Monday, November 16, 2009

Lumpy Gravy and Neglectorinos

A sprawling recent thread on Digital Emunction about neglected American poets of the twentieth-century recently culminated in the establishment of a wiki-anthology - The Lumpy Corral - of same.  Some of the furrows there, fertile as they are, have been ploughed on other occasions, though.  I hope they also lasso some of the fascinating neglected British poets of the twentieth-century, while they're at it: Rosemary Tonks, the late Ric Caddel, Gael Turnbull, Nicholas Moore, to name just a very few (some of whom can be [re]-discovered in anthologies by Keith Tuma (Anthology of Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry) and Caddel with Peter Quartermain (OTHER British and Irish Poetry Since 1970).

There are two British poets I never, ever hear about.  One is Jonathan Price, whose book Everything Must Go is very difficult to find and ought to be reprinted (more in an upcoming blog post); another is Alexander Trocchi.  I'll start with the latter, because you can now read his poems again, introduced by William S. Burroughs, in a new edition featuring a preface by the legendary John Calder - who got hold of the poems "by obtaining unauthorized entry to [Trocchi's] flat and desk drawers" in order to publish them the first time around.

Burroughs met Trocchi, who was Scottish, at a 1962 writer's conference in Edinburgh, where the poet described himself as "a cosmonaut of inner space" and claimed sodomy as the basis for his work.  (He was famously attacked there by Hugh MacDiarmid, who dismissed him as "cosmopolitan scum," though they eventually became friends.)  Trocchi is best known now as a novelist - many of his books published by the infamous Olympia Press - who crashed on the planet Heroin.  (The Situationists International, of which he had been a founding member, had to weigh in on one of his imprisonments.)  That journey was chronicled, more or less, in his best-known work, Cain's Book, which outlined an almost Spicerian poetics:

"When I write I have trouble with my tenses. Where I was tomorrow is where I am today, where I would be yesterday. I have a horror of committing fraud. It is all very difficult, the past even more than the future, for the latter is at least probable, calculable, while the former is beyond the range of experiment. The past is always a lie clung to by an odour of ancestors." 

Calder collected the purloined poems for an edition, Man at Leisure, that he published in 1972.  Trocchi died in 1984 and remains a cult figure, but not for his poems.  In his introduction, however, Burroughs clairvoyantly speculated that perhaps "writers are actually readers from hidden books," books that are "carefully concealed and surrounded by deadly snares."

Well, if neglect is a deadly snare, then we are lucky to have the brilliantly useful Oneworld Classics (publisher, too, of Mike Stocks' translations of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, about which I've blogged) to thank for bringing the beast howling back to life.  What a great press - Man at Leisure is back in print at a cost of less than 13 bucks!

Here are a few samples...

- from "Wind from the Bosphorus"

a young man
stalking a butterfly
found a flare-red skirt, a high-cheeked
and lay with her behind a bush in adultery
still supine, the winds of the East
and of Roumanian Anna

he carried with him
more than a gypsy's fading heat, but was not
much concerned
desire being international, of more significance
than the incidental cum multis aliis
he carried to the clinic
he was treated
by more civilised persons who showed
little interest
in what they called (with an utter lack of
"the source of infection"
as though
nothing else had been carried to him from the East
on the wind of her body.

- from "He Tasted History with a Yellow Tooth"

eggs again.
my aunt laid an egg once, all smooth and creamy
you wanted to stroke it as you want to stroke a woman
but she was ashamed of it
and took it away from me.
I think she buried it in the garden -
anyway, there's a patch of violets there
ten yards from the stair
that goes to the loft where my uncle kept the saddles
and they bleed each spring,
in spring there is a bleeding.

- from "Letters to Contemporaries"

And so, my letter
as we know, no better
all systems "go"
a futique today
is an antique tomorrow.

- from "Man at Leisure"

The first duty of a
    young man
without private means
is, as soon as he can
be paid for heart loved leisure
his can of beans
and walk with his head
in the posture of queens

Men who work
in the conventional sense
of the word
are bad at furk
& fr purposes of identity
might wear rings in
    thr noses
might have been born
at the time of Moses

Stewart Home's intriguing afterword quotes Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life: "Poetry is... 'making' but 'making' restored to the purity of its moment of genesis - seen, in other words, from the point of view of the totality."  Home compares this to one of the most famous Situationist slogans: "Never Work," adding that the Situationists, like Trocchi, "gave themselves over to an art of living that was in itself poetic."  I'm pretty dubious about things like "totality" (if there is revolution in everyday life, why, indeed, work... write... teach?) and find, reading about the likes of Trocchi and Spicer, something not so "poetic" about their lives.  In any case, with all their foibles and tragedies, poets like Spicer and Trocchi are certainly among the very few who can make you question just what it is you're doing.  Even at the risk of neglect.

The clip above is from Jamie Wadhawam's 1969 documentary, Cain's Film, which opens with Trocchi trying to talk his publisher into taking a collection of his poems - only to be told by Marion Boyars that poetry doesn't sell.

Here's part of a documentary on Trocchi:


* NB: A correlation has been discovered between economic development and a strong belief in Hell.  Talk about "totality!"  Click here for more.


Jordan said...

The TLS's J.C. has written quite a bit about Trocchi, though.

And who's this "they" at DE?? Or are you pulling a "Bob Dole won't do that?"

Paul said...

That's a great introduction to some poets I had never heard of. Fascinating, thankyou. But I found this "(if there is revolution in everyday life, why work... write... teach?)" a little difficult to fathom. I would have thought that a revolution in every day life would involve lots of work, writing and teaching? Perhaps I have misunderstood.

Kent Johnson said...

The Lumpy Corral is great. Poets seem to be getting added, links made, memories refreshed.

Stewart Home. Don, if you don't stop mentioning all these ex-Trotskyist poets, I'm going to start thinking you and I were in the SWP together without knowing it, back in the 70s...

Home (and Neoism more generally, both first and later stages) is really a messier, more mercurial, more radical and anti-institutional version of Kenny Goldsmith and current Conceptual poetry-- and long in anticipation of it, at that.

One thing I'm still trying to get a better handle on is the nature of Home's critique of the Situationists. Anyone know anything about that?

Don Share said...

@Jordan - my TLSs never get here; he writes about Trocchi as a poet?? In that case, my work is done.

@Paul - you may be right, but I still don't get it. Aren't folks playing into bourgeois establishment hands by these staid activities?

@Kent - oh the tales I could tell!!

Don Share said...

Oh , re DE and BD, as it were. I was merely being modest, tho' I've only contributed blatherous suggestions, and as yet nothing to the actual corral.

Jordan said...

Don, Trocchi figures in at least one of Campbell's books, possibly more like two or three. He mentions the poetry, but come to think of it, maybe your work isn't done...

Michael Robbins said...

It's THE Lumpy Corral, thank you very much. And as long as you're bringing up more books for me to buy, why don't you give me some suggestions under my "books of the year" post at DE? I could use some titles.

Btw, in the excerpt from "He Tasted History" "from" has changed its form from "from" to "form."

Kent Johnson said...

I think I sparked the Lumpy Corral with my Hilda Morley post, and I don't even know HOW to add to the thing...