rubber ducks & public disgrace

-well, i’m back from uni. nothing to show for it except some superficial soup-making skills, one hundred & twenty-eight new books, & an interestingly shaped scar on my shoulder from running into a tree. first year sure went fast.

-jo, will, lucy & i made sure to carpe the diem (& the noctem, for that matter) very thoroughly in the last few weeks of uni. i spent half the nights sitting on the balcony, writing & watching the stars come out in a pale sky. jo & i attended a reception for the english lit staff & students, where we perhaps took advantage of the free wine a little too thoroughly. this ended with us giving a dramatic & antiphonal recitation of the love song of j. alfred prufrock & me calling jo a gay piece of shit in front of a high-ranking member of the academic staff. there followed several minutes during which we stumblingly explained that i am not, in fact, a giant homophobe, & am, in fact, quite gay. we wobbled back to jo’s block in shame & disgrace.

-we also threw me a fake birthday party. my actual birthday isn’t for another month, but that’s semantics. this was a deeply silly event involving party hats, a caterpillar cake, & tricoloured rubber ducks. will went on a tropical juice errand, charging jo & i to name the ducks in the meantime; they were perforce christened fyodor, clive staples & BOB.

-since coming back i have seen many lovely people & eaten an awful lot of strawberries. a couple days ago i went with my friends ibby & eliza to go see ocean’s eight (i loved it, by the way, it was fun & silly & cate blanchett’s motorbike, cate blanchett’s blue suit, cate blanchett’s hair, just cate blanchett in general, we were all fanning ourselves). it was a tiny, dusty cinema, almost empty, just us & a couple rows of people at the back. the trailers came on; we were rolling our eyes at the trailer for some spy flick when suddenly gillian anderson’s face appeared onscreen. dear reader, the three of us simultaneously yelled out a sort of joyous ‘HURRRRRGH’, so loudly that it blotted out the trailer. everyone in the cinema busted out laughing.

-i’ve been reading richard siken’s poetry collection crush, dearly beloved among spn fans. very, very easy to see why: it belongs to the same iconographic tradition. actually, that’s putting it mildly; there are some startling similarities. dusty roads & moonrise & all sorts of Weird Suppressed Vibes. honestly, i’m losing my shit over it. i can’t wait to get my hands on war of the foxes.

-i also read vathek a few days ago. it was… well. it was messed-up & bizarre & in a weird way one of my favourites of the novels i’ve read lately. i won’t say too much about it bc i’ll probably do a seperate post on it.

-man, it’s strange being back in my old haunts. i climbed the gates to one of my old secondary schools yesterday & had a good look, which made me feel rather ghostly. i’ve mostly been reading, writing, wandering in the woods. i’m glad i’m leaving in august. i’m enjoying myself, but i feel temporary here.

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opals & thunderstorms: the dreamscapes of rosemary tonks

my speech from the uea ‘reading matters’ conference 2018. performed whilst pacing around the auditorium in a dressing-gown & a faceful of fake diamonds.

rosemary tonks’ poems take place within a kind of highly extravagant dreamscape. she’s generally regarded as a quintessential poet of the sixties, but i’m not sure that’s really true. time is unstable in this dreamscape of hers- it’s decaying, like the rotting boards of the parisian waterfronts in blouson noir, like the velvet nights that her poems often take place within, as they swoon towards daybreak & the dream is over.

her poems are filled with anonymous hotel liasons and electric lights. they are poems of blood-caked traffic, of dust and narcotics, of modern life. but they also flicker with a half-lost past. the yellow fogs of victoriana are everywhere, and she has the romantic preoccupation with the divine dreamers and somnolents of classical mythology. soho is orpheus’s dark and tangled underworld; ‘hypnos follows me all day in a silk dressing-gown,’ says her narrator.

then there’s the opium-smoke that is the dark breath of her world. in sofas, fogs and cinemas, ‘the light is brown as laudanum’. then europe is suffocated by ‘hot fogs and poppies’. the victorian obsession with the idea of the east as the faraway magical “orient” is all over her writing. the result of these collisions of modern and victorian attitudes is a kind of wooziness, a decay of time. when tonks lived alone in paris, she swore that she met baudelaire one night on an empty street. here, in her dreamscape, she peels up the pavements to let out the ghosts.

