Thursday, May 19, 2016

Joyess Modernism. The Nightingale You Love.

Spontaneous speculative linguistically innovative response to and commentary on Guardian year ten series Poem of the week no. 448: To a Nightingale by RF Langley.

Thanks very much to our Guardian curator, custodian, virtual goddess, keeper and poet-steward safe at the critical top of Her online Potw free for all barouche, caisson, wagon, receptacle and cutting-edge contemporary and experimental literary tree composed of comments from the Anonymous and identifiable colleagues, frenemies, friends, trolls, and cutting-edge linguistically innovative freedom fighters in the war on darkness, ignorance and fear of all that is different and unknown.


There is much well-woven alliterative, assonantal, and consonantal mouth-music in this week's offering. Subtly stitched into perfectly superlative super-short lines the words of which demand to be heard spoken to convey their full effect. And when they are, awe and dazzle our Reader's outer ear experiencing a merry-go-round of sounds and meaning.

Tho some of the words will send the general reader straight to a dictionary, and it takes a number of close-readings before we grasp the semantics and what exactly Langley's visual picture is; the overriding impression one is left with after first encountering this poem, read aloud, is a very striking sonic felicity in the arrangement of sounds the spoken words make, and the impressive quality of acoustic aptness and concordance their combined union create.

Tho i didn't know the meaning of a handful of specialist entomological words in the poem, the dizzying orality of these words combined transcend, or at least, equal, i think, the sum of their individual meanings, and cohere in a greater multi-formed spoken poem, that is, perhaps, a very definition of what the poetic voice should sound like in our external ear.

What struck me also are the very consciously placed periods appearing playfully in the middle of short haiku-length lines. Unlike the also superlative use of them three weeks ago, by Sarah Howe. Who deployed them in a similarly-shaped poem also made up of haiku-length spoken units; but only at the end of those short and more visually hygienic lines. Something I didn't consciously note at the time.

Though perhaps counter-intuitive to the mainstream eye of a more literary serious and poetically sombre contemporary middle-aged post-Movement editor whose critical outlook and opinions were formed in the shadow and sway of Seamus Heaney's global dominance as the most visibly eminent and officially ennobled laureate of a once very modern yet also very formal lyric verse; the assured and witty way with which Langley 'breaks the rules' of the old school, by not keeping subtly hidden the periods, and separating the units of speech by capitalising them as new sentences in the middle of slim laconic lines, because of the sheer ostentatious sound and musicality the poem makes, this full stop-go puncuational strategy enhanced rather than attenuated the whole effect of reading the poem for the first time. Aloud.

Speaking a mix of the exact scientific words most of us have to consult a dictionary to understand the meaning of, and the clacky-clicky makey-uppy sounds from nature that have no formal names, combined into a poem of the Nightingale that lead us by the ear to a bridge along the very metrically sophisticated and assured road that is a thematic centre of this free-verse that is anything but.

A contemporary lyric formality and metrically couth, laid back and refined framework hidden in plain sight disguised as a poem from the avant-garde modernist wing broadcasting a sophisticated effect caused by this yoking together of seemingly disparate sounds and meaning one must stare very closely at for a concentrated period of time, before one appreciates the finely created whole of this week's text.

One for the more aristocratically discerning Reader prepared to dig and listen and learn out loud how well-chosen the words and immaculately crafted are the welds in the arrangement of them. How metrical their divisions and distances, hearing from one sound to another this week's richly rewarding modernist song of spoken music made by a mouth alone.

And as the poet hopefully wills to reflect in print when s/he is in the throes of a half-inspired half-ecstatic state of cerebrally dependent composition all seek, tho most without a comprehensive bardic education or knowledge, in English translation, of the appropriate texts and technical triestes, that begin, the student Irish poet learned, for forty generations of their former courtly and aristocratic tradition: 'with the languages from abroad, every obscure sound that existed in every speech and in every language was put into Gaelic so that for this reason it is more comprehensive than any language.'

