Schemas for poems
This post contains comments on 'Savage Survivals' and 'Alien Skies'.
Poems from SAVAGE SURVIVALS
The “schema” for the book was to avoid autobiography (again), otherwise it was just to be frivolous in comparison with “The Imaginary in Geometry”. The title comes from an already existing book, I believe one produced by the Rationalist Association in about the 1930s. I liked the phrase without wanting it to mean very much.
A harbour at West Bay in Dorset destroyed by a storm circa 1964. the soft wrapping of the tender membranes is a quote from the ‘Chaldaean Oracles”, where the throat of someone gives an oracle, aulos meaning ‘flute’. Qualmwasser water pushed at high pressure through cracks in a dam, in a description of a dam that I read. The holes in the earthen dam were made by a kind of mouse. frame capture: the process is dynamic but if you look at it frame by frame it starts to make sense.
The Border Hills
A flight to Edinburgh and memories of walking through the Border Hills.
Malt Shovel: my supervisor, Paul Beard, gave me a list of pubs to go to in Edinburgh. “Eighty Shilling” is a grade of beer, “ninety shilling” is so rare you can’t find it.
Weapons Form With Music There is a 13th century Chinese novel called The Water Margins, of which I am very fond. Mr Brian Holton translated it into Scots. This seemed like a good opportunity to write about Chinese outlaws in Scotland. Figures from Patrick Walker’s Biographia Presbyteriana also appear. I also used some martial arts magazines.
‘bring me an ink tablet’
‘Blue sword in white hand’
5 Elements Ninja
‘heroes in a bar’
Scathach and the Striped Ones
‘we turned the jingling horses’ heads for home’
‘a poofy bar’
‘From zenith to pupil’
In Caledonia Dysarta
The Hand of Claverhouse
Cum furca et fovea
weapons form with invective
drownings at Wigtown
land and lordship with Ronnie Laing
the reconstruction of the Crane Dance
Nomos and daily forms
a plethora of Chinese wood-kerns
Bodiless forms of the Internal Arts canon
At Castle Sweeney
Cum furca et fovea ‘with gallows and pit’. A legal term describing the powers of landlords as local officials. Executions of women were carried out by drowning, hence the ‘pit’.
‘Weapons form with music’ is a phrase from a martial arts magazine. The ‘form’ is a sequence of exercises, ‘weapons form’ when carried out with a weapon.
Scathach ran a kind of martial arts academy at which Gaelic heroes trained in Old Irish tales, or specifically Cu Chulainn in The Tain.
In Caledonia dysarta Latin ‘desertum’ becomes ‘diseart’ in Gaelic, and was applied to the ‘deserts’ where hermits lived. Hence the place-name ‘Dysart’. Being in Scotland, they were wet. I am comparing them to the ‘water margins’.
Ghost Technology: Extreme Computing Fair
Describes an idealised research engineer, the kind of person who might have been attending the Extreme Computing Fair. I wrote most of the poem while wandering through the fair, with some additions afterwards. The ‘Orion Project’ was one in the early Sixties for a nuclear-powered spacecraft, on which the physicist Freeman Dyson worked - who was at the Extreme Computing Fair. ex situ: out of (original) position. Acephalous: headless, so a pattern with meaning distributed all over it. “receding in a dapple with a clock pulse”: so, it comes and goes. confusing a simple R/C timer and a ceramic resonator clock!: R/c is ‘radio clock’. These are electronic components.
the Burgess Shale of electronics: the Burgess Shale was a site in Canada which had fabulous anomalous fossils as described by Stephen Jay Gould, part of the ‘Cambrian Explosion’, so the prototypes are the beginnings of multiple technical lines that stopped after one prototype. Red Galaxy videos: archetypal ‘hard’ science fiction, these films have apparently disappeared altogether. They were shown at the Scala during the 1980s. We are trudging through the 1950s: I found an evocative story in New Scientist which I ‘mixed-in’ to the main story about the Extreme Computing Fair, so the next 23 lines describe a techy kid in 1959 buying military surplus parts to build telescopes from. It is still about people building their own equipment from components up. Cut and strap: to modify a printed circuit board (to make it do what you want). Joshua Logan directed the film of ‘South Pacific’, with its avant-garde colour effects. The last eleven lines describe a nuclear test in the Pacific breaking a shelf of Martini glasses, I can’t remember where this came from.
