Thursday, February 25, 2016

Theo van Doesburg, Still Life: The Table

As an Edge Hill University Writing Studies and Drama undergraduate beginning in my home town of Ormskirk the Modern Drama module at the start of the second semester of the second year in January 2003, we in the class were told by our tutor to bring in anything at all, an image, text, or something else, that summed up for us the word 'modern'. Modo, of the moment.

For the Poetry & Poetics components of the three year course the entire theoretical contents were drawn wholly from American modernism, beginning in year one with Pound's A Few Don'ts and terminating at the end of year three with Charles Bernstein's seminal essay; I Don't Take Voice Mail: The Object of Art in the Age of Electronic Technology.

The poems themselves came from the first two Pierre Joris and Jerome Rothenberg edited door-stoppers, poems for the millennium anthologies one and two: Postmodern Poetry. Volume One: From Fin-de-Siècle to Negritude, and, Volume Two: From Postwar to Millennium.

The night before the Modern Drama class, I was trying to find something to bring in that summed up the word 'modernism', and was flicking through volume one of the Joris and Rothenberg anthology, which, for those unfamiliar with it, contains a lot of extremely crazee stuff, far more bonkers than what we have today, most of which is merely derivative of the original stuff.

Only a handful of poems from the entire 1000 pages leapt out at me. One was a late poem from 1930 called Screaming My Head Off, written by the poet of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Mayakovsky, just before he committed suicide, and whose mad but coherent and forcefully poetic voice stood out from all the typographical experiments devoid of any real meaning like a light in the dark.

The other poem that made worthwhile my late night trawling through the textual lunacy that had not aged well, and that I brought into and read at the first Modern Drama class, as an example of the one thing that encapsulated what I thought the word 'modernism' meant, was a self-aware timeless-present voice narrating this list poem by the Dutch visual artist and writer, Theo van Doesburg; who made me laugh out loud on first reading it.


All muddled up
A glass of tea
Some cups
Some pots
And get a fresh look
at what’s lying there –
This is the shadow
of the shadow of
a candlestick!
A piece of paper
& a can in blue
white &
An ash tray with
a pipe stem
& a very heavy book
in blue & yellow
with something that looks brown
inside a black can

And the candle there!
The light! The light!

And a mist around them
& their glow
Some spoons
Something that’s gleaming
on the gold rim of the
And there’s another piece of paper
on which lies: a red match
a couple of blue pamphlets
a little piece of string atop
a small red box
And then the cloth!
Half a chair
there in the mist
a little further back
And how the yellow cloth becomes
& that much softer
And then here
                          and here
here on the paper’s
garish white
are two black nails
one that looks real & one a silhouette
my hand
my hand
a hill with murky caves
in which a rafter lies
between two clumps of clay
wedged tight

Translation from the Dutch by Jerome Rothenberg

Saturday, February 06, 2016

"Style is a Function of Theme

not imposed on subject
      matter but arising from it.

             Style is truth to thought"

                        Julian Barnes

Julian. Some say he was the big man

who thought outside the box
a giant in the cannon

 an anonymous author nobody read

who remained unknown and unrecognised
and could not get arrested if he was 

cart-wheeling naked on the high street.
He was a country bloke. A big fellow

great for 
field work and labouring. His
 family's blue eyed 
Jewel - destined for

Be handy for a bit more than
sweeping up and swilling down the yard.

 D’yer get it?

Couldn’t put a foot wrong. A farm boy
   and youngest who grew up tall

shovelled muck from sty to dung
heap, dug ditches; a bit of building


            he was a man who thought about
all sorts, not just pig swill or chickens

  and having a lend of his neighbour's
sheepdog. He was a crackerjack who

            out-thought the lot

   tossed out ideas on spuds, swedes
  beetroot, dairy produce, small rural

industry, stocks, bonds, and treasury

     domestic think-tanks

and strategies that rid the workplace
 of prejudice, promote tolerance

inclusion, diversity, fairness 
     and transparency in local transport

and territorial issues; the national health
 contingency for a state of emergency

and the most practical way of
 mucking out effluent from piggeries

    stables and chicken coops.


Several pub’s number one
 writer-in-residence, who, in no time at

all, could whip up a master-plan 

of attack on the back of a fag packet

or beer mat - when he wasn't devoting
his energy to farm work, or thinking

of what style might arise from 

the subject matter of his next essay.

Many don't care for the doings
 of his life, or read his works 

 couldn’t give a toss if his style was
imposed or arose.


    was an intellectual giant
who’d direct operations from a lounge bar

or hay-barn HQ. Wield a shovel for six
 hours solid, and run the economy with

invisible ink. Could write wonderfully
 well, grow a muzzy - any dodge going.

