Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mike Absalom Poems 2012. Introduction.


I pause from the slow and rather alchemical task of distilling poetry.
Since I have already grubbed the disparate ingredients for my latest verse out of some dark pantry on the inside of me and laid them out in a line like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle, I take a little time to do something safe; perhaps brew a pot of coffee or peel a bucket of potatoes or point the cats in the direction of the latest murine intruder. Rats seem attracted to me. It makes me feel that perhaps I am not yet a sinking ship, although I am probably not a Saint Francis either.
Now a deep breath is called for and removing the creative alembic for a moment from the burner I ask myself: ‘But after all, what is a poem?’
It is one of the simple questions, like ‘What is God?’ or ‘Who am I?’ or ‘Am I God?’

But before I can begin to answer my first question others spill out like sausages from a sausage machine and pile up in a wriggling pink stack before me demanding equal consideration or at least a quick end in a red hot frying pan.
‘What is a poem?’ And then ‘Where does a poem come from?’ And ‘What makes a piece of writing a poem rather than a piece of prose?’ And ‘Will I make any money out of this book of poetry?’ And ‘Can you explain Quantum String Theory to me in one simple paragraph?

This kind of random enquiry causes a disengagement and re-engagement of gears in the small part of my mind that deals with logic. The grinding is awkwardly uncomfortableto the point of pain. For the first time I understand the feelings of a sack of wheat which has learned that it is to be ground down into a loaf of bread. I feel a kind of right angled and unnatural change in the typical latitudinal direction of my thought. I am reminded of the juddering sound of a snipe in the evening sky over my bogland cottage, like finger-nails on the dark blackboard of the sky.

“What is a poem?’

I don’t know. In the same way that a postman does nothing except deliver a letter, I do nothing but deliver a poem. I write it down, certainly. But how it comes to me and what it is and from where is a mystery. Well, no! Not entirely. It comes from Beyont!

As I sit and ponder over my pile of freshly peeled potatoes and my mug of steaming
coffee and whatever other occupational placebo I have used to dislocate myself
from my rented accommodation in the collective unconscious (‘your place of work’ as the taxman would have it); as I relax into my unpretentious Irish kitchen, this solid place in a solidly objective world of draughts and burning turf, of cooking smells, of rain and smoke and cats, it is very clear to me that poems come from somewhere else, from a place I shall call beyont.
And where within the ringing harp strings of the universe is Beyont? It is a place I have often visited so I should have no difficulty in providing a description. And once upon a time I tried to pinpoint the location while discussing how I painted. I had written:

“In front of the canvas I stand. I move my arms. I
flex my fingers. I stare. Time, that terrible and incomprehensible enigma, fades
to irrelevance and leaks away slowly, vanishing under the studio door.
Paint flows and moves, the clouds of charcoal rise, fall, coalesce.
The void is before me. Darkness covers the face of the earth.
Out of that darkness figures emerge, blinking, arranging themselves randomly here and there on the picture plane, at first without intent or passion, composing themselves like anonymous crowds moving through the Metro. They appear in the paint from elsewhere and jostle for
meaning. If there were a Me I would say they come from beyond Me. I have not invited them. They introduce themselves, borrowing my name with an abrupt lack of etiquette, and having taken up their stations on the canvas they invite me to recognise them.
They invite you too, viewer.”

I think one can say the same things in relation to the inspiration that arrives with the gift of a poem. It comes from elsewhere. If I still lived on the West Coast of the North American Continent I would probably say it was channelled. But I do not. I live among rainbows and tempests on the West Coast of Ireland and here there are other more ancient ways of describing this kind of revelation.

As you see I have not even attempted to describe what a poem is. But perhaps it might be useful to find out where in my case poetry comes from. With painting I wanted to explain the source of the picture which time and again arrived complete on the canvas in front of me without any mind activity on my part at all and which I felt scarcely merited my signature. All I was asked to do was to use my judgement and admit the painting into the world. Or simply reject it and smother
it at birth.

What was clear was that a picture and in the same way a line of poetry did not appear to come from my conscious mind which is why I use the analogy of a postal delivery. It was delivered from Beyont. And when it was not, when I struggled and twisted and turned and focussed mind and logic to bring the task somehow to a printable conclusion it was rarely successful. The painting might just as well have been an ad for a new detergent and the poem a thank-you letter for an unwanted Christmas present.

But the poems which made me rejoice did not come from nowhere.

Beyont is not a nowhere land. I have been there. If I relax properly and breath deeply I am indeed living mostly Beyont. I should explain. Beyont is that place where nothing is done which cannot be done one-handed and thinking of something else. It is the place for writing and painting and on a good day the place where in secret and shady places poetry might unexpectedly be found as are found in the woods wild and edible mushrooms. Some say it is a good place to convalesce and perhaps that is why I spend a good deal of time there, like a patient in a deck chair listening to the ocean.