My copy says Ghost Technology part 2, I think part 1 was “The Spirit Mover, Roger Spear”.
Swimming in Spirals
The observation that frogs, carried into outer space as an experiment, swam in pure spirals, suggested that their normal courses were influenced by gravity. This inspired the notion that they could be used to detect gravity and hence the presence of nearby masses, as a navigation aid. The poem describes a spaceship with frogs in floating tanks.
Because it is about gravity I think this was written as part of ‘Alien Skies’ and dates from about 1987.
Blauer Reiter at Ducketts Common
There was a Turkish festival on Ducketts Common, near Turnpike Lane in North London, with a poster which I stole by taking it off a wall. The poster shows the painted leather puppet Karagöz, who appears in the poem. I thought the style was like some paintings in Central Asian tombs, but Luci disagreed. The poem also records the end of a depression where I couldn’t think. ‘Blauer Reiter’ just because of his blue tunic. Somewhere between Turnpike Lane ABC and the New River?: The ABC was a cinema where the bus station is now, and the New River was dug to carry drinking water to London, is still there.
This deals with the build-up to the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995, and with a figure known as Andy the German, who was head of security at a camp called Elohim City Compound, and is said to have been working for the German guard of the constitution, which wanted to prevent neo-Nazi propaganda from being printed in Oklahoma and distributed in Germany. The poem starts with people who reject the mainstream media but have limited education. After rejection, they then succumb to ideas and news streams which are even more warped than the mainstream media. This is sad. Much of the information in the poem is untrue - it is the “conspiracy theory” junk which such people believe, and which Tim McVeigh believed. The poem puts forward a conspiracy theory which I do not believe in. I wanted to reproduce the language which a member of “Christian Identity” might use, and I used the style of radio ads as the basis for the poem.
Needwood and Charnwood
A “national forest” is being grown, linking the two ancient forests of Needwood and Charnwood. It starts about 3 miles from the house where I grew up. Much of the area to be covered is poisoned ground, the site of old industrial enterprises, to be healed by the trees.
Some friends of mine had a project for filming The Bacchae, for which I was to provide a new translation of the Greek text. The project fell through due to an excess of ideas, but we had focussed intensely on it and I wanted to recover something from the deserted site. Oreibasia: going to the mountains.
Precipice of Niches
I think this developed from a phrase by the East German painter Gerhard Altenbourg, “ich-Gestein”. This means something like “the I-mineral”. I was thinking of the ego fused with the soil, soaking up information from the geology. This became “data-fish”.
In the poem, you have four examples of a ‘honeycomb of niches’, starting with an ego as ‘data fish’, then a reef which is very irregular and rich in fish, then a sort of ‘ballistic niche’, a set of circumstances which allowed some dust to move away from the sun and coagulate into a planet, then a partially imaginary culture which has many niches. But the end of the poem starts to mix them all together. The “x-zone” features in one theory of the origin of planets, where the “x zone” is one where material whirling round the sun is thrown off rather than falling back in. The “x-wind” is not made of air but of particles, thus slung into space. ‘Chondrule insets’ are nodules of metal in meteorites, whose make-up records the temperature of the zone where the inset was formed.
The bit about ‘ibex’ is drawn from information about the Sabaean culture in the Yemen. This is a culture I know nothing about, and the poem is about ‘an imaginary culture which we know nothing about’, but which we can enter in imagination, and which is rich in niches.
The ‘Moors in Hell’ bay came from a novel by Norman Lewis.
‘Precipice of Fishes’ was a poem by Eric Mottram about Tenby (literal translation of Welsh name, “Dinbych-y-pysgod”).
Photographing the Ideal
Describes someone attempting to take film of England in about 1942, under the aegis of Jack Beddington, who controlled all stocks of film and had specific ideas about how England was supposed to look. The poem is about making ideology visible. This belongs with the research on Stephen Tallents used in ‘Anglophilia, a romance of the docks’. “We spend the afternoon asking the ash tree to look like itself”. Those Shell posters: Beddington had been head of advertising for Shell and explored a vision of Beautiful England which could be adapted as wartime propaganda.
Vertical Features Remake
The speaker is the pilot of a plane taking aerial photographs of a part of England, for archaeological reconnaissance. on a looted table with back-lighting: the individual exposures have to be joined up to recover complete landscapes.