He could keep an army on its toes
 if he bothered getting out of bed

and he knew how to keep a dream
 hidden when love was terminal.

He fought in the trench of Art
and plotted to overthrow the status quo

cycled the countryside picnicking
keeping fit; necking a few scoops

as he moved about bossing the troops
 whipping up the craic

and firing off one-liners. 

He had a great gas
 taking it to the max, tittering

giggling at being a legend
 and taking the piss out of titular rich ones

who thought they were doing themselves
 a favour by not leaving Her be and fecking
off out of it.


His doings foxed everyone but
 Kathleen up until that night. He was

always straight with her. He had to be
  because she's a right one who

 always knew the score. Still does.
She’s unreal. None of 'em conned



in Barnesly Bloomsbury and Brum, 
he knew lovers, fighters

fanatics, violent shit-houses, loons
frightened bullies, spivs, liars, cowards

  and good people with a desire for
 freedom. In Dublin he roused peace-
nicks who looted

hearts, minds, mythology and shops
 on his whim; but only when desperation

kicked in for the extras he never
 had as a kid.

More than all this though Barnsey
 he was a style expert who spun tales

          by jumping straight in.


"Aoife mouths words but it’s all
Kathleen’s world, and the brown

leather robe draped across the chair
tucked beneath the table

contained within this locked box
is mine" 

Niamh cries
coming through the door of the
occupational therapy room where

nurse Aoife O’Brien sits listening to
angelus bells peel havoc at the hill


deport to the readers mind
let them see beyond
stereotype freaks from a secure

ward and out-patient casting
agency of unknown background

artistes on a promise a day for the full
bore shoot of pretending to be Tom

Robert or Marlon's heir. And through
those who share your consciousness

connect them to angelus energy.

Have the sense to look for meaning
where few dare peek for fear 

of being branded mentally unkempt, like
Niamh was before she died a derelict in
the loony bin

opined to be beyond all reach by the
boss head doctor of a crumbling

psychiatric hospital, where she lived
in nineteen ninety nine

when nurse O’Brien dished up pills
and injections from ten to eleven

depending on
depending on…

"If there is a cow in the field and
a machine out of order.. 


 Niamh is on-ward and in role play as
a not-yet dead nut-nut strapped in

to the naughty chair and babbling freely
at the table.

                 ..the machine is out of order. "

Niamh continues 

              "Within the four walls of this crypt
            I conjure the tall author, architect 

         of state and soldier of memory who
        lives on ...

Does Niamh now flit with the tall
fellow’s shade

        .... in books 

deconstruct schoolchildren
 from shadows in caves

and tower over oath bound men
 to find a simple mountain grace

  written ...
at life’s end? 

       .....when Yeats ruled a world of
      words his imagination shook fairly

     from her tongue pouring forth to
    make prayer and fable a nation’s


Me me me me me more than he it was
             back when Niamh gobbed off

and got on with the business of
    being la la. Nuttying it up for

medication and a cosmic life
of ticking boxes and flapping

  wings across forms Aoife’s boss
Kathleen - the chief executive - read

before deciding the only option on
   offer for Niamh were a few large

energy jolts to her brain.


A one woman universe who returns
her tribe to disperse underground
and travel through air as ether. 

Niamh knew Aoife’s way was the
leather restraining belt and the
moniker they used


her daily jacket.

  will be where the morning lit
 mountain’s phantasmagoria and shade

  leisure with the ghost of a man
 who topped a fella who took draughts
of demands to London.


ECT demons came haunting Niamh
in the TV room, until

the liquid cosh tipped her mind into
overdose and she disappeared during
the angelus bell

silently faded and was instantly
whisked to VIP at the post-life bash
in paradise.

    Will Kathleen tell?


Niamh never spoke
once the initial dissolution instantly

dissolved any questions lingering in her
bonce, just got stuck underground in a

box after Kathleen called her to dance
her reflection in the grave where a well

of time will return in wild spring


"An answer blown on ageless dumb
stone tells of what love fell there for

you Kathleen, who saw what went
on when my heart beat alive and I

breathed being driven through the
breeze to an ambush that night

when the windows blew in and a
bullet got shot through my skull. "



Anonymous dreamer

did not scatter 

as the other protagonists withdrew 
- who moves now in shadow -
and told Niamh

Kate’s phantom triggered Mick’s
quick return to her. And in the

immediate aftermath a faint ghost
trail appeared to flicker on the track

glowing, they say, for the short time it
took for his spirit to pass over. The

light dimmed as it drew in beneath the
foot of Mouth-flower rock, then paled

out and disappeared. The big fellow’s
shade dissolved into Kathleen Ireland's earth.


              "Style is a function of theme.
        not imposed on subject
                  matter but arising from it.

             Style is truth to thought"

                        Julian Barnes