and the resulting decay is voluptuous. tonks constantly manipulates our wonder and our disgust. there’s passages of overripe fleshy grotesquerie- for instance, ‘could i not read as well the tradesman’s hand/ with its magenta creases- whose soul turns blandly/ on a sirloin mattress to smile at the next meal?’ images of meat, of flies on meat, are everywhere.

but then there’s passages of luminous, synaesthetic loveliness, often to do with dreams- so long as they’re distant. in ace of hooligans: ‘the dream in fluent opal swam against his eyes/its waters sumptuously baited as the sea’. in ‘running away’- ‘i was a hunter whose animal/ is that dark hour when the hemisphere moves/ in deep blue blaze of dews/ and you, brunette of the birdmusic tree,/ spatter in spat diamonds/ drunkenly.’ aside from the sheer sensuous beauty of those lines, i think ‘birdmusic tree’ references the arabian nights’ tale ‘the talking bird, the singing tree, and the golden water’- again mingling the geography of this dreamscape of hers. it isn’t quite london or europe or the vague scheherazadian east, but a fantasy-place where they all meet and fragment.

her imagery of rotting flesh and turning meat- of erotic mortality- makes sense in this context; wonder and disgust are both valid reactions because her dreamscapes- her dark cities- are in a constant state of bloom and breakdown. there’s the ‘shabby thrilling twilight of the street’; the ‘rank elegance’ of rome; and, ultimately, in her poem ‘escape’, she acknowledges this- ‘and your soul knows half the flavour/ lies underfoot in dirty flagstones’. the beauty of decay is their enchantment. it’s what makes her dreamscapes so strange and so wonderful.

‘Will not a calf’s-skin stop that mouth of thine?’

king john is a history play, a tragedy, little performed, much studied. you’d suppose it to be dry & dusty & maggot-ridden. as though the worst parts of henry vi part ii & two gentlemen of verona got smashed unholily together. you’d suppose it to be one of the low points of the shakespeare canon.

dear reader, it’s fucking hilarious.

this is mostly thanks to the bastard of faulconbridge, coeur-du-lion’s illegitimate son. he’s this sort of bluff witty teasing guy who keeps interjecting absurd little comments at INCREDIBLY SERIOUS MOMENTS & making all the angry nobles deflate like trodden-on flour babies. he way overshadows king john, who has some Deep Moral Conflict but when you come down to it he’s a bit of a boring old sod. (i know, i know, there’s more to it than that. he’d probably be a great role in the hands of the right actor.)

anyway, this bit made me howl. the duke of austria (think: pompous, puling coward) had promised lady constance his help. he’s just betrayed her by accepting king john’s peace offer/bribe/daughter’s hand in marriage. she’s understandably pretty mad (she actually has a straight-up magnificent mad scene later in the play) & rails at him for about half a page. we’re full-steam ahead for Political Mayhem. then…

oh, god, i love it.

CONSTANCE: Hast thou not spoke like thunder on my side?

Been sworn my soldier? bidding me depend

Upon thy stars, thy fortune, and thy strength?

And now dost thou fall over to my foes?

Thou wear a lion’s hide! Doff it for shame,

And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs!

AUSTRIA: O, that a man should say those words to me!

BASTARD: And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

AUSTRIA: Thou dar’st not say so, villain, for thy life.

BASTARD: And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

KING JOHN: We are not like this; thou dost forget thyself.

 

& so the matter is resolved. temporarily.

because the bastard just can not let it go:

 

ELINOR: Look’st thou pale, France; do not let go thy hand.

CONSTANCE: Look to that, devil; lest that France repent

And, by disjoining hands, Hell lose a soul.

AUSTRIA: King Philip, listen to the cardinal.

BASTARD: And hang a calf’s-skin on those recreant limbs.

 

he does it whenever the duke of austria says a damn word. by which point austria probably wishes he’d never been born.

 

KING JOHN: The king is mov’d, and answers not to this.

CONSTANCE: O, be remov’d from him, and answer well!

AUSTRIA: Do so, King Philip; hang no more in doubt.

BASTARD: Hang nothing but a calf’s-skin, sweet lout.