Beyont can be the tunnel between worlds and that can be heavy weather indeed. Today I shall get up and still walking on dry land I shall cross the threshold of my cottage and step into Beyont. Dry land? Well scarcely! In this part of the West of Ireland the ocean has wings and is often airborne and active all around me. But the rain and the winds carry the deep meditation of the ocean with them over the bog and into the ash grove and around my house and around me like a magic cloak so that even before I cross the threshold I am well into Beyont.

Now the rain comes down. I eat my sodden toast in the doorway. The donkeys are propitiated with washed potato and the rain flies into the garden like a swarm of buzzing bees among the plants and the day rustles alive and I walking wake.

I remain in the scullery doorway looking out through the falling shower. Beyont, on the green hill of my neighbour’s pasture cream cows stand motionless like tired workers in a shower cubicle douched in the downpour, impassively letting the water flow over them. There is no breeze for a moment, as if work has stopped in the bellows department and all stand by watching the line of black counterpanes flapping above the horizon with sheets of white cloud beneath and wall hangings of grey and white and great tears of blue in the wetscape. Beyont is always a perfect landscape tatty with discordant currents, silenced by a lack of decision or purpose, weather-balanced, undecided whether to weep or chuckle or just collapse with the consternation of decision making. I watch and am slowly absorbed. I am an insect swimming about in a flesh eating calyx. My mind is an empty pool. I welcome the sun. I welcome the rain. Anything to keep me spinning. I am in perfect equilibrium. Am I happy? Am I miserable? There seems to be no difference from where I wait poised in the Beyont.

The rain stops. Another stealthy entrance by the sunshine, as if it will willy-nilly inseminate the fields with further vigour. The day could be pregnant with anything. Monsters or angels crouch in the wings, waiting to emerge. The leaves drip. The tree trunks steam. The donkeys emerge from their barn and the tin roofs hiss and crack and smoke like a steaming family wedding where hate and feud and horrible dysfunction bubble beneath the surface, the brooding generations of quarto father’s sins and their mothers’ hag-ridden resentment, and are put aside just for the day in Olympian resignation.

Language is a network disease, an active fungus of association. There is a synaptic connection of allusions that has that sweet element of creative anonymity built into its structure. Beyont is no-name. Do you name what a poem is or how it tastes? Well, do you name how a pear tastes? No. Just eat it right off the page.

The Mazes that Amaze; the doorways to Beyont.

Poems come from Beyont. Why they come is another question. Why does the sun rise for one individual and fail to make an appearance for another? Such a heavy topic! I shall not even try to lift it.Still, it is always useful to start with questions. They are like underpants.They reduce things that are hard to grasp to manageable dimensions.

Never mind what poems are.They can be anything you like.

For me today they are the sound of my movement through a maze; a maze perhaps chosen from among the many different mazes where I find my life wobbling along like a spinning top; a place where I keep moving, for there is no standing still in a maze. That is no problem for humans for one of the less alarming traits we share with our brother sharks is the need to keep moving forwards in order to breathe. And as for mazes, well they are nothing new at all at all, for either inside a maze or even on the straightest of straight avenues, even though we have to keep moving, none of us have any real idea where we are moving to. Some of us might prefer to be a flower rather than a shark. I understand that. But roots can come later, when it is time to put us into the ground.

There are lots of mazes. I have a head-cupboard full. Simple mazes like the night time maze in my cottage which allows me to move in the black small hours when the moon fails and I need to wriggle through the no-mans-land of night to the lavatory without opening my eyes or lightening my darkness with a Lucifer. I know the position of each obstacle, each stick of furniture, each tank-trap of a harp or exploding ceramic vessel of geraniums. This maze leads me from the beyont of dreams and back again without my having to unplug my head. And it is in itself an other-consciousness, lit with minute and delightful flashes of awareness.

I do indeed have an abundance of mazes. There are mazes which are alive and writhe beneath me and penetrate the outside world like tentacles, even reaching out into the black holes of space.

There is the concrete path I have laid out through my meadow and which in the morning leads me along through the hushed whispers of growing things and animals and weather and pushes me deep into the Beyont of daylight hours, a Beyont less terror ridden than the place of dreams but still mysterious, dangerous, unfathomable, a womb of verse.

And then there is the bóithrín! This is a milky way of a billion and one dreads and delights and hidden discoveries, a maze incarnate among the mossy Mayo stones. Poetry hangs here like a cloud butterflies in a tropical forest, elusive but so close you can touch it. When I am alone the Goddess Brighid walks on all fours around me and sniffs like a cat at the back of my neck. Hers is a kingdom loaded down with poetry and apprehension.

There are also all the mazes of the past that have so often led me to a dark and fruitful place I had never imagined existed. To travel there is to be a schoolboy again scrumping apples from the Garden of Eden.

The poems which follow are the result of my recent forays into Beyont.
I will say no more now, for I think it is time for them to explain themselves and I feel they do this admirably without further interference from me.

Mike Absalom
February 4th 2012.
Curryane, Swinford, County Mayo, Ireland.

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