Doom porn: What would Martin Luther do?

Again, as happens, acquaintances I believe should know better, being educated, intelligent, and reflective, let the doomporn clickbait get the better of their sincere, best intentions and share distressing articles, such as this one about a report by two (2) Australians this spring positing that there is a “‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ Starting in 2050”.

Nearly, already, three decades back, a similar despair, coupled with Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” I had by heart and the offhand remark by a friend visiting the lush, extinct volcano near his birthplace, inspired a poem in answer (the second of seven Budapest Suites in Grand Gnostic Central).

 

Budapest Suites II

for Laszlo Gefin

 

“There is a god here!”

In wild strawberry entangling thistle,

In maple saplings, a shroud on loam,

In chestnut and cherry blossoms over tree-line,

In goldenrod and grass, every green stalk, bowed with seed.

 

And there is a god who

Quarries slate for imperial highways,

Mines iron-ore out of greed,

Who would have Mount Ság again

Ash and rock.

 

And there is a god

In the seared, scarred, spent, still,

For lichen, poppies and song

Here rise from the bared

And broken rock to the air!

 

Just last year, some widely-publicized remarks by Mayer Hillman (“We’re doomed!”) inspired a number of responses, an early version of one I posted here the last time a friend disseminated some other bleak pessimism…

I’m hardly a Bjorn Lomborg playing down the gravity of the situation and the urgent, concerted, radical action it calls for, including the need for no less focussed, lively and creative reflection and critique to articulate a post-anthropocentric, if not post-humanist, biocentric ecosophy. But nor am I a latter-day Jeremiah confusing his insight into the woes and flaws of the present with visions of imminent, righteous catastrophe. (It’s high time I address at greater length this newly-arisen apocalyptic tone in cultural criticism…).

To wit, and not for the last time, I’m sure, I share here two unpublished (…because editors [eye-roll emoji][facepalm emoji]…) sections of the sequence “Made in Germany”, composed in 2012.

 

Waiting on a train to what was

the East, the summer of the year

the New Age believed the World

would end, wildfires smoke

from Colorado to Croatia,

 

floodwaters deeper than memory

drown southern Russia and Thailand,

tornadoes plough the Midwest,

hurricanes blow past records

on the Eastern Seaboard.

 

 

http:// arctic-news.blogspot.de/p/global-extinction-within-one-human.html?spref=fb (21.07.2012)

 

Asked what he would do were the world to end

next day, Luther replied, “Plant an apple tree.”

 

102217-19-Philosophy-Knowledge-Epistemology

 

 

 

 

 

“Mile End est mort…”

For the more than three decades I’ve lived in Montreal, I’ve lived in the quarter known generally as The Plateau and more specifically and recently (to my ears, anyway) Mile End, most notably at “Grand Gnostic Central” on the corner of Rachel and St. Urbain (scenes from the cinematic version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz were filmed just up the block), a couple of locations on Hutchison and Parc Avenue south of Bernard, and, since 1996 (for the time being) on the corner of St Joseph and Parc in what our landlady calls her Chateau du Parc.

mile end est mort

Credit: Mary Shelley

Montreal, like any number of cities on earth, is suffering a process of gentrification. In  my area, it’s been underway for years, but it’s picked up since a number of software companies (Ubisoft and Softimage) have moved in. When it all began, I reflected that more affordable if less “desirable” neighborhoods attract those who can afford to live in them, which will often include creatives, writers, painters, artists, and so forth. Their creative energies, by a cruel dialectic, make the neighborhood more beautiful, pleasant and lively, attracting more residents and businesses, beginning a process of, well, gentrification. The creatives and others who made the place attractive in the first place are forced to move out, to some other quarter, sometimes in some other city, where the process can begin all over again.

A poem in Ladonian Magnitudes, “The Intersection” remarks this process. I share it below as a manner of memorial.

 

The Intersection

 

where l’Esplanade

meets Villeneuve

 

that spring dusk

the air’s first

 

breathable classic

sunlit redbrick

 

the unique quaint

three-storey walkups

 

characteristic of

the quarter’s charm

 

are almost all

so made up

 

like new the one

run down white tshirt

 

underarm stain yellow

building with muddy

 

white frames peeling

around cracked panes

 

stands out like

never among

 

those other fronts

kept up for years

 

without a thought

of what they’d go for

 

 

 

 

Set List: Accent Reading Series: Monday 29 July 2019

20190715_140503Having settled on poems that have to do with travel for my upcoming reading, I post here the set list and link poems on-line that are among those I’ll perform, for interested parties.

“European Decadence in medias res” (from Ladonian Magnitudes)

Budapest Suites I (from Grand Gnostic Central)

Two poems from Made in Germany, (“In Berlin, at the Mehringdamm U-Bahn station…” and “Cabbie on Documenta13”)

Toronto Suite (early versions of two of three poems in the suite can be read here and here)

“À Québec” (from Grand Gnostic Central)

“The Intersection” (from Ladonian Magnitudes)

“By Mullet River”

“A Sonnet is a moments, &tc.”