 

i can’t TAKE it.

 

PANDOLPH: The peril of our curses light on thee,

So heavy as thou shalt not shake them off,

But in despair die under their black weight.

AUSTRIA: Rebellion, flat rebellion!

BASTARD: Will’t not be? Will not a calf’s-skin stop that mouth of thine?

 

he literally doesn’t stop until austria’s offstage death. i find it so damn funny.

henley’s ‘invictus’, which knocked me the hell out, by the way

i feel like an idiot posting this, because i’m pretty sure everyone else on the face of the earth knew this poem already, but i found it yesterday morning & sweet jesus. what an incredible thing. i’ll hand you over to william ernest henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

i’d like to say ‘damn, damn, DAMN’ & just leave it there, because what can you really say about something that’s basically raw courage hammered into verse, but a couple things:

it isn’t a ‘stick-it-out-it’ll-get-better’ poem. there is nothing comforting about it. there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, there is no reward being offered. ‘Beyond this place of wrath and tears/ Looms but the Horror of the shade’. hell is followed by asphodel. it is about bravery & strength for its own sake. of course this is all bound up in questions of honour & dignity- it’s even somewhat victorian, i suppose- but wow. wow.

& secondly: those last two lines. they’ve got to be amongst the most powerful shit ever written. i recommend checking out the guy’s life story- the context of his poetry makes sense, there was real suffering in his life- but the poem stands alone, it really does. it doesn’t need backstory to be understood. it’s one of those rare things that just about everyone can look at & just get.

screaming taps, summer madness, filibuster the small dainty unicorn

-today i went out shopping for laundry detergent pods. i returned with a horrifically expensive cuddly unicorn. jo named him filibuster. i feel like that sums up my uni experience pretty well.

-we are almost into our final fortnight at mcc. the taps have started making weird yowling noises, so clearly they’re already mourning our departure, & the kitchen ceiling drips whenever i go in there, so deep is its grief. if i suddenly vanish from the online aether within the next few days, assume that the building collapsed on us.

-according to wordpress, it’s been three years since i started this blog. which is nuts. it began as a place for my fifteen-year-old drama-queen self to vent, bit by bit, the inexpressible enormity of her supernatural obsession (i say, like a hypocrite), & then as the most exam-riddled years of my life swung into hellish focus my blogging became patchy at best. but i think i’ll manage to stay Back this time, now that i’ve branched out somewhat, even if a lot of it’s just bits of whatever poems are knocking me out on whatever given day, or silly life-updates like this. i’m starting to feel comfortable here again.

-the discerning attendee of cobwebqueen.com may have noticed that my blog title has changed. let me tell you: you got off lightly, lucky reader. rejected possibilities included ‘the place where childhoods go to die’ & ‘my sapling personality cult’.

-the State of the Leg update: i think it’s getting better! i can actually climb stairs like a normal person now. on the other hand i am going STIR-CRAZY. lucy, usually an old hand at taking my crap after seven months under a roof together, has fled to ipswich for the weekend. perhaps she got tired of being tickled with sprouted root vegetables?

-i started reading king john this morning. the bastard of faulconbridge is making me cackle. his reaction to being accused by his brother of illegitimacy, on the grounds that he doesn’t look like their supposed father: ‘If old Sir Robert did beget us both/ And were our father, and this son like him,-/ O old Sir Robert, father, on my knee/ I give heaven thanks I was not like to thee!’ i mean, come on, that’s funny.

-i’m starting to put together my plans for the summer. i need to write a ton of my novel, & obviously keep this page going as best i can, & keep up with my ongoing shakespeare & poetry projects, & whatever books i’m reading alongside. i’d like to try to rack up some more poetry, because contrary to the impression i gave out by posting elegy for nebulae the other day, i write maybe two poems a year. & of those, i actually like perhaps one. or one stanza of one. you get me. i’m a prose writer, really. & i need to get on with my music practice &, you know, get a job.

-whilst working this around lord of the rings sleepovers & getting drunk in public parks & keeping up my track record of inappropriate nightclub behaviour. notable events will probably include sheffield pride & my birthday.

-i also really want to start teaching myself russian over the summer. which i will flat-out not have the time for, but i’m going to have even less time for it when second year starts, so i should probably just go for it.