The star temple of Sumatar Harabesi
Aby Warburg proved in 1912 that the frescoes of the Months in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara are based on the ‘decans’ in Picatrix, an astrological work written in Arabic by moon-worshippers from Harran in Syria. 36 decans of 10 days make up the year (and each has a ‘star-demon’). The frescoes were painted around 1470. In 1963 J.B. Segal visited the remains of a star-temple, with seven buildings for the seven planets, near Harran - at Sumatar Harabesi. This is in the Tektek mountains about 100 kilometres south-east of Urfa and 40-50 kilometers north-east of Harran. The site is in what is now Turkey but the inscriptions there are in Syriac so we would call it “Syria”.
The poem describes Schifanoia and the temple, and is about making ideology visible. Segal has now withdrawn this identification. ‘Schifanoia’ means ‘shunning boredom’, a place of courtly diversion; it was in use as a tobacco factory when someone realised that there were frescoes concealed beneath plaster - or partly in heaps on the floor. triplice strisciata pittorica is something like ‘triple pictorial strip’, or stripe. At some point I describe the cells of the unborn child being struck by rays of celestial influence. These are somehow like the flakes of pigment on the floor.
Rhoizos is a Greek word for the ‘sound’ that the stars make in turning, in the Neo-Platonic concept. Since stars don’t make a sound there is no English word for this. Shakespeare has “the whizz of meteors”. Whizz and rhoizos sound as if they might be related, but I don’t think they are.
Frances A Yates worked at the Warburg Institute and I was very taken with her books, like other people I suppose. Picatrix (or Ghayat al-Hakim) is a work of great importance in the introduction of Neo-Platonist and astrological ideas to western Europe. As Yates pointed out, Campanella and Bruno are dependent on it. The text claims to come from Harran, however Ronald Hutton has collected evidence making it more likely that this Arabic text was written in 11th century Spain. Like most occult books, it includes a false attribution of authorship! There was a fabula that the Harranites were great masters of magic. This may be the source of the Western occult tradition, or it may be a “cover story” for knowledge of other and more recent origin.
Coincidentally, Peter Manson published a pamphlet ‘Birth Windows’, with a poem which is also about the Palazzo Schifanoia.
Altyn-Dagh is a made-up name, ‘gold mountain’ in Turkish. The nucleus of the poem is the idea of the undifferentiated as the precursor of all forms - the centre in the sense of being equally close to everything. In Chinese colour symbolism, gold is the colour of the centre. There are mountains called ‘golden’ - the Altai - in Central Asia. I was interested in the idea of a place where Chinese, European, Iranian, and Siberian cultures touched, and of a language equally close to the languages of all those places. The ‘nothing’ can only survive until it becomes a ‘something’. The poem shows a child coming from the central mountain and wandering through the different cultures in the different directions. Following the story told in a poem called ‘The Pearl’ (or ‘the Hymn of the Soul’), he longs to return to his home, and finally does, dissolving into featureless gleaming, sunlight before it touches the earth.
Arche-syllable: the basic design of a syllable, schema underlying everything that is a syllable. Roshnan means ‘creatures of light’, i.e. ‘humans’, in Parthian Manichaean texts. What fell east became Chinese: if you move in any direction from the ‘absolute centre’ you acquire the features of a local culture. I was also interested in the idea of languages evolving back towards a primeval language, at least in a kind of geometrical transform. Spell for the decoying of a soul into a child: the child is taught the local culture but still has a yearning for the Pure Centre and so goes on wandering. This part repeats a tune from ‘A Virtuality/ Cyclical Polygons’.