 

 

 

At the Accent Weekly bilingual poetry series & Open Mic

It’s rare and special when I get to share my work in public, and I’m grateful for this latest opportunity.

credit Brian Campbell

credit Brian Campbell

I’ll be one of two featured readers (with Derek Webster) at the next Accent reading series event:

Monday 29 July
at ‘La Marche a Cote’ 5043 St. Denis, Montreal, Quebec.

Officially things get underway at 19h00, but the real fit hits the shan around 20H00!

I’m working on my fifteen-minute set, now:  at present, I’ll either be reading poems pertinent to the moment from my first two books, or, since we’ll all be stuck in town, maybe a selection of poems about anywhere other than Montreal!

You can read more about the series, here.

 

A theme with vista: food

An Australian acquaintance I know through our shared admiration for the poetry and political writing of Peter Dale Scott is fast becoming a shadow co-editor for Poeta Doctus. She weekly or so will share poems on-line, one of which has already prompted my sharing one of my own.

Today, she shared Daniel Nyikos’ poem about making Hungarian potato soup. This resonated with me for numerous reasons: food is a persistent theme in my own work, and my father’s family are Hungarian immigrants (my sister holds in her possession my grandmother’s handwritten recipe for potato soup). I share below, therefore, two (!) poems, from Ladonian Magnitudes.

The first, “Marmitako“, is similar to Nyikos’ (though it never made it into the pages of Poetry), about a traditional, Portuguese fish stew. Things have changed since it was written, as to eat tuna, today, is both to dose yourself with mercury and to contribute to the extinction of the fish. The second, “Horizontal Gold Noble Mercury”, concerns mercury, too—explicitly, but in a more rarefied sense—and, consequently, sustenance in a more sophisticated manner. Bon appetit!

 

Marmitako

 

They cut the tail section off some

Of the tuna, bonito, and mackerel

They caught, skinned and boned it,

Cleaned it up in buckets, chopped it

Up and threw it in the iron stewpot

On top of the onions, garlic, tomatoes,

And dried red peppers, cleaned and chopped,

Simmering there, oil bubbling through,

Shared loaves and some good red wine,

That Friday of all days still offshore.

 

Horizontal Gold Noble Mercury

 

1/2 grapefruit, red or white, sliced banana on bowl muesli w/ 2% milk or 1% yoghurt, brown toast w/ jam or honey on peanutbutter, 1 espresso

Piece sprouted unleavened Manna Bread, 1 espresso

Sandwich, russet apple or pear, 1 espresso

2 nights now, stir fry of Spanish onion, Hungarian pepper, bean sprouts, broccoli, tofu;  1 espresso

4500 mg vitamin C daily until cold is gone

There stands a house under the mountain of the world

Be thou the happy subject of my books, a brave craft

Dash’d all to pieces, my tongue, this air,

Born here of parents born here of parents

The same, hoping to cease not, till death

alchemymountain-granger

 

 

Bradford & Rad on House House Press

Back when David Bradford published his chapbook Call Out back in 2017, he was kind enough to answer a few questions concerning the book and his art and life.

Now, you can read, here, he and collaborator Anahita Jamali Rad answer some more queries concerning their House House Press, a publisher of

poetry chapbooks, pamphlets and ephemera  that seeks out rigorous politics of peripherality, scaffoldings for debris, studies of mess, and everything in between, with a primary focus on radical BIPOC writing practices.

house house

Budapest on my mind

A friend of mine recently shared Anya Silver’s poem “Doing Laundry in Budapest”, which brought to mind a thematically-related poem of my own, from my first chapbook Budapest Suites (Montreal:  Pneuma, 1993) and first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central and other poems. I share it here for my friend’s, and anyone else’s, pleasure.

 

_Vaci_utca_street_sign-

 

“Apply what you know to what you feel that’s more than enough”

 

On Váci utca, mongrel pigeons, flapping,

Mount American-style shopfront windows.

 

Grey cops in pairs or trios patrol;

Country people bag handiwork, whistling.

 

At the end of Vörösmárty tér, a blind man begs fillérs at tables in Gerbaud—

A blond father yells No! at a Gypsy girl and daughter.

 

Behind me a woman asks for directions:

Bocsanat.  Nem magyar.  “Nem Magyar?!”

 

NOTES:

Váci utca is a famous commercial street in Budapest; Vörösmárty tér is a square at the end of the street; fillérs at the time (1991) were pennies; Gerbaud is a famous café on, I believe, the square; the Hungarian that ends the poem can be translated roughly as “Pardon me. I’m not Hungarian.” “You’re not Hungarian?!”

I am aware that the racial designation of the girl and daughter in line 6 might, today, be read as an epithet; I retain it here as an index of the time of the poem’s composition; its use, innocent at that time, was also prompted by the alliteration with ‘Gerbeaud’….

 

 

“We’re doomed.”

….or, as the refrain of another “Dark Mountain” climate change jeremiad would put it, “It’s worse than that.”

It is, surely, rationally difficult not to deny the gravity of global warming and environmental degradation in general and not to fall prey to anxiety or even despair. It is not irrational, however, to maintain an open, critical mind and culture hope.