-also! i’ve got my classical lit project planned. starting with the fagles iliad & going through euripides, sophocles, aristophanes, plato, aeschylus, herodotus, aristotle, petronius (i admit i’m excited for the satyricon), ovid- sappho, though i can’t remember where she fits into the chronology-  & then the anglo-saxons (got that heaney translation of beowulf alllllll lined up) & then chaucer, malory… you get the gist. now obviously i won’t get through all that from june to september, but i’m going to attempt a Sizeable Dent.

-i do art stuff too, just fyi. i should probably try to work some ink drawings in there. god, i’m just into way too much stuff. don’t even get me started on my david lynch project.

-anyway! there’s a nice thunderstorm scent to the air. wait, wait, there’s a gorgeous line somewhere in rosemary tonks-

That hour when all the Earth is drinking the

Blue drop of thunder

god, rosemary, just slay me, why don’t you?

but what i meant to say is that it’s about time i went to huddle up on the balcony & write. so, you know, bye. how are all you guys doing?

25/05/2018

‘…the light is brown as laudanum…’

rosemary tonks on cinemas:

No, I … go to the cinema,
I particularly like it when the fog is thick, the street
Is like a hole in an old coat, and the light is brown as laudanum.
… the fogs! the fogs! The cinemas
Where the criminal shadow-literature flickers over our faces,
The screen is spread out like a thundercloud – that bangs
And splashes you with acid…or lies derelict, with lighted
              waters in it,
And in the silence, drips and crackles – taciturn, luxurious.
… The drugged and battered Philistines
Are all around you in the auditorium …

i love her so much. this is from ‘the sofas, fogs, and cinemas’- which is a very sort of colloquial poem, in its way. it’s full of those ellipses, full of hesitations & slow admittances- it sounds a little like one side of a conversation in the dark. it’s lovely to read aloud.

‘the criminal shadow-literature’. damn. the illicitness of the dark anonymous movie-theatre, the space within which dreams- bloody, ecstatic, horrendous- are enacted. & ‘lies derelict, with lighted waters in it’- it’s cinema as a subterranean reflected landscape, the mirror within which, like narcissus, we see ourselves distorted.

& the almost victorian atmosphere of her poetry- she’s praised as a poet of the sixties & of course that’s all over her work, but she seems to me to be a poet, also, of the londons beneath that. she peels the layers from the pavement to get at the past. ‘the light is brown as laudanum’- that, to me, conjures up victorian spectres, victorian malaise (& holy hell, what a line). & then there’s her obsession with the fog- it shows up all through her stuff.

i love her i love her i love her.

fire-alarms, writing blues, borrowed gauntlets

-my greatest achievement so far this week: i threw a teabag at the bin in my room & actually got it in! never mind that there’s cocoa & coconut rooibos streaks all down one bit of the wall.

-okay, real talk. i’m busy as hell. trying to juggle my uni’s literature conference, which for some godforsaken reason i’ve decided to actually attend, whilst on a twelve-day writing kick (whenever i need to turn up the heat on whatever project, i set myself to write 31k in twelve days. it is invariably a bloody nightmare). whilst also making my way through shakespeare & mallarmé & everything else i’m currently reading. & trying to eat things that aren’t pasta or nakd bars. & also, you know, having friends.

-i’ve nearly finished reading richard ii. holy shit, the deposition scene. the whole play is spectacular. as he falls from grace, king richard becomes a human being. the transformation is on the page- it happens basically before your eyes- & it’s exhilarating to read. (& to watch. the hollow crown!) he goes from the land of poetic cypher- a land where he doesn’t really have a singular identity, where he is the royal ‘we’- to, you know, the land of being an actual person who questions, who wonders about who went before him & who will come after, who feels hunger, doubt, pain, who perceives the irony & poetry & mythos in his own tale. of course the allegorical territory is rich as hell- never mind the narcissus/christ/mythological figure of your choice parallels- but there is nothing in the play so exciting to me as that slow unravelling.

-except maybe the bizarrely hilarious scene where aumerle gives & receives so many insults to various lords that he runs out of gauntlets to throw down, & has to borrow one. i do like that scene.