What country is this? / how many milliseconds split one sound from another?: repeats the questions in the epigraph to the book. he ejected what he’d learnt.: he is disquiet and wanders away to another part of the world. royal luck, khvarenah: ‘royal luck’ is a gloss for khvarenah. This word also appears in ‘Three Graves’. Source is RN Frye’s The Heritage of Persia. Amita Dimita Trimita ... from a list of types of silk taken from some history of textiles. Exarentasmata, I just liked the sound of the word. Just possibly these words record names from an Asian language closer to the source of the silk. the original pearl that fell: the pearl plays a role in Manichaean texts as the soul ‘fallen’ into the body. In part 4 he goes to Europe. from piandj to pyat’ to five to pump: word for ‘five’ in various Indo-European languages, related, which is why “a sound that was heard in the Pamirs” is still heard in Europe. The languages are, roughly, Sogdian, Russian, English, Welsh. The mountains of languages: mountainous areas can preserve an extraordinary variety of old and rare languages, due to bad communications. Examples are the Pamirs and the Caucasus.
going up where the birds from the Green Sea go: a phrase from Sohravardi. To be honest I am not sure what this implies, but it is beautiful. By fires they sing a lullaby: here culture is seen as a series of tricks to lure the soul into the body of a child.
Where the marmot makes every call twice: it is a bi-lingual zone, the marmot has to say everything twice. Four red parts of the world: a phrase in a Gaelic folk-tale (in Rosg Gaidhlig). I have no idea why the adjective “red” appears in this phrase. Rowed sheep out to the grass of the summer isles; grazing sheep on islands is a feature in Norway and the Hebrides. I guess we have got to Western Scotland by this time.
Tunes for the acquisition of a body: this resembles a theme in ‘Wonders of classification’. Lines in part 8 come from a poem named ‘The Pearl’, which appears in the apocryphal ‘Gospel of Thomas’. This was identified as Manichaean, but it seems rather that Mani was very much influenced by Christian writing of the town he came from, Edessa, and that the poem is Christian but woven from the same “image-complexes” that Mani used. (More about this in my book Council of Heresy.) The poem was beloved by GRS Mead and was used extensively by Eric Mottram in ‘Peace Projects Four’.
The Twelve Days
The poem is based on the argument of Dumezil’s Le mythe des Centaures, in which the twelve days of Christmas were seen, by the Indo-Europeans or some descendant group, as days of chaos, a primal time, where everything reverts back to formlessness. Each day foretells the course of one month of the New Year. The universe is remade, within that time, by a group with the attributes of sovereignty, who play music; they have the forms of animals, and are associated with winter storms. Centaurs are a variety of these creatures, with whom hobby-horses, tricks, and the casting of lots are associated.
Acallamh Answers Without the Questions
This is an old Irish genre in which one voice poses questions and another answers them. I thought to remove the questions. The reader has to decide what they were. We have 37 answers. This is a tribute to the Informationist poets. In modern Gaelic, ‘acallamh’ means ‘interview’. The questions could be 37 words that exist in Scots but for which there is no English equivalent. Carberry Cat-head was a figure in old Irish legend, I don’t know why “cat-head”. The Cowlairs Chord is a stretch of railway track in Glasgow.
Bob Cob Bing Bong
Bob Cobbing was a ‘sound poet’ whose sound filled me with fear and loathing. His ‘photocopier art’ was not half so bad. This poem uses ‘visual’ and ‘sound’ forms, as is appropriate for the subject. ‘Jackie Leroux watch your Ps and Qs’ comes from some American song, probably from New Orleans, I can’t remember.
Bob used to scrumple up pieces of paper, put them through the photocopier, and then put the output through again. A lot of the image had no white, was pure dark, and so rich in carbon. This is “paper wraps coal and splits”, those seven lines are about the photocopies.
Visualizing Corporate Structure
I used to work as a project planner, which meant putting abstract relations into graphical form for managers to understand. When I saw illustrations of microscopic fauna called radiolaria, with an infinite vocabulary of forms, I saw it as a possibility for explaining how industry works. The poem has me walking a manager round the site trying to explain what happens there. “test” is a hard shell. Khrien: glossed in the previous as “sets of actions”. A German word from Greek for “necessary actions”, effective actions that you spend your working days carrying out. Asphradium: an organ of the micro-organisms. Malacologists: students of molluscs.
‘An exponent of less than one’ means “negative growth”, or business failure to put it bluntly.
Rhythmic Blind Spot
Based on a film I saw at the Natural History Museum of a mongoose killing a scorpion. The mongoose does not pounce without preparation, but moves rhythmically, the scorpion prepares to sting each time but is unable to predict the mongoose’s moves, so finally the mongoose finds a gap and jumps on it.
Poems unwritten, in faint exhaustion, one Sunday night
*Burning a Church
Listed but I don’t think this was ever finished.