For instance, even fairly responsible media sources distort the findings of ecological researchers. For example, two recent studies of declines in insect biomass inspired copy such as “insect apocalypse,” “global ecosystem collapse,” “loss of all insects within 100 years,” and “collapse of entire food webs.” However,  learned reflection reveals the matter is less dramatic, far more complex, though hardly without concern. The same can be said for headlines about how humans have wiped out 60% of all animals on Earth in the last 30 to 40 years.

Much more could be said in this vein, but not quite eight months back, similar, dire and final pronouncements from Mayer Hillman prompted a number of poetic responses, of which the tersest and most direct was this:

 

Replies to Mayer Hillman

 

“We’re doomed.”

 

Your therapist would guide you

gently to see you’re fortune telling.

 

The dialectician would unfold the thought

that determination does not

 

foreclose unforeseen developments

being the condition of its own negation.

 

A happy chance slip of memory recalls

“What is real now was only once imagined”.

 

relax-nothing-is-in-control-quote-1

 

Jason Kenney rides UCP wave to majority government in Alberta

 

When I read this headline this morning, I was immediately reminded of my friends’ reactions to the election of Rob Ford last summer, whose social media postings I collaged into a kind of poem as they threaded their way to me then.

You can read “Ontario Election Results 2018 in real time“, changing the names and places as needed to make it about this most recent electoral development.

I’ve poetically expressed my own political leanings here, in a long poem from Ladonian Magnitudes (2006).

All I can say is, Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!

https _c2.staticflickr.com_6_5532_10495374104_1e3d4869a3_b

Reflections on James Dunnigan’s ‘The Stained Glass Sequence’

I had the chance recently to discuss how James Dunnigan’s The Stained Glass Sequence sequence-thumbjust out from Frog Hollow Press might be received. It’s a weird poem in the context of present-day English-language poetry, with gestures and stances more reminiscent of High Modernism, intricate and allusive, than anything you might read on a visit to, say, the Poetry website….

It was the refractory complexities of just the suite’s title that made me think “How someone who reads poetry can review it is just beyond me….” which I posted on social media, which, in turn, received (among others) a telling reply:  “It is a form of reading, at best.”

Taken by itself (the thread did wind on…), this response can be taken to be representative in several ways. First, it assumes the spontaneous authority of the vulgar usage of the verb ‘to read’, an authority that in certain regards is beyond reproach but which is also constantly in danger of asymptoting to the thoughtless. More significantly it enacts precisely what my original post found problematic, since it seems either to refuse or fail to register the stress on ‘reads‘ indicated by the italics (to suggest the word twists in some way from the ordinary sense) and the claim made in the predicate (which further torques the notion of reading from its accepted sense); that is, it doesn’t read or try to understand the original post, seeming more concerned to leave everything the way it is, its complacency disturbed just enough to defend the status quo and defer reflection.

In the same way, many readers will no doubt pass over the implications of the title. If there’s one dogged misperception that has persisted since the late Eighteenth Century it’s the Baconian idea that the word is or should function as a transparent medium, a window onto the world, a notion the title troubles doubly, for stained, unlike transparent, glass, though translucent, colours what might be viewed through it, and, more importantly, its pieces are a medium to compose a design or picture the window frames rather than a view through it. To borrow a two centuries’ old terminology, the title suggests the sequence’s language not so much represents but presents. Any reading, let alone evaluation, of the sequence that fails to assiduously and consistently treat the language as refractory rather than transparent will fail to appreciate it in the first place.

Of course, such reflexivity, a gesture that goes back to Homer, is only a start to the title’s formal sophistication. Its grammar, likewise, throws light on the poem: it is composed of a substantive (‘sequence’) preceded by three modifiers (‘The Stained Glass’…). If one considers the middle two words in themselves, in the etymology that roots their adjectival function, they, too, possess the same syntax, a substantive ‘glass’ modified by ‘stained’. This is to say, the syntax of the title, in a way, is nested, or, better, framed, the way the implications of the title arguably frame, or should, the reception of the poem.

And reading the sequence, the attentive reader will remark how little stained glass or stained-glass windows actually appear in the poem. The sequence opens ekphrastically, describing a painting by Chagall, stained glass is mentioned as such in the second part, the fourth section is in four “panels”, and Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel are remarked in the fifth. That the poem makes far more consistent reference to painting than stained glass suggests all the more the formal reflexivity of the title than its naming “an important theme” that the sequence takes up and develops.

A careful, thoughtful reader may well mark, too, another complication. The title is, in a way, paradoxical, modifying a temporal noun (‘sequence’, a pattern than unfolds linearly in time) with a spatial modifier (‘stained glass’, a translucent medium that either colours light or is itself used in the composition of a design or picture, a work of art perceived spatially). There is then a tension, as the sequence is, perhaps, a series of spaces arranged in time, though the title names the sequence as a sequence, as a temporal form, as language itself is.

Any reading of Dunnigan’s book that fails to read (in the most emphatic sense) even the title will likewise falter in understanding the sequence the title frames and thereby governs. And if so much is at work even before the first word of the poem is read, let alone on every line, if this reader is a reviewer, how little weight will their judgement carry if they fail to register these first—preliminary, guiding, essential—aspects of the poem?