-the book i’ve been assigned for the uni literature conference is rosemary tonks’ poetry/prose collection bedouin of the london evening. it’s knocking me OUT. set in a heady nocturnal london where the centuries seem to cross & criss-cross- the yellow fog & opium-dreams of victoriana melting into stark lightbulbs, drowned leaves, desperation.

-i so nearly bought ali smith’s autumn in waterstones earlier. also neil gaiman’s norse mythology book, & a gorgeous paperblank, & a cuddly monkey toy. fortunately jo was there to drag me out once i’d bought bedouin.

-i’m trying to write a certain project but it feels more like horse-wrangling. it doesn’t help that the fire-alarm went off at three a.m today, cue half an hour of me, lucy & the other unfortunates of mcc shivering in the courtyard while i tried to see if i could fit my knees inside my jumper. i could, but that didn’t do much to alleviate the fact that, you know, it was three a.m & i wasn’t even wearing my spectacles & i just wanted to go back to sleep, dammit.

-it also doesn’t help that Mallet Moron is currently playing shitty 2009 pop remixes at tooth-rattling volume. Mallet Moron is the psychopath in the room above mine who hammers his chinese mirror-sculptures at one in the morning, plays horrible music at deeply inconsiderate hours, & once chased one of my flatmates down the stairs before hammering on our door for half an hour while we called the police & i eyed the kitchen-knives just in case. but, hey, i move out in three weeks.

-i have, technically, finished my first year of uni. which is insane. i don’t even know what i’ve been doing all this time. i mean, sure, i’ve been to lectures & written enormous essays on dostoevsky & eaten a horrific amount of peanut butter & stayed awake for days on the trot before passing out in front of my laptop & watched the moon rise from the balcony with a mug of pink lemonade & written thirty-six thousand words of space-opera Dreck & done inappropriate things in nightclubs & read roughly sixty-six books & met a bunch of people who inexplicably seem to like spending time with me. but what have i DONE?

-time to make more tea & crack on with writing, i suppose. sending love to anyone who makes it to the end of this post. you’re a trooper.

 

 

the nuttiest dedication (yes, more mallarmé)

this is mallarmé’s COMPLETELY EXCESSIVE & RIDICULOUS dedication for his gorgeous-scary-ravishing sort-of-poem herodias (which i’m thinking about putting together a long post on in order to properly appreciate the dread-soaked erotic WEIRDNESS of the whole thing).

“Gift of the Poem”

I bring you this child of an Idumaean night!

Black, with featherless wings bleeding and nearly white,

through the glass burned with spices and with gold,

through the panes still, alas! dismal and icy cold,

the sunrise flung itself on the angelic

lamp, O you palms! and when it showed that relic

to this father attempting an unfriendly smile,

the blue and sterile solitude shivered all the while.

Woman lulling your little daughter, greet

a cruel birth, with the innocence of your cold feet

and your voice which both viol and harpsichord invest,

will you with shrivelled fingers press the breast

from which flows woman, Sibylline and white,

for lips starved of the virgin azure light?

for context: finding herodias to feel unsatisfactory after the intoxication of a deep night spent writing passed, my dude mallarmé gave it to his wife to read over. this is an example of somethin i really love about him as a poet, i guess- he didn’t always ‘save himself’ for the big stuff, for the grand biblical themes, for major happenings. he wrote lavish beautiful bits of poems for odd moments like this, for champagne toasts at dinner parties, as parts of letters to friends. perhaps he saw grandeur here too.

‘the innocence of your cold feet’. startling.

 

the run-down (+ digressions on spn, ben whishaw, ‘a midsummer night’s dream’ et al.)

-so, i’ve just been informed by the doctor that, due to an unidentified muscle injury, i can’t do any high impact sports for at least a week. which means no running. which kinda sucks out loud, because i’m a running junkie & it happens to be my only really clear thinking-space & there’s nothin quite like that high. but i’m limping everywhere & the doctor was making noises about painkillers & Seeing How It Goes, so i guess i’ll just deal.

-so you see that title was a pun! man i’m clever

-in the mean-time i intend to get absolutely killer biceps in order to beat lucy in our next arm-wrestle. (the tally currently stands at one point to each of us, but she was drunk the time i won. & she’s butch as hell. & i have noodle arms. i don’t like my chances.)