*The Influencing Machine
Listed but I don’t think this was ever finished.
The First Household
Describes the design of the first household ever, the one from which all others are derived.
*Topic Ode to Camden
Listed but I don’t think this was ever finished.
Self-reproducing Programs, Property Regimes
Something I was working on during ‘Savage Survivals’ but which was set aside so that I could finish the other poems. It was specifically a pageant in 1945 or 1946, the war was won and it was about post-war optimism.
I had a scheme for a ‘monument to the Empire’ which would express an unpatriotic view of the process. This was never completed and I can’t remember publishing any bits of it. This almost certainly started with an exhibition by Tony Cragg in the Barbican circa 1990 which included a very elaborate bronze casting showing a machine gun in all technical details, cartridge belt, long barrel, etc. The gunner was Mickey Mouse. I kept coming back to this project over several years but never finished it. I think the problem was that I was imagining a building complex, in three dimensions, and the poem could never be that.
The Whole History of Heresy
This has three elements composed in an ABC structure. So, one is the Gnostic heresy, two is Presbyterian preachers in the time of persecution in the late 17th century, three is the world of Underground poetry. Each one is excluded from the centres of power and goes to ground among the common people. the house of rain: outdoors.
The Whole History of Shopping
Never finished and not included in the published volume.
From the kitchen floor (Prometheus creating mankind)
This was published as a pamphlet by Ulli Freer in about 1992. It is a creation myth, which is a familiar genre I suppose. There was a sarcophagus in Naples which showed “Prometheus creating mankind”, I couldn’t follow the iconography. In the texts Prometheus does not create mankind, but the reality of myth was a huge scatter and the versions on vases and so on are often different from all the texts we have. There are more parts than went into the pamphlet, it was an instalment. “The First Household” is part of this material, which was never completed.
In High Places
Can’t remember where this was published.
Published in ‘Ten British Poets’ around 1993.
There is no more society (published in 13 Wasted Years)
The Gram (published by Kelvin as a pamphlet)
“The starting point was dreaming about spaceships and listening to jazz drumming. The discovery that in Welsh caeth, the term for strict metre, also means captive, led to the realization that the surrender of strict metre was equivalent to the escape from gravity implied by leaving terrestrial space. Hardly less obvious was the entrance of the heretic, Mani, whose death crushed by the weight of chains set up the opponent values of gravity and light-which he regarded as the soul substance. This dependence of emotional states on arriving radiance is discussed in terms of the physiology of an English reptile: the viper, which is in a kind of metabolic shutdown for nine months of the year. The wish for exit led to an investigation of substances -disputably or really-infalling from outside the sparse terrestrial rim: meteorites, cosmic rays, proton winds, daylight, gravity waves, omens, natal influences. The fleeting presence of the 17th century Jesuit poet Jacob Balde is called up by the poet’s being felled by sunstroke, toccado, while searching for an Oscan inscription in Pompeii in 1987. The correlation of temporary insanity, minerals, and stars is investigated via anomalies reported in Derbyshire in the 1640s.
The concept called for a poem consisting of a ring of metaphors, each one repeating the other, the whole blazing a kind of exit path, a track in thin air.
Early plans for issuing the poem scratched on plaques of burnished meteoric iron have not yet been realized. It is only available on paper.”
I can’t quite remember the dates for this, but circa 1987-92. There were two projects in parallel which in the end became ‘Alien Skies’ and ‘Surveillance and Compliance”. A lot of Alien Skies was produced by improvisation, I had the themes but the poems were written spontaneously and I went with whatever came out. This process does not leave a memory but I can identify the themes. The pamphlet series had a fixed length so I think there are poems in my copy that are not in the published version. This was my third book to be published, not the third I wrote.
The five bonds which are the Five Senses: we are held captive by the senses according to Manichaean doctrine.
You shall put on a radiant garment : I think this line comes from the poem ‘The Pearl’. I worked on a translation (adapting the English translation by AA Bevan) around this time, maybe 1990. But it crops up in other poems I wrote ten years later. And then in Eric Mottram’s ‘Peace Projects 4’ when I tried to write a commentary on that.
Caeth: this means ‘captive’ in Welsh but also refers to “strict” as in “strict metres”.
The Scanner: monologue by an electronic apparatus that is waiting to detect very specific signals.
