Loquacious to Effect|
Selected Poems by David Constantine. Bloodaxe Books. P.O. Box 1SN, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, England. Call of the Race an Epic Poem by Kenneth Lloyd Anderson. $3 from White Temple Books, P.O. Box 452, Hastings MN 55033 U.S.A.
BLOODAXE BOOKS are probably what they claim to be, namely the foremost publishers of new poetry in the English language. In fact the embarrass de richesse which they offer is indicative of what is right and wrong with poetry in English today. Right is the abundance of talent in contemporary English language poetry and Bloodaxe justifiably pride themselves on having "discovered" much talent and bringing it into the light of day. Wrong is that modern poetry, and nearly all who publish, print, write or read the stuff (and, significantly, it is the last group and not the other three, of which there is a chronic shortage) runs on the principle of a kind of private club whose members are obsessed with the dream of getting into print and thereby showing off to fellow poets. The world of poetry writing is an intensely competitive one, which is paradoxical in that both in their poetry and in their professional lives (rarely the same thing) modern poets tend to condemn the politics of laissez-faire rather sharply. In general, however, most contemporary poets (at least those who succeed in getting into print) and modern poetry editors are concerned with being as well- meaning to as many people as they possibly can. The editors of "Bloodaxe", for example, are anxious to make clear that there is nothing threatening about the the title they have chosen. "In a brutal world", we are told, "it may seem gruesome for a literary publisher to call itself Bloodaxe." It all has to do with a "Viking chap" called Eric who spared a poet execution because he wrote a memorable saga. Poems published by Bloodaxe must have "literary importance"; Bloodaxe writers are "great"...
Such blurb is typical. The poetry "scene", for want of a better word, is obsessed with "greatness" and recognition; but the drive for greatness and recognition becomes reprehensible when transferred to politics or economics. Thousands of poets, all convinced that they should be heard and get a name for themselves, all struggling to be accepted, to show how "great" their poetry is, what is all this if not the philosophy of "the survival of the fittest" in minature, or a sort of beauty contest for poets? The spectacle of so many poets all clamouring for our attention is depressing when we reflect how few people actually read poetry at all. Poetry magazines should refuse all contributions from non-subscribers to end this appalling constipation of poetry. It would be better Bloodaxe and its many competitors could discover a hundred new readers of poetry instead of a hundred new poets.
One of Bloodaxe's many "discoveries" is a poet from the North of England, David Constantine. David Constantine's poetry seems to me to highlight the strength and weakness of most modern poetry. At a first reading it is impressive. If difficult, the language is not obscure: one feels strongly that the man is trying to say something and a little more effort and more readings will be rewarded. The verse is at once modern yet filled with Christian and Pagan references and situations. This is a highly profficient, accomplished word-master. He is apparently at home in both the modern and the classical and the Christian world. "Apparently" is the operative word here, for it is very difficult to finally discover, where, if anywhere, Constantine is at home, what, to put it simply, he is trying to tell us. Somehow the second and third readings do not live up to the promise of the first. Is it not precisely this, this ultimate opaqueness, which makes modern poetry so much a specialist hobby, most modern poems unlikely to reach beyond the incestuous circle of fellow poets?
The intermingling of modern situation with primitive or classical or mythical memory is something with which we are confronted in art all the time. Bloodaxe's front cover illustration to Constantine's Selected Poems is appropriate in more ways than one: a detail from Pietro di Cosimo's The Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs, clear in outline, obscure in content, tender but with an undertone of menace. Without using a reference book how many can honestly claim to know anything about the Lapiths and their battle with the Centaurs? Who among the readers of this poetry has faith in either the Pagan or Christian gods, yet without faith what can save the classical, Pagan or Christain reference from being more than an evocative illustration to a poem? Well, Constantine can certainly be evocative: Adam confesses an infidelity to Eve for instance is a most powerful evocation of a dream, or a nightmare, of a succubus, in which dream and wakening are confused, the sexual act is portrayed in its primitive course as a great irrational hunger. Nature and man also sometimes merge, as in the poem I am inconsolable: "Between her lips she has flowers coming out/And dribbled down her neck and throat and all/The length of her like Madalena's hair/ When she sat up it was a waterfall/ Of laughter and nothing else that covered her."
or this, from Autumn Crocuses, (shades of Dylan Thomas?):
"So long as they hold the sun's eye,/Light through and through and barely tethered, They stand hovering. They die/When they empty of sun, sleeves/Of their life lie on the soil crumpling."