-i’ve been workin on a post about the picture of dorian gray. the decadence is a bit of a fixation of mine at the moment. somethin about decayed elegance fascinates me. & then of course there’s the side of it where i’m a queer who finds the wildly obvious homoeroticism hugely enjoyable. it’s so blatant!

-there’s a dead bat in the courtyard. it’s so tiny- a ball of fur the size of my thumb with little leathery wings. i always find it so strange, seeing dead things. like envoys from another world that barely touches mine. it’s because i’m a city kid who watches too many horror films; it gives you an unrealistic attitude towards death.

-blew twenty quid on two huge volumes of t.s eliot’s letters yesterday (‘yeah, jo, let’s go in city bookshop, whatever could go wrong?’). i’ve only flipped through so far but my god the guy had an impressive correspondence. jean cocteau, alain-fournier, virginia & leonard woolf, antoine de saint-exupéry, james joyce, alfred knopf, ford madox ford, wyndham lewis- you name ’em, they’re in there. it’s a testimony to the network of excitement that surrounded the literary community then- the sense that a huge upheaval was happening (an upheaval, remember, which paradoxically was born of disillusionment, ennui, the inadequacy of words in the face of what the world had seen). i’d love to go back & visit that time.

-just finishing the last act of a midsummer night’s dream. man, bottom is such a sweetheart. onto richard ii next- i’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since i watched the hollow crown production. which is a fucking masterpiece & probably the best onscreen shakespeare i’ve ever seen. it might be my favourite of ben whishaw’s performances- & i say that as a ben whishaw fan & someone who numbers bright star & cloud atlas amongst their favourite films. at the beginning he’s this alien gold-draped figure, sort of remote, like half of him’s looking down from a distant star- & completely disengaged with his political duties. (there’s a wonderful quote about the casting process from rupert goold: ‘i wanted someone who was poetically distant in their soul.’) & then the rest of it’s the slow unravelling of this persona- little cruelties, pettiness, kindness, despair. martyrdom & redemption & narcissism get completely mixed up, are often indistinguishable from each other. & there’s a riveting scene in the throne-room where i held my breath the whole way through.

-for the past few months i have been very slowly rewatching spn. i’m just into season six now. lucy & my other flatmates staged an intervention last time i watched an episode because i was laughing so loudly. it’s been good to come back to it- remembering why i got obsessed with this ridiculous show in the first place. i forget how good they are with character stuff sometimes- what a quality of realness, of predictable unpredictable life, is in sam & dean. & in characters like bobby & john & ellen & jo & charlie & even the ones who only last an episode, like madison. hell, even in jess, although by rights she should be an irritating stereotype- instead you really believe in her kindness, her goodness, that sam could glimpse a better world through her. i don’t know how they pull it off but they do.

-i’m two seasons behind on spn, by the way. i’ll catch up eventually. i’ve heard things about season twelve that make me want to bang my head against the wall, but i’m pretty excited to get stuck into season thirteen.

-i’m currently sitting surrounded by books, drinking coconut & honey kefir because apparently uni has made me into a giant hippie. also, despite already being in the middle of about six books here, plus two more that i left at my mother’s house (wolf hall & a new york winter’s tale, if you want to know), i started reading the dresden files earlier. they’re the kind of semi-trashy that really, really appeals to me. harry dresden is an irritating chauvinist git & i’m exasperated with myself for liking him.

-on a serious kaleo kick this week. morose icelandic rock is a Mood, frankly.

-me & the gang- meaning lucy, jo, will & jamie- are catching the train down to house-sit (read: sleepover!) at jo’s this weekend. cue studio ghibli marathons & banana bread-making. it’s gonna be a fun weekend. even if i can’t pavement-pound my Manly Inner Torment away. sigh.

