – I realised that many of my initial assumptions – however mystical-anarchic – had in fact been quite conventional and institutionalised perceptions of creativity in its ‘civic’, even commercial role.
Surrealism’s dismantling of such roles and valuations of status, the collapse of reified understandings of art/ literature, the subversion of hierarchical and arborent ideas of culture which are evident in Surrealism’s embrace of pulp fiction, cinema, and indeed its submission of all forms of creativity to the greater experiment conducted into consciousness itself – these propositions troubled and energised me. In the notion of collaboration, my vision of the poet-artist was shifted along. André Breton’s re-modelling of surrealist practice outside old frameworks, urging its participants to consider themselves as ‘modest recording instruments’ revitalised me and simultaneously freed me up from a stultifying hieriarchy in which product erases process.
Surrealism’s rejection of conventional yardsticks – aesthetics, rationality, morality even – taught me how far I had been from anything approaching genuine enquiry. Surrealism ushered in experimentalism as a personal mantra. I became enraptured by a totalising hybridity, by the strictures of Jan Svankmajer’s Decalogue, by Breton’s urge to ‘follow the murmur’. At the same time, this murmur could be gentle, motivated by simple material assemblage. I was no longer the ‘artist’, that painful skein of a soul, eternally trapped in the poetic voice. I was multiple positions, heteroglossic excess, refusal of consistent perspective. The shamen-poet, channeller of things, beings, ideas, is still an attractive figure, but now it’s just one aspect of the processual paradigm of creation – as becoming and dying – something akin to the alchemical cycle much revered by many of the original surrealists, including Breton. In short, Surrealism’s ferocity in the face of institutional untruth has ended up being the most important force in dislodging my delusions regarding the sources and telos of creativity. Viva Surrealism!
Catching Poetry in the Night