Constantine's ability to appear detached makes his allusions to war more effective than any amount of polemics could do. Wilfred Owen, Ezra Pound, Sigfried Sassoon are all known for poetry in condemnation of war or particular wars, but poems by Constantine such as Nestor Encourages the Troops, where the propagandist uses a common carrot and stick "encouragement", reveal an element in war, namely the calmness in the eye of the hurrican, which other anti-war poets miss. Nestor is a calm, reasonable self-controlled maniac, the very image of a mass killer:
"When we are in/And the pretty fires are burning and only toddlers/And snivelling old men encumber your knees/Remember then you thought of going home. However/If luxury to come (shitting on silks)/Will not embolden you try running and we,/Your lords, will stick you to the ships."
David Constantine has talent, detachment, relgious sensibility; what is missing is faith. Now it is fashionable to suppose that poets, or any other creative workers, do not need faith or belief, even that belief reduces the value of their poetry by "narrowing" it. This is sometimes the case of course, but where the poet is in communication with so much of the past, as Constantine certainly is, the lack of faith becomes a lack of ability to convince. Where Constantine is at his best is where his classical or Christian references relate to what he does believe in and enunciates, notably his compassion. One has the strong impression that here is a Christian struggling to come out. These lines at least are suffused with belief in Christian dogma:
"All wraiths in Hell are single though they keep/Company together and go in troops like sheep."
Would that those who believed in a European rebirth could be so eloquent, so in command of their language!
Of course they are not. What Constantine lacks, Anderson has and vice versa. Whatever else we might wish to say about Call of the Race we cannot criticise the poet for lacking conviction! Anderson has none of Constantine's self-control and mastery of words but he does have an exceedingly clear idea of what he wishes to convey and why:
"An elderly female Hippie/Howls from a drug psychosis/Thinking she sees Jesus/Peeping through her window,"
Anderson is not anti-war and he tells us why:
"The traitorous media/Told us to make love not war,/So we sprawled down on the battlefield/And had a picnic with the ladies,/How quickly we forgot,/Dominated, enslaved and raped women/Are the fate of the conquered in war,"
and he is clear about the nature of the war he wants us to fight:
"The war against the white race has begun/But the decadent profesors/Can only tell us to turn our buttocks/Toward the open door;"
and who is responsible for our weakness:
"The anti-hero was concocted/In dark Jewish laboratories,"
and what we should do about it:
"Taunt the liberals/Sneer at the politicians/Dominate the feminists,/And send the capitalists back to their pawn shops,"
Not Apollo but Mars must be our inspiration. Unlike David Constantine, Kenneth Anderson has not been discovered by an established publisher like Bloodaxe (which despite the title seems quite pacifistic in its views) and what he calls his "epic poem" would undoubtedly dismay many with its racialist call to arms, but the poetry has all the strength of deep, violent, unflinching sincerity. The only moment when the poet is dishonest is when he writes, "Alas, times of terror are coming". "Alas" cannot be sincere: this writer is yearning for what he calls the rising racial storms and will do all he can to help it on its way.
Probably David Constantine and Kenneth Anderson would not wish to be associated with one another, yet they do share certain poetic qualities which make them both accessible and rewarding to read: a vivid diction, and at their best, both make highly effective use of mythology and mythological or Christian references. David Constantine is the more skilful word-master but if there ever is a racial war it will be Anderson to whom the warm bloodied will turn, even though I do not doubt that Nestor as described by David Constantine will then be everywhere on the prowl and the war not half as just as Anderson assumes, yet juster than the editors of Bloodaxe believe. Nor is Anderson damned if, as Constantine writes, the damned are those who are "loquacious to no effect."