The third part of your brain, do you know where it is?: fragment of found dialogue used on a Cabaret Voltaire record. At some point I found where it came from - an episode of ‘The Outer Limits’ named ‘The demon with the glass hand’. I think the answer is “Wrapped around the solenoid in my central body cavity.” Ingrettus os ventremque creter: quote from Jacob Balde’s ‘Poesis osca’, meaning something like “mouth fattened and belly filled”. Oscan, not Latin.
Novena formosarum mulierum: means “a group of nine beautiful women’, the Muses. Taken from some Latin texts I had, possibly 16th century. This might be Marsilio Ficino. The poem is largely a hymn to the sun (Apollo, leader of the Muses) and ‘Alien skies’ as a whole is about the radiation from stars.
Pierides: the Muses.
Leichhardt: German explorer who died on an expedition in Australia. He appears here because he was a botanist carrying seeds, the radiation of plants being one of the themes. Mendes went to the Tatar city of death: a story in the Portuguese ‘Tragic history of the sea’
The fallen stone: Balde’s foreword to his poem tells of finding a stone deep in the earth on which his poem was inscribed. the Woolwich chemical fuel experiments in ‘43: i have no specific memory of this, but the “chemical fuel” bit implies a rocket experiment with solid fuels. Vibrations, essentially sound waves, hence the “surface of sound”, tended to extinguish these fuels, and this was an obstacle in developing rockets.
asp.rez: glossed inside the poem as ’racetrack’, Iranian roots meaning ‘horse, run’. And the wolf under the Elburz breaks its chains: part of an apocalyptic myth, the end of the world. We (who are created by dry lands: dry conditions are suited to a nomadic way of life, the “we” is a nomadic group on an archetypal campaign of conquest.
The Star Catalogue of Ulugh Beg: Ulugh was a central Asian Moghul and astronomer. There are amazing photographs of his giant marble observing installations. Steve Sneyd also wrote a poem about Ulugh Beg, much to my surprise. Geomancers: ‘divining [truth] from the earth’, semi-magical landscape experts. This may be related to “the star temple at Sumatar Harabesi”, self-imitation.
IRIDIUM: iridium is formed by molten fragments (called ‘tektites) shot up from a meteorite impact, which cool and become hard as they fall back to earth. They are glassy and so like mirrors. This relates to a specific iridium pebble which I bought from a stone shop to help with the poem. I could not acquire something of extraterrestrial origin, but this was as close as I could get. If the iridium is made of the substance of the meteorite, it actually is of extraterrestrial origin.
Goddard drilled to find a buried star: Robert Goddard, looking for a giant meteor.
Time is liquid [...] in the body of the Great Bear: various peoples saw the bear, which grows fat and then thin, waxing and waning, as symbol of Time, and a star that waxes and wanes as a bear-star. influencing machines: machines that control behaviour, as devised by a patient of the Croat psychoanalyst Victor Tausk (as described in an amazing essay by Tausk). But they are just machines that influence people, in the poem. An otolith turns towards concentrations of mass.: otoliths are free stones in the ears of certain animals that can tumble, and form a “gravity organ”. I think this theme relates to a poem ‘Swimming in Spirals” that was probably originally part of ‘Alien Skies’. zenith gun: ‘zenitka’ in Russian is an anti-aircraft gun.
AT THE GLASS FELLS: the ‘glasvaellir’ or ‘glass fells’ are the place of immortality in Norse myth. Not the only place, but they feature in some texts I found. The name has also been translated as “bright plains” but I see it as “glass”. There is a fairy-tale in which the protagonists have to cross mountains made of glass, and I see these as a symbol of death. The poem is then about how to survive death, also transcending gravity.
Domhnall Astjolf Alparslan. Three who surpassed death: just three random names for three heroes on an adventure. Three is the usual number. Trees of the hawk’s perch: the with addresses them in ridding language as befits her profession. The phrase is a Norse kenning and simply means “men”, perhaps also “distinguished men”. The hawk perches in the man’s hand and the hand grows on a man. Odainsakr: ‘field of the undying’. Heafodbeag: head, bow. A crown, viz. a ring that goes around the head. Nos vieilles pellicules aux sels d’argent.: line from an advertisement for film. Means “our old films with their silver salts”. But ‘pellicules’ also means ‘fine skins’.