 

stuff i’m reading: mallarmé (POEMS LIKE WHITE ORCHIDS)

i’ve finished my coursework essays! which means that i can now get on with the real business of life, i.e marathoning the hollow crown, getting shin splints, eating gnocchi with my deadpan & pre-raphaelite flatmate lucy, & shutting myself up to write for ten hours a day. oh, & reading.

specifically, reading mallarmé’s collected poems, a midsummer night’s dream, brief lives (sandman #7), & emily of new moon. this is an intoxicating cocktail to me; it means i get to indulge four of my obsessions at once. french symbolist poetry! shakespeare! gaiman! l.m montgomery!

i’m only thirty pages into the mallarmé collection & it’s a pretty unusual experience. it’s difficult stuff, for one thing- abstract, dreamlike, & it has a strange out-of-time quality. there’s beautiful sumptuous imagery- sometimes monstrously sumptuous, excessively sumptuous. you can see why it held such an attraction for the decadents. & you can sense through his writing this constant tidal pull towards dream-life, an endless restlessness.

it’s otherworldly. poems like white orchids.

for those who don’t have an obsessive thing about the decadence & all its influences: stéphane mallarmé, 1842-1898, one of the key figures of the french symbolist movement, which was all about access to sublimity through dreams rather than the physical world. major oversimplification, obviously.

anyway, his poetry’s taken up most of my recent three a.ms. one of the ones that’s caught & held me, so far-

“Sea Breeze”

The flesh is sad- and I’ve read every book.
O to escape- to get away! Birds look
as though they’re drunk for unknown spray and skies.
No ancient gardens mirrored in the eyes,
nothing can hold this heart steeped in the sea-
not my lamp’s desolate luminosity
nor the blank paper guarded by its white
nor the young wife feeding her child, O night!
Away! You steamer with your swaying helm,
raise anchor for some more exotic realm!
Ennui, crushed by cruel hopes, still relies
on the handkerchief’s definitive goodbyes!
Is that the kind of squall-inviting mast
that storm-winds buckle above shipwrecks cast
away- no mast, no islets flourishing?
Still, my soul, listen to the sailors sing!

the world we live in has a sort of ground-level distrust of dreams. for obvious reasons. the old-fashioned idea of the ‘dreamer’ is- has it gone? a couple hundred years ago i suppose this would have been embodied by the cloistered poet in the unfurnished attic, hill of dreams-style. & now?

it’s unhealthy to live too much in your mind, to wallow all day in writing or television or looking at pictures of places you’ll never go or pick your poison. of course it’s unhealthy. we are expected, in the world we live in now, to get up & fix our dreamer-habits. they don’t put food on the table. they don’t get you a degree. etc. self-care doctrine is on the rise. if you catch yourself staring into space for five minutes you’re supposed to quit that shit & do some yoga. or call a friend & laboriously explain that, & why, & exactly how you’re feeling spacey.

obviously i’m not saying this is necessarily a bad idea. to some extent these people are right. there is a point where if you spend too much time in your head you forget how to live.

but for people with lush dream-lives a degree of Transportive Cloisterment is necessary. it keeps you sane. it allows your head to remain a place you can hang out in. sometimes after a weekend of bonfires & grimy clubs i’ll stumble back in with woodsmoke in my hair & scratchy eyes & in that act of switching off from social-mode it’s like i’m re-entering my own mental landscape. feeling along the walls, remembering who i am when i’m alone.

i feel some of that in this poem. the temptation to rereat, the yearning for something new, for that access to your own dream-spaces. drunk for unknown spray & skies. & of course the draw of the sea. there are people who are in love with the sea, for whom separation from it amounts to a physical longing. it might be one of the only truly huge & unknowable things left on this earth, one of the only parts of it still capable of hiding things. mallarmé’s pre-freud, of course, but the sea’s functioned as a metaphor for the subterranean dream-realms of the mind for a hell of a long time.

one of my favourite passages from moby-dick:

“But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd’s head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd’s eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies—what is the one charm wanting?—Water—there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.”

the ungraspable phantom of life. life as a phantom. life as a dream. domesticity, which we’re supposed to want, which we’re supposed to need to fulfil us- the young wife feeding her child, here- as wearying. not everyone’s cut out for it. some people who try to tie themselves down are always going to be listening out for the sailors’ song, the siren-song. think siken: til human voices wake us, & we drown.

expect more from me on this collection. i really like the translation (e.h & a.m blackmore). (also, a tip for anglophones digging into the french symbolists: get a translation with parallel french text. read the original aloud even if you don’t understand a word of it. it’s like cello-music. it’s like crack.)