This pseudo-historical accounting for B-L-F-S-N and the Ogham alphabet in the Medieval poet-training manual published in English as the Scholar's Primer, that defined a strict twelve year course of studies, the purpose of which inculcated into the student poets a subtle appreciation of imbas forosnai and the spirit of divine illumination that creates all superlative poems and their parallel occult shadow text hidden within the very language of the poem as its ghostly aural silent voice that, as A.E. Houseman believed, went through one like a spiritually silent spear when in the presence of it.

Heard in the inner aural ear where the purest poetry exists, and that cannot be done justice when poets:

   ... address themselves frankly and almost exclusively to what may be called the external ear. This, in different ways and by different methods, they fill and delight: it is a pleasure to hear them, a pleasure to read them aloud. But there, in that very fact, you can tell that their music is only of the second order. To read aloud poets whose music is of the first, poets so much unlike one another as Milton and Blake, is not a pleasure but an embarrassment, because no reader can hope to do them justice. Their melody is addressed to the inner chambers of the sense of hearing, to the junction between the ear and the brain; and you should either hire an angel from heaven to read them to you, or let them read themselves in silence.

This point of potential contemporary contention appears in his breath-takingly ruthless posthumous critical assassination of Swinburne in the year after he died, claiming the silent aural ear is a superior poetic instrument than the spoken one.

And of course, in one sense, he is correct in claiming. But Houseman was also without any bardic learning, and exhibits a fatal sense of, perhaps, wrong assumptions, superiority, and a tone of gentlemanly entitlement common in that peculiarly Edwardian Anglophone voice at which Yeats excelled and was first in the class speaking.

At the point it was coming into the full of its capacity and attainment of his poetic, political, and mature theatrical literary power, at the height of speech as the pre-Dublin Rising and Anglophone poetry world's pre-eminent voice of eloquent poetic civility.

The spoken ear that Houseman demotes in his writing exercise of a literary strategist with one goal of repeatedly wellying a contemporary Edwardian boot into the freshly dead poet founder of a Victorian Decadent old school, by elevating to primacy and privilege this aural sense-blender, chamber, and divider of five simultaneously experienced physiological perceptions which meld into a wholly alternative non-physical inward path, and picture of reality, that is, perhaps, borne of personal bitterness, or critical perspicuity, depending on where in the spectrum of competing positions one decides to make a rhetorical stand and concur with or contest.

Adopt for the theoretical craic and a theatrical purpose common in those lucky to have got a way into painting and rendering closest to the contours of their own unique thought-process, a living inner prayer, poem, and the incarnate human spirit conjured to being by the unfathomable magic of Creation itself.

That is but briefly here and can potentially be harnessed to sing in spoken song and light ahead our spiritual road and make exist that ear within each and every one-off member of our eight billion strong species and race of humanity, that, in the greater context, are ourselves, singularly for three score and ten, and collectively for a quarter of a million years, but a brief breath of time in something far more perceptive and eloquent than what our quotidian words stack up and amount to on the page of one singular human life.

Itself but briefly drawing breath, disappears with the human spirit passing above, around, away, below, beside, down from, up over and beyond back into Creation flowing toward the light, and, in this poem, leaving in both one's external spoken and silently heard inner aural ear a rarely balanced frolicking and joyous playful spiritual mouth-music elevating to overt notice the usually unrevealed making and markings of that poem appear visually less formal. By the very clever and not insubstantial mental device and practice of stylistic deconstruction, and by example highlighting the nuts and bolts of a fixed metrical position, in such a way that challenges, confronts and invites a literary Reader to question the rigid poetic perspectives and conventions of formal lyric verse.

Spiritually enriched and morally clarified by the experience of pressing forward in the entirely counter-intuitive witnessing of a linguistically innovative poetry composed at the very creatively upper and most superlative intellectual heights.

And a manifestation of the knowledge which illuminates a poetic way across and through life's floors and doors of intuition drawn in the abundance of ways and paths across the bed of the noble streams only one in a hundred will get you across.

Desmond Swords

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